Accessibility links

Newsline - July 11, 2000




PRESSURE EXTENDS TO OTHER OLIGARCHS...

As Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii predicted after his recent release from Butyrka prison, Russian federal authorities have launched a criminal case against LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2000). Russian Tax Police spokesman Vladimir Beketov told Reuters on 11 July that "the case was initiated because of the hiding of the company's income from tax authorities in particularly large volumes." "Significant funds were siphoned off by [LUKoil's] bosses from the tax authorities, by receiving illegal refunds of VAT from false exports of oil products that were never actually exported," Beketov said. In addition to Alekperov, a criminal case has been launched against LUKoil's chief accountant. JAC

...AS FEDERAL PROSECUTOR ASKS FOR PRICE ADJUSTMENT FOR PAST PRIVATIZATION...

Also on 11 July, Interfax reported that the Office of the federal Prosecutor-General has sent a letter to Interros Group head Vladimir Potanin suggesting that he reimburse the federal government some $140 million, which represents the loss to the Russian state from the privatization of Norilsk Nickel. The federal prosecutor believes that Potanin's Oneksimbank should have forked over $310 million, instead of the $170 million that it paid in 1997 during the controversial loans-for-shares scheme. According to the letter, if Potanin offers to pay the difference, then no court claims will be brought against him or his company. JAC

...AND LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS PAY ANOTHER VISIT TO MEDIA- MOST

Also on 11 July, federal prosecutors seized documents from two Media-MOST offices in Moscow and at Gazprom headquarters as part of its investigation into the case against Media-MOST head Gusinskii, Interfax reported, citing the information and public relations center of the Prosecutor General's Office. JAC

CONTRACT HIT LINKED WITH LOCAL POLITICS

Uralmash's board of directors called on President Vladimir Putin on 10 July to personally oversee the investigation into the death of Uralmash General Director Oleg Belonenko earlier that day. RFE/RL's correspondent in Ekaterinburg reported that some analysts believe the murder might have a political aspect because President Putin is planning to visit Sverdlovsk Oblast later this week to visit an arms exhibition: such a high level murder serves to discredit the leadership of the oblast, particularly Governor Eduard Rossel, those analysts argue. According to Interior Ministry figures released on 10 July, Sverdlovsk's crime rate rivals only that of Moscow. The country's capital registered some 53,406 crimes during the first six months of 2000, compared with 53,029 crimes in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Most local and central newspapers linked Belonenko's murder to the Uralmash organized criminal group, members of which recently attempted unsuccessfully--to run for seats in the State Duma. JAC

NEW FOREIGN POLICY DOCTRINE FAVORS PRAGMATISM...

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov unveiled Russia's new foreign policy doctrine on 10 July, stressing that Moscow will favor a pragmatic approach aimed at helping the country overcome internal economic difficulties. "Today our foreign policy resources are objectively limited, and they will be concentrated in the fields that are vital for Russia," Ivanov told journalists. "The point is to make our policy more rational, more profitable in the political and economic sense." At the same time, the minister stressed that Moscow will not cease to defend its national interests, noting that Russia will be "tough" when toughness is called for. "Russia was, is, and will always be a superpower," he commented. The foreign policy doctrine, signed by President Putin late last month, replaces a document adopted in 1993 under Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. JC

...GIVES PRIORITY TO IMPROVING SITUATION IN ASIA...

The new foreign policy doctrine stresses that a "general improvement of the situation in Asia" is of "crucial importance" to Russia. Noting that an arms race is gaining momentum in the region and that sources of tension and conflict remain, the document states that the situation on the Korean peninsula is Russia's "largest concern." Moscow will concentrate on "its equal participation in the solution of the Korean problem and balanced relations with the two Korean states," according to the doctrine. At the same time, one of Russia's main foreign policy goals will be "the development of friendly ties with key Asian states, primarily China and India." In particular, Russia will aim to raise the level of political ties with China to that of economic ones. The foreign policy doctrine also stresses the importance of further developing relations with Iran. JC

...ACKNOWLEDGES IMPORTANCE OF TIES WITH NATO, U.S.

