Accessibility links

Newsline - November 12, 1999




PUTIN SAYS RUSSIAN FORCES CONSOLIDATING CONTROL OF GUDERMES

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on 12 November that the Russian flag is now flying over Gudermes, the second-largest town in Chechnya. Federal forces launched an all-out attack on the town early that day after a two-week siege. It is unclear whether Chechen fighters sought to defend the town or withdrew. There have been reports of disaffection among the town's population, and Interfax on 11 November reported that Lieutenant-General Gennadii Troshev, who commands the Russian forces' eastern front, was holding talks with the town's elders (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 45, 11 November 1999). Meanwhile the village of Bamut, southwest of Grozny, has been subjected to repeated intensive air and artillery strikes in the last few days, but Russian Defense Ministry spokesmen on 11 November declined to confirm that it has fallen to Russian forces. LF

SERGEEV SAYS WAR MAY END THIS YEAR

Speaking in Moscow on 11 November, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said there is a chance that the war in Chechnya may be over by the end of this year, Interfax reported. Sergeev rejected Rusian media reports of serious disagreements within the Russian military over tactics in Chechnya. The first deputy chief of the presidential administration, Igor Shabdurasulov, similarly told a press conference at Interfax's head office on 11 November that there are no differences over Chechnya between the presidential administration, the government, and the power ministers. But Shabdurasulov did admit that Russian forces in Chechnya have made occasional "mistakes," for which, Shabdurasulov said, "we bear moral responsibility." A representative of the pro-Moscow Chechen community, Dzhabrail Gakaev, told the same press conference that he has evidence of accidental Russian bombing of fleeing Chechen civilians. LF

RUSSIAN CIVILIAN LEADERSHIP STATE TERMS FOR CHECHEN TALKS...

Shabdurasulov said at his 11 November press conference at Interfax that Moscow will negotiate a political settlement in Chechnya on two conditions: that Chechnya remains part of the Russian Federation and complies with its laws. He said that the Russian leadership has always maintained that the Chechen crisis cannot be resolved solely by the use of force, but he added that Russia has been compelled to resort to military means by "Chechen militants and international terrorist organizations." Shabdurasulov added that there is no point in holding talks with "warlords" Shamil Basaev and Khattab, or with Aslan Maskhadov as the Chechen president does not control the situation in Chechnya. He referred to Maskhadov, however, as the "legitimate president" of Chechnya. In early October, Russian officials had denied that Maskhadov was the legitimate president. Shabdurasulov called for the "consolidation" of the Chechen people as a precondition for their search for a solution to the present situation. LF

...AS DOES MILITARY

First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov said in Moscow on 11 November that the Russian military is ready to participate in peace talks with "constructive forces that are capable of bringing Chechnya back into the democratic world," Interfax reported. Manilov also denied that the Russian military plans to storm Bamut (see above), adding that control over the village will be secured by "modern remote control means aimed at eliminating the bandits." He did not elaborate. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN SAYS MOSCOW REJECTED OFFER OF MEDIATION

OSCE Chairman in Office Knut Vollebaek said in Helsinki on 12 November that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov rejected an offer of OSCE assistance in resolving the Chechen conflict, Reuters reported. Vollebaek quoted Ivanov as saying that "he does not see a political role for the OSCE at this stage." Speaking in Moscow the previous day, OSCE official Kim Traavik again called for "serious measures" to assist Chechen displaced persons in camps in Ingushetia. LF

CHECHEN DEPUTY PREMIER DENIES PLANS FOR GOVERNMENT, ARMY IN EXILE

The Chechen leadership has no plans to leave Grozny and form a government in exile, Kazbek Makhashev told Caucasus Press on 11 November. The Russian Defense Ministry had released a statement the previous day claiming that the Chechen leadership is planning to set up a government in exile headed by President Aslan Maskhadov in Georgia and to move its armed formations to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani and Georgian officials have rejected the Russian claims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1999). LF

ELECTION COMMISSION TO CONTINUE EFFORT TO REIN IN PRESS...

At a meeting with radio and television executives on 11 November, Central Election Commission Aleksandr Veshnyakov said he will submit to the State Duma amendments to the election law that would severely limit journalists' coverage of candidates and parties, "The Moscow Times" reported the next day. According to the daily, Veshnyakov said that voters would be provided with sufficient information about candidates via a special issue of the government newspaper, "Rossiiskaya gazeta." Among other things, that issue would contain information on property owned by all candidates. Media Minister Mikhail Lesin indicated earlier that he had found that even in its current version, the election law contradicts the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 3 November 1999). JAC.

...WHILE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT MAY BE DRAWN INTO DISPUTE

However, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 November that Veshnyakov and Media Minister Lesin have reportedly agreed on a method for resolving disputes between the two bodies in instances where the former tries to prevent the press from violating the election law. According to the daily, the commission will refer all violations by the media to the ministry, and if the ministry agrees violations have been committed, it will sanction the media outlet. If it does not, the commission may then appeal to the Constitutional Court. Veshnyakov said that applying the mechanism in practice will not be simple since little time remains before the Duma elections on 19 December. JAC

GOVERNMENT OUTLINES FOREIGN BORROWING PROGRAM...

Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 11 November announced that the government has approved a plan for foreign borrowings totaling about $5.9 billion, according to Interfax. He added that Russia does not plan to issue any more Eurobonds before 2001 and that if the government is short of money to repay foreign debts in December, it will borrow from domestic resources. The next round of talks between the Russian government and its London Club creditors is planned for 16 November, while a meeting with the Paris Club creditors is to take place before the end of the year. JAC

...AS ECONOMISTS COMMENT ON DEBT-SERVICING PROSPECTS

In an interview with "Vek" last month, economist Andrei Illarionov said that it is a myth that Russia does not have enough money to pay its foreign debts. Russia's foreign debt repayments this year will amount to only 9.6 percent of GDP, compared with 88.4 percent in Brazil and 33.4 percent in Canada. He added that this year's positive trade balance of $30 billion gives the country at least $20 billion to spend on servicing foreign debts. With regard to next year, former First Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin said on 3 November that Russia can theoretically pay its foreign debt in 2000 without borrowing more on international markets. However, he added, this would deplete the Central Bank's gold and foreign currency reserves and dramatically increase the money supply, causing the country's financial situation to deteriorate, according to Interfax. JAC

IVANOV SAYS MOSCOW TO PUSH FOR REVISED CFE TREATY

Speaking in Helsinki on 11 November, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov told reporters that Moscow "will do all" it can to ensure that a new treaty on controlling conventional forces in Europe is ready by the 19 November OSCE summit in Istanbul, according to Reuters. Ivanov was quoted as saying that the treaty is "important for the future security of Europe and Russia." Meanwhile, an RFE/RL correspondent in Vienna reported on 11 November that diplomats negotiating the revised CFE treaty have failed to meet a deadline for completing that document. Unnamed officials in Vienna told RFE/RL that the main problem continues to be the Russian offensive in Chechyna. They said that Russia has "shown no willingness to meet the treaty demands now, arguing that it will do so when the Chechnya conflict ends." Moscow currently has more forces in the region than is allowed under the treaty. JC

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPEALS TO U.S. SENATE OVER TEST BAN, ABM

The upper house of the Russian parliament on 11 November adopted an appeal to the U.S. Senate expressing "concern" that the latter body failed to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, thereby posing a threat to the "world process of nuclear non-proliferation," Russian agencies reported. The Federation Council also urged U.S. Senators to thwart any attempts to "disrupt" the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty. Revising the basic provisions of that treaty, Council members argued, will "inevitably bring back the Cold War times and threaten the entire system of international nuclear arms control agreements." Also on 11 November, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin announced that the next round of Russian-U.S. disarmament talks at expert level is likely to begin in two or three weeks. That announcement follows a Russian claim that the U.S. requested to postpone talks allegedly scheduled for next week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1999). JC

KVASHNIN DECLINES TO GO TO BRUSSELS

Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Anatolii Kvashnin has refused an invitation to attend a semi-annual meeting at NATO headquarters of the chiefs of staff of the alliance and partner states, Reuters reported on 11 November. A NATO official said Kvashnin gave no reason for his refusal. The news agency cited diplomatic sources as remarking that Kvashnin's move shows that the Russians "are simply not interested at this time" in resuming a dialogue aimed at bringing Russia into the "European security family." JC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CONSIDERS SKURATOV CASE...

The Constitutional Court on 11 November opened hearings on the case of suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov. A final decision on whether President Yeltsin has the right to suspend Skuratov without first consulting with the Federation Council is not expected for several days, according to "Trud" on 12 November. Legal experts do not expect the court to pass a resolution vesting the upper legislative chamber with the sole power to suspend the prosecutor-general, ITAR-TASS reported. They believe that the court will decide either that both the president and the Federation Council have the power to order the prosecutor-general's suspension or that the president's earlier decree regarding Skuratov does not infringe on the competence of the court and therefore is not an issue that the court should consider. JAC

...RULES ON DUMA DISSOLUTION

Also on 11 November, the court ruled that if the president decides to dissolve the Duma, the lower house's mandate expires as soon as a dissolution decree is signed, ITAR-TASS reported. The court was responding to an enquiry filed in February, by some Duma deputies who posited that the powers of the lower legislative body expire only when a newly elected Duma assumes office. JAC

POLICE UNCOVER MORE CASES OF BRIBERY

Moscow city police investigated 17 percent more cases of bribery among city officials in the first half of 1999, compared with the same period last year, according to ITAR-TASS on 11 November. According to the agency, the number of people convicted for abusing their official position increased two-fold. Last month, Transparency International, a corruption watchdog organization, released its new corruption perceptions index, in which Russia ranked 82 out of a possible 99. Denmark ranked number one, indicating that it has the lowest level of perceived corruption (see ). JAC

