Accessibility links

Newsline - December 14, 2000




PUTIN FREES POPE

Just hours after U.S. Vice President Al Gore conceded the U.S. election to George W. Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned convicted U.S. spy Edmond Pope and ordered him released from jail. The Russian presidential pardons commission had recommended last week, one day after Pope's conviction, that the U.S. businessman and former naval officer be granted clemency, citing his ill health and his wish to see his dying father. One member of the commission had denounced what she called "spy mania" in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 11 December 2000). 14 December was the first day that, under Russian law, Putin could pardon Pope, who had been detained in Moscow's Lefortovo prison since April on charges of having obtained classified information on the "Shkval" underwater torpedo. Reuters quoted a Kremlin spokesman as saying that a presidential decree dated 14 December said Pope was being pardoned on health grounds and because of the importance of U.S.-Russian relations. Pope and his wife, Cheri, left Russia on the morning of 14 December on a plane bound for Frankfurt, Germany, according to ITAR-TASS. JC

CASTRO WELCOMES PUTIN TO HAVANA

Cuban leader Fidel Castro was at Havana's Jose Marti airport late on 13 December to welcome Russian President Putin at the start of his official visit to Cuba. Putin is scheduled to meet several times with Castro on 14-15 December for talks that are likely to focus on economic issues. In particular, the discussions are expected to focus on Cuba's Soviet-era debt to Moscow, which Russian media have put at more than $20 billion. Observers say Putin will push for Russian participation in the completion of such Soviet-era projects as the Las Camariocas nickel-ore processing plant and the Cienfuegos oil refinery, as a means of paying off part of that debt. Accompanying Putin are Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. JC

ROGOZIN APPLAUDS BUSH VICTORY

Speaking to ITAR-TASS on 14 December, the head of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs, Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy), said that George W. Bush will be a "predictable and consistent international partner for Russia." The Bush administration, Rogozin suggested, "will focus attention on the solution of [its] own problems, on the strengthening of domestic security, and will not assume the role of a global Messiah, which Democrats sometimes liked to do." Rogozin also noted that the first thing Moscow will have to do when Bush takes office is convince his administration that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty is the "cornerstone" of international security. So far, there has been no official reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry nor from President Putin, who is currently in Cuba (see above), to Bush's election victory. JC

GUSINSKII EXTRADITION PROCESS COULD TAKE MONTHS...

The Office of Russia's Prosecutor-General announced on 13 December that it has forwarded all documents required for Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii's extradition from Spain to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. If extradited, Gusinskii will face embezzlement charges, Interfax reported. Gusinskii can be held for up to 40 days, during which time Spain's Supreme Court must decide whether to extradite him, Russian prosecutors told the agency. However, Reuters reported that other extradition cases in Spain have taken up to nine months. The Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko faction leaders have sent an appeal to President Putin asking him to personally intercede in the case against Gusinskii, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to the appeal, "recent events convincingly demonstrate that the Prosecutor-General's Office has been increasingly used as a weapon of political pressure and property re-distribution." JAC

...AS INTERNATIONAL VOICES RAISED ON HIS BEHALF

The appeal continued: "Only a few in the world would doubt that there is but one thing behind the whole streak of bombastic accusations: the desire to take under full political control the last national television channel independent of state officials." A U.S. State Department official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that "the case against Mr. Gusinskii and other instances of official pressure against journalists and the press pose a threat to media independence in Russia." Spain's "El Pais" reported that Gusinskii told Spanish policemen as he was being arrested that they were "making a big mistake": "You don't know who I am, I'm a friend of [U.S. President] Bill Clinton's," he reportedly said. Early next week, Israeli parliamentary speaker Avraham Berg and the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) plan to head to Spain to ask for Gusinskii's release, Reuters reported. JAC

PROSECUTORS DROP KREMLIN KICKBACK CASE

The Prosecutor-General's office has ended its investigation into alleged kickbacks to Kremlin officials, including members of former President Boris Yeltsin's family, by the Swiss construction firm Mabetex, Interfax reported on 13 December quoting the case's main investigator, Ruslan Tamaev. Tamaev said that no charges will be brought against Yeltsin or any members of his family because of lack of evidence. Pavel Borodin, secretary of state of the Union of Belarus and Russia, who was under investigation in the case, repeated his claim that the earlier charges stemmed from "political manipulations." Borodin, who was formerly the head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, said his department "was inspected 52 times" by different agencies, but no violations were discovered. JAC

