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Newsline - December 23, 1999




ALL RUSSIA SHIFTS TO THE KREMLIN...

At a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on 22 December, founding members of All Russia such as Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and Mordovia head Nikolai Merkushkin pledged their support for Putin's government, Interfax reported. According to the agency, Shaimiev said that All Russia will set up its own group within the Duma. The same day, Fatherland head Yurii Luzhkov announced that the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance will establish a faction of the same name in the Duma as well as two parliamentary groups. OVR council member Andrei Isaev explained that the one group would represent the interests of regions while the other would represent the interests of farmers (see item below). JAC

...AS TAX CHIEF THREATENS TO CUT OFF PIPELINE ACCESS TO KEY ALL RUSSIA REPUBLICS

Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok told reporters on 22 December that Tatneft and Bashneft are in danger of losing their access to oil export pipelines because of their failure to pay their federal tax debts. According to Pochinok, the two companies have together amassed federal tax debts of 5.3 billion rubles ($200 million). JAC

2000 BUDGET PASSES UPPER CHAMBER

Members of the Federation Council cast 148 votes in favor and six against to approve the draft 2000 budget on 22 December. The document passed the State Duma in its fourth reading on 3 December. It sets total spending at 855.07 billion rubles ($32 billion) and revenue at 797.2 billion rubles. The Federation Council also approved on the same day legislation amending the law on excise taxes, which will raise taxes on alcohol, tobacco and gasoline. JAC

NEXT ELECTION SET FOR 4 JUNE

The Federation Council approved on 23 December the law on presidential elections with only one vote against it, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill passed the State Duma on 1 December. President Boris Yeltsin pledged earlier to sign the law. Under it, presidential elections are set for 4 June 2000, the second round on 25 June and the inauguration on 9 August. In addition, the new law increases the amount of financial information that presidential candidates must disclose. JAC

TALBOTT, PUTIN CONDUCT 'ROUTINE' TALKS

After a meeting between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Prime Minister Putin on 22 December in Moscow, Putin's spokesman Mikhail Kozhukhov told reporters that the two officials had discussed arms control, the START-II treaty, the North Caucasus and the Russian elections. Putin expressed his support for a quick ratification of the START-II treaty, while Talbott conveyed U.S. President Bill Clinton's congratulations on successfully holding the State Duma elections. According to the spokesman, Putin and Talbott discussed the ABM treaty but only "in the most general terms." Unidentified diplomatic sources told Interfax that no progress was made in drawing the two country's view on the ABM treaty closer together; however, the same day Colonel General Leonid Ivashov of the Defense Ministry's department for international cooperation said that no negotiations on the ABM treaty were even taking place and called the talks during Talbott's visit "routine." Talbott also met with Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov. JAC

WESTERN, RUSSIAN OIL COMPANY MAKE PEACE AFTER LOAN DELAY

The day after the board of the U.S. Export-Import Bank voted to reject $500 million worth of loan guarantees to the Tyumen Oil company (TNK), BP Amoco announced on 22 December that it and Sidanko shareholders had reached an agreement with TNK, under which TNK will return Chernogorneft in exchange for a 25 percent stake in Sidanko. Clinton administration officials had expressed their reservations about releasing the Eximbank loan to TNK because of its alleged fraud of foreign investors during the Chernogorneft acquisition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 December 1999). Responding to news of the agreement, State Department spokesman James Foley said that the agreement "could be a good sign" but "we believe it remains appropriate that the loan guarantees not proceed at this time." JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN PRESIDENT TO RENEW BATTLE WITH STATE TV

Bashkortostan's President Rakhimov told journalists on 22 December that he intends to take the management of the "analytical program Zerkalo" to court over its "unprecedented campaign" against the republic's leadership, Interfax reported. According to Rakhimov, Zerkalo's host Nikolai Svanidze has insinuated that the election results in the republic were prepared before the actual voting could occur. Rakhimov also did not exclude the possibility that he would renew calls for banning broadcasts of Russian Television (RTR)'s program on the republic's territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). When asked about Rakhimov's remarks, Mikhail Shvidkoi, chairman of the All Russian State Television and Radio Company, noted that "today someone doesn't like Mr. Rakhimov, tomorrow someone won't like the leadership of another federation subject and that leader will try to blackmail the center with the threat of preventing its citizens from receiving reliable information." JAC

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA OBSERVERS CALL ELECTION COVERAGE WORSE THAN IN 1995

A team of international monitors from the European Institute for the Media analyzed a variety of Russian media from 28 November to 17 December to evaluate their coverage leading up to 19 December State Duma elections. The team concluded that "although in production terms professional standards were high and the allocation of free time was observed fairly, in many ways the character of this election campaign in the media was considerably worse than previous parliamentary elections in 1995. This was [evident] in the smear tactics and unsubstantiated accusations of various crimes levelled at major political blocs during this period through the mass media." The monitors added that "no national commercial broadcaster sought to provide impartial coverage,"and while "many print media were also partisan," a broader array of opinions "was apparent in newspapers" as a result of having a variety of sponsors. JAC

NEW GROUPS FOR A NEW DUMA?

Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin told reporters on 22 December that his party hopes to create an independent agrarian alliance. In addition to the 15 or 16 Agrarians who were elected on the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) list, agrarians who were elected from other lists as well as independent candidates will also be sought, he said. Current Agrarian faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov, who was elected on the Communist Party (KPRF) list, also spoke about setting up an Agrarian deputy group on the same day. According to Russian agencies, Kharitonov did not address the issue of the recent split in the Agrarian party, in which some members supported KPRF while others backed OVR, will be resolved. Deputies elected from single-mandate districts in Sverdlovsk Oblast hope to establish a Urals faction as suggested by Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL TO TAKE UP SKURATOV ISSUE NEXT YEAR

The Federation Council's Deputy Chairman Oleg Korolev told journalists on 22 December that the upper legislative chamber will reconsider the case of suspended Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov only after the end of court hearings scheduled on 23 and 27 December. The same day, the president of the Chuvash Republic, Nikolai Fedorov, called on Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev to intitate a resolution of the controversy without waiting for President Yeltsin to raise the issue again, noting that the country "has no Prosecutor General." JAC

LUZHKOV STRIKES OUT AGAIN

The Russian Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to invalidate the presidential decree dismissing Moscow police chief and Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Kulikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). On the same day, President Yeltsin signed a decree naming Kulikov's successor, Lieutenant General Vladimir Kozlov. Kozlov formerly headed the Interior Ministry's board for combatting organized crime, Interfax reported. Former Security Council Secretary, State Customs Committee head and presidential chief of staff Nikolai Bordyuzha also received a new job as ambassador to Denmark. JAC

CHECHEN VOLUNTEERS ENTER GROZNY

Pro-Russian Chechens under the command of former Grozny mayor Beslan Gantemirov entered Grozny on 22 December, Gantemirov's spokeswoman told Interfax. Russian artillery continued to bombard the city on 22 December, while fighting south of Grozny between federal forces and Chechens continued, AP reported. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman on 22 December denied Chechen claims that Russian paratroopers who dropped close to the Georgian-Chechen border a week ago are pinned down by the Chechens and have suffered heavy losses. LF

DISPLACED PERSONS UNDER PRESSURE TO RETURN TO CHECHNYA

AP on 22 December quoted displaced persons at a camp in Ingushetia as saying that Russian officials are denying them food rations in an attempt to force them to return to Chechnya. The previous day, AP reported that rail cars in which displaced persons had been temporarily housed were attached to a locomotive and transported five kilometers towards the Ingushetian-Chechen border, where they were halted only when more Chechens blocked the track. LF

PUTIN SUGGESTS CHECHEN MUFTI AS NEGOTIATING PARTNER

Russsian Prime Minister Putin told journalists in Moscow on 22 December that Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov "is as good a partner in talks as any other" even though he is "by no means pro-Russian," Interfax reported. Kadyrov, who broke with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov two months ago, is currently in Moscow, where he spoke out on 22 December against any talks between Maskhadov and the Russian leadership, describing the Chechen president as "[field commander] Shamil Basaev's shadow." LF

BEREZOVSKII AGAIN CALLS FOR CHECHEN PEACE TALKS

Business magnate Boris Berezovskii told a press conference convened by Interfax on 22 December that the military operation in Chechnya was initially justified, but that it has become counter-productiive, and that talks should be started on a political settlement of the conflict. He expressed regret that President Maskhadov rejected talks with Russian Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu on the grounds that Shoigu was not an appropriate interlocutor. Berezovskii again said that any proposed settlement of the conflict must be acceptable to Chechens both in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia. LF

ARE CHECHENS USING EXPORTED RUSSIAN ARMS?

