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Newsline - December 20, 1999




COMMUNISTS, UNITY LEAD VOTE COUNT

With 80 percent of the vote counted, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has captured 24.5 percent of the party list vote in the 19 December State Duma elections, edging out Unity which has won 23.9 percent, according to the Central Election Commission on 20 December. Four other parties have met the 5 percent barrier: Fatherland-All Russia with 11.7 percent, Union of Right-Wing Forces 8.7 percent, the Zhirinovsky bloc with 6.2 percent, and Yabloko with 6.1 percent. In the single-member constituency voting, so far 107 independents, 43 Communists, 29 Fatherland-All Russia supporters, and 10 Unity candidates have won. Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces also captured five seats this way. Among the more prominent political figures elected so far are Boris Berezovsky, Yuri Maslyukov, Yegor Ligachev, Nikolai Ryzhkov, Sergei Stepashin, Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Boris Nemtsov. PG

KREMLIN WELCOMES VOTE AS 'PEACEFUL REVOLUTION'

Because parties supporting the government and reform did so well and the allies of the communists so poorly, Igor Shabdurasulov, a Yeltsin aide, told reporters on 20 December that "in Russia, a revolution has taken place, a peaceful one but a revolution all the same," Reuters reported. He said that "this is a colossal breakthrough," one that would allow for "constructive cooperation" between the Duma and the government. In a statement released on the same day, President Boris Yeltsin called on Russians to respect the results. "This is the choice of the people, of all Russian citizens," the statement said. PG

LUZHKOV WINS, RUNOFF SEEN FOR MOSCOW GOVERNOR

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was reelected with 71.5 percent of the vote. Union of Right Forces leader Sergei Kiriyenko trailed with 11.4 percent and Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin finished with 6.1 percent, Interfax reported. But Gennadii Seleznev failed to win a majority in his quest to become governor of Moscow oblast; a runoff will take place on 9 January. PG

IVANOV HOPES NEW DUMA WILL BACK MOSCOW'S FOREIGN POLICY

Speaking in Moscow on 20 December, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that he hopes the new Duma will back Moscow's foreign policy, Interfax reported. He said that ratification of the START II treaty is a priority to prevent the U.S. from taking advantage of Russia's "procrastination." PG

MOSCOW LOWERS THRESHOLD FOR USE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Speaking on the 40th anniversary of Moscow's nuclear forces on 17 December, the head of Russia's nuclear forces, Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev told "Krasnaya zvezda" that economic difficulties have forced Moscow "to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, extend the nuclear deterrent to smaller-scale conflicts and openly warn potential opponents of this." He also said that Moscow will continue to modernize its nuclear arsenal despite current economic difficulties. President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Russian Patriarch Aleksii II all greeted the strategic rocket forces on their anniversary. PG

FIGHTING FOR GROZNY CONTINUES

Federal forces continued their airraids and artillery bombardnent of Grozny from the east, south and north-west on 17-18 December, and by early on 19 December had established partial control over the city's southern Chernoreche district, from which Chechen defenders had withdrawn. But fighting was again reported in Chernoreche early on 20 December. Russian troops also advanced into the eastern suburb of Khankala and the north-western Staropromyslovskaya district. NTV on 19 December reported that Russian troops in Urus Martan, west of Grozny, were recruiting Chechen volunteers to fight alongside Russian forces. LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS STRENGTHEN POSITIONS IN SOUTHERN CHECHNYA

Federal forces on 17 December blocked the Argun gorge leading south from Grozny towards the frontier with Georgia, and established control over the main highway leading to the frontier, Caucasus Press reported. On the night of 19-20 December, special purpose Russian troops also took control of two further highways in Chechnya's Shatoi Raion leading to Georgia and via Daghestan to Azerbaijan. LF

RUSSIAN GENERAL SAYS TALKS HELD WITH CHECHEN LEADERSHIP

Russian Chief of General Staff Colonel General Anatolii Kvashnin told journalists in Moscow on 19 December that Russian military representatives have conducted talks on a cessation of hostilities with representatives of the cabinet of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, AFP and dpa reported. Kvashnin did not divulge when or where those talks had taken place. But he did say that the Chechens rejected President Yeltsin's demands that the Chechens lay down their arms and that Maskhadov hand over to Moscow those persons responsible for terrorist bombings in Russian cities. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN CALLS FOR CHECHEN CEASEFIRE, CONFERENCE...

