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Newsline - September 6, 2000




BEREZOVSKII EXPLAINS PLANS FOR ORT...

In an interview with NTV on 5 September, Boris Berezovskii renewed his criticism of Vladimir Putin, noting that the president "has concentrated all political authority in his hands" and is trying to establish control over the media. Berezovskii explained that his earlier announcement that he will transfer his stake in Russian Public Television (ORT) in trust to journalists and other public figures is part of his effort "to build a constructive opposition." He added "I want professional journalists to represent our, society's, interests in this fast-changing world." In an interview with "Izvestiya" the same day, Igor Shabdurasulov, former deputy head of the presidential administration, said that he has been asked to join a group that will be handling Berezovskii's stocks in ORT. Also tapped are ORT anchorman Sergei Dorenko and ORT director-general Konstantin Ernst. JAC

...AS HIS FOES ARE SKEPTICAL

Longtime Berezovskii foe and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov suggested that Berezovskii's pledge that he will transfer his stake in ORT is a political stunt. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov was also skeptical, saying he is certain that Berezovskii will manage to ensure that ORT's journalists continue to promote his editorial viewpoint. Berezovskii is "not giving away anything. He wants Dorenko and those remaining with him to continue his line," Interfax-Eurasia reported on 5 September. The same day, State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev said that the Duma should re- examine the circumstances under which Berezovskii gained control of shares in ORT in the mid-1990s. Seleznev declared that "ORT was a gift from [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin to Berezovskii." JAC

CASE DROPPED AGAINST GUSINSKII AIDE

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 5 September closed its case against Mikhail Aleksandrov, aide to Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii. A criminal charge for possession of illegal weapons was brought against Aleksandrov on 6 July. Media-MOST attorney Pavel Astakhov said that the case had been dropped because the "situation has changed." JAC

GOVERNMENT PLANNING SECRET SUBSIDIES FOR MEDIA?

Addenda for subsidies to the media have been included in the draft 2001 federal budget and classified as top secret, meaning they cannot be accessed by all members of the State Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 September. According to the daily, this is the first time that such an expenditure has received such a classification, which is usually reserved for expenditures on weapons. Previously, such addenda specified monies for the All- Russian State Television and Radio Company, regional state-owned television and radio companies, and the ITAR-TASS news agency. State Duma deputy (Communist) Leonid Maevskii claims that the Kremlin is trying to conceal subsidies for private TV and radio companies. The Media Ministry has refused to comment on Maevskii's charges, referring all enquires to the Finance Ministry, which is responsible for preparing the budget. JAC

INITIAL OSTANKINO REPAIRS TO TOTAL MORE THAN $40 MILLION

State Construction Committee head Anvar Shamuzafarov told reporters on 5 September that implementation of top-priority measures to restore the Ostankino television tower will require more than 1.1363 billion rubles ($41 million), Interfax reported. Restoration of the tower's elevators and elevator cables alone will cost 334-350 million rubles. Last week, Shamuzafarov predicted that repairs on the tower would take at least one year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2000). JAC

MORE RUSSIANS WANT LARGE ARMY

In a poll conducted at the end of August by the Public Opinion agency, 49 percent of an unspecified number of respondents said they believe that Russia "should support a large and powerful army, even if the country does not have enough resources to do so," "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 September. According to the newspaper, a similar question asked in a poll in 1996 elicited only 29 percent support. The newspaper suggests that the "Kursk" submarine tragedy may have acted as a "catalyst" for a sharp change in the public's attitude toward the military. JAC

BANKING SECTOR RECOVERING, AGENCY HEAD CLAIMS

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 5 September, Aleksandr Turbanov, head of the Agency for Restructuring Credit Organizations (ARKO), said that Russia's "banking system has returned to its basic functions of managing accounts and providing credits to the real sectors of the economy." He noted that Russian enterprises can once again pay one another through banking establishments. He added that one of the basic problems remaining in the banking systems is the shortage of capital, noting that while capital has been growing, it still has not reached the level achieved before the August 1998 financial crisis. According to Turbanov, seven of the 20 banks that have been restructured by ARKO can report a significant improvement in their financial situation. JAC