CORRUPTION CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST DEFENSE MINISTRY FINANCE CHIEF

Military prosecutors have brought charges against Colonel General Georgii Oleinik, head of the Defense Ministry's Main Military and Finance Department, who has been under investigation since the summer in connection with the alleged embezzlement of $450 million in Defense Ministry funds. Oleinik has been charged with abusing power. He has not been arrested but is prohibited from leaving Moscow. "The Moscow Times" noted on 14 December that some observers have linked the investigation into the alleged embezzlement to the conflict between Defense Minister Sergeev and chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin, who have expressed differing views over the fate of the Strategic Rocket Forces. JC

SPS WANTS TO BURY OLD STATE SYMBOL

The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) on 14 December appealed to President Putin to consider setting up a commission to erect a memorial on Red Square to victims of political repression. SPS deputy faction head Viktor Pokhmelkin told reporters on 13 December that the commission would be authorized to solve such questions as the disposition of Lenin's corpse. When President Putin first raised the issue of readopting the Soviet national anthem, SPS members tried to link that issue to the question of burying Lenin, much to the chagrin of the Communist Party. According to Interfax, State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev is refusing to confirm that the issue is on the lower legislative house's agenda. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii said his faction will support the SPS's appeal, while leader of the pro-Kremlin Unity faction Boris Gryzlov said his group will oppose it. JAC

SOLZHENITSYN SAYS MORE PRESSING PROBLEMS EXIST THAN THAT OF STATE SYMBOLS...

Accepting an award from France on 13 December, Nobel Prize winner for literature and former Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn expanded on his earlier remarks condemning the recent decision to readopt the Soviet anthem. Solzhenitsyn called the recent decision on Russia's state symbols "extremely inappropriate and ill-timed," asserting that the solution of the problem "should have been put off for at least 25 years." Solzhenitsyn added that "men dying in the prime of their lives do not care what anthem will sound over their heads. And the two-headed eagle will never help those millions of people who are perishing in poverty." JAC

...CONSIDERS PRESS FREE IN RUSSIA

Solzhenitsyn also commented on the freedom of the press in Russia today and said that he does not believe this freedom is being suppressed. "Basically, the Russian press today is free and is not afraid of anything," he said. At the same time, he suggested that "in many respects, it is guided by the interests of its owners." The writer also stressed his support for Russia's military campaign against Chechnya. JAC

DAGHESTAN'S SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS GUILTY VERDICT AGAINST BABITSKII

The Supreme Court of Daghestan on 13 December upheld an earlier decision of a lower court that RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii is guilty of having used a false passport in early 2000. At the trial that took place in October, Babitskii was fined 100 minimum salaries ($300 at the exchange rate at that time), a fine that was dropped under amnesty conditions then in place. Babitskii, who is hoping to clear his name, contends that the false passport was planted on him by Russian officials who had detained him for 40 days. Babitskii's lawyer, Genri Reznik, said that he will appeal the decision to Russia's Supreme Court. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT REPORTED WOUNDED

Aslan Maskhadov was wounded during the special operation by federal forces in Alleroi, eastern Chechnya, on 7 November, Interfax on 13 December quoted the commander of the Joint Russian Force in the North Caucasus, Colonel-General Valerii Baranov, as saying. That operation was intended to neutralize Chechen field commanders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2000). On 13 December, Chechen "brigade general" Magomet Khambiev was wounded but managed to escape capture, when federal forces ambushed and opened fire on his car near the village of Tazen-Kale, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian military spokesmen also claimed that 23 Chechen fighters were killed on 13 December in fighting in the villages of Mesker-Yurt, east of Grozny Serzhen-Yurt, southeast of the capital. LF

YASTRZHEMBSKII CONDEMNS MASKHADOV'S GEORGIA EDICT

Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 13 December condemned Maskhadov's edict warning that any Chechen citizens found guilty of committing serious crimes in Georgia will be sentenced to death, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2000). Yastrzhembskii termed that edict an attempt to extend Maskhadov's jurisdiction over a neighboring country. He suggested that it was prompted by the Georgian authorities' recent move to crack down on crime and lawlessness in the Pankisi gorge, where thousands of refugees from the Chechen war have settled. LF




