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Newsline - June 28, 1999




YELTSIN APPROVES RUSSIAN PARTICIPATION IN KFOR

President Boris Yeltsin on 26 June approves the deployment of 3,616 troops for the Kosova peacekeeping force (KFOR). The peacekeepers are authorized to remain in Kosova until 10 June 2000, Interfax reported. The Federation Council had approved their deployment the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1999). Also on 26 June, the Public Opinion Foundation released a poll indicating that 55 percent of Russians are opposed to the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Kosova, while only 28 percent are in favor, NTV reported. FS

RUSSIAN, FRENCH FORCES ARRIVE AT PRISHTINA AIRPORT...

Within hours of Yeltsin's decree, a Russian plane carrying KFOR troops landed in Prishtina, marking the reopening of the airport for military traffic. Minutes later a French cargo plane carrying logistics equipment and technicians landed there, AFP reported. Aboard the Russian plane were 18 air traffic control experts, 21 paratroopers, and several troops who are to install navigation equipment. The airstrip will serve as a hub for KFOR and humanitarian operations. KFOR Commander General Sir Mike Jackson welcomed the crews, saying that "the Russian contingent is...extremely important. This is the international community engaged in [Kosova] to give it a better future," according to the BBC. Russian Colonel General Viktor Zavarzin said the airport will serve as a "delivery point for all the things we need." He added that "we are here to ensure that peace...and order returns to [Kosova] so people can return to their homes." FS

...DESPITE CONFUSION OVER ROMANIAN AIR CORRIDOR

Romanian air-controllers temporarily closed that country's airspace to Russian planes on 27 June after another two Prishtina- bound Russian planes crossed it at short intervals. Moscow and Bucharest had previously agreed on intervals of four hours between flights. The Romanian officials reopened the air-corridor after Russian officials apologized (see Part Two). Another three Russian planes left Moscow for Prishtina on 28 June. FS

SHPAK WARNS UCK NOT TO ATTACK RUSSIAN TROOPS

Colonel- General Georgii Shpak told Ekho Moskvy on 26 June that Russian troops will give a "robust response" if Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) fighters attack them, AFP reported. Shpak warned that "we could be confronted with huge difficulties in terms of our relations with the Albanian population and those who come down from the mountains with weapons." He added that a "partisan war" cannot be ruled out, arguing that the UCK "should have been disarmed immediately" to avoid "pillaging and killing." He stressed that "like the other contingents we have the right to use arms in self-defense.... If we are attacked, we have the right to [respond] with all available means." FS

CHERNOMYRDIN CRITICIZES U.S. REWARD OFFER FOR MILOSEVIC'S ARREST

Russian special envoy for Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin told journalists in Crans Montana, Switzerland, on 26 June that the indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague is "a non-serious approach," adding that the tribunal took its decision "without serious assessments of the situation," AFP reported. He also criticized a U.S. offer to pay up to $5 million for information leading to Milosevic's arrest, arguing that "for the moment Milosevic is the legally elected president of Yugoslavia. Our position is this: the people of Yugoslavia will solve this question" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1999). Chernomyrdin expressed "surprise" that the tribunal has not begun to investigate possible war crimes committed by UCK fighters. FS

DUMA PASSES ALMOST TWO-THIRDS OF IMF LEGISLATION BEFORE SUMMER RECESS

State Duma Deputy Speaker Boris Kuznetsov on 25 June announced that most of the work on the parcel of bills that the government has submitted in accordance with its IMF agreement is "done," ITAR-TASS reported. According to Kuznetsov, 18 of the 30 bills passed in the third reading, while four have passed in the first and second readings and debate on another five has been postponed until September. The agency did not carry his comments, if he made any, on the remaining three bills. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 June that President Yeltsin does not intend to sign the law imposing a tax on luxury vehicles, which the Duma has already passed. The daily claims that Yeltsin agrees with the newspaper's analysis that the law in its current form contradicts the Tax Code. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL BANS AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER STRIKES...

The upper chamber on 25 June passed draft laws banning strikes and work stoppages by civil aviation personnel and restricting the amount of cash Russian citizens may take outside the country's borders to $10,000, according to Interfax. It also ratified several agreements between the Russian Federation and CIS countries to avoid double taxation. JAC

...LIMITS NEW ENTRANTS TO INSURANCE MARKET

The Federation Council also approved bills amending the law on the 1999 budget and the law on insurance. The changes to the insurance law set a ceiling of 15 percent for foreign capital in a Russian insurance company and ban non-domestic companies from engaging in insurance operations on Russian territory if they have not been involved for at least two years in an insurance company established in Russia or for a minimum of 25 years in one in their own country. JAC