Former Rosvooruzhenie head Grigorii Rapota told Interfax on 22 December that the Chechen militants "may" be using weapons exported under the aegis of that agency. Rapota did not, however, specify which countries those arms had originally been sold to, or how they were then transported back to Chechnya. LF

HAVE ESPIONAGE EXPERIENCE, WILL TRAVEL

Several dozen career officers from the KGB and the former East German intelligence service have found employment in the Republic of South Africa, "Segodnya" reported on 18 December. According to the daily, the officers traveled to South Africa in the late 80s and early 90s in order to participate in the creation of a new secret service and intelligence gathering system. Also on 18 December, former KGB officer Oleg Nechiporenko published an article in "Tribuna" in which he alleged that foreign intelligence officials are actively recruiting Russian citizens with offers to work without leaving home. According to Nechiporenko, in 1998 almost 30 foreign spies were kicked out of Russia while dozens of Russians working for foreign intelligence services were uncovered. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL ENDORSES 'BLUE STREAM' PROJECT

The upper house of parliament on 22 December approved a bill ratifying the protocol to the Russian-Turkish agreement to build a pipeline under the Black Sea to export Russian natural gas to Turkey, Interfax reported. President Yeltsin must now sign the bill into law. Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev told journalists on 22 December that he would to fly to Italy in order to conclude an agreement on 23 December with the Italian firm ENI on a date for beginning construction of the $1.7 billion pipeline, which should be completed in 2001. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, REPUBLICAN PARTY, AGREE ON COOPERATION, STABILIZATION

Robert Kocharian and leaders of the Republican Party, one of the two members of the Miasnutiun majority parliament faction, said after talks on 22 December that they reached agreement on unspecified measures to stabilize the domestic political situation following the 27 October murders of eight senior officials, including the HHK's leader, Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. HHK chairman Andranik Markarian told RFE/RL that his party places political stability in Armenia above anything else. He said such stability is essential for progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Markarian also said his party opposes calls by some members of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. LF

PROSECUTORS DENY BEATING ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTING SUSPECTS

Senior procuracy official Artak Harutiunian denied on 22 December allegations that one or more of the men arrested in connection with the 27 October parliament shootings has been subjected to violence during interrogation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Ruben Sahakian, defense counsel to a former presidential aide charged with complicity in the killings, said on 18 December that his client saw "traces of violence" on the face of Nairi Hunanian, the leader of five gunmen, when brought face to face with him for questioning. Sahakian has accused the investigators of manipulating the case to achieve their desired objective. Military Procurator Gagik Jahangirian has rejected that accusation. The lawyer of arrested parliament deputy Mushegh Movsisian, who is also charged with involvement in the attack, has asked Jahangirian to allow a medical examination of his client. LF

FOUR GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS INJURED BY ARTILLERY FIRE

Four Georgian border guards deployed in the village of Shatili were slightly injured on 22 December when fired on from a grenade- launcher from the Russian side of the Georgian-Chechen border, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. A Security Ministry official said it was not clear whether the shells were fired from the ground or from the air, and whether Russian federal forces fighting in southern Chechnya were responsible. Russian border guard official Nikolai Reznichenko said that the Russian border guards who landed in the Argun gorge on the morning of 22 December could not have been responsible for the incident as they were still not within range of Shatili. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze chaired a session of the country's National Security Council later on 22 December to assess the situation on the frontier with Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REJECTS RUSSIAN ACCUSATIONS...

The Georgian Foreign Ministry on 22 December responded to the statement issued by its Russian counterpart the previous day again accusing Georgia of abetting Chechen militants, Caucasus Press and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1999). Characterizing the Russian statement as "an unfriendly step" and the accusations it contains as "slanderous" and "unsubstantiated," the Georgian statement again denies that Georgia has either allowed arms or ammunition destined for Chechnya to transit Georgian territory, or agreed to host a Chechen "government in exile." LF

...AS MOSCOW THREATENS TRADE SANCTIONS

Also on 22 December, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a further statement warning that Russia might impose customs duties on imports from Georgia, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said such a move would be a justifiable reponse to the decision by Georgia's Supreme Court to declare null and void a free trade agreement concluded between the two countries in 1994. Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze on 22 December denied that the Supreme Court had annulled the agreement referred to, noting that it is not within the court's competence to do so, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS FEAR NEW ATTACK ON PRESIDENT

Georgia's security services are in a state of "panic," anticipating that Russia may orchestrate a new attempt to assassinate President Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported on 22 December, quoting the daily "Rezonansi." The paper suggested that the Russian agents charged with the killing may pose as Chechen militants. Former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani has warned that the increasing transport of weapons and drugs from Chechnya to Georgia poses a threat to Georgia's security, while former National Security chief Irakli Batiashvili has expressed concern that the continuing Russian accusations that Georgia is supporting the Chechens may herald a new Russian attempt to destabilize Georgia. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT EXPANDS POWERS OF MINISTER OF STATE

President Shevardnadze has broadened the powers of the Minister of State, Caucasus Press reported on 22 December. The minister's powers are now equal to those of a prime minister, and include convening cabinet meetings and issuing normative laws. LF