ARMENIAN OFFICER ARRESTED

Colonel Avag Khachatrian, who is on the staff of the Armenian Defense Ministry, was arrested in Yerevan on 9 December on suspicion of illegal arms trading, Armenpress and ITAR-TASS reported. A search of his apartment and garage yielded large quantities of weapons and ammunition, together with $105,000 in cash. LF

ARMENIA, U.S. SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Senior U.S. and Armenian military officials signed a cooperation agreement for 2001 in Yerevan on 13 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The agreement covers 19 "engagement activities" and will help the Armenian military to prepare for possible humanitarian operations and familiarize its top brass with the status and structure of armed forces in the West. An analogous agreement with Azerbaijan will be signed on 14 December. General Charles Simpson, who signed the agreement on behalf of the U.S., told journalists that Washington has no intention of establishing a military presence in the South Caucasus. He also said that the U.S. could participate in an eventual peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh only with the consent of the states involved. LF

FORMER KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER SEEKS MEETING WITH PRESIDENT

Samvel Babayan, the former defense minister and commander of the army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, wants to meet with the enclave's President Arkadii Ghukasian in an attempt to prove that he was not involved in the 22 March bid to assassinate the latter, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 13 December. Babayan was arrested in late March and charged with masterminding that attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March and 5 April 2000). Babayan told Armenian parliamentary deputies who visited him in detention on 11 December that he believes Ghukasian has been misinformed about his ongoing trial. LF

ABDUCTED UN OBSERVERS RELEASED IN GEORGIA

The two UN military observers abducted in Abkhazia's Kodori gorge on 10 December were released unharmed three days later, following negotiations between their kidnappers and Georgian presidential representative Emzar Kvitsiani, Caucasus Press reported. Reuters quoted Georgian presidential spokesman Kakha Imnadze as saying that no ransom was paid. Imnadze also said he does not know the identity of the abductors. LF

GEORGIA SIGNS NEW GAS PSA

CanArgo Norio LTD, a subsidiary of Canada's CanArgo Energy Corporation, signed a Production Sharing Agreement on 12 December with the state-owned Georgian Oil, according to a CanArgo press release. The agreement is to develop two blocks adjacent to the Ninotsminda field, where CanArgo began commercial gas production in December 1999. All gas from that field is sold to the U.S. company AES to fuel the Gardabani power station south of Tbilisi, which AES owns. CanArgo also announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Georgian Oil on joint activities in oil and gas development in Azerbaijan. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT, U.S. OFFICIAL DISCUSS OIL EXPORT

Elizabeth Jones, the former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan who is the recently appointed adviser on Caspian energy issues to U.S. President Bill Clinton, met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev and other senior Kazakh officials in Almaty on 13 December to discuss the possibility of extending to the Kazakh port of Aktau the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Interfax reported. Jones told journalists after her talks with Nazarbaev that the Kazakh president expressed support for the project. She added that Azerbaijan has calculated that 80 percent of the pipeline's throughput capacity of 1 million bpd (barrels per day) would be used for the export of oil from Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian and the remainder for Kazakh crude. LF

COMMUNISTS IN QARAGHANDY PREVENT DISMANTLING OF LENIN STATUE

Communists in the town of Qaraghandy in eastern Kazakhstan have formed a human chain around the statue of Lenin on the town's central boulevard to prevent it being removed to the city outskirts, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 13 December. Also on13 December, the leader of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, protested to the Kazakh parliament's lower house over the decision of the Qaraghandy municipal authorities to relocate the town's Lenin Museum. Abdildin said those plans constitute "vandalization of a historic monument." Qaraghandy was the location of one of the USSR's most infamous Stalinist labor camps. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT EXPLAINS DRAFT LAND LAW...

Addressing the lower house of the Kyrgyz parliament on 13 December, President Askar Akaev again proposed that the five-year moratorium imposed two years ago on the sale and purchase of land be lifted, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said he will present a draft bill on that issue before the end of this year. But at the same time, Akaev stipulated that restrictions are needed, in particular to preclude the purchase of land by foreign citizens and companies and to impose a tax that would preclude the emergence of "rich landowners" who would speculate in land. Akaev said only persons who had lived in rural areas for a minimum of two years will be eligible to buy land, but he did not explain how impoverished farmers would manage to do so. The lifting of the moratorium on land ownership is one of the conditions set down by an IMF mission that recently visited Kyrgyzstan for resuming loans to that country, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported, quoting unnamed Kyrgyz experts. LF

...CALLS FOR AMENDMENTS TO DRAFT BUDGET...

