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Newsline - December 21, 1999




COMMUNIST LEAD INCREASES, YABLOKO DROPS TO SIXTH PLACE

With 90.1 percent of the ballots counted from the 19 December State Duma elections, the margin between the Communist Party's (KPRF) victory and the next most popular party, the pro-Kremlin bloc Unity, increased slightly compared with more preliminary results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 1999). As of 9 a.m. (Moscow time) on 21 December, KPRF had 24.55 percent of the votes cast, Unity had 23.88 percent, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) had 11.98 percent, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) 8.63 percent, Zhirinovskii's Bloc 6.18 percent and Yabloko 5.94 percent. More than sixty percent of all eligible voters turned out for the elections. Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 December that of the 107 independent deputies elected in single mandate districts, 23 have already agreed to join Unity while 25 want to join OVR. JAC

PUTIN CLAIMS MANDATE FOR CHANGE

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters on 20 December that the results of the State Duma elections suggest that Russian voters "want new results, new ideas and new solutions as well as new faces." The same day Putin told Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair in a telephone conversation that the election results "demonstrated the arrival of a new and important period of political stability." The government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 20 December also praised the election results, concluding that "the new State Duma has a chance to get on with its direct duties of lawmaking rather than getting bogged down for the umpteenth time in politics." JAC

YABLOKO REJECTS COALITION

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told "Segodnya" on 21 December that his faction in the new Duma will not form a coalition with anyone: "We will remain independent and will not lean on anyone. We will walk along our own road." Before the election was held, Union of Rightist Forces leader Sergei Kirienko revealed that SPS, Unity and Yabloko were holding talks about forming a coalition. JAC

UNITY TO CHALLENGE COMMUNISTS OVER SPEAKER'S SEAT

Unity leader Sergei Shoigu said on 20 December that he believes that the speaker of the Duma should not be someone from the majority faction in the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, Shoigu explained that he supports the UN's approach, under which representatives of the major powers never become the UN Secretary General. Shoigu added that has not yet decided whether he will leave his job as Emergencies Minister to work as a State Duma deputy. JAC

ELECTION OBSERVERS CALL POLL A STEP FORWARD

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 21 December that international election observers consider the State Duma elections legitimate and democratic, but that they believe that the activities of the country's mass media marred the fairness of the election campaign, ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, the OSCE's Helga Degn said that elections were an important step in the country's democratic development. She added that "the election system in the Russian Federation has reached a new level on its journey to sophistication" but television coverage had been "very biased." JAC

UK, US HAIL ELECTION PROCESS

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair congratulated Prime Minister Putin on successfully holding parliamentary elections which Blair said corresponded to democratic norms. Putin's spokesman Mikhail Kozhukov said that the telephone conversation between the two men was extremely warm -- more "like the conversation between two friends, rather than between two prime ministers." A spokesman for Blair said that Britain hopes the "new Duma will continue the process of democratic and economic reform." Meanwhile, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart commented that "it says something about Russia where elections are becoming more common, where the turnout is so strong and democratic institutions, regardless of what you think of who won or who lost, have become accepted as the norm, and that's positive." U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel Berger said the next day that the U.S. expects the next Duma to be "less ideological and more pragmatic." JAC

...AS GERMANY REGRETS CAMPAIGN TACTICS

Michael Steiner, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's foreign policy advisor, told Berlin's InfoRadio on 21 December that "[It is unfortunate that] the [Chechen] war and a dirty campaign offensive paid off in the election." But he noted that it was positive "that the election took place at all" and brought as "reform-oriented a result as one could expect," Reuters reported. JAC

RISING MARKETS SOAR ON ELECTION RESULTS

Following the strong performance of the pro-Kremlin bloc Unity and Union of Rightist Forces in elections, Russia's benchmark stock index RTS gained 10 percent on 20 December from the previous day to close at 132.17. The debt market also strengthened as the price of a 30 year Eurobond issued by the Russian government rose 5 percent from $62.43 to $65.50, according to Reuters. The ruble, however, gained only slightly-- 5 kopeks--in its exchange rate with the dollar to close at 26.72/$1. Traders explained that they expect no new shift in Central Bank policy because of the Duma's new composition. JAC

FAR EAST GOVERNOR CLINCHES VICTORY...

Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko was reelected, according to preliminary results on 20 December. According to Interfax-Eurasia, Nazdratenko had managed to capture some 80 percent of the vote, thus obviating any need for a second round. Primorskii Shipping Company Director Aleksandr Kirilichev, who had been expected to win enough support that a second round would be necessary, told the agency that the results had been rigged. He said that in Vladivostok in particular, "multiple, flagrant violations of the law" occurred. He said that he is planning to challenge the results with the office of the Prosecutor-General and Supreme Court. "Vremya MN" noted on 20 December that Nazdratenko's decisive victory became possible after two popular members of the krai's political opposition, former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov and State Duma Deputy Svetlana Orlova, dropped out of the race. Cherepkov did so willingly, while Orlova's registration was cancelled. JAC

...AS TWO OTHER INCUMBENTS LOSE

Novosibirsk Governor Vitalii Mukha lost his reelection bid and a second round will be contested by Novosibirsk Mayor Viktor Tolkonskii and Deputy Economics Minister Ivan Starikov, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Tolkonskii, who is considered close to business magnate Boris Berezovskii, won 28 percent of the vote compared with Starikov's 22 percent, according to preliminary estimates (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999). The date of the second round will be set on 21 December. In Moscow Oblast, Governor Anatolii Tyazhlov lost to Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev and Colonel General Boris Gromov, currently a State Duma deputy, who will both compete in a run-off. JAC

SOME VOTERS REJECT ALL CANDIDATES

In a number of regions, voters opted to vote for none of the candidates on the ballot sheet. For example, in the city of Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai, more than 31 percent of the voters voted against all candidates. In the single mandate district in Vladivostok where former Vladivostok Mayor Cherepkov had been on the ballot until just two days before the elections, the majority of voters voted against all candidates and the results were declared invalid. Elections to establish a legislative assembly in that city were also declared invalid -- for the seventeenth time in a row -- because of insufficient voter turnout, according to ITAR-TASS. According to preliminary figures some 3.32 percent of all voters nation-wide voted against all candidates. JAC

MOSCOW'S FIRST LADY LOSES

According to preliminary results, the wife of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Elena Baturina, did not win a seat from the single mandate district in the Republic of Kalmykia. National television personality Aleksandra Burataeva attracted 23.69 percent of the vote compared with Baturina's 12.40 percent. Kalmykia's President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov appeared to support both candidates. JAC

SOME OLD FACES DISAPPEAR

Among the losers in elections were some prominent faces in the outgoing Duma such as Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich, Duma Deputy Chairman Sergei Baburin, Deputy Yurii Boldyrev and former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, according to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 21 December. Former Supreme Soviet Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov scored a meager 5.78 percent of the vote in his district in Khabarovsk Krai, according to preliminary estimates, while more than 7 percent of the voters in that district voted against all candidates. Returning to the public arena, however, will be some well-known figures such as former Politburo member Yegor Ligachev and former First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, and former Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov. Former Our Home is Russia faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin and current NDR faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov both won re-election in single mandate districts. JAC

PUTIN URGES OLD DUMA TO RATIFY START-II

Speaking on 21 December to a group of leaders both of the parties that won entrance to the Duma and others, Prime Minister Putin called on members of the old Duma to ratify the START-II treaty. The Nixon Center's Dmitri Simes predicted the previous day that the new Duma's composition would likely assure passage of the treaty which had foundered for several months. JAC

TRADE SURPLUS SURGES...

During the first 10 months of 1999, Russia's trade surplus soared to $24.5 billion compared with $8.4 billion during the same period last year, according to the State Statistics Commitee on 21 December. Russian exports were down 5.6 percent while imports slumped 37 percent. During the month of October alone, trade with countries outside of the CIS was up 18.7 percent compared with October last year, while trade with CIS countries was up 7 percent. JAC

...AS NEW DUTY LEVIED ON GAS EXPORTS

First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said on 20 December that the government has approved an export duty on natural gas equivalent to 5 percent of the its customs value, Interfax reported. He added that the duty would be reviewed after the first half of next year. JAC

