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Newsline - February 9, 2000




RFE/RL ACQUIRES VIDEOTAPE OF BABITSKII

A videotape acquired by RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 8 February and screened on Russian Television the following day shows missing RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii sitting in front of a white wall. Speaking slowly, Babitskii said on the tape that "It is 6 February 2000. I am relatively okay. The only problem is time, as things have turned out in such a way that unfortunately I can't return home right away." Babitskii added that the persons around him are trying to help him, but he did not identify them. AP on 9 February quoted RFE/RL's acting Russian Service Director Mario Corti as suggesting that the masked men to whom Babitskii was apparently handed over last week may have been members of former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov's pro-Russian militia. LF

DUMA FACTION, COMMITTEE ASK FOR ANSWERS ON BABITSKII

The State Duma's Security Committee, which is headed by Andrei Gurov (Unity), sent enquiries on 8 February about the fate of Radio Liberty reporter Babitskii to the Justice Ministry, the Federal Security Service, and the Interior Ministry. The same day, the Union of Rightist Forces faction called on acting President Vladimir Putin to help resolve the crisis caused by Babitskii's disappearance. JAC

YASTRZHEMBSKII PROPOSES REFERENDUM ON 'SPECIAL STATUS' FOR CHECHNYA

Visiting Chechnya on 8 February together with Russian Army Chief of General Staff Colonel General Anatolii Kvashnin and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii suggested that a referendum could be held in Chechnya on giving that republic "special status" within the Russian Federation, ITAR-TASS reported. He did not explain what that status would entail. Then Russian Prime Minister Putin had similarly proposed "special status" for Chechnya last December, while Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov had advocated a referendum on the region's future status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999). Meanwhile "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 February that a population census is currently under way in Russian- controlled Chechnya. If those Chechens currently held in filtration camps are not registered in that census as residing in Chechnya, they may be excluded from participating in the planned referendum. LF

RUSSIAN COMMANDER PREDICTS IMMINENT DESTRUCTION OF CHECHEN OPPOSITION

The commander of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Viktor Kazantsev, told journalists on 8 February that the "liberation" of Grozny marked "a turning point" in the Russian campaign in Chechnya, and that the third stage of that campaign, which entails establishing control over Chechnya's mountainous south, will be successfully completed "in the very near future." He estimated the Chechen forces at 5,000-7,000 men. President Aslan Maskhadov had told RFE/RL two days earlier that the number is close to 10,000. Kazantsev also claimed that Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov has been killed and been buried in Shatoi, according to Interfax on 8 February. But Turan the following day quoted Arsanov as personally denying that report. LF

PUTIN IN NO RUSH TO REVEAL PROGRAM...

Acting President Putin told an audience at the Moscow Institute for Electronic Equipment on 8 February that his election program will be set out in due time but he does not want to release it too early because it might become a "target for attacks," ITAR-TASS reported. On 9 February, Putin was scheduled to participate in a telephone call-in discussion with readers of the newspaper, "Komsomolskaya pravda." The newspaper will report on the discussion on 11 February, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

...BUT DOES ALLOW FAMILY POODLE BEFORE THE CAMERAS

The Putins' family dog was also made available for public scrutiny during an interview with Putin on Russian Public Television on 8 February. After the interviewer noted that the small white poodle was not quite in keeping with Putin's macho image, Putin said that "We used to have another dog before..., actually a rather scary one. Unfortunately, it died--run over by a car. We debated getting another dog for a long time. The kids wanted a little doggy and they talked me into it." "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 21 January that the Putin family had a Caucasian sheepdog named Malysh. JAC

PUTIN'S PRESIDENTIAL COMPETITORS REMAIN OPTIMISTIC

Communist Party leader and registered presidential candidate Gennadii Zyuganov told reporters on 8 February that he could win the first round of presidential elections. He explained that during this election season, "people living in large and fine-looking apartment buildings signed our appeal in large groups." Zyuganov complained that media access is unequal and that "some candidates have free access to the media from morning till night, while others cannot even publish an appeal." Meanwhile, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, who is not yet officially registered, reportedly believes he will win 20 percent support during the first round, according to "Vremya MN." The daily reported that Titov will run without the support of the Union of Rightist Forces, with which he was aligned during the State Duma elections. Based on the results of a survey conducted on 31 January among 1,600 adults, the All Russia Center for Public Opinion Research concluded that Putin has 58 percent of voters' support, compared with 15 percent for Zyuganov. JAC

PUTIN PROPOSES PROFESSIONAL ARMY

Acting President Putin said on 8 February that Russia needs professional troops for those units of the army that are involved in particularly dangerous operations, the RIA news agency reported. At the same time, he hinted that creating a professional army would not necessarily mean the abolition of conscription. While noting that a two-month training period is not necessarily the most "effective in terms of military training," he commented that nonetheless "a man should know what the armed forces are, that's a must." JC

DUMA MINORITY FACTIONS ACCEPT LEADERSHIP POSTS...

