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Newsline - March 8, 2000




BABITSKII REFUSED PERMISSION TO TRAVEL ABROAD

RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii told fellow reporters in Moscow on 7 March that the Russian authorities have refused him permission to travel to France in order to give testimony at a hearing to be convened in April by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Interfax the same day quoted a Russian Justice Ministry official as saying that the refusal to allow Babitskii to leave Russia is "well-founded." Babitskii has been charged with using false documents. He was detained in Makhachkala on that charge on 25 February but flown to Moscow and released three days later after giving assurances he would not leave the Russian capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February 2000). LF

BOMBARDMENT OF KOMSOMOLSKOE CONTINUES

Russian aircraft and artillery continued on 7-8 March their bombardment of the village of Kosmomolskoe, south of Grozny, in an attempt to wipe out an estimated 1,000 Chechen fighters entrenched there. Fighting was also reported on 7 March in the village of Ulus-Kert and Selmentausen in the Argun gorge and in the Vedeno gorge some 35 kilometers further east, according to AP. Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Petr Latyshev on 7 March characterized the military situation in Chechnya as "extremely difficult," admitting that some Chechen fighters had succeeded in advancing north through Russian lines into lowland districts, ITAR-TASS reported. On 8 March, Colonel General Gennadii Alekhin, who heads the federal forces' press center, said that Russian troops have been ordered to wipe out the remaining Chechens before trees break into leaf, providing cover for the Chechens' movements, according to ITAR-TASS. Estimates of the Chechens' remaining strength range from 2,500-3,500. LF

PUTIN CAMPAIGN STAFF DECLARES WAR ON NEWSPAPER...

Both "Kommersant-Daily" and "Segodnya" reported on 7 March that acting President Vladimir Putin's campaign headquarters have issued a statement threatening to take "asymmetric measures" against criticism of Putin in the national media. "Segodnya" was the only newspaper singled out in the statement, which said that an article appearing in the newspaper on 4 March was a lie. That article reported that the Central Election Commission had adopted a decree on 17 February criticizing "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Russian Public Television, and "Komsomolskaya pravda" for articles and interviews with Putin that appeared to violate the law prohibiting the dissemination of campaign materials ahead of the official start of the campaign on 3 March. According to the 17 February decree, "the attention of registered candidate V.V. Putin shall be drawn to the need to take account of the requirements of the federal law on the election of the Russian Federation President." JAC

...AS VESHNYAKOV EXPLAINS WHY NO WARNING WAS ISSUED TO PUTIN

In an interview with "Segodnya" on 7 March, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that the commission had decided not to issue a formal warning to Putin or fellow candidate Gennadii Zyuganov regarding campaign materials in the press because the commission had "no direct proof that these actions were carried out deliberately on candidates' instructions." NTV director Yevgenii Kiselov criticized the Putin's campaign headquarters' statement slamming "Segodnya," suggesting that it represented a throwback to Soviet-era threats. "Segodnya" and NTV are owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media Most group. "Kommersant-Daily," which is owned by Boris Berezovskii, called the statement "frightening," adding that "it doesn't take a PR genius to sense the implicit threat." "Segodnya" editor Mikhail Berger had reported earlier that the newspaper had been told it would "never" be granted an interview with acting President Putin. JAC

ELECTION COMMISSION TO APPEAL ZHIRINOVSKII'S DECISION...

Central Election Commission Chairman Veshnyakov said on 7 March that his body will appeal the decision of the Supreme Court's appeals board allowing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii to be registered as a presidential candidate. He added that Zhirinovskii's inclusion on the ballot will necessitate reprinting ballots that cost 400,000-600,000 rubles ($14,000-20,000), Interfax reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the commission will likely appeal to the Presidium of the Supreme Court, asking it to overrule the decision of the appeals board. Veshnyakov told NTV that he does not believe that the delay in registering Zhirinovskii will give the Liberal Democratic leader legal grounds to challenge the results of the 26 March elections. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported earlier that the election commission has forwarded to the Tax Ministry materials on the Putins' lake cottage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2000). JAC

...AS ZHIRINOVSKII LOOKS TO HAIDER AS ROLE MODEL

The same day, Zhirinovskii told the French newspaper "Le Parisien" that he sees himself playing a similar role to that of Austria's Joerg Haider. He said "I don't think that [acting President Putin] is capable of doing anything for Russia. I am ready, however, to help him by joining his government. I would play the role of Haider." JAC

