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Newsline - July 15, 1999




SWISS PROSECUTORS TAKING UP WHERE SKURATOV LEFT OFF?

Prosecutors in Geneva, Switzerland, have opened a criminal investigation into allegations of money-laundering against Kremlin facilities directorate head Pavel Borodin and other Russian citizens, AP reported on 14 July, citing an anonymous Swiss judge. According to a Geneva-based newspaper that day, these citizens include Borodin's wife and other members of the Russian presidential administration. According to "The Moscow Times" on 15 July, most Russian press organs are steering clear of the story, with only NTV providing coverage during its evening news broadcast on 14 July. On 15 July, Interfax carried only Borodin's categorical denial. He told the agency that "neither I nor my wife have any relationship with any Swiss bank accounts. I have not conducted any commercial or other types of activities on Swiss soil." Borodin's lawyer called the investigation a purely political action against the Russian president initiated by Swiss Prosecutor Carla del Ponte. Borodin's name has been linked with the Swiss firm Mabatex, which suspended Prosecutor- General Yurii Skuratov has been investigating. JAC

OIL PRICE RISE TRIGGERS FEARS OF HIGHER FUEL PUMP PRICES

The price of gasoline has continued rising in regions across Russia. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 15 July that gasoline has all but disappeared in Arkhangelsk Oblast since 13 July and that during the first 10 days of this month, the price of oil products rose by 10- 15 percent in Belgorod, Orlov, Rostov Oblasts and by almost one-third in Tambov Oblast and the Republic of Dagestan. Also on 15 July, "Komsomolskaya Pravda" reported that prices for gasoline and diesel fuel increased in 70 regions across Russia last month and that the increase exceeded 15-20 percent in 47 of them. The newspaper concluded that Russian consumers should perhaps brace themselves for a 100 percent rise since the price of crude oil is rising and Russian producers will want to preserve the maximum amount of their output for export rather than refining. JAC

GDP SLIDES IN FIRST QUARTER, AS GOVERNMENT MISSES BUDGET TARGET IN FIRST HALF

GDP sank by 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 1999, compared with the same period last year, according to the Russian Statistics Agency on 14 July. During the first six months of 1999, Russia recorded a primary budget surplus of 1 percent of GDP, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced the same day. (The primary budget measure excludes debt payments.) Kasyanov predicted that the government will eventually meet the 2 percent primary budget surplus target agreed upon with the IMF. He noted that tax collection is increasing, having grown from 10 percent of GDP in January to 15 percent in June. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO EXTEND GUARANTEES TO DOMESTIC INVESTORS...

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has asked the government to prepare a new law providing guarantees for Russian investors against unfavorable changes in domestic legislation, Interfax reported on 14 July. The same day, a similar law protecting foreign investors came into force, Bloomberg reported. According to the agency, Mikhail Zadornov, presidential envoy to international financial institutions, said the World Bank wants the law in place before it releases new loans. On the issue of protecting domestic investors, Anton Danilov- Davidov, head of the presidential administration's economic directorate, told Interfax that the Economics Ministry may discuss amendments to the law on investment activity as early as 16 July. JAC

...AS FEDERAL SECURITIES COMMISSIONS CRACKS DOWN ON TRADING FIRMS

The Federal Securities Commission (FKTB) has pulled the trading licenses of more than 200 companies, "Vremya MN" reported on 13 July. FKTB Chairman Dmitrii Vasiliev told reporters that the firms were not observing basic rules, such as maintaining up-to-date financial records. According to Vasiliev, the commission has provided the Interior Ministry with a list of more than 99 investment funds suspected of other violations. Vasiliev also criticized the Central Bank for its bond issues, saying that they should be limited as much as possible, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

ZHIRINOVSKII'S LATEST GUBERNATORIAL CAMPAIGN HITS A BUMP

The Sverdlovsk Oblast Election Committee rejected all 30,000 signatures collected to support Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii's candidacy for governor of the oblast, "Segodnya" reported on 14 July. After losing his bid to run for governor of Belgorod Oblast, Zhirinovskii announced that he would seek the governor's office in both Leningrad and Sverdlovsk Oblasts (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 16 June 1999). According to "Segodnya," Zhirinovskii's supporters believe that they can gather another 30,000 signatures before the commission's deadline. Elections are scheduled for 29 August. JAC