While underlining the need for a "multipolar system of international relations," which former President Yeltsin's administration promoted as its principal foreign-policy theme, the new doctrine acknowledges the "importance of cooperation with NATO in the interests of security and stability on the Continent." The degree of cooperation, however, will depend on the fulfillment of key clauses of the Russia-NATO Founding Act, above all the pledge "not to threaten or use force and not to deploy conventional armed forces, nuclear weapons or their delivery vehicles on the territory of new NATO members." The document also stresses Russia's opposition to NATO enlargement. With regard to relations with the U.S., Moscow is "prepared" to overcome recent "significant difficulties" in bilateral ties and recognizes that these can be resolved only through "active dialogue." According to the document, those difficulties are primarily related to disarmament, arms control, and resolving "the most dangerous regional conflicts." JC

PUTIN TO PRESS CLINTON TO HALT ABM PLANS

Foreign Minister Ivanov told journalists on 10 July that at their meeting in Japan later this month, President Putin will seek to dissuade U.S. President Bill Clinton from implementing plans to deploy a limited national missile defense system. According to Reuters, Ivanov said Putin will offer "new initiatives," including further cuts in nuclear weapons, in a bid to strengthen the case against such a system. Putin and Clinton are due to meet one-on-one within the framework of the G-8 summit on the Japanese island of Okinawa from 21-23 July. JC

MOSCOW, WARSAW SEEK TO MEND FENCES

Meeting in the Kremlin on 10 July, President Putin and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, agreed on the need to improve relations between their countries. Those ties have cooled since Poland entered NATO last year and nine Russian and nine Polish diplomats were expelled earlier this year. Describing Poland as "one of our closest neighbors," Putin said Moscow acknowledges Poland's right to take "independent decisions" in foreign policy but this does not prevent "our fruitful cooperation." Kwasniewski, for his part, called for Russia's closer integration with Europe and extended an invitation to Putin to visit Poland, which the Russian president accepted. Noting that bilateral trade has shrunk by more than 60 percent owing to the 1998 financial crisis in Russia, Kwasniewski said there has been a recent upturn, and he expressed the hope that in the next few years, trade turnover will reach its former level of $1.5 billion, according to Interfax. JC

VARYING MOTIVES SUGGESTED FOR VLADIKAVKAZ BOMBING

Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 10 July that the bomb explosion at the Vladikavkaz market the previous day was intended to destabilize North Ossetia, which he characterized as one of the most stable republics of the North Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. Yastrzhembskii added that the 9 July bomb in a Rostov-na-Donu supermarket, by contrast, was part of a commercial feud. Interfax on 10 July quoted unnamed sources close to the Russian joint military command in Chechnya as having concluded that the Vladikavkaz bomb could have been planted only by followers of Chechen field commander Khattab. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 July quoted North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov as blaming the blast on persons who wished to stymie the republic's economic upswing of the past two years (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 38, 24 September 1999 and Vol. 3, No. 3, 21 January 2000). LF

KRASHENINNIKOV CASTS DOUBT ON EXTENT OF KADYROV'S SUPPORT

Former Russian Minister of Justice and chairman of the Duma's Legislative Committee Pavel Krasheninnikov told Interfax on 10 July that he does not believe any Chechen public figure, including interim administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, can count on the support of more than 20 percent of the Chechen population. Krasheninnikov advocated creating a Chechen state council on which all the republic's regions and "teyps" (clans) would be represented and that would function as a collective leadership. Kadyrov would represent the Russian president on the council, whose chairman Krasheninnikov said should be named by Moscow. Three months ago Krasheninnikov created an independent public commission to assess the situation in Chechnya and make recommendations to the Russian leadership (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 16, 21 April 2000). LF

PUTIN RAISES PENSIONS AGAIN...

President Putin signed a decree on 10 July raising pensions by an average of 125-140 rubles ($4.5-5) as of 1 August 2000, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told reporters that the average monthly pension will total 882 rubles, compared with the current level of 777 rubles. According to Matvienko, some 22.5 million people will be affected by the increase. Pension Fund head Mikhail Zurabov said that the fund has sufficient resources to provide the 18 billion rubles needed to cover the August hike. He also noted that pensions were increased by 20 percent in February and another increase is expected before the end of the year. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin echoed Zurabov's assurances that money for the pension hike will come from the fund and not from an increase in the money supply. "The president's decision [raising pensions] will not lead to a surge in inflation," he stated. JAC

...AS CENTRAL BANK FORECASTS MONEY SUPPLY TO INCREASE ONE- QUARTER

The Central Bank announced on 10 July that it forecasts a 21-25 percent increase in the M2 money supply (cash plus checking and savings accounts) in 2000, Interfax reported. At the same time, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev told "Vedomosti" that at the end of the week, the government is planning to introduce a series of measures aimed at "sterilizing" surplus money supply and thereby reducing the supply of cash resources to the economy by 42-45 billion rubles ($1.5-1.6 billion). JAC

GOVERNMENT VOWS TO TRY AGAIN WITH TURNOVER TAX

In an interview with Russian Television on 9 July, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov criticized the State Duma for its recent decision to retain the turnover. Kasyanov called the tax "the hardest to raise" and said that it "pushes businesses into the shadows and gives industry no chance to develop." Kasyanov added that Duma deputies must have rejected the bill abolishing the tax "out of fatigue," and he said the government will resubmit it at the Duma's extraplenary session on 19 July. JAC

