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Newsline - November 17, 1999




RUSSIAN TROOPS CLOSE IN ON TWO CHECHEN TOWNS

Russian forces on 16 November advanced to within 2 kilometers of Achkhoi- Martan, southwest of Grozny, and surrounded the town of Argun to the east of the capital. Chechen parliamentary press secretary Khasan Gapuraev told AP on 16 November that Russian troop commander Major-General Vladimir Shamanov had threatened an artillery bombardment of Argun unless the inhabitants compelled Chechen fighters to leave. Shamanov denied issuing such an ultimatum, according to AP, but said that his forces will continue to use artillery against the Chechen fighters rather than attempt to take towns by frontal attack. Artillery bombardment of the towns of Gekhi and Urus Martan continued on 16 November, as did air raids on major highways, including the one leading south to Georgia. LF

BEREZOVSKII UNVEILS PEACE PLAN FOR CHECHNYA

Boris Berezovskii told journalists on 16 November in Karachaevo- Cherkessia, where he is running for a seat in the State Duma, that he has drafted a seven-point plan for resolving the conflict in Chechnya, Interfax reported. The seven points are: Chechnya remains an integral party of a unitary Russian state; the Russian Constitution applies on Chechen territory; a solution to the conflict must be supported by the majority of the Chechen population; such a final solution can be reached only by political means; in order to prevent further civilian casualties Chechen military formations must be voluntarily disbanded; any commanders who disagree with that approach must leave Chechnya; the trials of terrorists must be held in accordance with international law; and both Russia and the international community must accept the verdict handed down in those trials. Berezovskii added that Moscow must promote consolidation among Chechens in order to identify the most logical negotiating partner. LF

GOVERNMENT TRIES ANOTHER TACK WITH SPAS

The Interior Ministry on 16 November launched criminal proceedings against the ultra-nationalist group Spas (Savior). Spas representatives reportedly provided falsified documents "about the alleged existence of the group's regional branches" when the group was registered as an all-Russia political movement in 1998. A Moscow court ruled on 11 November that Spas's registration for the State Duma elections was invalid because it presented incorrect information about three of its regional branches, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 November. Branches in Orenburg, Lipetsk, and Kostroma Oblasts were found not to exist, ITAR-TASS reported. Spas has said that it will appeal. JAC

DUMA CONSIDERS PAY HIKES FOR VOTERS

Duma deputies on 16 November approved in the second reading legislation raising the minimum wage from 83.5 rubles ($3) to 200 rubles as of 1 January 2000. The size of student stipends, allowances for children, and other social benefits are calculated on the basis of this measure, ITAR-TASS reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 November, Chairman of the Duma's Committee on Social Policy Anatolii Golov said he knows "where to find the money in the budget" for the increased benefits, but he declined to specify how because he is "afraid that they will not use the money as it is intended." However, the newspaper concludes that the real secret is that Duma deputies are depending on additional budget revenues. The government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" said approval of the bill was "clearly populist." JAC

SPEAKER PREVENTS NEW GROUP FROM FORMING IN DUMA

Russian Public Television reported on 16 November that members of the People's Deputies group intend to raise the issue of dismissing Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev because he acted to prevent the group from officially registering in the Duma. ITAR-TASS had incorrectly reported earlier that the group had been able to register (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1999). One of the group's leaders, Yelena Panina, who was a member of the People's Power faction, said that the law obliges Seleznev to register the group in accordance with Duma regulations. According to some analysts, the group is linked with the interregional movement Unity and the group's members are seeking to establish a pro-Kremlin bloc in the Duma. JAC

ST. PETE DEPUTY ARRESTED UPON RECEIVING BAIL...

Police burst into a St. Petersburg courtroom on 16 November to arrest local parliamentary deputy Yurii Shutov just minutes after he was released on bail, AP reported. Shutov, who is a member of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, had been in custody since February on suspicion of arranging several high-profile contract killings. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 November, the court ruled that the criminal case brought against him was illegal. Shutov recently registered to run in the 19 December State Duma elections, although a local prosecutor is contesting his registration in the St. Petersburg Municipal Court (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 November 1999). JC

