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Newsline - August 16, 2000




RUSSIAN NAVY STILL BATTLING TO RESCUE 'KURSK' CREW...

After attempts had failed during the night of 15-16 August to free the 116-strong crew of the stranded nuclear submarine "Kursk," the Russian navy was continuing on 16 August to seek to dock a submersible rescue capsule with the vessel. Strong underwater currents, poor visibility, and the position of the submarine on the seabed are reported to have been complicating operations. Oxygen supplies on the submarine are expected to last only until 18 August. Meanwhile, navy commander Vladimir Kuroedov has said that if attempts to dock with the submarine fail, 400-ton inflatable pontoon rafts could be used to lift the vessel, but Norwegian officials have expressed concern that the hull could break off during such an operation, allowing radioactivity from the submarine's reactors to spill into the sea. The "Kursk" sank in the Barents Sea last weekend during maneuvers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 August 2000). JC

...BUT MAY CONSIDER ACCEPTING HELP FROM NATO

Interfax quoted Kuroedov as saying on 15 August that a group of Russian admirals would fly to Brussels the next day to discuss coordinating rescue efforts with NATO. And on 16 August ITAR- TASS cited the navy's press service as saying a deputy chief of staff of the Russian navy was scheduled to arrive in Brussels that day for consultations. A NATO spokesman told Reuters earlier the same day that Russian military officials based in Brussels held a teleconference with NATO military officials the previous evening to discuss possible assistance. Reuters also reported on 16 August that a British transport plane carrying a deep-sea rescue submarine has been cleared to fly from Scotland to the scene of the accident in the Barents Sea. Moscow had previously turned down offers of help from the U.S., Britain, and France. Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo told journalists on 15 August that coordinating rescue efforts with other countries would "take too much time" and "we cannot afford to waste it." JAC/JC

CAUSE OF 'KURSK' ACCIDENT REMAINS UNCLEAR

Kuroedov also said on 15 August that the cause of the accident appeared to have been an explosion in the torpedo compartment of the submarine. He was quoted by AP as saying that the submarine's navigation compartment was damaged, the railing dented, and the protective cover of two missile tubes on the vessel's right side missing. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, for his part, was reported to have said that inspections of the submarine suggest it may have run into a mine from World War II. Meanwhile, an unidentified source in Severodvinsk told Interfax on 15 August that the incident that caused the "Kursk" to sink took place on 12 August, not 13 August, as Russian media had earlier reported. JC

FINANCE, PRIME MINISTERS PROMISE MORE MONEY FOR DEFENSE...

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters on 15 August that spending on the armed forces and law enforcement agencies will increase next year, ITAR-TASS reported. Kudrin explained that the increases are necessary to ensure "all force structures operate with 100 percent financing." Kudrin made his comments following a meeting of the governmental Defense Industry Commission at which Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov gave commission members one day to update the draft 2001 defense budget. The defense budget changes are supposed to reflect expenses that will be incurred as the armed forces implement their new 10-year development plan, which was recently elaborated by the National Security Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2000). Previously, Kudrin had said that while the total amount of money allocated for the power ministries will decrease next year, the amount of money for national defense will increase by some 30 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2000). JAC

...AS BATTLE LOOMS WITH REGIONAL LEADERS?

"Segodnya" predicted on 16 August that regional representatives attending a tripartite meeting on 21 August to discuss next year's federal budget will be sure to quiz Kudrin on where he plans to get money to fund new spending for national defense. It added that at that meeting, in which members of the Federation Council, State Duma, and the government will participate, Kasyanov will also likely get the opportunity to demonstrate his bargaining skills and prove his reputation as a "skillful negotiator." Some analysts have suggested earlier that the federal government may be forced to divert the extra revenues it will collect from the regions to military spending rather than use it to eliminate regional economic differences. JAC

MOSCOW CONTINUES TO BELIEVE KIM JONG-IL'S MISSILE PROPOSAL...

Russian Foreign Ministry official Aleksandr Yakovenko told Interfax on 15 August that Moscow does not doubt North Korean statements that Pyongyang is prepared to halt its missile programs under certain conditions. "There is probably no need to repeat that North Korean officials said in the Pyongyang talks that their country would not develop their own boosters if the countries worried about the North Korean missile program launched two or three North Korean satellites for free," Yakovenko commented. Russian President Vladimir Putin had announced after his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last month that Pyongyang might stop developing rockets for peaceful space research if it received assistance in launching its satellites. But last weekend Kim reportedly denied he had been serious when he made that proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2000). JC

...SLAMS KFOR OVER MINE TAKEOVER...