...AND RAISE BIRTH RATE

Kasyanov also said that Russia's low birthrate is primarily an economic problem. In his state-of- the-nation speech on 8 July, President Putin had described the country's declining population as one of Russia's most acute problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). According to Kasyanov, the government's economic program is designed to raise the population's living standards, which should eventually result in a higher birth rate. JAC

YABLOKO HEAD RE-ELECTED

Delegates to Yabloko's eighth congress on 9 July re-elected Grigorii Yavlinskii as the movement's leader by a vote of 128 in favor and 10 against. Duma deputy speaker Vladimir Lukin was elected as his second- in-command. Yavlinskii's term will run for two years. In an interview with "Segodnya" on 6 July, Yavlinskii suggested that voters should give President Putin time to deliver on his promises--"until about mid-October or early November." "Everything will be clear then," according to Yavlinskii. JAC

RUSSIAN FISHING VESSELS ON THE DECLINE

Deputy Chairman of the State Fisheries Committee Vladimir Izmailov told Interfax on 10 July that Russia is in danger of losing its share of the world fish market within the next 10 to 15 years because it lacks sufficient fishing vessels. Under one federal program, 309 fishing boats were to have been built, but so far only 59 new vessels have been constructed. He added that financing of the industry in 1999 amounted to just 18 percent of the level recorded in 1991. Russia could lose some of its fishing quotas since the UN Maritime Law convention requires that unused quotas be given to other countries. Izmailov had said earlier, when only one week of the summer fishing season remained, that, Russian fisherman had caught only 20 percent of Russia's sturgeon quota for the Caspian Sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2000). JAC

DZERZHINSKII TO GRACE LAWN RATHER THAN SQUARE?

State Duma deputies on 7 July twice rejected a resolution calling for the restoration of a monument to Cheka founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii at Lyubyanka Square in Moscow. The votes were 196 against with 83 in favor and 193 against with 92 in favor. The resolution needed 226 votes to pass. In 1998, the previous Duma passed a resolution for Dzerzhinskii's restoration; however, Moscow city authorities refused to comply (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1998). Agro- Industrial faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov had submitted the resolution, declaring Dzerzhinskii was a fighter against "banditism, corruption, and the homelessness of children," Interfax reported. Earlier in the week, Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov suggested that as an alternative, Kharitonov construct a monument to Dzerzhinskii in front of his own home. JAC




OSCE MONITORS KARABAKH CEASE-FIRE

An OSCE inspection team on 8 July monitored that section of the Line of Contact between Azerbaijan forces and the Defense Army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic that runs through the Mrav mountains, northwest of the unrecognized enclave, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. The monitors found no evidence of violations by either side of the six-year cease-fire. LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA SIGN DRAFT GAS EXPORT AGREEMENTS

Azerbaijani and Georgian government and energy sector officials signed a package of draft agreements in Tbilisi on 10 July on the export to Turkey via Georgia of natural gas from Azerbaijan's offshore Shah-Deniz field, Caucasus Press reported. That undertaking entails reconstruction of the existing pipeline from Azerbaijan to Georgia and its extension to Turkey. The package comprises an intergovernmental agreement on the export of natural gas from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia, an accord between the host- countries and investors in the pipeline, an agreement on supplying Azerbaijani gas to Georgia before the beginning of the transportation of main gas from Shah-Deniz, and an agreement on the supply of natural gas to Georgia from the Shah-Deniz field beginning in 2002. Turkish President Ahmet Necet Sezer is expected to discuss the project during his state visit to Azerbaijan on 11-12 July. LF

U.S. JEWISH ORGANIZATION PROTESTS GEORGIAN COURT RULING ON SYNAGOGUE

In a press release issued on 10 July, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews expressed "strong disapproval" of a 3 July Tbilisi City Court ruling upholding the claim of a Tbilisi theater group to a historical synagogue. The synagogue was appropriated by the Soviet authorities in 1923 but returned to Tbilisi's Jewish community after Georgia regained its independence in 1991. LF

RUSSIA, KAZAKHSTAN DISCUSS CASPIAN OIL

Visiting Astana on 7 July, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy for the Caspian Viktor Kalyuzhnyi proposed to Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev that Russia and Kazakhstan jointly develop four North Caspian oilfields through which the modified median line dividing the two countries' sectors of the sea passes, Interfax reported. Kazakhstan had earlier proposed modifying the median line in favor of the country that has the larger share of each individual field. LF