State Duma deputies voted on 9 February to approve Boris Pastukhov (Fatherland-All Russia [OVR]) as chairman of the Committee on CIS Affairs and former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces [SPS]) as chairman of the Legislation Committee. Duma deputies also confirmed two deputy chairmen of the Budget Committee, Vladimir Golovlev (SPS) and Gennadii Kulik (OVR). Former Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov (Yabloko) was rejected for one of those posts. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 February that Yabloko members are willing to consider former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin for the post of chairman of the Commission on Corruption provided that commission is upgraded into a committee. OVR faction member Vyacheslav Volodin suggested on 9 February that a new committee be created for veterans affairs. OVR leader Yevgenii Primakov said that he has suggested to acting President Putin that new committees be created so that the Duma's smaller parties can be represented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000). JAC

...AS TWO EMPTY DUMA SEATS FILLED

Because he was elected governor of Moscow Oblast, Boris Gromov's seat in the new Duma has to be filled with another name from OVR's election list. Aleksandr Vladislavlev, secretary of OVR's political council, was named on 9 February. In addition, Unity's Yurii Petrov was named to take Tver Governor Vladimir Platov's place. Platov was recently re-elected as head of that region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2000). JAC

INFLATION JUMPS

The State Statistics Committee reported on 9 February that inflation in January totaled 2.3 percent, Interfax reported. According to the committee, consumer prices typically rise in January owing to seasonal factors. Inflation in December stood at 1.3 percent, compared with 1.2 percent in November and 1.4 percent in October. JAC

NO RUSH TO RATIFY START-2 FOR TIME BEING...

Chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee Andrei Nikolaev said on 8 February that while he is in favor of the parliament's ratifying START-2, lawmakers should not be in a hurry to do so, Interfax reported. According to Nikolaev, acting President Putin agrees with that viewpoint. "The country's leadership is not rushing to ratify the treaty because...issues brought up during [Putin's recent] meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright...require further consideration," the news agency quoted him as saying. He added that START-2 ratification will be on the agenda of the Duma's spring session. JC

...WHILE ANALYST SUGGESTS WAITING FOR U.S. DECISION ON ABM

In an article published in the 8 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Sergei Rogov, director of the U.S.-Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, similarly argued that Russia should not be in a hurry to ratify the START-2 treaty. He said this despite having advocated ratification for the past seven years. Rogov suggested that Moscow should wait and see if the U.S. takes a decision on the creation of its own limited national defense system. Should it postpone deploying such system, he continued, Russia would have to ratify the document "as soon as possible" and "urgently begin" negotiations on START-3 and ABM systems. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives funding from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group. JC

NATO CHIEF'S MOSCOW VISIT TO BE POSTPONED?

Interfax reported on 8 February that NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson's planned visit to Moscow this month is unlikely to take place unless the alliance alters its agenda so that Russia is regarded as a "serious partner." The news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying that Russia is linking an improvement in Russian-NATO relations with the alliance's readiness to see Moscow as a serious partner and not as an observer in issues of European security." Another theory for the likely postponement, however, is that Robertson's presence in Moscow might be damaging to acting President Putin's election campaign. Reuters quoted former General Staff officer Igor Korotchenko as saying that a visit by the NATO chief "would not have fitted in with an election campaign that will be fought under anti-West and anti-NATO slogans." JC

NUCLEAR POWER POISED FOR RENAISSANCE?

The State Ecology Commission has approved the coming on-line of the Rostov nuclear power plant in 2000, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 9 February. According to the daily, the first reactor of the plant is 90 percent ready; however, 3 billion rubles ($104 million) are required to complete preparations. Construction of the plant was halted after environmentalists' protests eight years ago. Meanwhile, in Chelyabinsk Oblast, a group of local residents recently demonstrated in favor of renewing construction of a nuclear power plant there (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 9 February 2000). JAC

CULTURE MINISTRY HEAD CONFIRMED

Acting President Putin has appointed Mikhail Shvydkoi, 51, as minister of culture to replace Vladimir Yegorov, who is being transferred to another, as yet unspecified position. Shvydkoi is a former head of the All Russia State TV and Radio Company (VGTRK). On 31 January, Shvydkoi was dismissed as chairman of VGTRK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2000). Radio Yunost reported on 8 February that the new head of VGTRK, Oleg Dobrodeev, has appointed the former editor of "Kommersant-Daily," Raf Shakirov, as deputy chair of VGTRK. Shakirov was previously a vice president of TV-Tsentr. JAC

