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Newsline - May 26, 1999




CABINET SELECTION PROCESS NEARS COMPLETION...

State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov was not appointed first deputy prime minister on 25 May, as NTV had reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). Instead, Mikhail Zadornov, who was finance minister in the cabinets of Viktor Chernomyrdin, Sergei Kirienko, and Yevgenii Primakov, was promoted to First Deputy Prime Minister, while First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was tapped for the top spot at the Finance Ministry. According to Reuters, a decree naming Zhukov was prepared but never issued. So far, the futures of acting Economic Minister Andrei Shapovalyants and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak have not been clarified. The new finance minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, was earlier responsible for conducting negotiations with Russia's various creditors. JAC

...AS MANY MINISTRIES RETAIN CURRENT LEADERSHIP

Also on 25 May, President Boris Yeltsin appointed Aleksandr Pochinok minister of tax, replacing Georgii Boos. Pochinok is a former head of the State Tax Service. As expected, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, Transportation Minister Sergei Frank, Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, Labor Minister Sergei Kalashnikov, Education Minister Vladimir Filippov, State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin, Science Minister Mikhail Kirpichnikov, Culture Minister Vladimir Yegorov, and Natural Resources Minister Viktor Orlov were all reappointed, Interfax reported. Viktor Kalyuzhnii was promoted from first deputy minister for fuel and energy to the top spot at the ministry, replacing Sergei Generalov. Kalyuzhnii, a former executive with Tomskneft, is reported to have close ties with LUKoil, according to "Segodya" and "Vremya MN." Mikhail Fradkov was appointed trade minister, replacing Georgii Gabuniya. JAC

GOVERNMENT SURVIVOR TAPPED TO STEER ECONOMY

New First Deputy Prime Minister Zadornov, a former member of Yabloko, is the last remaining member of the team that oversaw Russian monetary policy when the de facto devaluation of the ruble occurred in mid-August 1998. During his tenure at the Finance Ministry, Zadornov has earned harsh criticism from military officials and certain regional leaders for keeping too tight a rein on financial flows. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax that he feels "positive in principle" about Zadornov's appointment, calling him "a professional who knows his job." Deputy Chairman of the Yabloko faction Sergei Ivanenko called Zadornov's appointment "a reasonable and perhaps most optimal decision." Duma deputy and Communist Party Deputy Chairman Valentin Kuptsov was less pleased, predicting that Zadornov's appointment might elicit "a lot of puzzling questions since he was one of the culprits of the financial crisis of 17 August." JAC

STEPASHIN TO CREATE NEW TOP SPOT FOR DEFENSE

Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said on 25 May that he will appoint a deputy prime minister to oversee defense policy. AFP reported the same day that Federal Security Service head Vladimir Putin and Foreign Intelligence chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov have been "confirmed" in their posts. JAC

NEW AGRICULTURAL POLICY HEAD HAILED

Vladimir Shcherbak was named both minister for food and agriculture and deputy prime minister with responsibility for agricultural issues, Interfax reported. Shcherbak had been first deputy minister of agriculture since 1992, before which he headed the Russian branch of Agroprom, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 May. During his tenure at the Agriculture Ministry, Shcherbak was responsible for negotiating with the EU and U.S. for some $1.5 billion in food aid, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 May. Both AKKOR head Vladimir Bashmachnikov and Leonid Kholod, a former deputy economics minister and agricultural expert, praised Shcherbak's appointment. Kholod called him a "better choice" than his predecessor, former Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik, according to the daily. JAC

TALBOTT REAFFIRMS NATO POSITION

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow on 26 May, said that NATO stands by its demands for a complete withdrawal of Serbian and Yugoslav troops from Kosova. He stressed that conditions for the return of refugees cannot be "favorable" as long as Yugoslav soldiers remain there. He also made clear that "NATO will certainly be involved in a very central way in [any] international [peace-keeping] force," Reuters reported. The previous day, Talbott said he is "well aware of the strains the NATO air strikes have created for U.S.-Russian relations." Talbott is due to hold talks later on 26 May with Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Chernomyrdin and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. FS

CHERNOMYRDIN ANNOUNCES ANOTHER BELGRADE MISSION

Chernomyrdin said in Nizhnii Novgorod on 25 May that he will meet with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on 27 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 21 May 1999). Chernomyrdin told Reuters that "the main thing now is to sit both sides down at the negotiating table with the participation of the competent international organizations and not to let Russia be dragged into the war, though many want this." Chernomyrdin also told Interfax that he rejects the suggestions of unspecified "hard-liners in the Russian establishment" to supply military technology to Yugoslavia in defiance of an international embargo. He made clear that "we will not supply anything." FS