PUTIN SAYS HE DOESN'T NEED TO ADVERTISE

During a trip to Ivanovo on 7 March, acting President Putin told workers in the textile and light industries that he will not take advantage of free television advertising, which is available to all candidates in the 26 March presidential elections. "People in the executive office should prove their worth by concrete actions and not by advertising," he said. Putin also pledged to protect textile producers on export markets and increase state support for textile and light industries. The same day, Putin told journalists that the federal government's 240 million ruble ($8.4 million) debt to the textile industry will be paid before June 2000. JAC

ALBRIGHT DENIES U.S. HAS ENDORSED PUTIN

In an op-ed published in "The Washington Post" on 8 February, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright denied that the U.S. administration "has actually 'endorsed' Acting President Vladimir Putin and that we have hesitated to criticize Russia for what it is doing in Chechnya." She explained that "no matter what agreements we seek on other issues, we have to bring Russia to see that this war...must be resolved by political, not military means." Albright also noted that Putin "on the one hand has been associated with the economic reformers of St. Petersburg. On the other, he spent most of his adult life in the KGB and has overseen the massively destructive Chechen military campaign." Earlier, Albright had called Putin "one of the leading reformers" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2000). JAC

PUTIN NOT EXPECTING NATO MEMBERSHIP ANYTIME SOON...

Talking to journalists in Ivanovo on 7 March, acting President Putin commented that no one is preparing to accept Russia into NATO, adding that "it would be hard to imagine anything different," Interfax reported. That comment comes on the heels of an interview with BBC Television in which Putin had said he does not rule out Russia's joining the Atlantic alliance as an equal partner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000). AP quoted the acting president as saying on 7 March that as far as the "political" aspect of joining NATO is concerned, Moscow is interested, "but if the military organization made such decisions as it made in Yugoslavia..., we will not join such a union." JC

...AS SERGEEV LOOKS TO IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH ALLIANCE

Also on 7 March, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told journalists in Izhevsk that Russia does not consider NATO an enemy and is prepared to increase its ties with the alliance if favorable conditions are created. At the same time, he made it clear that Russian membership in NATO would be a possibility only if the alliance transformed itself from a military-political into a political-military one, perhaps even integrating with the OSCE. The same day, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman commented only that Beijing had "noticed" Putin's comment about possible NATO membership but believes this is something "between Russia and the alliance and should be solved by themselves," AP reported. JC

RUSSIAN ARMS EXPORTS PREDICTED AT $4.3 BILLION THIS YEAR

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov announced on 7 March that Moscow expects arms exports this year to total at least $4.3 billion, Interfax reported. That figure would be a marked increase over the $3.5 billion worth of arms that Klebanov said Russia sold in 1998. According to Reuters, citing the International Institute for Strategic Studies, world arms sales totaled $55.8 billion in 1998 and the U.S. accounted for half that amount. JC

RUSSIA SPENDS LESS PER SERVICEMAN THAN TURKEY, INDIA

In terms of "unit cost" per serviceman (that is, the annual military budget divided by the total number of troops), Russia is lagging well behind not only leading NATO members but also countries such as Turkey and India. An article co- authored by Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee Aleksei Arbatov and published in "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" (No. 8) notes that Russia spends only $4,000 per serviceman each year, compared with $180,000 in the U.S., $100,000 in Germany, and $15,000 in Turkey. The authors argue that to reach a "more acceptable" figure (some $7,000) than is at present the case, Russia's military budget would have to be raised to 3.5 percent of GDP (as stipulated by a 1998 presidential decree) and the number of troops cut by 30 percent. JC

KASYANOV CLAIMS RUSSIA WILL NOT HAVE TO TURN TO CENTRAL BANK

First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced on 7 March that the government will not have to borrow from the Central Bank during the first quarter of 2000 in order to cover budget expenditures, Interfax reported. He explained that the government "managed to keep the macroeconomic situation under control" last month and to exceed the tax collection target. Last month, Kasyanov told a cabinet meeting that the government would have to borrow from the Central Bank in order to be able to make its foreign debt payments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February 2000). JAC

ANOTHER ENVIRONMENTALIST DENIED FOREIGN TRAVEL

Retired Navy Captain Aleksandr Nikitin told "The Moscow Times" on 7 March that the Department of Visas and Registrations told him privately that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had advised it not to issue him a passport for foreign travel. Nikitin had earlier been accused of espionage and treason for his role in revealing the Russian navy's environmentally hazardous handling of nuclear waste, but in December 1999 he was acquitted by a court in St. Petersburg. The FSB, which had brought the charges against Nikitin, has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. On 1 March, the visas department faxed Nikitin a letter in which it refused to issue him a travel passport prior to the Supreme Court ruling. Also earlier this month, prominent scientist and environmental researcher Valerii Soifer announced he was informed that he is forbidden to leave Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2000). JAC

