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Newsline - April 17, 2000


President Bill Clinton called Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin on 15 April to congratulate him on the Duma's ratification of the START-II treaty. Clinton said that the vote was an "important step toward the reduction of nuclear arms" and that now the two countries can work towards START-III. According to a White House spokesman, the two leaders also discussed economic reform, nuclear non-proliferation, and the conflict in Chechnya. During the telephone conversation, the two agreed to meet in Okinawa, Japan on 21 July before the Group of Seven plus Russia summit, Interfax reported on 16 April citing unidentified Kremlin sources. Speaking from Kyiv on 14 April, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the U.S. is very glad that the START II Treaty was ratified and that now is the time for an entirely new U.S.- Russian relationship, different than that which existed during the Cold War. (See also Part II for an item on Putin's visit to Minsk.) JAC


Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in Moscow on 14 April that "the ball is now in the court of the U.S.," which must "take reciprocal steps" regarding the ABM treaty, according to Interfax. Russian Security Council secretary Sergei Ivanov explained the next day that the leaders of Russia and the United States will exchange ratification documents of START II only after the U.S. Congress ratifies the 1997 ABM accords. Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said that the U.S. is "not proposing to...throw away the ABM treaty. We are proposing modest amendments. And President Putin has indicated, most recently to Secretary Albright in a face-to-face meeting, that he is prepared to discuss those issues with us." JAC


Russian and U.S. negotiators are scheduled to meet for two days in Geneva this week to discuss launching START-III negotiations on deeper cuts, Reuters reported. On the issue of START-III, Putin repeated on 14 April that Moscow is willing to cut its strategic offensive weapons to a lower level than what was originally envisioned--to 1,500 warheads instead of 2,000- 2,500. However, according to Foreign Minister Ivanov, formal Russian-American talks on START III will not start before both sides complete the START II ratification process in full. On the same day, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan predicted that ratification of START-II would likely have a "positive effect" on the conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which starts 24 April. JAC


The State Duma also approved on 14 April a resolution on maintenance of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Force, ITAR-TASS reported. A total of 289 deputies voted for the resolution, four voted against, and one abstained. The resolution calls on the Russian president to draft legislation ensuring that the force receives priority financing and maintains its combat readiness in any development of the military-strategic situation. JAC


On the same day, deputies also approved a bill to ratify documents related to the ABM treaty. The vote was 413 votes in favor with eight against and one abstention, according to Interfax. The documents include two statements on the treaty, an agreement on confidence-building measures on defense systems against non- strategic ballistic missiles, a memorandum of understanding dealing with questions of legal succession with regard to the ABM treaty and approving the new list of countries who are party to the treaty, and the statute containing the rules of work of the standing consultative committee, which is the body controlling the observation of the treaty. JAC


In the START-II vote on 14 April, the Communist and Agro-Industrial factions voted against ratification of the treaty, while the Unity, People's Deputy, Fatherland-All Russia, Union of Rightist Forces, Liberal Democratic Party, Yabloko, and Russian Regions factions all voted in favor. Vladimir Zhirinovskii, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, had said that his faction would oppose the treaty, however that decision was reversed at the last minute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). Of the 19 independent deputies, seven voted in favor of the treaty including Boris Berezovskii and Sibneft head Roman Abramovich, Interfax reported. JAC


The Federal Security Service said on 15 April that nine people have been arrested in the North Caucasus town of Mineralnie Vody and in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia in connection with the apartment building bombings last summer in Moscow and Vlogodonsk, Interfax reported. Four of those detained were identified as "members of a terrorist group." Quantities of arms and detonators were confiscated from the detainees. LF


OSCE Chairwoman and Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero- Waldner said on 15 April that Moscow should embark on a dialogue "with the participation of all the people" living in Chechnya, Reuters reported. She said "the OSCE would support any dialogue, with or without international participation, including that of the OSCE." Ferrero-Waldner was speaking in Moscow after visiting Chechnya and Ingushetia the previous day. She said the OSCE mission to Chechnya, which was evacuated from Grozny to Moscow last year, may reopen next month in the Chechen village of Znamenskoye, where it will serve "as a platform for the work of humanitarian organizations," according to ITAR-TASS. She said that the destruction in Znamenskoye and Gudermes was not as bad as in Grozny, where she described it as "terrible." LF


In a statement issued on 14 April, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Chechen peace talks can be conducted only with those Chechen representatives who recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and who have not participated in "terrorist acts," according to ITAR-TASS. Those conditions would appear to exclude Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who said in a 10 April interview with Deutsche Welle that he is ready for unconditional peace talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). The statement also ruled out any truce in the fighting in Chechnya "when the destruction of the bandit formations has reached the final phase." Also on 14 April, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that Moscow is ready for contacts with Maskhadov on condition that the Chechen fighters lay down their arms and hand over "terrorists," according to Interfax. But Yastrzhembskii ruled out any foreign mediation in such talks. LF


