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Newsline - February 3, 2000




RUSSIAN TANKER INCIDENT TO PUT MORE PRESSURE ON TIES WITH U.S.?

Russian Foreign Ministry officials have denied that a Russian tanker intercepted in the Gulf was smuggling Iraqi oil in violation of a UN trade embargo, Reuters reported on 3 February, citing Russian news agencies. The previous day, the tanker had been intercepted by the U.S. Navy-led Multinational Interception Force off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and members of MIF had boarded the Russian vessel to inspect its cargo. According to an NBC news report, a second Russian tanker suspected of smuggling Iraqi oil was waiting out of reach in Iranian waters. Russian Foreign Ministry officials were quoted as saying the incident could have a negative impact on U.S.-Russian relations and would not help "normalize" the situation vis-a-vis Iraq. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, meanwhile, said on 3 February that he has no immediate comment on the reports, noting that it is necessary to determine "whom the tanker belongs to and whose oil it was carrying." JC

PUTIN, ALBRIGHT CONTINUE TO DISAGREE OVER CHECHNYA...

Meeting in the Kremlin on 2 February for some three hours, Russian acting President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright failed to reach any agreement with regard to Russia's campaign in Chechnya. "I don't think we are any closer to a political solution on Chechnya," Albright was quoted as saying after that meeting. Putin, for his part, told journalists that the U.S. is putting "certain pressures" on Russia but that he will remain "resolute" in his policies. However, according to Albright, the Russian leader "seemed receptive" to the proposal to send an international "humanitarian mission" to Chechnya to assess the situation there. JC

...BUT REACH SOME UNDERSTANDING OVER ABM?

With regard to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Albright said she was "encouraged" that Putin seemed "open" to the U.S.'s wish to modify that treaty in order to set up its own limited national defense system. The two sides reached a "kind of understanding [over] new threats of countries which have missiles," she commented, according to AFP. "The New York Times" quoted a senior U.S. administration official as adding that Putin suggested the two countries should jointly assess such threats while maintaining the treaty's fundamental principles. Interfax, however, quoted unidentified Russian diplomatic sources as saying that the two sides failed to "merge positions" on the issue of possible modifications, noting that "no changes" have taken place in their positions. JC

ALBRIGHT PRAISES PUTIN THE INTERLOCUTOR

While some both in the West and Russia remain unsure about who exactly Putin is (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2000), the U.S. Secretary of State had the opportunity to assess first-hand the new acting Russian president during their 2 February meeting. Interfax quoted Albright as saying that he made a favorable impression on her: "I found him a very well-informed person and a very good interlocutor. He is obviously a Russian patriot and also someone who seeks a normal relationship to Russia within the West." At the same time, she noted that it is important now to "watch what he does" and then judge him by his actions. JC

RFE/RL JOURNALIST EXCHANGED FOR RUSSIAN PRISONERS IN CHECHNYA

Russian news agencies quote Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii as saying RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii was handed over on 3 February to Chechen fighters in exchange for three Russian soldiers being held by the Chechens. LF

SERGEEV CLAIMS MAJOR ADVANCES IN GROZNY...

Visiting Chechnya on 2 February, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said the federal forces acted "brilliantly" against the Chechen defenders of Grozny and are now advancing in the city twice or three times faster than before, Reuters reported. Russian military spokesmen say federal forces now control 50 percent of the Chechen capital, including Minutka Square, the scene of embittered fighting last week. Sergeev claimed that 586 Chechens were killed trying to break out of Grozny during the night of 1-2 February, while Russian First Deputy Chief of Army General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov gave a figure of 400-500 Chechens killed in Grozny over the previous two days, according to Interfax. LF

...AS CHECHENS REGROUP IN SOUTH

Former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, who heads a contingent of pro-Russian Chechen militia, said in Urus Martan on 2 February that some 3,500 Chechen fighters have withdrawn from Grozny over the past few days, Reuters reported. AP on 3 February quoted Chechen field commander Khizir Khachukaev as saying that 3,000 fighters had left Grozny for mountainous southern Chechnya. But Russian presidential aide Yastrzhembskii on 2 February continued to insist that reports of a mass Chechen exodus from Grozny are exaggerated, saying only that individual field commanders and their immediate entourages have left the city, according to ITAR-TASS. The Chechens are now accumulating quantities of food, ammunition, and medicines in villages in Shatoi Raion, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 February. LF