RUSSIA DENIES REPRISALS AGAINST CHECHEN CIVILIANS

Spokesmen at Russian military headquarters in Mozdok on 20 December rejected as " a lie" a BBC report giving details of the killing by Russian soldiers of 41 Chechen civilians in the town of Alkhan-Yurt in early December, dpa reported. The report was based on interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch with eye-witnesses and survivors of the attack. The BBC also quoted Malak Saidullaev, who heads the pro-Moscow Chechen State Council, as confirming that the killings took place, and that Russian mercenaries also looted houses in Alkhan Yurt. LF




FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE CHARGED IN PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS

Aleksan Harutiunian, who resigned last week as President Robert Kocharian's foreign policy advisor, has been charged with inciting the five gunmen who killed eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament on 27 October, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 20 December. Ruben Sahakian, Harutiunian's lawyer, had said on 18 December after studying the charges that there is no hard evidence to substantiate charges against his client. Sahakian said that the charges against Harutiunian were based on testimony given by the leader of the five gunmen, Nairi Hunanian. Sahakian added that Harutiunian had received the impression when brought face to face with Hunanian for questioning that the latter had been beaten. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT IN U.S.

Nursultan Nazarbaev, who is currently on a working visit to the U.S., held talks with Vice President Al Gore in Washington on 20 December, an RFE/RL correspondent in the U.S. capital reported. The two men jointly chair the U.S.-Kazakhstan Bilateral Commission. Gore informed the Kazakh President of his concern over the clandestine sale of MiG- 21 aircraft to North Korea earlier this year, which Nazarbaev said took place without the knowledge of Kazakhstan's leadership. Gore also expressed concern over the conduct of this year's presidential and parliamentary elections, adding that he hopes Kazakhstan will "soon" become a true democracy. Also on 20 December, representatives of a dozen international corporations engaged in litigation with the Kazakh government over thwarted investment projects addressed an open letter to Nazarbaev urging him to crack down on corruption and create a transparent judicial system and adequate legal safeguards for foreign companies operating in Kazakhstan. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, U.S. DISCUSS DEFENSE COOPERATION

Kazakhstan's Defense Minister Sat Tokpakbaev held talks in Washington on 17 December with U.S. Defense Secretary WIlliam Cohen, ITAR-TASS reported. The talks focussed on cooperation in fighting terrorism, regional security, peacekeeping, and U.S. assistance to reform Kazakhstan's armed forces. On 20 December, the Department of Defense said Cohen and Tokpakbaev had signed a "Defense Cooperation Plan for 2000" that provides for personnel exchanges and military cooperation, according to dpa. The U.S. also pledged support for Kazakhstan's proposed peacekeeping battalion. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL REQUESTS ACCESS TO 'SEPARATISTS' DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Russian Consul Vladimir Nestoyanov has requested a meeting with the Russian citizens arrested in East Kazakhstan Oblast last month on suspicion of preparing to declare an independent Russian republic there, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 December quoting the oblast's governor, Vitalii Mette (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 November 1999). LF

KYRGYZ SUPREME COURT OVERRULES ELECTION BAN RULING

Melis Eshimkanov, one of the leaders of the opposition El (Bei-Beshara) Party, told RFE/RL's Bishkek correspondent on 20 December that the Supreme Court has instructed a Bishkek district court to reconsider its ruling upholding the ban imposed by the Central Electoral Commision on the party's participation in the 20 February parliamentary elections under the party list system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1999). The Central Electoral Commission based that decision on the absence from the party's statutes of any statement of intention to contest parliamentary elections. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DECREES ECONOMIC INDICATORS FOR 2000

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has approved the basic target figures for Belarus's socioeconomic development in 2000, Belapan reported on 21 December. According to the decree, Belarus's GDP is expected to grow by 2-3 percent, industrial production by 2-3 percent, and agricultural production by 8-9 percent, compared with 1999. The population's real incomes are foreseen to grow by 1 percent. JM

UKRAINE'S KUCHMA HAILS STRONG CENTRIST SHOWING IN RUSSIAN BALLOT

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 20 December praised the strong showing of centrist parties in the Russian parliamentary elections, Kuchma's spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko told Interfax. According to Kuchma, such results mean the success of forces oriented toward introducing further democratic and market transformations. Kuchma noted that a majority of Russians demonstrated their belief that the political and economic processes in their country are irrevocable. Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said the electoral victory of Russian Communists will positively influence the development of Ukrainian-Russian relations. JM