LUZHKOV SAYS FEDERAL, LOCAL LAWS MAY NEED CORRECTIONS

Presidential representative to the Central district Georgii Poltavchenko told reporters on 5 September that 12 laws and 24 normative acts passed by the City of Moscow should be brought into conformity with federal legislation, Interfax-Moscow reported. The same day, Moscow Mayor Luzhkov acknowledged that some Moscow laws need to be altered so that they do not conflict with federal legislation, saying that Moscow "has never tried to stand apart from a [single] legislative space in Russia." At the same time, he noted that contradictions between city and federal laws, "which we consider to be based on principle, should be resolved by judicial organs." "In some cases, correctives will be needed not to Moscow but to federal laws, particularly on questions of self-rule," he added. Also on 5 September, presidential envoy to the Volga district Sergei Kirienko noted that 567 legislative acts of regions in his district violate federal laws. JAC

FSB DENIES DETAINING CHECHEN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) issued a statement on 5 September denying any knowledge of the whereabouts of Chechen parliamentary speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiev, "The Moscow Times" reported. Alikhadzhiev was arrested at his home in the Chechen town of Shali in mid-May and has not been seen since. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's press service had claimed on 2 September that Alikhadzhiev died as a result of torture in Moscow's Lefortovo prison, which is controlled by the FSB. Chechnya's newly elected State Duma deputy, former Interior Ministry Major General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, said he was told by a Justice Ministry official that Alikhadzhiev is alive and being held in Lefortovo. LF

RUSSIAN COMMANDANT DENIES FIGHTING UNDER WAY IN GROZNY

Lieutenant General Ivan Babichev, who is Chechnya's military commandant, told Interfax on 5 September there was no truth to media reports of fighting in the city between federal forces and Chechen fighters. One Russian policeman died that day when Chechen fighters blew up a car in Grozny, according to dpa. Chechen police sources told Interfax that Grozny has been completed sealed off to preclude terrorist attacks on the 6 September anniversary of Chechnya's declaration of independence in 1991. Security has also been strengthened in Shali, southeast of Grozny. LF

MOST MUSCOVITES DISAPPROVE OF PUTIN'S HANDLING OF 'KURSK' DISASTER

Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents in a poll carried out in Moscow last week disapproved of President Putin's handling of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine disaster, "Novoe vremya" reported on 3 September. Only 23 percent approved of his actions at the time of the disaster, while 15 percent were reported to be unsure. The largest number of Putin critics were to be found among the capital's students (74 percent). According to the publication, the "reaction to the disaster has been more muted in the rest of the country." An opinion poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Study Center last week found 65 percent of respondents supported the president, while only 26 percent disapproved of his work. JC

KASYANOV PONDERS POSSIBLE PIPELINE WITH SLOVAK MINISTER

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Slovak Economics Minister Lubomir Harach met in Moscow on 6 September to discuss, among other things, the possibility of constructing a gas pipeline from Russia that would transit Poland and Slovakia, thereby by-passing Ukraine, Interfax reported. Russia has accused Ukraine of illegally siphoning off Russian gas transiting its territory and has claimed that as a result of that activity, Gazprom has sustained losses totaling $111 million as of 1 August, according to Interfax on 4 September. JC

TWO-THIRDS OF GRAIN HARVEST COLLECTED

Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev announced on 5 September that Russia has already harvested about 50 million tons of grain and cleared about 60 percent of cultivated land. He confirmed earlier forecasts of 65 million tons of grain for 2000 and a 5 million ton fodder grain shortfall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2000). He added that Russia will harvest about 32 million tons of potatoes, 11 million tons of other vegetables, and 16 million tons of refinery-quality sugar beets. JAC




CAUSE OF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTING SUSPECT'S DEATH UNCLEAR

It is still unclear whether Norair Yeghiazarian died of a heart attack in his prison cell on 29 August or was electrocuted by a water-heating device, Armenpress reported on 5 September, quoting prosecutor Mikael Badirian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August and 1 September 2000). Yeghiazarian was being held in detention on suspicion of selling arms to the five gunmen who shot eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament last October. Badirian said he does not doubt Yeghiazarian's death was accidental, adding that his body bore no traces of violence and his fellow cell inmates immediately rushed to his aid. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER DEMANDS 'POLITICAL SUPPORT' FOR INVESTIGATION