DUMA ELECTION BILL BECOMES LAW

President Yeltsin on 25 June signed legislation on the election of State Duma deputies. The Duma approved the bill on 2 June and the Federation Council on 9 June, "Segodnya" reported on 26 June. The law requires candidates for the lower chamber to declare income, property, and criminal convictions. The law also attempts to reduce election fraud by forbidding the use of "dirty technology," according to the daily. In addition, the law stipulates that enterprises that receive state monies may not make donations to election funds, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

FOREIGN CREDITORS HOLD OFF ON LAWSUITS

In a press release issued on 25 June, Vneshekonombank said that none of the London Club creditors has initiated legal actions against Russia for failing to make payments due on Soviet-era debt, Interfax reported. The previous day, Vneshekonombank Chairman Andrei Kostin told ITAR-TASS that Russia will resume payments to London Club creditors beginning 2 December. On 27 June, some London Club members issued their own press release declaring that they have not agreed to defer Russia's payments for six months but that they will continue talks with the government on debt payments, Interfax reported. JAC

CHUBAIS CONSOLIDATES CONTROL OVER EES

The Russian government on 25 June nominated presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin for the post of chairman of the board of directors of Unified Energy Systems (EES). "Segodnya" reported the same day that new draft amendments to EES's charter, according to which the post of chairman of the company's management board must be supported by three-quarters of shareholders, will make the leadership's position inviolable since EES head Anatolii Chubais has strong support among foreign shareholders. Now the board of directors selects the chairman. According to ITAR-TASS, the proposal for the change was accepted at the company's annual meeting on 25 June. At that meeting, Chubais forecast that the company will need $60 billion in new investment over the next 10 years. JAC

PLANS FOR MEGA OIL MERGER PUT ON BACK BURNER

First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters on 27 June that the planned merger of three Russian oil companies "will cause more harm than good." During his tenure in government, former Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak advocated merging Rosneft, Onako, and Slavneft to create a state oil company that would have been one of the world's largest in terms of oil reserves. However, his plan met with resistance from the management of Onako and Slavneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January and 2 February 1999.) According to Aksenenko, the government has not dropped the plan for the proposed merger but is giving it low priority. JAC

COSSACKS TO BACK NDR

At its annual meeting on 26 June, members of the Union of Cossack Officers declared their support for Our Home Is Russia (NDR) in upcoming parliamentary elections, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 June. Members also voiced their support for reviving the state Cossack service. State Duma deputy Vyacheslav Zvolinskii told the meeting that that the number of Cossacks has risen by 14 percent since 1916, from 4.4 million to 5 million. Zvolinskii also praised his fellow deputies for passing the law on Cossacks on 25 June. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO SLASH FUNDING FOR CULTURE

Culture Minister Vladimir Yegorov said on 27 June that funding for all spheres of Russian culture will be cut by 75 percent in 2000 from this year's level, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Yegorov, just 0.54 percent of the federal budget will be devoted to expenditures on culture, compared with the planned 2 percent. JAC

'MIR' TO HAVE FUTURE AS MOVIE SET?

Film director Yurii Kara on 25 June announced that he plans to send the star of his next feature film to the space station "Mir." The two cosmonauts accompanying actor Vladimir Steklov will serve as cameramen. The film, which is based on the novel "Cassandra's Brand" by Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov, will follow the saga of a cosmonaut who refuses to abandon a space station slated for destruction. Steklov will undergo a 900-hour training regimen for the flight, according to Interfax. Another film directed by Kara, based on Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita," may never be shown, "Kommersant- Daily" reported the next day. A Moscow court decided recently that the rights to the film belong to the producer, who does not like the film and does not want audiences to see it. JAC

STEPASHIN TOURS DAGESTAN

Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin inspected the Russian military base in Buynaksk in northern Dagestan and chaired a discussion on security issues in Kaspiisk as well as a meeting in Makhachkala with Russian Interior Ministry detachments on 25 June, Russian media reported. Stepashin, who was accompanied by other senior members of the Russian government, later met with Dagestan's leadership to discuss the republic's social and economic problems. Stepashin condemned endemic corruption, adding that the shadow economy accounts for 75 percent of all economic transactions in Dagestan. He noted that the region's industrial output has plummeted since 1990, arguing that high unemployment is driving young men to join "shady Islamist leaders." He pledged federal support for the republic's authorities in tackling social and economic problems and improving the region's infrastructure, including providing running water for Buynaksk, which has a population of 70,000. LF




POPE TO SEND CARDINAL TO ARMENIA

John Paul II will send Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the head of the Vatican's Council for Christian Unity, to Armenia on 1 July to convey a personal message from the pontiff to Catholicos Garegin I, who is terminally ill with cancer, Reuters reported on 25 June. Two planned visits by the pope to visit the ailing Catholicos have been postponed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 17 June 1999). LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS FAIL TO AGREE ON MEETING OF LEADERS...