IMF AGREES ON NEW CREDIT FOR KAZAKHSTAN

The IMF on 21 December approved a three year $453 million credit for Kazakhstan, the first tranche of which, worth $35 million, will be made available shortly, Asia Plus Blitz reported. On 22 December, the World Bank's permanent representative in Kazakhstan told journalists in Almaty that the Bank will release the third tranche, worth $75 million, of a loan to finance restructuring the management of state resources and a second tranche, worth $100 million, for pension reform in Kazakhstan, according to Interfax. The Bank will also provide $140 million towards financing improvements in Kazakhstan's national power grid. The World Bank has lent Kazakhstan over $300 million in 1999. LF

GEORGIAN TEACHERS LAUNCH STRIKE

Teachers in six Georgian districts began a strike on 21 December to demand their salaries, which have not been paid for 8-10 months, Caucasus Press reported. The president of Georgia's Teachers' Association, Giorgi Amashukeli, told journalists in Tbilisi that police have already used violence to disperse a demonstration by teachers in the town of Kutaisi, and predicted that police would also attempt to thwart a second protest demonstration in that town scheduled for 23 December. LF

KYRGYZ CABINET DISCUSSES ECONOMIC CRIME

Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev chaired a cabinet session on 22 December devoted to assessing the extent of the country's shadow economy and economic crime, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Security Council secretary Bolot Djanuzakov told journalists that the shadow economy accounts for an estimated 10-12 percent of GDP. He said that up to 60 percent of the oil products Kyrgyzstan imports enter the country illegally, and estimated the damage to the economy from smuggling at 700 million soms (about $16 million). Economic crime accounts for similar economic losses, Djanuzakov added. LF

ANOTHER KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY CONSIDERS FORMING BLOC

Speaking at the second congress of the opposition Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan on 22 December, that organization's chairman, parliament deputy Djypar Djeksheev, said that several opposition parties may align in a bloc next month, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Earlier in December, Melis Eshimkanov, chairman of the El (Bei-Beshara) Party (Party of the Unfortunate) had similarly predicted that the Bei-Bechara, Ar-Namys, Agrarian and Republican parties and the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan might unite to form a bloc named either "The New Kyrgyzstan" or "The Congress of Democratic Parties," and which would be headed by prominent politician Chinara Jakypova. Also on 22 December, representatives of four pro-government parties, "Adilet," "Birimdik," "My Country" and the Social-Democratic Party, also held talks in Bishkek with State Secretary Naken Kasiev on creating a united bloc. LF

MORE REPRISALS AGAINST BAPTISTS IN TURKMENISTAN

Two Baptist ministers were arrested in Turkmenistan on 16-17 December, and Baptist churches in Chardjou, Mary, Turkmenbashi and Ashgabat were raided, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 22 December. The city authorities demolished a Seventh Day Adventist church in Ashgabat last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1999). LF

TURKMENISTAN SEEKS TO REASSURE UKRAINE OVER GAS DEAL

Deputy Prime Minister responsible for energy resources Elly Gurbanmuradov said on 22 December that the deal Ashgabat concluded last week to sell natural gas to Russia will not affect future supplies to Ukraine, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 1999). He suggested that if Ukraine seriously wants to buy Turkmen gas next year, it should first pay at least 30 percent of its $100 million outstanding debt for earlier deliveries. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT REQUIRES TO RAISE, LEVEL OUT WAGES

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 December demanded that the government "raise wages in the budget sphere, eliminate unfounded differences in work remuneration between branches...and pay wage arrears in the agricultural sector and other branches," Belarusian Television reported. "Why does the manager of an ordinary, wobbly enterprise--which has run into enormous debt to the state and lives on continued preferential treatment--earn more than a cabinet member?" Lukashenka asked his ministers. Having received no satisfying answer, Lukashenka closed the cabinet meeting "earlier than planned," Belarusian Television reported. JM

JAILED BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST HOSPITALIZED

Jailed Belarusian businessman Andrey Klimau, who is also a deputy of the opposition Supreme Soviet, was hospitalized on 22 December, Belapan reported. Klimau was severely beaten by prison guards on 13 December and suffered arm, stomach, and head injuries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1999). The U.S. State Department on 21 December condemned Klimau's beating, saying that it bears witness to the deepening of the political crisis in Belarus and of the country's self-isolation from democratic nations. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT OPTIMISTIC OVER YUSHCHENKO'S PREMIERSHIP