MORE REPORTS OF RUSSIANS FIGHTING IN KOSOVA

"Segodnya" on 24 May reported that the Russian Guard, the Russian Party of National Revival, Officers for National Revival, and other nationalist organizations have been recruiting volunteers to fight in Kosova. An unnamed volunteer leader said that "a couple of weeks ago" a small group of radio specialists, anti-aircraft gunners, and other anti-aircraft specialists left for Yugoslavia. He added that other military experts are ready to follow them. "There is nothing for us to do there at the moment: the Serbs can manage [the guerillas] by themselves," he said. But at the same time, he warned that "if NATO dares send in its ground forces..., Russian volunteers will immediately go to Serbia." Cossack Colonel Vladimir Simonov told the daily that a Cossack delegation met with Milosevic over Easter and gave him lists of 12,000 volunteers, all of whom reportedly have military experience. FS

MOSCOW, DELHI TO SIGN STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP DECLARATION

Russia and India plan to sign a declaration of strategic partnership, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov told journalists following a meeting with his Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh, in Moscow on 25 May, Interfax reported. The principles of that declaration, expected to be signed at a Russian- Indian summit later this year, will become the "foundation for [bilateral] cooperation in the 21st century," he added. Discussing the Kosova crisis, the two foreign ministers agreed that NATO should immediately stop its bombing campaign and seek a political solution to the crisis. Singh also discussed the Kosova crisis, among other issues, in a telephone conversation with President Yeltsin, who is currently in Sochi. Both leaders expressed satisfaction with the level of bilateral cooperation, which, they said, plays an important role in regional stability and in the creation of a "multi-polar world order." JC

PENSION BACKLOG REDUCED...

As of 1 May, the level of unpaid pensions --16.5 billion rubles ($670 million)--dropped almost by half, compared with the figure of 30.5 billion rubles recorded on 1 October 1998, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko announced on 25 May. According to ITAR-TASS, Matvienko promised that all pension arrears would be wiped out by October 1999. In the meantime, 32 regions have eradicated their pension debts altogether, while 34 regions are only one or two months behind. According to "Izvestiya" on 26 May, as of 1 May only 10 regions owed no back wages to state workers, while another 17, including Vologda, Murmansk, Leningrad, Bryansk, and Kaluga Oblasts, were experiencing delays of no more than a month. JAC

...BUT TIMELY WAGE PAYMENT REMAINS PROBLEM

First Deputy Chairman of the Pension Fund Aleksandr Kutrin told reporters the same day that the regions with the largest pension backlogs are Altai Krai, the Republics of Buryatia and Khakassia, Tula Oblast, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. "Izvestiya" reported that regions with wage delays ranging from three to seven months include Kemerovo, Omsk, Chita, Magadan, and Sakhalin Oblasts, the Republics of Altai, Khakassia, and Buryatia, and the Koryak and Chukotka Autonomous Okrugs. JAC

PRIMAKOV TO PEN BIOGRAPHY, AS ASSOCIATES SET UP OVERSEAS

Former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov has begun writing his memoirs, RIA news agency reported on 25 May. Former Deputy Prime Minister Kulik told the agency that Primakov is considering several possibilities for the future but wants first to deal with his health problems. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 May that two of Primakov's closest associates are to be assigned to diplomatic posts overseas. Former head of the government apparatus Yurii Zubakov will head the embassy in Lithuania, while former head of the Prime Minister's Secretariat Robert Markarian is going to Syria. JAC

NATIONAL LEADER CALLS FOR REFERENDUM ON BURYING LENIN

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 25 May welcomed Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II's proposal to bury the embalmed body of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin but added that the issue should be resolved by consensus, Interfax reported. Patriarch Aleksii II had lamented the previous day that the "beautiful Red Square" has been turned "into a cemetery for revolutionaries." "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that according to its sources, President Yeltsin considers the "'liberation of Russia from the heritage of Communism' to be his mission and intends to clear Red Square of any symbols of Bolshevism before the end of his reign." Konstantin Titov, Samara Oblast governor and informal leader of Golos Rossii, echoed Luzhkov's call for reaching consensus on the issue, telling Interfax that the country "shouldn't act too hastily in trying to resolve this issue." JAC

WOULD-BE 'MIR' BENEFACTOR GROUNDED?

