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Newsline - February 18, 2000




PUTIN APPOINTS RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL FOR CHECHNYA

Despite earlier reports that he would name an international ombudsman, acting Russian President Vladimir Putin on 17 February appointed the head of the Russian Immigration Service to serve as a special presidential representative in Chechnya "for safeguarding human rights and liberties," Russian agencies reported. Vladimir Kalamanov, 49, worked as a special representative to North Ossetia from 1997 until March 1999. Amnesty International called the appointment "a public relations exercise," and a Human Rights Watch officials said that what is needed is "a criminal action by prosecutors on the allegations of torture and ill-treatment" in Chechnya, AFP reported. PG

SERGEEV SUMS UP CAMPAIGN SO FAR

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that the military campaign is nearing an end as Moscow adopts tactics to save the lives of its own soldiers while inflicting maximum damage on the Chechens, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 February. At the same time, he noted that Russian forces still face about 3,000 rebels in the southern mountains. Sergeev also denounced Chechen President Aslan Makhadov as an outlaw no better than other Chechen leaders. Meanwhile, Russian officials confirmed that they are sealing off Grozny to prevent rebels from re-entering the city, Interfax reported the same day. PG

MOSCOW PROTESTS GERMAN, U.S. OFFICIAL CONTACTS WITH CHECHENS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 17 February lodged a protest with Germany for receiving Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov and the U.S. for receiving Chechen Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Selim Beshaev, Russian agencies reported. The ministry said these acts constituted an "unfriendly" act toward Russia and were completely unacceptable. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin responded that the meeting was an "appropriate" part of the U.S. effort to inform itself about what is taking place in Chechnya, AP reported. Meanwhile, Iran has offered to help resolve the Chechen crisis if asked to do so, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS DENOUNCE RUSSIAN ACTIONS IN CHECHNYA

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the World Organization Against Torture (WOAT) on 17 February denounced Russian actions in the filtration camps for Chechens, AP reported. HRW said that "Russia appears to have declared any Chechen male to be a suspected rebel, subject to arbitrary arrest and brutal treatment." WOAT, for its part, noted that "we cannot ignore that the filtration camps are indeed concentration camps where Russian soldiers are committing the worst atrocities, in all impunity, against their prisoners." Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii responded on Russian Public Television that these charges are without foundation and that allegations of this kind have become "the number one topic in the information war the Western mass media have unleashed." He also denied that Moscow has ever prevented UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robertson from visiting Chechnya. PG

RUSSIANS STILL BACK CHECHEN CAMPAIGN

A new VTsIOM poll, reported by RIA-Novosti on 17 February, said 70 percent of Russians continue to back Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya. PG

MOSCOW POINTS TO MERCENARIES ON CHECHEN SIDE

At a news conference, presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii produced Ali Yaman, a Turkish citizen who Yastrzhembskii said had worked as a mercenary on the Chechen side, Interfax reported on 17 February. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that a Kuwaiti citizen had died fighting in Chechnya as well. PG

MOSCOW SAYS IT HAS FOUND EXPLOSIVES IN CHECHNYA

The Russian Interior Ministry's anti-organized crime department told ITAR-TASS on 17 February that Russian forces have found another hexogen storage site in Chechnya. According to a spokesman for this department, hexogen was used in the bombing of apartment blocks in Moscow last September. PG

FSB EXPECTS NO TERRORIST ACTS ON CHECHEN ANNIVERSARY

General Aleksandr Zdanovich, the head of the program managing department of the Federal Security Service, told "Izvestiya" on 18 February that he does not believe the Chechens will stage major terrorist actions on 23 February, the 56th anniversary of their deportation to Central Asia. "We do not rule out some attempted terrorist acts in various areas of Chechnya," he said, "but there can be no question of a large- scale terrorist campaign. The separatists have neither the power nor the opportunity to do so." PG

MOSCOW NEWSPAPER SAYS CHECHENS SEEK ASSASINATION OF PUTIN

"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 18 February published a report on what it said was an appeal by Chechen commander Basaev offering to pay a reward of $2.5 million to anyone who would kill acting Russian President Putin. PG

RUSSIAN AGENCIES HOLDING BABITSKII, NEWSPAPER SAYS...