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 15 August criticizing the takeover of the Serbian-run Trepca mining complex in northern Kosova by some 800 KFOR troops the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2000). It rejected UN reports that pollution spewing from the complex had reached dangerous levels. "Even if there is an ecological disaster," the statement said, "this could not justify forceful actions by international units [stationed in Kosova]. Such actions cannot be evaluated as anything other than an attempt to seize property [belonging to others]." In a separate statement, the ministry took issue with the decision to hold local elections in Kosova in October, saying that "not even the minimal conditions for truly free, fair, and democratic elections" have been created," Interfax reported. Few of the province's ethnic Serbs are expected to participate in the ballot. JC

...DENIES RUSSIAN COMPANIES ARE HOLDING SECRET TALKS WITH IRAQ

Also on 15 August, the Russian Foreign Ministry rejected an article published in "The Times" the previous day alleging that Russian companies are involved in "secret talks" with Iraq on the construction of a plant to produce components for long-range missiles. "In this connection, we would like to state in clear terms that Russia has been strictly observing its commitments vis-a-vis international sanctions against Iraq," the ministry said, according to Interfax. The ministry also slammed renewed U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq, which it said are "illegal from the point of view of international law" and "only increase tension in the region." JC

PUTIN CONTINUES MID-EAST DIPLOMACY

Russian President Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak have discussed by telephone the Middle East peace process, the Kremlin's press service told Interfax on 15 August. Putin informed Barak about his telephone conversation the previous day with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's visit to Moscow last week. JC

HOME OF DUMA CANDIDATE ATTACKED IN CHECHNYA

Chechen fighters opened fire during the night of 15-16 August on the home of Ibragim Huseinov, who is mayor of the town of Mesketi, eastern Chechnya, and one of 13 candidates contesting the 20 August by-election to the State Duma, AP reported. The home of the mayor of the town of Alleroi, close to the border with Daghestan, was also damaged overnight by a remote-controlled mine. No injuries were reported in either incident. LF

ORTHODOX CHURCH CALLS FOR UNITY AMONG CHRISTIANS

The Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church on 15 August adopted a social doctrine and a statement on the Church's policy on inter-Christian faith. "The Moscow Times" reported the next day that the latter document rejects Protestant-inspired concepts of an "invisible Church" of all Christians, regardless of their denomination, or a "theory of branches." Rather, it speaks about the importance of Christ's commandment of unity and says it is a duty of every Orthodox Christian to work toward such unity. According to Interfax, the document calls for forming ties between individual Orthodox and Catholic congregations, rather than among Church leaders in Moscow and Rome. According to the daily, Reverend Igor Kowalewski, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Curia in Moscow, said the document is a "very positive step," and he compared it to policies adopted by the Roman Catholic Church at the Vatican II Council in the 1960s. The social doctrine condemns homosexuality, abortions, cloning, and certain medical practices such as fetal therapy and the sale and purchase of human organs, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO ENVIRONMENTALISTS' CRITICISM?

Less than three months after President Putin disbanded the State Ecology Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2000), the government and the Ministry for Natural Resources have decided to create an independent State Service for Ecological Control by November of this year, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 August. According to the daily, the new service will follow the approach of the old committee by ensuring that licensing agreements to exploit natural resources are being fulfilled rather than overseeing how investors affect the environment. The newspaper also reported that the Ministry of Natural Resources will confirm the members of the new service. A number of environmental groups criticized the government when it eliminated the State Ecology Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2000). JAC

BUS DRIVERS SAY NO MORE FREE RIDES AT EXPENSE OF WAGES

Workers in Russia's transportation sector held a nationwide protest on 15 August. In Moscow, some 300 people picketed the government building and the Ministry of Transport demanding that their overdue wages be paid in full and free rides for passengers be halted, RFE/RL's Russian service reported. According to the protest participants, one-third of Russian passengers have the right to free transportation or buy tickets only at a "symbolic price." Aleksandr Shurikov, chairman of the Moscow branch of the union, told the website http://www.lenta.ru that his union is not against passes per se but is "against them in such quantities." In St. Petersburg, some 200 protestors gathered while other protest actions also took place in Orenburg Oblast and Khabarovsk Krai, ITAR-TASS reported. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, if workers' demands are not fulfilled, they are threatening to launch a nationwide strike. JAC

PACE OF INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT GROWTH CONTINUES TO SLOW