GENERAL GIVES DETAILS OF PERMANENT RUSSIAN TROOP PRESENCE IN CHECHNYA

Speaking on 2 February in Nauri Raion in northwest Chechnya, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Kosovan said that one motorized infantry division of more than 15,000 troops will be permanently stationed in Chechnya, Interfax reported. The division will be composed of five regiments and support units. One 2,600-strong regiment will be deployed in the Nauri village of Kalinovskaya, two in the Grozny suburb of Khankala, and the others in Shali (south-east of Grozny) and Itum-Kale (in the south, close to the frontier with Georgia). The latter two regiments will be housed in "fortresses" and securely protected from artillery attack, Kosovan said. Another 1,000-man border-guard detachment will be stationed in Itum-Kale. LF

TATARSTAN'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV

In an interview with Interfax on 2 February, Mintimer Shaimiev said that Moscow should begin peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Shaimiev asked why former Grozny Mayor Gantemirov, a convicted embezzler, should be amnestied and sent to Chechnya while Maskhadov is ostracized. Shaimiev also rejected the proposal that the governors of federation subjects should be appointed, rather than elected, arguing that the power-sharing treaty signed in 1994 between Tatarstan and the federal center cannot be revised to suit the new political situation. LF

LAST MONTH'S BUDGET REVENUES HIGHER THAN EXPECTED

The Russian federal government collected 61.1 billion rubles ($2.1 billion) in revenues last month, the Finance Ministry reported on 2 February. According to Interfax, this was 16.3 percent higher than the target figure. Spending totaled 61.4 billion rubles in January and the resulting deficit was 0.3 billion rubles. Defense spending totaled 13.7 billion rubles, which was 0.3 percent below planned levels. With regard to revenues, taxes amounted to 38.1 billion rubles and customs duties 19.6 billion rubles. JAC

WORLD BANK TO FACTOR CHECHNYA INTO DECISION-MAKING

World Bank President James Wolfensohn issued a statement at the end of his visit to Moscow on 2 February that "the bank will continue to assess the human implications of the crisis in Chechnya, as well as the impact of military expenditures on overall fiscal stability and government spending for social programs and economic development." Wolfensohn added that "at present our assessment is that a little over half of effective investment loans [to Russia] could be considered as performing satisfactorily. This is a sharp and welcome improvement over the level of only one-third a few months ago, but it also shows that much work remains to be done to restore the overall portfolio quality at least to pre-crisis levels of performance." According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 3 February, Wolfensohn said that the discussions on the bank's structural adjustment loan to Russia will take time. JAC

ZYUGANOV MAY BE FIRST REGISTERED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev said on 1 February at a charter meeting of the company's inter-regional trade union organization that Gazprom employees will support acting President Putin in the upcoming presidential elections, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, members of the initiative group in support of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's candidacy have submitted the signatures they collected to support his candidacy, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 February. They are the first group to submit signatures. If more than 85 percent of those signatures are declared valid within eight days, Zyuganov may begin campaigning. "Segodnya" reported the same day that the standard fee for collecting signatures for presidential candidates is three rubles (11 cents) each in the Republic of Udmurtia. JAC

INKOMBANK FINALLY DECLARED BANKRUPT

Inkombank, formerly one of Russia's largest commercial banks in terms of clients and assets, was declared bankrupt by a Moscow court on 2 February. Inkombank lost its license on 29 October 1998. According to the bank's court-appointed receiver, Vladimir Alekseev, the register of Inkombank's creditors includes 121,000 individuals with claims worth 4.6 billion rubles ($161 million) and 11,000 legal entities with claims totaling 32.3 billion rubles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1998). Meanwhile, some 252 million rubles remaining from the insolvent Toko-Bank have disappeared and prosecutors are considering launching criminal proceedings against notary Vladimir Belyaev, who has also vanished, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 January. JAC

UNITY POISED TO LOSE ONE DUMA SEAT...

Okrug election commission officials in the Republic of Kalmykia have declared the results of the State Duma elections in its single-mandate district invalid, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 February. Elections officials charge that the victor in that race, Aleksandra Burataeva (Unity), violated campaign spending rules by accepting an anonymous donation of 300,000 rubles ($11,000) and also violated the election law by continuing to work at Russian Public Television. Burataeva accused the commission of following the orders of Kalmykia's President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who "is above all beholden to [Moscow Mayor Yurii] Luzhkov." Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, was defeated in that race by Burataeva. Unity faction leader Boris Gryzhlov also called the decision of the local election commission "politically motivated." According to "Vremya MN," a new round of elections will have to be held in Kalmykia if the Central Election Commission finds the submitted evidence of Burataeva's innocence unconvincing when it considers her case on 4 February. JAC