JOURNALIST WINS LIBEL SUIT

Journalist Grigorii Pasko on 7 February won a libel suit against the head of the Federal Security Service's Pacific Fleet directorate, Nikolai Sotskov, who has accused him of being a spy, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 8 February. A court in Vladivostok awarded Pasko 25,000 rubles ($870). Sotskov told the agency that he plans to appeal the decision. Pasko had been arrested on November 1997 on suspicion of divulging state secrets because he had revealed information about the Pacific Fleet's environmentally hazardous treatment of nuclear waste. In July 1999, a court found him guilty only of abuse of office and granted him amnesty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1999). JAC

TATAR OFFICIAL DENIES MOSCOW ORDERED CLOSURE OF CHECHEN REPRESENTATION

Speaking on Tatarstan State Television on 8 February, the director of Tatarstan's Presidential Foreign Affairs Department, Timur Akulov, rejected as untrue the claim made two days earlier by the former Chechen representative in Kazan, Umar Ayupov, that the Tatarstan authorities' decision to close Ayupov's office was taken in response to instructions from Moscow, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 9 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2000). Akulov explained that the Chechen representation in Kazan was opened on the basis of a bilateral agreement between the leaderships of the two republics. He added that Ayupov is collecting documentation with the intention of opening a trade representation in Kazan but that "there is a problem" defining whom that office would represent. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, POLITICAL PARTIES DISCUSS COUNCIL OF EUROPE MEMBERSHIP

At an 8 February meeting with President Robert Kocharian, the leaders of political parties represented in the Armenian parliament agreed unanimously on amending the country's legislation in order to expedite Armenia's full membership in the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The proposed amendments will be enacted before a 7 March meeting at which the council's political committee will make a recommendation on whether Armenia qualifies for full membership. On 1 February, citing a positive assessment of Armenia's progress by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Armenian Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Hovannes Hovannisian had told deputies that Armenia will be granted full membership in the council before the end of this year. LF

ATTACK ON AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY WIDELY CONDEMNED

Meeting in Baku on 8 February, representatives of 10 Azerbaijani opposition parties condemned the attack the previous day on the headquarters of the Musvat Party, blaming the Azerbaijani authorities for the incident, Turan reported, Abulfaz Elchibey, chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, which was not represented at that meeting, similarly condemned the violence as "an act of state terrorism." Turan quoted U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Stanley Escudero as expressing "concern" about the attack after his 8 February meeting with Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar. LF

GEORGIA'S MOST WANTED 'TERRORIST' NOMINATED FOR PRESIDENCY...

Former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, whom the Georgian authorities say masterminded for the August 1995 car bomb attack on parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, has been nominated as a candidate for the 9 April presidential poll, Caucasus Press reported on 9 February. In extensive interviews last December with two Russian newspapers, Giorgadze, whose whereabouts have been unknown since he fled Georgia shortly after that attack, claimed that up to 85 percent of the Georgian population reject Shevardnadze's policies and are prepared to vote for Giorgadze. Giorgadze also claimed to have the support of 60 percent of the army and 60-70 percent of Interior Ministry and Security Ministry personnel. LF

...AS ARE THREE OTHER CANDIDATES

Three other people have announced their intention of contending the 9 April Georgian presidential poll, raising the total number of potential candidates to 10, Caucasus Press reported on 8 February quoting Central Electoral Commission officials. One of them, Gia Chkhikvadze, 43, is a member of the board of the Ilia the Righteous Society and a former supporter of the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Chkhikvadze was imprisoned in 1992-1993 after the latter's ouster. The second is Tengiz Asanidze, 56, who is currently serving a prison sentence in Adzharia for misappropriating state funds despite having been pardoned by Shevardnadze. And the third is philologist Gaioz Mamaladze, 36, who is a member of the Union of Georgian Nationalists. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER UNDER A CLOUD?

An unconfirmed and unsourced report by the Eurasia Analytical Research Center predicts the imminent dismissal of Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, RFE/RL's Almay bureau reported on 9 February. According to that report, Toqaev engaged in lobbying on behalf of the U.S. Access Industries Company even before his appointment as prime minister in October 1999. The report also claimed that during a visit last month to Moscow, Toqaev agreed to sell a 50 percent stake in the Severnyi Coal Mine in Pavlodar Oblast to Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES). But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 January offered a totally different perspective, characterizing Toqaev as well thought of by President Nursultan Nazarbaev and as one of a very few politicians in Kazakhstan not constrained by "clan" ties and loyalties. The newspaper also noted the success of Toqaev's cabinet in liquidating pensions arrears and in securing fourth-quarter industrial growth of 6.9 percent. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION DEMANDS ACCESS TO STATE MEDIA