Addressing G-7 Foreign Ministers in Berlin on 17 December, OSCE Chairman In Office Knut Vollebaek called for an immediate ceasefire in Chechnya in order to avoid "a bloodbath," the "International Herald Tribune" reported. Vollebaek further advocated increasing humanitarian aid and opening additional "safe corridors" to allow the civilian population to leave Grozny in safety, according to ITAR-TASS. Vollebaek also suggested convening an international conference on Chechnya which would be attended by representatives of the Russian authorities, of North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Daghestan. He expressed his willingness to chair such a conference, naming Chechen President Maskhadov and Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as addditional possible participants. LF

...BOTH OF WHICH RUSSIA REJECTS

All the G-7 foreign ministers expressed approval of Vollebaek's proposals. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, however, rejected his call for a ceasefire, insisting that Russia will see the "anti-terrorist operation" through to the end. Ivanov again said that Chechnya is Russia's internal affair, and ruled out international mediation. But he did express acceptance of the OSCE decision to send observers to monitor the Georgian-Chechen border. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Interfax on 17 December that Russia "should indispensably participate" in that monitoring exercise. On 19 December, Ivanov told journalists in Moscow that Vollebaek's proposed Chechen conference is neither viable nor feasible, Interfax reported. Ivanov noted that the North Caucasian leaders whom Vollebaek named as potential participants are members of the Federation Council, which, he continued, is a more appropriate forum for discussing the Chechen conflict. LF

CHECHEN OFFICIAL FLOATS NEW PEACE PROPOSAL

In a paid advertisement in the "International Herald Tribune" of 18/19 December, Khozh-Akhmed Noukhaev, who in 1997-1998 sought to raise international financial support for a Caucasian Common Market, outlines measures that he believes could serve as a basis for peace in Chechnya. Noukhaev suggests that the Russian State Duma should ratify existing agreements which Chechnya which should then systematically be implemented. In return, Chechen clan leaders should secure the disbandment of illegal armed groups by recalling members of their clans from such groups under threat of suspending their immunity from retaliation blood feud killings. Noukhaev also proposes forming an international commission to secure the release of all persons held hostage in Chechnya. LF

PRESIDENTIAL RACE HEATS UP AS PARLIAMENTARY CAMPAIGN ENDS

On 17 December, two days before the parliamentary vote, former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov announced that he will run for president in the year 2000 but serve only one term, Russian agencies said. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov said he will support Primakov, but Unity and the Union of Right Forces said they will not. Prime Minister Putin immediately welcomed Primakov to the race. Other political figures who have declared their intentions to contend the presidency included LDP leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Yabloko's Grigorii Yavlinskii. PG

YAKUSHKIN SAYS YELTSIN TO QUIT 'BIG POLITICS' AFTER 2000

Presidential Press Secretary Dmitrii Yakushkin said on Ekho Moskvy on 18 December that Yeltsin will quit "big politics" after his term expires next year. Yakushkin added that the Russian president believes this is a "matter of honor" and will serve as "a huge political and moral sign for the whole world and Russians." A day earlier, Moscow Mayor Luzhkov had said that he found it hard to imagine that Yeltsin would in fact leave the political stage, but that if the Russian president did so, "Russia should treat him with respect" and not pursue him for any crimes he may have committed, Interfax reported. Such a limitation, Luzhkov stressed, should apply to "the president only" and not to any members of "his circle." PG

RUSSIAN CEC SAYS CAMPAIGN WAS NOT 'FAIR'

In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 18 December, Central Election Commission chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that "I cannot claim that the electioneering, including media campaigning, was fair." He added that the commission had found "an abundance of complaints" about a variety of violations of the country's election laws. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 foreign and 10,000 domestic election observers fanned out to the more than 10,000 polling stations that were open across Russia on 19 December, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

IVANOV TELLS EUROPEANS RUSSIA A 'RELIABLE PARTNER' BUT WILL FOCUS ON ASIA

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said in Berlin on 17 December that Russia remains "a reliable and predictable partner" for European countries and that others are to blame for the recent "freezing" of Russian relations with NATO, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, he emphasized that "Russia is a Eurasian state" and will "devote much of its attention to Asian countries." According to Ivanov, "this will not damage our relations with Europe but contribute to them." PG

MOSCOW WELCOMES MIDEAST TALKS

On his arrival in Cairo on 17 December, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vasilii Sredin told ITAR-TASS that Moscow welcomes the resumptions of Syrian-Israeli talks. "We do not expect the talks to be easy, but we believe there is reason for optimism," he said. Sredin is in Egypt to deliver a message from President Yeltsin to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Sredin reiterated that Russia will play a key role in both the talks and their outcome. On the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement explaining its reasons for abstaining on a UN Security Council resolution concerning Iraq and placing all blame on the United States for "purposely" blocking Russian-backed humanitarian assistance to that country, Russian agencies reported. PG

YELTSIN, PUTIN PRAISE SECURITY SERVICES

On 18 December, the Day of Security Bodies, President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Putin praised both the Soviet-era KGB and its post-Soviet successors for their contributions to Russian life, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin told a meeting of senior security officers that "several years ago, we fell prey to the illusion that we had no enemies. We have paid dearly for this." And the former intelligence operative added, "A group of FSB officers sent to work in the government under cover has successfully coped with its first tasks." PG