...WHILE ST. PETE BRANCH OF YABLOKO ACCUSES RIVALS OF ARSON

Members of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko said that a fire at the branch's office on 16 November was a political act committed by the party's rivals in the city, "Izvestiya" reported. Yabloko claimed that traces of flammable liquid were found at the scene of the fire, but neither the fire department nor the police have confirmed this. Damage to the building was not extensive. "Izvestiya" suggested that the perpetrators of the fire might have been targeting the lists of signatures supporting the candidacy of Yabloko branch head Igor Artemev in the gubernatorial ballot. Supporters of Governor Vladimir Yakovlev succeeded in bringing forward that vote to 19 December--a controversial move that Yabloko is to challenge in the federal Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 October and 17 November 1999). JC

LEBED'S LEGAL PROBLEMS SEEN AS KREMLIN LEVER

"Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 17 November that a Krasnoyarsk Oblast court will reconsider a case against Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed for his alleged violation of campaign spending regulations during his bid for the governor's seat. In response to an appeal from the oblast's election commission, the federal Supreme Court recently referred the case back to the court after it had let the matter drop. The daily, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, speculated that the case is being used to pressure Lebed to remain loyal to the Kremlin. It noted that an employee of Russian Public Television, "a pro-Kremlin TV network owned by [business magnate Boris] Berezovskii]," provided the evidence that Lebed spent on his campaign more than five times the amount allowed by law. According to the daily, the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, which is led by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Luzhkov, "has [recently] been trying to 'flirt' with Lebed." JAC

COMPUTER BUG COULD AFFECT ELECTION TALLY

The head of the presidential administration's Y2K committee, Nadezhda Sena, told Ekho Moskvy on 15 November that the so-called millennium computer bug could affect the computer system used to count votes in the 19 December elections for the State Duma. She said that announcement of the results will be made only after 1 January and "there is no way we can say we are 100 percent ready for Y2K." She added that the problem is systemic and no single organization can protect itself. Reuters reported on 16 November that the embassies of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are urging their citizens living in Russia to make special preparations for the transition to 2000 and to go home if possible. JAC

PATRIARCH SPEAKS OUT AGAIN AGAINST FOREIGN MISSIONARIES

Addressing a congress of Orthodox missionaries on 17 November, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said that he is convinced that foreign missionaries who arrive in this country are seeking to divide Russians "under a religious principle" rather than promote their spiritual enlightenment, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the majority of missionaries have a "destructive and totalitarian nature." Meanwhile, the current deadline for re-registering Russian religious organizations under the controversial 1997 law on freedom of conscience and religion is 31 December 1999. Draft amendments to the law are currently being circulated in the Duma. On 15-16 November the Federation of Jewish Communities held its founding congress. The new organization will represent 80 Jewish groups from across the nation and form a united front in response to anti-Semitism, according to Reuters. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS PARLIAMENTARY KILLINGS A SETBACK TO KARABAKH TALKS

In an interview aired on four Armenian television channels on 16 November, Robert Kocharian said the 27 October murders of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and seven other officials have set back by several months the ongoing talks on a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian said that no formal document resolving the conflict will be signed at the upcoming OSCE summit, but he added that he may meet there with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, and with the presidents or foreign ministers of U.S., France, and Russia, which co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group. Kocharian dismissed as "baseless" suggestions that Russia is "jealous" of Washington's role in trying to broker a solution to the conflict, noting that his first direct talks with Aliyev took place in Moscow, according to Interfax. He said political stability has now been restored after the 27 October shootings, which, he noted, damaged the country in the eyes of the international community. LF

NEW APPOINTMENT FOR FORMER ARMENIAN NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTER

President Kocharian on 16 November named Serzh Sarkisian as head of the presidential administration, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Aleksan Harutiunian, who previously occupied that post, was appointed presidential foreign policy adviser. Sarkisian had tendered his resignation two days after the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings, in response to a demand by senior Defense Ministry officials that he, the interior minister, and the prosecutor- general should resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October and 1 November 1999). Also on 16 November, Kocharian appointed Boris Nazarian, prosecutor in the southern province of Ararat, to succeed Aghvan Hovsepian as prosecutor-general. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION CONDEMNS PRESIDENT'S CRITICISM OF OSCE

Leaders of the Democratic Forum, which unites the country's main opposition parties, have rejected what they termed President Nursultan Nazarbaev's "groundless" attack on the OSCE, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported on 16 November. Last week Nazarbaev questioned whether the OSCE served any useful purpose if it failed to address the conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1999). The opposition leaders also rejected Nazarbaev's claim that the OSCE is guilty of double standards in criticizing the conduct of the presidential and parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan earlier this year. They expressed their support for the work of the OSCE in Kazakhstan. LF