At a press conference in Almaty on 8 February, members of the opposition parties aligned in the Forum of Democratic Forces demanded that the opposition be granted one hour of air time on state radio and television on a regular basis, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR EXPEDITING AGRICULTURAL, LAND REFORM

Addressing a cabinet session on 8 February, President Nazarbaev criticized declining productivity in the livestock sector and the failure to liquidate bankrupt farms, Interfax reported. In an indication that, after long hesitation and despite public opposition, Kazakhstan may move to privatize land, Nazarbaev also argued in favor of liberalizing legislation to give private farmers the right to use the land they lease as a pledge on the land market. Some 75 percent of agricultural land in Kazakhstan is leased to individual farmers or private farms, "Obshchaya gazeta" reported in September 1999. LF

OSCE EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER KYRGYZ ELECTION CAMPAIGN...

In a statement issued in Vienna on 8 February, the OSCE has expressed concern that a number of opposition parties and prominent candidates have been barred from contesting the Kyrgyz parliamentary poll scheduled for 20 February, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Austrian capital. The statement in particular deplored the rejection of the party list submitted by the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan. Mark Stevens, who is spokesman for the OSCE election-observation mission in Bishkek, told RFE/RL that those decisions "restrict the right of political parties to stand in the election on an equal basis and put into question their right to choose their candidates." He said that as a result, the choice available to voters will be narrowed. LF

...AS KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR FAIR POLL...

At a meeting in Bishkek with local governors and with Constitutional Court Chairwoman Cholpon Bayekova on 8 February, Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev affirmed that the poll must be free and fair, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Akaev warned local administrators to stop harassing opposition candidates and called on the Office of the Prosecutor-General to guarantee voters' rights to participate in a fair poll. He added that he has asked law enforcement bodies to review unspecified cases in which political parties or individual politicians were refused registration to contest the election. LF

...AND CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION DENIES UNFAIR HARASSMENT

Kyrgyzstan's Central Electoral Commission Chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev denied in Bishkek on 8 February having created obstacles to the registration of opposition politicians, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Imanbaev said that the refusal to register the party list of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan was not a political decision but rather the logical consequence of that party's failure to conduct its most recent congress in accordance with the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). Meanwhile the leaders of four Kyrgyz NGOs have addressed an appeal, entitled "Give People a Right to Choose!" to the country's leadership and the Central Electoral Commission. The signatories protest the refusal to register opposition candidates for "minor technical reasons." LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR RENEWED EFFORTS TO RESOLVE AFGHAN CRISIS

Meeting with the UN secretary-general's special representative on Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, in Dushanbe on 8 February, Imomali Rakhmonov again affirmed that there are no alternatives to a peaceful solution to the civil war in Afghanistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Rakhmonov called for a renewed effort by the countries of the so-called Six Plus Two Group (Russia, the U.S., China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) to broker a peace agreement between the Taleban and the opposition alliance. It is unclear whether Rakhmonov commented on Kyrgyz President Akaev's recent proposal that his country join the Six Plus Two Group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2000). LF




BELARUS, UKRAINE MOVE TO IMPROVE RELATIONS

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk visited Minsk on 7-8 February in an effort to improve the countries' strained relations. "It is necessary to keep up a dialogue and cooperation with [Belarus]," AP quoted Tarasyuk as saying after the visit. Belarus claims Ukraine owes it more than $200 million, but Kyiv questions this sum. Belarus's legislature has not ratified the 1997 border treaty with Ukraine, thus hindering Kyiv's European integration attempts. Moreover, the two countries' presidents, Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Leonid Kuchma, have criticized each other's policies, and last year they canceled planned meetings. Tarasyuk said Kuchma will meet with Lukashenka in Minsk in the first half of this year. JM

BELARUSIAN VENDORS TO END STRIKE

The strike committee of Belarusian outdoor-market vendors announced on 8 February that they will end their nationwide strike on 12 February, Belapan reported. The committee said that "the authorities have admitted their mistakes and announced their readiness to begin negotiations" with the Free Trade Union of Entrepreneurs. The main demand of the Belarusian outdoor- market vendors is that those who pay a fixed income tax no longer be required to pay value-added tax. The strike, which had been scheduled to continue throughout February, was broken this week after the authorities persuaded a rival trade union of outdoor-market vendors not to join the protest. JM