COLLINS TELLS TATARS THAT US WANTS 'A STRONG RUSSIA'

During a visit to the Republic of Tatarstan, US Ambassador to Moscow James Collins told officials that "the United States is interested in a strong Russia," ITAR-TASS reported on 17 December. He suggested that American firms had delayed some investment decisions until the outcome of the Russian parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, demonstrators in St. Petersburg burned American and EU flags in front of the US consulate there to protest American and European criticism of Moscow's policies in Chechnya, the Russian news agency reported. PG

RUSSIA TO REQUIRE TRANSIT VISAS FOR TRAVELLERS TO CIS

Prime Minister Putin has issued an order requiring aliens crossing the Russian Federation to visit other CIS countries to obtain a Russian transit visa, Interfax reported on 17 December. Earlier, such visitors did not need such a visa, but the change had been introduced, Russian government sources said, "because of the situation in Chechnya." PG

MOSCOW REPORTEDLY IMPOSES GAS EXPORT DUTY

Gazprom Chairman Rem Vyakhirev said on 18 December that the government had imposed a five euro duty on each ton of gas exported, Interfax reported, but he acknowledged that he had not "personally" signed the document. In other comments, he suggested that Gazprom is likely to be restructured over the next year and that he might seek another post. PG

DEBT TALKS DELAYED

After predicting earlier that the next round of negotiations with the London Club of creditors would occur before 20 December, Vneshekonombank head Andrei Kostin told reporters on 16 December that he doubts that talks will be continued this year. On the same day, State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told Ekho Moskvy that efforts to reschedule Russia's Soviet-era debt "are pointless until the presidential election [has taken place]." JAC

MOSCOW PUNCTILIOUSLY REPAYS ITS LOANS...

The Russian Finance Ministry last week made loan payments of $59.5 million to the IMF and $38.5 million to the World Bank, thus precisely meeting the requirements of these international institutions, Prime-TASS reported. The agency added that further payments will also be made in "strict compliance" with loan terms. PG

...BUT THREATENS TO FINANCE ECONOMY BY PRINTING MONEY

Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Interfax on 17 December that he does not exclude printing money to finance the Russian economy if the IMF delays the disbursement of credits any further. "We do not want to rush this, but it is possible if sources to cover the budget deficit are insufficient," he warned. Such financing could trigger a new round of inflation. PG

NUCLEAR WORKERS PICKET RUSSIAN WHITE HOUSE

Workers from the Kalinin nuclear power station on 17 December picketed Russian government headquarters to demand payment of their back wages, ITAR-TASS reported. They said that non-payment of wages threatened the safety of their plant's operation. PG

MOSCOW CALLS ON 'COMRADE FOREIGNERS' TO IGNORE Y2K WARNINGS

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov on 17 December urged "comrade foreigners" to ignore warnings emanating from Washington and elsewhere to avoid coming to Russia because of potential Y2K problems, RIA reported. Klebanov said that those "who want to drive their diplomats and citizens out of Russia" are "wrong to do so." PG

CRIME RATE KEEPS CLIMBING

The number of registered crimes rose 18 percent during the first 11 months of 1999 compared with the same period last year, according to Interior Ministry statistics, Interfax reported on 17 December. Last month, the ministry reported that crime had risen 19.5 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1999). Regions with the highest rates of crime were Tatarstan, Ingushetia, Adygei, and Marii El republics and the Orenburg, Chelyabinsk, Kostroma, Murmansk, Kurgan, Perm and Yaroslavl Oblasts. At a conference of investigators from prosecutors' offices nationwide, Deputy Prosecutor General Vasilii Kolmogorov said that while the number of crimes rose 20 percent this year from last, fewer crimes are being solved, with some 74 percent closed this year compared to 75.8 percent last year, according to "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 17 December. JAC




ARMENIAN PREMIER, REPUBLICAN PARTY DENY SEEKING TO OUST PRESIDENT

Aram Sargsian told journalists on 18 December that his differences with President Robert Kocharian have been exaggerated, and that he is not pushing for Kocharian's resignation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He also rejected media speculation that the 15 December detention of former presidential aide Aleksan Harutiunian was politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). Sargsian argued that even if evidence is found linking Harutiunian to the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings, it would not necessarily mean Kocharian too was involved. Also on 18 December, Andranik Markarian, chairman of the Republican Party, one of the two members of the ruling Miasnutiun coalition, affirmed that party's support for Kocharian provided that he continues to implement his pre-election program. On 17 December Kocharian met with representatives of the People's Party, Miasnutiun's other member, to seek their support in ending political tensions. LF

RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT AGAIN TARGET NORTHERN GEORGIA