Industrial production grew 8.5 percent in July 2000 compared with the same month last year, according to the State Statistics Committee on 15 August. Output climbed 9.8 percent in June and 10.6 percent in May. Prime Minister Kasyanov announced earlier that output was up 10 percent during the first seven months of 2000 compared with the same period last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2000). JAC

OIL PRODUCTION INCHES UP, AS GAS OUTPUT TILTS DOWN

Russia's production of oil and gas condensate reached 184 million tons during the first seven months of 2000--a 4.9 percent increase over the same period last year, Interfax reported on 15 August citing the State Statistics Committee. Gasoline, diesel and fuel oil were all up--2.8 percent, 7.5 percent, and 2 percent, respectively. Natural gas production fell 1.6 percent to total 340 billion cubic meters, while coal production rose 4.9 percent to 149 million tons. JAC

ROSSIYA TO JOIN NPS

State Duma Chairman (Communist) and leader of the Rossiya movement Gennadii Seleznev announced on 15 August that Rossiya will join the People's Patriotic Union (NPS) in the fall, ITAR-TASS reported. Seleznev also repeated his view that Rossiya does not represent a schism in the ranks of the Communist Party. JAC

PUTIN LAMENTS BRAIN DRAIN

At a meeting with members of the Russian Academy of Science on 16 August, President Putin declared that he considers the so-called "brain drain" one of the main problems of Russian science, RFE/RL's Russian service reported. According to the president, personnel are leaving scientific establishments not only to go abroad but also to those spheres where pay is significantly higher. He estimated that the latest scientific developments are in use in no more than 5 percent of Russian enterprises. JAC




ARMENIAN INVESTMENT FORUM AGAIN POSTPONED

A major Armenian international business forum planned to be held in London this fall has been postponed, the World Bank's resident representative in Armenia, Oweis Saadat, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 15 August. Saadat said the meeting, originally scheduled for May 2000, will probably take place in New York early next year. He denied that the change of venue was motivated by political considerations. LF

AZERBAIJAN DENIES SUPPORTING IRANIAN 'SEPARATISTS'

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev on 15 August denied that Baku supports or aids separatists in Iran or that such separatists enter Iranian territory from Azerbaijan, according to ANS courtesy of Groong. He noted that both Iranian and Azerbaijani border guards are deployed along the frontier between the two countries. Major General Abbasali Novruzov, the commander of Azerbaijan's Border Guards, similarly told ANS that his service has received no reports or claims of illegal crossings by Iranian separatists into Iran from Azerbaijani territory. But Novruzov admitted that owing to the dilapidated state of border installations, it would not be difficult to cross undetected. In recent weeks, Azerbaijani media have quoted Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as accusing Azerbaijan of supporting separatists and interfering in Iran's internal affairs. Iranian reports of Khamenei's speeches carry no such references, however. LF

DOCTORS SAY FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT TOO ILL TO UNDERGO SURGERY

Turkish doctors treating former President and Azerbaijan Popular Front (AHCP) chairman Abulfaz Elchibey at the Gulhane military hospital in Ankara have confirmed that he is suffering from prostate cancer, AFP reported on 15 August quoting Azertadj. They said he is undergoing radiation treatment, as it is too late to treat the cancer by surgery. Senior members of the AHCP have repeatedly denied that Elchibey is suffering from cancer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2000). LF

JOURNALISTS' WATCHDOG URGES AZERBAIJAN TO DROP CASE AGAINST NEWSPAPER

Reporters Sans Frontieres has written to Azerbaijani Information Minister Siruz Tebrizli asking him to drop the court case he brought against the independent newspaper "Uch Nogte," Turan reported on 15 August. The court case is due to begin on 16 August. Tebrizli is demanding the newspaper's closure, citing an article of the press law that provides for the closure of print media that are sued three times within 12 months for publishing incorrect information. Turan quoted Reporters Sans Frontieres Secretary-General Robert Menard as saying that there are no grounds for the closure of "Uch Nogte," which, he said, "would be a direct attempt to hamper press freedom" in Azerbaijan. LF

ABKHAZ POLITICIAN SHOT DEAD

Zurab Achba, a consultant to the OSCE Human Rights office in Sukhum and former Abkhaz parliamentary deputy, was gunned down from a passing car late on 15 August in Sukhum, Caucasus Press reported. A local administration official in the village of Okumi in Abkhazia's Tkvarcheli Raion was killed during the night of 13-14 August. LF

EXPLOSION AT GEORGIAN ISOTOPES INSTITUTE KILLS ONE

A staff member at the Institute of Isotopes in Tbilisi was killed by an explosion late on 15 August, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Georgian officials say no radioactivity was released. The blast is believed to have been caused when a bottle of nitrogen exploded during an experiment. LF