NIZHNII REFORMERS' PAST UNDER SCRUTINY

The Prosecutor- General's Office has launched a criminal investigation into former First Deputy Prime Minister and ex-Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov for possible violations of campaign finance laws during his 1993 Federation Council bid, "Tribuna" reported on 15 July. Meanwhile, "Obshchaya gazeta" in its 1-7 July issue examined former Premier Sergei Kirienko's activities at the Garantiya Bank in Nizhnii Novgorod. The newspaper claims that Kirienko "launched his career bilking old people" and describes how under his leadership the bank diverted monies from the oblast Pension Fund. Among the methods used were withholding dividends to the fund, which was the bank's main shareholder, and engaging in various schemes with promissory notes that, "according to certain calculations," made up to $10 million a month. The newspaper also describes how the bank concluded an information-processing contract worth 14.9 billion old rubles for "17 pages of text paraphrasing newspaper articles." One of the two companies involved, AMK Concern, was owned and managed by Kirienko. JC/JAC

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT APPOINTS YUGOSLAVIA AID COMMISSION

An unnamed official at the Russian Economics Ministry told Interfax on 13 July that the government has decided to create a commission to administer aid to Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin will chair the body, but Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants will be in charge of coordinating that aid among various Russian ministries and departments. FS

YUGOSLAV AMBASSADOR UNSATISFIED WITH RUSSIAN KFOR ROLE

Yugoslav Ambassador to Russia Borislav Milosevic told ITAR- TASS on 14 July that he is "dissatisfied" with the level of Russian participation in the Kosova peacekeeping force (KFOR). Milosevic acknowledged that the "Russian troops are in [Kosova] not in order to protect the Serbs, but in order to treat everybody objectively." He added: "I do not think that ordinary Albanians are against the Russian contingent.... Anti-Russian actions by...Albanians are inspired by NATO in order to create an uneasy situation for the Russian peacekeepers." Milosevic, who is the brother of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, said: "I cannot speak about the significance of [anti-government protests in Serbia].... I do not consider them a major political factor." He stressed that "naturally, there is discontent in Yugoslavia and some are using it. But these are not the forces whom the people trust." FS

ORTHODOX CHURCH OBJECTING TO ACTIVITIES OF OTHER RELIGIOUS GROUPS IN FAR EAST

The Russian Orthodox Church diocese in Vladivostok has asked the office of the Primorskii Krai prosecutor to examine the activities of three religious organizations operating in the krai, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 14 July. The diocese believes the groups have violated the controversial 1997 law on religion, under which local authorities may ban a religious organization. According to AP, the church has accused the Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and a splinter group of Hare Krishnas of recruiting potential converts illegally by "using deception and totalitarian methods." According to the agency, the Orthodox Church objects to the practice of the Jehovah's Witnesses of visiting people in their homes, approaching them on public transportation, and compiling lists of all residents in neighborhoods where the group is active. A Moscow city prosecutor is currently seeking to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses in the capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). JAC

FSB EXPELS U.S. AID WORKER FROM VORONEZH FOR SPYING

The Voronezh Regional Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) recently expelled Justine Hamilton, a U.S. citizen, who had been living there for the past two years working on humanitarian assistance programs, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 July. According to the newspaper, Hamilton was the official representative to Voronezh of the state of Kansas. FSB officials suspect Hamilton of compiling classified information on defense enterprises in Voronezh. They also noted that she was particularly interested in the oblast's ecological situation. JAC

NORTH OSSETIAN, INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENTS MEET

Aleksandr Dzasokhov and Ruslan Aushev have held talks in Dzasokhov's residence near Vladikavkaz on the two republics' combined efforts to combat crime and the process of repatriation of ethnic Ingush displaced persons forced to flee North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion during the interethnic violence of 1992, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 July. LF

HAS RADICAL OPPOSITION NEUTRALIZED CHECHNYA'S PRESIDENT?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 July cited unnamed sources in Grozny as reporting that President Aslan Maskhadov has in effect been rendered powerless in a bloodless palace coup by former acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev and field commanders Ruslan Gilaev and Khottab. The field commanders subsequently announced the creation of a Council for National Security, intended to function as the highest organ of state power. Both Maskhadov and his opponents are to sit on that council. Basaev and his supporters called for the creation of such a supreme body of state power in February during a standoff with Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 6, 10 February 1999). On 14 July, "Vremya MN" quoted former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov as saying that "Islamic military detachments" intend to launch a campaign next year to liberate Nagorno-Karabakh, which he characterized as "Muslim territory," from Armenian occupation. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT HOPES FOR FURTHER PROGRESS ON KARABAKH SETTLEMENT