KAZAKH PREMIER CALLS FOR TIGHTER BORDER SECURITY

Addressing a cabinet meeting on 16 November, Qasymzhomart Toqaev called for intensified internal security to stem the influx of foreign nationals into Kazakhstan via neighboring states, Interfax reported. Toqaev said the failure of such persons to register with the Interior Ministry "creates social and political tensions." He instructed the Interior Ministry to round up and deport illegal immigrants within one week. A group of some 70 Pakistani men was refused entry into the country last month. Several thousand Chechens have also arrived in Kazakhstan to take refuge with relatives among the 70,000 strong Chechen community there. LF

UIGHUR MINORITY STAGES SECOND PROTEST IN ALMATY

Dozens of Uighur women staged a demonstration on 16 November outside the Chinese embassy in Almaty to protest the continued detention in Xinjiang of Rabia Qadir, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. Qadir was arrested earlier this year and charged with contacts with Uighur separatists. Uighurs in Almaty had also held a demonstration on her behalf on 4 November. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ENDS VISIT TO DENMARK

Visiting Copenhagen on 15-16 November, Askar Akaev met with Queen Margrethe II and discussed bilateral relations with Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Agreement was reached on strengthening relations and widening cooperation in agriculture, energy, tourism, and on support for small and medium-sized business. However, several documents prepared by the Kyrgyz side on cooperation between the two countries' Foreign Ministries and Chambers of Trade were not signed. LF

KYRGYZ PREMIER UPBEAT ON ECONOMIC PROSPECTS

Addressing the parliament on 15 November, Amangeldy MurAliyev said that during the first 10 months of 1999, GDP grew by 4 percent and agricultural output by 9 percent, compared with 1998, Interfax reported. He said those figures demonstrate that favorable conditions have been created for economic growth. MurAliyev also told deputies that the procedures for registering small private businesses will be simplified. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT PRAISES 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' WITH RUSSIA

Vladimir Putin held talks with President Imomali Rakhmonov and Prime Minister Yahye Azimov in Dushanbe on 16 November following Rakhmonov's official inauguration. Putin's press spokesman Mikhail Korzhukov told journalist that the Russian premier's talks with Rakhmonov focused on bilateral relations, the status of Russian troops stationed in Tajikistan, cooperation within the CIS, the situation in Afghanistan, and the upcoming OSCE Istanbul summit. Rakhmonov assured Putin that Tajikistan will continue to regard Russia as a "strategic partner." Putin termed bilateral relations "constructive" and said that the countries' mutual debts can be resolved without difficulty. Putin and Azimov discussed two joint hydro-electric projects and the possibility of a textiles joint venture utilizing Tajik cotton. LF

TURKMEN AUTHORITIES DEMOLISH ADVENTIST CHURCH

The Ashgabat City authorities bulldozed a Seventh Day Adventist church in the city on 13 November, Compass Direct reported three days later. Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov had granted permission for construction of the church in 1992. It was the only Adventist church in Turkmenistan. Turkmen security officials also raided an Evangelical Baptist community in Ashgabat on 14 November and confiscated Bibles and hymn books. LF

MILITANTS KILL SIX IN UZBEK SHOOTOUTS

Some 12-15 men who Uzbek Interior Ministry officials said are "Islamic militants" shot dead three hunters who approached their camp near the eastern resort town of Yangiabad on 15 November, Interfax and Reuters reported. In a subsequent attack on a police post near Yangiabad, four militants and three policemen were shot dead. Police are still trying to locate the gunmen, who they say may belong to the band headed by Djuma Namangani. That group took hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan in August. According to Tajikistan's Minister for Emergency Situations Mirzo Ziyeev, the group left Tajikistan earlier this month for Afghanistan. LF




LUKASHENKA SAYS BELARUS TO REMAIN INDEPENDENT IN UNION WITH RUSSIA

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 16 November said Belarus's sovereignty and independence will remain "inflexible and unshakable" in the planned union state with Russia, Belarusian Television reported. "There will be no question of our joining Russia as six [separate] oblasts or any other state as the whole republic," Lukashenka said. He noted that Belarus will accept only "equal conditions" and a "civilized method" of integration with Russia, adding that there is no alternative to the process of integration. JM

BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION TREATY AMENDED, BUT NOT CHANGED