UKRAINE'S PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY CONTINUES WITH SESSION, DESPITE MINORITY HULLABALOO

Following its seizure of the parliamentary hall on 8 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2000), the 254-strong majority in the legislature held a session amid shouting and banging on the tables by the leftist minority, which refused to register for the debate. Speaker Ivan Plyushch appealed to the leftists "to stop this nonsense," but Communists and progressive Socialists responded with shouts of "Infamy!" and "Judas!," Interfax reported. Despite the ongoing uproar, the majority adopted a session agenda for the next two weeks, passed a bill introducing the concepts of a parliamentary majority and minority, and amended the parliamentary procedures for passing resolutions. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz did not rule out that his caucus may register for the 9 February session. JM

UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS, PROGRESSIVE SOCIALISTS TO CONTINUE PROTESTS

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told journalists on 8 February that the leftist majority is planning "various protests to put the Supreme Council's activity back on to a legitimate path," but he gave no details. He called the tumult in the session hall a "natural form of protest" against the majority's refusal to seek a compromise. According to Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko, only early legislative elections can help overcome the parliamentary crisis in Ukraine. Vitrenko said she will work only with former speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and will "continue the fight for the restoration of constitutional order in the country." Speaking to a crowd of leftist backers outside the parliamentary building, Vitrenko called for a popular revolt in support of the parliamentary minority (see also "End Note" below). JM

INFLATION HIGH IN BALTICS

Estonia registered a 0.5 percent increase in inflation last month, while prices in Latvia jumped by 1.1 percent compared with December 1999, ELTA and LETA reported. Lithuania, meanwhile, registered the highest increase among the Baltic States, with prices rising by 1.5 percent. That increase is largely attributed to the rise in utility tariffs, including a 30.2 percent hike in electricity and 25 percent rise in natural gas prices. All three countries were also heavily affected by higher gasoline prices. Inflation is expected to rise modestly in the coming months in the Baltic States, not least because higher telephone tariffs are planned in both Estonia and Lithuania. In December 1999, compared with November, prices rose by 0.8 percent in Estonia, 0.2 percent in Latvia, and 0.3 percent in Lithuania. MH

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER ACCUSES RUSSIA OF GENOCIDE IN CHECHNYA

Parliamentary deputy Juris Vidins said on 8 February that he has documents detailing Russia's "genocide" policies against Chechnya, LETA reported. Vidins said one of those documents bears the signature of Russian Chief of Army General Staff Colonel-General Anatolii Kvashnin and orders the "filtration of Chechens between the ages of 10 and 14" who are to be sent to Omsk for military training. The second document appears to be a Russian Security Council report to then State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev dated 15 December 1999, ordering the destruction of mountain villages in Bamut, Itum-Kale, and Zandak Raions and the resettlement of inhabitants to northern regions of Chechnya or elsewhere in Russia. Vidins, who heads the parliament's Chechen support group, said that the documents were provided by "Russians who are selling information, as well as arms" and that he believes they are genuine. Vidins has asked Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Udaltsov for confirmation of the documents. MH

TEN PERCENT OF LATVIANS UNDER 'ULTIMATE POVERTY' LINE

A survey by the Latvian Welfare Ministry and the UN Development Program shows that 10 percent of Latvians live below the "ultimate" poverty line, BNS reported on 8 February. The survey showed that 10 percent of Latvians spend less than 24 lats ($40.34) a month on basic goods, such as clothing, food, and accommodation--a sum that is half the average household income. The study also showed that 66.9 percent of Latvians are considered "poor," since they make somewhat less than the average wage. MH

LITHUANIAN BUSINESSMAN FREED AFTER FIVE YEARS IN DETENTION

Arvydas Stasaitis was released on a judge's order after being held in prison for more than five years without an upheld conviction. Stasaitis, a flamboyant businessman, was charged with large-scale fraud and was extradited from Russia in 1994. He was found guilty in September 1998 after spending some four years in pre-trial detention. However, last September the Supreme Court overturned his conviction on technicalities related to the extradition order and reprimanded the Kaunas District Court for violating the defendant's rights, BNS and ELTA reported. Stasaitis remained in jail on temporary detention orders filed by the prosecution. The prosecution has appealed the ruling, while Stasaitis has filed a complaint against Lithuania with the European Court of Human Rights. MH

POLISH FARMERS PROTEST PAYMENT ARREARS

Some 80 members of the radical farmers' union Self-Defense blocked an international highway near Rzeszow, southeastern Poland, on 8 February to demand back payments for farm produce, PAP reported. The protesters carried a black wooden coffin bearing the inscription "Polish agriculture" and held banners with the slogan "Thieves, pay the farmers." Meanwhile, several hundred farmers held a rally in Brzeg, southwestern Poland, demanding back payments for grain supplies and that the privatization of a local grain company be postponed. JM