Head of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center Petr Klimuk told Interfax on 26 May that British businessman Peter Llewellyn will not fly to the "Mir" space station in August 1999. Llewellyn had promised to raise funds for a children's hospital by making that flight as well as attracting new loans for the station. According to Reuters, Llewellyn could not be reached for comment and an official at the training center did not know the businessman's future plans. JAC

CHECHEN MUFTI'S BODYGUARDS KILLED BY BOMB

Five men identified as bodyguards of Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov died when their car was destroyed by a bomb blast in Grozny on 25 May, Russian agencies reported. Interior Minister Khizar Mezhidov said the bomb was identical to those used in earlier such attacks. Kadyrov narrowly escaped death in a similar attack last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 1998). LF




SALE OF ARMENIAN BRANDY PLANT FINALIZED

Representatives of the Armenian government and France's Pernod Ricard group signed an agreement in Yerevan on 25 May finalizing the French concern's purchase of the Yerevan Brandy Factory, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Pernod Ricard won a tender for the factory in 1998, but opposition parliamentary deputies, protesting that the $30 million price tag was too low, tried unsuccessfully to block ratification of the sale. In December 1998, Pernod Ricard requested a six-month postponement in finalizing the deal, saying that the Russian financial crisis had seriously affected the market in Russia for Armenian cognac. A spokesman said on 25 May that Pernod Ricard no longer has any doubts about the factory's economic viability. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S LIBERAL PARTY WITHDRAWS FROM OPPOSITION ALLIANCE

The Liberal Party of Azerbaijan issued a statement on 25 May saying it considers "inexpedient" its continued membership in the Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections, created one year earlier, Turan reported. The statement said the movement's members have become mired in disputes among themselves. Musavat Party Isa Gambar, Democratic Party chairman Ilyas Ismailov, and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party first deputy chairman Ali Kerimov all expressed regret at the decision. LF

AZERBAIJAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY CALLS ON OPPOSITION TO JOIN DEBATE ON ELECTION LAW

Fazail Agamaly on 25 May requested parliamentary deputy speaker Arif Ragimzade to ask the 17 opposition Democratic Bloc deputies to participate in the second reading, scheduled for that day, of the draft Law on Municipal Elections, Turan reported. The Democratic Bloc, which has been boycotting parliamentary proceedings for almost a month to protest alleged restrictions on its activities, criticized that bill as "reactionary" and "undemocratic" after its first reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April and 17 May 1999). Meanwhile more than 60 deputies have appealed for an emergency parliamentary session to be convened on 1 June. They fear the municipal elections bill will not be passed before the end of the spring session, on 31 May. Those elections were scheduled to have been held two years ago. LF

MORE ALLEGED COUP PLOTTERS ARRESTED IN GEORGIA

Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze told parliamentary deputies on 25 May that 12 people have now been arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist acts and the assassination of President Eduard Shevardnadze with the aim of seizing power, Interfax reported. At least four of them are former Security Ministry officials, according to Caucasus Press, quoting Prosecutor- General Djamlet Babilashvili. Targamadze added that the police have secured evidence of contacts between the plotters and former Security Minister Igor Giorgadze. Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze declined to comment on allegations that some Russian servicemen based in Georgia were involved in the conspiracy. LF

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA

Victor Babiuc met with President Shevardnadze in Tbilisi on 25 May, Caucasus Press reported. The two discussed ways of expanding ties between the countries' Defense Ministries, the situation in the Balkans, and the need to strengthen ties between GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova) and NATO. According to unconfirmed reports, Romania, along with Poland, may be interested in joining that alignment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 1999). The previous day, Babiuc and his Georgian counterpart, Davit Tevzadze, had discussed cooperation prospects, including the training of Georgian officers in Romania and cooperation between the two countries' military-industrial complexes. LF

FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER SUMMONED TO COURT

Akezhan Kazhegeldin has been summoned to appear at the Almaty City Court on 1 June, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Kazakh National Security Committee chairman Nurtay Abyqaev told "Kazakhstanskaya pravda" that two criminal cases have been opened against Kazhegeldin, one in connection with alleged tax evasion and the other to determine the origins of Kazhegeldin's allegedly huge fortune in foreign banks. The 31 Kanal Almaty TV channel reported that the National Security Committee has created a special team to investigate Kazhegeldin's case. LF

KAZAKH CENTRAL ELECTION COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN MEETS POLITICAL PARTY LEADERS

Zaghipa Balieva met with representatives of Kazakh political parties and movements in Almaty on 25 May to discuss the new election law, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Balieva said that any one of 43 minor offenses could disqualify potential candidates from participation in elections at any level. LF

KAZAKH HUNGER-STRIKERS RECEIVE INTERIM PAYMENT

Serik Umbetov, governor of Zhambyl Oblast in southern Kazakhstan, has distributed some 50,000 tenges ($450) among workers at the Phosphorus Producing Plant in Taraz who have been on hunger strike for almost three weeks to demand the payment of back wages, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). After Umbetov had promised to pay all outstanding wages by 10 June, the protesters agreed to suspend their hunger strike until that date. LF