Speaking in Warsaw on 14 July after talks with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Robert Kocharian expressed optimism at the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, adding that Armenia and Azerbaijan are holding direct talks to this end, ITAR-TASS reported. The Azerbaijani presidential press service reported the same day that Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev will fly to Geneva on 15 July to meet there with Kocharian to discuss the conflict, Reuters reported. LF

SUSPECT IN ARMENIAN LOCAL ELECTION VIOLENCE ARRESTED

Businessman Ashot Aghababian, whose campaign staff beat and opened fire at supporters of a rival candidate during the 11 July election for mayor of the Yerevan district of Ajapniak, was arrested on 14 July, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported citing a statement by the Prosecutor-General's Office. Eight people were injured during the violence, and the poll results have been annulled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 1999). LF

AZERBAIJAN MARKS 30TH ANNIVERSAY OF ALIEV'S ELECTION AS CP FIRST SECRETARY

President Aliyev visited an exhibit in Baku on 14 July pegged to the 30th anniversary of his election as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, Reuters reported. The exhibition was organized by Ramiz Mehtiev, a senior member of Aliev's presidential staff, who in the 1980s served as ideological secretary of the republican CP Central Committee. During the 13 years as Azerbaijani party boss, Aliyev claimed to have minimized corruption and achieved spectacular growth of the previously stagnating economy. Press articles after his enforced retirement from the post of first deputy chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers in October 1987 cast doubts on those claimed successes. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARTY LEADER PROPOSES POWER-SHARING WITH OPPOSITION

Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 15 July, Ihtiar Shirinov, who is chairman of the pro-government National Congress Party, proposed the creation of a government of national unity in which both the present leadership and unspecified opposition parties would be represented, Turan reported. Shirinov said such a body is needed in light of the serious problems Azerbaijan currently faces. Those problems include failure by the OSCE to propose an acceptable solution to the Karabakh conflict, continued arms deliveries to Armenia by Russia and China, Iranian claims to ownership of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil reserves, and the perceived readiness of France and the U.S. to recognize the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Among the tasks the new government should tackle, Shirinov listed the conduct of free and fair municipal and parliamentary elections and the adoption of programs to safeguard Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and sovereignty as well as to ease social and economic tensions. LF

AZERBAIJAN COMMENTS ON IRANIAN DEMONSTRATIONS

Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman and former President Abulfaz Elchibey told Turan on 14 July that he believes that the student demonstrations in Tehran and Tabriz are a struggle against the present regime that will trigger a "national- liberation struggle" by Iran's ethnic Azerbaijani population by this fall. State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade characterized the protests as Iran's internal affair and the consequence of the policies pursued by the present Iranian leadership. Guluzade said he excludes the possibility that they were inspired by forces outside the country. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA REACH AGREEMENT OVER BAIKONUR LAUNCHES

Following 10 hours of talks on 14 July with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev and President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told journalists in Astana that Kazakhstan has agreed to a resumption of rocket launches from the Baikonur cosmodrome, with the exception of Proton rockets. In return, Moscow agreed to pay $115 million for the lease of Baikonur, part in cash and part in barter goods, from August through November. The agreement paves the way for the launch of a supply ship to dock with the orbiting "Mir" space station. That launch will take place on 16 July, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, residents of the village in central Kazakhstan's Karaganda Oblast, where chunks of debris from the rocket landed, are demanding to be evacuated until the precise extent of the ecological damage caused by the explosion is determined, Interfax reported. LF

TAJIK CURRENCY LOSES VALUE

Tajikistan's National Bank on 13 July succeeded in stabilizing the exchange rate for the Tajik ruble against the U.S. dollar, setting an official rate of 1,400 Tajik rubles to the dollar, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 July. The Tajik ruble had traded at 1,400 to the dollar at the beginning of the previous week before falling to 1,800- 2,000. The fall in the value of the national currency led to steep price rises. Speaking on national television, National Bank chairman Murodali Alimardonov and Finance Minister Anvarsho Muzaffarov both denied rumors that the Tajik government intends to introduce a new national currency--the somon--in September to mark the 1,100th anniversary of the Samanid dynasty. LF

ANOTHER UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST SENTENCED...