...AS LEADER DEFENDS FACTION'S COMPETENCE

At a meeting with journalists, faction leader Gryzhlov said that reports about the incompetence and lack of professionalism of members of his faction have no basis, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 February. Also present at the press conference were faction members, who offered details of their biographies. The new chair of the Committee for Natural Resources, Aleksandr Belyakov, who is a former governor of Leningrad Oblast, said he has nine years' experience in national politics. The new head of the Security Committee and former top Interior Ministry official, Aleksandr Gurov, said his committee will first examine the law on corruption. Nikolai Loktionov, a former deputy head of the Emergencies Ministry, will head the committee on regulations. He claimed he is a "professor of two academies" and pledged to "answer any question at any time in any weather." JAC

START-II TOPS DUMA COMMITTEE AGENDA...

Business magnate and new deputy in the Duma Boris Berezovskii will have a place on the International Affairs Committee. According to Interfax, the first items on the committee's agenda are the START-II treaty, Open Skies agreement, and the U.S.'s proposed revision of the ABM treaty. According to "Vremya MN" on 2 February, several deputies believe that the START-II treaty should be considered as quickly as possible. However, they do not exclude the possibility that ratification will be postponed until the Duma's fall session. On 3 February, the new chair of the committee, Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy), said there is little chance that START-II will be ratified before the presidential elections. JAC

...AS ANOTHER COMMITEE CONSIDERS NEW TAXES

The new head of the Duma's Committee on Economic Policy, Sergei Glaziev (Communist), told reporters on 2 February that he hopes to double federal budget revenues over the next two years by establishing new taxes on natural resources and improving the collection of revenue from money markets and from the sale and rent of state property. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 February, Glaziev also hopes to curb the independence of Russia's Central Bank. However, the head of the Committee for Credit Organizations Aleksandr Shokhin (People's Deputy) will fight for his committee to have monopoly control over the bank. JAC

DID ELECTION KILL PUTIN?

A chairman of a local union for railway workers, Pavel Putin, 62, has died in Sverdlovsk Oblast, "Segodnya" reported on 3 February. According to the daily, Pavel Putin was ordered by the Railways Ministry to participate in the 19 December State Duma elections in a single mandate district in the oblast. A colleague of Putin's told the daily that Putin did not want to run but surrendered to the desire of the ministry, which was hoping to capitalize on his last name. Despite the efforts of a Moscow consulting firm to create a "new image" for Putin, he lost the election and health problems which began on the eve of the vote worsened. Pavel Putin's family refuses to talk with the press, but his doctors are convinced that the election "finished him off," Segodnya reported. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN POSTPONES PLANNED VISIT TO TURKMENISTAN

Robert Kocharian's visit to Turkmenistan scheduled for 7 February has been postponed at Ashgabat's request because of the illness of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov, Noyan Tapan reported on 2 February, citing the Armenian Foreign Ministry's Public Information Department. No new date for the visit has been announced. Kocharian had originally planned to visit Turkmenistan in early November but postponed the trip following the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings. LF

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DELEGATION VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Visiting Baku on 1-2 February with a delegation of Slovak businessmen, Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Economy Minister Lubomir Harach met with President Heidar Aliev, parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, and Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, TASR and Turan reported. The talks covered expanding bilateral relations and trade, with special focus on possible purchases of Azerbaijani crude oil and the participation of Slovak firms in the construction of export pipelines from Azerbaijan. Also discussed was Azerbaijan's role in international organizations and the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Harach and Azerbaijan's Economy Minister Namiq Nasrullaev signed an agreement on trade- economic and scientific-technical cooperation, while Kukan and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Vilayet Guliev, signed a protocol on cooperation between their respective ministries. LF

GEORGIAN CUSTOMS CONFISCATE MEDICATIONS DESTINED FOR CHECHEN REFUGEES

Georgian customs officials at Tbilisi airport have confiscated 1 ton of drugs, including narcotic substances, ordered by Chechnya's official representative in Georgia, Khizri Aldamov, and another citizen of Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. The medicines were intended for wounded Chechen guerrillas undergoing medical treatment in Georgia and for Chechen refugees. Customs officials said some of the drugs are not approved for use in Georgia, except in the event of epidemics and natural disasters. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REVIEWS DRAFT MILITARY DOCTRINE