"Kommersant-Daily" on 17 February said the handling of missing RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii showed two things: first, "that the criminal charges against the journalist were fabricated"; second, "that the Interior Ministry knows Babitskii's whereabouts--and does not want him 'found' there." Aleksandr Gurov, chairman of the Duma Security Committee, said that Moscow has conducted the investigation so far "in the best secret police tradition. Babitskii is alive--and that is that. There can be no doubt anymore that the Kremlin knows where Babitskii is." Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has asked Russia to provide information on Babitskii's whereabouts, AFP reported on 17 February. PG

...WHILE ANOTHER NEWSPAPER REPORTS BABITSKII IS IN DOBA YURT

"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 18 February reported that according to a local source, RFE/RL reporter Babitskii is in the village of Duba-Yurt with Chechen field commander Rizvan Chitigov. The daily speculated that Chitigov hopes to demand a large ransom from RFE/RL. However, Mario Corti of RFE/RL's Russian Service said he does not place much faith in the account: "This misinformation is aimed at laying the blame for the possible death of our correspondent on the Chechens." JAC

PRESS MINISTER NIXES RFE/RL BAN IDEA

Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said on 17 February that he is not in favor of a ban of or limits on the activities of RFE/RL in Russia, Interfax reported. Russia is a democratic country and must abide by democratic norms, he said, noting that "ban or no ban, they will listen to [Radio Liberty] programs in any case." With regard to the disappearance of RFE/RL reporter Andrei Babitskii in Chechnya, Lesin added that "if [Babitskii] has had a weapon in his hands, he is no longer a correspondent--a correspondent has only one weapon, a pen." JAC

ELECTION COMMISSION BARS ZHIRINOVSKII...

The Central Election Commission on 17 February voted to deny Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii registration as a candidate in the 26 March presidential elections. Commission members based their decision on the "significant nature" of incorrect information supplied by Zhirinovskii on his income and property declarations. In particular, Zhirinovskii failed to disclose that his son, Igor Lebedev, owns a Moscow apartment, Interfax reported. Zhirinovskii and his party experienced significant problems trying to register for the 19 December State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Election Report," 10 December 1999). According to "Izvestiya" on 18 February, Zhirinovskii said he and his son "had not desired to hide anything from the [commission]. We simply forgot about the apartment." He added that he will appeal the commission's decision in the Supreme Court. JAC

...REJECTS REFERENDUM IDEA...

The commission also voted to reject a proposal by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) to hold a nationwide referendum on four issues because of an insufficient number of signatures gathered in support of the referendum were found to be valid. The referendum would have asked voters to support broader private property rights, the lifting of immunity for legislators, the requirement that only professional soldiers serve in combat zones, and amending the federal constitution to limit the rights of the president to dismiss the government. Two million signatures were needed, but only 1,780,000 were found to be valid. The SPS said it will appeal the decision. On 18 February, acting President Putin said that he supports the SPS initiative "because it is intended to create in Russia a more effective state." JAC

...AND REGISTERS FIFTH CANDIDATE

Commission members voted to register a fifth candidate for presidential elections, Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov. Titov has the largest personal wealth of any candidate registered so far, having earned 469,354 rubles ($16,303) in 1998-1999 and owning four bank accounts with 522,954 rubles. According to "Kommersant- Daily" on 18 February, Natalya Titova earns more than any potential first ladies, bringing in 152,600 rubles, compared with Lyudmila Putin's 43,200 rubles. Mrs. Titova also rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle. JAC

DUMA REJECTS BILL BANNING LAND SALES

By a vote of 355 to three with two abstentions State Duma deputies on 18 February rejected a bill that would have prohibited the sale and mortgaging of farm land, Interfax reported. According to the agency, the bill had to be rejected in order to clear the way for new legislation proposed by the president, government, Federation Council as well as by some regions on the issue of land sales. JAC

...AS LAND CODE MAKES LEGISLATORS' AGENDA FOR NEXT MONTH

The State Duma will debate a new draft version of the Land Code on 15 March, Interfax reported on 17 February. According to the agency, the new version has amendments proposed by the presidential administration and is supported by the Agrarian Party. This version reportedly differs from that supported by the SPS in that it does not allow the sale of farmland. Such land, under the Agrarian-backed version, could only be inherited. Meanwhile, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said the same day that the Federation Council believes the code should be a normative act that recognizes the right to private ownership of land and allows regions to establish methods of land management, such as ownership, by themselves. He criticized the idea of national referendum on land ownership noting that 70 percent of the population, which is urban and "can cultivate only their individual vegetable gardens," would play a decisive role in the vote. JAC

PUTIN SPEAKS OUT AGAINST FOREIGN LOANS

Acting President Putin said on 17 February that Russia should resort to foreign borrowing only to develop Russian industry and "even then only in those cases where the task cannot be accomplished using internal resources." Later that day, First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the government has already started reducing foreign investment loans tied to specific projects and backed by the government. He added, however, that Russia still hopes to get "a considerable part" of the foreign loans already included in the 2000 budget. The Finance Ministry announced on 16 February that an auction of new short-term treasury bills (GKOs) worth 2.5 billion rubles ($87 million) will be held on 23 February. JAC

TALLY IN BONY CASE SO FAR: TWO GUILTY, ONE INNOCENT

The day after former Bank of New York Vice President Lucy Edwards and her husband, Peter Berlin, entered guilty pleas to charges of money laundering, another former BONY employee, Svetlana Kudryavtseva, pleaded innocent in a U.S. court on 17 February. Kudryavtseva was indicted last month on money- laundering charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2000.) Edwards has alleged that Kudryavtseva accepted $500 a month starting in 1996 to oversee bank accounts that Edwards set up illegally for Russian clients to avoid taxation. According to agencies, Edwards and her husband admitted receiving some $1.8 million for their part in the scheme (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2000). JAC

IVASHOV RAPIDLY FALLING FROM FAVOR?