On 14 July, a court in Tashkent sentenced 48-year-old Mahbuba Kasymova to five years' imprisonment on charges of fraud and harboring a criminal. Human Rights Watch termed the three-hour trial "a farce." Kasymova is a member of the unregistered Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan and of the banned Birlik opposition party. Uzbek police arrested Ravshan Khamidov, who had been living with Kasymova's family in their Tashkent apartment since November 1998, on 12 May on suspicion of involvement in the 16 February Tashkent bombings. He has not yet faced trial on those charges. Two members of the Independent Human Rights Organization were arrested in June and a third died in custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 1999). LF

...AS TRIAL OF MORE BOMBING SUSPECTS BEGINS

Uzbekistan's Supreme Court opened proceedings on 14 July against 20 people suspected of involvement in the Tashkent bombings, AP reported. Six people were sentenced to death and a further 16 received prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years in a trial that ended last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1999). LF




PRICES TO INCREASE IN BELARUS?

First Deputy Prime Minister Vasil Dalhalyou told Belarusian Television on 14 July that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has instructed him to make profitable "in the near future" the production of basic foodstuffs, including meat, milk, and bread. Dalhalyou said the government will have to make "moves" in its pricing policy to obtain that goal. In particular, he suggested that the price of milk will be increased. He also said the government is considering introducing limits on subsidized electricity supplies and raising public transport fares. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CREATES COUNCIL TO PROMOTE PRIVATE BUSINESS

Lukashenka on 13 July signed an edict setting up a Council for the Development of Entrepreneurship in Belarus, which is to be a consultative body under the presidential administration. According to Belarusian Television, the council will "render integrated state support to the development of non-state-owned economic entities as well as to restructuring the economy and forming competitive [economic] relations." Lukashenka, who formerly called private businessmen "lousy fleas," may have been forced to make this concession to private entrepreneurship by the urgent need to fill the virtually empty state coffers. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CONTINUES TO KILL KUCHMA'S BILLS

Lawmakers on 13 July turned down President Leonid Kuchma's amendments to the law on value-added tax, Info Bank reported. Kuchma proposed that VAT rates for resold goods and services be determined by the original purchase price, not the sale price, arguing that the provision would generate more budget revenues. The same day, the parliament rejected a presidential bill on tax privileges for newly created small businesses. Intelnews reported that the parliament also failed to ratify a Polish-Ukrainian agreement on a $20 million credit line offered by Poland last year. The loan was intended to finance joint economic projects, in particular manufacturing Polish "Bizon" grain harvesters in Kharkiv and Kovel. JM

UKRAINE TO PAY OVERDUE BOND TO ING BARINGS IN FULL

The Finance Ministry announced on 14 July that Ukraine will pay an overdue $155 million bond to the Dutch-based ING Barings bank on 2 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999). The sides agreed that Ukraine will make another issue of Eurobonds, nominated in German marks, to raise the money to meet the debt. The bonds are to be sold to a group of investors selected by both the government and ING Barings. The cabinet spent more than a month trying to persuade ING Barings to allow it to pay off 20 percent of the bond and convert the rest into three-year bonds. The bank did not agree to restructure the debt because it had resold the Ukrainian bond to other investors and would have had to persuade them to reschedule as well, AP reported. JM

FINNISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN BALTIC STATES

Tarja Halonen made a whirlwind tour of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on 14 July. After meeting with Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, she hinted that Latvia and Lithuania may be invited to EU accession negotiations later this year: "One shouldn't be taking rumors seriously, but I have heard as preliminary information that Latvia and Lithuania have done well," BNS quoted her as saying. In Riga, Halonen called on President Vaira Vike-Freiberga not to sign the controversial language law (see below). And in Vilnius, referring to the reported linkage between Lithuania's EU chances and the fate of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, Halonen said it is "reasonable to take account of member states' viewpoint" since the decision on negotiations must be unanimous among all EU states, according to ELTA. Finland currently holds the rotating EU presidency. MH

LATVIAN LANGUAGE LAW SENT BACK TO PARLIAMENT

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga sent back the controversial language law to the parliament late on 14 July. LETA reported that the president objected to seven points, which she said must be legally precise. She noted that the decision to send back the bill was "difficult." LETA commented that a parliamentary committee must review the objections made by Vike-Freiberga, but if the parliament rejects those objections, she must promulgate the law. The law, which governs language usage, has received negative assessments from the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, and others for provisions on the private sector and public gatherings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1999). The law originally passed overwhelmingly last week by a 73 to 16 vote. MH