Combat aircraft entered Georgian airspace on 18 December and dropped bombs near the village of Shatiliti, close to Georgia's frontier with Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. No damage or injuries were reported. It is the third such incident in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August and 18 November 1999). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS STALIN SHOULD BE REBURIED IN GEORGIA

On 20 December, Eduard Shevardnadze in his traditional Monday radio broadcast characterized Joseph Stalin as "a unique phenomenon" whose historical significance is "difficult to overestimate," Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze noted Stalin's contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, but also added that the "Stalin phenomenon" demonstrates "the advantages of democracy over totalitarianism." Shevardnadze said he thinks that all prominent Georgian leaders buried outside Georgia should be reinterred in Georgian soil. He mentioned specifically Stalin, who is buried in the Kremlin wall, Noe Zhordania, President of the Georgian Democratic Republic, whose grave is in France, and Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who is buried in Grozny. LF

RUSSIA TO RESUME SUPPLYING GEORGIA WITH GAS

Gazprom and ITERA representatives agreed during talks in Tbilisi on 17 December with Georgia's Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze to resume normal gas supplies to Georgia for a period of three months, until March 2000, ITAR-TASS reported. Supplies were halved on 3 December because of Georgia's failure to pay for previous deliveries. Georgia's $60 million debt to ITERA must be paid in full by May 2000. LF

NEW TAJIK PRIME MINISTER APPOINTED

Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov on 20 December appointed Akil Akilov as Tajikistan's new premier, dpa and Reuters reported. Akilov, who is 55, graduated from a Moscow Construction Institute and from 1976-1992 served as a Communist Party functionary. In 1993 he was appointed Construction Minister, from 1994-1996 he served as deputy prime minister, and since June 1996 he has been deputy governor of Leninabad Oblast, according to Asia Plus-Blitz. In a press statement after his appointment, Akilov endorsed Rakhmonov's policies. LF

TAJIKISTAN HOSTS MEETING ON REGIONAL ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Addressing the prime ministers of the Central Asian Economic Union member states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) in Dushanbe on 17 December, President Rakhmonov expressed his regret that regional economic integration is proceeding only slowly, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The premiers discussed, and created a working group to address, the problem of joint recycling of nuclear waste, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported quoting Premier Amangeldi Muraliev. The previous day, Rakhmonov had met separately with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev to discuss various joint economic projects, including extraction of mineral resources and bauxite. Also on 16 December, Toqaev and his Tajik counterpart Yahyo Azimov signed two agreements on military cooperation and several bilateral economic agreements, including one on the mutual convertibility of the two countries' currencies. LF

TURKMENISTAN, RUSSIA REACH AGREEMENT ON GAS SALES

After a two- year hiatus, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov reached agreement during talks in Ashgabat on 17 December on a resumption of Turkmen natural gas sales to Russia, Russian agencies reported. The agreement is for Russia to purchase 20 billion cubic meters of gas at a price of $36 per 1,000 cubic meters. Forty percent of that sum will be paid in cash and the remainder in food and consumer goods, according to AP. Niyazov had initially demanded $42 per 1,000 cubic meters. Vyakhirev and Niyazov had twice failed to reach agreement on a price for Turkmen gas, in August 1997 and January 1998, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997 and 15 January 1998). Interfax reported that Niyazov also invited Gazprom to participate in construction of the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline via Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey. LF




BELARUS TO PUNISH ACTIVISTS OF UNREGISTERED ORGANIZATIONS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 17 December signed a bill introducing punishments for activity on behalf of organizations that are not registered by the Justice Ministry, Belapan reported. Those guilty of such offenses will be fined 10 to 50 minimum wages; a repeated offense will entail fines of 50 to 100 minimum wages or up to 15 days in jail. The bill also prohibits the Belarusian media from disseminating information issued by non-registered organizations. The minimum wage in Belarus currently stands at 1.45 million Belarusian rubles ($2). JM

UKRAINE'S YUSHCHENKO TO PROPOSE 'TRANSPARENT' REFORM PROGRAM

Ukrainian National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko said on 18 December that he will offer a "transparent program of government actions that will be understandable to ordinary citizens" if the parliament approves his nomination for prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1999), Interfax reported. "We shall conduct reform," Yushchenko pledged after a meeting with parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko the same day. According to Yushchenko, the implementation of reforms in Ukraine depends not so much on who heads the government as on a "parliamentary majority that [would be] capable of building political support for reforms." It is expected that the parliament will hold Yushchenko's confirmation vote on 22 December. JM

UKRAINE'S RUKH HOLDS 'CONSTITUENT, UNIFYING' CONGRESS

Some 740 delegates on 18 December took part in the "constituent and unifying congress" of Ukraine's Popular Rukh, which was organized by the Rukh faction headed by Yuriy Kostenko, Interfax reported. However, the Rukh faction headed by Hennadiy Udovenko did not participate in the congress. Rukh's split into two groups this spring was followed by bitter enmity and court litigation over which group has the right to inherit the movement's historical name--the Popular Rukh of Ukraine. From a legal viewpoint, Udovenko remains head of both the Popular Rukh of Ukraine and its parliamentary caucus. JM