NEW CHARGES OF DISCRIMINATION AT KAZAKH OIL COMPANY

The Chinese management of the Aqtobemunaigaz oil company is violating the rights of the enterprise's Kazakh employees by granting unspecified privileges to Chinese workers who are not covered by Kazakhstan's labor laws, Interfax reported on 15 August, quoting an official from the Aqtobe Oblast prosecutor's office. An investigation conducted by that office determined that Kazakh employees of Aqtobemunaigaz are being paid 75 percent less than their Kazakh colleagues for performing the same duties. An earlier dispute between the Kazakh government and the Chinese National Oil Company, which owns a 60 percent stake in Aqtobemunaigaz, was resolved in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March and 27 April 2000). LF

KAZAKH, UZBEK PRESIDENTS SEEK TO EXPEDITE LEGAL REFORM

Addressing prominent lawyers in Astana on 14 August, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev instructed them to prepare amendments to the bill "On the Courts and the Status of Judges," Interfax reported. That law is intended to strengthen the independence of the judiciary from the executive. In Tashkent. Uzbek President Islam Karimov issued a decree similarly intended to make the country's legal system more democratic, Interfax reported. The decree will ensure the prompt conduct of trials and increase the legal protection of individual, political, social and economic rights and freedoms, according to the presidential press service. Meanwhile, Amnesty International on 15 August issued an appeal on behalf of four young Uzbek men whose appeals against the death sentences handed down to them by a Samarkand court for separate murders have been rejected. LF

AIDE TO KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER RELEASED

Emil Aliev, who headed opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov's election campaign earlier this year, was released from detention in Bishkek on 15 August because of his deteriorating health, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. He had been detained shortly after the second round of voting in early March on suspicion of embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2000). LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FAILS LANGUAGE TEST

The linguistic commission of Kyrgyzstan's Central Electoral Commission ruled on 15 August that Party of Communists of Kyrgyzstan presidential candidate Iskhak MasAliyev failed the mandatory tests in written and spoken Kyrgyz, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Masaliev, who is a parliamentary deputy. said he intends to appeal that decision. Also on 15 August, parliamentary deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov announced his intention to contest the presidential poll, raising the number of declared or anticipated candidates to 17. LF

KYRGYZ TROOPS FREE GERMAN HOSTAGES

During their reportedly successful operation to drive the Islamist militants back to the Tajik border, Kyrgyz government troops on 15 August released eight German mountaineers taken hostage by the Islamists four days earlier. None of the German climbers had been harmed. In Bishkek, General Bolot Djanuzakov, who is Kyrgyz Security Council secretary, claimed on 15 August that the Islamists have at their disposal combat aircraft supplied by Afghanistan's Taliban, according to Interfax. Speaking in Dushanbe on 15 August, Tajik Security Council Deputy Secretary Nuralisho Nazarov rejected Djanuzakov's claim that 500-700 fighters are gathered in the Karategin valley on the Tajik side of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border ready to enter Kyrgyzstan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Nazarov also denied reports that former United Tajik Opposition fighters who have now joined the country's armed forces are aiding the Islamists. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT BEGINS VACATION, UZBEK PRESIDENT TO STAY HOME

Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov is currently on a short vacation in Sochi, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 16 August, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Uzbek President Karimov told ITAR-TASS on 15 August that owing to the worsening situation on the Uzbek-Tajik border, Karimov will not attend the informal 18-19 August CIS summit in Yalta. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO STAGE 'ACTIVE BOYCOTT' OF ELECTIONS

United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka announced on 15 August that the Belarusian democratic opposition will organize an "active boycott" campaign to discourage people from participating in the 15 October legislative elections, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to Lyabedzka, the campaign's goal is to prevent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka from strengthening his position before the presidential ballot next year. The opposition plans to begin collecting signatures on 1 September in support of a referendum on the OSCE's four requirements to democratize the electoral process in Belarus. The opposition also intends to hold a "Freedom March-3" in Minsk on 1 October and rallies under the slogan "Elections--Yes, Farce--No" in the provinces one week later. According to a recent poll by the Novak polling agency, 74 percent of Belarusians want to vote in the 15 October ballot. JM