Leonid Kuchma said on 22 December that following the parliamentary confirmation of National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko in the post of prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1999), "the period of stagnation [in Ukraine] should come to an end," Interfax reported. Kuchma noted that he is satisfied with "those changes that took place in the parliament," adding that there is understanding between the legislature and the executive that "it is impossible to move further ahead without mutual responsibility." Addressing the parliament before his confirmation, Yushchenko said the government and the parliament need to sign an agreement on "setting up joint responsibility" for the state of affairs in Ukraine. JM

ISRAELI MINISTER IN VILNIUS TO CELEBRATE 'GREAT EMIGRATION'

Israeli Interior Minister Natan Sharansky, formerly a well-known Soviet Jewish dissident, paid a private visit to Lithuania starting on 22 December to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Sochnut organization. Among the guests included the leader of Sochnut, Salai Meridor, who recalled the opening of the Sochnut office ten years ago that began the "great emigration" of Soviet Jews to Israel, BNS reported. Meridor added that 800,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel over the decade, calling it "a remarkable period in the history of Israel." During the visit Sharansky also mentioned that Israeli law does not permit the extradition of its citizens abroad, referring to the cases of two Israeli citizens wanted in Lithuania for crimes against humanity. Nachman Dushanski and Semyon Berkis-Burkov are accused to various crimes during their KGB tenures, including killing freedom fighters and deportations. Sharansky also met with President Valdas Adamkus and other government officials, and called for better mutual understanding of both nations' tragedies -- better Lithuanian understanding of the holocaust, and better Israeli understanding of Lithuanian resistance against the Soviet occupation. The famous former Soviet dissident also paid a visit to former Lithuanian activist Viktoras Petkys, with whom Sharansky once shared a jail cell during the Soviet era. MH

LITHUANIAN ROADS 'HAZARDOUS' -- GOVERNMENT COMMISSION

Lithuania's Highway Traffic Safety Commission has issued a reporting acknowledging that the country's roads and highways are in perilous condition, BNS reported on 22 December. The report said that damages and injuries from the many road accidents are "unusually large, putting the brakes on economic development and weighing down the realization of other national programs." In 1998, a total of 829 people died and 7,667 injured in road accidents -- a jump of 24 percent and 65 percent respectively from 1997. In addition, data from the World Bank shows that losses due to road accidents cost 800 million litas ($200 million) annually. MH

EU REGRETS POLAND'S MOVE TO RAISE FARM TARIFFS

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen on 22 December said he regrets Poland's "unfortunate" decision to raise import tariffs on grain and some grain products (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1999), Reuters reported. He invited the Polish government to reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, Polish Agricultural Minister Artur Balazs commented the same day that the increase in tariffs is intended to protect the domestic market against highly subsidized EU farm products. "If the EU increases subsidies to exported foods, then we must respond with market protection," Balazs said. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT PRAISES CIVIC INITIATIVES REPRESENTATIVES

President Vaclav Havel on 22 December met with representatives of several civic initiatives critical of Czech political life and praised their actions, CTK reported. He said the "Thanks, now leave!" initiative launched in November by leaders of the student movement of 1989 which requires that politicians from all parts of the spectrum resign has increased public interest in politics. Havel said that the same applies to the Impulse 99 initiative launched by intellectuals earlier this year and the 1998 Drevic Appeal, in which personalities linked to the country's economic and social life protested against the difficult economic situation, CTK reported, citing presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES AMENDMENT TO LABOR CODE

The government on 22 December approved an amendment to the Labor Code, bringing it in line with European legislation and with the provisions of the European Social Charter to which the Czech Republic has recently adhered. The amendment, which must still be approved by the parliament, includes provisions such as equal opportunity for men and women and modifies emplyees' benefits relating to work conditions, job termination, holiday leave and safety at workplace conditions, CTK reported. The cabinet also approved a bill initiated by Vlastimil Tlusty, a member of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, under which 17 November, marking the beginning of the "Velvet revolution," will be designated an additional national holiday. MS

SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGE DEFENDS RULE ON AMNESTY

Tibor Safarik, chairman of the Slovak Constitutional Court's First Senate, on 22 December said his ruling earlier this week that the rights of former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) deputy director Jaroslav Svechota have been violated was in line with the spirit of European laws, under which an amnesty that has been granted cannot be withdrawn. He also criticized Jan Drgonec, chairman of the court's Second Senate, who ruled in July that the investigation against former SIS chief Ivan Lexa can proceed. All those involved in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995 were amnestied by former Premier Vladimir Meciar, but the amnesty was later nullified by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. Safarik said that police and prosecutors now "have the full authority" to halt all criminal proceedings related to the abduction, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARIAN COURT APPROVES EXTRADITION OF FUGITIVE RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN

A Budapest court on 22 December approved the extradition of fugitive Russian businessman Anatolii Bykov, AP reported citing Hungarian media. Bykov's lawyers appealed the decision and the Justice Minster will now have to decide on the case. Bykov was arrested in October on an international warrant, as he entered Hungary from Yugoslavia. He is wanted in Russia on suspicion of money laundering, gun trafficking and complicity to murder, and Russia last month asked Hungary to extradite him. MS

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER REFUSES TO BLAME COALITION PARTNER

Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 22 December said he refuses to blame the Smallholders' Party coalition partner for the failure of the the parliament to approve the bill on the privatization of medical practices. One day earlier, the Smallholders' parliamentary group walked out of the chamber before voting, thus enabling the opposition to defeat it. Orban said Smallholders' leader Jozsef Torgyan "firmly backed" the bill in the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 22 December 1999). According to "Nepszabadsag," however, Torgyan has bitterly complained in private that million of forints are earmarked for privatizing medical practices, but no surplus funds are allocated to regional development, of which he is in charge. Health Minster Arpad Gogl ironically said he hopes the bill can pass in the spring "unless the Smallholders hold a caucus meeting at that time." MS




HAGUE COURT TO EXPAND INVESTIGATIONS...

Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte said in The Hague on 22 December that she wants to expand from 19 to 36 the number of investigations under way for war crimes committed in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosova. She added that she hopes to indict 150 additional persons, many of whom are in leading positions. She stressed that her "top priority for the new year will be the arrest of leading figures who are still at liberty," Belgrade's "Danas" reported. She dismissed comments by Mira Markovic, the wife of indicted war criminal and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who compared the Hague's detention quarters to Nazi death camps. "If I could speak with Madame Milosevic, I would tell her to invite her husband to the detention center to see how comfortable it is," AP reported. PM

...INCLUDING OF MILOSEVIC

Del Ponte said that her office plans to expand its investigation of the Yugoslav president as well. "From the [ongoing] investigations new elements emerge that could lead to a genocide charge [against Milosevic]. While he remains the head of his country it will be difficult to get him, but later, we'll see.... I can only say there are elements from other investigations that involve him. It is an issue we are working on," Reuters reported from Rome on 23 December. PM

PANIC: HAGUE THE SOLUTION TO SERBIA'S PROBLEMS

International businessman and former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic told "Danas" of 23 December that elections will not solve anything in Serbia, "because Milosevic will steal them, as he has before." Panic stressed that the only way out of Serbia's dilemma is to get Milosevic and his henchmen to The Hague. The Serbian-American businessman praised the policies of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. He stressed that it is imperative to station NATO troops on Montenegro's border with Serbia. PM

SERBIA: FRIENDS ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic will fly to China on 25 December to promote the already "very good relations" between the two dictatorships, Reuters reported. On 23 December, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev arrived in Belgrade and will go on to meet with Russian KFOR troops. The previous day, General Leonid Ivashov, head of the International Military Cooperation Board in the Russian Defense Ministry, told a news conference in Moscow that Russia will "revise" the conditions of its participation in KFOR if the peacekeepers' mission "fails." He did not elaborate. He made clear, however, that Moscow has no intention of "opting out of or of quitting" the province, Interfax reported. Observers note that Russia and Serbia use their mutual contacts for propaganda purposes. Belgrade seeks to show that it is not isolated. Moscow wants to demonstrate that it is still a great power in the Balkans. Serbia also exchanges delegations with some fellow pariah countries such as Iraq, which also have a history of using violence against their own citizens. PM

SERBIAN DRAFT RESISTERS FEEL ABANDONED

London's "The Guardian" published an article on 22 December on the plight of dozens of young Serbian males in Hungary "who feel abandoned by everyone," the BBC's Serbian Service reported. The young men fled to Hungary to avoid being conscripted into Milosevic's genocidal campaign in Kosova earlier in 1999. They now feel abandoned by the international community, although they still face punishment in Serbia as "deserters and traitors." PM

MACEDONIAN COALITION AGREES ON RESHUFFLE

Representatives of the three parties in the governing coalition agreed in Skopje on 22 December to reshuffle their government. According to the agreement, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) will have 13 seats, the much smaller Democratic Alternative (DA) eight, and the Democratic Party of Albanians five ministers, AP reported. The DA's Vasil Tupurkovski will become deputy prime minister with responsibility for economic reform and European integration. The final composition of the new government is expected to be announced after a special legislative session on 27 December. Relations between the three parties have been strained for some time. The coalition has nonetheless survived internal differences over the Kosova crisis and over the recent presidential election. Tupurkovski was angered by VMRO's refusal to support his presidential bid and has threatened to leave the coalition. PM