LITHUANIAN SOCIAL SECURITY FUND BORROWS AGAIN

The Lithuanian social insurance fund SODRA has received yet another guarantee from the government of additional borrowing. The fund, which is mired in financial difficulties, currently owes 184 million litas ($46 million) to commercial banks, ELTA reported. The government order will help the fund obtain a 20 million litas loan to be used for pensions and other payments. It is estimated that the fund's deficit will reach 350 million litas by year's end. MH

POLISH GENERAL STAFF REORGANIZED

Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz on 14 July signed new Defense Ministry regulations to introduce "far-reaching changes" in the General Staff so that it can better cooperate with NATO, PAP reported. According to those regulations, the General Staff is a planning rather than command body, and the number of the staff's generals dropped from 47 to 28. "Rzeczpospolita" commented on 15 July that the new regulations do not affect the General Staff chief, who, according to the law on the Defense Ministry, commands the armed forces on behalf of the defense minister. JM

CZECH PREMIER CONSIDERING CABINET RESHUFFLE

Milos Zeman on 14 July said after meeting with President Vaclav Havel that he is considering a reshuffle of the cabinet and has briefed the president on his ideas, Reuters reported. Zeman said the changes could be announced around 22 July, on the first anniversary of his minority Social Democrat (CSSD) government. After meeting with Zeman, Havel received Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda, who has often been at odds with other cabinet members. CTK, citing anonymous sources, said that apart from Svoboda, cabinet members who may be replaced are Industry and Trade Minister Miroslav Gregr, Health Minister Ivan David, and Transportation and Communication Minister Antonin Peltram. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT OBJECTS TO PLANS TO CURTAIL PREROGATIVES

Havel told journalists on 14 July that he has "reservations" about the plan by a joint commission of the CSSD and the opposition Civic Democratic Party to curtail presidential prerogatives. Havel said that reducing the right of the president to grant judicial pardons amounted to "systematic nonsense." He also said that introducing the constitutional duty of the head of state to appoint the leader of the largest parliamentary group to form a new government after elections would signal "mistrust in the president's common sense." He spoke after Zeman briefed him on the planned changes. MS

SLOVAK HUNGARIAN ETHNIC PARTY WANTS SCHUSTER TO RETURN LAW TO PARLIAMENT

Leaders of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) on 14 July called on President Rudolf Schuster not to promulgate the minority language law passed by the legislature last week but to return it to the parliament. Schuster, who met with the SMK leaders within the framework of meetings with all parliamentary party groups, pledged to set up a team of experts and decide on the issue after receiving their advice, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARY TO MAKE MORE ARMED FORCES CUTS

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian Radio on 14 July that a resolution recently approved by the government and kept secret till now stipulates that the military must undergo further change. "Due to expenditures that occurred during the Kosova crisis, the armed forces have reached the limit of their spending," he said, adding that "development projects promised upon accession to NATO have been halted." "Nepszabadsag" reported that the government intends to reduce the armed forces to 35,000-40,000 from the present 55,000. In other news, the Defense Ministry has banned the staff of its Strategic and Defense Research Institute from publishing, after some analysts released articles critical of NATO's air strikes in Yugoslavia, "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 15 July. MSZ/MS

HUNGARY'S SOCIALISTS SUBMIT BILL ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

The opposition Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) submitted to the parliament on 14 July a motion to amend the constitution to allow direct presidential elections. Other parliamentary parties had indicated earlier that they will not support the motion. MSZ




RUGOVA RETURNS TO KOSOVA

Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova returned to Kosova from Italy via Macedonia on 15 July, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the scene. Several thousand onlookers cheered and chanted "Rugova, Rugova" when he crossed into Kosova in a convoy of four diplomatic vehicles. He told his well-wishers that he is very happy to be entering a "free Kosova" with an international presence. He said he will work to rebuild Kosova's democratic and economic life and to obtain independence for the province. The previous day, Rugova's adviser, Alush Gashi, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that Rugova's "first meeting will be with UN Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello. Afterward, [he will meet his] Democratic League of Kosova's [LDK] leaders in Prishtina [and] give a press conference." Gashi stressed that "Rugova, as the founder of the LDK and the first president of the Republic of Kosova...is the most beloved and honored citizen of the republic.... I believe that his reception will...help Kosova move ahead." FS

ARBOUR CONFIDENT MILOSEVIC WILL END UP IN THE HAGUE

Louise Arbour, who is the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia's chief prosecutor, said in Prishtina on 13 July that "we have launched a process that is irreversible. There is now an indictment issued by an international body that has the force of law," an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. She added: "I can assure you that...while Mr. Milosevic thought that he could keep me out of Kosova [in January], he will not be able to keep himself out of The Hague." Arbour met with KFOR commander General Sir Mike Jackson, Vieira de Mello, and international war crimes investigators to discuss cooperation between the tribunal, KFOR, and local courts. On 14 July, she visited a massacre site in Celina, where British forensic specialists recently discovered the bodies of 21 people, including 11 children and seven women, shot dead at close range. FS