Meeting in Astana on 2 February, Kazakhstan's National Security Council reviewed the country's new draft military doctrine, which will be amended and submitted for signature to President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Russian agencies reported. The document is based on the national security strategy adopted in November 1999 and is "purely defensive in nature," Interfax reported, quoting Security Council Secretary Marat Tazhin. It focuses on military security, conflict prevention, and the development of the country's armed forces. Tazhin also told the council that a program for reforming the armed forces will be drafted during the first six months of this year. He added that President Nazarbaev has agreed that beginning in 2001, annual defense spending will be at least 1 percent of GDP and will not be subject to sequester. Present defense spending is equivalent to 0.57 percent of GDP. LF

PREMISES OF INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER VANDALIZED IN KAZAKHSTAN

The premises in the town of Oral, western Kazakhstan, of the independent newspaper "Edil-Zhayiq" were broken into last weekend, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported on 3 February. All the newspaper's equipment was destroyed and some documents stolen. LF

KYRGYZSTAN CREATES FOUR NEW FRONTIER POSTS

A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry said in Bishkek on 1 February that four new frontier posts have been set up in Batken Oblast at Batken, Leilek, Chong-Alai, and Haidarken, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Some 800 people have been recruited to staff those posts, most of them retired Kyrgyz who previously served in the Russian border guards service. Batken was the target of incursions last year by ethnic Uzbek guerrillas who took several dozen people hostage. Batken Oblast Head Maksat Mergenov told RFE/RL on 2 February that border guard units in the villages of Zardaly and Kojo-Ashkan are currently training intensively in anticipation of further such incursions this spring. Mergenov expressed confidence that such attacks would be successfully repulsed. He added that the Kyrgyz government has not yet provided a single som of the 65 millions soms ($1.4 million) it promised last year to strengthen security in the oblast. LF

SEVEN KILLED IN BUS EXPLOSION IN TAJIK CAPITAL

Seven people were killed and 20 injured in an explosion in a bus in Dushanbe on the morning of 2 February. Tajik Interior Minister Khumdin Sharipov initially attributed the blast to a defective gas cylinder carried by one of the passengers, but a second official later said the blast was a terrorist act caused by 400 grams of explosive. LF




OSCE STILL HOPES FOR DIALOGUE IN BELARUS

Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE consultative and monitoring group in Minsk, has proposed that Belarusian opposition parties hold an "informal meeting" with representatives of the authorities, Belapan reported on 2 February. Quoting Foreign Minister Ural Latypau, Wieck said the government delegation for talks with the opposition has not been dissolved, even if President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had fired its head, Mikhail Sazonau, and "frozen" an agreement on the opposition's access to state-controlled media. The OSCE has not yet taken an official stance on the electoral code that was recently adopted by the Belarusian legislature without consultations with the opposition. JM

BELARUSIAN VENDORS CLAIM SUCCESS IN NATIONWIDE STRIKE

The Free Trade Union of Entrepreneurs on 2 February said the first two days of the nationwide strike by outdoor-market vendors have been a success, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The union said "almost all" Belarusian vendors are taking part in the action, which is to protest what they consider excessive taxation and pressure from the administration on small businesses. Meanwhile, the authorities appear to be preparing an uncompromising stance on the protest. The president pledged the previous day to employ "wholesale traders" as strike-breakers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2000). And State Tax Committee Chairman Mikalay Dzyamchuk told the 2 February "Zvyazda" that private vendors account for only 1 percent of central budget revenues. JM

TROOPS BLOCK UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY BUILDING...

Some 150 leftist deputies gathered on 2 February in the parliamentary building, the entrance of which was later blocked by "several dozen servicemen," Interfax reported. Some 50 deputies tried unsuccessfully to break the blockade in order to let in journalists. The deputies apprehended two men in plainclothes who were filming the incident and identified themselves as "special service officers on duty." Ukraine's Security Service denied the two men are among its officers. Ivan Plyushch, the new speaker elected by the right-center majority, went to the parliament to negotiate a compromise with the leftist deputies but had to leave empty-handed after being manhandled and insulted, according to Interfax. Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz and Communist leader Petro Symonenko accused the president and his entourage of a "coup d'etat" and the "destruction of parliamentarism." JM

...AS RADICAL LEFTISTS REMAIN OVERNIGHT IN PARLIAMENT

A group of deputies from the Progressive Socialist Party, led by Natalya Vitrenko, and the Peasant Party of Serhiy Dovhan who are staging a hunger strike remained in the parliamentary building overnight. "We all understand that there is a siege of the Supreme Council and are aware of the danger the lawmakers are facing. But we shall not surrender," Vitrenko was quoted by Interfax as saying on 2 February. Roman Bezsmertnyy, President Leonid Kuchma's representative in the parliament, pledged that no force will be used against the parliamentary leftist faction. Kuchma's spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko noted that it is impossible to change the "questions of principle" proposed for the 16 April referendum. He suggested, however, that the vote of no confidence in the parliament might be applied only to the leftist faction. JM