The Nokcha, a society representing the Chechen community in Irkutsk, has denied any role in the 10 April killings of several members of the city's Azerbaijani Birlik cultural center, Turan reported on 14 April quoting "Ekspress" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). Nokcha rejected Russian media suggestions that the killings were prompted by ongoing tensions between the Azerbaijani and Chechen communities. It termed such speculation an attempt by Russian Security Services to provoke further clashes between the two ethnic groups. In Baku, the Union of Azerbaijani Forces wrote to President-elect Putin and State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev complaining that the killings are part of a deliberate campaign of measures directed against Azerbaijanis in Russia. The statement expressed the hope that the perpetrators will be found and punished. LF


Following their meeting on 15 April in Washington, D.C., finance ministers and central bank heads from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations issued a statement which touched on Russia. The G7 urged Russian authorities to take action on several "critical economic challenges," such as establishing an "impartial rule of law" and "implementing structural reforms," and it stressed that multilateral and bilateral support should increasingly be focused on these areas. The G7 ministers also stated that they expect Russia to implement a program that would undertake structural reforms in the banking system and reduce the role of barter in the economy. They also highlighted the need to "intensify the fight against corruption and money laundering," and urged the Russian authorities "to follow through on commitments to pass a strong anti-money laundering law." JAC

...AS U.S. SOUNDS SIMILAR NOTE. After meeting with U.S.

Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers the previous day, First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 15 April that Russia's "American colleagues advise us to pay serious attention to the banking sector" as one of the government's priorities for reform. The other priorities, according to Kasyanov, are reducing the role of barter in the economy and tax reform. JAC


Finance Ministry official Anton Siluanov told Interfax on 14 April that a full IMF mission is expected to arrive in Moscow at the end of May. He predicted that the joint statement for economic policy between the Central Bank and government for 2000 will be signed in July. Interfax also cited unidentified government sources who said that under any new cooperation program with the IMF, the amount of new money extended would likely be smaller than Russia's payments on old debts to the fund. Meanwhile, IMF acting Managing-Director Stanley Fischer told reporters in Washington on the same day that he came back from his recent trip to Moscow "impressed with the increasing extent of the consensus there on the need to restart the reform program and the political conjuncture in Russia that should make that possible," RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. JAC


The Supreme Court upheld on 17 April the earlier acquittal by a lower court of retired Russian naval Captain Aleksandr Nikitin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1999). Nikitin had been accused of espionage and treason in connection with his efforts to publicize the Russian Navy's environmentally hazardous handling of nuclear waste. Nikitin revealed last month that he had been refused a passport for foreign travel until the Supreme Court ruling was made. Nikitin told RIA Novosti that finally he is a "free person whose rights as a citizen have been restored." JAC


In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 April, Igor Kostikov, head of the Federal Securities Commission, said his agency plans to introduce a corporate governance code that would not be legally binding but would educate Russian market participants on rules of corporate governance and protection of shareholders' and investors' rights. Kostikov believes that the code might help to attract much-needed investment. Kostikov also pledged that his commission will tighten control over share issues and other stock market activity in order to eliminate insider trading and fraud. As an additional measure to protect investors, the commission plans to require that brokers' place their own capital and their own funds in separate accounts. JAC


Aleksan Harutiunian, foreign policy aide to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, was released from pretrial detention on 15 April, RFE/RL's bureau in Yerevan reported. Haruitunian had been taken into custody in mid-December and charged with inciting the five gunmen who shot eight leading officials in the Armenian parliament on 27 October. A Yerevan court ruled on 10 April that there are no grounds to keep Harutunian in custody, but the charges against him have not yet been dropped, and he has pledged in writing not to leave the country until the trial is over. LF


Organizations representing Armenia's mass media issued a statement on 13 April deploring the one-year jail sentence handed down the previous day on Vahram Aghajanian, a journalist with the opposition Karabakh newspaper "Tasnerord nahang," Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2000). The statement appealed to President Kocharian "to prevent injustice and violence" against Aghajanian and announced plans to hold a protest on 17 April outside the Yerevan representation of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. In solidarity with Aghajanian, six Armenian newspapers on 14 April reprinted the article on the basis of which he was charged with slandering the unrecognized enclave's premier, Anushavan Danielian. LF