SOME 60 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONISTS REPORTEDLY TO RUN IN ELECTIONS

Viktar Ivashkevich, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front Party, said on 15 August that nearly 60 opposition politicians have decided to run in the 15 October ballot, Belapan reported. Ivashkevich added that their participation in the elections should not be viewed as a split of Belarus's "united opposition" which, according to his estimate, brings together some 15,000 people. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TO STRIP OFFICIALS OF SALARIES IF WAGE ARREARS NOT PAID

Lukashenka on 15 August threatened to strip government officials of their pay as of 1 September if the cabinet does not pay all wage arrears by that date, Belarusian Television reported. "An appropriate document will be signed early next week. All the salaries of ministers, government members, officials of the presidential Administration with the president at their head, and bankers...will be taken at the beginning of September to pay those who feed us, teach us, instruct us in culture and ethics, and so on. And only after that we will get our pay," Lukashenka said. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT TO BOOST GRAIN OUTPUT NEXT YEAR

Premier Viktor Yushchenko said on 15 August that "within seven to 10 days" the government will adopt a program to stimulate next year's grain yield, Interfax reported. According to Yushchenko, the program will provide for gathering 35-40 million tons of grain. "This is [an ambitious objective] but absolutely realistic, according to conclusions and data from the Agrarian Policy Ministry," Yushchenko said. This year's grain crop in Ukraine is expected to total some 25 million tons. JM

UKRAINE CUTS DEBT TO IMF

In the first half of 2000, Ukraine reduced its debt to the IMF by $415.6 million to $2.257 billion, Interfax reported on 15 August, quoting IMF data. Taking into account interest payments, Ukraine paid $476.8 million to the IMF from January to June. Ukraine is due to repay the fund $389.1 million in the second half of 2000, $605.5 million in 2001, and $301.8 million in 2002. JM

ESTONIAN POWER PLANT DEAL DELAYED TO OCTOBER?

The proposed sale of a 49 percent stake in the country's main power plants to U.S. company NRG Energy might be delayed until the fall. The ruling coalition's council has decided to request a special session of the parliament in October to debate the issue, ETA reported on 15 August. Council chairman Andres Tarand also hinted that the time would be spent to amend the constitution, as the current deal may violate the basic law in minor ways. The previous day, a special session of the parliament collapsed owing to a lack of quorum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2000). Opposition parties said they have collected more than 150,000 signatures in a petition drive calling for the deal to be scrapped, BNS added. MH

LATVIANS MORE WORRIED ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT THAN DEFENSE

A poll conducted by SKDS indicated that unemployment is seen as the most pressing issue for the government, BNS reported on 15 August. The poll shows that 35.4 percent of respondents believe the government should place employment issues on the top of its agenda, followed by education (26.8 percent) and the standard of living (26.5 percent). Only 0.6 percent believed that national defense should be the top priority of the government. MH

LATVIAN TELEPHONE MONOPOLY SUES GOVERNMENT

Tilts Communications, the Finnish-owned company running the telephone monopoly Lattelekom, has filed a complaint against the Latvian government with the Paris-based arbitration court of the International Chamber of Commerce, LETA reported on 15 August. The two sides are deadlocked over the shortening of the monopoly period for Lattelekom under a 1993 agreement. Tilts, which has a 49 percent stake in Lattelekom (the remaining 51 percent is owned by the state) and is owned by Finnish telecom company Sonera, believes that the original agreement gave Lattelekom a monopoly on fixed-line telephone services until 2014. Latvia has told the World Trade Organization that the monopoly would end in 2003, and the two sides have been negotiating a compensation deal. MH

POLAND CELEBRATES ANNIVERSARY OF 'MIRACLE ON THE VISTULA'

Top state officials on 15 August participated in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Warsaw during the 1920 Polish-Bolshevik war, Polish media reported. In August 1920, the Polish army, commanded by Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, warded off a massive Bolshevik offensive. Polish historians popularly refer to that rather unexpected victory as the "miracle on the Vistula." In 1992, Poland returned to the pre-war tradition of observing the Day of the Polish Armed Forces on 15 August. "The Miracle on the Vistula saved Polish independence and European democracy. The miracle--I do not hesitate to say so--of the August 1980 agreements, the miracle of Solidarity, and subsequently of the roundtable talks [in 1989] allowed Poland to enter the democratic world through its main, front door," President Aleksander Kwasniewski said. JM

REFUGEE RIOTS WERE SPARKED BY DESIRE TO LEAVE CZECH REPUBLIC, OFFICIALS SAY

Deputy Interior Minister Petr Ibi told CTK on 15 August that recent riots at the refugee camp in Cerveny Ujezd, northern Bohemia, were sparked not only by the imposition of a quarantine there but also because most of those incarcerated there do not view the Czech Republic as their final destination. Ibi made his comments after meeting with Claude Concolato, the head of the Prague UNHCR office. PG