TURNOUT IN RUSSIAN ELECTIONS LOW IN BALTICS

The turnout of Russian citizens residing in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for the 19 December Duma elections were relatively low, BNS reported. A Russian Embassy official in Tallinn said that 17,389 people voted -- which is roughly 17 percent of the estimated population of Russian citizens, BNS reported. The spokesman added that most of the voters were middle-aged or elderly. The Russian embassy in Riga said 7,794, or about 13 percent of Russian citizens, voted in Latvia. The Russian Embassy in Vilnius also announced that about 4,000 people voted in Lithuania, a turnout of about 28 percent. Reports from the embassies indicate that the Communist Party gained the most support among the voters, followed either by Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) or the pro-Kremlin Unity. MH

LATVIAN PRESIDENT PROMULGATES LANGUAGE LAW

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 20 December signed the new language law, which the parliament passed back on 9 December, BNS reported. The law will take effect on 1 September 2000. Since the passage the law has received praise from various foreign governments, such as the United States, as well as international organizations, such as the OSCE and Council of Europe -- though Russia slammed it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999). The law regulates language usage in the public sector, as well as partly in the private sector, in areas such as first aid and public safety. President Vike-Freiberga vetoed an earlier version passed by the parliament after foreign organizations offered negative comments, prompting this slightly watered-down current version. President Vike-Freiberga also signed the state budget for the year 2000, passed by the parliament on 1 December, LETA added. MH

NEW PARTIES FOUNDED IN LITHUANIA

Two political parties, one on the center-right and the other on the center-left, were officially founded in Lithuania on 18 December. At the founding congress of the center-right Homeland People's Party, parliamentarian Laima Andrikiene defeated her husband, parliamentarian Vidmantas Ziemelis for the party's top post. Both were earlier expelled by the ruling Conservative Party for "acting against the Conservatives and the coalition Government," BNS reported. On the other side of the spectrum, deputy parliamentary speaker Rimantas Dagys became the leader of a breakaway party Social Democracy 2000 -- which was earlier a moderate wing of the main Social Democratic Party. The faction had a major falling-out with the leader of the Social Democrats, Vytenis Andriukaitis, when Dagys took the job as deputy parliamentary speaker. MH

POLISH LEFTIST TRADE UNION PREDICTS ECONOMIC GLOOM IN 2000

National Trade Union Alliance head Jozef Wiaderny and his deputy Maciej Manicki said on 20 December that 2000 will be one of the worst years in Poland's economy, PAP reported. According to them, the economic downturn will result from the "undervalued budget, undervalued reforms, higher inflation than that envisaged by the government, and increased unemployment." Manicki criticized the financial policy of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz as "shortsighted. The VAT and excise rates rise may ensure budgetary revenues and save the financial system from ruin, but this will be done at the expense of society," he said. JM

CZECHS TO START DEPORTING ILLEGAL RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN RESIDENTS

Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich on 20 December told CTK that his ministry will start deporting illegal residents from Russia and Ukraine,and that the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry is looking into ways to penalize companies that employ such immigrants without paying taxes and social insurance for them. Grulich said the illegal residents will leave the country on special trains escorted by police, and that Slovakia has already consented to allowing their transit through its territory. Grulich said the best way to combat illegal residence or employment would be to impose visa requirements for Russian and Ukrainian nationals, but that the Foreign Ministry opposes that measure. MS

CZECH FAR-RIGHT 'JUDAIZES' HAVEL, ZEMAN, KLAUS

Photographs of President Vaclav Havel, Premier Milos Zeman, Civic Democratic Party Vaclav Klaus, and Freedom Union chairman Jan Ruml, labeled "Jewish Free Masons and Murderers of the Czech Nation," were displayed on 20 December in Decin, in an exhibit purporting to illustrate the struggle of the extra- parliamentary far-right Republican Party, CTK reported. The display also includes a "partial list of Jews and Jewish half- breeds in politics since 1989." The list has hundreds of names on it, being again topped by those of Havel, Zeman and Klaus. MS

SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT STOPS PROSECUTION OF KOVAC JR. KIDNAPPERS

The constitutional court on 20 December ruled that the constitutional rights of former Slovak Intelligence (SIS) Deputy Director Jaroslav Svechota have been breached by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's decision to cancel an amnesty granted by his predecessor, Vladimir Meciar, to those involved in the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995. The court ordered the investigation against Svechota to be stopped. The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia welcomed the decision, while Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda criticized it. It is not clear whether the ruling extends to Ivan Lexa, former SIS chief. Justice Minister Jaroslav Pittner said it does not, while Lexa's lawyers say it does. MS