ALBANIA, GREECE, MACEDONIA COORDINATE STABILITY PACT PROJECTS

Foreign Ministers Georgios Papandreou (Greece), Paskal Milo (Albania), and Aleksandar Dimitrov (Macedonia) met on the island of Agios Ahilios, Lake Prespa, on 14 July and agreed to present several joint projects at the Balkan stability pact summit in Sarajevo on 29 and 30 July. The projects include a pilot program allowing local residents easier cross-border travel in a 20 kilometer-wide border area within each country. Papandreou said that the program aims at allowing residents "more ability to travel...while making sure we are strict on border crime and illegal immigration," AP reported. The ministers also pledged to launch annual joint meetings of the three countries' prime ministers. Milo told an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent in Tirana after the meeting that other projects on the agenda involve the development of road and rail transport, telecommunications, and energy supplies. FS

ALBANIAN HIJACKS GREEK BUS AFTER POLICE ALLEGEDLY DESTROY HIS DOCUMENTS

An Albanian immigrant armed with hand grenades hijacked a bus carrying 50 passengers near Thessaloniki on 14 July. He released all but eight people and forced the driver to drive close to the Albanian border near Florina. A stand-off with police continued there on 15 July. The man told Greek television by mobile telephone: "I have been in the country for nine years without doing anything bad, but recently [the police] picked me up to deport me. They beat me." He added that he no longer has access to his bank account because the police destroyed his documents. The man demands safe passage to Albania, $780,000 in ransom, and two automatic weapons. Police stepped up checks on Albanian immigrants after a similar hijacking in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 1999). FS

NO PROGRESS IN BELGRADE-PODGORICA TALKS

The first day of talks between Serbian and Montenegrin political leaders on the future of the Yugoslav federation ended without result, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 14 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999). Spokesmen for the governing Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the United Yugoslav Left (JUL) of his wife, Mira Markovic, said the Montenegrin delegation did not present any new or concrete proposals for discussion. PM

DJUKANOVIC: MONTENEGRO WILL BE EQUAL TO SERBIA OR INDEPENDENT

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Ringelia, Norway, on 14 July that "what we have proposed to the Serbs is a platform for a redefinition of our relations on a new, democratic basis. We hope they will responsibly consider the proposal and give a reply." Djukanovic stressed that he hopes Montenegro will become a complete equal of Serbia in a "democratic Yugoslavia." He added, however, that "the issue of independence for Montenegro will be...an inevitable alternative" if the Serbs do not agree to democracy and equality. The population of Serbia is more than 10 times that of Montenegro. PM

TENSIONS CONTINUE BETWEEN PODGORICA, ARMY

Djukanovic said that any leading Yugoslav army officers who committed war crimes should be "legally held accountable," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica on 14 July. Elsewhere, the Montenegrin cabinet said in a statement that unnamed army commanders stationed in Montenegro recently violated the principle of civilian control over the military by publicly criticizing several policies of the Montenegrin government. The statement added that the army acted illegally when, "on Belgrade's orders," it recently confiscated deliveries of humanitarian aid to Montenegro from abroad. PM

DEMONSTRATION IN SUBOTICA

Some 5,000 people attended a rally in the Vojvodina town of Subotica on 14 July to call for Milosevic's resignation. In Valjevo, a local court sentenced two participants in a recent scuffle with police to five and 10 days in jail, respectively. In Leskovac, a local court continued proceedings against nine anti-Milosevic protesters for allegedly damaging the home of the pro-Milosevic mayor in a recent demonstration, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Cacak, police confiscated the tape of a RFE/RL correspondent who was covering opposition activities in that town, the independent daily "Danas" reported. Elsewhere, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands the troops in southern Serbia, said that the army remains loyal to Milosevic, who is its commander-in-chief, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. PM

IS MILOSEVIC PLANNING TO CHANGE THE ELECTION LAW?