KAZAKHSTAN DENIES INVESTIGATING U.S. BUSINESSMAN

The Kazakhstan Prosecutor-General's Office told Interfax on 10 July that it has no reason to believe that U.S. businessman James Giffen has violated any Kazakh laws. The office added that it has not opened an investigation into his activities. U.S. media last week said the FBI is investigating Giffen's possible role in transferring up to $35 million in kickbacks from U.S. oil companies to President Nursultan Nazarbaev and former premiers Akezhan Kazhegeldin and Nurlan Balghymbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). LF

KYRGYZSTAN DETAINS ALLEGED UYGHUR SEPARATISTS

Kyrgyz Interior Minister Amurbek Kutuev told journalists in Bishkek on 10 July that his men have detained 10 Uyghurs suspected of committing a series of murders, including that of the leader of Kyrgyzstan's Uyghur community and two Chinese officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March and 29 May 2000). Kutuev identified the 10 detainees, who are from Turkey, China, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, as members of a separatist organization that aims to establish an independent Uyghur state on Chinese territory. He said they confessed to having killed the leader of Kyrgyzstan's Uyghur community because he refused to endorse those plans. LF

TURKMENISTAN, U.S. FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON PIPELINE PROJECT

Stephen Sestanovich, who is special adviser on the CIS to the U.S. secretary of state, assured Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 10 July that the U.S. continues to support plans for construction of a Trans- Caspian pipeline to export Turkmen gas to Turkey, Interfax reported. Niyazov, however, demanded unspecified political and economic guarantees before construction of the pipeline begins. One of the two partners in the consortium formed to build that pipeline hinted late last month that it will quit, citing Niyazov's inconsistency and his demand for cash pre- payments totaling several hundred million dollars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2000). LF




ORT SEEKS MOSCOW'S AID IN FINDING JOURNALIST IN BELARUS

Russian Public Television on 10 July asked the Russian authorities to help find Dmitrii Zavadskii, a network cameraman who has been missing since 7 July, Belapan reported. Meanwhile, Belarusian police continued their investigation, and the office of Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka denied any knowledge of Zavadskii's whereabouts, AP reported. PG

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL OPENS IN BELARUSIAN CAPITAL

A memorial to the victims of the Holocaust opened on 10 July at the site in Minsk where 5,000 Jews were executed by the Nazis in March 1942, Belapan reported. At the opening ceremony, President Lukashenka praised Belarus as "the only country in the world where Jews were not only dying in ghettos but also fighting the invaders." He said that "researchers have yet to uncover that page of history." Martin Peled-Flax, Israel's ambassador to Belarus, used the occasion to condemn recent acts of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in that country. PG

CATHOLIC PROCESSION BANNED IN BELARUS

Minsk city authorities has banned the Roman Catholic Church's annual Corpus Christi feast procession, Belapan reported on 10 July. The Church had proposed two different dates for the march, both of which have been rejected by the city government. The authorities justified their actions by saying the organizers had failed to say in advance exactly how many people would participate. PG

BELARUS TO RENT FARMLAND IN RUSSIA

The Brest regional government plans to rent approximately 30,000 hectares of farmland in the Russian Federation's Voronezh Oblast, Belapan reported on 10 July. The agreement to do so, signed last week, is part of the Russia-Belarus Union accord, officials said. PG

HIV CASES RISE 30 PERCENT IN BELARUS THIS YEAR

Belarusian health officials said that there were 283 new HIV/AIDS cases in the country in the first half of 2000, a 30 percent increase over the same period last year, Belapan reported on 10 July. PG

BELARUSIAN ENVOYS TO SEEK FOREIGN INVESTMENTS

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has directed the country's diplomats to support the Belarusian Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (BFIPA) in order to attract more foreign investment to Belarus, Belapan reported on 10 July. PG

INFLATION RISES IN UKRAINE

The Economics Ministry told Interfax on 10 July that inflation in Ukraine will total 25- 29 percent in 2000, up from 19.2 percent in 1999 and 20 percent in 1998. The government had predicted that inflation this year would not exceed 19 percent. In response, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko said the situation should not be overdramatized and stressed that the government has inflation completely under control. Inflation rose 3.7 percent in June alone, but Yushchenko said that he is convinced it will fall significantly in July and succeeding months. PG

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES PARLIAMENT TO PASS CRUCIAL LEGISLATION

President Leonid Kuchma met with parliamentary deputies on 10 July to urge them to pass key legislation, including the tax and budget codes, before adjourning this week for the summer recess, Interfax reported. PG

STORMS FORCE SHUTDOWN OF CHORNOBYL REACTOR

Heavy rainstorms forced the Ukrainian authorities to shut down Chornobyl's only functioning reactor on 10 July, according to Reuters. Two people have been killed and 10 injured, while damage to property exceeds 340 million hryvni ($62.7 million) as a result of flooding across much of Ukraine, AP reported. PG