LATVIAN ARMS SMUGGLERS SENTENCED TO LIFE

A Calcutta court on 2 February sentenced five Latvians involved in smuggling arms to India to life in prison, BNS reported. The five, along with British arms dealer Peter Bleach, had been convicted by the same court earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2000). Though four of the five men took Russian citizenship during the trial, the Latvian authorities continue to criticize the sentence. Politicians, including Prime Minister Andris Skele, called the life sentence excessive. Relatives of the convicted crew told the press the five intend to appeal their sentences. However, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga refused to condemn the sentence, saying only that "every state has its own laws and those laws must be respected," BNS added."MH

LATVIANS RECEIVE 'RIGHTEOUS AMONG NATIONS' AWARD

Nine Latvians received the "Righteous Among Nations" award from Israeli Charge d'Affaires Ronit ben Dor in Riga on 2 February, "Neatkariga Rita Avize" reported. The nine were recognized for their efforts in trying to save Jews during the Holocaust. Eight of the recipients were from the extended Pukis-Susters-Dzene family, which had tried to save the lives of four escapees from the Riga Ghetto. However, they were later caught hiding the four escapees, resulting in the execution of one family member and the incarceration of five others in the concentration camp at Schtuthoff. Only one family member survived the camp, BNS added. Of the 15,000 people honored as the "Righteous Among Nations," 71 are from Latvia, according to LETA. MH

ANGER OVER NAZI CANDIDACY FOR LOCAL ELECTION IN LITHUANIA

Several political parties have attacked the small Independence Party for putting Mindaugas Murza, head of the Union of Lithuanian National Socialist Unity, at the top of its list for the local election in Siauliai. The politicians said that the "notion of independence could not be associated with Nazis," ELTA reported on 2 February. The Justice Ministry has refused to register the union nine times in the past, but the electoral commission cannot bar a person from running if he belongs to a legitimate political organization, BNS added. In related news, head of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Audronis Azubalis has apologized to Austrian Ambassador Florian Haug for the debacle over the cancelled charity Vienna Ball (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). Azubalis also asked Interior Minister Ceslovas Blazys to examine the "increasing attacks by so-called street politicians against the Lithuanian state and other states friendly to us." MH

POLISH FARMERS' LEADER APOLOGIZES FOR SEXIST REMARK

Wladyslaw Serafin, chairman of the National Association of Farmers and Agricultural Circles and Organizations, apologized to Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka on 2 February for making offensive comments about her last year, PAP reported. Suchocka had commented that the organizers of the May 1999 road blockades by peasants should be taken to court. Serafin, for his part, had responded that "instead of taking a guy to court, Suchocka should take him to bed," making an allusion to Suchocka's unmarried status. He also used the word "chlop," which in Polish may denote either "peasant" or "guy." Serafin said his sexist remark was provoked "by emotions" during a rally. He added that he hopes his apology will "facilitate dialogue and understanding." JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY CLARIFIES POSITION ON AUSTRIAN COALITION

The Czech Republic has no intention of changing its policy toward Austria, despite the EU's threat to isolate that country if Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party joins the government, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil told CTK on 2 February. Pospisil said the ministry does not intend to change its policy "because of some statements made by Haider prior to the [late 1999] elections." But Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said Prague "fully understands" the motives behind the statement of the 14 EU countries on Austria and "remembers" Haider's pre-election statements, including those directed against the Czech Republic. He said Prague will "wait and see whether Austria changes its foreign policy," stressing that the Austrian ambassador has assured him that this will not happen (see also "End Note" below). MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT INTRODUCES VISAS FOR RUSSIANS, BELARUSIANS, UKRAINIANS

The government on 2 February announced that it will introduce visa requirements for citizens of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, CTK reported. Foreign Minister Kavan told journalists that the main reason for that decision is to bring the country's visa policy in line with that of the EU, but he added that the measure was also aimed at fighting crime and illegal employment. The decision will take effect in three months, and Kavan said he expects the countries affected to "take reciprocal steps." He also said the government will decide on introducing the requirement for nationals of Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Georgia. MS