At a two-hour meeting outside Tbilisi on 25 June held at the request of the Abkhaz leadership, Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze rejected a proposal by Abkhaz presidential adviser Anri Djergenia that a meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba be convened as soon as possible in order to give new impetus to the peace process, Caucasus Press reported. Lortkipanidze told journalists he sees no need for such a meeting. LF

...OR PRISONER EXCHANGE

The same day, the Coordinating Council, which was created under UN auspices in November 1997, failed to reach agreement at a meeting in Tbilisi on the three issues discussed: ensuring the security of Georgian displaced persons who return to Abkhazia, creating Russian- Abkhaz-Georgian patrols to combat terrorism in southern Abkhazia, and an exchange of prisoners. Tbilisi is demanding the unconditional extradition of nine crew members of a Georgian fishing vessel intercepted in Abkhaz territorial waters in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 14 April 1999) and the exchange of all prisoners held by each side. The Abkhaz want to exchange the fishing crew for three Abkhaz whom they claim are being detained in Georgia. Meanwhile, a group of some 100 Georgians who are blocking motor traffic across the Inguri bridge, which links Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia, have begun a hunger strike to demand the release of relatives sentenced to prison terms in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 1999). LF

RUSSIA AGAIN DENIES VIOLATING GEORGIAN AIRSPACE

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 25 June reaffirming denials by the Russian air force and Defense Ministry that four Russian aircraft overflew Georgia without permission on 18 June, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 June 1999). A Georgian Defense Ministry official said the planes were en route to Yerevan from an airbase in Rostov. In his weekly radio address on 28 June, President Shevardnadze said Georgia is capable of defending its own airspace, and should not reconcile itself to the inevitability of further violations, Caucasus Press reported. LF

JAILED GEORGIAN WARLORD UNDERGOES SURGERY

Djaba Ioseliani, the 71-year-old leader of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation, has been transferred from prison to an undisclosed medical facility for urgently needed prostate surgery, Caucasus Press reported on 26 June. Ioseliani, who is also suffering from bone tuberculosis, had threatened to embark on a hunger strike if he was denied an alternative to treatment in the prison hospital (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 24, 17 June 1999). He was sentenced in November 1998 to 11 years in prison on charges of treason, robbery, and participating in the August 1995 attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze. Ioseliani denies all those charges. Also on 26 June, Georgian Minister of Health Avtandil Jorbenadze told journalists in Tbilisi that the Health and Interior Ministries will sign a joint protocol providing for the release from jail of some prisoners suffering from tuberculosis, cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses. "Alia" on 28 June reported that 10 percent of the country's estimated 11,000 prisoners suffer from tuberculosis. LF

GEORGIA'S CHECHEN MINORITY FEARS REPRISALS

The Chechen minority in northeastern Georgia, which is estimated at some 20,000, is alarmed by an increase in Georgian hostility toward them since a shooting incident 10 days ago in which two Georgian police officers and two Chechens were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 1999). Chechen Vice Presidents Akhmed Zakaev and Kazbek Makhashev visited the Pankisi gorge in northeastern Georgia on 25 June to appeal to local Chechens not to take any action that could exacerbate those tensions, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'NEW APPROACHES'

Nursultan Nazarbaev said on 25 June, one day after the government survived a confidence vote in both chambers of the parliament, that the cabinet should devise "new approaches" to improving the economic situation in order to render the ongoing crisis as painless as possible for the population, Interfax reported. The previous day, the chairman of Kazakhstan's Economic Planning Agency, Roman Solodchenko, told a news conference in Astana that Kazakhstan will invest $1.35 billion in the economy from 1999-2001, according to Interfax. Of that amount, 47.4 percent will be invested in transportation and communications and 16.6 percent in agriculture. Foreign loans and interest-free grants will cover 86.8 percent of the total investment. LF

KYRGYZ CABINET DISCUSSES ECONOMIC SITUATION

Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev chaired a government meeting in Bishkek on 26 June at which Finance Minister Marat Sultanov characterized the current economic and social situation as "very serious," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Sultanov said the government will be able to pay wage and pension arrears only after it receives new loans or grants from abroad. The internal debt is currently about 500 million soms (some $12 million). MurAliyev urged the government to speed up privatization of the three largest state-owned companies-- Kyrgyztelecom, the Kyrgyz national airline, and the Kyrgyzenergo energy company. A special government commission has been formed to liquidate 120 bankrupt state enterprises. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION LEADER FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT

Meeting in Dushanbe on 25 June to review implementation of the 1997 peace agreement, Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri failed to reach agreement on the candidacy of opposition field commander Mirzo Zieyev as defense minister. Rakhmonov proposed several alternative posts for Zieyev, all of which Nuri rejected. The following day, Nuri said he may resign as chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, on which the government and opposition are equally represented, unless progress is made in implementing the peace agreement. He added that Rakhmonov's rejection of Zieyev's candidacy jeopardizes the entire peace process. On 27 June, the second anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement, Nuri called on the population of Tajikistan to maintain unity and independence, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

UZBEK OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS OF AFGHAN-STYLE CIVIL WAR...