Vuk Draskovic, who is the mercurial leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, said in Belgrade that Milosevic will soon try to change the electoral system from that of proportional representation to one based on the principle of first-past- the-post, "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 15 July. The changes would enable him to rout the divided opposition in local elections by combining the votes of the SPS, JUL, and Vojislav Seselj's Radicals. Draskovic charged that the proposed changes indicate that Milosevic will "fight" to remain in power and that the result could be "civil war." PM

DID ARKAN SEEK TO PLEA-BARGAIN?

Indicted war criminal Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" recently contacted Belgian police through his lawyer to see if the Hague-based war crimes tribunal would reduce the charges against him if he agreed to testify against Milosevic, the "Berliner Zeitung" reported on 14 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999). Belgian officials confirmed that Arkan had contacted them, but they provided no details. The officials said that they told Arkan that the war crimes tribunal does not engage in plea-bargaining and that they have not heard from him since. Arkan told journalists by telephone that the story is "crazy," Reuters reported. London's "The Independent" wrote on 15 July that the story suggests that "senior figures in the Milosevic regime are thinking hard about life after the fall of their president and protector." PM

SERBIAN RADIO BROADCASTS RFE/RL PROGRAMS 'BY MISTAKE'

Radio Majdanpek, which is part of the network of state-run Radio- Television Serbia (RTS), rebroadcast programs of RFE/RL and the VOA on 13 July, the private Beta news agency reported from Belgrade the following day. A spokesman for Radio Majdanpek told Beta that the rebroadcasting was done "by mistake" and that the transmission began "automatically" when Radio Majdanpek finished its own program. He did not elaborate. Beta added that the station's officials do not expect the authorities to punish them for the rebroadcasting, which is illegal under a 1998 Serbian law. Beta noted, however, that Radio Majdanpek will henceforth broadcast only programs of RTS once it has finished transmitting its own material. Majdanpek is located east of Belgrade near the Romanian frontier. PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER CANCELS TRIP TO SLOVENIA

Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa cancelled a trip to Slovenia scheduled for 14 July, the state-run news agency Hina reported. The reason was that Croatian and Slovenian officials have still not reached an agreement on the use of power produced by the two countries' joint nuclear power plant in Krsko, Slovenia. The funding, management, and use of Krsko is one of the questions that have bedeviled Croatian-Slovenian relations since 1991, when the two countries became independent. PM

ROMANIA SAYS LOSSES FROM YUGOSLAV EMBARGO TO TOTAL NEARLY $1 BILLION

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Simona Miculescu told journalists on 14 July that the losses suffered by the Romanian economy as a result of the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia now total $245 million and will total $915 million by year's end, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The same day, Prime Minister Radu Vasile said Romania "fully implements" the EU oil embargo against Yugoslavia. He noted that Romania has "demonstrated her solidarity" with NATO and that the time has come for the alliance to "demonstrate in turn its solidarity" with the countries of the region that suffered losses owing to the campaign," Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS CRITICISM OF NATO, EU

Emil Constantinescu on 14 July said his criticism of NATO and the EU one day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1999) is credible precisely because it comes from "someone who has clearly made public his pro-Western partisanship." Constantinescu was responding to remarks by his predecessor, Ion Iliescu, who had said earlier the same day that the presidents 13 July remarks were "pertinent, but tardy," Mediafax reported. Constantinescu's criticism of Western "double-standard" policies discriminating against his country has met with virtually unanimous approval among Romania's politicians. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION TO RECEIVE DEPUTY PARLIAMENT CHAIR?

Parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov on 14 July said he "does not rule out" that the post of deputy chairman that has been vacant since the recent dismissal of Party of Democratic Forces (PFD) leader Valeriu Matei may be filled by a member of the Party of Moldovan Communists. Diacov said there would be "nothing unusual" about such a scenario, as in many countries the opposition is granted a parliamentary deputy chairmanship. He added that the Alliance for Democracy and Reform has "ceased to exist" owing to the behavior of Christian Democratic Popular Front leader Iurie Rosca (who last week denounced Diacov's "Mafioso activities") and that his own For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc is debating Rosca's dismissal from the other deputy parliamentary chairmanship. MS

MOLDOVAN PARTY SEES PARLIAMENTARY GROUP SHRINK

The parliamentary group of the PFD became the smallest in the legislature on 14 July, after deputies Gheorghe Straisteanu and Anatol Dubrovschi announced that they have left the party because they can "no longer tolerate [its] dictatorial methods." Before that announcement, PFD deputy chairman Vasile Soimaru said the two were expelled from the PFD at a meeting of the party's Council on 11 July. The PFD now has only nine deputies, but one of the members of its parliamentary group, Ilie Ilascu, has been elected while being detained in Tiraspol. MS

BULGARIA BOWING TO ARAB LEAGUE BOYCOTT?