The editorial board of "Tasnerord nahang" issued a statement on 15 April saying that is suspending publication indefinitely following Aghajanian's "unfair" trial and sentence and because Karabakh "society is not prepared" for an opposition publication, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. It is not clear whether the authorities of the unrecognized enclave pressured the paper to cease publication. "Tasnerord nahang" was reportedly sponsored by former Karabakh Defense Minister and Defense Army commander Samvel Babayan, who is currently in detention on suspicion of masterminding the 22 March attempt to assassinate the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian. Also on 15 March, the newly-created political movement "Democratic Artsakh" held its founding congress in Stepanakert and expressed its support for Ghukasian's leadership. A delegation from the Armenian majority parliament bloc Miasnutiun attended the congress, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 14 April, National Statehood Party leader Neimat Panakhly accused Azerbaijan's president, Heidar Aliev, of ordering the murder in 1994 of Shahmardan Djafarov, a member of the Nakhichevan branch of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front, Turan reported. In 1993-1994, Panakhly served as an aide to Aliev. Also on 14 April, former Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev issued an appeal to the Azerbaijani people from his U.S. exile, Turan and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. Guliev accused Aliyev and his family of embezzling a total of $4 billion over the past seven years, mostly from the sale of oil. LF


Chairing a meeting of aviation sector officials on 13 April, President Aliyev criticized customs officials and the management of Baku international airport for inefficiency, corruption, and charging foreign airlines inflated fees for refueling and other services, Turan reported. Air transport procurator Vagif Iskendarov confirmed two days later that serious irregularities had occurred and that Azerbaijan had violated the Chicago Convention on civil aviation. At least two international airlines have halted flights to Azerbaijan because of corruption, and others, including Lufthansa, are reportedly considering doing so. LF


The Georgian umbrella movement Patriot, which unites 22 left-wing political parties, hopes to prove that the outcome of the 9 April presidential poll was falsified, Caucasus Press reported on 15 April. Former Georgian Communist Party First Secretary Avtandil Margiani told the news agency that voter turnout was only 51 percent, not 68 percent as claimed by the Central Electoral Commission. Margiani added that opposition candidate Djumber Patiashvili garnered 72 percent of the vote. Patiashvili has said he does not recognize the validity of the official data, according to which incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze polled over 80 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). LF


Several Abkhaz police were killed or wounded on 14 April in an attack by unidentified gunmen in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. A security official of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia said three police were killed and three more wounded. He blamed the shooting on Georgian guerrillas. A spokesman for the Abkhaz government in exile in Georgia gave the number of those killed as 10. A joint Georgian-Abkhaz-Russian-U.N. commission has been set up to investigate the killings, according to Caucasus Press on 17 April. LF


U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew from Kyiv to Astana on 15 April where she assured President Nursultan Nazarbaev of the U.S.'s ongoing support and promised an additional $3 million for measures to bolster Kazakhstan's security. Albright also told Nazarbaev that Washington hopes Kazakhstan will make a commitment to exporting oil via the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. A Kazakh oil sector official said earlier this month that his country is unlikely to be in a position to do so before 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). Albright expressed "surprise and disappointment" at the recent promotion of a senior Kazakh security official who played a key role in the illegal sale last year to North Korea of decommissioned Kazakh MiG fighters, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2000). Albright also met for over an hour with leading members of several pro-government and three Kazakh opposition parties, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported. LF


Albright flew from Astana to Bishkek on 16 April where she met with President Askar Akaev and senior security officials to discuss bilateral relations and the threat to Central Asia posed by international terrorism, organized crime, and drug-trafficking, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. At a subsequent joint press conference, Albright said she informed Akaev of the U.S.'s concern at procedural violations before and during the recent parliamentary elections. She also described as "a huge mistake" the arrest and detention of opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov, according to AP. Akaev for his part pledged to ensure that no such violations occur during the presidential elections later this year. Meeting later with representatives of political parties and NGOs, Albright repeated her concern over violations during the parliamentary elections. She said that Akaev promised that Kulov will be released before the presidential poll, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF


Kazakhstan's cabinet on 14 April canceled the limit of 22 million tons imposed late last year on oil exports for 2000, Interfax reported quoting the Energy Ministry. Albright the following day hailed that decision as "a symbol of Kazakhstan's intention to improve the climate for foreign and domestic investment," Reuters reported. Also on 15 April, Interfax quoted Kazakhstan's State Statistical Agency as reporting that oil extraction during the first quarter of 2000 totaled 7.017 million tons, which is an increase of 16.4 percent compared with the same period for 1999. LF


At its first session on 14 April, deputies to the Legislative Assembly elected as their chairman Abdygany Erkebaev, who previously chaired the lower chamber of parliament, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Erkebaev, one of the leaders of the pro-government Union of Democratic Forces, received 38 votes, while his rival, Communist Party chairman Absamat Masaliev, polled 13. Erkebaev, who is 45, is a member of the Academy of Sciences and a former deputy prime minister and governor of Osh Oblast. In a message to the session, President Akaev termed the parliamentary poll "a useful lesson on the road to democracy," and said that the new legislature should work "in a manner of true a civilized constructive way in order to strengthen the rule of law and facilitate social and economic progress," Reuters reported. LF