CHERKESS RADICAL SEEKS SUPPORT IN ABKHAZIA

Boris Akbashev, who is chairman of the International Association of the Cherkess People, has appealed to the Abkhaz leadership for support against what he terms the discriminatory policies pursued by General Vladimir Semenov since the latter's inauguration last September as president of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Caucasus Press reported on 7 March. Akbashev has spear-headed demands by the republic's Cherkess minority to split Karachaevo-Cherkessia in order to create a separate Cherkess autonomous formation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 16 November 1999). LF

RUSSIAN ALTERNATIVE TO TRACECA PROJECT PROPOSED

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 March published a draft proposal for an east-west transportation network via Russian territory that is intended as an alternative to the EU's TRACECA project. That road and rail network, provisionally named "Transcam," would link China, Japan, and the Russian Far East with the Near East and the Transcaucasus. It would also link the ports of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf with those of the Far East, via the South Caucasus states and the Russian North Caucasus. The project provides for the creation of an extraterrestrial international free economic zone on the territory of parts of the Russian North Caucasus republic of North Ossetia and the present unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia (in Georgia). The author estimates that 10 years and approximately $4 billion would be required to implement the project, which, he claims, would contribute to restoring Russia's international prestige and its influence in the Caucasus. LF




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT MAJORITY WARNS PRESIDENT NOT TO REJECT ITS DEMANDS...

Leaders of the Miasnutiun parliamentary majority alliance and Prime Minister Aram Sargsian on 7 March made clear their displeasure with statements made the previous day by President Robert Kocharian during an interview with Armenian National Television, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Miasnutiun leaders said they will not take any further action against Kocharian in the next few days but warned that they may withdraw their support for the president if he declines to comply. Kocharian had rejected as "absurd" the 3 March demand by Miasnutiun that he fire two top officials for allegedly obstructing and misrepresenting the investigation into the 27 October parliament shootings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 March 2000). LF

...CALLS DECREE ON MILITARY 'UNCONSTITUTIONAL'...

Also on 7 March, Vladimir Nazarian, who heads the parliamentary legal department, circulated a report condemning as unconstitutional a decree issued by Kocharian the previous day underscoring his constitutional right (as commander in chief of the Armenian armed forces) to appoint and dismiss senior military personnel, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Andranik Markarian, who heads the Miasnutiun majority parliamentary bloc, told RFE/RL that Kocharian's decree "was meant to have an ideological effect...and to show that the army is his. But it belongs to the state." LF

...REJECTS CHARGES OF PRESSURING MEDIA

Markarian also told Noyan Tapan on 7 March that the 3 March demand by Miasnutiun that Kocharian fire Armenian National Television director Tigran Naghdalian constitutes neither an attempt to muzzle the Armenian media nor an ultimatum to the president. Markarian stressed that the Miasnutiun statement was directed only at national television as a "government structure." But at a round-table discussion convened by the Yerevan Press Club, Armenian journalists condemned the Miasnutiun statement as an infringement of media freedom, Noyan Tapan reported on 8 March. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-- Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), which supports Kocharian, issued a statement on 6 March condemning as "inadmissible" any attempt to restrict freedom of the media. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FINALLY APPROVES STATE BUDGET

By an overwhelming majority, parliamentary deputies on 7 March finally endorsed the 2000 budget unveiled by Finance Minister Levon Barkhudarian in mid-January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That draft, which has received the blessing of international financial institutions, does not differ greatly from last year's. It sets expenditures at 252.7 billion drams ($482 million) and revenues at 202 billion drams. The resulting deficit is equal to less than 5 percent of projected GDP and will be almost totally covered by Western loans and grants. Government officials predict an increase in GDP of 6 percent, compared with 3.7 percent in 1999. LF

ARMENIANS PETITION FOR RELEASE OF ASALA MEMBER

Since the beginning of the year, some 600,000 Armenians (of an estimated population of 3 million) have signed a petition calling on the Armenian leadership to ask the French government to release Varuzhan Karapetyan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a French court in 1983, Armenpress reported on 6 March. Karapetyan assumed sole responsibility for the 1983 bombing by members of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) of the Turkish Airlines office at Orly airport, in which eight people were killed and 55 injured. ASALA was formed in 1975 by diaspora Armenians and waged a series of bombings against Turkish targets in an attempt to coerce the Turkish government to acknowledge responsibility for the slaughter of Armenians in Turkey in 1915. LF