Belarusian presidential staff chief Mikhail Myasnikovich told Interfax on 16 November that Belarus and Russia have found an "optimal variant" of the union state treaty that is to be signed in Moscow on 26 November. However, Myasnikovich noted that the treaty calls for "setting up a union state" and does not envisage the integration of Belarus and Russia into a single state. Myasnikovich added that during the public debate of the treaty draft, more than 1,300 proposals were made on how to improve the draft; as a result, some 500 amendments were introduced into the document. Meanwhile, Lukashenka's aide Mikhail Sazonau said 99 percent of all amendments are "purely technical" and do not change the nature of the functions or powers of the union bodies as stated in the draft. JM

UKRAINE NOT TO JOIN BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Hrushko said on 16 November that Ukraine is interested in deepening cooperation with neighboring countries but does not intend to join the Union of Belarus and Russia, Interfax reported. Commenting on the planned signing of a treaty establishing the union state of Belarus and Russia, Hrushko noted that "the creation of any Slavic unions would amount to giving preference to some ethnic groups at the expense of others." JM

UKRAINIAN SPEAKER PREDICTS CENTER-LEFT PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY

Supreme Council Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko said on 16 November that the creation of a center-left parliamentary majority is more likely than that of a center- right one, Interfax reported. Such a majority, he argued, could be formed by deputies of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Peasant Party, and the Progressive Socialist Party. Tkachenko added that this alignment could also be joined by the Hromada party. Tkachenko noted that the rightist parliamentary parties are unable to form a majority that "could positively influence the [country's] economic development." According to Tkachenko's deputy, Viktor Medvedchuk of the Social Democratic Party (United), parliamentary deputies may form a majority "in the next few days," spurred on by the prospect of forming a coalition cabinet. President Leonid Kuchma has threatened to seek the dissolution of the parliament unless that body creates a pro- government majority. JM

ESTONIAN STUDENTS PROTEST CHECHEN WAR

Several dozen Estonian students gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Tallinn on 16 November to protest the Russian military campaign in Chechnya, "Postimees" reported. Students held placards with statements such as "hands off Chechnya" and "Putin--War Criminal." At the same time, the Estonian parliament failed to pass a resolution calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said the OSCE should intervene or "raise the question of what sort of future this organization has," BNS added. Earlier, Estonian President Lennart Meri announced he is boycotting the OSCE summit in Istanbul partly because of the situation in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1999). MH

TEACHERS STRIKE IN LATVIA, MINISTER RESIGNS

Teachers throughout the country staged a one-day strike on 16 November, and Education Minister Silva Golde resigned from her post, saying that "the possibilities of further dialogue seem to be exhausted," LETA reported. More than 50,000 teachers participated in the action to protest lower-than- expected pay rises. Negotiations with the government failed to avert the strike. Head of the Latvian Education and Research Employees Trade Union Astrida Harbacevica noted the cabinet's good intentions but said it was "naive for the government to hope to avert a strike with [such] non-concrete proposals," BNS reported. The union leader suggested a follow-up strike could occur within a few weeks. MH

SWEDEN TO GRANT 'BILLION' IN AID TO BALTS

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, meeting with Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius on 16 November in Stockholm, promised 1 billion kroner ($119.13 million) in assistance to the Baltic States next year, BNS reported. Explaining his foreign-policy initiative of making 2000 the "year of the Baltic states," Persson suggested that the assistance will help the three countries in their EU integration program as well as boost the development of business in those countries. Kubilius also met with Foreign Minister Anna Lindh and Swedish parliamentary speaker Anders Bjorck, who reconfirmed Sweden's desire to see Lithuania start EU membership talks. MH

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES RESOLUTION ON CHECHNYA

Lawmakers on 16 November voted 38 to zero to pass a resolution calling for both sides in the Chechen conflict to seek a peaceful solution and urging the OSCE to evaluate the situation in Chechnya at its Istanbul summit later this week, ELTA reported. The resolution also called on the Russian authorities to condemn the action of the Russian military against civilians. And it expressed concern over the action by the Russian military against legally elected officials in Chechnya. MH

RUSSIA FEARS POLAND'S EU BID MAY HARM TRADE

Russian Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov, speaking in Warsaw on 16 November, expressed fear that Russian products may be excluded from the Polish market once Poland introduces EU quality standards and anti-dumping measures, Reuters reported. At the same time, Fradkov admitted that Poland's EU membership may bring some benefits for Russia because Polish import duties will have to be lowered. Polish Economic Minister Janusz Steinhoff told journalists the same day that Polish exports to Russia plummeted by 70 percent this year, compared with 1998. At the same time, imports from Russia, mainly oil and gas, were down only 7 percent. Steinhoff said payment problems experienced by Russian trade partners were the main reason for the slump in exports to Russia. JM