On the third and final leg of her Central Asian tour, U.S. Secretary of State Albright warned in a 17 April speech at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent that "indiscriminate government censorship and repression can cause moderate and peaceful opponents of a regime to resort to violence," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. She added that in Uzbekistan as elsewhere in Central Asia "governments remain too involved in the economy and the daily lives of individuals." She called for greater media freedom and respect for human rights, and for swifter and more effective economic reform. Describing neighboring Afghanistan as "a huge problem for regional stability," Albright also pledged $10 million in aid for counterterrorism and border guard training and to combat drug smuggling, AP reported. LF


Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in Minsk on 16 April to discuss the implementation of the Russian-Belarusian Union treaty, Belapan and ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said before the meeting that economic ties should lie at the root of both countries' integration. Following the meeting, Putin told journalists that the talks concerned "the synchronization of our plans" in the political, economic, and military spheres. Putin added that "defense and political plans cannot be built on a shaky economic foundation." According to him, Russia and Belarus should primarily tackle problems related to the single tax policy and customs area, and joint tariff regulations. Lukashenka commented that "Vladimir Putin and I made a weighty contribution to the fulfillment of the union treaty in the military-technical, military, and economic aspects," but provided no details. JM


Ukrainians overwhelmingly approved all four questions in the 16 April referendum, giving President Leonid Kuchma more levers to control the country's parliament, news agencies reported. The Central Electoral Commission said on 17 April that the referendum turnout was nearly 79 percent, far above the 50 percent required to make the poll valid. Of those voting, more than 84 percent gave the president the right to dissolve the parliament if it fails to pass a budget within one month or form a majority within three months. More than 90 percent wanted to cut the number of lawmakers from 450 to 300, and 81 percent supported the introduction of a bicameral legislature. The abolition of deputies' immunity from criminal prosecution was backed by 89 percent of voters. JM


Madeleine Albright praised President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 15 April, saying his re-election last year has given fresh impetus to reforms in Ukraine. "I was very impressed by President Kuchma's...desire to move the reform process forward and by the work the prime minister, [Viktor Yushchenko], is undertaking," AP quoted Albright as saying. The U.S. government granted $195 million in aid to Ukraine last year and requests $219 million for 2000. Albright said she was "heartened" by Kuchma's reiterated pledge to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant this year, adding that "it would be very useful to have the date set." According to the "Eastern Economist Daily," Albright pledged $78 million to build new power production capacities at Ukraine's other nuclear plants as compensation for closing Chornobyl. JM


NATO's outgoing supreme commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, made a final visit to Estonia on 14-15 April to discuss NATO integration. Clark praised Estonia's efforts in international cooperation, but added that efforts to harmonize legal issues in the defense sphere should be accelerated. On the issue of Russian objections to NATO enlargement, Clark stated that he tells his Russian colleagues "the best security guarantee to Russia's security is NATO enlargement," reaffirming that enlargement is not aimed against Russia, "Postimees" reported. General Clark also received the I Class Order of the Cross of the Eagle, the country's highest military award, from President Lennart Meri. MH


Riga Mayor Andris Berzins has been nominated as the next Latvian prime minister by his party, Latvia's Way, BNS reported. A party conference on 16 April chose Berzins from a field of six candidates. Latvia's Way plans to introduce the idea to possible coalition partners during the early part of the week, though potential partners earlier expressed that the premier's post should be held by someone from Latvia's Way (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2000), which holds 21 seats in the 100-seat parliament. The People's Party (24 seats) noted its satisfaction with the choice, and both For Fatherland and Freedom (16 seats) and the New Party (8 seats) have also indicated their support. However, For Fatherland and Freedom has expressed interest in taking over the Riga mayoral post in the case of a Berzins government. MH


The Catholic Church in Lithuania issued an apology for past mistakes, including silence during the Holocaust, and begged for forgiveness, BNS reported. Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Bishops Conference, presented on 14 April the letter drafted by the conference. Citing Pope John Paul's extraordinary message of the same nature in mid-March, the letter regretted that "some children of the Church had failed to show compassion to persecuted Jews during World War II, for their failure to use all available means to defend them, and what's more, for showing lack of determination to influence those who collaborated with the Nazis." The letter also warned that "Some people lacking Christian love and compassion are trying to incite once again all past anti-Semitic manifestations still painfully haunting the Church's memory today." The conference made an apology earlier this year for its collaboration with the KGB during Soviet rule. MH