ALBANIANS LOSE BIG IN PYRAMID SCHEMES

Farudin Arapi, who is the government-appointed administrator overseeing the liquidation of the now-defunct pyramid schemes, said only a small amount of the $1.4 billion invested will go back to investors, Reuters reported. Starting in January, some 185,000 creditors of 12 audited schemes will receive $40 million out of the $740 million they invested. The 68,500 investors in VEFA, which was the most important single pyramid, will get back $20 million out of the $325 million they invested. Arapi said no money is available for hundreds of thousands of creditors of 12 other fraudulent schemes--mainly charities that promised 10 percent per month-- because they had no assets to sell. The collapse of the pyramid network in 1997 let to anarchy and a change of government. PM

OSCE TO MONITOR CROATIAN VOTE

Officials of the U.S. and OSCE will monitor the 3 January parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 December. An OSCE spokesman in Zagreb added that he regrets that Croatian state-run television (HRT) continues to be the mouthpiece of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) despite numerous calls from abroad and within Croatia to transform it into a neutral public broadcaster. Elsewhere, Marijan Ramuscak, who heads the State Election Commission, said that Croats will be able to cast their ballots at polling places in 46 foreign countries. Croatia has traditionally had a high rate of economic emigration. PM

CROATIAN SPY SCANDAL GROWS

Former security chief Miroslav Separovic has published the names of yet more public figures, whom he claims the intelligence services have illegally monitored at the behest of HDZ hard-liners, "Jutarnji list" reported on 23 December. Targets include prominent people from the HDZ as well as from the opposition. Some of the names are Foreign Minister Mate Granic, acting president and Parliamentary Speaker Vlatko Pavletic, former director of HRT Antun Vrdoljak, opposition leaders Drazen Budisa and Ivica Racan, the EBRD's Christopher Cviic, and Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic. Separovic added that Ivic Pasalic, who leads the Herzegovinian lobby in the HDZ, played a key role in the snooping. Pasalic responded that the opposition promised Separovic a cabinet post if he agreed to implicate him in the scandal. State Attorney Berislav Zivkovic called on Separovic to prove his charges. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS VASILE'S 'REVOCATION'

In an interview on Romanian television, President Emil Constantinescu on 22 December said the basic law makes a distinction between "revoking" a member of the government and "dismissing" a minister. He said former Premier Radu Vasile has not been "dismissed" but "revoked." He explained that faced with a situation in which Vasile was refusing to resign and parliamentary factions were refusing to move a no confidence motion, he chose to "revoke" him, a prerogative granted him by the constitution in the case of regular cabinet members. He said that for this purpose Vasile was regarded as any cabinet member (The constitution does not grant the president the right to "dismiss" the premier). Constantinescu said it was his duty to do so in a situation where Vasile was refusing to answer his telephone calls and to come to the presidential office after having been summoned there (see also "End Note"). MS

ROMANIANS OBLIVIOUS TO REVOLUTION COMMEMORATION

Less than one hundred people gathered on 22 December in Bucharest's Revolutionary Square to mark the flight of former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu 10 years earlier. At the same time, Constantinescu was swearing in the members of Premier Mugur Isarescu's new cabinet. Meanwhile, the Senate 's Permanent Bureau designated Mircea Ionescu-Quintus as the house's interim chairman during the recession that is to last till 1 February. National Liberal Party leader Ionescu-Quintus is a deputy chairman of the house, and that position will apparently be taken over by former Premier Vasile, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

GAZPROM CUTS SUPPLIES TO MOLDOVA YET AGAIN

At the swearing-in ceremony of his new cabinet, Prime Minister Dumitru Barghis said solving the problems of the energy sector will be the highest priority of his government, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. On the same day, Gazprom halted all gas shipments to Moldova, because of its mounting debt to the Russian energy giant. Moldova owes Gazprom $190 million for gas deliveries, which together with penalties for failing to meet payment deadlines and interest amount to $ 300 million, Interfax reported. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS COUNTRY MUST CHANGE MENTALITY

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 22 December said Bulgarians must change their mentality and adopt the European system of values in its stead, BTA reported. In a lecture to Sofia University students, Kostov said this is one of the greatest challenges ahead on the road to EU accession. He said every Bulgarians must learn to shoulder his or her own responsibility instead on shifting the blame on to others, and preferably on the state. It is also important, he said, that Bulgarians learn to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. Kostov also said Bulgarians must learn how to cope with tough competition. He said the decision to close down the controversial Kozloduy nuclear plants will make the country's economy less competitive, as its units will be replaced by conventional facilities producing costlier energy. MS




TWO VERY DIFFERENT RESHUFFLES


By Michael Shafir

Bulgaria's and Romania's parliaments this week approved reshuffles in the respective governments of the two countries. On the surface, both measures were prompted by the need to enable the executive to better prepare the accession talks with the EU, to which both Romania and Bulgaria were admitted at the Helsinki summit earlier this month.