In a 14 June appeal addressed to OSCE Chairman-in-Office Knut Vollebaek, Muhammed Solih, exiled chairman of the Erk opposition party, condemned the repressive policies implemented by President Islam Karimov over the past seven years in the name of "stability" with the tacit support of Russia and the West. He warned that those policies, together with the reprisals that followed the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, have increased the population's hatred of the leadership and brought the country to the verge of a "social detonation" and Afghan-style civil war. Solih appealed to the international community to take unspecified measures to preclude such a crisis. LF

...AS HUMAN RIGHTS, RELIGIOUS ACTIVISTS SUFFER...

Uzbek Interior Ministry officials searched the home of Mikhail Arzinov, chairman of Uzbekistan's Independent Human Rights Organization, on 25 June and confiscated a computer, fax machine, and documents, RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau reported. Arzinov was assaulted during the search. Meanwhile two men arrested for their religious beliefs have died in Uzbek prisons. One, a 40-year-old member of the banned Hizbi-Tahrir sect who was arrested two weeks ago, died in pretrial detention in Tashkent. The second, Akhmadkhon Turakhanov, was sentenced in March 1999 to six years' imprisonment on charges of hooliganism and attempting to overthrow the country's leadership. He had publicly criticized the Uzbek government's policies, specifically its failure to provide gas and water supplies to the population. Turakhanov suffered from diabetes and possibly also tuberculosis. According to Amnesty International, his relatives believe he was denied adequate medical care in prison. LF

...AND PRESIDENT BLAMES RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTS

President Karimov told Uzbekistan's national news agency on 25 June that the country is experiencing a period of "very difficult" political processes, Interfax reported. Karimov said that internal and external forces, including radical Islamic groups, are trying to undermine the country's security and force a transition from "civilized democratic development." He said the religious groups in question have intensified their activities in recent years, seeking especially to recruit sympathizers among the Uzbek population. LF




BELARUSIANS PRAY FOR MOTHER TONGUE

"Merciful God, forgive those who debase our language, our people, our history and do not punish them too severely, because they do not know what they do," Belarusian prayed in Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches throughout the country on 27 June, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported the next day. The prayer was written by a 16-year- old student from Minsk who won a contest organized by the Belarusian Language Society, which is devoted to supporting Belarusians' native language. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime has closed down some 600 Belarusian- language schools since coming to power in 1994. Today, only 11 percent of Belarusian children are instructed at schools in their mother tongue. JM

RUSYNS WANT TO BE RECOGNIZED AS DISTINCT ETHNIC GROUP WITHIN UKRAINE

The fifth world congress of Rusyns (Ruthenians), convening in Uzhhorod on 27 June, called on the Ukrainian government to recognize Rusyns as an ethnic group within multinational Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. The delegates want Rusyn to be listed among the country's nationalities in the 2001 census. They also want native-language schools to be opened and a Rusyn-language department established at Uzhhorod University. According to congress delegates, more than 700,000 Rusyns live in Ukraine. Their total strength is 3 million: apart from Ukraine, Rusyns live in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia and are well represented in the U.S. In a referendum in December 1991, more than 78 percent of the population of Zakarpatska (Transcarpathian) Oblast supported autonomy for the region, but Kyiv ignored the results of that vote. JM

OUTGOING LATVIAN PRESIDENT ON FINAL VISIT ABROAD

Guntis Ulmanis, whose term expires in early July, paid a visit to Rome on 24-25 July to take part in the celebrations marking the 900th anniversary of the Maltese Order, the charity arm of the Roman Catholic Church. The Maltese Order is active in Latvia, working with local charities that, among other things, help the disabled. Ulmanis met with new European Commission President Romano Prodi to discuss EU enlargement and was granted an audience by Pope John Paul II. President- elect Vaira Vike-Freiberga takes over as head of state on 8 July. MH

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT IN WARSAW

Valdas Adamkus was in Warsaw on 25-26 June to take part in a conference on EU integration. Addressing the conference, Adamkus stressed that "Vilnius expects Lithuania to be treated as an equal partner for other countries inside EU," referring to both the benefits and commitments that union membership entail, ELTA reported. President Adamkus also met with Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi. MH

POLISH PREMIER PLEDGES TO SLOW DOWN PACE OF REFORM

Jerzy Buzek on 25 June announced that recent changes in the taxation system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 1999) will be the last large systemic reform undertaken by his government. Buzek, who was addressing a regional congress of his Solidarity Electoral Action Social Movement (RS AWS), said the cabinet will focus on "introducing order into the state" over the next two years. The main cabinet's tasks will be creating new jobs, supporting the rural population, and improving the security of citizens. Meanwhile, Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski told another RS AWS regional congress that the political opposition is stirring up social unrest in Poland, but he failed to give any examples of opposition-organized protests. JM