Aram Sargsian, whose brother Vazgen was one of the victims of the 27 October parliament shootings, said on 5 September that the investigation into the murders is a political issue and that he and the relatives of the other seven victims will need "political support" in order to establish who was behind the murders, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian has consistently rejected the claim that the gunmen acted on their own initiative. That claim was made by Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen. LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS TO CONDUCT INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO HIJACK

Meeting in Baku on 5 September, the independent Union of Editors decided to set up its own independent body to investigate the abortive 18 August attempt by a member of the opposition Musavat Party to hijack an Azerbaijani Airlines aircraft, Turan reported. The editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" was arrested on 22 August and charged with complicity in that crime. Also on 5 September, the Nakhichevan branch of the Musavat Party, to which the lone hijacker belonged, issued a statement accusing the exclave's authorities of launching a campaign of repression and persecution against the party. The statement said that Musavat party members are being hindered from registering as election candidates in Nakhichevan. LF

AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN STILL AT ODDS OVER CASPIAN OIL FIELD

Ilham Aliev, who is the vice president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and the son of President Heidar Aliev, told journalists in Baku on 5 September that Turkmenistan does not have the capability to exploit independently the Kyapaz Caspian oil field to which both countries lay claim, Interfax reported. Aliyev said Azerbaijani specialists calculate that some 20-30 percent of the field lies in Turkmenistan's sector of the Caspian. For that reason, Aliyev continued, Baku proposed to Ashgabat that the two countries establish a joint venture to exploit the deposit on a 50:50 basis. Turkmenistan, however, rejected that proposal and continues to insist that it owns the entire field, which is far closer to the eastern than to the western shore of the Caspian. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION DRAFTS NEW ABKHAZ PEACE PROPOSAL

Representatives of the Center for Democracy and Freedom, which unites 24 non-parliamentary Georgian opposition parties, told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 September that the center has drafted and sent to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan new proposals for resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Those proposals require the UN to define the 1992-1993 war as one not between Georgia and Abkhazia, but between Georgia and Russia, given that Russia supplied military aid to the Abkhaz. The opposition representative said that no progress can be made toward resolving the conflict until Russia is totally excluded from the mediation process and stripped of its veto right in the UN Security Council on issues referring to the Abkhaz conflict. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER DEPLORES QUALITY OF DRAFT LEGISLATION

Addressing the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 5 September, Qasymzhomart Toqaev expressed concern that many draft laws submitted for debate are of a low standard and are adopted without any preliminary discussion with "qualified experts," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He noted that most experienced lawyers in Kazakhstan prefer to work for the private sector. Justice Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov told the same session that two of 12 bills designated as priorities by President Nursultan Nazarbaev have not yet been submitted to the parliament, including the new Tax Code. Toqaev also stressed the need to ensure that the Tax Code draft, which he termed "very important for the republic's economy," is completed to the required standard in order to preclude the need for "endless amendments," according to Interfax. LF

OSCE HOSTS ROUNDTABLE BETWEEN KAZAKH AUTHORITIES, POLITICAL PARTIES

A roundtable discussion between representatives of the Kazakh government and pro-regime and opposition political parties took place at the OSCE office in Almaty on 2 September, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported on 5 September. The discussion focused on how the domestic political situation has developed since the January 1999 presidential poll, which both the OSCE and the opposition assessed as unfair and undemocratic. LF

PRINTERS REFUSE TO PUBLISH KAZAKH NEWSPAPER

A printing house in Kazakhstan has twice refused to print issues of the local newspaper "Vremya-PO." That move comes after the newspaper published an article in its 25 August issue criticizing Prime Minister Toqaev, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 September. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN DENIES UNDERSTATING CASUALTY FIGURES

Osmonakun Ibraimov, talking to RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 5 September, denied media reports that more than 50 Kyrgyz troops have been killed over the past month in clashes with fighters from the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The official death toll as of 5 September is 31; of those, 27 died in combat, three as a result of accidents, while the body of the last has not been recovered. Defense Ministry officials said on 5 September that there was no fighting that day or the previous night but that bombing raids on presumed militant positions continued on 5 September. Representatives of the signatory states to the CIS Collective Security Treaty met in Moscow on 4 September to discuss the situation in Central Asia, Interfax reported. LF