ROMA HISTORY TEXTBOOK INTRODUCED IN SLOVAKIA

Deputy Prime Minster for Minorities, Human Rights and Regional Development Pal Csaky on 20 December introduced to journalists the first textbook on Roma history to be used in Slovak schools, SITA and CTK reported. Csaky said Czech, Hungarian, and Romany versions of the textbook are under preparation. MS

HUNGARIAN RULING PARTY TO SPLIT CHIEF POSITIONS

The National Board of the ruling Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ) on 20 December decided to separate in the future the positions of premier and party chairman, AP reported. The decision must still be approved by a FIDESZ congress scheduled for 29 January 2000. The congress is to elect the new party chairman. Prime Minster Viktor Orban called the decision "a big step forward" that will strengthen both party and the government, by having two persons devoting all their time to the two different jobs. He said the two main contenders for the party chairmanship are parliamentary chairman Janos Adler and State Security Minister Laszlo Kover. MS




HAGUE COURT HAILS ARREST OF BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL...

War crimes tribunal spokesman Paul Risley said in The Hague on 20 December that NATO troops arrested former Bosnian Serb General Stanislav Galic under a sealed indictment from the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 1999). Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte added: "This latest arrest...is in line with my policy of targeting senior figures in the chain of command for crimes committed during periods of armed conflict." Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic still remain at large, as do top Belgrade leaders, including Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

...WHILE SERBS PROTEST...

Some 20 peacekeepers took part in the capture of the man who led the wartime siege of Sarajevo and led him away with a hood over his head, AP reported from Banja Luka on 20 December. The Republika Srpska Defense Ministry said in a statement that the arrest is "a serious blow to efforts of the Republika Srpska to cooperate with the Hague tribunal." Deputy President Mirko Sarovic of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party charged that SFOR overstepped its mandate by arresting the general. Observers note that Prime Minister Milorad Dodik was slated to visit The Hague recently but that the trip was postponed, allegedly because of fog at Banja Luka airport (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). PM

...AND HOLBROOKE RAISES QUESTIONS

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke said in New York on 20 December that "today's news from Banja Luka that SFOR troops have captured the very high ranking war criminal is evidence enough that we have not finished with the problems of Bosnia, we're not turning away from Bosnia." When reporters asked him why top war criminals are still loose there, he said: "I will not share with you my thoughts on why they're at large. I find it absolutely...I find it very, very difficult. I've long taken the view that they must be brought to justice. My views on this are very well known.... I'm glad that this man was picked up this morning, and I feel that it is absolutely imperative that the rest be brought to justice." Asked why criminals are living quite openly in the U.S. sector, he replied without elaborating: "That's a very good question." PM

U.S. PULLS PLUG ON BOSNIAN PRIVATIZATION

A spokesman for USAID said in Sarajevo on 20 December that Washington has stopped all funding for privatization in the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation. USAID noted that only an inconsiderable number of small enterprises have been privatized, and not a single one of the larger ones, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The U.S. aid agency holds the federal government, the privatization agency, and the management of the large enterprises responsible for the lack of progress. Observers have long noted that Bosnian reconstruction efforts have been hampered by the continued presence of communist-era structures, attitudes, and practices. PM

FOUR LEGAL HOLIDAYS IN BOSNIA

The joint Council of Ministers approved a proposal to declare four days national holidays for all Bosnia. They are: New Year's Day, 1 May, 21 November (marking the signing of the Dayton peace agreement in 1995), and 25 November (day of statehood), "Oslobodjenje" reported on 21 December. PM

SNOW CONTINUES TO PARALYZE BOSNIA

Fresh snow added to last week's accumulation on 20 December, seriously affecting power lines and transportation across Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1999). Public transportation in Sarajevo was halted and the airport closed. People in central Bosnia were told not to go outside unless absolutely necessary, Reuters reported. Heavy snowfalls also affected Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

UN POLICE ARREST ALBANIANS

The UN police force announced in Prishtina on 20 December that it has arrested four ethnic Albanians in connection with the recent murders of at least five Serbs and Roma in a nearby town. PM