POLISH HISTORIAN TRIED FOR DISSEMINATING 'AUSCHWITZ LIE'

Dariusz Ratajczak, a 37-year-old historian from Opole, went on trial on 16 November on charges of disseminating "the Auschwitz lie," PAP reported. Earlier this year, Ratajczak published 230 copies of a book titled "Dangerous Topics," in which he presented the opinions of historians who deny that Zyklon B gas was used to kill Jews in Nazi death camps. Ratajczak said he does not consider himself guilty, noting that he had merely summarized the opinions of "history revisionists" and that he does not agree with those opinions. "My only objective was to present a phenomenon named Holocaust revisionism without an author's commentary," he said. JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS REJECT ZEMAN'S PROPOSAL

Parliamentary deputies from the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) have rejected Prime Minister and CSSD leader Milos Zeman's proposal that the parliament decide whether Health Minister Ivan David should be dismissed, Czech media reported on 16 November. The party's parliamentary faction chairman, Stanislav Gross, said it should be up to Zeman to decide whether to dismiss David. Gross said the prime minister should make a "clear statement" on the situation in the Health Ministry. Several health care organizations and politicians have called for David's resignation or dismissal amid allegations of financial malpractice within his ministry. VG

HAVEL HOSTS FORMER WORLD LEADERS

Czech President Vaclav Havel on 16 November met with several former world leaders who are in Prague to mark the 10th anniversary of the student demonstration that led to the collapse of the Czechoslovak communist regime, Czech media reported. Havel will award the former leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and Lech Walesa, with the Order of the White Lion on 17 November. Meanwhile, a poll released to mark the anniversary found that 55 percent of Czechs say they approve of the fall of communism in 1989, while 32 percent said they regret the demise of the former regime (see also "End Note"). VG

SLOVAK MINISTER SETS UP COMMUNIST CRIMES OFFICE

Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky on 16 November officially established a new department within his ministry for the documentation of communist crimes, TASR reported. The department will be charged with gathering archival material and conducting interviews on all forms of persecution and violence committed by the former regime. It will be headed by Marian Gula, who ran the Czech Office for the Investigation and Documentation of Communist Crimes. Gula will be granted dual Czech-Slovak citizenship. Unlike the Czech office, the Slovak ministerial department will not have any police powers. However, the department head will be able to press charges for any crimes he discovers as a Slovak citizen. VG

WORLD BANK GRANTS SLOVAKIA MONEY FOR ROMA

The World Bank has approved a $275,000 grant to the Slovak government to finance projects that deal with the problems of the country's Romany minority, TASR reported on 16 November. Ross Pavis, the head of the bank's grants division, said he thinks the money should be spent on Romany education and employment. Pavis was on a fact-finding visit to eastern Slovakia. VG

SLOVAKIA, VATICAN SIGN DRAFT AGREEMENT

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Papal Nuncio to Slovakia Luigi Dossena on 16 November signed a draft Fundamental Treaty between Slovakia and the Holy See, TASR reported. Kukan said the draft will be subject to further bilateral or internal negotiations. VG

HUNGARY, ROMANIA HOLD JOINT PEACEKEEPING EXERCISE

Some 100 Romanian and Hungarian officers on 15 November began a joint military peacekeeping exercise in the Romanian city of Arad, Hungarian media reported on 16 November. It is the first time the two countries have formed a joint battalion. The official language of the exercise is English. Both Romanian and Hungarian military officials stressed the importance of enhancing mutual trust and cooperation between the two armies. MSZ




STATE MEDIA ATTACKS DRASKOVIC FOR GOING TO ISTANBUL...

Pro- government media criticized Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic on 16 November for his decision to attend the OSCE summit in Istanbul on 18-19 November, Reuters reported. The "Politika Express" daily said "the everlasting political loser...has once again missed the right side." Media coverage of Draskovic has been relatively favorable recently because of his refusal to participate in anti-government rallies led by the Alliance for Change (SZP). Draskovic, SZP leader Zoran Djindjic, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, and possibly Dragoslav Aramovic are to attend the OSCE summit, some of them as part of the Czech President Vaclav Havel's delegation. Draskovic spokesman Ivan Kovacevic said Draskovic will go to Istanbul to "fight for an end to sanctions and to get the country out of its crisis." PB