CHERKESS, ABAZINS PRESS DEMAND FOR SEPARATE AUTONOMOUS FORMATION

Leaders of the Cherkess and Abazin minorities, which together account for only some 15 percent of the population of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, have drafted a legal document providing for the separation of Cherkessia from that republic and its upgrading to the status of a separate autonomous formation, Caucasus Press reported on 11 November, quoting Cherkess activist Boris Akbashev. The Cherkess and Abazins rejected the compromise agreement concluded last month between the republic's President Vladimir Semenov and defeated Cherkess presidential candidate Stanislav Derev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999). Meanwhile, Prime Minister Putin has formed a government commission, which is headed by his first deputy, Nikolai Aksenenko, to take measures to stabilize the situation in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 November. LF

GAS SHORTAGE HITS RESIDENTS, TROOPS IN MURMANSK

Some 30,000 families in Murmansk Oblast are unable to use their gas stoves after the northern region failed to receive a shipment of liquefied gas, ITAR-TASS and "The Moscow Times" reported on 11 and 12 November, respectively. Deputy Governor Valentin Luntsevich pointed out that as temperatures continue to sink, those families may be deprived not just of hot meals but of heating, too, since some people light their stoves to make up for inadequate heating systems. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 November that barracks of the Northern Fleet are also affected by the gas shortage in the region. Local officials blame the shortfall on the fact that gas producers earn significantly more by exporting abroad. Meanwhile, shipments are reported to be on their way to Murmansk but are sufficient only to alleviate the situation for several days. JC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS SUPPORT OVER CABINET STANDOFF

In an attempt to resolve the ongoing dispute over the composition of the new cabinet, Robert Kocharian met on 10-11 November with political parties, including the Miasnutyun majority parliamentary faction, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999). Kocharian reportedly received the unequivocal backing of only the nationalist Right and Accord Bloc and the center-right Orinats Yerkir party. Other parties, including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun, which had backed Kocharian's 1998 presidential bid, called for compromises by both Kocharian and newly appointed Prime Minister Aram Sargsian. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER PROMISES CONTINUITY

Meeting on 10 November with the heads of parliamentary committees and factions, Sargsian pledged to continue the programs and policies of his murdered brother and predecessor, Vazgen, Noyan Tapan reported. He said those policies are "of vital importance" for Armenia's future. In particular, Sargsian undertook to abide by the agreements his brother reached in late September with the IMF. He also ruled out tax increases in the next four years, saying he will simplify the tax system. Sargsian noted the "stabilizing" role played by the military immediately following the 27 October parliament killings but added that political institutions must be strong enough to prevent the army from assuming a political role. He also noted the need for a state security concept, the lack of which, he said, had facilitated the parliament shootings. LF

PROMINENT ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR NEW ELECTIONS

National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian told journalists in Yerevan on 11 November that he believes new presidential and parliamentary elections should be held as soon as the political situation has stabilized in the wake of the 27 October shootings. He argued that those elections are necessary to restore legitimacy to the country's leadership, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. While describing Aram Sargsian as "a clever and balanced person," Manukian added that those characteristics are not enough to qualify him for the position of premier and that he considers Sargsian's appointment to that post unwise. LF

MORE AZERBAIJANI GROUPS WARN AGAINST SIGNING KARABAKH PEACE AGREEMENT...

Former residents of Shusha, which was the largest Azerbaijani-inhabited town in Nagorno-Karabakh until the Azerbaijani population fled in May 1992, have issued a statement affirming that "a fair struggle is better than an infamous peace" and vowing to fight "those who are ready to yield even an inch of Azerbaijani land to the aggressors," Turan reported on 11 November. The statement expressed concern at the Azerbaijani authorities' refusal to make public details of the Karabakh peace process. The same day, Turan also quoted National Statehood Party leader Nemat Panahov as predicting that the present Azerbaijani leadership might be overthrown if it signs a Karabakh peace agreement that violates national interests. LF

...WHILE AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP SAYS NO SUCH AGREEMENT IMMINENT

Meeting on 10 November with a group of Azerbaijani writers, President Heidar Aliyev said no formal Karabakh peace agreement will be signed at the upcoming OSCE Istanbul summit, but "only a joint declaration on common principles" of a settlement, Turan reported on 11 November. Foreign Minister Vilayat Kuliev has also denied that Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Kocharian, will sign a "serious" document in Istanbul, the independent daily "Azadlyg" reported on 11 November. LF

GEORGIAN TRADE UNIONS ANNOUNCE PLANS FOR LARGE-SCALE PROTESTS

Irakli Tughushi, chairman of Georgia's United Trade Unions, told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 November that his members are planning large-scale actions to protest the chronic non-payment of pensions and wages to state employees, Caucasus Press reported. Tughushi said that wage arrears totals 127 million lari (approximately $65 million) and pensions arrears 88 million lari. The Georgian leadership had received in August a $32.5 million IMF loan tranche to pay off at least part of the backlog prior to the 31 October parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 35, 2 September 1999). Also on 11 November, the newspaper "Alia" reported that more than 100 teachers at technical colleges plan a strike and a picket of the Ministry of Finance to demand that the Ministry of Education pay their salaries for the past eight to 10 months. LF