INCREASE IN MILITARY SPENDING MAY DELAY KYRGYZ DEBT REPAYMENTS

Finance Minister Sultan Mederov told the lower house of Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 5 September that his ministry has allocated the Defense Ministry the planned amount of 460 million soms (about $9.8 million) for this budget year, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. In addition to that sum, the ministry received 154 million soms in July-August and will receive a further 82 million soms in September. He said those additional allocations are hindering Kyrgyzstan from meeting foreign debt repayments, according to Interfax. Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt totals $1.22 billion, of which $80 million must be repaid this year. The country's entire annual budget is $250 million. First Deputy Defense Minister Nurdin Chomoev said on 4 September that the army is short of funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2000). LF




BELARUSIAN EX-PREMIER FACES MORE CHARGES

The authorities have instituted criminal proceedings against former Premier Mikhail Chyhir for alleged tax evasion when he worked for a German concern in Moscow after quitting his cabinet post in 1996, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Chyhir told RFE/RL that he has paid all taxes, adding that the new charges seek to obstruct his election campaign for a seat in the Chamber of Representatives. Chyhir has already received a three-year suspended sentence for abuse of office but has appealed the verdict. Independent commentators say both the old and new charges against Chyhir are trumped up and aim at eliminating him as a potentially dangerous challenger to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in next year's presidential ballot. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES FOIL INDEPENDENT PRESS FESTIVAL

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) said on 5 September that the authorities have committed "yet another discrimination act" against the independent media by seeking to thwart plans for a festival of the non-state press, which was scheduled to take place in Vitsebsk on 8-9 September, Belapan reported. The Vitsebsk authorities initially agreed that the BAJ could hold the festival in a local community center but four days before the event was due to start said the festival venue is not available. The BAJ has not abandoned its festival plans and says the event will take place in Minsk later this month. JM

UKRAINAN PARLIAMENT FACES LABORIOUS SESSION

Speaker Ivan Plyushch, opening the fall parliamentary session on 5 September, told deputies that the session's agenda includes more than 350 issues. Plyushch noted that the most important task is to amend the constitution in line with the 16 April referendum. He added that other priority issues are the adoption of a 2001 budget and consideration of the Criminal, Customs, Tax, Budget, and Land Codes. The parliamentary group Sobornist asked the deputies to include on the agenda the issue of impeaching President Leonid Kuchma. The group claims to have evidence that former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko transferred "large sums in hard currency to Kuchma's personal accounts or accounts controlled by him," Interfax reported. JM

UKRAINIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST COSTLY LIBEL RULINGS

Ukrainian journalists have launched a protest campaign against what they see as media harassment in the form of very high libel settlements, Interfax and AP reported on 5 September. Courts have been flooded by libel claims from officials, private citizens, and organizations seeking huge settlements that journalists say are often used as political tools to silence criticism. Journalists are planning to travel in horsedrawn carts across Ukrainian regions and build a "Freedom Town" in front of the parliamentary building in Kyiv within the framework of their protest campaign. The parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech has proposed a bill that would limit libel settlements to 2,550 hryvni ($468). JM

'ESTONIA' INVESTIGATORS VIEW DIVE VIDEO

Some members of an international commission that investigated the sinking of the "Estonia" ferry in September 1994 convened in Tallinn on 5 September to view the video taken from the recent diving expedition to the ferry wreck. The controversial expedition, sponsored by U.S. millionaire Gregg Bemis, was filmed by a German crew. Estonian public television reportedly paid $2,000 for the footage, BNS reported. Uno Laur, head of the commission, said the video "changes nothing" and will not lead to the international investigating commission's revising its original conclusions. Swedish Cabinet Minister Mona Sahlin said she is "concerned about the new information" gleaned from the video, saying that "there was nothing in earlier investigations that indicated that there were victims from the 'Estonia' outside the ship." Of the 852 known victims, 501 were Swedish citizens and 280 were Estonian citizens, ETA added. MH

AUDITOR REFUSES TO CONFIRM 1999 ESTONIAN BUDGET REPORT

Head of the State Audit Office, Juhan Parts, asked the parliament on 5 September not to confirm the report on budget expenditures for 1999, saying it is impossible to see from that document how state funds were used. Parts said "the information contained in the report is unreliable, it is incomparable and incomprehensible," ETA reported. Parts also attacked the accounting methodology and record-keeping. Finance Minister Siim Kallas accused Parts of interfering in politics, saying that the report was drawn up in conjunction with the State Audit Office. He added that the 1999 budget was originally drafted before the current coalition took over after the March 1999 elections. MH