ROW OVER MITROVICA HOSPITAL

The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) halted funding to the hospital in the divided city of Mitrovica on 20 December, "Koha Ditore" reported. The move was a response to the refusal by the Serbian medical staff to allow 22 ethnic Albanian doctors and nurses to return to their workplace. Local UN administrator Stefano De Mistura warned the Serbian staff on 18 December that the UN will begin to fund another hospital in the ethnic Albanian-dominated southern part of the city unless the Serbian staff fully cooperates in the return of ethnic Albanian employees. The Serbian staff the same day made their cooperation with UNMIK conditional on the return of Serbian doctors to other parts of Kosova and on the return of Serbian refugees to their homes. FS

UNMIK, ALCATEL FINALIZE MOBILE PHONE DEAL

UN Administrator Gerhard Fischer told AP on 20 December that UNMIK officials and representatives from the French telephone company Alcatel signed an agreement last week, providing for the construction of a mobile phone network in Kosova. In early December, UNMIK suspended the director of Kosova's Post and Telecommunications (PTK), Agron Dida, who had refused to sign the deal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1999). Dida told "Koha Ditore" of 20 December that "UNMIK totally disregarded the rules governing the tender." He argued that Siemens had offered to sell technical equipment to PTK at low interest rates, while Alcatel will fully finance the installation but remain the owner of the entire mobile phone system. UN officials favored Alcatel, arguing that the company will install the equipment faster. The Serbian company Mobtel also maintains its network in parts of Kosova. FS

BELGRADE CONTINUES DIVERSION CAMPAIGN...

Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic said in Belgrade on 20 December that Bernard Kouchner, who is the UN's chief representative in Kosova, and his Nobel Prize-winning Medecins sans frontieres carry out "legalized espionage" on behalf of the French government. In Prishtina, Kouchner's spokeswoman denied the charges. Matic's remarks are the latest installment of a bizarre disinformation campaign aimed at distracting attention from Serbia's domestic problems and discrediting the interim administration of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 December 1999). PM

...AND FIRES JUDGES

The Serbian parliament fired Constitutional Court Judge Slobodan Vucetic on 21 December because of his membership in the opposition organization G-17 Plus. The previous day, parliament sacked Supreme Court Judge Zoran Ivosevic and municipal Judge Bozidar Prelevic, who also oppose the regime. Vucetic protested his sacking, saying that parliament can fire judges only for health reasons or if they are convicted of a crime. He stressed: "This regime is doing everything against the constitution. Repression is their last means to stay in power," AP reported. PM

SWISS BLOCK SERBIAN ASSETS

Othmar Wyss, who heads the Swiss government's export control and sanctions department, said in Bern on 20 December that his office has frozen Yugoslav and Serbian assets in Swiss banks. He declined to say exactly how much money was involved, but noted that it was a "not insignificant sum," AP reported. Swiss police officials added that no solid evidence has emerged of bank accounts linked to Milosevic personally. In June, Bern agreed to freeze assets belonging to top Belgrade officials indicted for war crimes. Unconfirmed reports in Western and private Serbian media have long suggested that Milosevic and his entourage have huge funds stashed away in banks as far afield as Russia, Cyprus, South Africa, and other places. It is widely believed that one of the main duties of Yugoslav Ambassador to Russia Boris Milosevic--the brother of Slobodan--is to oversee money laundering operations there for the Belgrade elite. PM

CROATIA TO ELECT PRESIDENT ON 24 JANUARY

The government on 21 December approved a proposal by the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to hold the presidential vote to succeed the late Franjo Tudjman on 24 January. Croatia will elect a parliament on 3 January. The HDZ plans to announce its presidential candidate after that vote. PM

CROATIAN COMMISSION: PAVLETIC NOT BUGGED

A parliamentary commission concluded on 20 December that the intelligence services have not bugged the offices or telephone of acting president and Speaker of Parliament Vlatko Pavletic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). Pavletic said that the time has nonetheless come to reduce the number of conditions under which the intelligence services can legally use wire taps. He argued that such practices are not necessary given the current levels of "security, stability, and democracy in Croatia," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SPLIT: OPPOSITION IN NO HURRY FOR TUDJMAN