CRIMEAN PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES VOTE TO DISMISS PRESIDIUM

On 16 December, 51 deputies of the 100-seat Crimean Supreme Council voted to dismiss its presidium headed by Crimean Communist Party leader Leonid Hrach, Interfax reported. The vote was the culmination of the six week harsh standoff between parliamentary speaker Hrach and Crimean Prime Minister Serhiy Kunitsyn, who finally gained the upper hand by mustering the support of the "Zlahoda" and "Respublika" caucuses in the Crimean legislature. Hrach, who is supported by the 45-seat Communist and People's Democracy caucus, declared the dismissal to be "destructive and illegal" and announced that the parliament will close until January next year. However, Kunitsyn's supporters intend to continue the session on 21 January. Kyiv sent mediators to Simferopol on 17 December. Ukrainian President Kuchma commented earlier this month that both Hrach and Kunitsyn "are equally responsible for the socioeconomic and political stability in Crimea." JM

EU TO RETALIATE FOR LATVIAN PORK TARIFFS?

A high-ranking official of the European Commission, speaking to Latvian Television on 16 December, suggested the EU could take countermeasures in response to Latvia's pork tariffs, BNS reported. The official claims EU members have lost 5 million euros ($5.05 million) due to the tariffs and that the countermeasures could be introduced as soon as February. The Commission's representative in Latvia, Guenther Weiss, earlier handed over a note of protest from the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1999), asking the Latvian government to rescind the tariffs. Protests have also come from neighboring Estonia, and the Lithuanian government has also submitted a protest note. MH

LITHUANIAN MILITARY IN FINANCIAL PIT AT YEAR'S END

The Lithuanian Defense Ministry said on 17 December that two-thirds of military personnel have not been paid November's wages due to lack of funds, BNS reported. Blaming the shortfall on funding and fund transferring from the state budget, the Ministry also said that telephone company Lietuvos Telefonas has already disconnected telephone lines to four large military units and further disconnection, including of the headquarters, could come soon. Power utility Lietuvos Energija and other creditors are also threatening cut-offs and court action, the Ministry said. Commander of Lithuania's military, Brigadier General Jonas Kronkaitis, has earlier warned of a funding problem in the military. MH

POLISH POST-COMMUNISTS HOLD PARTY CONGRESS...

The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), a party created this spring to succeed the former Social Democracy of the Polish Republic, held its first congress on 18-19 December in Warsaw. Some 750 delegates adopted an SLD program pledging to continue pro-market reforms but in a way that would soften the impact of capitalism on the population. "We say yes to a market economy, but we say no to a market-driven society," Leszek Miller, who was elected SLD chairman by 726 votes, commented. The congress also elected an SLD secretary general and five deputy chairmen. According to some polls, the SLD is supported by more than 40 percent of voters, which would give the party more than 50 percent of seats in the parliament if elections were held now. JM

...CONDEMNS 'CRIMES OF COMMUNIST TOTALITARIANISM'

In a special declaration, the SLD condemned communist crimes in Poland after the war. "We condemn the crimes of communist totalitarianism, which was a denial of the ideals of the Left, and all the activities taken against people and society after 1944," the declaration reads. President Aleksander Kwasniewski in a letter to the delegates urged them to condemn the "atrocities committed under the banner of the Left," but the congress adopted a more neutral wording. Janusz Dobrosz, head of the Peasant Party parliamentary caucus, commented that the SLD has been joined by many former communists from the Polish United Workers Party. "Now as the SLD's popularity is increasing, these people are coming out into the open and returning to public life," PAP quoted Dobrosz as saying. JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS ACCUSE ODS OF INFRINGING PACT

The Steering Board of the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD), meeting on 18 December, said the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) was infringing on the "opposition agreement" between the two formations and called for so-called "conciliation talks" between the sides, CTK reported. Under the agreement between the CSSD and the ODS, if one of the sides concludes that the other is not fulfilling its obligations and that "there are reasons for withdrawing" from the pact, the sides will delegate three representatives each who would embark on "conciliation talks." One day earlier, President Vaclav Havel compared ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus's proposal to set up a broad coalition to "a gentleman who has not yet divorced and already speaks in public about finding a better wife." MS

CZECH PRESIDENT PRAISES POPE'S 'REGRETS' OVER JAN HUS

Havel on 17 December told journalists in Rome that Pope John Paul II's "regrets" over the Catholic Church's execution of Czech reformator Jan Hus in the fifteenth century, expressed earlier that day, were "an important step that could mean much" for Czech society and its relations with the Church. Havel on the same day attended a symposium on Jan Hus at the Pontifical Lateran University and was later received by John Paul II. Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous told journalists in Rome on 18 December that the Vatican and the Czech Republic will conclude a treaty in 2000. MS