POLISH OPPOSITION CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTIONS

"The government of the Solidarity Electoral Action and the Freedom Union has exhausted its possibilities. Its staying in power provokes strikes and protests," Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader Leszek Miller said on 25 June. Miller added that "mature parliamentary deputies" should shorten the term of the legislature, but he refused to say whether the SLD caucus is preparing a resolution to dissolve the legislature. Polish Peasant Party leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski said the same day that his caucus will support a motion to dissolve the parliament. In the 28 June "Gazeta Wyborcza," Miller criticized the current cabinet for implementing too many reforms and provoking too many social conflicts. "The simultaneous introduction of four systemic changes without enough money is an act of arrogance vis-a-vis society," he commented. JM

CZECH PREMIER BACKS AMENDING ELECTORAL LAW

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 26 June called on the Executive Committee of his Social Democratic Party (CSSD) to back amendments to the electoral law proposed by the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), CTK reported. Zeman had told journalists the previous day that the amended law will go into effect on 1 January 2002 and that the CSSD will not agree to an earlier date. If the ODS wants the amended law to go into effect earlier, Zeman argued, this would mean that it is contemplating early elections in breach of the agreement between the two parties. He said the ODS originally envisaged changing the proportional system to a one-round majority system but agreed in the end to keep the "more just" proportional system and raise the number of electoral districts from eight to 36. MS

HAVEL, ZEMAN DISAGREE OVER FUTURE OF KOSOVA, MONTENEGRO

Zeman on 26 June said he disagrees with President Vaclav Havel's view that Montenegro and Kosova "will not remain under Serbian rule for ever." Speaking in his monthly radio program, Havel said the two territories will not always be ruled by Serbs "even if more enlightened regimes than that of Slobodan Milosevic" rule in Belgrade. Havel added, however, that this did not necessarily mean the creation of two independent states. "It will all depend on which process is quicker...that toward autonomy or that toward [European] integration," he said. Zeman responded that all international documents, including the UN Security Council resolution on Kosova, refer to the preservation of Yugoslavia's integrity and that all politicians must feel "duty-bound" to respect those documents. MS

HUNGARIAN PARTY IN SLOVAKIA WANTS TALKS ON MINORITY LANGUAGE BILL...

The National Council of Slovakia's Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) has proposed that Budapest and Bratislava open "serious negotiations" to overcome problems related to the bill on minority languages, which deals with contacts between member of ethnic minorities and the authorities, the Hungarian press reported on 28 June. The SMK said the draft that the government has submitted to the parliament is "unacceptable." MS

...WHILE HZDS WANTS TO POSTPONE DEBATE IN PARLIAMENT

Meanwhile, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) says it wants the parliamentary debate on the bill to be postponed, HZDS deputy Jozef Kalman told journalists on 25 June. Kalman said the bill must be "widely debated" by the public before the parliament votes on it, warning that its passage now could lead to a "polarization of society." Kalman also warned against Slovakia's becoming "a guinea pig," emphasizing that no other country in Europe, including the Czech Republic and Hungary, have laws that are as "permissive" as the bill submitted by the government. HZDS spokesman Maros Puchovsky said that 100,000 signatures have so far been collected in favor of a referendum on the bill. He added that by the time the bill is debated in the legislature, the HZDS hopes to have the 350,000 signatures necessary for a plebiscite. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT PARTY ELECTS NEW HEAD

Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik has been elected chairman of the governing Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), CTK reported on 26 June. He replaces Rudolf Schuster, who was elected president last month. Hamzik was supported by 181 delegates to an SOP conference convened to elect a new chairman. No delegates voted against him, but 51 abstained. MS

HUNGARY, ROMANIA SIGN MINORITY LANGUAGE AGREEMENT

Hungarian Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni and his visiting Romanian counterpart, Andrei Marga, signed an agreement on 26 June that increases the number of classes taught in minority languages and provides for the mutual recognition of diplomas and the exchange of students and teachers. Under the agreement, ethnic Hungarian students at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, Romania, will be able to receive degrees in 38 subjects taught in their mother tongue, Marga said. He told reporters in Budapest that starting this fall, Hungarian-language instruction will be offered at the Targu Mures Medical University. MSZ

HAVEL DISCUSSES YUGOSLAV WAR DURING BUDAPEST VISIT

"Vojvodina's political status cannot be simply established in accordance with models applied in other regions but must fit the [area in question] in the best possible way," visiting Czech President Havel told journalists on 25 June after meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Havel and President Arpad Goncz agreed that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's policy is an obstacle to the peace process in the Balkans. They added, however, that it is up to the Serbian nation to decide on its future. One day earlier, Havel had said that "Europe failed to recognize the moment when patriotism ended and nationalism and chauvinism began at the onset of today's Balkan wars." MSZ