LANDSLIP IN AZERBAIJANI CAPITAL CAUSES DAMAGE BUT NO CASUALTIES

A number of buildings were swept away or damaged by a landslide in Baku's Sabail district during the night of 6-7 March, Turan reported. The city's water-main was also damaged. No injuries were reported. The landslide was the most severe in the city's recent history. LF

ABKHAZIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF RENEGING ON HOSTAGE EXCHANGE AGREEMENT

Sergei Tsargush, deputy security minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, has accused Tbilisi of failing to implement an agreement reached last month whereby both sides would release all hostages they currently hold, Caucasus Press reported on 8 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 8 February 2000). Tsargush said Tbilisi is refusing to hand over two Abkhaz held since 1999. He admitted that Abkhazia will not release two prisoners on whose return Tbilisi is insisting. Tsargush said the men in question are serving jail sentences for war crimes. LF

NEW CRIMINAL CASE OPENED AGAINST KAZAKH EX-PREMIER

The Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan has addressed a statement to Almaty City Prosecutor Yergali Merzadinov protesting the opening on 29 February of a new criminal case against the party's leader, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Interfax reported on 7 March. Kazhegeldin is accused of illegal possession of a pistol, which he was presented as a gift while serving as premier. One of his bodyguards subsequently handed over the weapon to the presidential bodyguard service, the statement said. Two of Kazhegeldin's former bodyguards are similarly under investigation for illegal possession of weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1999 and 24 February 2000). Kazhegeldin, who was earlier charged with tax evasion, left Kazakhstan early last year. LF

KAZAKHSTAN DETAINS TWO UZBEK ARMY OFFICERS

Kazakh border guards apprehended and detained two Uzbek military officers in South Kazakhstan Oblast on 7 March, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported the following day, citing Interfax. The two officers had reportedly crossed the Uzbek-Kazakh border in a truck that also carried Kalashnikov machine guns and ammunition. LF

IRAN LOBBIES FOR OIL EXPORT PIPELINE FROM KAZAKHSTAN

Hasan Gashgavi, Iran's ambassador to Kazakhstan, told journalists in Almaty on 7 March that his country constitutes the most economical route for a pipeline to export Kazakhstan's oil, Interfax reported. Iranian National Oil Company Director Reza Majedi added that Tehran has proposed to the Kazakh leadership three separate variants of such a pipeline, with throughput capacity ranging from 315,000 barrels to 1 million barrels per day. LF

KYRGYZ DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST ELECTION RESTRICTIONS

Several hundred people picketed a district court in Bishkek on 7 March that was scheduled to begin considering a suit brought by opposition El (Bei Bechara) Party Chairman Daniyar Usenov against the Central Electoral Commission, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. On 4 March, the commission had barred Usenov from contesting the 12 March runoff elections after a rival candidate accused him of falsifying his income declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000). The demonstrators carried placards saying "Let us vote on our own!" and "The government should not interfere in the elections". The court postponed the hearing of Usenov's appeal until 9 March, according to Interfax. LF

MORE RUSSIANS EMIGRATING FROM KYRGYZSTAN

Almost 8,000 ethnic Russians in Kyrgyzstan have applied to emigrate to Russia since the beginning of the year, compared with only 200 in the first two months of 1999, Interfax reported on 7 March, quoting a Russian Federal Migration Service official. Most of the 12,000 ethnic Russians who emigrated from Kyrgyzstan in 1999 did so in the last four months of the year, after the incursion and hostage-takings by ethnic Uzbek militants. Most of those wishing to leave say they are driven to do so by unemployment, fear of Islamic militants and the delay in passing legislation raising the official status of the Russian language. Ethnic Russians account for approximately 700,000 of Kyrgyzstan's 4.8 million population. LF




WILL BELARUS'S COWS SURVIVE UNTIL SPRING?