GEORGIAN ECONOMY MINISTRY DRAFTS ANTI-CORRUPTION PROGRAM

In response to President Eduard Shevardnadze's call for a radical effort to stamp out corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1999), Georgia's Economy Ministry has drawn up a two-year program of measures to target the shadow economy, Caucasus Press reported on 12 November. Those measures include improved legislation, regulation of fiscal policy, expediting privatization, and the creation of a network of regional groups to target corruption. LF

KAZAKH, ROMANIAN PRESIDENTS ASSESS BILATERAL RELATIONS

Nursultan Nazarbaev met with his visiting Romanian counterpart Emil Constantinescu in Astana on 11 November, Interfax reported. Speaking at a press conference after those talks, Nazarbaev noted with satisfaction a "quantum leap" in bilateral relations since his visit to Romania in September 1998, RFE/RL's bureau in the capital reported. In that time, Nazarbaev noted, trade turnover between the two countries rose from zero to $30 million. Nazarbaev pledged to revive traditional economic partnership with East European countries founded in socialist era. The two presidents focused on the options available for increasing the transportation of Kazakh oil to Romanian refineries at Constanza, according to Asia Plus Blitz, citing Nazarbaev's press service. Those options include the Caspian Pipeline from Tengiz to Novorossiisk and by tanker via the Volga-Don canal and the Black Sea. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES FOREIGN DEBT BURDEN

Urkalyi Isaev, who is chairman of the State Committee on Foreign Investment, told the lower house of Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 10 November that the country's foreign debt currently totals $1.37 billion, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Isaev admitted that some loans received in the early 1990s were stolen and others totaling $379 million were agreed at a very high interest rate. Last month, ITAR-TASS quoted the Kyrgyz Finance Ministry as saying that in 2000 the country must repay $83.6 million, of which $30 million is owed to Russia and Turkey. LF

JAILED OPPOSITION SUPPORTERS RELEASED IN TAJIKISTAN

The Tajik authorities on 10 November released 18 supporters of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) who had been imprisoned for their role in the 1992-1997 civil war, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting UTO spokesman Khikmatullo Saifullozoda. The 18 men are the last on a list of 93 whose release had been provided for under the terms of the 1997 peace agreement ending the civil war. Saifullozoda, however, did not exclude the possibility that other opposition supporters may still be in prison. The release of the 18 men was part of an agreement concluded on 5 November between UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri and President Imomali Rakhmonov. LF

PROMINENT TAJIK OPPOSITION POLITICIAN TERMS PRESIDENTIAL POLL 'FREE AND DEMOCRATIC'

In a statement that underscores nascent disagreement within the UTO, one of that organization's leaders, First Deputy Premier Khodji Akbar Turadjonzoda, told journalists in Dushanbe on 12 November that he considers the 6 November presidential poll to have been free and democratic, Asia Pluz-Blitz reported. The incumbent, Rakhmonov, was reelected by an overwhelming majority in that vote. Turadjonzoda accused opposition Islamic Renaissance Party candidate Davlat Usmon of playing "political games" that could have seriously destabilized the political situation in Tajikistan. Stressing that his differences with other UTO leaders are political, not personal, Turadjonzoda appealed to his supporters to back the policies of the country's present leadership. LF




BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES FREE PROMINENT AGRICULTURAL MANAGER

The authorities on 11 November released 75-year-old Vasil Staravoytau from a prison in Orsha, where he had served a two-year sentence for embezzlement, attempted smuggling, abuse of power, bribery, and illegal weapons possession. Staravoytau had denied most of the charges, pleading guilty only to minor offenses. A World War II veteran, he received some of the Soviet Union's highest honors, including three Orders of Lenin and two Hero of Socialist Labor awards, and introduced free-market mechanisms on the collective farm he managed in Mahileu Oblast. Some Belarusian independent media had speculated that by jailing Staravoytau, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a former collective farm manager, took revenge on his more successful rival in farming. Others had asserted that the case of Staravoytau was intended to intimidate other agricultural leaders and stifle trends for reform in the countryside. "This is a disgrace for the regime," Staravoytau told journalists after his release, commenting on his imprisonment. JM

BELARUSIAN ARTIST TO BE TRIED FOR 'MALICIOUS HOOLIGANISM'

Belarusian painter Ales Pushkin on 11 November was indicted on charges of "malicious hooliganism with particular [degree of] cynicism" and of "profaning state symbols," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. His trial will begin on 24 November. Pushkin was detained by police on 21 July when he marked the end of President Lukashenka's legitimate term in office by dumping a wheelbarrow of manure along with Lukashenka's portrait, state symbols, and Belarusian banknotes in front of the presidential office, saying his action was intended to thank the president "for five years of fruitful work." Pushkin says he is not guilty, arguing that his action was an artistic performance. He told journalists that he will request an expert evaluation of his performance be included in the trial. JM