Following NATO Secretary- General Lord Robertson's visit to Moscow earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2000), rumors are again rife that Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's international relations department, is about to be dismissed. Ivashov's absence from the capital during Robertson's visit--he was in Geneva delivering lectures--is seen by Moscow media as signaling that the Kremlin wanted the outspoken NATO critic out of earshot of the Western visitors. "Izvestiya" reported on 18 February that Ivashov began receiving "tempting offers" as early as January, when he was persuaded to run for the post of coordinator for CIS military cooperation but received "no" votes from Azerbaijan and Georgia. And according to the same newspaper, candidates to replace Ivashov have already been found: defense minister aide Colonel General Vyacheslav Meleshko and Lieutenant- General Nikolai Zlenko, a deputy defense minister and former military attache in the U.S. "Izvestiya" is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros group and LUKoil. JC

PUTIN REPORTEDLY EXPRESSED PRECOCIOUS INTEREST IN SPY WORK...

"Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 17 February that acting President Putin first approached the KGB in his home town of St. Petersburg at the age of 17, according to an unnamed former supervisor of Putin's in the KGB's successor agency, the Federal Security Service. According to that source, Putin reportedly "wanted to work in the KGB from his childhood." JAC

...AS HE APPEARS RELUCTANT TO PRESS THE FLESH ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Following acting President Putin on the "campaign trail" in southern Russia, AP noted on 17 February that Putin glided past potential voters waiting to see him and is spending most of his time talking to local officials. According to the agency, Putin "did stop to speak to people on a few occasions, but the encounters were brief with the candidate reserved." In a children's hospital, Putin told a boy who "haltingly explained his legs were hurt in a road accident" that "you should have been more careful." Reuters reported the next day that Putin has been shown on Russian television kissing children and helping them unwrap presents. JAC

LOVE CONQUERS ALL IN SPACE?

AP reported on 16 February that Russian space officials have agreed to send a Russian actor on the next mission to the "Mir." Vladimir Steklov is due to star in a movie to be partly shot aboard the space station, although funding is still being sought for the Russian- British project. According to the news agency, Steklov would play the part of a cosmonaut who refuses to leave the station, insisting he'll remain in Orbit for the rest of his life--until, that is, ground control sends a woman to entice him back to Earth. The next day, AP reported that Energia, the Russian company that operates "Mir," and MirCorp have signed an agreement giving the latter rights for the commercial use of the space station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2000). While MirCorp intends to lure industrial research clients, it will also offer space breaks for the "wealthy and healthy." JC




ARMENIAN NUCLEAR PLANT TO OPERATE UNTIL 2010

Vartan Movsesyan, the head of Armenia's energy commission, said in Yerevan on 17 February that the country's nuclear power plant will remain in operation until 2010, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that it will do so despite an agreement between Armenia and the EU that calls for its closure by 2004. At present, the plant provides approximately half of the electricity generated in Armenia. PG

DASHNAKS SELECT NEW LEADER IN ARMENIA

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) on 17 February selected parliamentary deputy Armen Rustamian to replace Hrant Markarian as its representative in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Markarian was recently promoted to head the party's worldwide bureau. PG

AZERBAIJANI REFUGEES DEMONSTRATE IN BAKU

Refugees angered by official interference in their commercial activities as street vendors and by the failure of the government to provide them with additional assistance blocked several streets in Baku on 16 February, "Yeni Musavat" reported. Police were able to restore the flow of traffic after two hours but refused to give any details to the media. PG

AZERBAIJANI PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DENIES CHARGING RUSSIAN REPORTER

Eldar Hasanov rejected as false a report in the 15 February issue of Moscow's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" saying that Baku has opened a legal case against the Baku correspondent of that newspaper, the Turan news agency reported on 17 February. PG

SHEVARDNADZE SAYS PUTIN PLEASED BY GEORGIA'S APPROACH TO CHECHEN BORDER

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said acting Russian President Vladimir Putin told him by telephone that he was pleased with the actions Georgia have taken to control its border with Chechnya, Interfax reported on 17 February. The call came as OSCE representatives arrived to monitor that border, Russia's TV6 reported the same day. PG