Collective farms in Vitsebsk and Hrodna Oblasts have begun to allow cattle to graze in fields, despite snow and the lack of fresh grass, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 7 March. Hungry animals feed on bushes and last year's dried grass. An RFE/RL correspondent noted that Belarus has not witnessed such a practice since the years of famine that immediately followed World War II. The reason for the early grazing is the acute shortage of fodder on Belarusian farms and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree to maintain livestock by any possible means. Some farms feed cattle with fir twigs, dried bulrush, and weeds dug out from under the ice on frozen lakes. JM

UKRAINE'S CENTRAL BANK SAYS NO EVIDENCE OF MISUSE OF IMF MONEY...

The National Bank on 7 March issued a statement saying that an international audit has not produced any evidence that the bank misused IMF credits in 1997, Interfax reported. In January, the "Financial Times" had quoted former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko as saying $613 million in IMF funds were diverted from the central bank in December 1997 and invested in speculative government bonds. Lazarenko also alleged that some $200 million in proceeds were deposited in the Belgian and Swiss accounts of people close to President Leonid Kuchma. The allegations prompted the IMF to announce that it would not consider releasing new loans for Ukraine until a probe is completed. The National Bank commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to audit transactions between September 1997 and January 1998. A second audit covering all of 1997 and nine months of 1998 will be released later this month. JM

...WHILE WORLD BANK REQUESTS PROBE INTO USE OF ITS LOANS

The World Bank has requested that Ukraine's Finance Ministry expand the second audit to include the $1.81 billion in structural adjustment loans that the bank has granted Ukraine since 1994. The bank's mission in Ukraine said that the money was mostly used to cover foreign debt payments and that there was no immediate evidence of wrongdoing. It added, however, that the World Bank wants "to take advantage" of the ongoing audit to check the use of its loans, too. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA STILL DISAGREE OVER GAS DEBT

Russian First Deputy Premier Mikhail Kasyanov on 7 March said Moscow and Kyiv have so far not agreed on the size of Ukraine's debt for Russian gas deliveries, Interfax reported. According to Kasyanov, Kyiv admits owing $1.4 billion for Russian gas, while Gazprom maintains that the debt totals $1.9 billion. Kasyanov noted that the debt is a "key problem" in bilateral ties, adding that Moscow is drawing up proposals of both an economic and political nature on how to resolve the issue. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENTARY DEADLOCK OVER

The parliamentary deadlock ended on 7 March when the ruling coalition suspended a controversial bill on the restitution of property. The measure, which affects only 200 people, involved the restitution of property to those people who moved to Germany in 1941, during the occupation, ETA reported. Since mid- February the work of the parliament has been halted owing to opposition delaying tactics. The opposition queried the need for such legislation, saying Germany has already adjudicated the issue. Amendments to the bill are to be accepted until late April, when the bill will appear again on the agenda ahead of its third reading. MH

LATVIA GOVERNMENT REJECTS CANDIDATE FOR PRIVATIZATION HEAD

The government on 7 March rejected the nomination of Edmunds Jansons as head of the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA), LETA reported. Jansons, who was nominated by Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs, said he would stand again if renominated. Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs added that current LPA head Janis Naglis can be removed from his post only by a government decision, as his contract is open-ended. Makarovs argues that the LPA head should not be a political appointment. Naglis is a board member of Latvia's Way, a member of the ruling coalition. MH

POLISH GOVERNMENT URGED TO ADDRESS UNEMPLOYMENT

The opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is demanding a parliamentary debate on unemployment and wants the government to submit to the parliament a national strategy for creating new jobs, Polish media reported on 7 March. According to the SLD, unemployment in Poland has been rising sharply since 1998, largely owing to a slowdown in economic growth, social reforms, mass layoffs, decreasing Labor Fund outlays, and a shrinking job market. The Solidarity trade union, too, has criticized the cabinet for not having a real program to fight unemployment. Solidarity has set a number of deadlines for the cabinet to deal with unemployment and threatened "to undertake statutory actions in support of employee rights" unless those deadlines are observed. January's unemployment rate in Poland was 13.6 percent. JM

POLISH INTERIOR MINISTER FORBIDS POLICEWOMEN TO MEET WITH PRESIDENT

Marek Biernacki has refused to give policewomen permission to meet with President Aleksander Kwasniewski on Women's Day, Polish Radio reported on 7 March. Ministry spokesman Marcin Trzcinski commented that the police force is apolitical and should not take part in Aleksander Kwasniewski's presidential campaign, which, according to him, is already under way. Barbara Labuda from the presidential office retorted that such meetings have already become traditional and their nature is not political. She added that the interior minister's decision itself is an example of the politicization of the police. JM

ALBRIGHT AGAIN LAUDS CZECH DECISION ON IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL...