Akaev also told the Legislative Assembly on 13 December that the government's draft budget for 2001, which has already been submitted to parliament, needs amending, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev said that revenues are likely to fall short of the planned level by 600 million soms (about $12.5 million), while expenditures will probably exceed the draft target by 700 million soms. Akaev nonetheless advocated increasing expenditure on defense and security from the planned 579 million soms to 879 million soms. He added that this year expenditures in that sphere amounted to 810 million soms compared with the planned 350 million. The parliament has already once increased planned revenues for next year by 875.8 million soms to 11.6 billion soms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 2000). LF

...AND NEW, OR HIGHER, TAXES

Akaev also asked parliamentary deputies on 13 December to increase the retail trade tax rate from 2 percent to 5 percent and either to increase the land tax or to consider introducing a new tax on food production, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He offered two alternative draft bills, asking deputies to pass one of them before the end of the year, together with a third draft bill introducing a new tax on real estate. Local experts told RFE/RL that the land tax, the rate of which varies according to the region of the country and the quality of the land in question, could be doubled. If the parliament rejects that option, the alternative tax on food production could be two to three times higher than the current land tax, those experts calculated. LF

UZBEKISTAN TO INTRODUCE TRANSIT VISAS FOR TAJIK CITIZENS

As of 1 January 2001, citizens of Tajikistan will need a transit visa in order to cross the territory of Uzbekistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 14 December quoting the Tajik Foreign Ministry. The two countries introduced a mutual visa requirement in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2000). LF




LUKASHENKA WANTS BELARUSIAN TV TO BE EQUAL TO RUSSIAN

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 13 December criticized the leadership of the State Broadcasting Company for poor-quality programs on Belarusian Television. Lukashenka ordered Belarusian Television journalists to meet the professional standards of their Russian colleagues. "One should pay attention not to the content of materials [on Russian channels], not to comments on events, but to the work of correspondents and cameramen, since our television is 10 to 20 times less skilful here," Interfax quoted Lukashenka as saying. The Belarusian president explained his close interest in national television by saying it is the main tool for promoting his ideology, Belapan reported. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES FORMER BODYGUARD'S ALLEGATIONS

Presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko on 13 December said President Leonid Kuchma gave no illegal orders regarding journalist Heorhiy Gongadze or other journalists, Interfax reported. Martynenko was commenting on the videotaped allegations by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, which were made public in the parliament the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2000). Martynenko called the allegation of Kuchma's complicity in Gongadze's disappearance "a large-scale provocation." He noted that the "Moroz's tape," on which Kuchma allegedly gives the order to silence Gongadze, is a fabrication. "The logic behind the recent events is that of a scandal and not the search for the truth," Martynenko told journalists. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DENIES FULFILLING PRESIDENT'S ILLEGAL ORDERS

Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko on 13 December denied the allegation that he was present when President Leonid Kuchma instructed Security Service chief Leonid Derkach to implicate Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in the attempt on the life of Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko in October 1999, Interfax reported. Potebenko was commenting on a video tape handed over by Moroz to the Prosecutor-General's Office earlier the same day. The tape reportedly includes former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko's "appeal to the Ukrainians" in connection with the attempt on Vitrenko's life. "The so-called Melnychenko appeal is slander against the state's top officials, including Ukraine's prosecutor-general, and aims at destabilizing the political situation in the country and sowing distrust in state leaders and law enforcement bodies," Potebenko said. JM

EU LENDS $585 MILLION FOR REACTORS TO REPLACE CHORNOBYL

The European Commission on 13 December approved a $585 million loan for Ukraine to help construct reactors at the Khmelnytskyy and Rivne nuclear power plants to replace the power capacities that are to be lost after the closure of the Chornobyl plant. The loan, given under government guarantees, is to be repaid over 20 years at a 5 percent interest rate, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. The European Commission simultaneously decided to issue 23 million euros ($20 million) as the first tranche of the previously approved 65 million euro grant for Ukraine to buy fuel for thermal power plants. Meanwhile, Ukraine is preparing for Chornobyl's ceremonial final shutdown on 15 December. The reactor, which stopped on 6 December because of a steam leak, will be restarted at minimum capacity today and closed tomorrow following President Kuchma's order, broadcast on television (see also "End Note" below). JM