WALESA SAYS KWASNIEWSKI CLOSER TO STALIN THAN HAIDER TO HITLER

Former Polish President Lech Walesa told Radio Gdansk on 8 February that Europe should be more "cautious" in evaluating the participation of Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party in Austria's new cabinet. "Haider has nothing in common with Hitler. We have among us people closely connected with communism, the Polish People's Republic, and [communist] crimes, but Europe does not protest," Walesa noted. And he added that "Messrs. [Leszek] Miller [of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance] and [President Aleksander] Kwasniewski are closer to Stalin, who is a greater criminal, than that man [Haider] is to Hitler." JM

CZECH PREMIER TO REPLACE FIVE CABINET MEMBERS

Milos Zeman told journalists on 8 February that five members of his cabinet will be replaced and that he has briefed President Vaclav Havel on those intended changes to the government's lineup, CTK reported. Zeman said he will make the changes only after the Chamber of Deputies approves the budget, which passed in the first reading two weeks earlier. He denied that the changes are the result of the "extended opposition agreement" with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), saying they "reflect the will of the Social Democrats (CSSD), not of the ODS." But Havel said he is not party to the CSSD-ODS agreement and "will not appoint or dismiss ministers because they have agreed on it or because someone makes approval of the budget conditional on that." MS

HAVEL, ZEMAN SUPPORT EU SANCTIONS AGAINST AUSTRIA

Zeman and Havel told journalists after their 8 February meeting that they both support the measures the EU has taken against Austria following the formation of that country's new coalition. They said they do not regard the measures as interference in Austria's internal affairs, CTK reported. In an allusion to Klaus's recent statement on the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000), Zeman said that "proclamations of sympathy, especially when coming from a right-wing party that claims to support the EU, can harm the position of the Czech Republic." Havel said that the Czechoslovak experience with the Munich agreements of 1938 must make Czechs "very sensitive" to any signs "threatening peaceful and harmonious co-existence in Europe" and to "animosity toward foreigners, xenophobia..., populism, and nationalism." MS

EU COMMISSIONER SAYS BENES DECREES 'NOT RELEVANT' TO CZECH ACCESSION TALKS

Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, told journalists in Brussels on 8 February that the Benes decrees of 1945, under which the German minority was expelled from Czechoslovakia are "not relevant" to the Czech Republic's accession talks. Verheugen explained that the decrees took effect before the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community, and therefore cannot be included in the accession talks. He also told CTK that the formation of the new Austrian government "changes nothing" with regard to this issue, despite demands by the Freedom Party that a re-assessment of the decrees be included in the accession talks. Also on 8 February, Upper Austria Governor Richard Puehringer tried to convince Verheugen that the completion of the Temelin nuclear plant would create dangers for the region. A spokesman for Verheugen said the commissioner believes that "the strictest safety criteria will be respected." MS

SLOVAKIA, AUSTRIA NOT TO DISCUSS COMPENSATION FOR BENES DECREES

Foreign Ministry State secretary Jan Figel on 8 February told journalists in Bratislava that Slovakia will neither join EU sanctions against Austria nor yield to Wolfgang Schuessel's cabinet demand that Austrian citizens deported from Czechoslovakia as a result of the 1945 Benes decrees receive compensation, CTK reported. Figel said Slovakia has "condemned the principle of collective guilt" as long ago as 1991, in a parliamentary declaration. He said that now it is more important to "draw the agenda for the future than for the past." The sanctions, he continued, are "an important warning" to EU candidate countries, which must realize that "extremism, including disrespect for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law" will trigger "serious and prompt reaction" from the EU. MS

PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES FOR SLOVAK ROLE IN HOLOCAUST

President Rudolf Schuster, on a four-day visit to Israel, has apologized for Slovakia's role in the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust, CTK reported on 8 February. Schuster said Slovaks "must learn" about this dark chapter in their history and that "watching movies about it is not enough. We must educate children in schools." He spoke after visiting the Yad Va'Shem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. Schuster also said he wants Slovakia to mark Holocaust Day on 10 September, the day on which the country's war-time Nazi puppet government introduced the so-called Jewish Code. Some 70,000 Slovak Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust. MS

HUNGARY'S RAIL STRIKE BECOMES LONGEST IN COUNTRY'S HISTORY

The strike staged by the Hungarian Railworkers' Union entered its ninth day on 8 February, making it the longest rail strike in the country's history. The protestors are demanding an 11 percent wage increase and collective contracts. Marton Kukely, head of the Hungarian Railways Company (MAV), said the strike has caused a loss of 648 million forints ($2.5 million), thus reducing the annual earnings of workers by an average of 12,000 forints ($46). The daily "Nepszabadsag" reports that unions are prepared to accept an 8.5 percent increase if the funds earmarked for wages increases are not cut as a result of losses caused by the strike. MSZ




SERBIAN OPPOSITION WARNS OF 'ANARCHY'...