'WHO'S WHO' OF ESTONIAN BUSINESSMEN JOIN FORCES FOR RAIL TENDER

A group of 30 well-known Estonian businessmen have formed a consortium, called People for Railway Privatization, to compete in the upcoming privatization of the country's railway network. Among the members of the group are media mogul Hans Luik, investment banker Rain Lohmus, oil transit executives Aadu Luukas and Endel Siff, head of Singapore's Tolaram investment group Sonny Aswani, as well as top executives from the spheres of construction, furniture production, hotels, food-processing, and others. The Cresco investment bank, which is advising the group, estimates that the companies of the group of 30 provide a combined 15-20 percent of Estonia's GDP, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 11 July. MH

HUMAN RIGHTS JURIST CRITICIZES LATVIAN JUDICIAL REFORM

Latvia's representative to the European Court of Human Rights, Egils Levits, has criticized the slow pace of reform in Latvia's judicial sphere. Talking to Latvian Radio, Levits said that the right to a fair trial is being restricted by "procedures inherited from the Soviet system," which he described as "primitive," LETA reported. Levits noted that there is a "very high percentage of legal errors in Latvia," coupled with low effectiveness of public administration and insufficient organization. Levins suggested this deficiency could damage Latvia's prospects for European integration. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, in a separate radio interview, said there have been only minimal improvements over the past year in the judicial reform process. MH

POLAND TO STEP UP DRIVE TOWARD EU

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and speakers of the two houses of the parliament signed an agreement on 10 July urging that priority be given to legislation required for eventual membership in the EU, PAP reported. Buzek said that the declaration is "politically significant and signals the will to take action on integration." Poland hopes to join the EU in 2003. PG

BUZEK NAMES DEPUTY MINISTER TO RUN WARSAW DISTRICT

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek on 10 July named Deputy Interior Minister Jozef Ploskonka to administer the central district of the Polish capital, AP reported. Buzek had suspended the local council in May, and Ploskonka will run the district until elections can be held. Buzek's actions were one of the reasons that the Freedom Union Party quit the governing coalition. PG

POLAND'S AGRARIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE PLEADS NOT GUILTY

Andrzej Lepper, a radical farm leader who is running for president, pleaded not guilty to charges in a Lodz court that he slandered the government during June 1999 protests, AP reported. During those demonstrations, Lepper had said that Poland's government is "an anti-Polish, inhuman regime." Lepper was convicted of similar charges in 1997. PG

CZECH DEPUTIES OVERRULE PRESIDENTIAL VETO...

The Chamber of Deputies on 10 July overruled President Vaclav Havel's 26 June veto of the electoral law amendment that favors larger parties, CTK and AP reported. The vote was 124 in favor, four against, and one abstention. Deputies representing the opposition Freedom Union, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Communist Party walked out of the chamber before the vote in protest. A number of deputies representing the ruling Social Democratic Party either voted against the law or abstained. Responding to the outcome of the ballot, Havel said in Dubrovnik, Croatia, that he has not yet decided how he will react but will "continue to act in line with my conscience." The three small opposition parties have urged Havel to appeal to the Constitutional Court, saying they will take that action if the president fails to. MS

...WHILE HAVEL VETOES ANOTHER LAW

Havel on 10 July vetoed the amendment to the law on parties passed earlier this year by the Chamber of Deputies and submitted to him by the Senate, which failed to either approve or reject it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2000). The president said the amendment puts smaller parties at a disadvantage since it states that to be eligible for financing from state funds, a party must obtain at least 5 percent of the vote. Presidential spokesman Martin Krafl said Havel believes this infringes on both the constitutional provision providing for free competition among all parties and a similar provision in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, CTK reported. MS

EUROPEAN COMMISSION TO PREPARE REPORT ON TEMELIN

The EU's Council of Foreign Ministers on 10 July requested that the European Commission draft a report on the safety of the Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK reported. French European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici told journalists in Brussels that the council is responding to a request by Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who said the Czech Republic failed to meet its commitments to inform Austria regularly about developments at Temelin. In particular, it did not notify Vienna that loading began at the plant last week. European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said that nuclear safety is not a component of the aquis communautaire and every EU member is free to decide which form of energy it uses, but he noted that the principle of maximum safety must be respected. MS

INTERPOL SEARCHING FOR FORMER SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE CHIEF

Interpol has been asked to join the search for former Slovak Intelligence Chief Ivan Lexa, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner told Radio Twist on 10 July. Pittner said he believes Lexa is still hiding in Slovakia since he must be aware that only a small number of countries would refuse to extradite him, CTK reported. The search for Lexa was launched on 4 July, following his failure to report for a medical check-up ordered by the police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2000). He is being investigated for the role he allegedly played in the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son as well as for other offenses. MS