HDZ members of the Split city council walked out of the 20 December session following the refusal of the opposition-led body to take up immediately the question of renaming a major thoroughfare after Tudjman. The majority of the council members felt that the matter could be referred to the municipal commission dealing with public place names, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT MARKS REVOLUTION ANNIVERSARY

A 21 December joint session of the two chambers of the parliament marking the tenth anniversary of the 1989 revolution was marred by the speech of a representative of the revolutionaries. Gheorghe Zanea, chairman of the Jilava 21-22 December Association, attacked President Emil Constantinescu and the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), reproaching them with failure to respect electoral promises and with having enriched themselves and their families and impoverished the bulk of Romanians. Zanea was cheered by opposition parliamentarians and booed by deputies and senators from the PNTCD. In other news, PNTCD spokesman Remus Opris said the new ministers in the Mugur Isarescu cabinet will have to abide by the provisions of the recently passed law on access to the communist secret police files and declare in writing whether they had collaborated with the Securitate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES AGAINST OPPOSITION APPEAL

The Constitutional Court on 20 December turned down on procedural grounds an appeal by 51 members of the parliament against the recently passed Law on Civil Service. The opposition parliamentarians from the Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) objected to the stipulation providing that civil servants who have contact with the public in localities with 20 percent or more national minorities have to speak the language of those minorities. The court said the appeal had been submitted after President Constantinescu had already promulgated the law. PUNR chairman Valeriu Tabara said the decision was "a strictly political one," Romanian radio reported. MS

ANOTHER POLL PUTS OPPOSITION FAR AHEAD IN ROMANIA

According to a public opinion poll conducted by Metro Media Transylvania in December, the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania would garner 39.9 percent of the vote if elections were conducted now, and would be followed in second place by the opposition Alliance for Romania (APR), with 18.7 percent. The ruling Democratic Convention of Romania trails them with 18.1 percent, followed by the PRM (7.2) and the Democratic Party (4.3). The Union of Rightist Forces and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania would each garner 4.2 percent, while 17 percent of those polled werere undecided. PDSR leader Ion Iliescu and Alliance for Romania leader Teodor Melescanu would be forced in a runoff in a presidential contest, being backed by 37.6 and 21.7 percent, respectively. Constantinescu is in third place, with 17.1 percent backing. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE ON GOVERNMENT PROGRAM

Premier- designate Dumitru Barghis on 20 December told representatives of the parliamentary groups that he envisages to propose "a set of extraordinary measures" aimed at improving microeconomic activity. Barghis said that Moldova's most serious problem is that of servicing its foreign debt. He also said the lineup of his government has not been finalized, with four portfolios being still unmanned, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN CAPITAL RISKS COLD, DARKNESS OVER NEW YEAR

Chisinau might be plunged into a blackout and its inhabitants may be left in the cold over Christmas and New Year, the independent Flux agency reported on 20 December. On 18 December the Russian Gazprom concern announced its refusal to grant another debt deferment to Moldova and to sign an agreement for deliveries in 2000. Since Gazprom halted deliveries earlier last week, power plants in Chisinau are being supplied by private Russian firms which cannot meet more than 30 percent of the country's energy needs. MS

TRANSDNIESTER SEPARATISTS ASK FOR OBSERVER STATUS IN RUSSIA- BELARUS UNION

The Supreme Soviet of the separatist Transdniester republic passed a resolution congratulating Boris Yeltsin and Alexander Lukashenka on the recent agreement on strengthening the union between their countries and asked that the republic be admitted to the union with the status of observer, Flux reported on 20 December (see also "End Note"). MS

BULGARIAN CABINET DRASTICALLY RESHUFFLED

Prime minister Ivan Kostov on 20 December announced that he plans to change 10 out of 16 ministers in his government. The parliament is to vote on the streamlined cabinet on 21 December. There will be only one deputy premier in the cabinet instead of three. He is Petar Zhotev, who currently heads the Bank Consolidation Agency, and who will be in charge of the Economy Ministry, which replaces the Industry and the Trade ministries. Former Deputy Premiers Evgeni Bakardzhiev, Alexander Bozhkov and Vesselin Metodiev are no longer in the cabinet. Also departing are Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev, who is replaced by Boiko Noev, currently Bulgaria's ambassador to NATO and the EU. MS




AN 'EPOCH-MAKING' TREATY FOR HALF A YEAR?


by Jan Maksymiuk

On 8 December, the eighth anniversary of the Soviet Union's demise, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, signed a treaty on the creation of a union state of Russia and Belarus. This was the third attempt by those politicians to breathe life into the common state project, which had remained largely on paper. Yeltsin commented that the treaty is "epoch-making." Lukashenka-- who had called the document a "laughing stock" in October--was quick to remark that he will sign another accord with Yeltsin before the end of the Russian president's term in office. He revealed to journalists that the next treaty will deal simply with a union state, not with the creation of a union state.