ETHNIC MINORITY LEADER THREATENED IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Oboete Ubam, a Czech national of African origin and founder of the Prague-based League of Ethnic Minorities, has been threatened repeatedly via e-mail and telephone, officials said, according to CTK on 15 August. An investigation is under way. PG

SCHUSTER RETURNS TO SLOVAKIA

After being transferred to an Innsbruck clinic on 25 June for emergency surgery, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster returned home on 15 August, CTK reported. On his return, he told journalists that "I felt the strength of our citizens when I read in the newspaper about how the whole of Slovakia was living through it with me." Slovak officials currently are investigating the medical treatment Schuster received in Slovakia before his transfer to Austria. Slovak doctors allegedly failed to correctly diagnose the president's condition. PG

SLOVAK COALITION PARTNER OPPOSES EARLY VOTE BUT ACKNOWLEDGES POSSIBILITY

The coalition Civil Understanding Party (SOP) told CTK on 15 August that it opposes pre-term parliamentary elections but acknowledges that a referendum calling for such a vote might take place. Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Pavel Hamzik made the announcement, adding that he believes turnout in any referendum would be low and thus that vote would fail. Public opinion polls appear to back his prediction: only 20-30 percent of voters say they would take part in such a ballot. But were an election to be held, the SOP would be in trouble: it is currently supported by less than 5 percent of the population. PG

NORWAY LIFTS VISA REQUIREMENT FOR SLOVAKS

The Norwegian government lifted visa requirements for Slovak nationals as of midnight on 15 August, CTK reported. Norwegian officials said that they took this step as a result of Bratislava's efforts to improve the conditions of Roma living in Slovakia. PG




SERBIAN OPPOSITION UNVEILS ELECTION PROGRAM...

Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told a news conference in Belgrade on 15 August that the united opposition has drawn up its "contract between future [legislative] deputies and the electorate," Reuters reported. The program calls on the new parliament to pass on its first day a series of resolutions aimed at repealing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's recent constitutional changes and measures to curb media freedoms. The resolutions also include measures to end sanctions against Montenegro and implement UN Security Council Resolution 1244 in Kosova, as well as to reform the police, military, and judiciary. The program stresses that "we oblige ourselves to renew popular confidence in the state, root out corruption in public institutions, and together embrace comprehensive reforms so that Serbia can return to its rightful place in the community of European states." The program calls on the legislature to bring Serbian law into harmony with European standards within 100 days and institute a program of economic legislation, including currency and taxation reforms. PM

...PLANS DEBT PROGRAM...

Mladjan Dinkic of the G-17 opposition group of economists told the Belgrade press conference on 15 August that the government hopes to cover a planned deficit through $500 million in direct donations from the West, $350 million in foreign direct investment, and $150 million from short-term borrowing abroad, Reuters reported. It is not clear whether the opposition has already approached foreign governments, investors, or banks with its ideas. PM

...CRITICIZES MONTENEGRIN BOYCOTT OF YUGOSLAV ELECTIONS

Opposition presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica told the 15 August Belgrade press conference that the program is "an effort to establish dialogue within Serbia and between Serbia and the outside world so that Serbia can set up democratic institutions," Reuters reported. Earlier in the day, he criticized the Montenegrin leadership's decision to boycott the federal ballot, saying that the Podgorica leadership had, in effect, "voted for Milosevic" by denying his opponents Montenegrin votes. Meanwhile in Podgorica, President Milo Djukanovic said that the Montenegrin authorities will not obstruct the holding of the elections on Montenegrin territory, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIAN STUDENT MOVEMENT APPEALS FOR UNITY

Leaders of the Otpor (Resistance) student movement told a press conference in Belgrade on 15 August that the most important task facing all Serbs is to unite to defeat Milosevic, "Vesti" reported. PM

SERBIAN REGIME CONTINUES PRE-ELECTION SHOW TRIALS OF FOREIGNERS...