CONTROVERSIAL LATVIAN COURT CASE HALTED

The long-running criminal case against ex-banker Aleksandr Lavent was halted in Riga on 5 September after the defendant was taken ill and transferred to the Riga Prison Hospital, LETA reported. Lavent, the former council chairman of the failed Banka Baltija, has been in detention for some 62 months. Doctors said Lavent suffered an attack of angina. Court officials adjourned proceedings until 7 September. Earlier, the court had stopped Lavent from completing his closing statement, saying that the defendant had threatened the court. Lavent argued that there is a major conspiracy among top state officials and that shortcomings in the investigation were ordered by the state, BNS added. Former Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs last week told Latvian Radio that Lavent's five- year pre-trial detention was "of course...a violation of human rights." MH

LI PENG STOPS OVER AT VILNIUS AIRPORT IN CURTAILED VISIT

Chinese parliamentary chairman Li Peng made a two-hour visit to Vilnius on 5 September, curtailing what was supposed to have been a two day visit. During his stopover at Vilnius Airport's VIP lounge, Li met with his counterpart, Vytautas Landsbergis, who said that the shortened trip did not affect the content of the visit, BNS reported. Local press speculated that Peng cut his trip because of the session of the international commission evaluating communist crimes that opened in the Vilnius parliament building on 5 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2000). MH

POLAND ABOLISHES IMPORT DUTIES ON FUEL

The government on 5 September abolished import duties on gasoline and other liquid fuels as of 10 September, Polish media reported. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said the step is aimed at bringing inflation down from its highest level in the past two years. Fuel prices have jumped 50 percent in the last 12 months, helping push up the annual inflation rate to 11.6 percent in July. Meanwhile, radical farmers' leader and presidential candidate Andrzej Lepper has called for a blockade of two oil refineries next week to protest that "the government is doing nothing to cut fuel prices". JM

AUSTRIAN ACTIVISTS TO RENEW CZECH BORDER-CROSSING BLOCKADES...

Upper Austrian Prime Minister Josef Puehringer on 5 September said the protests against the launching of the Temelin nuclear power plant will escalate. The same day, a representative of the Platform Against Nuclear Danger organization in Austria was quoted by CTK as saying border check points are to be blocked again on 8 September. Bavarian protesters may also block the Czech-German border, APA reported. The check points on the Austrian-Czech border were first blocked last weekend. Czech government spokesman Libor Roucek responded that border blockades will not stop the planned launching of the plant. He added that the plant will start operating as soon as the State Office for Nuclear Safety grants the necessary permission. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil commented that the protests are "not exactly in harmony with good neighborly relations." MS

...WHILE AUSTRIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES RESOLUTION ON TEMELIN

The Austrian parliament on 5 September unanimously approved a resolution calling on the government not to approve concluding the energy chapter in the EU's talks with the Czech Republic unless it is proved that Temelin meets EU safety standards, CTK reported. The same day, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said in Brussels that the Czechs "have a sovereign right" to decide whether to use nuclear energy and the EU "has no instruments to dictate what to do." Verheugen said Temelin is not among the nuclear plants classified by the EU as dangerous. MS

AUSTRIA GIVES INITIAL AGREEMENT OVER COMPENSATION TO CZECH FORCED LABORERS

An agreement between Austria and the Czech Republic was reached at expert level in Vienna on 5 September, providing for compensation for Czech citizens who were forced to work in Austria during World War II, CTK reported. Under the agreement, Austria will pay up to 501 million schillings (some $32 million) to three categories of victims: those interned in concentration camps, who will receive 105,000 schillings, those forced to work in heavy industry jobs (35,000 schillings) and those forced to work in agriculture (20,000 schillings). MS

PRAGUE JEWISH LEADERS SAY CEMETERY DISPUTE IS OVER

Leaders of the Prague Jewish community were quoted by the daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 6 September as saying that the dispute surrounding the medieval Jewish cemetery in Prague "is over" and that they are unwilling to join foreign Jewish communities in trying to prevent the construction of an insurance office on the ground above the cemetery. The daily says that according to "unconfirmed information" an agreement reached on 5 September stipulated that the human remains in the cemetery are to be reburied in another Jewish cemetery in Prague. MS