UKRAINE'S KUCHMA ENDS CAMPAIGN IN SYMONENKO STRONGHOLD

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 11 November wound up his election campaign in Donetsk Oblast, the Russian-speaking industrial homeland of his Communist challenger, Petro Symonenko. Kuchma avoided direct attacks on Symonenko but told voters at Yasynuvata near Donetsk that Symonenko's victory would bring price hikes and cause foreign investors to flee. Kuchma, speaking in Russian, stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and Russia but was also careful to underscore that Ukraine will remain an independent state. The Ukrainian president admitted that his relations with Belarus's Lukashenka have "somewhat worsened" but predicted that "the situation will soon improve." Reuters commented that Kuchma "hit the right chords" in Donetsk Oblast and was met with applause and "audiences packed with loyal supporters" (see also "End Note" below). JM

KUCHMA ADVISER UNEASY ABOUT RUNOFF TURNOUT

Kuchma's adviser and leading campaigner Dmytro Tabachnyk told journalists on 11 November that if the 14 November runoff turnout exceeds 56 percent, Kuchma will win re-election. A lower turnout, however, may spell victory for Symonenko, since communist voters are seen as more disciplined than Kuchma's and therefore more likely to come to the polls. Tabachnyk added that such discipline can also be observed in Russia, Belarus, and "other countries undergoing major transformations." According to Tabachnyk, Kuchma's staff must ensure higher turnout among "the young and middle-aged people who are quite comfortably integrated into the new social processes and new structures," Interfax reported. JM

MASSIVE FRAUD SCHEME LINKED TO LATVIA

Securities officials from the U.S. state of Utah are probing a scheme that may have funneled as much as $160 million from investors in 34 states to bank accounts in Latvia, the "Salt Lake Tribune" reported on 10 November. Several people have been charged with securities fraud for selling unregistered securities issued by Castlerock Investment Group/IFR Trust; one has since pleaded guilty. Investigators say that the scheme promised that a $5,000 initial investment would yield $1 million in 4.5 years. Tennessee officials have frozen the accounts of Castlerock, which at the time contained about $1.2 million. LETA added that investigators say the FBI are looking into who laundered the money to Latvia. The Interpol bureau in Latvia has not yet been asked to assist in the case. MH

NIGHT SALES OF ALCOHOL BANNED IN LATVIAN CITY

The central Latvian city of Jelgava has banned alcohol sales at night, taking advantage of a provision in the alcohol distribution law that allows municipalities to regulate sales hours, BNS reported. Between midnight and 7:00 a.m., no retail outlet will be allowed to sell alcoholic drinks, Only bars, cafes, and restaurants will be allowed to dispense such drinks. Valmeira, a northeastern Latvian city, earlier introduced a similar ban. MH

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW GOVERNMENT PROGRAM

Lawmakers on 11 November voted 76 to 33 with three abstentions to approve the program of the new government of Andrius Kubilius (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). The program did not receive support from any of the opposition parties, ELTA reported. Former Premier Gediminas Vagnorius also did not support the plan, calling it "financial stifling" and unacceptable. Immediately after the vote, the new cabinet took its official oath of office. MH

RATING AGENCY WARNS LITHUANIA

Standard & Poor's has maintained its BBB- rating for Lithuania but warned about the growing fiscal gap, BNS reported. The agency's report said that "continuous politicking would result in downward pressures on Lithuania's ratings" if the country impedes fiscal consolidation or derails further privatization and restructuring of the industrial sector, "in particular, its energy sector." The agency also criticized the deal that gave majority ownership of Mazeikiai Oil to US-based Williams International, saying the sale terms will "considerably burden the country's already fragile budget situation." MH

POLISH PRESIDENT APPEALS TO NATION TO ENSURE ECONOMIC PROGRESS

In an Independence Day address in Warsaw on 11 November, Aleksander Kwasniewski urged Poles not to let "political divisions" prevent them from working together to ensure Poland's economic development. Ex-communist Kwasniewski stressed Solidarity's achievements in disengaging Poland from the Soviet bloc. He also thanked former U.S. President George Bush, who attended the ceremony, for his "personal contribution to the construction of the democratic world." Meanwhile, Poland's political divisions surfaced in Krakow when members of the Independent Association of Students, the Republican League, and the Anti-Communist Youth attacked post-communist parliamentary deputy Andrzej Urbanczyk. Urbanczyk had been trying to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. JM

POLAND'S FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT?