ADJAR LEADER TO RUN FOR GEORGIAN PRESIDENCY

Adjar President Aslan Abashidze on 17 February filed his application to run for the presidency of Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Abashidze is the 14th candidate to do so and is widely viewed as the strongest challenger to the incumbent, Shevardnadze. Meanwhile, the Georgian parliament agreed to work on amendments to the country's election law, Georgian radio reported. The deputies have already agreed to require a two- thirds vote for any major decisions by the Central Election Commission. PG

ASTANA WARNS AGAINST CALLS FOR KAZAKHSTAN TO JOIN RUSSIA- BELARUS UNION

The office of the Prosecutor-General circulated a statement on 17 February warning against any calls for Kazakhstan to join the Russia-Belarus Union, Khabar TV reported. Such calls, the prosecutor's office said, "constitute interference in state affairs by public organizations and are a gross violation of the constitution and laws of Kazakhstan." The statement was issued after the Slavic Communities of Kazakhstan announced they favor a referendum on the issue and after the country's communist leader, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, said that Kazakhstan must take its time before making a decision on this issue, Interfax reported on 17 February. PG

NGO COALITION WINS CASE IN KYRGYZSTAN

A Kyrgyz court agreed with an appeal by a coalition of non-governmental organization that the Central Election Commission has violated the constitution by reducing the number of people who must sign precinct balloting reports, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 17 February. But Feliks Kulov, an opposition candidate, told "Delo" the same day that the authorities are doing everything they can to reduce the chances of the opposition to win. "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" pointedly asked, "Will there remain a democratic oasis in Central Asia, or can we following the example of neighboring countries, expect a return to authoritarianism?" Officials in Bishkek said they are increasing security in advance of the 20 February vote. PG

KYRGYZSTAN INCREASES BORDER DEFENSES

In expectation of new attacks from groups based in Tajikistan, Bishkek has increased its border defenses, Reuters reported on 17 February. Bolot Dzhanuzakov, the secretary of the country's security council, said that "we estimate that there are some 400-700 men in Tajikistan" who are "gathering strength" to move against Kyrgyzstan. He added that the groups are not only promoting Islamic fundamentalism but are also engaged in the drug trade. PG

TAJIKISTAN SAYS BOMBING DESIGNED TO UPSET ELECTIONS

A Tajik government spokesman told Reuters on 17 February that "the leadership of Tajikistan considers the explosion... a terrorist act with a clear political motive aimed at sabotaging the parliamentary election." He was referring to the bomb attack that killed Shamsullo Dzhabirov on 16 February. Elections in Tajikistan are scheduled to take place on 27 February. PG

TURKMENBASHI WARNS AGAINST FOREIGN INTERFERENCE

Turkmenistan President Saparmyrat Niyazov told diplomats accredited to Ashgabat that "foreigners should not interfere in Turkmenistan's judicial affairs, just as Turkmenistan does not interfere in the judicial affairs of other countries, Turkmen radio reported on 17 February. "Some people see democracy as confrontation," Niyazov said, "and they are ready to call on any destructive forces as a real opposition." PG

UN ENVOY IN TASHKENT TO DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN

Frqancesc Vendrell, the chief of the UN Special Commission for Afghanistan, met with Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov to discuss the next steps for the Six Plus Two group that is trying to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 17 February. PG




EUROPEAN DEPUTIES VOICE CONCERN ABOUT BELARUS'S ELECTORAL CODE...

Wolfgang Berendt, a special rapporteur from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 17 February that he is "very disappointed" that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's signed the new electoral code, which was adopted without consultations with the opposition. Berendt added that Belarus will neither be accepted as a member of the council nor given EU economic support if it holds parliamentary elections based on that code. Elisabeth Schroedter, head of the European Parliament group for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, said Lukashenka's signing of the code signals an end to attempts by European organizations "to bring Belarus back to democracy in a peaceful way." Schroedter noted that the elections held according to that code might result in the "complete isolation" of Belarus. JM

...WHILE MINSK OFFICIALS SAY CODE 'QUITE DEMOCRATIC'

Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna told journalists in Minsk the same day that the adopted electoral code is "quite democratic." She claimed that code was positively assessed by the Council of Europe's Venetian Commission and includes "almost all" proposals made by the OSCE. Yarmoshyna believes that Europe will recognize this year's parliamentary elections as legitimate. Anatol Krasutski from the Chamber of Representatives said he is confident that some opposition parties will take part in the elections, including the Party of Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Women's Party "Hope." JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES DEFICIT-FREE BUDGET

Lawmakers on 17 February voted 252 to 18 with 22 abstentions to adopt a zero-deficit budget for 2000, with revenues and spending at 33.4 billion hryvni ($6 billion), Interfax reported. The left parliamentary caucuses did not participate in the vote. The lawmakers decided to exclude from the budget bill articles that stipulated changes in tax legislation. The passing of the zero-deficit budget removes a serious obstacle in Ukrainian-IMF talks on resuming the fund's $2.6 billion loan program. Premier Viktor Yushchenko commented the same day that the IMF will resume its loan program only after Ukraine starts implementing several of its long-promised reforms. JM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONCERNED ABOUT REFERENDUM IN UKRAINE