In actual fact, comparing the two government restructurings is to compare crab apples with Williams pears. The reshuffle of the government in Bulgaria was initiated by Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and applauded by President Petar Stoyanov; that in Romania came about as a result of a cabal between President Emil Constantinescu and the leadership of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and its main target was former Prime Minister Radu Vasile. This being so, the cabinet now headed by National Bank governor Mugur Isarescu includes only two new ministers, whereas in Bulgaria the reshuffle was sweeping-10 out of the 16 members of the cabinet made room for new faces.

Among the targets that Kostov intends to pursue is that of amending the constitution, specifically by doing away with provisions that do not fall in line with EU legislation, such as the article prohibiting the purchase of land by non-Bulgarian nationals. In Romania, on the other hand, the constitution has been "amended" before the reshuffle, by a dubious "interpretation" of an article in the basic document that makes it possible for the premier to be dismissed if incapacitated. The PNTCD at the end of the day forced Vasile to resign. Not, however, before producing a pitiful spectacle: one day Vasile was deemed by PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu to be unfit for returning to his former post of PNTCD secretary general, the next day-- after a bargain had been struck-- he was allowed to do so and even to --in all likelihood-- become Senate chairman, taking over the position from Petre Roman, the country's new Foreign Minister.

No sooner had the constitutional crisis ended that a new one seemed to emerge. This is so because Isarescu insists on having legal insurance that he can return to his former position as National Bank governor. Like the premier, the National Bank governor is appointed by the parliament, and in order to circumvent a law prohibiting the holding of double office, when investing the new cabinet the legislature also "suspended" Isarescu from his governorship for the length of his cabinet's tenure. The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania says this is illegal and it may be right-- which does not happen very often.

But the inapplicability of a comparison between the two countries does not stop here, though, of course, it is important that in Bulgaria the reshuffle has been carried out without raising constitutional questions. As a result of change there, Kostov now has only one, instead of formerly three deputy premiers. This innovation is aimed at streamlining the government's work and enabling it to concentrate on its main task--improving economic performance. The same task is also mentioned in Romania, but the number of deputy premiers has not been reduced there. On the contrary, in fact a new forum of deputy premiers has been created. This may be necessary to coordinate the bad functioning of the Romanian coalition, but it added one more structure to an already cumbersome administrative make-up.

In Bulgaria, among the few survivors in the cabinet one finds the country's Foreign Minster Nadezhda Mihailova. And rightly so, since the charming Bulgarian chief diplomat has been one of the chief architects of her country's success at Helsinki. In Romania, on the other hand, non-party affiliated Andrei Plesu now makes room for Roman. But it is no secret that Roman is a contender to the presidency in the year 2000, as is Constantinescu. The constitution gives large prerogatives to the president in the conduct of foreign policy a task at which Constantinescu has excelled. But the two former Foreign Ministers who preceded Roman, Adrian Severin and Plesu, easily adapted to the part of second lieutenants to Constantinescu. In electoral year 2000 Roman is unlikely to acquiesce to playing a similar role, and this competition could hinder, rather than promote, the country's foreign policy goals.

There is no need to over-idealize the Bulgarian reshuffle. The change was partly prompted by the country's endemic corruption, though none of the ministers replaced are suspected of being involved in illegal deals. The same, however, applies to Romania, where, unlike in Bulgaria, the Justice and Interior Ministers (the two departments closest implicated in combating corruption) retain their portfolios. Kostov was also animated by the desire to change his cabinet's image, following mediocre results in the local elections held in October. There were no local elections in Romania, but obviously--judging by both opinion polls and the ever-growing wave of labor unrest-- the government's rating is at low ebb.

Finally, Kostov might have also wanted to curtail somewhat the power of such replaced influential figures as his former deputies Evgeni Bakardzhiev and Alexander Bozhkov, who now return to their posts in the ruling Union of Democratic Forces. But he has done this elegantly--if politics can be elegant-- whereas in Romania the unrest in the ruling PNTCD is likely to continue. Viewed from this perspective, Romania seems closer to her other neighbor, party-conflict ridden Moldova, where a change of government has also taken place this week. Which, after all, is not surprising, given the two countries' long historical joint legacy--a legacy where politicking has often overshadowed the "making of politics."




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