...AS YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT PROTESTS EXCLUSION, CLINTON VISIT TO KOSOVA

The Yugoslav government on 16 November protested the fact that it will not be represented at the OSCE summit in Istanbul, AP reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Miroslav Milosevic said the government has prepared a document for the summit participants detailing "NATO aggression" against Yugoslavia, which he said will promote collective security in Europe. Belgrade was suspended from the OSCE in 1992 following international sanctions over its involvement in the Croatian and Bosnian wars. The daily "Politika Express" also criticized the planned visit next week of U.S. President Bill Clinton to Kosova. The newspaper said the visit violates Yugoslav sovereignty and encourages ethnic Albanian extremists. PB

UN SAYS HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF MAINLY KOSOVAR SERB REFUGEES IN YUGOSLAVIA

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said on 16 November that up to 240,000 non-Albanian refugees have fled the Serbian province of Kosova, Reuters reported. A UNHCR spokeswoman said the chances are "very slim" that these people will return to Kosova because of the problems non- Albanians face in the province. Most of the refugees are staying with family and friends, while 10,000 are being housed in refugee centers, the agency said. The UNHCR is to provide aid packages and financial aid for 50,000 refugees in the coming weeks. Additionally, there are still some 500,000 mostly Serbian refugees in Yugoslavia who fled earlier conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia. PB

EU PLEDGES $500 MILLION FOR KOSOVA RECONSTRUCTION

The EU said on 17 November that it will give more than $500 million to a fund to support the long-term reconstruction of Kosova, Reuters reported. Chris Patten, the EU's foreign relations commissioner, made the pledge at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The World Bank and the European Commission estimate that some $2.3 billion will be needed in the next five years. The World Bank is seeking $1.1 billion for 2000, half of which is to be provided by the EU. PB

U.S. WELCOMES ELECTION OF TRAJKOVSKI

The U.S. State Department said on 16 November that it looks forward to a "positive, constructive" relationship with newly elected Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The State Department said in a statement that the U.S. "worked closely" with Trajkovski throughout the Kosova crisis. It also congratulated the Macedonian people for "undertaking a peaceful, democratic change in leadership." The elections have been marred by complaints of fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1999). PB

TUDJMAN'S DOCTORS SAY PRESIDENT ON THE MEND

The medical team of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said on 16 November that "improvement...has been maintained" over the last 48 hours, Croatian Radio reported. A statement signed by a hospital doctor said that Tudjman's "postoperative period is proceeding well." Tudjman has been in hospital for 16 days. Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, the deputy chairwoman of Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), said the chief of the presidential staff, Ivica Kostovic, has briefed HDZ officials on the president's condition. She said the HDZ has not discussed what will happen if Tudjman is unable to formally call elections because there is "no need for this since the president is recovering." PB

CROATIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS MEET BOSNIAN COUNTERPARTS

A delegation of Bosnian Interior Ministry officials arrived in Zagreb on 16 November for talks on bilateral relations and cooperation in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, Hina reported. Croatian Interior Minister Ivan Penic said the two groups are to work on three annexes within an agreement on special relations. In other news, the president of the soccer club Croatia Zagreb announced that a vote will be held among club members on whether to rename the team Dinamo Zagreb. President Tudjman changed the name from Dinamo after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia because it sounded "too communist." Most fans resented the name change and some have boycotted games until the name "Dinamo" is restored. PB

GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS TROOPS STILL NEEDED IN BOSNIA

Rudolf Scharping said in Sarajevo on 16 November that the international military presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina is still necessary, dpa reported. Scharping, on a one-day visit to Bosnia, said he does not support the setting of a timetable for a gradual withdrawal of the Stabilization Force (SFOR) troops. As part of a scheduled reduction in the size of SFOR, Scharping said some 300 German soldiers will leave Bosnia over the next few months, as a result of which 2,000 German soldiers will remain there. SFOR troops will be reduced from the current 31,000 to some 20,000 by April. Scharping also met with the defense ministers of the two autonomous entities in Bosnia and said he hopes the country's separate armed forces will become more multiethnic. PB

MEDIA COMMISSION ORDERS BOSNIAN-CROAT TV STATION TO CLOSE

The Independent Media Commission (IMC) for Bosnia-Herzegovina said on 16 November that it has ordered the private Erotel TV to stop broadcasting, AP reported. The IMC is an international body that regulates broadcast media in Bosnia and is authorized to grant and revoke licenses. Erotel TV is based in the Croat-run part of Mostar and serves the Croat community in the Muslim-Croat Federation. It has been operating without a license for two years and retransmits programs from state-run Croatian Television. PB