Hanne Severinsen, a rapporteur from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said in Kyiv on 17 February that she hopes President Leonid Kuchma will suspend holding the 16 April constitutional referendum until the Venetian Commission presents its assessment of the referendum decree, Interfax reported. Severinsen added that she has invited Kuchma to take part in a PACE session in Strasbourg in early April at which the Venetian Commission's conclusions are to be discussed. Meanwhile, a late January poll showed that 76 percent of Ukrainians want to take part in the referendum. According to that poll, if the plebiscite were held now, all the questions would be supported by more than 50 percent of those intending to vote. JM

ZYUGANOV PREDICTS ESTONIA-RUSSIA UNION IN 15 YEARS

Head of the Russian Communist Party Gennadii Zyuganov told "Eesti Paevaleht" that in15 years there could be an Estonian-Russian Union, noting that "historical development in post-Soviet territories is directed at integration." Zyuganov added, "We regard the disintegration of the Soviet Union as the worst tragedy for all the peoples involved, and so we are going to make our best effort to strengthen integration policy with former Soviet territories." MH

PEDOPHILIA SCANDAL BREAKS IN LATVIA...

A pedophilia scandal escalated on 17 February, when the head of the investigative board said that three government officials, including the premier, are involved. Social Democrat parliamentary deputy Janis Adamsons, who chairs an ad hoc committee investigating the allegations of government involvement in pedophilia, named Prime Minister Andris Skele, Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs, and State Revenues Service director Andrejs Sonciks as the three. Meanwhile, the parliament has voted to extend the committee's work until16 March. MH

...WHILE JUSTICE MINISTER LAUNCHES HUNGER STRIKE

Justice Minister Birkavs has denied any involvement in pedophilia and has launched a hunger strike to protest the allegations. He challenged Adamsons to "lay your evidence on the table," BNS reported. Birkavs also filed a request with prosecutors to launch an investigation of Adamsons for slander, saying that this is "uncharacteristic and extreme" step that he is compelled to take. The minister has vowed to continue his strike until "the truth is found out." Head of the State Revenue Service Sonciks has also said he will file slander charges against Adamsons. Prime Minister Skele called the statement an "elaborate provocation" against the state. MH

LATVIA HOSTS MEETING ON WAR CRIMES PROSECUTION

Latvia on 16- 17 February hosted an international meeting of investigators and prosecutors who agreed to cooperate in investigating war crimes cases. Officials from the U.S., Canada, Germany, Israel, Great Britain, and Australia joined their Latvian counterparts in pooling evidence on Konrads Kalejs, and Latvian Prosecutor-General Janis Skrastins said later that "several important elements" were unearthed, BNS reported. Skrastins also said the meeting laid the foundations for further cooperation on the Kalejs and other cases. Justice Minister Birkavs told participants, "We have gathered here with one objective to achieve: that all war criminals are called to responsibility." Russian investigators, who had earlier voiced anger over not being invited to the meeting, will be asked to attend talks later this month, officials added. MH

EX-PREMIER QUITS LITHUANIAN RULING PARTY

Former Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius surprised opponents and colleagues alike when he suspended his membership in the ruling Conservatives on 17 February, "Lietuvos Rytas" reported. A founding member of that party, Vagnorius told the press, "I can't and won't associate with the immoral economic policies that began in the summer of 1999, which people call 'cruel financial actions.'" His opponent within the party, parliamentary speaker and party chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, accused Vagnorius of trying to evade responsibility for the period he led the government. MH

POLISH LEFTIST DEPUTY FOUND TO BE 'LUSTRATION LIAR'

The Supreme Administration Court on 17 February upheld the Lustration Court's ruling that Tadeusz Matyjek, a parliamentary deputy of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, is a "lustration liar," PAP reported. The court said Matyjek was a secret collaborator of the Security Service from 1969-1975 and had concealed this fact in his lustration statement. The verdict, the first of its kind in Poland, is legally binding and cannot be appealed. Under to the lustration law, Matyjek will now lose his parliamentary seat and be barred from holding public posts for 10 years. Matyjek called the verdict a "discredit to the court" and a "witch-hunt." He said that he had not be a secret collaborator but had had "private contacts" with security service officers. On 18 February, Matyjek gave up his parliamentary mandate. JM

WALESA PREDICTS PARTING OF THE WAYS WITH SOLIDARITY

Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa has criticized politicians from the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) for their "hysterical" response to his letter to AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2000), Polish media reported on 17 February. Walesa had proposed in the letter to consolidate Krzaklewski's position in the AWS parliamentary caucus, replace the cabinet and the prime minister, and present an AWS presidential candidate to the public. "I do not intend to participate in the failure to which the ruling camp in Poland is heading. Regretfully, our ways seems to be parting," Walesa added on 17 February. Krzaklewski told journalists that he will meet with Walesa next week. JM