The private Bulgarian airline Via Air began regular flights from Varna to Sofia on 14 July, after receiving assurances from the Bulgarian authorities that it is 100 percent Bulgarian," AP reported. Lebanon has canceled landing rights for the Bulgarian national airline Balkan Air after an Israeli consortium bought a 75 percent stake in the airline. On 13 July, BTA reported that Deputy Transport Minister Apik Garabedian and Liudmil Spasov, head of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East department, conducted talks in Beirut on the revoking of those landing rights. The agency said one of the possibilities examined by the Lebanese authorities was allowing a different Bulgarian carrier to take over the landing rights. Garabedian is also to conduct talks with the Syrian authorities following Damascus's decision to revoke Balkan Air's landing rights. MS




MOLDOVA AND THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM: LITTLE COUNTRY, BIG QUESTION


By Michael Shafir

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi seems determined to change the country's constitutional makeup and introduce a full-fledged presidential system. Under the current basic law, the Moldovan system is half-way between a parliamentary system and a semi-presidential one. In his quest, Lucinschi is encountering the resistance of the legislature. It may be too early to predict the outcome of the confrontation. But whatever that outcome, the issue is one that needs to be evaluated from a considerably broader perspective than that offered by the specific Moldovan case.

The question is which system, the presidential or the parliamentary, better serves democracy. In a speech delivered to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 25 June, Lucinschi explained that in the last eight years, Moldova has had seven governments. As a result of this political instability, he said, economic reforms have been stalled or only partly implemented, demonstrating the governments' inefficiency. But if presidential systems were a guarantee for efficiency, Latin American countries would surely head the list of states with efficient governments. Furthermore, an efficient government is not necessarily a democratic one, as many authoritarian systems proved.

The governments' inefficiency, according to Lucinschi, reflected the divisions within coalition governments that had to reflect the parliament's makeup as well as "destructive divisions" between the legislature and the successive cabinets. That argument is false for two reasons. First, a "unified" government is no guarantee that economic reform will be implemented. To do so, it must also be "reform- minded." In the previous legislature, the Agrarian Democratic Party had an absolute majority but that state of affairs did not advance reforms. Second, and more important, attacks on "destructive divisions" are part and parcel of the political discourse of those who consider democracy itself to be "divisive."

Without necessarily attributing such beliefs to the Moldovan president, it may be appropriate to recall a former "transitional" president's statement that "the presidential system is a kind of lottery and to a great extent depends on the personal characteristics of the man elected." The statement was made in 1993 by Poland's former president, General Wojciech Jaruzelski. If that statement is correct, is not the switch to a presidential system too dangerous to contemplate? Needless to say, Jaruzelski can hardly be taken as a yardstick, since there are too many examples of systems that developed precisely in the opposite direction to that which Polish society enforced on its former president.

Western political leaders would be well advised to refrain from answering such questions. For them, much is at stake, which may explain why the West supported the constitutional referendum in Russia in 1993. But how many politicians took into account that Yeltsin's successor may be called Gennadii Zyuganov?

If the question were addressed to political scientists, on the other hand, the answer would likely be substantially different as well as particularly pertinent for "transitional democracies." According to political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, democratic consolidation is advanced by parliamentarism, rather than by a presidential system. Available data show that of the 41 countries in the world that experienced a democratic system for 10 consecutive years between 1981 and 1990, 30 were parliamentary systems, seven had a semi-presidential system, and only four were presidential systems of the U.S. type.

But as two British political scientists, Karen Henderson and Neil Robinson note, in the post-communist context, the tendency toward presidentialism increases as one moves eastward, from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia, to Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania and further to the former Yugoslavia. The tendency then "takes off" in what is now the CIS, to which Moldova belongs. Lucinschi's drive thus fits into this pattern.

This leads to the question of "under what circumstances." Historical legacies cannot be easily wiped out and, as Henderson and Robinson show, the stronger the tendency toward presidentialism, the weaker the civil society and the weaker the civil society, the stronger the urge for a so-called "delegative democracy," where checks on those holding power function during (but not between) elections and in which the electorate tends to pin its hopes on some kind of "savior figure." Little Moldova is indeed confronted with a big question, but not one that cannot be answered. If "historical circumstances" make the presidential system efficient and functional on the other side of the Atlantic, one would be well advised to remember that the U.S. is more of an exception than the rule.


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