Marian Krzaklewski, leader of the Solidarity trade union and the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) ruling coalition, announced on 15 April that he will run in this year's presidential elections, Polish media reported. "I believe that for the people of Solidarity nothing is impossible to achieve, that is why I have consented," Krzaklewski commented, following the AWS Social Movement party's request to announce his bid. A recent poll showed that 61 percent of respondents support the presidential bid of the incumbent, Aleksander Kwasniewski, while Krzaklewski can count on 12 percent of votes. The AWS National Council still has to approve Krzaklewski as the coalition's official candidate. Some parties in the AWS are demanding U.S.-styled primaries in order to select a single candidate. JM


By a vote of 257 to 117 with 33 abstentions, the parliament on 14 April voted to authorize the president to sign a protocol to the European Human Rights Convention that abolishes the death penalty. The move bans Poland from reintroducing capital punishment, which was formally dropped with the introduction of the post-communist penal code on 1 September 1998. Poland suspended executions by hanging in 1988. "This symbolic act brings us into a group of modern European states. We are no longer in an infamous group of countries such as Albania, Russia, or Turkey which have not ratified the convention," Justice Ministry spokeswoman Barbara Makosa-Stepkowska said. JM


Several participants in an anti-globalization demonstration were detained by police in central Prague on 16 April, CTK reported. The demonstration was organized to coincide with the protest against the IMF and World Bank gathering in Washington. An official of AMI Communications, which is organizing the forthcoming annual IMF-World Bank meeting in Prague in September, said the demonstration proves that some non-governmental organizations are prepared to violate the law and said Prague should be prepared for similar demonstrations in September, when some 20,000 IMF and World Bank opponents are expected to descend on the Czech capital. Zdenek Hruby, government commissioner for the annual meeting, who was in Washington during the demonstrations there, said Prague police will use the example of the preventive action of U.S. police and that he does not think army reinforcements will be necessary. MS


The Bavarian state prosecutor in Munich has asked the Czech Republic to aid in the prosecution of former SS officer Anton Malloth, who is suspected of having committed atrocities as guard at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, CTK reported on 17 April. The investigation against Malloth, aged 87, was reopened in February. In 1999, the Dortmund state prosecutor stopped the investigation on grounds of lack of convincing evidence by witnesses. The Czech authorities say they can now provide new evidence. Malloth was convicted in absentia by a Czechoslovak court and sentenced to death, but the verdict was overturned in 1968. MS


Police in Vojtanov, west Bohemia, on 14 April detained two Vietnamese men aged 25 and 32, who were charged with infringing copyright laws and "promoting a movement aimed at suppressing the rights of citizens," CTK reported. The two Vietnamese were selling neo-Nazi propaganda in a market near a Czech- German border crossing. One day earlier, police in Cheb, also near the German border, brought charges against a Vietnamese woman selling neo-Nazi recordings at a market. Totalitarian propaganda of a different kind may, however, be lawfully returning in another west Bohemian town. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia's representatives on the Karlovy Vary town council have proposed creating an "open-air museum" where statues of Stalin, Lenin, and former Czechoslovak Communist leader Klement Gottwald, which were placed in storage after 1989, could again be displayed, CTK reported. MS


The Steering Committee of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), meeting in Bojnicky, west Slovakia, on 16 April, approved a speech delivered last week in the parliament by its chairman, Jozef Migas. Migas, who called for a government reshuffle, supported the no-confidence vote against the Mikulas Dzurinda cabinet, as did four other SDL deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2000). No committee members proposed that Migas resign as SDL chairman or as chairman of the parliament, although some members had earlier criticized him. His opponents in the SDL proposed that an SDL conference slated for October be held earlier, but the proposal was rejected. The committee also expressed dissatisfaction with the activity in the government of the six SDL members. MS


President Rudolf Schuster on 14 April met in Paris with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac, who pledged France's support for Slovakia's accession to the EU, NATO, and the OECD. CTK reported. The two presidents also discussed relations with Austria--and the forming of the controversial coalition in that country--and Schuster supported the French position, saying "one has to be severe from the start, and not wait till things get worse." In an interview with the daily "Le Monde" on 14 April, Schuster said Slovakia wants to enter the OECD by the end of the year and appealed to EU and NATO leaders to "remember" that his country had been a candidate to join those organizations before Meciar's politics deprived it of that status. He emphasized that the "Meciar episode is over." MS


The Belgian Foreign Ministry on 14 April officially announced that it has "suspended" the agreement with Slovakia on visa-free entry in view of the number of asylum-seekers from that country, CTK reported. The Belgian government decided to suspend the agreement on 6 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2000) but did not say then when the new regulation will be enforced. MS