HUNGARY SEEKS $100 MILLION IN DAMAGES FOR CYANIDE SPILL

Hungary will claim 29.37 billion forints ($106 million) in damages from the Australian Esmeralda company, co-owner of the Romanian Aurul mine, which caused a cyanide spill into Hungary's Tisza River earlier this year, government commissioner Janos Gonczy announced on 10 July. The sum claimed includes the costs of averting immediate damage and long-term losses in the area's wildlife. Hungary has also considered filing suit against Romania but so far is still engaged in bilateral talks. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said the issue of state responsibility must be enshrined in a new Hungarian-Romanian agreement on environmental protection. MSZ




MUSLIM SURVIVORS MARK SREBRENICA ANNIVERSARY

Some 2,000 Muslim survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre attended a memorial prayer gathering in the town on 11 July to remember the up to 8,000 men believed killed by Serbian forces after the fall of the former UN-declared "safe area." The massacre is widely regarded as the worst single such atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II. One Muslim woman told AP that for survivors "it is [psychologically] difficult to go there, especially if we meet the people who expelled us and who took our children away. They still walk around freely. Whenever we visit the town, we see those faces again." Some 4,000 bodies of those killed have been exhumed; the bound wrists of many as well as other practices suggest that the victims had been executed. Local Serbs deny that any killings took place outside of battlefield casualties. They regard the prayer meeting as a "provocation" and succeeded in limiting the size of the gathering to 2,000, instead of the 5,000 requested by the Muslims. U.S. ground and air patrols provided security for the prayer meeting. PM

ANNAN CALLS FOR 'CONFRONTING EVIL'

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement on 10 July marking the fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre that "we cannot undo this tragedy, but it is vitally important that the right lessons be learned and applied in the future. We must not forget that the architects of the killings in Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, are still at large. This fact alone suggests that the most important lesson of Srebrenica--that we must recognize evil for what it is, and confront it not with expediency and compromise but with implacable resistance--has yet to be fully learnt and applied," Reuters reported. Annan stressed that "the tragedy of Srebrenica will forever haunt the history of the United Nations. This day commemorates a massacre on a scale unprecedented in Europe since the Second World War--a massacre of people who had been led to believe that the United Nations would ensure their safety." PM

MUSLIM LEADERS WARN U.S. AGAINST AID CUT TO BOSNIA

Several government and opposition political leaders have urged the U.S. not to cut aid to Bosnia lest the reduction hurt innocent people, Reuters reported from Sarajevo on 10 June. The leaders, including former Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, warned that cutting aid will not help eliminate corruption. A recent report by the U.S. General Accounting Office criticized what it called widespread corruption in Bosnia. The report noted, however, that there is no evidence that money has been wrongly diverted from U.S. aid programs. PM

DJUKANOVIC: YUGOSLAVIA 'NO LONGER EXISTS'

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told reporters in Podgorica on 10 July that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's recent changes to the federal constitution amount to the "most drastic and most dangerous move so far in the toppling of the constitutional and the legal system of the country" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 July 2000). He added that "it is certain that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, constituted on these principles, no longer exists today," Reuters reported. The Montenegrin leader stressed that his country "will not participate in [any] elections if they are organized under circumstances that have been announced with the newly-adopted amendments...[by the] dangerous dictatorial regime." Several Serbian opposition leaders have also called for a boycott of any election organized under the terms of the new legislation. PM

VUJANOVIC: MONTENEGRO WILL NOT GIVE MILOSEVIC EXCUSE TO MAKE TROUBLE

Speaking in Durres, Albania, on 10 July, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said that Montenegro "will not declare a referendum as long as conflict is possible and Milosevic could use it to create a crisis in Montenegro," Reuters reported. "We shall continue our policy of patience and soft steps to preserve peace and prevent Milosevic from creating another war for the sake of hanging on to his power," Vujanovic added. He spoke following a meeting with his Macedonian and Albanian counterparts, Ljubco Georgievski and Ilir Meta, respectively. The three prime ministers discussed the security situation in the Balkans, including the possibility that Milosevic might start a war with Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

FOUR REGIONAL LEADERS MEET IN DUBROVNIK

In the historical Adriatic port city on 11 July, Croatian President Stipe Mesic welcomed the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel, Slovenia's Milan Kucan, and Montenegro's Milo Djukanovic. The central topic of their discussions will be the growing tensions between Belgrade and Podgorica, Reuters reported. The previous evening, Mesic said that he, Havel, and Kucan "do not intend to meddle in the relations between Montenegro and Serbia, but we are interested in the democratization of Montenegro, as well as of Serbia," AP reported. PM