General Tadeusz Wilecki intends to run in the November 2000 presidential elections, PAP reported on 11 November. An All- Poland Committee for Wilecki's Presidency was set up the previous day. Wilecki told journalists that he will offer a "new vision" of the state and counts on the "common sense and pragmatism of citizens [of] the silent majority, which is frustrated and disgusted with what is happening on the political scene." JM

POLISH RIGHTIST PARTY WANTS REFERENDUM ON DECOMMUNIZATION

Marian Pilka, leader of the Christian National Union (a component of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action), said on 11 November that his party will collect signatures in support of a referendum on decommunization in Poland. The party proposes the following referendum question: "Are you in favor of removing former Communists from power and abolishing all communist symbols?" According to Pilka, the referendum should be held at the same time as next year's presidential elections in order to keep down costs. Under Polish legislation, a referendum can be held as a civic initiative if it is supported by at least 500,000 signatures. JM

CZECH PREMIER TAKES CRITICISM IN POSTPONING DECISION ON HEALTH MINISTER

Milos Zeman said on 12 November that he will leave it to the Chamber of Deputies to decide the fate of Health Minister Ivan David, CTK reported. Zeman said that if the lower house recommends that David be sacked, Zeman will fire him and request that President Vaclav Havel entrust the post to Labor and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla. Stanislav Gross, the chairman of the Social Democratic deputies in the lower house, said the issue should be resolved immediately. He said David's resignation would be the best solution to the situation. David's standing as minister diminshed when his bill on public health insurance was recently rejected by the parliament. PB

CZECH SPEAKER CALLS FOR 'MORE SOVEREIGN DIALOGUE' WITH EU

Former Premier Vaclav Klaus said on 11 November that it is necessary for the Czech Republic to initiate a "much more sovereign and clearer dialogue" with the European Commission over the country's admission to the union, CTK reported. Klaus, after meeting with European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, said that in relations between Prague and Brussels, the "lack of knowledge, oversimplifications, [and] distorted opinions are still huge." Klaus said the most important result of his meeting with Verheugen was that the commissioner agreed to organize a seminar in Brussels that would shed some light "on some of these things." Klaus said he will attend any such seminar. PB

SLOVAK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH MECIAR

Rudolf Schuster met with former Premier Vladimir Meciar on 11 November to discuss, among other things, the appointment of Constitutional Court judges, CTK reported. Schuster said that regarding the selection of judges for the country's highest court, "I could not satisfy Meciar's demands so I only listened to him." The parliament has proposed 18 candidates for the court and Schuster must choose nine to sit on the court. Meciar said he asked Schuster to "take into consideration the fact that no opposition proposal concerning Constitutional [Court] judges had been accepted." Schuster said "I will not let anybody influence me in my selection and I will make the choice according to my best conscience." Later the same day at a rally of Meciar's opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, Meciar exhorted Slovaks to initiate a referendum that would call for early elections. PB

SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGE SAYS POLITICAL PRESSURE BEING EXERTED

Milan Cic, the chairman of the Slovak Constitutional Court, said on 12 November in Kosice that some politicians are exerting pressure on Constitutional Court judges in the case of the former deputy head of the counterintelligence service, Jaroslav Svechota, CTK reported. Cic said that some politicians expect the court to make a decision that is in line with their written "recommendations." Cic said that while everyone has a right to express a view, politicians should not "make statements that would endanger the objectivity of a decision." Svechota claims that his constitutional rights were violated by investigators. If the court decides in his favor, the prosecution of everyone allegedly involved in the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son would likely be halted. PB

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL PRAISES HUNGARY

George Robertson said in Budapest on 11 November that Hungary is "a new ally, but a good one," MTI reported. Robertson made his comments after meeting separately with Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Arpad Goncz. Robertson praised the country's reorganization of its military, which he said was an example for other countries. He described the air campaign against Yugoslavia as a "tough test" for Budapest and praised the conduct of Hungarian officials during the conflict. Orban said the goal of the military's reform is to significantly increase the country's defense capabilities. Goncz asked Robertson to take into account "the load capacity of Hungarian society." Robertson met with Defense Minister Janos Szabo and members of the parliamentary foreign affairs and defense committees before proceeding to Prague. PB




MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT BIDS FAREWELL

Kiro Gligorov gave his farewell address in Skopje on 11 November. He urged a "massive turnout" of members of all ethnic groups in the 14 November vote to elect his successor, AP reported. Gligorov is the grand old man of Macedonian politics and has led his country since the beginning of the decade. His remarks reflect concerns that the number of voters will fall short of 50 percent of the country's 1.6 million voters. At least half of the registered voters must cast their ballots for the election to be valid. The Social Democrats' Tito Petkovski is running against the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization's Boris Trajkovski. Vasil Tupurkovski, who finished third in the first round, has called on his supporters to boycott the second round. Observers note that the vote is unlikely to be valid if the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about 23 percent of the population, does not go to the polls. If the vote is invalid, the speaker of the parliament becomes president until new elections are held. PM

HEALTH OF CROATIA'S TUDJMAN 'HAS DETERIORATED'

Ivica Kostovic, who is a spokesman for Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, told reporters in Zagreb on 12 November that "the president's health has deteriorated. There has been no substantial improvement since yesterday's report," Reuters reported. This is the first official indication that the president's health has taken a sharp turn for the worse. He is suffering from internal bleeding following recent surgery in a Zagreb hospital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1999). Croatian dailies on 12 November ran extensive coverage on the uncertain political situation. PM