Wrapping up her three-day visit to the Czech Republic, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told journalists on 7 March that the U.S. "appreciates" the commitment of the Czech government not to allow the sale of equipment for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. She said Washington is aware of the "difficult position" of the Czech cabinet and that its decision strengthens the Czech Republic's position as "a defender of trans-Atlantic security and a deeply- valued partner" of the U.S. MS

...WHILE CZECH PARLIAMENT AGAIN POSTPONES VOTE ON BILL

The Chamber of Deputies on 7 March postponed voting on the Iran bill because of the numerous amendments proposed by deputies, CTK and AP reported. Among the amendments is one providing for compensation to be paid to the ZVVZ Mielevsko company for losses incurred if the bill passes. Prime Minster Milos Zeman said he opposes that amendment because it would create a precedent. MS

SLOVAK NATIONALISTS TO CANCEL TISO MEMORIAL CEREMONY?

Zilina Mayor and former Slovak National Party chairman Jan Slota said on Slovak Radio on 7 March that he will "probably cancel" the planned unveiling of a memorial plaque honoring Jozef Tiso on 14 March, the anniversary of the establishment of a Nazi-sponsored Slovak state, CTK reported. Slota said "we have received information that the so-called democrats, or rather young people who were fooled by [the democrats], are preparing provocations," which he said would mean "the defamation of the ceremony." He added that he has received many letters of encouragement from people who thanked him "for not forgetting Slovak history." MS




SCORES INJURED AS VIOLENCE AGAIN FLARES UP IN MITROVICA

At least 40 people were injured when a street fight broke out between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the divided Kosova city of Mitrovica on 7 March and gunfire and grenade explosions ensued, AFP reported. Along with 16 French NATO peacekeepers, 20 Serbs and four ethnic Albanians were injured. NATO said four ethnic Albanians were detained after the incident. Peacekeepers began door-to-door searches and lengthened a curfew already in effect in the town. A NATO official said the incident was a local dispute and the main job of the peacekeepers was to keep it local. NATO Supreme-Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark urged the leaders of both communities to remain calm. Clark also met with the leader of the Serb-dominated part of the town, Oliver Ivanovic. PB

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS TOUGHER MEASURES AGAINST 'ALBANIAN EXTREMISTS'

Igor Ivanov urged on 7 March that stronger measures be used in Kosova to prevent violent ethnic conflicts from occurring, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov made his comments after a meeting in Moscow with Carl Bildt, the UN secretary-general's Balkan envoy. Ivanov said it is necessary to increase the number of international police in the province and to be firm with Albanian "extremists and separatists." Ivanov added that "tensions will remain there as long as [Albanians] feel carefree." Bildt was reported to have agreed with Ivanov's call for more security forces in the area. PB

UN REGISTERS MORE ETHNIC ALBANIANS LEAVING SERBIAN REGION

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on 7 March that an increasing number of ethnic Albanians are fleeing the Presevo region of southern Serbia, which borders Kosova, AP reported. UNHCR spokesman Chris Janowski said in Geneva that at least 6,000 ethnic Albanians have fled the area since last June. He said the UNHCR estimates that at least 70,000 still live in that part of Serbia. Recent refugees say they fled to escape fighting between Serbian security forces and ethnic Albanians around the town of Dobrasin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2000). PB

SERBIAN OPPOSITION TO PAY FOR TV STATION 'DEBT

The opposition-run Belgrade city council said on 7 March that it will pay the some $850,000 owed by its Studio-B television station so that it can remain on air, dpa reported. Zarko Korac, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union, said the decision was backed by leaders from the democratic opposition. The Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry said the previous day that the fee must be paid in eight days or the station will be taken off the air (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2000). The OSCE said on 7 March that the various actions in recent days against Studio-B seem to be politically motivated and could have been prompted by programs critical of Yugoslav officials. PB

MONTENEGRO COMPLAINS THAT MEDICINE SUPPLIES CUT OFF

The Serbian-imposed suspension of trade with Montenegro is preventing the delivery of urgently needed medicine to that republic, AP reported on 7 March. An association of Montenegrin pharmacists said in a protest letter that "the senseless and unscrupulous policies of Slobodan Milosevic's regime...are jeopardizing the health of Montenegrin patients." PB