The trial of Slovenian citizens Milos Glisovic and his wife, Natasa Zorz, began in Belgrade on 16 August. The Yugoslav military have accused them of "unauthorized entry into military facilities and making sketches and drawings of military facilities and combat material," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 August 2000). On 15 August, Dutch Charge d'affaires Kees Klompenhouwer told reporters that he had spoken to the four Dutch citizens held in Serbia for allegedly plotting to kill Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2000). Klompenhouwer said that "the detainees were very glad to see us; it's for the first time in almost four weeks that they had the opportunity to talk to someone from their own country. They have been going through a very difficult time." He added that the men are doing "reasonably well" but that their medical condition needs "closer attention." PM

...AND OF STUDENT ACTIVISTS

Serbian authorities on 15 August charged three Otpor activists in the Vojvodina town of Indija with "spreading false information," Reuters reported. One of the students told reporters that "we have no idea what we've been accused of doing." He added, however, that the charges are probably linked to Otpor's attempt to hold a benefit concert in Indija recently. Police arrested a total of five additional Otpor activists in two other Serbian towns on 15 August. PM

ANGRY SERBS PROTEST KOSOVA MINE TAKEOVER...

Some 1,500 Serbs gathered on 16 August for the second day outside the Trepca mine complex, which UN peacekeepers have occupied to end environmental pollution from the smelter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2000). Milan Ivanovic, who is spokesman for the Serbs, told AP that "the takeover of Trepca is just part of the strategy by [UN chief administrator Bernard] Kouchner and the Albanians to ethnically cleanse Kosovo [of its remaining Serbs]. We will not allow the Albanians in. All those who worked here must continue to work." Many in the crowd work at Trepca and fear they will lose their jobs in a province with a high unemployment rate. Ivanovic added that local Serbs may decide to "set up an autonomous canton" in the area if they feel that their basic interests are threatened. Ethnic Albanians reject the idea of autonomous Serbian cantons, which they fear will be the first step toward the partition of the province. PM

...AS KOUCHNER REASSURES SERBS

Speaking at the Trepca complex on 16 August, Kouchner said that ending environmental pollution at the complex is in everyone's interest. "This [Serbian] community will have to understand that we will work for the benefit of all Kosovo and Serbs as well. We are acting in the interests of the Serbs," AP reported. Kouchner stressed that "it was impossible to tolerate this pollution, because of...the very high level of lead.... I don't know how long it will take us to...[have] this place running, months perhaps. This place is in desperate state, this is like the nineteenth century." PM

DUTCH AMBASSADOR TO UN: CORRUPTION STILL WIDESPEAD IN BOSNIA...

Dutch Ambassador to the UN Peter van Walsum told the Security Council on 15 August that "it has been estimated that every year $500 million of domestic revenue is lost [in Bosnia] due to smuggling, particularly of cigarettes. Without this loss of revenue, there would be no budget deficit. Smuggling on such a huge scale implies that high level government officials must be involved," Reuters reported. He stressed that "it has been pointed out that the country is going through many simultaneous transitions. We grant this, but the conclusion can only be that the Bosnian authorities must redouble their efforts to stamp out crime and corruption. They must be aware that foreign aid is not an infinite commodity," an RFE/RL correspondent reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2000). PM

....BUT OTHERS SEE PROGRESS

Bosnian UN Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey told the Security Council on 15 August that no good will come of stressing the problems facing Bosnia rather than the progress it has made. "We've heard all the stories of corruption, we've heard all the stories of things not going the right way in Bosnia, [some of which is obviously] deserved and some...is not. But the real question is who is going to make investments in Bosnia if it is somehow set out as this no-man's land in a new Europe," Sacirbey argued. UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Bernard Miyet told the Security Council that "it can be noted that UNMIBH--UN Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina--continues to move ahead in the implementation of its mandate in a positive fashion. There has been progress in all areas such as in inter-entity law enforcement arrangements and growing day-to-day cooperation between the Interior Ministries of the Bosnian Federation and of the Republika Srpska," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. PM

ANOTHER ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY OFFICIAL DISMISSED

Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu dismissed Financial Ministry Secretary of State Iosefina Morosan on 15 August, Romanian media reported the next day. The government offered no reason for the dismissal, while Morosan said she believes she was dismissed for political reasons. She was replaced by Romanian National Bank chief economist Valentin Lazea, who occupied that Financial Ministry post from 1997 to 1998. Isarescu's decision comes one day after he sacked another National Peasant Party Christian Democratic member, Environment Ministry Secretary of State Anton Vlad. Government counselor Adrian Vasilescu said the fact that both officials are members of the main coalition party is "a coincidence." ZsM

ROMANIAN PREMIER PROMISES FIRM HAND IN LEADING GOVERNMENT

In an interview with Mediafax news agency on 15 August, Premier Isarescu urged cabinet members to continue working as a team and put aside political disputes. Isarescu warned that if political rows surface, "firm measures" to maintain balance in the government will be introduced. He admitted to failing to reach the proposed targeted of a 27 percent inflation rate for 2000 but added that the country's economic growth is "a certainty," the unemployment rate is decreasing, and the foreign deficit is still within projected limits. Isarescu said he is in "no hurry" to announce whether he will be a candidate in the presidential elections. ZsM