LARGEST CZECH SAVINGS BANK SOLD TO AUSTRIANS

The government on 2 February decided to accept an offer by the Austrian Erste Bank AG to take a 52 percent majority stake in Ceska Sporitelna AS, the country's leading savings bank. Erste Bank will pay 19 billion crowns ($516 million) for the stake, Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik told journalists, according to CTK. MS

HUNGARY OPPOSES EU STANCE ON AUSTRIA

Hungary does not plan to join the EU in introducing sanctions against Austria if Haider's far-right Freedom Party joins the government, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told reporters on 2 February. At the same time, Hungary "shares the concerns" of EU countries but continues to believe that the program of the Austrian government and its political actions will be the decisive factors, he added. Prime Minister Viktor Orban expressed "surprise" at the EU's stance, saying that the union has "marked out boundaries that contradict the will of some Austrian citizens." Istvan Csurka, chairman of the far- right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, said it is "a joy" for his party to witness Haider's success (see also "End Note" below). MSZ

HUNGARIAN DEMOCRATIC FORUM FORMS NEW RIGHT-WING UNION

Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David on 2 February announced a union of moderate right-wing forces to be called the Right Hand of Peace 2000. The new formation is composed of the Democratic Forum, the Democratic People's Party, the Entrepreneurs' Party, and Deputy State Secretary Zsolt Semjen of the Christian Democratic Federation. The group's aim is to create a moderate centrist force and bring about a new political style, David said. People's Party Chairwoman Erzsebet Pusztai said Hungarians "have been disillusioned by politics owing to the unduly sharp tone" prevailing on the political scene. MSZ




MONTENEGRO PRIME MINISTER APPEALS FOR HELP

Filip Vujanovic said in Washington on 2 February that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic wants to destabilize Montenegro by fomenting social unrest in order to have an excuse for military intervention. The prime minister stressed that his reform-oriented government needs approximately $65 million in financial assistance to help shore up monetary reform, import food supplies and other key products, secure investments, and promote independent media. Vujanovic added that "if the monetary and economic reforms do not succeed, faith in democracy will fade very quickly. Support will rise for failed concepts from the past, such as neocommunism and autocracy," Reuters reported. If the West invests in promoting reforms in Montenegro, it will also be investing in preventing further conflicts in the region, he concluded. PM

CONFUSION CONTINUES OVER KOSOVAR SHADOW-STATE

Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) told reporters in Prishtina on 2 February that the parliament and other institutions of the shadow-state ceased to exist as of 1 February, in keeping with his promise to the UN's Bernard Kouchner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2000). He added that he will turn over to the UN money that the shadow-state collected over the years. AP wrote that this could amount to some $250 million. Reuters reported that it is unclear, however, whether Rugova has the authority to speak for the parliament, which adjourned on 31 January and announced it will meet again "within 10 days." The influential independent Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" wrote on 2 February that Rugova has shown again that he does not keep promises or stick to a decision. The commentary referred to the parliament, which has played no political role in post-conflict Kosova, as a "joke." PM

ROCKET ATTACK ON CIVILIAN BUS IN KOSOVA

Unidentified persons fired an anti-tank rocket at a UN bus in which 49 Serbs were riding, killing two elderly people and wounding three other passengers, Reuters reported from Vitak on 2 February. KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt called the incident a "terrorist act" aimed at killing and injuring innocent civilians. Speaking in Zagreb, where she arrived from Moscow on 2 February, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the attack "cowardly" and urged the Kosovar Albanian leadership to condemn it. PM

CALLS FOR MORE POLICE FOR KOSOVA

Sven Frederiksen, who heads the UN civilian police in Kosova, said in New York on 2 February that the member states of the Security Council must send more police to the province if they want the UN's mission there to succeed. He noted that only 1,970 police have arrived although some 40 countries promised a total of 4,780 police. In Washington, NATO's General Wesley Clark told the Senate's Armed Services Committee that NATO is "desperately, urgently in need of civilian police." Several senators stressed that European countries must do more to promote stability in Kosova and send more police. PM

ALBANIA SEEKS EU SUPPORT

Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told public television in Tirana on 2 February that the government has launched an "intensive campaign with the EU and its bodies" to promote Albanian integration with and eventual membership in the EU. He made the remarks on the eve of a trip to Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating chair, and to Brussels. The government of poverty-stricken Albania hopes that integration into Euro-Atlantic structures will speed up economic development and contribute to prosperity. PM

BOMB EXPLODES IN MACEDONIA

A bomb went off near the courthouse in Kumanovo, northeast of Skopje, on 2 February. Reuters reported that there were no injuries. It is unclear whether the explosion is linked to recent incidents in the nearby ethnic Albanian village of Aracinovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000). PM