HAVEL 'CAN IMAGINE' MONTENEGRIN INDEPENDENCE

Speaking in Dubrovnik on 10 July, Havel said that he "can imagine" Montenegro becoming independent, CTK reported. He chided unnamed Western leaders who have repeatedly warned Djukanovic against declaring independence, saying: "I remember the surprise of the democratic community of the Western world when it was [forced by events] to recognize Slovenia and Croatia. Now, 10 years later, we can see that the two countries...belong to the pillars of democracy in the area of the former Yugoslavia." PM

EU MINISTERS UNCERTAIN ON BALKAN AGENDA

Meeting in Brussels on 10 July, foreign ministers of the EU member states discussed the future of their common strategy in the Balkans but reached few definitive conclusions, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported. Several unnamed ministers expressed skepticism regarding the usefulness of France's proposal for a summit involving EU leaders and their counterparts from the former Yugoslav republics and representatives of the Serbian opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May and 21 June 2000). The ministers did not agree as to whether the leaders of Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria should be invited to the proposed gathering. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" added that the ministers nonetheless concluded that the EU must use the fall meeting to stress the importance of political and economic stability in the region. Several speakers drew attention to the relations between Belgrade and Podgorica. The summit is the idea of President Jacques Chirac, who has suggested that the meeting be held in Zagreb. PM

VOJVODINA TO GO ITS OWN WAY?

Representatives of the Vojvodina Coalition agreed in Novi Sad on 10 July that it is only "a question of time" before Montenegro declares independence, adding that Vojvodina "should do the same as Montenegro," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The leaders said in a statement any future opposition-led government in Serbia must recognize Vojvodina's autonomy lest that government provoke "the final break-up" of the Serbian nation. Milosevic eliminated Vojvodina's autonomy just over a decade ago. It is very rare that Vojvodina political leaders speak openly of secession. The province's social and cultural patterns reflect its long association with the Habsburg empire as opposed to the Ottoman-era traditions of Serbia proper. PM

SERBIAN JUDGE: NO RULE OF LAW

Former Constitutional Court Justice Slobodan Vucetic said in Belgrade on 10 July that there is no more rule of law in Yugoslavia following the introduction of changes to the constitution. Vucetic argued that only force holds the country together, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

NON-REGIME SERBIAN DAILIES FACE LOSS OF PAPER

A state-run paper company has cut supplies to the private dailies "Blic," "Danas," and "Glas javnosti," AP reported on 10 June. The editors of the three dailies said in a letter to the Serbian government that the basic rights of the newspapers' "numerous readers...will be violated" if the dailies have to stop publishing. Pro-Milosevic newspapers continue to receive their full supplies. PM

OSCE CALLS FOR WOMEN IN ONE-THIRD OF KOSOVAR ELECTED OFFICES

Daan Everts, who heads the OSCE's mission in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 10 July that the OSCE rules for the local and municipal elections slated for the fall specify that every third position on each party's electoral list be held by a woman. He added that the move is part of an "ambitious" project of the OSCE to reduce the traditional male domination of Kosovar society, AP reported. Noting that no Serbian party has registered for the vote, Everts appealed to Serbs not to "exclude [or] marginalize themselves." Voting will be by proportional representation (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report" and "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2000). PM

ROMANIAN EX-FOREIGN MINISTER IS NEW OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY CHAIRMAN

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, ending its ninth session in Bucharest on 10 July, elected Adrian Severin as its new chairman, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He replaces Danish deputy Helle Degn, who had held the post for two consecutive one-year terms. Severin ran unopposed for the post after his chief contender, Michel Voisin of France, withdrew his candidacy. Severin was forced to resign as foreign minister in 1997 after claiming that some politicians and members of the press corps in Romania were "foreign agents" but then failing to identify them by name. MS

POLL SHOWS ILIESCU, PDSR CONTINUE TO LEAD...

A public opinion poll conducted by the Center of Urban and Rural Sociology shows former President Ion Iliescu continuing to lead among presidential candidates. Iliescu received 48 percent backing, well ahead of President Emil Constantinescu's 13 percent support, Mediafax reported on 9 July. Melescanu and Stolojan each received 10 percent. Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy in Romania has the largest backing among parliamentary parties (47 percent), followed by the Democratic Party (10 percent), the PNL and the APR (8 percent each), the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (7 percent), and the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (5 percent). MS

...WHILE LIBERALS CONTINUE TO PUT OUT ELECTION FEELERS

Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu on 10 July told the leadership of the National Liberal Party (PNL) that he is "honored" by the invitation to join the PNL but prefers to remain politically independent and work for the continuation of the reform process and Romania's accession to the EU, Mediafax reported. MS