CROATIAN BISHOPS URGE FAITHFUL TO VOTE

Members of the Bishops' Conference said in a statement on 11 November that Roman Catholics should participate in the 22 December parliamentary elections. The bishops added that Catholics should vote for unnamed candidates and parties whose programs are in keeping with "the ethical and moral principles of the believers." Observers note that the Church is not closely identified with any one political party. It has opposed attempts by the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to use the Church for political purposes. The Church is also mistrustful of the many former Communists in the HDZ and several other parties. And it opposed the government's decision to call elections close to Christmas, namely on 22 December. Church officials noted recently that it is not the practice in most Christian countries to vote at Christmas time. PM

BOSNIAN PEACE IMPLEMENTATION TALKS OPEN

U.S. diplomats meet with several Bosnian leaders on 12 and 13 November in Dayton, Ohio, to mark the fourth anniversary of the talks that led to the Bosnian peace agreement. Bosnian participants at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base will include Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic and Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik. U.S. envoy James Pardew told AP: "We're not going to make promises before a meeting that you're going to have some sort of breakthrough here. But we're going to work hard on some key issues." Among those issues are economic restructuring, the return of refugees, and the arrest of war criminals. PM

PETRITSCH WARNS BOSNIANS ON FRONTIER LAW

A spokesman for the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 11 November that he is concerned about the fact that the three members of the joint presidency have not endorsed proposed legislation on controlling Bosnia's frontiers. The spokesman stressed that Bosnia's frontiers must be manned by representatives of the central government rather than by representatives of either of the two entities, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. PM

KOSOVA'S SERBS SAY PEACEKEEPERS DISTORT STATISTICS

Members of the Serbian National Council said in a statement on 11 November that KFOR recently provided an artificially low figure on the number of Serbs killed in the province since peacekeepers arrived in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1999). The statement charged that KFOR sought to hide evidence of its failure to protect local minorities, AP reported from Prishtina. Elsewhere, General Henry H. Shelton, who heads the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told U.S. troops in Kosova: "There is a void between what the military can accomplish and what is needed for a sustainable peace." PM

SERBIA'S PARLIAMENT VOTES LIFE PRIVILEGES FOR MILOSEVIC

The legislature passed a bill on 11 November that will give all past Serbian presidents life-long rights to a car, driver, home, secretaries, and security guards. The state will pay all costs. Opposition Alliance for Change leader Vladan Batic said in Belgrade that "this law is the climax of the regime's hypocrisy. At a time when several million people are on the brink of starvation and many are literally dying of hunger, a president is given privileges parallel to that of Egyptian Pharaohs of ancient times," AP reported. PM

ROMANIAN MINERS' LEADER SLAPPED WITH FINE FOR 1991 BUCHAREST RAMPAGE

Miron Cozma, the jailed leader of Romanian miners, was ordered to pay a 2 million lei ($165,000) fine by a Court of Appeals on 11 November for damage caused when miners rampaged downtown Bucharest in 1991, AP reported. Cozma is serving an 18-year prison term for his role in the 1991 demonstrations, which resulted in three deaths and the fall of the government. In other news, hundreds of steel workers blocked a major road in northeastern Romania on 12 November to protest a privatization deal they say will result in layoffs. PB

ROMANIA REPORTS STEADY MONTHLY INFLATION RATE

The National Statistics Board said on 10 November that inflation in Romania in the first 10 months of this year totaled 44.7 percent or an average of 3.8 percent per month, Rompres reported. The prices of foodstuffs were reported to be on average 54 percent higher than a year ago and those of services 95.9 percent higher. PB

ROMANIA CUTS ELECTRICITY TO MOLDOVA

Radu Berceanu, minister of industry and trade, said on 10 November that electricity supplies to Moldova will be cut immediately due to the nonpayment of its bills, Rompres reported. Berceanu said Moldova owes Bucharest some $16 million and that the agreement regarding its repayment is no longer valid following the fall of the Moldovan government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). An official with the Moldovan power distributor Moldtranselectro said Chisinau should pay, otherwise the country "would plunge into darkness." Romania supplies 15 percent of Moldova's energy needs. PB

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT WORRIED ABOUT YEREVAN REPEAT?