UNHCR LAUNCHES ORGANIZED REFUGEE RETURN

Some 390 refugees left Macedonia for Kosova on 28 June within the framework of the UNHCR's organized refugee return program, Austrian Radio reported. An RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported that international humanitarian organizations will receive the refugees when they arrive in Kosova and supply them with food and other necessities. Those whose houses have been destroyed will receive temporary accommodation. Meanwhile, more than 2,000 refugees crossed from Macedonia into Kosova on 27 June. An RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported from Morina on the Albanian frontier that between 12,000 and 17,000 refugees enter Kosova every day, causing considerable traffic jams. UNHCR officials estimate that about 208,000 refugees are still in camps in Albania, 67,200 in Macedonia, 45,900 in Montenegro, and 21,000 in Bosnia-Herzegovina. More than 415,000 refugees have returned on their own during the past two weeks following KFOR's entry into Kosova. FS

PAVLE HOLDS MASS AT KOSOVO POLJE

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle held a mass at a historic monastery on 28 June to mark the 610th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje, where Ottoman forces defeated troops of the medieval Serbian state and its allies. The Church issued a statement to note that the commemoration this year "differs from the previous ones: there will be no hypocrisy in it, in its celebration the godless leaders of our people will take no part," AP reported. Observers note that the reference is to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has often used commemorative meetings at Kosovo Polje for his own political purposes. The Church has never trusted Milosevic because of his communist background. PM

'ANARCHY' IN KOSOVA

In several parts of Kosova over the weekend, groups of ethnic Albanians looted and burned Serbian apartments and homes, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 28 June. Incidents of lawlessness were so numerous that KFOR peacekeepers were unable to control the situation. German KFOR officials in Prizren on 27 June imposed a 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew for all civilians in that town, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Peja, a spokesman for Italian KFOR said that "uniformed Albanians" killed a Serbian woman. In Mitrovica, tensions continued between the Kosovar and Serbian communities, which are separated by the Sitnica River, the "Berliner Zeitung" reported. PM

CLARK CALLS FOR HELP

NATO Supreme Commander Europe General Wesley Clark called on countries contributing peacekeepers to KFOR to send their troops to Kosova as soon as possible in the interests of restoring order there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 27 June. In New York, he told NBC Television that "in a number of locations, it's clear that Serbian paramilitaries, some with connections with intelligence organizations, ...have remained behind" in Kosova. PM

HAVEL VISITS ALBANIA, KOSOVA

Czech President Vaclav Havel visited Albania and Kosova on 27 June, CTK reported. He went to the burnt-out village of Pirane near Prizren and the Czech field hospital in Kavaja. Czech Radio reported that Havel told Albanian President Rexhep Meidani in Tirana that the future of Albania and the Balkans as a whole is looking "bright," provided a civil society is "firmly established in the Balkans." Havel also said that it is necessary to promote coexistence of people of different religious beliefs, traditions, and cultures. Czech Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy signed a cooperation agreement with his Albanian counterpart, Luan Hajdaraga. Havel is the first foreign head of state to visit Kosova since Serbian forces left the province earlier this month. FS

SERBS FREE PRISONERS

Serbian authorities on 25 June turned over some 166 prisoners from Kosova to officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at an undisclosed location, Reuters reported. A spokesman for the ICRC said that Serbian forces brought the prisoners to Nis during the recent Serbian retreat from Kosova. The spokesman added that the ICRC is still seeking access to an unspecified number of additional Kosovar prisoners held in Serbia. He noted that the Kosova peace agreement does not contain a clause guaranteeing the ICRC access to prisons or calling for the freeing of prisoners. PM

DOCUMENTS LINK BELGRADE TO KILLINGS

Serbian forces retreating from Kosova recently left behind "hundreds of documents" that prove that the top leadership in Belgrade meticulously planned the ethnic cleansing of Kosova under the code name "Operation Horseshoe." That operation has cost some 14,000 people their lives since March. Most of the documents are now in the hands of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), the London-based paper "The Observer" reported on 27 June. PM

ANNAN TO NAME ADMINISTRATOR FOR KOSOVA

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will name a civilian administrator for Kosova by the end of the week, the "Financial Times" of 28 June quoted him as saying. Annan added that his choice will most likely be a European because "Europe is going to foot quite a lot of the bill" for the reconstruction and development of Kosova. He also said that his candidate will be someone with "political sense, a leader and manager, who is also a good negotiator." Reuters reported that Annan's choice may well be Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who helped negotiate the recent peace settlement for Kosova. PM