More than 500 people were evacuated and another 3,000 ordered to evacuate their towns along the Tisza River as the crest of an ongoing flood flowed south, Hungarian media report on 17 April. The parliament on 14 April voted unanimously to extend a state of emergency in the flooded region until 25 May. Transport, Telecommunications, and Water Management Minister Kalman Katona estimated the costs of flood protection at 7.7 billion forints ($28 million) to date. Some 20,000 people are working on make-shift dikes, helped by soldiers, fireman, police, and border guards. MSZ


In the second round of parliamentary by-elections held on 16 April, one coalition and one opposition candidate emerged victorious. Janos Lengyel, joint candidate of the Independent Smallholders and FIDESZ, was elected in Fehergyarmat with 49.1 percent of the votes, ahead of Socialist candidate Istvan Nemes with 34.9 percent. In Szekesfehervar, Socialist Albert Molnar won with 50.9 percent of the votes, followed by ruling coalition candidate Peter Miko, with 47.4 percent. Miko was also backed by the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party. The turnout in Fehergyarmat was 50 percent, while in Szekesfehervar it was only 28.52 percent. MSZ


The Steering Committee of Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic's Socialist People's Party (SNS) voted in Podgorica on 15 April to form a coalition with two hard-line Serbian parties for upcoming local elections in Herceg Novi and Podgorica. The SNS agreed to form the "Coalition Yugoslavia-SNS-Momir Bulatovic" together with Vojislav Seselj's Radicals and the United Yugoslav Left of Mira Markovic, who is the wife of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The Steering Committee said in its declaration that "Yugoslavia is our goal above all others," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Bulatovic later said that the coalition is open to all similarly-minded political groups, "Vesti" reported on 17 April. He downplayed recent press reports of divisions within the SNS over the planned coalition. PM


Yugoslav Army Chief-of-Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic told a pro-Milosevic television station that he wonders why the Montenegrin leadership of President Milo Djukanovic has 20,000 men in its police force, up from an earlier total of 3,000 men, "Vesti" reported on 17 April. He did not specify how long the alleged buildup lasted. He added that the army's military police are organized in the Seventh Battalion, which is a long-standing unit. It has simply been upgraded with fresh professional soldiers, most of whom are from Montenegro, Reuters reported. Pavkovic stressed that "the army will never go against the people." He also said that unspecified "special units" within the army have been equipped or will be equipped with the latest equipment "as good as that of the armies of neighboring countries." He did not elaborate. PM


"The people proved that Serbia has an opposition," wrote the independent Belgrade daily "Danas" on 17 April of the opposition's rally three days before. Some 200,000 people turned out in central Belgrade to demand new elections in one of the biggest crowds Belgrade has seen, Reuters reported. Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic stressed that the rally was important because "the citizens crossed the psychological barrier [and showed that they no longer] fear the authorities." He and his arch rival, Zoran Djindjic, shook hands in public for the first time in years. Observers note that it remains to be seen whether the opposition will maintain its unity. Shortly after the rally, Draskovic accused Djindjic of breaking January's unity agreement. PM


Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic dismissed the demonstration, saying that the authorities "will not talk with traitors," "Vesti" reported on 16 April. Mira Markovic added that the opposition seeks "peace with the foreign occupiers while making war on its own people." Serbian parliamentary speaker Dragan Tomic called the opposition representatives "of the blackest fascism." They offer their people only "blood and evil," he added. Police did not admit RFE/RL's correspondent to the meeting in Sabac at which Tomic spoke, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 15 April. PM


Vojislav Zivkovic, who headed Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia in Kosova in 1999, shot himself in Smederevo in the night of 16-17 April, AP reported. He was a delegate to the failed Rambouillet peace talks and a former Kosova correspondent of the Belgrade daily "Politika." PM


Father Sava, who is a spokesman for Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije and a leading moderate political figure in his own right, said in Gracanica on 16 April that Artemije and his Orthodox backers will leave the UN's civilian advisory council if Serbian civilian refugees do not begin returning to the province in "substantial numbers" within that time, AP reported. Father Sava added that he cannot speak for Serbian leaders outside the Orthodox Church, including Rada Trajkovic, who was the only Serb to attend the council's meeting on 11 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). Father Sava called the return of the refugees a test "for the international community...and a test for the ethnic Albanian leaders." PM


Unidentified U.S. officials said in the Kosovar town of Istok that they want to launch a pilot project to return about 700 Serbs to the area this summer, "The Washington Post" reported on 17 April. One official stressed that "conditions are never going to be perfect, and there is never going to be a perfect moment. This is something that has to start, even on a small scale." U.S. officials noted that they have the backing of Januz Januzi, who was a founder of the Kosova Liberation Army and is the mayor of the village of Osojane. He believes he can "sell" to his people the idea of letting the Serbs return in peace, the officials claimed. The UNHCR and Bernard Kouchner, who is the UN's chief official in Kosova, have argued that it would be counterproductive to send refugees back before security and infrastructure are ready (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2000). PM