The chairman of the Moldovan legislature, Dumitru Diacov, called on deputies on 11 November not to bring their guns into the parliament chambers, BASA-press reported. Diacov said that taking into account the "tense state in the house, tragic and regrettable occurences could occur" if guns are present in the legislature. Diacov added that the Permanent Office of the parliament had voted on the measure after the bloodshed in the Armenian parliament last month. PB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR GOVENMENT

Petar Stoyanov said on 11 November in Plovdiv, his hometown, that the government of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov should "stay at the helm of the country after 2001" in order to "be able to fulfill the tasks it set [for] itself," BTA reported. Stoyanov said "Bulgaria's road to Europe passes through NATO and it is impermissible to...try to deny it." He added that Sofia's position on the conflict in Kosova "was a decisive one in getting an invitation to accession talks with the EU.... If we miss our chance this time...there will be no one to be angry with but ourselves." PB

BULGARIAN DEPUTY GOES ON TRIAL

The trial of Tsvetelin Kanchev, a parliamentary deputy from the Euroleft party, began on 11 November. Kanchev, who has been under arrest since his parliamentary immunity was lifted on 30 July, is accused of kidnapping, beating, robbing, and blackmailing people in his district of Zlatiza, about 100 kilometers east of Sofia. Bulgarian newspapers describe Kanchev as having acted like a mafia boss in his constituency, where he was referred to as Don Tsetsi. Several people reported to have been involved in beatings in which Kanchev took part are to testify in the trial. PB




EAST-WEST SPLIT IN UKRAINE HIGHLIGHTED BY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION


By Askold Krushelnycky

With its cobbled streets and Austro-Hungarian-style buildings, Lviv is the heartland of Ukrainian patriotism. It was the center of Ukrainian national re-awakening in the 19th century and the engine of the drive for national independence in the Soviet era.

For most of incumbent President Leonid Kuchma's term in office, much of Lviv's and west Ukraine's population has been fiercely critical of him. They complain he has not done enough to nurture Ukraine's national identity or set it on a pro-Western and market-reform path.

Now, however, they are among his most avid supporters. At a public meeting last weekend, speakers from more than 20 parties and community organizations urged voters to support Kuchma in the 14 November runoff between him and Communist leader Petro Symonenko.

The elections have polarized the electorate between west and east. In the first round, Kuchma and other pro-democracy candidates gained more than 70 percent of the votes in the west. But in the east, leftist candidates gained a similar share.

The voting differences reflect the different histories of the two regions. West Ukraine was not incorporated into the former Soviet Union until during World War Two. Until then, it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire--except for the inter-war years, when it was annexed by Poland.

West Ukraine's population was fiercely pro-independence minded and always regarded the Communists, who united them with East Ukraine, as an alien occupation force. A Ukrainian guerrilla army known as the UPA fought against the Nazis during the war and continued battling against what it viewed as Communist Russian imperialism until the early 1950s.

One veteran UPA soldier who attended the Lviv rally last week, 80-year-old Mykhailo Palyvko, echoed the beliefs of many of the speakers at the rally, and of many ordinary West Ukrainians, who believe a vote for Communists is tantamount to being a traitor to Ukraine. Palyvko told RFE/RL that "we veterans of the UPA can only vote for Kuchma because Symonenko will bring us no good.... He wants the same thing as [Belarus President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka--to form a new Soviet Union. We did not fight for that, for a new Soviet Union. We fought for an independent, sovereign Ukraine."

In contrast to the west, central and east Ukraine had been in the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union since the 17th century and experienced intense Communist repression. This included an artificially induced famine in the 1930s that killed millions and mass executions of nationally conscious Ukrainians.

The region also experienced large-scale industrialization under Soviet rule. That brought in millions of Russian workers, thereby accelerating the region's Russification. While Ukrainian is the language commonly spoken throughout west and parts of central Ukraine, Russian is the dominant tongue in the east.

The area is also home to huge Soviet-era coal mines and other heavy industries. Most are now semi-dormant because they are no longer being subsidized by the state. That, in turn, has led to millions of workers being paid meager wages and in most cases having to wait months for even those payments. Many--especially elderly people with unpaid pensions--blame their plight on the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

In the west the main issue is independence. In the country's central and east regions, what counts most is obtaining a regular wage. Ukrainians in these regions have been attracted by Symonenko's Soviet-era rhetoric, and the ethnic Russians in the region approve of his promise to reinstate Russian as a state language. Kuchma, for his part, won the presidency five years ago with most of his support from the east, having promised massive injections of cash for the rust-belt industries there.

In the coal mining region of Luhansk, nearly half voted for Symonenko in the first round, and about a quarter cast their ballot for other leftist candidates. The first secretary of the Communist Party in the Luhansk region, Vladimir Zemlyakov, told RFE/RL that people will vote for his party because they are tired of living in poverty. He denied his party would reinstate autocratic rule and said elements of privatization might be retained.

But by no means all workers want a return to communist rule. Again, unlike West Ukraine, their considerations are economic rather than nationalistic. Many, like coal miner Yuriy Telnoy, fear a Communist return will cause yet more disruption and increase poverty. "I personally will vote for Kuchma," he told RFE/RL. "Because if the Communists return to power they will begin changing things again. As in the past, five or 10 people will have to share one meal. Therefore, I will vote for Kuchma."

Kuchma, meanwhile, hopes that desire for stability will help sway enough of the eastern vote. But the elections have once more demonstrated the profound differences between the east and west of Ukraine--a divide that no politician has yet been able to bridge.

The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague and currently covering the Ukrainian presidential election from Kyiv.


XS
SM
MD
LG