KYRGYZSTAN PASSES NEW LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES

The Legislative Assembly--the lower house of Kyrgyzstan's parliament--passed a law on political parties on 25 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported, citing the parliamentary press service. That law no longer designates political parties as public organizations and reduces from 500 to10 the minimum number of persons who need to found a party. Those amendments are unlikely, however, to affect the outcome of the parliamentary elections in February 2000, as only parties that were registered with the Ministry of Justice one year before those elections are eligible to participate. LF

KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER IN CHINA

Muratbek ImanAliyev held talks in Beijing on 25 May with China's Minister of Foreign Trade Zhang Xiang, ITAR-TASS reported. Both sides expressed their wish and determination to expand economic ties. ImanAliyev predicted that in the 21st century, China will become Kyrgyzstan's main trading partner. LF

TAJIK GOVERNMENT CONDEMNS OPPOSITION ULTIMATUM

The Tajik government issued a statement on 25 May dismissing as "unacceptable" conditions that the United Tajik Opposition stipulated the previous day for its continued participation in the peace process, Reuters and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). Those conditions include the naming as defense minister of opposition field commander Mirzo Zioev and the holding of parliamentary elections before the presidential poll, which the Tajik government had said will take place before 6 November. The statement blamed the lagging implementation of earlier agreements on the recent two-month absence from Tajikistan of UTO Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri. Earlier on 25 May President Imomali Rakhmonov met with ambassadors from the eight countries, including Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, that are guarantors of the peace process. LF

TURKMENISTAN TO TERMINATE BORDER AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA

The head of the Russian border guard contingent in Turkmenistan, Vladimir Konovalov, told Reuters on 25 May that Ashgabat has informed Moscow it plans unilaterally to revoke the open- ended treaty it signed with Russia in 1993, which allows for Turkmen and Russian border troops jointly to guard Turkmenistan's frontiers with Iran and Afghanistan. Konovalov commented that he considers the Turkmen move justified, as the country's border service is fully capable of performing that task without the assistance of the 300 Russian border guards currently serving in Turkmenistan. LF

UZBEKISTAN, U.S. DISCUSS DEFENSE COOPERATION

U.S. special envoy to the Secretary of State for the Newly Independent States Stephen Sestanovich attended a session of the U.S.- Uzbek Joint Commission in Tashkent on 24-25 May. Sestanovich and Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov signed six documents, including a two-year program for defense cooperation and agreements on combating terrorism and the demilitarization of some Uzbek chemical plants that previously contributed to the Soviet chemical weapons program. The U.S. agreed to grant Uzbekistan some $30 million to implement that demilitarization program and to pursue market reform. A joint press release issued after the session noted that the U.S. welcomes Uzbekistan's pledge to make its currency freely convertible next year. LF




LUKASHENKA SAYS IMF POLICY TOWARD BELARUS 'UNFAIR'

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 25 May said he is not satisfied with relations between Belarus and the IMF. "The IMF's policy regarding Belarus is unfair and extremely politically motivated.... I can't name a single objective reason to justify such a low level of cooperation," AP quoted Lukashenka as saying after meeting with IMF official John Odling-Smee, who is in Minsk to prepare an annual report on the Belarusian economy. Belarus sought a $100 million loan from the IMF last year, but the fund demanded changes in the country's economic policy. Odling-Smee told journalists on 26 May that the IMF "does not deem it possible" to issue a loan to Belarus, Belapan reported. He cited Belarus's failure to fulfill its pledges regarding systemic reforms and monetary policies as the main reason for refusing the credit. JM

KUCHMA LAYS DOWN POLITICAL PRIORITIES FOR NEXT DECADE

Addressing a joint congress of the Confederation of Employers and the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the "consolidation of the government system" and national security is Ukraine's top priority in the next stage of its development, Interfax reported. The second priority is the continuation of systemic reforms and market-oriented transformations, while the third is to achieve economic growth of 5-6 percent of GDP in the next five years and 8 percent in 2010. He also cited the "drastic" restructuring of the Ukrainian economy as a priority. The congress unanimously voted to support Kuchma in the October presidential elections. JM

ALBRIGHT SAYS UKRAINE 'VERY COOPERATIVE' OVER OIL EMBARGO ON YUGOSLAVIA

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 25 May said that Ukraine has been "very cooperative" in NATO efforts to maintain a strict oil embargo against Yugoslavia. She added, however, that the U.S. will "soon" talk with Kyiv about allegations that Ukrainian barges have been shipping oil to Belgrade via the River Danube. "The New York Times" on 25 May quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying that oil is loaded onto Ukrainian barges in Ukrainian ports and then shipped across the Black Sea to the Danube. JM