A spokesman for the opposition Christian Democratic Party said in Belgrade on 8 February that the killing of Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic shows that Serbia faces "total anarchy and the road to despair," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 February 2000). Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" wrote that unnamed opposition leaders regard the murder as evidence that "no one is safe" in Serbia any longer. Officials of some opposition parties in Vojvodina said they expect the authorities to use the killing as an excuse to implement martial law, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. There have been at least 15 unsolved killings of prominent persons in Serbia over the past 10 years. Bulatovic was the highest- ranking individual among them. PM

...WHILE REGIME PARTIES SEE WESTERN PLOT

A spokesman for Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party said in Belgrade on 8 February that the killing was the work of either U.S., U.K., or French intelligence agents. The United Yugoslav Left, which is led by Mira Markovic, who is the wife of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, called the killing evidence of the "United States terrorist threat" to Serbia. Milosevic's Socialist Party blamed "terrorism." Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic told "Danas" that the murder was part of a "terrorist network" aimed at "destabilizing our country." Neither he nor any of the party officials provided any details of their respective claims or offered any evidence to substantiate them. The government has not made an official statement. The regime-controlled daily "Politika" reported that the killer "fired three bursts and vanished into the dark." PM

U.S. BLASTS SERBIA...

U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering said in Madrid on 8 February that the killing of Bulatovic suggests Serbia is headed for a "sort of long- knives confrontation," which is an allusion to the bloody power struggle among Germany's Nazi leaders during their first years in power. In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin called the murder further evidence that Serbia is run by a clique of "criminals." He added that Serbia is descending into a climate of "fear and violence." PM

...PRAISES CROATIA

Referring to Stipe Mesic's election as president of Croatia on 7 February, Rubin said: "We believe his victory, combined with Prime Minister [Ivica] Racan's naming a multi-party government last week, will strengthen relations between the United States and Croatia and help Croatia serve as a pillar of stability and democratic development throughout the region." Similar messages praising Mesic's victory and expressing hope for the future of democracy in Croatia came from London, Paris, and Berlin. In Sarajevo, the joint presidency issued a statement expressing hope that Mesic's election will lead to an improvement in relations between the two neighboring former Yugoslav republics. PM

MESIC SAYS CROATIA MUST SOLVE DISPUTES WITH NEIGHBORS

Mesic told "Le Monde" of 8 February that Croatia must clear up its differences with Slovenia over the delimitation of frontiers in the Gulf of Piran as a prerequisite to improving relations with the EU and NATO. He added that Zagreb must also resolve the status of the Prevlaka peninsula. Mesic argued that Croatia should negotiate the matter directly with Montenegro and not with the federal Yugoslav authorities. He praised Montenegro's efforts to distance itself from Serbia and predicted that the mountainous republic will eventually become independent. PM

RACAN SAYS NO MORE 'PARALLEL STRUCTURES' IN CROATIA

Prime Minister Ivica Racan's government made it clear in its 33- page program that it will not tolerate any independent sources of power among state institutions, "Vecernji list" reported on 9 February. The document calls for a strengthening of democracy, the rule of law, and the role of elected institutions. The government plans to spend less money on defense and the police and more on education, culture, and research than did its predecessor. Observers note that the intelligence agencies and the military operated virtually as laws unto themselves during the rule of the Croatian Democratic Community from 1990 to January 2000. PM

MONTENEGRO, BOSNIAN FEDERATION DRAW CLOSER

Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic and his Bosnian federal counterpart, Edhem Bicakcic, agreed in Sarajevo on 8 February that Montenegro will soon open a commercial information office in the Bosnian capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2000). The two prime ministers also agreed to improve cooperation in transportation, commerce, tourism, and electrical energy supplies. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT PASSES KEY LEGISLATION

The Republika Srpska parliament has passed a law regulating the customs service, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 9 February. The legislature also approved measures aimed at setting up an ombudsman's office, thereby meeting a key precondition for Bosnia's admission to the Council of Europe. Prior to the parliamentary session, Nenad Suzic of the Socialist Party agreed to assume the post of deputy prime minister. His appointment appears to end an acrimonious dispute between Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and several Socialist leaders, which had threatened to split the governing coalition. PM

KOUCHNER AGAINST 'PARALLEL STRUCTURES' IN KOSOVA

Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 8 February that his is the only authority in the province. He added that he will not tolerate any "parallel structures" established by either the ethnic Albanian majority or the Serbian minority (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 February 2000). He specifically warned that Zoran Andjelkovic, who is Milosevic's former governor of the province, may live in Kosova if he chooses but only as "an ordinary citizen." PM