SLOVAKIA TO HOLD EARLY ELECTIONS REFERENDUM IN NOVEMBER

President Rudolf Schuster has called a referendum on whether early elections should be conducted and has set the date of the plebiscite as 11 November, CTK and Reuters reported on 5 September. The drive for the referendum was led by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and also involved the participation of the Slovak National Party. More than 600,000 signatures were collected in support of the plebiscite, but observers say the referendum is unlikely to succeed owing to low turnout. More than 50 percent of registered voters must participate for the results to be valid. A final decision will then be made by the parliament. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda called on voters not to take part in the referendum, while the HZDS has urged them to do so. MS

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS CALL FOR 'NEGOTIATED BORDER REVISIONS'

Zsolt Lanyi, a deputy parliamentary chairman representing the Independent Smallholders' Party, has joined extremist Justice and Life Party leader Istvan Csurka in calling for a revision of Hungary's current borders, Hungarian media reported on 5 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2000). Lanyi told the parliament that "one must not give up hope that Hungary's borders can be revised peacefully, through negotiations." He added that "there will be no peace" until Hungarians living in neighboring countries "become citizens with equal rights." MS

JEWISH CEMETERY VANDALIZED IN HUNGARY

Janos Lakatos, leader of the Jewish community in Szombathely, told MTI on 5 September that vandals toppled more than a dozen tombstones in the town's cemetery, AP reported. Police have launched an investigation. MS




YUGOSLAV PREMIER WARNS OF CIVIL WAR IF MONTENEGRO BREAKS AWAY

Momir Bulatovic said on 5 September that if Montenegro declares independence from Yugoslavia, a civil war could ensue, Reuters reported citing the Bosnian weekly "Dani." Bulatovic told "Dani" that "there would be a bloody civil war," but he suggested that Yugoslav army units based in Montenegro would not be involved in the fighting. He said if a referendum were held on the issue of independence, "we will respect the will of the citizens. But any other means [of becoming independent] would pave the way to civil war." The same day, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, appealed to "all people of good will in Serbia and Montenegro to do everything to prevent conflict and civil war in Montenegro." He also urged that the upcoming election be "just, honest, free, and recognized by all." PB

ANOTHER SURVEY GIVES KOSTUNICA LARGE LEAD OVER MILOSEVIC...

An opinion poll released on 5 September gives main Serbian opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica a large lead over Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ahead of the presidential elections, Reuters reported. The survey, taken by the Belgrade- based Center for Policy Studies, gave Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) candidate Kostunica 43 percent of the support of respondents and Milosevic 21 percent. Srecko Mihailovic, who conducted the poll, said "the political scene is fully polarized, with only two political forces in Serbia's political scene--the DOS and the leftist coalition." The poll also showed that the coalition made up of Milosevic's Socialist Party and the Yugoslav Left of his wife, Mirjana Markovic, would receive 20 percent in the parliamentary vote compared with 41 percent for the DOS. PB

...AS CHALLENGER SAYS HE'S OPPOSED TO EXTRADITING MILOSEVIC

Kostunica, the opposition candidate who is the frontrunner in the 24 September presidential election, said on 5 September that he is against sending President Milosevic to The Hague as an indicted war criminal, Reuters reported. Kostunica said "The Hague indictment against [Milosevic] is as pointless as last year's NATO bombing of Yugoslavia," B2-92's Website reported. PB

YUGOSLAV ARMY ACCUSES NATO OF AGGRESSIVE POLICY...

Lieutenant General Vladimir Lazarevic, the commander of Yugoslavia's Third Army, said on 5 September that NATO is using an aggressive policy toward Yugoslavia in an attempt to destabilize the situation in that country, Reuters reported citing Tanjug. Lazarevic, speaking during a tour of the Pristina Corps, currently stationed outside of Kosova in Prokuplje, said NATO is using "propaganda, intelligence, [and] subversive and terrorist activities" to create a "false image of the real situation in Kosovo." He added that NATO also seeks to demoralize the Yugoslav army and is sowing discord between Serbia and Montenegro. PB