TRANSDNIESTER PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS ACCUSE MOLDOVA OF DUPLICITY

A group of unions and other public organizations in the breakaway Transdniester region have sent an appeal to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev accusing the Moldovan government of duplicity and of seeking to eliminate Russia's political and military presence in the region, Infotag reported on 15 August. The appeal added that Moldova had sought to use the just- concluded peacekeeping maneuvers with Russia to mislead the Russian leadership. PG

BULGARIAN, U.S. INTELLIGENCE CHIEFS AGREE TO COOPERATE

Visiting CIA director George Tenet told Dimo Gyaurov, the head of Bulgaria's Intelligence Service, that the two have "a community of interests," AP reported on 15 August. An official statement released after their meeting said that "Bulgaria's position towards the Kosovo crisis and its behavior...during the [Kosovo] events in the spring last year were marked with gratitude at the meetings." The two sides said that they look forward to working together in the future. PG




COMING TO TERMS WITH THE PAST


By Paul Goble

Vladimir Putin's meeting with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Russian Orthodox Church's canonization of the last tsar are part of a new effort by Russians to confront their country's often complicated history. But reaction to both of these events highlights just how long and difficult that process is likely to be.

President Putin received his Soviet-era predecessor for two hours on 10 August. Gorbachev, long shunned by Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, returned the compliment by observing that he has seen "a change for the better" since Putin became president. Moreover, he praised the current occupant of the Kremlin for what Gorbachev said is Putin's "democratic" approach to the media.

Four days later, on 14 August, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church canonized Nicholas II and his family, who were murdered by the Bolsheviks on 17 July 1918. The Church body justified its action by saying that "in the last Russian Orthodox monarch and his family, we see people who sincerely tried to carry out the commandments of the Gospels in their lives."

Both of these developments is clearly the product of a careful political calculation, one that balances the benefit such moves can give to their authors with the risks that each of these steps so obviously poses.

By reaching out to Gorbachev, Putin has opened the way for a reconsideration of the last years of Soviet power, a period that many in Russia look back to with nostalgia but one whose major developments Yeltsin had either sharply criticized or attempted to pass over in silence. At the same time, the current Russian president's meeting with Gorbachev has angered those who dislike the last Soviet leader or who fear a return to a Soviet-style past.

By canonizing the last Russian tsar, the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow has extended a hand to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, a group that broke with the patriarchal Church over the latter's loyalty to the regime that had killed the imperial family. The canonization decision, however, is likely to infuriate those who were encouraged to view the last tsar as "Bloody Nicholas."

But behind these specific calculations is a more general shift in the way Russia and its leaders have chosen to deal with the past. After the 1917 revolution, Soviet leaders initially attempted with remarkable success to ignore or simply denounce much of Russia's past only to see elements of that past re-emerge in various ways over the following decades. And again, after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian leaders in general and Yeltsin in particular sought to ignore or denounce the Soviet past and especially the Gorbachev period-- with the parallel result that many of the elements of that period have continued to play a role in post-Soviet Russia.

In both cases, the earlier unwillingness of many Russians to openly confront the past and thus to assimilate it into the national conciousness has had the unintended effect of making the past more, rather than less, influential. Consequently, this latest effort in Moscow to address the past appears to offer some promise that Russia may have begun to escape from this particular historical syndrome.

But the historical experience of both Russia and other countries suggests that such a shift in perspective is likely to be both long and painful, not least because it will almost certainly be misread and opposed by people accustomed to denying the past. Some will see it as a signal that Putin and the Church have launched a concerted effort to turn back the clock, and others will conclude that both are maligning the intervening periods.

Moreover, the obviousness of the current political calculations behind this shift in perspective almost always has the effect of further politicizing the past, thus making its interpretation and integration into the national consciousness more problematic rather than less difficult.

And finally, decisions like those made by Putin and by the Russian Orthodox Church almost certainly will not be assimilated by everyone in Russia quickly or even at all, thus opening the door to new divisions even as those who took these decisions seek to overcome old ones.

But these two steps, as different as they appear to be and in fact are, suggest that Russia and Russians are increasingly prepared to examine their pasts with equanimity, an approach that may have the unexpected effect of limiting the impact of those pasts on their future.


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