HUNGARIAN FAR-RIGHT LEADER WANTS REFERENDUM ON JOINING EU

Justice and Life Party Istvan Csurka on 19 December said a referendum should be called on whether Hungary should join the EU, Hungarian media reported. He said the public must be given "an accurate picture of the advantages and disadvantages" of accession. Among the latter, he counted the possible isolation of "beyond borders Hungarians" as a result of the Schengen agreement. MS




SFOR NABS BOSNIAN SERB COMMANDER

On 20 December, NATO peacekeepers in Banja Luka arrested Stanislav Galic, who was a commander of the Bosnian Serb corps that besieged Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995. SFOR troops blocked his car, broke a window to drag him out, and wrestled him to the ground before taking him away, AP reported. Since the war, Galic has been an adviser to hard- line leader Nikola Poplasen. PM

CROATIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE REJECTS SFOR CHARGES

On 17 December, SFOR deputy commander General Charles-Henri de Monchy said that the Croatian intelligence HIS has tried to subvert his forces by conducting espionage operations in Bosnia and by recruiting SFOR interpreters as informants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1999). Two days later, HIS issued a statement in Zagreb in which it denied the charges. The statement stressed that Croatia actively cooperates with NATO. HIS suggested that unnamed persons have "manipulated SFOR for political purposes," Reuters reported. Milan Kovac, who is a candidate for the governing Croatian Democratic Community in the upcoming parliamentary elections, made a similar statement. In Mostar, Ivica Primorac, who heads the Herzegovinian Croat intelligence service (SNS), denied that his organization has a formal cooperation agreement with HIS, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The SFOR general told "Jutarnji list" of 20 December that he stands by his charges. He stressed that he blames HIS and not the Croatian government. PM

EU, U.S. WANT SERBIAN OPPOSITION TO HAVE JOINT PLAN

Dragoslav Avramovic, who is former head of the National Bank and the man most often tipped to head an opposition-led government, said in Belgrade on 19 December that the EU and U.S. have given the fragmented opposition a two-month deadline to work out a joint strategy to end the rule of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Avramovic added that he does not "know exactly why two months, but that was clearly stressed," AP reported. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer presented the demand to "define a program for joint political action" to opposition leaders at a meeting with G-8 foreign ministers in Berlin on 17 December. The ministers pledged humanitarian aid for opposition-run municipalities and unspecified aid for Montenegro. They turned down a request by opposition leaders to lift sanctions on Serbia. The opposition politicians stressed that the sanctions hurt ordinary people. The G-8 ministers said that sanctions will go only after free elections, "Danas" reported. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION ENDS PROTEST RALLIES

Nearly three months after the rallies began, leaders of the opposition coalition Alliance for Change held the last of their daily protest rallies in Belgrade on 18 December. Avramovic told a crowd of about 400 people that he personally wanted to continue holding the meetings, but that the majority of Alliance leaders voted to end them, at least temporarily. The BBC reported that the decision to stop the rallies is a tacit admission by the opposition of defeat in their attempt to force Milosevic from office through popular protests. Most Belgrade residents remained apathetic or were preoccupied with making ends meet, Reuters added. PM

MORE PUNISHMENTS FOR INDEPENDENT SERBIAN MEDIA

Officials of the independent ABC Grafika printing company said in Belgrade on 18 December that tax office officials confiscated large amounts of Grafika's electronic equipment in lieu of non-payment of punitive fines. The authorities also took equipment from Grafika on 11 December as well. The government had fined the printer for printing the bulletin of the Alliance for Change (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1999). The government of Serbia--and to a lesser extent those of Croatia and Bosnia--have often used financial pressures to bankrupt or close down independent media. PM

MILOSEVIC'S PARTY EXPELS TWO CRITICS

RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 17 December that Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) has expelled Slobodan Jovanovic, who is a former director of Tanjug and high SPS official. He recently said that the SPS's coalition partner--namely the United Yugoslav Left (JUL) of Mira Markovic, who is also Milosevic's wife--was created "to satisfy her ambitions." He called JUL a "center for war profiteers" and lamented that "the fate of the entire nation depends on one marriage." The SPS also expelled veteran member Radovan-Raka Radovic for having criticized the government of Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic. PM