WESTERN ENVOYS CRITICIZE IZETBEGOVIC FOR REMARKS

The chairman of the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, was criticized on 7 March by Western officials for using "highly inflammatory language" at an election rally last week, Reuters reported. Wolfgang Petritsch, Bosnia's high representative, and Robert Barry, the head of the OSCE mission in Bosnia, said in a joint statement that "the liberty to campaign is not the same as a license to slander." Izetbegovic reportedly said at a Sarajevo campaign rally on 3 March that the "real enemies" of his Party for Democratic Action were "Chetniks and Ustashe," the Serbian and Croatian fascist paramilitary groups that were active during World War II. Zivko Radisic, the Serbian member of the Bosnian presidency, said the use of such terms is damaging to the country's peace process. PB

ALBRIGHT IN SARAJEVO

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Sarajevo on 8 March and began meetings with opposition leaders, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. U.S. officials said Albright hopes to gain information on the prospects for next month's municipal elections by talking with Zlatko Lagumdzija and Kresimir Zubak. Albright will meet with other Bosnian officials before travelling to Brcko for a ceremony inaugurating the town's new multiethnic governing body. A senior U.S. official travelling with Albright said there may be more negotiations on Brcko because "not everyone is satisfied with the way things worked out." Brcko is the only territorial link between the western and eastern parts of Republika Srpska. PB

EU BEGINS EXPANSION OF TIES WITH MACEDONIA

The EU commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, began talks in Skopje on 7 March on an agreement expanding relations and trade between Macedonia and the EU, AP reported. Patten told the country's parliament that the talks are a recognition on the part of the EU of the substantial progress Macedonia has achieved and reflect the union's "admiration" for Macedonia's role during the air strikes against Yugoslavia last year. PB

ALBANIA SACKS JUDGES IN FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION

The Albanian Justice Ministry said on 7 March that the country's Supreme Justice Council has fired 70 judges for corruption and incompetence in the last three years, dpa reported. The latest dismissals were on 4 March, when three judges were sacked and stripped of their immunity for releasing a rapist without sentencing him. In other news, the Albanian Foreign Ministry denied Greek reports that Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo was involved in the trafficking of Greek visas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2000). PB

ROMANIAN PREMIER ADVISES BABIUC TO RESIGN

Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu on 7 March advised Defense Minister Victor Babiuc to resign in order to avoid being dismissed from the cabinet, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. The leadership of the ruling coalition will take a decision on his dismissal on 9 March. Also on 7 March, Babiuc told Isarescu that the Foreign Ministry, which is headed by Petre Roman, has inflicted "great harm" on Romanian defense industry interests by canceling the Dutch defense minister's visit to Bucharest, which was scheduled to begin on 8 March, and Babiuc's trip to India from 27 February to 2 March. Babiuc said neither he nor the ministry he heads was consulted about those cancellations. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN U.K.

Roman on 7 March discussed with his British counterpart, Robin Cook, Romania's bid to join the EU and NATO and ways of increasing British investments in the country, Romanian Radio and Reuters reported. Roman said Cook repeated his country's support for Romania's integration into those structures. He also told journalists that "the most difficult economic reforms and restructuring are behind us." MS

ROMANIAN STATISTICAL OFFICE SAYS LIVING STANDARDS DECLINING

Per capita GDP in 1999 was down 3.2 percent on the 1998 level, according to data released on 6 March by the National Commission of Statistics, Mediafax reported. Households spent an average of 4.9 percent less in 1999 than one year earlier. Exports grew by 8.8 percent, while imports dropped by 5.1 percent. Total investments in the economy were down 12.3 percent on 1998 levels. The private sector's share in GDP was 61.5 percent. MS

BUCHAREST REGRETS MOLDOVA'S 'HASTE'...

The Romanian Foreign Ministry said in a 7 March statement that it "regrets the haste" with which Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi has responded to "statements attributed" to Foreign Minister Petre Roman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2000). The ministry said Roman has "never made negative remarks" about the situation in Moldova. "On the contrary, in all contacts with his counterparts from the EU he has backed the aspirations of the Moldovan Republic," Mediafax quoted the ministry as saying. MS

...BUT CHISINAU ESCALATES DISPUTE

Foreign Ministry spokesman Iurie Vition on 7 March said Romania is "indirectly encouraging the infringement of Moldovan legislation," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Vition said Chisinau has learned from reports in the Romanian press that police in eight Romanian counties have been authorized to accept applications for Romanian citizenship from Moldovans. He said that Bucharest has not officially notified Chisinau of this measure and that Moldova has so far received no reply to a letter sent to Romania's Foreign Ministry asking for clarification and "a dialogue" to solve the problem. He also said Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru may postpone a visit to Bucharest planned for 21-22 March if the issue has not been solved by then. MS