BULGARIAN LAWMAKERS GIVE INITIAL APPROVAL TO NEW ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING OFFICE

The parliament on 7 July approved in the first reading an amendment to the law on money-laundering that would establish a Financial Intelligence Agency. The agency would replace the former Financial Intelligence Bureau and have more prerogatives. Among other things, banks would have to provide on request information about transactions of their customers, and confidentiality will no longer be grounds for denying such information, BTA reported. The agency will also have the right to demand information from government and local government bodies and will have free access to registers funded by the state. MS




ROMANIA'S HUNGARIAN DEMOCRATIC FEDERATION EXPERIENCES TURMOIL AGAIN


by Zsolt-Istvan Mato

It is too soon to say whether last month's local elections in Romania marked a turning point for the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), the country's main formation representing the ethnic Hungarian minority. Although the UDMR is not strictly speaking a political party- -being rather an umbrella organization uniting various political parties as well as civic and other groups-- it has acted like a party and been subject to the internal strife that parties invariably experience in a parliamentary democracy.

Created in the wake of the December 1989 revolution, the organization has long been divided into those supporting the party "establishment" (represented in the first years of the group's existence by former chairman Geza Domokos and later by his successor, Bela Marko) and an internal opposition headed by UDMR honorary chairman, Reformed Bishop Laszlo Toekes.

The "Marko group" favors cooperation with the ethnic Romanian majority and a step-by-step approach in securing the rights of ethnic Hungarians. While it agrees that much remains to be done to attain that goal, it also points to a number of important achievements, made possible by the UDMR's participation in the ruling coalition since 1996.

Toekes's group of "radicals," though considerably smaller, is significantly more vocal. Ignoring the realities of Romania's "transition," it calls for the immediate and full implementation of the UDMR program, including the party's demand for a three-pronged (personal, local, and territorial) autonomy. Clashes between the Marko and the Toekes groups intensified in the wake of the 1998 elections in Hungary, with FIDESZ--the new major coalition party in that country--clearly favoring the "radicals."

Last month, for the first time in its history, the UDMR experienced an open split when some of Toekes's supporters ran in the local elections on either separate lists or on those of other parties, such as the National Liberal Party. While the UDMR nonetheless retained its standing as the major party among Transylvania's ethnic Hungarian electorate, the impact of this split was by no means marginal, having symbolic significance and influencing in some places the electoral outcome as well.

On 1 July, the UDMR's Mediation Council convened in Targu Mures to analyze the local election results. The following day, the UDMR Council of Representatives met for the same purpose. Not for the first time, Toekes decided to avoid a face-to-face confrontation with his rivals, opting to send a letter to the gathering instead. That letter contended that the Marko group's "unity approach" has, in fact, led to a "lack of unity," and it noted that the UDMR had received fewer votes in the 2000 local ballot than in 1996.

Marko and other UDMR spokesman attributed the slight drop in the UDMR's support mainly to "absenteeism," which, they argued, had affected all parties. They noted that despite this decrease, the UDMR managed to elect more local councilors, county councilors, and mayors than four years earlier. But they also queried whether the slight drop in general support could not also be attributed partly to Toekes's appeal to ethnic Hungarians not to support the UDMR but rather those independent candidates who backed his radical position. For example, in Odorheiul Secuiesc, one of the most important towns in the areas that have a large Hungarian population, Toekes-supporter Jenoe Szasz won against the UDMR's candidate.

The other "sore point" was the loss of the mayoralty in Targu Mures, where former UDMR Mayor Imre Fodor failed by some 2,000 votes to beat the successful Romanian candidate. The Toekes group accused the leadership of the local UDMR local branch of "incompetence" and reproached it for failing to demand a vote recount. But the national UDMR leadership itself had demanded recounts in all electoral districts after the ballot a demand that the Central Electoral Commission had rejected.

Such mutual recriminations are clearly the continuation of the "tug of war" that has long been witnessed within the Targu Mures branch of the UDMR. In May, the UDMR leadership had "suspended" Toekes-supporter Eloed Kincses, who had run against Marko in the 1999 elections for the party's chairmanship. At the time, Kincses, who was the Targu Mures UDMR branch chairman, had been accused of failing to put up a "fair" list of councilor candidates representing all trends within the UDMR. For his part, he said that the decision to suspend him was "dictatorial", and he blamed the party leadership for the loss of the Targu Mures mayoralty. The Council of Representatives, however, upheld the May decision by a vote of 51 to 16, while Marko commented that the only mistake was that Kincses had not been removed earlier.

A poll conducted in March 2000 showed that 85 percent of UDMR supporters back the line of the party's current leadership. Last month's local ballot seems to have confirmed that, despite the increasingly vocal opposition of the "radicals", the overwhelming majority of Romania's ethnic Hungarians still identify with that line. The author is a free-lance writer living in Cluj, Romania.


XS
SM
MD
LG