MOMO'S BIG WEEKEND

Montenegrin Interior Minister Vukasin Maras said in Podgorica on 19 December that Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, who is Montenegro's leading pro-Milosevic politician, "is preparing a scenario...to heighten tensions and provoke a civil war in Montenegro." Maras added that Bulatovic is preparing violence for 13-14 January to mark the second anniversary of the inauguration of his rival, Milo Djukanovic, as president, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Tivat, Bulatovic warned that Montenegro will lose some of its territory if it declares independence. He was presumably referring to the highland areas where pro-Serbian sympathy is strong. Elsewhere, he said in an interview that he is "proud" to be on the EU's list of persons denied entry visas. Bulatovic stressed that his presence on the list shows that he is a patriot and not one to "say that America is right," AP reported. On 17 December, the state prosecutor's office filed charges against Bulatovic for defaming the elected authorities. Bulatovic had publicly stated that the U.S. has "bought the president of Montenegro and the government." PM

PODGORICA, MILITARY AGREE ON INFORMATION EXCHANGE

Officials of the Montenegrin police and federal military agreed in Podgorica on 17 December to improve cooperation and the exchange of information between them in order to reduce tensions in the mountainous republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1999). The meeting came at the initiative of the Montenegrin Interior Ministry, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

HELICOPTERS OVER PRISHTINA

NATO helicopters flew over the Kosovar capital after dark on 18 December to deter thieves and kidnappers. There is a growing concern for security in Prishtina in the face of the increasing boldness of gangs, many of which are from Albania and have connections to criminals in Western Europe. In Rahovec on 17 December, one Serb was killed and several injured when unknown persons hurled a grenade into a cafe and sprayed it with gunfire. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT LINE-UP SHOWS FEW CHANGES

Mugur Isarescu on 19 December presented in a statement released to the press his cabinet's composition and its program, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. The main changes in the government are the setting up of an Economic-Financial Coordination Council headed by National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) member Mircea Ciumara. Ciumara will have the rank of deputy premier, as will three other ministers: Petre Roman, who replaces Andrei Plesu as Foreign Minister, Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica and Health Minister Hajdu Gabor. Together with Isarescu, the four deputy premiers will make up the government's Executive Bureau. Another novelty is the presence of a woman in the cabinet: Smaranda Dobrescu replaces Alexandru Athanasiu as Labor and Social Protection Minister. Athanasiu, who has recently been elected chairman of the Social Democratic Party, withdrew from the government voluntarily. MS

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS ENDS

Radu Vasile on 17 December tendered his resignation as Prime Minister, ending the country's constitutional crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The move was preceded by a decision by the leadership of his PNTCD to lift "all punishments" handed down when he refused to resign. The PNTCD also announced it "accepts" a proposal of the Democratic Party that Vasile, who is once more PNTCD secretary-general, also take over the Senate chairmanship vacated by Roman. A public opinion poll conducted by the ISOMAR institute on 17 December revealed that 55 percent back Vasile's dismissal as premier and 45 percent oppose it. Opposition leaders are ahead in preferences for the 2000 presidential race: Party of Social Democracy in Romania leader Ion Iliescu is backed by 48 percent, followed by Alliance for Romania chairman Teodor Melescanu, supported by 21 percent. Incumbent President Emil Constantinescu is third, with 16 percent backing. MS

ROMANIAN MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY SEALS PACT WITH TRANSYLVANIA NATIONALISTS

Iliescu and Zeno Opris, executive chairman of the nationalist cultural organization Vatra romaneasca (Romanian Cradle) on 19 December finalized an electoral pact agreed on in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 1999) whereby the Vatra will support the PDSR's election campaign and its leaders will be candidates on the PDSR lists in the 2000 parliamentary elections. Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) leader Valeriu Tabara turned down an offer to associate his formation to the agreement, on grounds that Vatra's statutes prevent it from political involvement. Vatra has long been considered by observers to be the PUNR's "political arm" and its desertion to the PDSR reflects the PUNR's loss of electoral support, as a result of repeated leadership crises and splits in the party. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN KING CRITICIZES 'POLITICAL CLASS'

Former King Michael on 19 December told journalists in Bucharest that the country's post-communist constitution has not been properly designed and that the "political class" is "wasting its time with personal skirmishes" and is not supported by a properly-devised constitutional framework. Michael said he is not criticizing any political party in particular because his "position" calls for being above politics, and that his designated successor, Princess Margareta, has been educated in the same spirit. He said the monarchy has been "a source of pride for national history" and he cannot comprehend why some insult it and others chose to ignore its existence. Michael said he "has time to wait for an answer" to these questions and "when I shall no longer be around, my heirs will wait for it." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDES DENY VENICE COMMISSION OPPOSED TO PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM

Anatol Plugaru, a member of the constitutional commission charged by President Petru Lucinschi with drafting the constitutional amendments on introducing a presidential system, on 17 December denied that the European Commission's team of experts known as the Venice Commission has criticized the project. He said parliamentary deputy Vladimir Slonari has only expressed "his own personal opinion" on the commission's views, which have not been finalized yet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). Presidential staff chief Mihai Petrache said the commission is still working on a "preliminary report" and that "negotiations" are underway between the presidential staff and the experts. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER WANTS CONSTITUTION REVISED...