ALBRIGHT HAILS NEW CROATIAN GOVERNMENT

Secretary of State Albright said in Zagreb on 2 February that the new government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan "truly represents the will of the people." She stressed that under the previous rule of the Croatian Democratic Community, "the veneer of democracy was too long maintained and its soul stifled." Albright expressed the hope that Croatia can "set an example for the democratic forces in Serbia," who want to oust Milosevic. Referring to U.S.-Croatian relations, she said that the change of government in Zagreb marked the "start of a beautiful friendship," VOA's Croatian Service reported. PM

NEW ACTING PRESIDENT IN CROATIA

The new parliament on 2 February elected Zlatko Tomcic of the Croatian Peasants' Party as its president. Tomcic will also serve as acting president of the country until after the 7 February runoff election. Albright met with Tomcic and with presidential candidates Stipe Mesic and Drazen Budisa. PM

MUSLIMS JOIN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA POLICE

Thirteen Muslim men and one woman have graduated from the Republika Srpska's police academy in Banja Luka, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 2 February. A UN spokesman noted, however, that some 10 ethnic Serbian police have yet to be assigned duty in Drvar, which is in the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation. PM

RUPEL RETURNS TO SLOVENIA'S FOREIGN MINISTRY

Dimitrij Rupel, who was foreign minister when Slovenia gained independence in 1991, returned to that post on 2 February. He replaces Boris Frlec, who resigned in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER OUTLINES FOUR-YEAR ECONOMIC STRATEGY

Speaking on national television on 2 February, Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu said the country's economic strategy for 2000- 2004 will be "painful" and will involve large cuts in the civil service and the closure of unproductive state enterprises. A government meeting chaired by President Emil Constantinescu on 3 February is expected to approve the plans, which will be submitted to the EU's Executive Committee later this month and are part of the measures intended to bring Romania closer to EU membership. Isarescu said there is "no reason to expect economic miracles to be dropped...by parachute by Americans or Europeans" and that only Romanians themselves can bring about a miracle by shedding "mentalities left over from Communist times." He said inflation must be brought down from more than 54 percent last year to 27 percent in 2000, 12 percent in 2002, and single-digit figures by 2003. MS

ROMANIAN EDUCATION MINISTER TO RECONSIDER RESIGNATION?

Andrei Marga told journalists after a 2 February meeting with Isarescu that he will reconsider his resignation, which he submitted last week, only if the government decides on 3 February to allocate 4 percent of GDP to education. His National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) has said it backs the minister's demand. Marga has been urged to reconsider his resignation by President Constantinescu, Premier Isarescu, and the PNTCD leadership. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER TO JOIN FAR-RIGHT PARTY

Radu Vasile and the 10 parliamentary deputies who last week resigned from the PNTCD will join the far-right extra-parliamentary Romanian Right Party, Romanian media reported on 2 February. Vasile and his followers are attempting to circumvent legislation requiring political parties to gather at least 10,000 signatures before being registered. The Romanian Right is already registered as a political party. The reports said the intention is to later change the Romanian Right's name to the Popular Party (see also "End Note" below). MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT RELEASES BUDGET FIGURES

Prime Minister Dumitru Barghis and Finance Minister Mihai Manoli told journalists on 2 February that the draft 2000 budget envisages a deficit of 2.9 percent of the GDP. The cabinet expects GDP to grow by 2 percent. Barghis said wages will increase 30 percent in two stages, in April and October, each time by 15 percent, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT STILL REFUSES TO RECOGNIZE BESSARABIAN CHURCH

The cabinet on 2 February said the European Court of Human Rights' decision to examine the Moldovan authorities' refusal to register the Bessarabian Orthodox Church is "unwarranted." The Bessarabian Church, which is subordinated to the Bucharest Patriarchate, appealed to the court after consecutive Moldovan cabinets since 1993 refused to register it. The Moldovan authorities on 2 February said the Bessarabian Church is not "a separate cult" but came into being as a result of a "schism in the Moldovan Orthodox Church," which is subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate. The authorities said the conflict must be solved through "parleys between the Moscow and the Bucharest Patriarchates," Romanian radio reported. MS




WILL THE 'HAIDER SYNDROME' SPREAD EASTWARD?