EU MINISTERS SAY 'NO' TO HOMBACH

EU foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro on 27 June did not approve German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's nomination of Chancellery Minister Bodo Hombach to be the EU's coordinator for the Balkan stability pact (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1999). The "Berliner Zeitung" reported that the Greek government wants the post for a Greek, and that Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel seeks the post for former Deputy Chancellor Erhard Busek, who is an expert in Balkan affairs. Critics of the Hombach nomination in Germany and elsewhere in Europe note that he lacks experience in the Balkans and have suggested that Schroeder nominated him as a way of getting him out of the German cabinet. EU heads of government are slated to discuss Hombach's candidacy in Rio de Janeiro on 28 June. PM

U.S. OPPOSES MONTENEGRIN INDEPENDENCE

State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 25 June that "further disintegration of Yugoslavia would not serve to promote peace and stability in the Balkans. Moreover, independence would not be a panacea for the challenges that Montenegro faces," AP reported. In Podgorica, Montenegrin officials told the news agency that they are preparing a package of economic and legal measures aimed at bringing Montenegro into line with "the rules and standards of European integration." One proposal is to introduce a Montenegrin currency pegged to the German mark or the Euro. PM

OPPOSITION SWEEP IN CROATIAN LOCAL VOTE

Unofficial early returns suggest that the opposition coalition has won 22 seats in the election for the Trogir town council, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 27 June. The governing Croatian Democratic Community has four seats. PM

CROATIAN FARMERS' PROTEST CONTINUES

Farmers blocked four international border crossings and all major roads in northern and eastern Croatia on 28 June, the third day of their protest, Reuters reported. Talks between the government and representatives of the farmer's union broke off in Osijek the previous day without any result. Union officials said that farmers will continue to block roads until the government raises the minimum price for wheat and agrees to ban imports of foodstuffs that Croatia produces in sufficient quantities. The farmers also want the government to draft a series of measures that will help revive agriculture. PM

GOVERNMENT TO PRESS CHARGES AGAINST CROATIAN EDITOR

Police officials told the state-run news agency Hina on 27 June that police have found five classified documents belonging to the secret services in the flat of Ivo Pukanic, who is the editor of the independent weekly "Nacional." The police officials said that the state prosecutor will press charges against Pukanic for violating laws on the right to possess classified documents. "Nacional" recently published the texts of several official documents indicating that the secret services have been involved in fixing soccer matches and bugging the phones of many prominent Croats. PM

ROMANIA ALLOWS RUSSIAN OVERFLIGHTS AFTER MOSCOW OFFERS 'EXPLANATIONS'

Overflights of Russian planes have been resumed following "explanations" provided by Moscow via "diplomatic channels," Romanian Radio reported on 28 June. On 27 June, Romania "suspended" overflights to Kosova approved earlier that day because two Russian planes entered Romanian airspace within a period of only 92 minutes. Those aircraft thus violated the agreement under which the corridor had been approved, which called for a four-hour gap between flights. The second of the two planes was escorted to the border by three Romanian aircraft. Bucharest then announced it had "temporarily suspended" such flights. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES ATTACK NATO COMMANDER'S STATEMENT

Adrian Nastase, first deputy chairman of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania, said on 25 June that a statement attributed to NATO Supreme Commander Europe General Clark is "extremely serious." "Napi Magyarorszag" had cited Clark as saying at a NATO conference in Budapest last week that the "principles" of the 1920 Versailles Treaty agreement are "outdated" and that the days when "sovereignty" meant that states could "treat their citizens any way they want are over." Nastase commented that the war in Yugoslavia has "created a chain of new tension hotbeds," some of which, including Vojvodina, are "artificial but cunningly masterminded," Mediafax reported. Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor also denounced Clark and Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban for speaking out in favor of autonomy for Vojvodina's ethnic Hungarian minority. MS

BULGARIA APPROVES NATO TRANSIT, DELAYS ANSWER ON RUSSIAN OVERFLIGHTS

The parliament on 25 June overwhelmingly approved the transit of KFOR troops and equipment through Bulgarian territory. The vote was 208 to two with two abstentions, BTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1999). The legislators also approved a 12-month extension of Bulgaria's participation in SFOR in Bosnia. Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev said on 27 June that Polish and Turkish troops will be the first NATO contingents to cross Bulgarian territory en route to Kosova. Bulgaria, meanwhile, has not yet approved a Russian request for the overflight of six military planes. Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov told Reuters that Bulgarian legislation requires parliamentary approval of the overflights within five working days, which will start on 29 June. He added that the planes must not carry any weapons or reconnaissance equipment. MS

ETHNIC BULGARIAN LEADER COMPLAINS ABOUT TREATMENT IN SERBIAN PRISON

Marko Shukarev, who is currently on bail after appealing a prison sentence for dodging Yugoslav military service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1999), told an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia in a 25 June telephone conversation that he was beaten and tortured by Serbian prison guards during his detention. He said the guards denied him medical care and beat him with clubs if he spent longer in the bathroom than was permitted. Shukarev said the worst part of his captivity was seeing the guards beat ethnic Albanian prisoners as often as five times a day. MS