LARGE PROTEST IN NORTHEASTERN ESTONIA

Between 6,000 and 8,000 protesters staged a rally in Narva on 25 May to protest the restructuring of the energy sector and its effect on employment opportunities in the area, "Postimees" reported. Vladimir Aleksejev, who organized the protest, told the daily that although most protesters came from the energy sector, employees from other sectors in the region also participated. The official unemployment rate for the northeastern Ida-Viru County is approaching 10 percent, but Aleksejev estimates the real figure to be closer to 20 percent. MH

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT DELAYS TOBACCO EXCISE HIKE

The cabinet on 25 May announced it is delaying the scheduled rise in levies on tobacco. The six-month delay is expected to prevent an increase in tax evasion at a crucial time, according to ETA. Prime Minister Mart Laar said Estonia's tobacco tax is twice as high as Latvia's, thus there is already an "environment [conducive to] smuggling and illegal trade." Evidence shows that the tax hike on 1 January 1999 caused a 50 percent drop in cigarette sales and a significant increase in trade in illegal cigarettes on the black market. MH

VAN DER STOEL CONTINUES LATVIAN VISIT

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel continued his visit to Latvia on 25 May by meeting with President Guntis Ulmanis. The commissioner thanked President Ulmanis for six years of cooperation, which is the amount of time each has served in his present capacity, according to BNS. Later, Van der Stoel met with Naturalization Service director Eizenija Aldermane, whom he asked why there are so few applications for the naturalization of children of non-citizens. Aldermane responded that most parents of children who qualify are themselves undergoing naturalization, which automatically covers their children. At a press conference, the commissioner called for the language law under discussion in the Latvian parliament to be better defined in order to prevent ambiguities. MH

LATVIAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS TARIFF COUNCIL SACKED

The government on 25 May officially sacked the Telecommunications Tariff Council. The decision follows a resolution recently passed by the parliament. However, the government maintains that the resolution passed by parliament is unconstitutional, as the council comes under the government's jurisdiction, according to LETA. The work of the council became subject to controversy in March when Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs vetoed a tariff change at the last minute. MH

POLAND REPORTS PROGRESS IN SLAVE LABOR TALKS WITH GERMANY

Jerzy Widzyk, chief of staff of the Polish Premier's office, said on 24 May that Germany has agreed that Nazi-era slave laborers from Poland should receive the same amount of compensation as those living elsewhere. Widzyk was speaking after meeting with Bodo Hombach, chief of staff of the German Chancellor's Office. "There has been a clear declaration regarding this issue by the German side," PAP quoted Widzyk as saying. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT APPEALS FOR AUSCHWITZ CROSSES TO BE REMOVED

The government appealed on 25 May for the removal of some 300 crosses that were erected near the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp without permission from the Catholic Church. "The government appeals to all who in good faith put up the sacred Christian symbols...and who would like to take them back to their parishes, to do it as soon as possible," government spokesman Krzysztof Luft said in a statement, AP reported. Luft said the so-called papal cross erected in 1979 will remain in place. He added that the government itself can remove the crosses under the law on the protection of former concentration camps, which went into effect on 25 May. Some media suggest that the government wants to have the controversial crosses removed before Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland from 5-17 June. JM

CLINTON SENDS LETTER TO HAVEL

U.S. President Bill Clinton wished his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Havel, a speedy recovery from his current illness and thanked him for his support of the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, Czech media reported on 25 May. Havel was hospitalized last week after he contracted bronchitis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1999). Doctors said on 25 May that Havel's condition is improving and he should soon be able to leave hospital, CTK reported. In other news, Czech police said they have increased security in Vyskov after receiving an anonymous letter saying a bomb will go off at the close of the upcoming NATO exercises in the town, Czech media reported on 25 May. NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana and Havel are scheduled to attend the exercises on 3 June. VG

MOST CZECHS BELIEVE WALL SEPARATING CZECHS FROM ROMA NOT RACIST

A poll has found that 72 percent of Czechs do not feel that the idea of building a wall to separate ethnic Czech residents from their Romani neighbors is based on racial hatred, CTK reported on 25 May. Only 28 percent of respondents felt that the idea was based on racism. The poll was referring to plans by local officials in the city of Usti nad Labem to build a wall between the Czech and Romani residents of Maticni Street. The poll also found that 64 percent of respondents do not consider Czech society to be racist. In other news, emigration statistics show that some 1,000 Roma have left the Czech Republic since the beginning of the year, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 26 May. Most of them have applied for asylum in Britain. VG