By Michael Shafir

"Official Romania" has joined the EU in warning about the negative impact the presence in the new government of Joerg Haider's far-right Austrian Freedom Party might have on the union as a whole. In Paris on 31 January, Foreign Minister Petre Roman backed the position of his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, that Haider offers "demagogic and populist solutions" that "can bring nothing to Austria's citizens." Two days later, when Austrian Ambassador to Bucharest Karl Vetter von der Lille presented Roman with the program agreed on by the Freedom Party and outgoing Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel's People's Party (in what appeared to signal a campaign to respond to international criticism of the government about to emerge), Roman reminded the ambassador of a "distinction" Haider recently made in one of his xenophobic outbursts. In Austria, the nationalist leader said, "there are two kinds of immigrants--Romanian pickpockets and others."

Thus "official Romania" has echoed concern expressed elsewhere in East Central Europe, though by no means with equal force. While Czech President Vaclav Havel vehemently condemned Haider and what his party stands for, the Czech Foreign Ministry was "more diplomatic" in its reaction, as indeed were statements from both Bratislava and Budapest. In Warsaw, Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said his country is "disturbed" by the "Austrian situation" and that Poland's "tragic experience in the 20th century" makes it "very sensitive" to "extremist views." He commented that his country's concern also stems from the fact that Haider is known to be opposed to the EU's eastward expansion. Indeed, this appears to be precisely the reason why "official" Hungary and Slovakia have been more subdued in voicing their concern. After all, as a EU member, Austria has "veto power" over deciding which countries can become new members.

But observers are advised to pay attention to "unofficial" reactions as well. In Romania, the emerging Popular Party, headed by former Prime Minster Radu Vasile, is reportedly contemplating a merger with the Romanian Right Party. Vasile has been expelled from the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and 10 of his supporters who are deputies or senators left the party in late January. Vasile seems interested in being able to register his new formation as soon as possible to compete in the elections scheduled for the end of the year. The merger with the Romanian Right would be a short-cut toward achieving that end. Reportedly, the intention is to first implement the merger and then change the party's name.

In Vienna, Schuessel, driven by the credo that the "end justifies the means," is attempting to make the Freedom Party into a "respectable" democratic party, which it obviously is not. In Romania, a similar situation existed when the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, led by former President Ion Iliescu, joined forces with the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), and the Socialist Labor Party. Now, however, Vasile seems ready to go one step further, making a neo-fascist partyIt should be carefully watched.0 what the Germans would call "salonfaehig."

The Romanian Right is led by Cornel Brahas, a former informer of the Ceausescu secret police, and by Ion Coja, a Holocaust denier and apologist for the fascist Iron Guard. The party was formed in 1993 under the name of the Party of National Right. Its founder, journalist Radu Sorescu, who embraced wholly the "ethnocratic" doctrines of inter-war writer and philosopher Nichifor Crainic, resigned as leader in 1994 and was replaced by Aurelian Pavelescu, who recruited Brahas after the latter had been expelled from the PUNR. Because Brahas was a parliamentary deputy at the time, the party was briefly represented in Romania's former legislature.

But Brahas was soon accused by his new friends of having embezzled election campaign funds and was expelled in 1996. Soon thereafter he set up his own Romanian Right Party, which Coja joined in December 1997. A "political migrant," Coja had represented in the parliament first Iliescu's formation, then the PUNR, and finally the Democratic Agrarian Party, all the while being a deputy chairman of the extreme nationalist Vatra romaneasca, an alleged "cultural" organization. He is also known to have close ties with the neo-Iron Guard "nests" headed by Serban Suru.

That the PNTCD had "fundamentalists" within its ranks whose views were not far removed from those of the extreme right was by no means unique. A senator representing that party last year called on the house to observe a minute's silence in memory of Marshal Ion Antonescu, who was executed as a war criminal in 1946-- back in 1991, another senator, from Iliescu's party, had issued a similar call. In Timisoara, where the mayor is a member of the PNTCD, a street was named after the marshal last year. But the PNTCD as a whole is not an extremist formation, and Vasile was believed to have belonged to its "pragmatist," anti-fundamentalist wing.

A Romanian proverb quoted by Iliescu to explain his alliance with the PRM says that one "may be the devil's brother in order to cross the bridge". The devil, however, has often proved to have used his "brother" to cross the bridge and then toss the latter into the river. And that lesson is not limited to Romania alone.

In Hungary, Justice and Life Party leader Istvan Csurka is an admirer of Haider but lately has been courted by the ruling FIDESZ. In Slovakia, the old-new alliance of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Haider- admirers from the Slovak National Party is being re-launched with a vengeance. Against the backdrop of the Schuessel- Haider alliance, that pattern may emerge elsewhere in East Central Europe and should be carefully watched.


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