ALBANIA HIT BY POWER SHORTAGE

The government has reduced taxes on gas imports in an effort to overcome a power shortage in the country, ATA reported on 16 November. A severe drought has lowered the water levels of rivers and led to reduced output at hydroelectric power plants, which produce some 95 percent of the country's electricity. Blackouts have been reported in the north, and government officials are trying to persuade industries to run at night to ensure an even distribution of power. The government proposed reducing customs taxes on heating gas from 20 percent to 10 percent and approved two draft bills aimed at liberalizing gas imports. PB

ROMANIAN MINISTERS CONSIDER SUING OPPOSITION LEADER

Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 15 November told members of his cabinet that they are free to launch law suits against Party of Social Democracy in Romania leader Ion Iliescu if they so desire, Mediafax reported on 16 November. Government spokeswoman Adriana Saftoiu said Vasile's decision was a response to a statement by Iliescu last week in which the opposition leader said "there is no minister or parliamentary deputy belonging to the ruling parties who is not involved in business and who did not get spectacularly rich during all this period." Various top members of the governing coalition have called on Iliescu to produce proof of his allegation, and senators are considering lifting his immunity from prosecution. Iliescu responded that his statement has been misinterpreted, saying he had not accused all legislators of being involved in business. He said he had simply wanted to know how many current government deputies are not involved in business. VG

ROMANIAN STUDENTS SAY THEIR PROTESTS ARE NOT POLITICAL

Students' League president Daniel Onisor on 16 November rejected politicians' assertions that the student protests could be politically influenced by extremists, Mediafax reported. Democratic Party Senator Nicolae Alexandru recently said the student street protests risk coming under the sway of "rightist extremists or communists." Several student leaders have rejected Alexandru's claim, saying their movement is peaceful and not political. Meanwhile, one person was injured on 16 November after about 1,500 students clashed with police in the northeastern city of Iasi, Mediafax reported. VG

MOLDOVAN COURT RULES ON REFERENDUM

The Moldovan Constitutional Court on 16 November rejected a parliamentary decision that three-fifths of the population must participate in a referendum for the vote to be considered valid, BASA-Press reported. The court also approved a draft constitutional proposal by 38 parliamentary deputies on the transformation of Moldova into a parliamentary democracy. The proposal by the deputies would restrict the president's powers. VG

RUSSIANS START WITHDRAWAL FROM MOLDOVA

The Russian army on 16 November dispatched the first trainload of military hardware from Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region. The previous day, it destroyed 13 tanks, armored vehicles, and self-propelled guns in the presence of OSCE delegates. However, the Moldovan government charged that the Russian military is not conducting a "real withdrawal" but is simply destroying obsolete equipment. VG

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS MUNICIPAL FINANCES 'CRITICAL'

Ivan Kostov said on 16 November that the financial situation of municipalities is in a "critical" state, BTA reported. Kostov made the statement after meeting in Sofia with representatives of the National Association of Municipalities. He said municipalities lack heating fuel for schools, hospitals, and social institutions. Supplying local governments with heating fuel will cost some 30 million leva ($15.9 million). Finance Minister Murayev Radev said the government will supply municipalities with heating fuel by the end of the year, rather than give them the money to purchase it. Kostov noted that municipal deficits will total 221 million leva this year, which he said is the result of a lack of financial discipline in local government. He added that mayors should make staff cuts to save money. VG

BULGARIAN TRADE UNION TO LAUNCH POLITICAL FORMATION

The Podkrepa Labor Confederation announced on 16 November that it plans to put together a new political formation to compete in the next parliamentary elections, according to a Bulgarian Radio report cited by the BBC. Confederation President Konstantin Trenchev said the new formation will be made up of various "democratic organizations" and will offer an "alternative model" of democratic governing in the country. VG




THE VELVET REVOLUTION: A CHRONOLOGY


by Jolyon Naegele

Eight months after Alexander Dubcek took office as Communist Party first secretary and launched the "Prague Spring" reforms, the five armies of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact occupied Czechoslovakia. That move strangled reform not only in Czechoslovakia but throughout the Soviet bloc for years to come.

The post-1968 ferment in Czechoslovakia's socialist neighbors started with the brutally suppressed Gdansk riots in Poland in 1970 that toppled communist leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. Unrest resumed in Poland in summer 1976 with worker's protests in Radom against price rises. The Communists once again responded with force.