CZECH CIVIC MOVEMENTS DENY INTENTION TO ENTER POLITICS

The Thanks, Now Leave (SDO) and Impulse 99 civic movements both denied on 17 February that they intend to enter politics and back political parties in upcoming elections. They were responding to declarations by leaders of the four-party coalition following a 15 February meeting with the two movement's leaderships (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2000). SDO spokesman Josef Broz told CTK that the meeting did not result in an agreement and that his movement "never voiced support for any party or personality." He also said Impulse 99 representatives at the meeting had submitted a list of its possible candidates for the Senate but that the SDO "has not commented on the proposals." Impulse 99 spokesman Tomas Halik said his movement "does not want to either change into a political party or...enter into a marriage with any political party." MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT GIVES 'GREEN LIGHT' TO OPPOSITION REFERENDUM DRIVE...

Rudolf Schuster on 17 February told journalists that he has no legal objections to the wording of a petition in favor of a referendum calling for early elections. The drive is to be launched by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and is supported by the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS). Schuster said he has consulted seven independent lawyers, all of whom confirmed that the wording is legal. He said he now regrets having agreed to HZDS leader Vladimir Meciar's request that he consult those lawyers, because "I am not a supporter of early elections and believe they will bring nothing new." Meciar said the HZDS will have "no problem" in collecting the necessary 350,000 signatures in favor of a referendum. According to the constitution, if voters in such a plebiscite approve early elections, the parliament decides if they are to take place. MS

...WHILE RULING COALITION 'REGRETS' THAT DECISION

Responding to Schuster's decision, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda called on Slovaks not to take part in the plebiscite. He said that "participation in the referendum is a road to the past. Ignoring it is the path to the future." Dzurinda also said that Schuster's decision amounted to an "unfortunate going along with the HZDS." Hungarian Coalition Party Chairman Bela Bugar similarly called on the party's supporters to boycott the referendum. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Slovak Statistical Office's UVVM Institute shows that if a general election were held now, the HZDS would win with 24.8 percent of the vote, CTK reported. MS

MEMORIAL PLAQUE PLANNED FOR SLOVAKIA'S FASCIST LEADER

A memorial plaque is to be unveiled on 14 March in Zilina honoring Slovakia's war-time president Josef Tiso, who was executed as a war criminal in 1947. That day marks the anniversary of the establishment of the Nazi puppet-state headed by Tiso. SNS and HZDS city councilors in Zilina adopted the decision; they have a majority of 39 out of 45 councilors. MS

EU COMMISSIONER TOURS HUNGARY, ROMANIA TO ASSESS DAMAGE

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom on 17 February visited the Romanian town of Baia Mare and the Hungarian city of Szolnok to assess the damage caused by the cyanide spill in the Szamos and Tisza Rivers. Wallstrom was joined by the Hungarian and Romanian Environment Ministers, Pal Pepo and Romica Tomescu. At a news conference in Szolnok, she said the EU will not get involved in efforts by individual countries to receive compensation but added that "whoever is responsible for the pollution should pay. " She also criticized the Australian Esmeralda company, which co-owns the mine that caused the spill, saying the company could face stiff penalties. MSZ

...WHILE AUSTRALIAN FIRM DENIES RESPONSIBILITY

Esmeralda chairman Brett Montgomery said in a 17 February statement that "quite clearly there has been contamination of parts of the river system of the region, but there is no evidence to confirm that the contamination and the damage said to have been caused" are a result of incident. The World Wildlife Fund said that hundreds of tons of dead fish have already been taken from the Tisza and Danube rivers. Petre Marinescu, Deputy Director of the Romanian Water Authority said, however, that the death of flora and fauna in the two rivers was not caused by cyanide but by chemicals released into waters to neutralize the cyanide. Hungarian authorities denied that neutralizing agents were thrown in Hungarian rivers. Meanwhile, Romanian Ambassador to Hungary Petru Cordos said on 17 February that jars of fish were thrown at the embassy building, smashing several windows. He added that similar incidents took place last week. MSZ




MESIC INAUGURATED AS CROATIA'S PRESIDENT

Stipe Mesic took the oath of office on Zagreb's historical St. Mark's Square on 18 February. He became Croatia's second president since the country gained independence in 1991. In his inaugural address, he stressed the need for Croatia to join Euro- Atlantic institutions and to promote democracy and the decentralization of political power at home. Mesic planned the inauguration to underscore his intention to break with many of the practices of his predecessor, the late Franjo Tudjman. Accordingly, the ceremony was much shorter and less formal than the public spectacles that Tudjman favored. Mesic addressed his listeners as "citizens," whereas Tudjman preferred to say "Croats." PM