...AS NATO FORCES HOLD MANEUVERS IN KOSOVA

British troops engaged in exercises along Kosova's administrative boundary with the rest of Serbia on 5 September, AP reported. Those exercises involve tanks, snipers, and long-range artillery. British Major Harry Hanscomb said the maneuvers are a "deterrent operation from aggression across the boundary. We want to reassure people who live in this area that we have the capability to defend this area of Kosovo." The exercises come three days after Yugoslav soldiers carried out a similar show of force on the other side of the border. Some1,000 soldiers and 200 armored vehicles took part in those maneuvers. PB

NO YUGO POLLS IN KOSOVA'S PUBLIC BUILDINGS

Bernard Kouchner, the UN's mission administrator in Kosova, said on 5 September that public buildings in the Serbian province will not be used to house polling stations during the upcoming Yugoslav elections, AP reported. Kouchner said allowing voting to take place in public buildings could lead to confrontations. Slobodan Ilic, a leader of the Socialist Party in Kosova, responded that "we are going to set up polling stations in private houses." PB

SOCIALIST PARTY SAYS MILOSEVIC TO VISIT KOSOVA

Milomir Minic, a leading official in Serbia's ruling Socialist Party, said on 5 September that Milosevic will "certainly" make a campaign stop in Kosova, dpa reported. Minic said the date and destination "depend on the election campaign strategy." NATO said last week that Milosevic will be arrested and sent to The Hague if he enters Kosova. PB

CROATIAN POLICE BEGIN INVESTIGATION OF TUDJMAN'S DAUGHTER

The Croatian Interior Ministry said a police investigation has begun to determine if Nevenka Tudjman, daughter of the late President Franjo Tudjman, accepted bribes in various business dealings, dpa reported on 6 September, citing the daily "Vecernji list." Among the charges, Ms. Tudjman is alleged to have received some $300,000 for lobbying the Ministry of Science to buy Alcatel's telephone switchboards. She said: "the accusations are a product of a sick imagination, they are turned against the reputation of my father." Current President Stipe Mesic told "The New York Times" on 3 September that the Tudjmans "made a profit due to their positions, becoming the owners of the companies and trust funds in the process of privatization that was never opened to the public." PB

OFFICIALS WORRIED THAT AID TO RETURNEES IN BOSNIA NOT ENOUGH

International officials said on 5 September in Sarajevo that foreign assistance to refugees returning to their prewar homes in Bosnia-Herzegovina may not be enough for basic housing needs, AP reported. Werner Blatter, who represents in Bosnia the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said "we are pleased that the number of minority returns continues to increase, but UNHCR is alarmed that many returnees will not have adequate shelter" this winter. He added that if greater assistance is not given, "many returnees will be forced to return to the places of displacement." PB

FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER TO BE PROSECUTED?

Ion Iliescu, chairman of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said on 5 September that there is "no evidence" that former Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu, and former Interior Minister Doru Ioan Taracila, now both deputy chairmen of the Senate, were involved in the breaching of the UN oil embargo against Yugoslavia. Iliescu was responding to media reports that the Prosecutor-General's Office is requesting that their parliamentary immunity be lifted so that they can be prosecuted. But a spokesman for the Prosecutor- General's office denied the reports, saying that under existing legislation, the request for the prosecution of ministers or former ministers must be initiated by either the Justice Minister or the country's president or by one of the two chambers of the parliament. Iliescu also said that former Foreign Affairs Minister Adrian Severin has "not yet" joined the PDSR but will do so upon his return from abroad. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT READY TO HELP UN WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL

UN War Crimes Tribunal Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said in Sofia on 5 September that she is "grateful to the Bulgarian government for its support and readiness to cooperate with the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal," AP reported. Del Ponte spoke after meeting with Foreign Minster Nadezhda Mihailova, who commented that a country's attitude toward the tribunal must be viewed as "a test for political commitment to democracy." Prosecutor-General Nikola Filichev assured Del Ponte that Bulgaria will pass amendments to existing legislation aimed at helping capture suspects wanted by the tribunal. Del Ponte said that she expects Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to be arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment by the court in The Hague. MS




PUTIN MOVES TO RE-CENTRALIZE CULTURE


by Jan Cleave

In yet another demonstration of his proclivity to re- centralize, Russian President Vladimir Putin has imposed direct government control over the Bolshoi Theater. Many in Moscow had long expected some change at the problem-plagued theater, but Putin's decision to strip one of the country's cultural flagships of its largely autonomous status has surprised and angered many members of the intelligentsia. Rather than help the Bolshoi overcome its problems, as the government claims, the move may well contribute to the theater's decline. More important, it suggests an increasingly bureaucratic and interventionist approach toward the arts under the current leadership.