The Vatican's election of a Pole, Karol Wojtyla, as pope in 1978 did much to encourage Poles as well as devout members of neighboring nations, including the Slovaks. The papal visit to Poland the following year inspired the birth of the Solidarity free trade union movement in summer 1980. All these events also encouraged Czechoslovakia's modest, largely intellectual opposition.

But while Poles rarely took the communist system in which they lived completely seriously, Czechs and Slovaks did. The legacy of 1968 and the Munich pact of 1939 as well as the awareness that they were a small country hardly gave them cause for self-confidence.

On 13 December 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland rather than risk a Soviet invasion. That came as a relief to Czechoslovakia's communist rulers and a disappointment to those who hoped that the flames of Solidarity would spread south..

The Radio Moscow announcement of the death of Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev came amid economic, political, and social stagnation throughout the Soviet bloc. The brief rule of Brezhnev's two ailing successors, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, ensured that even the word "reform" continued to be defined by the Czechoslovak communist party as a "temporary, tactical step backward-- favored by right-wing revisionists."

The 1985 election of the dynamic Mikhail Gorbachev and the gradual introduction of his policies of perestroika and glasnost yet again raised hopes across Czechoslovakia that change might finally be on the horizon.

At least as important for the Soviet satellites was Gorbachev's oft-repeated warning to his fellow Communist party chiefs at closed door Warsaw Pact summits that the Soviet Union would no longer run their affairs. Few of the aging leaders took Gorbachev's words seriously. And some, particularly Czechoslovakia's leadership, assumed Gorbachev and his policies were a temporary deviation from the true Marxist-Leninist line.

Gorbachev's visit to Czechoslovakia in April 1987 only reinforced this view as he failed to urge reform or a re- evaluation of 1968. Perestroika and glasnost remained merely empty phrases in Czechoslovakia. Prague authorities began curtailing the distribution of the Soviet press in a bid to prevent the dissemination of openly critical articles. Gorbachev's speeches were censored in the Czechoslovak Communist Party daily "Rude pravo."

The round-table talks in Poland in early 1989 between Solidarity and the communist authorities and the Hungarian parliament's move to re-evaluate its 1956 revolution and transform itself into a parliamentary democracy contributed to a sense of change in Czechoslovakia. Elements of a civil society began to develop in response to the jailing of dissident playwright Vaclav Havel and others.

The mass demonstrations in East Germany and the exodus of East Germans through Czechoslovakia to the West in September and October 1989 served as an example for Czechoslovaks. They saw how massive, peaceful civil disobedience could force a Soviet bloc satellite to rein in its forces.

But Czechs were also witness to clashes between their own police and East German asylum seekers trying to reach the West German Embassy in Prague. East German police had ceased beating demonstrators by mid October.

On 28 October, the 71st anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia, the streets of central Prague once again echoed with chanting and whistling as police battled peaceful protesters.

The crowd numbered some 20,000--hardly enough to persuade a government to resign. In marked contrast to neighboring East Germany, the Prague police resorted to clubs, water cannon and armored personnel carriers to disperse the gathering.

On 9 November, East German authorities opened the Berlin Wall. Eight days later, on 17 November, a record 50,000 Czechoslovaks turned out for a student demonstration in Prague which, though officially sanctioned, turned violent as police surrounded and beat demonstrators. Secret police disinformation that a student had been killed backfired: in the following days, the number of protesters soared into the hundreds of thousands. Opposition activists and intellectuals founded the Civic Forum two days after what came to be known as the "massacre."

The secret police, riot police, Interior Ministry troops and the army all waited in vain for orders to act. But the orders never came. As with the Berlin Wall, Moscow monitored the situation in Prague closely but refrained from any interference. Within a week, Jakes and the rest of Czechoslovak Politburo resigned. But equally incompetent bureaucrats were appointed as replacements.

Some 700,000 people demonstrated on 25-26 November to express their outrage and demand an end to communist rule. The crowd whistled and booed Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec, who soon resigned.

On 3 December, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact issued separate statements condemning their invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. And on 10 December, after he swore in a new government of opposition activists and moderate Communists under Communist Prime Minister Marian Calfa, Husak finally stepped down as president.

By the end of the month, Dubcek was speaker of the federal parliament, and the most articulate and outspoken critic of the communist regime, Vaclav Havel, was president of Czechoslovakia. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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