SLOVAKIA'S MECIAR CRITICIZES CONCESSIONS TO MINORITIES

Former Slovak Prime Minister and current presidential candidate Vladimir Meciar told the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" of 26 May that Slovakia does not have a "minority rights" problem at the moment, but rather a problem with "concessions to nationalists and separatists." He said certain representatives of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Slovakia and certain politicians in Budapest aim to create a "Greater Hungary." Meciar said he rejects any suggestions that minorities are being oppressed in Slovakia. He also added that some "uninformed European institutions" believe that "concessions should be made to the demands of minorities." Meciar also described the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia as illegal. He said the conflict in Yugoslavia represents a challenge for Europe as to whether it will be able to develop its own security model or whether it will follow "U.S. doctrine" in international relations. VG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS HUNGARY

Valdas Adamkus told reporters in Budapest on 26 May that his country is ready for NATO membership and would be "disappointed" if its aspirations were not realized. He said Russia continues to express displeasure at the Baltic States' efforts to become NATO members. Adamkus met with Hungarian President Arpad Goncz, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky. Representatives of the two countries signed an agreement on mutual capital investment guarantees. Lithuania is Hungary's largest trading partner in the Baltics. More than $55 million worth of Hungarian goods were exported to Lithuania last year. MSZ




NEW WAVE OF REFUGEES HEADED FOR MACEDONIA

Some 2,000 Kosovars arrived on the border with Macedonia on 25 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 1999). In Geneva, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that some 150,000 refugees may soon arrive in Macedonia. There is room in existing refugee camps there for only an additional 15,000, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Some observers suggested that the latest wave may be a result of a "final push" by the Serbian authorities to remove the last ethnic Albanians from Kosova. Other observers said the Serbian authorities may be seeking to "flood" Macedonia with refugees in order to force NATO troops there to concentrate their time and energies on humanitarian tasks and not on preparations for an eventual occupation of Kosova. PM

THUNDEROUS RECEPTION FOR RUGOVA

Thousands of Kosovar refugees greeted ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova at the Stenkovec refugee camp in Macedonia on 26 May. Reuters reported "wild celebrations" during his 10-minute visit. It was Rugova's first appearance in a refugee camp since he left Kosova on 5 May. Critics charge that he has since spent too much time talking to foreign politicians and diplomats and that he has not spent time with the refugees and other Kosovar leaders (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 May 1999). PM

MORE KOSOVAR DETAINEES ARRIVE IN ALBANIA

Several hundred male refugees arrived in Albania via the border crossing of Morina on 25 May, Reuters reported. They said that Serbian forces released them from the prison in Smrekonica where paramilitaries had held up to 3,000 men hostage in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 1999). Apart from visible emaciation and malnourishment, the men were suffering from exposure to the sun. A witness reported that the prison guards were not police but paramilitaries. He added: "They treated us like animals, they beat us, some people in the head, everywhere." Medical aid workers said that the men have bruises from the beatings they received to the abdomen, hands, feet, ribs, and, in some cases, the head. FS

EU OFFICIALS PROMISE ALBANIA PREFERRED TRADE STATUS

Hans van den Broek, the EU commissioner in charge of foreign affairs, told Albanian Prime Minister Majko Pandeli in Brussels on 25 May that the EU is willing to grant Albania "preferential trade terms," dpa reported. He added that the EU Commission on 26 May will also discuss the timetable and steps to be taken for the possible admission of Albania and Macedonia into the union. FS

PROSTITUTION RACKETEERS KILL REFUGEE GIRL IN KIDNAP ATTEMPT

Gangsters belonging to a prostitution ring in Vlora killed a 16-year-old girl in a kidnap attempt on 24 May, Reuters reported. The refugee girl was living with her father in a rented house in the outskirts of the city. The father told police that the gangsters fired shots at both the girl and himself after he had tried to drive them back. Police surrounded the area immediately after the incident and arrested five suspects. Relief agencies have warned that gangs are trying to kidnap young girls from Kosova to send them as prostitutes to Italy or Greece. FS

RED CROSS CONVOY REACHES KOSOVA

A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said in Geneva on 26 May that five Red Cross relief trucks reached Prishtina the previous night. The arrival there of eight ICRC staff on 24 May marked the return of that organization to the province. The relief organization withdrew its 19 staff members from Kosova on 29 March. The Serbian authorities recently gave the ICRC permission to return. PM

YUGOSLAV TROOPS ABDUCT KOSOVAR MALES

Members of the Yugoslav army removed 50 males from a group of about 500 ethnic Albanian refugees as they were attempting to cross into Montenegro on 25 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The soldiers took the Kosovars to an unknown destination. PM

SERBIAN POLICE SEAL OFF KRUSEVAC

Paramilitary and local Serbian police barred roads leading into and out of Krusevac on 25 May. The police prevented busses and river ferries from running and restricted the movement of vehicles within the town, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. A mother of a soldier serving in Kosova told RFE/RL from Krusevac by telephone that coffins containing dead Serbian soldiers arrive in the town "constantly." She added: "The mothers are not afraid of either the politicians or the police. The mothers will go [to Kosova], and find their children." And in Cacak, which was also the scene of recent anti-war protests, one of the recently arrested protesters said that her arrest is an attempt by the Serbian authorities to intimidate those who oppose the war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). PM