BULGARIA, SLOVAKIA, TO CO-ORDINATE POSITIONS ON EU ACCESSION

Visiting President Rudolf Schuster and his Bulgarian counterpart, Petar Stoyanov, agreed on 7 March that their countries must coordinate positions in their accession talks with the EU and in their bids to join NATO, BTA and TASR reported. Schuster said Slovak firms are interested in participating in infrastructure projects within the Balkan Stability Pact. He also asked Stoyanov for Bulgaria's support in Bratislava's quest to be granted a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. MS




'STANDARD' POLITICS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC


by Victor Gomez

Few of the addresses and discussions surrounding the 150th anniversary of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk's birth are likely to attract as much media attention as last week's speech by Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus. Addressing a conference dedicated to the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, Klaus blasted what he described as the "Masaryk myth." But, perhaps not surprisingly, his remarks reveal more about his own political style and the current flaws in the Czech political party system than they do about anything else.

From the outset, Klaus noted that he is not a "Masarykologist" and that he did not intend to provide any direct assessment of Masaryk or his achievements. Instead, his stated aim was to interpret the effects of the "Masaryk myth" on current Czech society. In any case, it seems clear that the speech had a lot less to do with Masaryk than with its hidden protagonist, current Czech President Vaclav Havel. This became clear when Klaus noted that the "Masaryk ideal" has often been used in the current Czech Republic as a means to "defend a world without ideology, an underestimation of political parties, a verbal, squeaky clean "democratism," an underestimation of the nationalities problem, the effort to impress the foreign public more than the domestic public, [and] an elitist approach."

Those formulations are almost identical to Klaus's oft- repeated criticisms of Havel's political style and beliefs. He has consistently accused Havel of misunderstanding the role of political parties in a democracy, of playing to a foreign audience, of moralizing about democracy, and of not respecting the results of free elections. Those accusations became more frequent after Havel played a key role in the formation of a caretaker government under Czech National Bank Governor Josef Tosovsky in 1997.

The essential purpose of these and other criticisms is to depict Havel and what Klaus calls the president's "castle bloc" as a nonstandard, unusual, and elitist band that engages in various political intrigues behind the scenes. In contrast, Klaus promotes himself as the defender of "standard" democratic politics based on political parties and conflicting ideologies.

For instance, Klaus has often argued that his own decision to form the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the early 1990s played a key role in establishing a Western-style political party system in the country. But it was Klaus himself who threw a wrench into this shaky new system by entering into a strange pseudo-coalition with Milos Zeman's Czech Social Democratic Party under the so-called "opposition agreement."

While he would like to claim that the agreement was somehow forced on him by the irresponsible ambitions of smaller parties or by Havel's intrigues, the fundamental decision to enter into such a deal with Zeman was his own. Klaus has argued that one of the central aims of the agreement was to effect changes to the electoral system that would favor large parties and thereby create a smaller system of political parties. In other words, the agreement is designed to bring about some sort of "standard" system. But the agreement itself has already done extensive damage to the existing political party system, and there is no guarantee that it will succeed in setting up a new one.

To launch a political campaign based on "mobilization" against the leftist forces represented by Zeman and the Communist Party--as Klaus did in 1998--and subsequently sign a detailed "opposition agreement" with the Social Democrats places great strains on the party system, blurs the line between the government and the opposition, and disorients voters. What is more, the two parties are moving even closer together. They recently pledged to consult each other on the preparation of certain bills and on several major policy goals.

As the two parties become even more immersed in their odd relationship with each other, the political scene in the country is becoming increasingly polarized between an ill- defined "opposition agreement" bloc and an equally ill- defined bloc of parties opposed to the "opposition agreement." As a result, the agreement is threatening to turn the Communist Party into the only truly independent and clearly defined political party in the parliament.

Klaus may have had a point when he said in his recent speech that the constant formation and dissolution of coalition governments during Czechoslovakia's First Republic had the effect of diminishing the value of elections. One of the key problems with the party system in the Masaryk era was that power never fully changed hands as a result of a standard election. Coalitions came and went, prime ministers took office and resigned--usually according to deals concluded among the same old set of political parties.

Similarly, today's political scene in the Czech Republic has yet to see a complete change of power as a result of an election. Against this background, it is easy to see how the "opposition agreement" fits in with its First Republic predecessors. But, as Klaus insists, it's not really a "standard" coalition in any case.


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