Putin's bid to re-centralize control over the country's cultural institutions began just weeks after he was inaugurated as president. In late May, he ordered the abolition of the State Committee for Cinematography (Goskino), which since the end of the Soviet-era had been an influential structure protecting the interests of the studios and film-makers. Under Putin's decree, Goskino's functions were transferred to the Culture Ministry. Outraged by that move, many of the country's film-makers expressed concern that the studios would lose their independence and profits from the film industry, which has begun to recover over the past couple of years, would be swallowed up by the ministry.

Early last week, Putin took another step toward tightening state supervision of the cultural sphere. With his reputation damaged in the wake of the "Kursk" disaster and about to take another beating over the Ostankino blaze, the president issued a decree imposing direct control over the Bolshoi, which, like the ill-fated submarine and television tower, has seen its funding and prestige dwindle over the past decade. Artistic and general director Vladimir Vasilev, a former star of the Bolshoi ballet company who has been roundly criticized for failing to revamp the theater's image and raise standards during his five-year tenure, was summarily dismissed--reportedly, he first learned of his sacking from the media. Responsibility for the theater was transferred to the Culture Ministry, thereby revoking the largely autonomous status former President Boris Yeltsin had granted the Bolshoi five years ago.

Vasilev's successor is Anatolii Iksanov, former director of St. Petersburg's Bolshoi Drama Theater and a manager of the state-run Kultura television channel. Iksanov assumes the post of general director, while conductor Gennadii Rozhdestvenskii, whose association with the Bolshoi dates back almost half a century, has been appointed artistic director.

In interviews with the Russian press, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi sought to defend Putin's decree, which also pledges more funds for the stalled renovation of the crumbling 19th-century edifice. Vasilev, the minister argued, was not up to the "exacting" task of overseeing the project to renovate the theater, and since Shvydkoi's ministry will be in charge of the renovation funds, a change in management was unavoidable. "How can I be responsible for finances that are not under my control?" Shvydkoi asked. The minister also sought to assuage fears that control will be extended to the Bolshoi's artistic direction, saying his ministry will not oversee the theater "in the Soviet sense of the word."

However, there are very strong fears that Putin's decree will impact negatively both on the renovation efforts and the theater's artistic integrity. With regard to the former, it is questionable whether the government will be able to find the estimated $350 million required, among other things, to fortify the building's sagging foundations, complete the construction of an annex, and, perhaps most important in the wake of the Ostankino blaze, rewire the theater to meet contemporary safety standards. And it is equally questionable whether international organizations and private individuals will be willing to contribute financially to those efforts (Vasilev, for his part, launched a world-wide appeal earlier this year) when the Russian government, hardly renowned for its transparent handling of international aid, is in charge of the theater.

As far as the Bolshoi's artistic direction is concerned, Shvydkoi has stressed that over the next five years or so, the key figure at the theater will be the administrative and not the artistic director, suggesting that Rozhdestvenskii will have only a limited input. Moreover, the culture minister's claim that his ministry will not interfere "Soviet-style" in the artistic direction of the Bolshoi already rings hollow: Shvydkoi has been quoted as saying that the theater should be a showcase for Russian opera and ballet and that opera will play a more important role than it did under Vasilev's leadership.

Widely circulating rumors in Moscow suggest that President Putin is anxious to see the Bolshoi become as successful as St. Petersburg's Mariinskii Theater, which in recent years usurped the Moscow theater's status as Russia's leading opera and ballet house. If that is the case, the president overlooked one essential point--namely that the St. Petersburg theater has, in the person of conductor Valerii Gergiev, a charismatic leader who is renowned for his extraordinary musical talent and entrepreneurial flair and enjoys considerable artistic freedom. Given that the running of the Bolshoi is to be left, at least in the near future, to an administrator answerable to a government minister, it is unlikely that the theater will become a serious rival to its northern counterpart anytime soon.

To date, the main consequences of Putin's re-centralizing efforts in the cultural sphere have been the expansion of the bureaucracy of the Culture Ministry and the increase of the culture minister's influence over leading artistic institutions. Neither of those developments bodes well for such institutions. Nor are they auspicious augurs for Russia's cultural life in general under the Putin administration.


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