On 8 October, Russia's "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and Belarus's "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" published the draft treaty for "public discussion." That discussion reportedly resulted in 1,500 proposals to amend the document, but no definitive version of the draft was made public before its signing. Belarusian officials working on the draft commented last month that 99 percent of the amendments included in it were "purely technical." However, it remains unclear in what kind of state the Russians and Belarusians have been living since 8 December.

The discussion of the treaty draft, which was allegedly conducted in both countries, provoked a slew of sarcastic comments by Russian and Belarusian independent commentators alike. Belarusian official media reported that some 1.5 million people took part in this debate, including 1.1 million in Belarus. "It turns out that 400,000 Russians decided the fate of the remaining 150 million," one Russian newspaper commented wryly. Belarusian independent media reported that the "public discussion" in Belarus took the form of Soviet-style meetings at plants and factories, where management praised the unification with Russia, while workers--instead of stormily applauding as in older times--sat gloomily silent.

According to the draft, the new union state will have the following joint bodies: a Supreme State Council, a bicameral parliament, a Council of Ministers, a court, and an Accounting Chamber. The signatory states are to voluntarily surrender part of their sovereign powers to these bodies. The document also calls for conducting coordinated foreign, military, and social policies. At the same time, however, Belarus and Russia will maintain their "sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, political systems, constitutions, state symbols, and other statehood attributes." The draft does not explain how these contradictory goals can be achieved in practice.

The signed treaty is accompanied by a timetable for the phased implementation of unification goals, for example, the introduction of a joint tax system in 2001 and a joint currency in 2005. The timetable, like the treaty itself, lacks any specifics regarding its implementation.

For Lukashenka and his regime, the 1999 treaty--even if it does not differ in essence from those signed in 1996 and 1997-- has several obvious benefits. First, it ensures Russia's political protection and patronage for the Belarusian leader, who has become a pariah in international politics. Second, it extends Russia's economic assistance to Belarus's unreformed economy (Minsk will continue obtaining cheap Russian gas and oil and selling its products, which are unwanted elsewhere, on the Russian market). Third, it increases Lukashenka's possibilities as a player on the Russian political scene and doubtless will help sustain his desire to make it to the Kremlin as the ruler of both Russians and Belarusians.

Russia's benefits from the treaty are less obvious. From the economic viewpoint, there are virtually none. However, as some Russian commentators note, economic considerations in the union with Belarus are not paramount. Russia, those commentators argue, has never come to terms with the "loss" of Belarus and Ukraine eight years ago and is ready to pay dearly to get them back under its wings. Now, as Russian troops level Chechnya and Russians slowly recover their former sense of "imperial pride," Belarus's "voluntary" merger is a sign of brighter times for greater Russia. Besides, integration with Belarus is an important issue in the electoral rhetoric of all Russia's political forces.

Although it cannot be ruled out, it is hardly conceivable that Yeltsin, as his health continues to deteriorate rapidly, would want to use the merger with Belarus as a pretext for extending his term in office for yet another five years. On the other hand, it is also highly unlikely that anybody succeeding Yeltsin in the Kremlin would allow Lukashenka to influence, let alone participate in, Russia's political decision-making. Therefore, an "epoch-making" treaty, the fourth of its kind in four years, is most likely to be the next chapter in the Russian- Belarusian integration story.

It is difficult, however, to predict the end of this story. Will the Kremlin eventually absorb Belarus as the 90th subject of the Russian Federation? Or will it install a new leader in Minsk, as loyal to Moscow as Lukashenka, but devoid of pan-Slavic aspirations? The latter scenario might prove positive for the pauperized country of 10 million, all of whose energies seem harnessed either to fanning or hindering Lukashenka's personal ambitions.


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