'LARGEST GROUP OF FOREIGN REPRESENTATIVES IN CROATIAN HISTORY'

This is how "Jutarnji list" on 18 February described the 72 foreign visitors who arrived for President Mesic's inauguration. The dignitaries include 12 heads of state from Central and Southeastern Europe, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. Albright is slated to have dinner with Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan, while she and Fischer will meet with several Serbian opposition leaders, including Zoran Djindjic and Vladan Batic, to discuss the situation in Serbia. Albright has also scheduled a private meeting with Austrian President Thomas Klestil. Croatian and foreign media noted the contrast between the impressive foreign presence at Mesic's inauguration and the more modest one at Tudjman's funeral in December, where Turkey's Suleyman Demirel was the only foreign head of state present. Most countries sent only their ambassador. PM

WILL CROATIA, ALLIES MEET MUTUAL EXPECTATIONS?

"Jutarnji list" noted on 18 February that the "honeymoon" between Croatia's new government and its Western allies has been long and harmonious. The daily suggested that Racan will seek some quick successes in foreign policy because it might take him a very long time before he achieves successes at home. Reuters quoted unnamed Croatian officials as saying that foreign governments have praised the new administration but "there has been no reaction [from abroad] on the financial level." Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said recently that Croatia wants ethnic Serbian refugees to return but that it will require money to prepare housing and infrastructure for them. "Slobodna Dalmacija" on 18 February quoted Defense Minister Jozo Rados as telling foreign military attaches that he wants a smaller and more professional army. He added, however, that he must consider unspecified "economic and social aspects of a reduction in size of the armed forces." PM

MILOSEVIC RE-ELECTED PARTY LEADER

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was reelected head of his Socialist Party in Belgrade on 17 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2000). He was the sole candidate and received 2,308 votes from the 2,314 delegates. Five delegates abstained and a sixth person cast an invalid ballot. In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said that Milosevic's ouster is long overdue. He added, however, that the U.S. has only limited possibilities to help bring about change in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

CLARK: U.S. TROOPS NEEDED IN BALKANS UNTIL MILOSEVIC GONE

NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark told members of the House Armed Services Committee in Washington on 17 February that "the key to a peaceful resolution and a successful exit from the region for U.S. forces and the forces of NATO is democratization in Yugoslavia and Milosevic's appearance at the international criminal tribunal in The Hague. Until he is taken to trial, until democracy is taken into Serbia, we're not going to see a resolution of the problem," Reuters reported. PM

ROBERTSON: NATO WILL NOT TOLERATE KOSOVA VIOLENCE

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Skopje on 17 February that the Atlantic alliance "will not stand for violence against our own soldiers or against the citizens of [Kosova], whatever their ethnic background." In a warning to those who might doubt this commitment, he added: "Don't meddle with NATO!" He added that "we intend to finish the job. We came to [Kosova] to create a durable and sustainable peace." He also appealed to the citizens of Serbia to look to Macedonia as a model of "democratic and humane values," AP reported. PM

EUROPEAN MONEY FOR BOSNIA'S RAILROADS

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has approved a $40 million credit to repair and develop Bosnia's railways, AP reported from Sarajevo on 17 February. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN TV STATION OFF THE AIR

SFOR troops and engineers from the international community's Independent Media Commission (IMC) closed down the broadcasting facilities of Erotel in Mostar on 17 February at the request of the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch and the IMC, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The station had been broadcasting without a license. Petritsch's spokesman said in Sarajevo that the move frees up a frequency for the new public television station for the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation. Croatian state-run television will continue to broadcast to Bosnia, "Oslobodjenje" reported. Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula recently discussed the future of Erotel and the Croatian state broadcasts with Petritsch. PM

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION OF ROMANIA LEADERS REACH COMPROMISE

The National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and the National Liberal Party agreed on 17 February to have a chairman from one party and a deputy chairman from the other coordinating both groups' election lists for the fall parliamentary elections. The party that has the largest backing, to be determined on the basis of several opinion surveys and the results of the local elections, will have the chairmanship of the alliance. In other news, PNTCD Senator Corneliu Turianu on 17 February announced he is leaving the party and joining the Christian Democratic National Alliance. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT DISMISSES DEPUTY SPEAKER

In a move initiated by the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM) and backed by the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), the parliament on 17 February dismissed Christian Democratic Popular Party (FPCD) leader Iurie Rosca as parliamentary chairman, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The vote was 69 to 11. Communist leader Vladimir Voronin said the move must not be interpreted as signifying the "emergence of a new alliance" and that his party's interests "simply coincided with the interests of other parliamentary groups." Last year, the FPCD left the CDM, on whose lists Rosca and his supporters were elected to the parliament. Voronin also said that this ended the "strange" situation in which the PCM, which has a 40-strong faction in legislature, has no parliamentary deputy chairman and the FPCD, which has only nine deputies, had one, namely Rosca. MS




THE RETURN OF POLITICAL ANTI-SEMITISM


by Michael J. Jordan

When a leading Hungarian politician spices his speech with ominous references to "cosmopolitans" and "Communist Jews"--as did Deputy Prime Minister Laszlo Kover on 29 January--he cannot expect that it will be taken lightly. In Hungary, similar rhetoric half a century ago spurred a genocide that killed more than half a million Hungarian Jews.