MORE NATO TROOPS FOR KOSOVA FORCE

NATO officials agreed in Brussels on 25 May to increase the size of Operation Joint Guardian from some 28,000 soldiers to up to 45,000, the "Berliner Zeitung" reported. In London on 26 May, British Defense Secretary George Robertson said that he hopes the additional troops will go to the Balkans "in the next few weeks." He added that the force may face "a hostile environment," by which he presumably meant that they might enter Kosova without Serbian permission. Some 24,000 NATO troops are already stationed in or near the Balkans as part of Operation Joint Guardian. More than half of those soldiers are in Macedonia. The operation, which NATO officials often call KFOR-Plus, is intended to be a peace-keeping force in Kosova to ensure that the refugees can return home safely as part of an eventual peace settlement. Observers note that KFOR-Plus could easily form the core of a large force to invade Kosova if NATO decides to embark on such a course. PM

FISCHER WARNS ABOUT SANDZAK

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said in Washington on 25 May that if NATO fails to secure the safe return of refugees to Kosova, the conflict could spread and the Balkans remain unstable for many years, Reuters reported. He argued that "if [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic can continue [with his program of ethnic cleansing], we can see next what will happen in the Sandzak..., you will see an overthrow of [the democratic government in] Montenegro. You will see that Albanian nationalism will explode. And this will have severe consequences for stability in the whole region, especially in Macedonia." PM

FOREIGN MONEY FOR BOSNIA

A spokesman for the World Bank said in Sarajevo on 25 May that Bosnia will need $2.6 billion in development and reconstruction assistance for the period 2000- 2004. Elsewhere, a spokesman for the international community's Carlos Westendorp noted that $760 million of the $1.05 billion approved last week by an international donors' conference will be allocated for reconstruction projects. The balance will go for peace implementation costs and support for the state budget and balance of payments. Representatives of the international community have stressed in recent months that Bosnia must make a transition from depending on foreign aid to attracting foreign investments. To do that, the Bosnian authorities must do more to end corruption, the foreign experts warn. PM

GRENADES HIT PEACEKEEPERS' HOUSES

Unknown persons on 26 May fired rocket-propelled grenades at two houses in Zvornik inhabited by SFOR peacekeepers, NATO said in a statement issued in Tuzla. SFOR officials are investigating the incident, in which no one was injured. The text did not identify the nationality of the troops. Zvornik is in the Republika Srpska. SFOR troops there are under U.S. command. PM

ILIESCU WARNS AGAINST RUSSIAN PRESENCE IN BALKANS

Former Romanian President Ion Iliescu called on the U.S. not to give Russia a chance to re-establish its domination in the Balkans by participating in a peacekeeping mission after the conflict in Kosova, Mediafax reported on 25 May. In an article entitled "Moscow on the Danube: Bad News After Kosovo," which was published in "The Washington Post" on 23 May, Iliescu said Russian military involvement in the Balkan peace process could destabilize the region. VG

ROMANIAN SENATE ADOPTS LANGUAGE BILL

The Senate on 25 May adopted a language bill stating that in districts where ethnic minorities form at least 20 percent of the population, those minorities have the right to use their own languages in dealings with local authorities, according to a Mediafax report cited by the BBC. The bill has yet to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies. VG

COMMUNISTS WIN IN ELECTIONS IN MOST MOLDOVAN COUNTIES

Communist candidates won majorities in six of Moldova's nine counties in the 23 May local elections, according to preliminary results cited by BASA-Press on 25 May. Communist deputy Victor Stepaniuc said his party had been "expecting much more." Vasile Soimaru, a deputy from the Party of Democratic Forces, described the election results as a "victory of the extreme left." Ion Neagu of the Christian Democratic Convention said the results reflect the frustration of the people over the government's mismanagement of state affairs. VG

BULGARIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH D'ALEMA...

Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema said his country will lobby in favor of negotiations on Bulgaria's accession to the EU beginning in December, according to a 24 May BTA report cited by the BBC. D'Alema's comments came after he met with Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov in Rome. Kostov, who had earlier met with Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, said Macedonia urgently requires humanitarian assistance to deal with the influx of refugees from Kosova. He added that so far Macedonia has not received any "concrete financial assistance." He also said that work should begin immediately on plans for the return of the Kosova refugees to their homes once the conflict in Yugoslavia is over. VG

...SEES KEY ROLE FOR BULGARIA IN BALKANS

Kostov told the Italian ADN-Kronos agency that his country will be "a useful partner" for NATO in maintaining stability in the Balkans and preventing any future conflicts. He pointed out that disputes still exist between Greece and Turkey, between Greece and Macedonia, and between the Turkish government and that country's Kurdish minority. Kostov also said the conflict in Yugoslavia demonstrates that his country needs more access routes to Central Europe and Italy. VG

BALKAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET IN SOFIA

The deputy defense ministers of seven Southeastern European states as well as delegations from Italy and the U.S. discussed the Kosova conflict at a 25 May meeting in Sofia, Bulgarian Radio reported. The deputy ministers said an international peacekeeping force should be charged with securing the return of the Kosova refugees to their homes and another multinational contingent should be in charge of the region's infrastructure, BTA reported. They are scheduled to visit the proposed headquarters in Plovdiv for a possible multinational Balkan peacekeeping force. VG




WEST MAY BE ONLY HOPE FOR POST-MILOSEVIC SERBIA


By Andrej Krickovic

As NATO air strikes devastate Serbia's economy and infrastructure, the Serbian opposition is beginning to speak out against Slobodan Milosevic. At the end of April, former Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic criticized Milosevic for lying to the Serbian people and called on him to accept a peaceful solution to the crisis. He paid for his boldness by losing his job and being returned to the ranks of the opposition.

Democratic Party President Zoran Djindjic and Social Democratic Party President Vuk Obradovic have taken Draskovic's criticism a step further. Both have called on Milosevic to bow to NATO demands in order to end the bombing, and both have vowed that Democratic forces in the country will unseat Milosevic once the NATO intervention ends.

But Western leaders should not take this as a signal that they can cut a deal with Milosevic and that the opposition will take care of him after the bombings. A compromise deal that is more acceptable to the Serbs than Rambouillet would mean a victory for Milosevic, allowing him to continue to play on nationalist sentiment. Like Sadam Hussein, Milosevic could turn defeat into victory by claiming he stood up to the full force of the Western alliance and defended Serbia's vital national interests. And, like Iraq, Serbia could become a pariah state that is a constant threat to regional stability.

While NATO has been winning the air war, Milosevic has been busy clamping down on the opposition and silencing independent media. Independent outlets like Belgrade's Radio B92 have been shut down and reopened with pro-government staffs. Others are afraid of the consequences of speaking out and have more or less voluntarily toed the Milosevic line. Many believe that the slaying of Slavko Curuvija, the editor- in-chief of the popular Belgrade daily "Dnevni Telegraf" was intended as a message to would-be critics of the regime. Several anti-Milosevic activists and opposition leaders have fled to Montenegro, including Djindjic. A post-war opposition movement would have to recover from these losses and operate in an atmosphere of fear and brutal repression.

Moreover, it is also doubtful that the opposition is capable of leading Serbia into a post-Milosevic era. Draskovic and Djindjic have been proponents of Serbian nationalism and supported the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. At the same time, both have blown their best opportunities. They failed to capitalize on the street protests of 1996-1997, allowing Milosevic to emerge stronger than ever. Many observers regard them as opportunists, at best. Although Obradovic has been a vocal opponent of Milosevic, his Social Democracy party has only a small following.

Most Serbs continue to hold the same nationalist beliefs that have inflicted so much harm on them and their neighbors during this decade. Even Milosevic's most consistent opponents have failed to condemn ethnic cleansing in Kosova, instead focusing their criticism on "NATO aggression." The most independent-minded media, such as the weekly "Vreme," have portrayed reports of massacres in Kosova as NATO propaganda and claimed that the Western alliance is to blame for the hundreds of thousands of refuges fleeing Kosova. Belgrade's students were the backbone of the 1996-1997 protests. Yet they have failed to show any interest in the suffering of Kosova Albanians and have instead flocked to government-sponsored anti-NATO rallies.

The destructive nationalism that Milosevic has manipulated so successfully in the past is still strong among the Serbian people. One would be hard pressed to find a Serb who believes that the Albanians have as much right as the Serbs to live in Kosova or who admits Serbian nationalism is responsible for the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Kosova. Most Serbs continue to insist that Kosova is sacred Serbian land and that the Albanians and international community are the ones committing aggression and ethnic cleansing.

The international community is unlikely to accept the Serbs "back into the fold" as long as they continue to view themselves martyrs and/or victims of the Albanians or of NATO. Several key Western leaders have suggested that Serbia must purge its media, political culture, and educational system of nationalism before it can return to the ranks of European nations.

Such a development will remain impossible while Milosevic is in power. But the Serbs may never be unable to rid themselves of Milosevic if the West allows him to stay in power. The author is a free-lance journalist based in Zagreb


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