WHEN POLLSTERS AGREE: THE CASE OF ROMANIA


By Michael Shafir

As is well known, public opinion polls are not an infallible instrument--or else one could do away with elections proper. Apart from problems arising from sampling techniques (and they may be major), opinion surveys, even if conducted most rigorously, merely reflect the views of the population, or of a segment thereof, at a certain moment in time and under the influence of certain circumstances. Change those circumstances, and opinions may shift, sometimes radically so. Consequently, not even when pollsters agree among themselves can one infer that their findings are more than a reflection of the prevailing--time and space constrained--opinions.

When pollsters begin to agree over periods of time, however, things might begin to be different, and they are certainly more so when the agreement bridges over such classical social cleavages as the sampled population's education, urban-rural divisions, regional divisions, and so forth. This, precisely, seems to be the case when one takes an even superficial look at the findings of Romanian pollsters in the course of the last year or so. With a rather unusual degree of certainty, one can predict that in 2000 the ruling Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), the major coalition alliance, will be sent back to the benches of the opposition. Furthermore, the polls predict that President Emil Constantinescu will meet a similar fate.

The latest poll, conducted by the Center for Public Opinion and Marketing Research (CSOP) with a sample of 1,222 respondents between 31 May and 6 June, puts former President Ion Iliescu at the top in electoral preferences for the presidential post (38 percent), considerably ahead of Constantinescu (20 percent). This survey confirms the findings of the poll conducted in May on behalf of the Soros Foundation by two other Romanian institutes, Metro-Media Transylvania (MMT), and the Center for Urban and Rural Sociology (CURS), with a sample of 2,000 respondents. Since the two surveys nearly overlap in time, their similarity is hardly surprising. The MMT-CURS survey had Iliescu leading the field of presidential contenders with 35 percent, followed by Constantinescu with 26 percent. How do these findings compare with earlier surveys, however, bearing in mind the caveat on the validity of sampling mentioned above? Can one, in other words, speak of a "trend"?

Indeed, one can. The so-called "Barometer" surveys, conducted on behalf of the Soros Foundation, show that Constantinescu's support started declining in 1998 (34 percent, compared to 47 percent in 1997), though Iliescu's ratings in 1997 and 1998 were nearly identical (21 and 22 percent, respectively). Among other presidential aspirants, the leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) seems to be paying a price for openly siding with the miners' aborted march on Bucharest earlier this year and thus challenging the very foundations of a state based on the rule of law: while in 1987 14 percent backed Corneliu Vadim Tudor for president and 18 percent did so in 1998, his support is now at an 8 percent ebb.

The support for political parties closely follows that for their leaders. Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) is the main beneficiary of the Romanian population's changing political perceptions. These perceptions are perhaps best illustrated in answers to other questions included in the Soros Foundation sponsored surveys. In March 1997, shortly after the 1996 parliamentary elections, a slight majority (52 percent) of the electorate was of the opinion that Romania is marching "in the right direction." The CDR was promising at that time economic reforms and the PDSR had just paid the price for failing to implement them.

By June 1998, after the CDR, in turn, had failed to implement what it had promised, only 25 percent still thought Romania was marching on the right path and 52 percent were of the opposite opinion. The "performance record" of the CDR was there for all to see, in other words. By November 1998, those so persuaded had increased to 64 percent and in the latest "Barometer" fully two-thirds of all respondents (66 percent) were of this opinion. It was no coincidence (as Soviet-time "Pravda" loved to put it) that by November 1998 a majority (51 percent) were of the opinion that "life had been better" under the Ceausescu regime and that this majority has increased to 63 percent in June 1999.

Yet it is not the openly Communist-nostalgic PRM but the PDSR that is benefiting from this trend. The party's support increased from 16 percent in 1997 to 26 percent the next year and to 39 percent now, when it tops party preferences. Conversely, backing for the CDR dropped from 51 percent in 1997 to 30 percent in 1998 and only 22 percent now.

Is the Romanians' memory short lived? Perhaps. Bearing in mind, however, that fully 47 percent in the last CSOP survey, and no less than 46 percent in the MMT-CURS survey, were unable to answer the question of which party they would back if elections were conducted now, it may be too early to declare the PDSR the winner of the 2000 electoral ballot. But few will doubt that the CDR will be the loser, no matter who wins those elections. And it would lose for the same reason that the PDSR lost the elections in 1996, namely for its abysmal "performance record." The real loser, however, may be Romanian democracy, for the very high percentage of disoriented voters is an indication of a very high proportion of disillusioned voters, or of those who have lost hope, as a plethora of data from the recent surveys illustrates.


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