But speeches like Kover's and various anti-Jewish provocations have become increasingly common in Hungary over the past year, causing unease among Central Europe's largest Jewish community.

Jewish observers say the increasing use of "political anti-Semitism" is more than a hate-mongering ploy. Instead, they contend it is a cynical strategy by Hungary's crafty prime minister, Viktor Orban, and his advisers. Orban, 36, seems intent on carving out a future for himself as the "Man of the Right." While no one suggests that he is an anti- Semite, some of his allies are skillfully employing nationalist Christian-conservative symbols and Holocaust revisionism.

"These are deeply coded messages to the far right to show that this is where their hearts beat," says writer Miklos Haraszti, an ex-dissident and former liberal parliamentary deputy. "They want these voters, even if they lose some sympathy from moderates and earn contempt from journalists and liberal opinion-makers."

Since last summer, a number of Jewish-related issues have made headlines, even though the country's 100,000 or so Jews constitute just 1 percent of the population. First came a government attempt--dropped after Jewish experts protested- -to rewrite the text of the Hungarian exhibit at Auschwitz, which was installed in 1965. The new version would have shifted all blame for the Hungarian Holocaust onto Germany, which occupied the country in March 1944, and made no mention of Hungary's role.

Then, in the fall, officials unveiled a plaque commemorating the Hungarian gendarmerie while ignoring the fact that it was these same police who, for seven weeks in the spring of 1944, enthusiastically carried out Nazi orders to round up and deport 437,000 Jews from the Hungarian countryside.

Hungarian Jews says these moves are part of an orchestrated campaign to whitewash Hungary's past. But Maria Schmidt, a key adviser to Orban and frequently criticized as one of Hungary's leading revisionists, argues that after four decades of Communism, in which historical documentation was indeed ideologically skewed, there is a need to relate history from a new perspective.

"For 40 years they were lying about everything," Schmidt told RFE/RL. "I'm glad that now there's competition in the telling of history, because no one should have a privileged position or monopoly. We all live in this country; we all have our own history and our own point of view."

Schmidt says she backs the unrestricted publication and distribution of "Mein Kampf," "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," and other anti-Semitic tracts now available in new Hungarian-language editions in many Budapest bookstores.

More worrying for Hungarian Jews, according to Haraszti, is that Orban appears to welcome the parliamentary support of Istvan Csurka and his far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP). Csurka was kicked out of the first post- Communist ruling party, the Hungarian Democratic Forum, in 1993 for his extremist views. He returned to the parliament in July 1998, when MIEP squeaked past the 5 percent threshold, winning 14 seats out of 386.

Csurka and his minions are notorious for conspiratorial talk about "alien elements" and "liberal traitors." They also have questioned the "disproportionate" number of Jews in the media, in leading symphony orchestras, and in the delegation of Hungarian authors to last year's Frankfurt Book Fair. Moreover, Csurka is virtually the only Central European politician to hail the rise of Joerg Haider in Austrian politics.

Orban, meanwhile, remains silent and above the fray. After all, Hungary is clamoring for full integration into the West. Analysts suspect that Orban is searching for the fine line between how far to the right Hungarian society is willing to move and how much Hungary's Western partners are willing to tolerate. Compared with some of its neighbors (Yugoslavia, Croatia, Romania, and Ukraine), Hungary currently seems an oasis of economic and political stability. So the West does not trouble itself with Hungarian domestic politics. But international pressure--such as a scathing report by the Anti-Defamation League last December--may force Orban to change his ways.

The same month as the report appeared, the government announced it will fund a Holocaust museum and documentation center. And on 18 January, in a ceremony to commemorate the Soviet liberation of the Budapest ghetto, Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni suggested that Hungary have an annual Holocaust remembrance day.

Hungarian Jews, however, tend to view these gestures as half-hearted attempts at damage control and public relations. Many Jews were among the several thousand Hungarians who attended an anti-fascist demonstration in Budapest on 13 February. "You won't be any better off by hiding or avoiding conflict; to them you'll still be the 'budos zsido' [stinking Jew]," says Balint Molnar, 25, who attended the rally and who has just completed a degree in international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "My grandfather, an 84-year- old Holocaust survivor, curses and swears and sometimes spits at the television set. But I think we should deal with anti- Semitism more dynamically. We should confront these people and make more noise about it." The author is a freelance journalist based in Budapest (michaeljjordan@compuserve.com].


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