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 19 December said Bulgaria must amend its constitution to conform with EU standards, AP reported. He said changes will include lifting the ban on land ownership by foreigners, increasing the fiscal independence of local government and reducing the immunity from prosecution of parliamentary deputies Iin order to render the struggle against corruption more effective. Kostov called for a cross- party consensus on the amendments, which require the approval of 180 of the 240 parliamentarians. His own center-right coalition has 137 seats in the parliament. MS

...WILL RESHUFFLE CABINET

On 17 December Kostov told journalists that they can expect "serious and profound government changes" that will be announced on 21 December, BTA reported. He said the reshuffle is aimed at improving the cabinet's performance towards accession talks with the EU, streamlining public administration and improving economic performance. He said the number of ministries will be cut, and several will be merged into a "strong Economy Ministry." He also said there will be a "separation" between party positions in the ruling Union of Democratic Forces and government positions. On 18 December opposition Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov said his party wants the cabinet to resign and be replaced by a coalition government. MS

BULGARIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE CHIEF FINED

A Sofia court of justice on 17 December fined Ivan Slavkov, head of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee and son-in-law of late communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, 1,000 leva ($500) for the illegal possession of two revolvers and three rifles, AP reported. Slavkov claims that the trial was politically motivated and that he will appeal the sentence. In other news, Balkan News Corporation, which is financed by media tycoon Rupert Mudroch, has been chosen from among seven bidders for the privatization of Efir 2, one of Bulgaria's television channels. The government must yet approve the decision of its commission that decided on the bids. MS




THE END OF THE 'NATIONALITY QUESTION'


By Paul Goble

On 17 December 1986, a clash between demonstrators and the militia in Alma-Ata, capital of the then Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, put an end to the Soviet "nationality question" as it had been traditionally understood and pointed toward the eventual demise of the Soviet empire.

Until that date, Soviet leaders had proudly claimed that they had "solved" the "nationality question," and most in the West assumed that ethnic problems in the USSR were simply a human rights issue. But after the Alma-Ata demonstrations, both Moscow and the West recognized that what each had viewed as a minor concern had become one of the central issues of Soviet life.

The events in Kazakhstan on that day were dramatic enough. Thousands of Kazakhs poured into the streets of Alma-Ata and other cities in Kazakhstan to protest the unilateral decision by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to name Gennadii Kolbin, an ethnic Russian, as party chief in place of Dinmukhamed Kunaev, an ethnic Kazakh.

Until that time, Russians and non-Russians alike had accepted such decisions without protest. But over the previous generation, both had come to accept the principle that the party leader of a union republic should be a member of the titular nationality, even if real power remained in Moscow and in the hands of an ethnic Russian second secretary on the scene.

In the name of fighting an entrenched, corrupt and deeply conservative bureaucracy, Gorbachev violated that rule, arguing that only an outsider could clean up the mess that Kunaev had created. But faced with massive public opposition to what he had done, the Soviet leader displayed three qualities which ineluctably led to the end of the USSR.

First, by his actions from the beginning and by the way he discussed this event, Gorbachev demonstrated to all that he had little understanding of the importance of ethnic ties for increasingly more Soviet citizens, or any willingness to take these attachments into consideration as he elaborated his new policies.

Second, Gorbachev refused to sanction the kind of massive crackdown that might have intimidated the Kazakhs and others. Faced with several hundred dead on the first days of the clashes between Kazakhs and the militia, he refused to order the kind of repression that had been second nature to those who came before him.

And third, Gorbachev immediately undercut his own claims that he could not find a reliable Kazakh by naming an ethnic Kazakh as Kolbin's second secretary. In doing so, Gorbachev unintentionally encouraged resistance to his own policies, particularly among non-Russian elites who felt that he was a clear threat to their interests.

Within a remarkably short time, people in the other 11 Soviet republics and three occupied Baltic states began to act on the lessons of Alma-Ata. Party and Soviet leaders in all those regions understood that they could build up their own power relative to Moscow by playing on the growing nationalism of their own populations.

And the non-Russian populations themselves recognised that for the first time, they could act against the Soviet system with relative impunity and that such actions on their part could in fact gain them the concessions that they sought.

In some republics, the party elite took the lead; in others, such as Armenia, the people; and elsewhere, the two combined. But in every case, the result was the same: a heightened sense of nationalism, on the one hand, and a recognition that Moscow was no longer all powerful or even willing to take the actions necessary to stop them, on the other.

Within five years of the Alma-Ata clashes, the Soviet Union no longer existed, testimony of the remarkable power of the previously powerless who gain the courage to act in defense of their interests, and the impotence of the powerful when they are unwilling or unable to act in defense of theirs.


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