Some 3,000 Kosovars crossed into Albania on 16 April in a symbolic gesture to mark the first anniversary of the flight of tens of thousands of refugees into Albania under the pressure of Milosevic's Operation Horseshoe campaign. The Kosovar joined 7,000 local people for a concert in a stadium in Kukes. PM


Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha told several thousand supporters in Durres on 16 April that he will soon step up protests to force the government to resign and call early general elections. He made his statement despite repeated calls by representatives of the international community to Albanian politicians to "respect the rule of law" and concentrate on the business of government, dpa reported. Genc Pollo and other officials of the Reform Movement within Berisha's own party have repeatedly urged him to stop "diverting our people's attention by repeatedly calling for [early] elections, thus wasting our people's energy [in endless,] senseless street demonstrations." Pollo wants the party to concentrate on preparing for local elections due in the fall, the Reform Movement said in a recent statement. PM


Macedonia's parliament voted on 14 April to return property expropriated by the communists over 50 years ago. Speaker Savo Klimovski said that "with this act, we have taken the first important step in establishing the sacred right to private property." The move will cost the government of the impoverished republic some $735 million, Reuters reported. Among the first beneficiaries are the Orthodox and Islamic religious communities. PM


The parliament in Zagreb passed a government-backed measure on 14 April outlining policy on cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2000). Two days later, Prime Minister Ivica Racan stressed that he will firmly oppose any attempts by the opposition Croatian Democratic Community to obstruct implementation of the measure. PM


"Vecernji list," which has the largest circulation of any Croatian daily and is close to the HDZ, revealed on 16 April that its owners are the Croatian car dealership Zubak and Montmontaza, which is a German-based construction firm. The revelation ends a long-standing mystery about the identity of the paper's owners. "Jutarnji list" reported on 17 April that a political furor continues surrounding the circumstances over which the paper was sold during the HDZ's rule. The daily calls attention to the role of Ivic Pasalic, who leads the HDZ's Herzegovinian faction. PM


The People's Party and the Christian Democrats have formed a center-right coalition called "SLS + SKD, the Slovenian People's Party," Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 17 April. The coalition holds 29 out of 90 seats in the parliament and is chaired by Professor France Zagozen. The coalition and the rightist Social Democrats agreed on 15 April in Ljubljana to nominate economist Andrej Bajuk as their joint candidate for prime minister. Bajuk's backers can muster only 44 votes in parliament, however, thereby making early elections likely. On 14 April, President Milan Kucan called for early elections to end the current government crisis. PM


Viktor Orban on 14 April met with his Romanian counterpart Mugur Isarescu, President Emil Constantinescu, and other Romanian officials, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They discussed ways to improve trade between their countries. Orban urged his hosts to ratify a treaty on the environment that stipulates that countries affected by disasters are entitled to compensation from the countries in which the accidents occur. Isarescu told journalists after meeting Orban that the decision on opening new Hungarian consulates will be postponed until after the elections to avoid charging the atmosphere. Orban said ties with Romania have improved considerably since Constantinescu took office. After meeting with Orban, Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Chairman Bela Marko said he is dissatisfied with the lack of progress on setting up a Hungarian-language state university in Romania. MS


The government on 14 April decided to lift the oil embargo on seven Serbian cities controlled by the opposition in Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. The move is in line with a EU decision made in February. MS


The For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Movement (PMDP) decided on 14 April to transform the movement into a political party called the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM). Party chairman Dumitru Diacov told the congress the PDM is no longer a party in "in the presidential pocket" and that the PMDP has objected to Petru Lucinschi's intention to introduce a presidential system. Diacov also said parleys are underway with the other members of the centrist Alliance for Democracy and Reform for backing a joint candidate in the next presidential elections and that the PDM might propose former Prime Minister Ion Sturza for that office. Meanwhile, a splinter group of the PMDP that backs Lucinschi and is headed by Eugen Gladun, set up a party calling itself the Moldovan Centrist Union on 14 April, Flux reported. MS


Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) leader Vladimir Voronin on 15 April said an emergency plenum of the PCM will decide on 17 April whether to change the party's position that rejects the IMF- demanded laws on the privatization of the tobacco and wine industries, Flux reported. A closed-door meeting of Lucinschi with the parties backing the government on 14 April has failed to reach agreement. Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis told the parliament on 14 April that an IMF mission is ready to come to Moldova on 19 April if the laws are passed and that he does not "want even to think what will happen" if the laws are again rejected by the legislature. MS


Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, in an interview with the daily "24 Chasa" on 14 April, said that the "euphoria" triggered by the EU decision to open accession talks with Bulgaria has given way to "the realization of the vastness of the challenge," Reuters reported. He also said he is "not interested" in opinions in the West about Bulgarian political developments. "I am interested in the people of Bulgaria...So, with all due respect for the West, I am listening only to the opinions of those [Western] structures that finance Bulgaria. Whatever the others say is of no importance." In an interview with the local Darik Radio on the same day, Kostov said Bulgaria's accession might come only in 2007, 2008, or even 2010. MS


Kostov also told Darik Radio that he intends to personally head the struggle against "political clientelism" and to wage that struggle first in his own Union of Democratic Forces. He said Bulgaria cannot join the EU before it has "European-style parties." Kostov said the opposition Socialist Party will not be able to return to power before it transforms itself into such a European party by undergoing genuine reform. MS

A Red-Brown Coalition In Lithuania

By Paul Goble

Extreme nationalist and openly anti-Semitic leaders increasingly are taking office in post-communist countries with the support of parties linked to the old party nomenklatura and its successors.

That pattern raises the specter of the populist anti- Semitic nationalism of the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, it seems certain to make it more difficult for these countries to integrate into the West. And it calls into question left- right typologies for post-communist politics.

The latest such case happened on 13 April in Kaunas, Lithuania's second-largest city. There, a politician with a history of anti-Semitic outbursts won election as mayor only because a party closely tied to the old Communist party and security elite voted for him.

Vytautas Sustauskas won election as mayor even though his party, the Lithuanian Freedom Union, won less than one- quarter of the popular vote and gained only 11 of the 41 seats in the city council.

He gained three more seats from the equally populist Young Lithuania Party. But he won only because the New Alliance, headed by Arturas Paulauskas, a former presidential candidate and son of a KGB colonel, cast its eight votes for him.

Three things about this election are striking and have more general application. First, Sustauskas has a history of open anti-Semitism and yet he won a quarter of the vote in a university city which served as the cosmopolitan prewar capital.

Like his Russian counterpart Vladmir Zhirinovskii, Sustauskas has frequently claimed that the Jews are responsible for most if not all of Lithuania's problems. Even after the elections, he said publicly that many Kaunas businesses "are in the hands of the Jewish mafia."

Not surprisingly, local Jewish groups are horrified by his rise: Masa Grodnikiene, the deputy chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said that "it is a tragedy when people like Sustauskas are elected to such posts."

But many Lithuanians are horrified as well. More than 75 percent of Kaunas electors did not vote for Sustaukas. And Laima Andriekiene, the parliamentary leader of Lithuania's Homeland Party, was one of many who denounced the city's selection of an anti-Semite as mayor.

Second, Sustauskas' anti-Semitism is part and parcel of a broader populist message of blaming Lithuania's current problems on "outsiders" and opposing that country's integration into broader Western institutions like the European Union and NATO.

Most attention to Sustauskas so far has focused on his anti-semitism. Agence France Presse, for example, noted that Lithuania already has "a public relations problem" on the question of anti-Semitism and that Sustauskas' election will only make that worse.

But Sustauskas' anti-Semitism is only part of this broader populist message of blaming outsiders for Lithuania's troubles. He has argued that Western capitalism is destroying Lithuania's traditional way of life and that the higher defense spending NATO requires will not give Lithuania more security.

Such positions play well in a country where many people are suffering economically. And, even more, they provide the basis for Sustauskas' alliance with Paulauskas' party which opposes the same things and which also includes people with anti-Semitic views.

Indeed, a preliminary analysis of the votes these two parties received suggests that Sustauskas' populist message attracted votes while Paulauskas' organization provided much of the muscle for this takeover of Kaunas.

And third, this alliance between Sustauskas and Paulauskas raises questions about the meaning of "left" and "right" in the politics of post-communist countries.

Sustauskas is always identified as an extreme right-wing nationalist, but Paulauskas is invariably described as being center-left. But on this key vote in Kaunas, the two were on the same side, supporting the same things.

And that, in turn, suggests that they occupy the same portion of the political spectrum rather than being at opposite ends. A recognition of this commonality is not trivial either for the people of post-communist countries or for the West.

On the one hand, it suggests that both groups should evaluate parties less by their own characterizations of where they stand on the political spectrum than by what they say on specific issues.

And on the other hand, it implies that the return or rise of mass politics in these post-communist countries is likely to find some of the same alliances between what are usually called left and right parties that first appeared in Europe after World War I.

Because of the dangers such a development would create, the alliance of Sustauskas and Paulauskas in the Kaunas city council has broader implications. It is one that poses a challenge to Lithuania, her neighbors, and all those who hope for a genuinely democratic future for all the countries of the region.