ROMA ORGANIZATIONS SUE ROMANIAN JOURNALIST

Several organizations representing the Roma minority in Romania have filed charges against journalist Marcel Flueraru from the daily "National" for using racist language in an article published in that daily, AP reported on 8 February. Presenting Roma as "delinquents" is very common in the Romanian media. Flueraru, however, used the term "darkies" and called the Roma "aggressors" who act "as if they had rabies." Also on 8 February, deputy Madalin Voicu, who was elected to the parliament on one of the lists of the Roma minority, announced he is joining the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), Mediafax reported. He said PDSR chairman Ion Iliescu and Executive Deputy Chairman Adrian Nastase have promised support for his demand that poor Roma families be given 1 hectare of land. MS




UKRAINE MOVES TOWARD AUTOCRACY


by Jan Maksymiuk

By choosing Ivan Plyushch as new parliamentary speaker on 1 February, the center-right majority made the standoff in the Ukrainian parliament even worse. A compromise between the two warring factions seems very unlikely, since the leftist minority--composed of the Communist Party, Socialist Party, Progressive Socialist Party, and Peasant Party caucuses--is demanding that the majority revoke all former decisions and submit them to a repeat vote by the entire house. The majority, meanwhile, wants its opponents to accept a fait accompli.

The standoff advanced even further down an irreversible path on 4 February when President Leonid Kuchma signed into law two bills passed by the majority three days earlier--one abolishing the holiday commemorating the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the other renumbering independent Ukraine's legislatures to make the current Supreme Council the third rather than the 14th one. The latter bill is believed to be a ruse on the part of the majority to avoid the dissolution of the parliament should the 16 April constitutional referendum result in a popular vote of no confidence in the Supreme Council. In such a situation, some commentators suggest, the vote will affect only the "old" legislature, that is, the leftist minority. In other words, the president will "dissolve" the leftist faction, leaving the center-rightist one untouched.

Whatever Kuchma's true intentions, both factions of the parliament are now fully at the mercy of the president. If they fail to reconcile their differences by mid-February, Kuchma may disband the legislature under the constitutional provision stipulating such a punitive measure if lawmakers are unable to convene a session within 30 days. Even if both factions were to unite for a session, the parliament will still face a dissolution threat in two months, following the April referendum (which many regard as a mere formality in passing a vote of no confidence in the legislature as a whole). This dual threat is sufficient to make the majority deputies approve all bills required by the executive.

However, the current parliamentary crisis seems in danger of going far beyond the immediate need to create a docile legislature that can approve a 2000 budget and vote for a number of reforms. Many analysts argue that not the only the current parliament but also the future of parliamentarism in Ukraine may be doomed if the constitutional referendum gives Kuchma the go-ahead to amend the constitution. What is more, collateral damage in the standoff and the referendum may take the form of growing public distrust in independent Ukraine's constitutional system. In fact, that system may be subject to significant reconstruction without having had a chance to secure its foundations.

There are even some majority deputies who feel that the resolutions adopted by their faction, including those on the parliamentary leadership, are unconstitutional and unlawful because they were adopted without consent of the legally elected speaker and outside the parliamentary building. If those decisions are enforced by the president in practice, they may spark a crisis of the legislative power's legitimacy similar to that in neighboring Belarus. The only difference will be that whereas Belarus has removed its center-rightist opposition from the political process, Ukraine will seek to do the same with its leftist forces.

If Kuchma decides to disband the parliament and call new elections, the country--which is under the immediate threat of financial bankruptcy and social upheaval--will become engaged in yet another turbulent political campaign, meaning that the resolution of urgent socioeconomic problems will once again be postponed, if not dropped altogether. In that case, it will become highly probable that a presidential dictatorship will be introduced in Ukraine. The idea that it is possible to move toward a market economy with the help of a dictatorship is not new, but it has so far not been put to the test in the post-Soviet area. Indeed, the example of Belarus suggests that a post-Soviet dictatorship would serve to push the country backward as far as possible.

On the other hand, many in Ukraine, including both political elites and ordinary citizens, may be longing for the rule of a "strongman," especially as Ukraine's "experiments with democracy" over the past nine years have proved so ineffective in the economic sphere. But with Kuchma in Kyiv (like Lukashenka in Minsk) running the country by means of decrees and edicts, Ukraine will put itself at risk of losing the West's material and moral support. Some cynics may argue that since Kuchma's policy of seeking rapprochement with the West is not Lukashenka's "back-to-the-USSR" drive, the West will not abandon Kyiv as quickly as it did official Minsk. Therefore, in the short term, autocracy for Ukraine might not prove as bad as some fear. Unfortunately, the country's problems cannot be resolved in a year or two. And this means that autocracy in Ukraine could become not only an emergency measure but a preferred way of ruling for many years.


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