ESTONIAN FARMERS DEMAND THAT GOVERNMENT FULFILL PROMISES

Some 200-300 farmers rallied in front of the parliament building in Tallinn on 13 December to protest the government's agricultural policy, ETA reported the next day. Rally organizer Toomas Paur said the government has promised at least 639 million kroons ($36 million) in direct subsidies to the farmers, but the 2001 state budget provides only 268 million kroons in subsidies. Agriculture Minister Ivari Padar asserted that farmers will receive another 318 million kroons from the EU SAPARD program and additional tax incentives worth 267 million kroons, resulting in support totaling 853 million kroons. The farmers, however, are demanding that the promised level of direct subsidies be maintained. SG

LATVIA ASKS AUSTRALIA TO EXTRADITE NAZI WAR CRIMES SUSPECT

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 12 December requested that the Australian authorities extradite Latvian-born Australian citizen Konrads Kalejs, who is accused of committing war crimes during World War II, BNS reported the next day. The extradition request is based on an intergovernmental agreement on extraditing persons; it is not linked to the Latvian-Australian extradition agreement, which the Latvian parliament has not yet ratified. A Riga court issued an arrest warrant for Kalejs several months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2000), but the translation of necessary documents proved a lengthy procedure. Kalejs was earlier deported from Canada and the U.S. for failing to report that he had been a lieutenant in the so-called Arajs Commando, which in cooperation with Nazis killed Jews, Gypsies, and Communists during the war. In 1998, the Australian authorities decided that the evidence against Kalejs was insufficient to press charges. SG

LITHUANIA TO STRENGTHEN DIPLOMATIC BASE IN U.S.

After a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus on 13 December, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis announced that Lithuania is planning to increase the number of staff at its embassy in Washington, BNS reported. The increase is tied to the planned NATO summit meeting in Prague in 2002, which will decide whether any other countries will be invited to join the alliance. Valionis emphasized that since the U.S. will probably determine which countries will receive invitations to join the alliance, "additional investments, extra staff, and active work in the Senate and the Congress" will be needed to improve Lithuania's chances. Chief Lithuanian NATO integration coordinator Giedrius Cekuolis said that the staff may be increased by four persons, but the government had not yet decided by how much funding would be increased. SG

PICKETS IN POLAND COMMEMORATE MARTIAL LAW ANNIVERSARY

Pickets were staged in Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Katowice, and Opole on 13 December to mark the 19th anniversary of the imposition of martial law by General Wojciech Jaruzelski, PAP reported. At midnight, some 100 members of the radical Republican League held a silent, candle-lit watch in front of Jaruzelski's house in Warsaw. Another picket in Warsaw was staged in front of the presidential palace. The protesters demanded that the authors of martial law be punished. Jaruzelski said on Polish Radio the same day that he feels morally responsible for the massacre of Polish workers by police and army troops in 1970, when he was defense minister. Jaruzelski noted that entering political life was the biggest mistake of his life. JM

POLISH NURSES' PROTEST ESCALATES

According to the Trade Union of Nurses and Midwives, some 50,000 nurses on 13 December went on a strike that lasted several hours, demanding wage hikes. Some 50 percent of Poland's 770 public hospitals were affected, the trade union said; but the government maintained that the protest involved only 115 hospitals. Meanwhile, a sit-in at the Health Ministry, where 300 nurses forced their way through the main entrance on 12 December, has grown to involve 600 protesters. JM

EUROPEAN COMMISSION WELCOMES TEMELIN AGREEMENT...

European Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said on 13 December that the compromise agreement reached by Czech Premier Milos Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel the previous day is "good news for nuclear safety and for further progress in the Czech Republic's accession talks with the EU," CTK reported. He said the agreement makes it possible to renew the talks with Prague on the energy chapter in the aquis communautaire. Filori also lauded the stipulation in the agreement on the free movement of people and goods between the two countries. He noted that Prague and Vienna have agreed to participate in a tripartite dialogue in which the European Commission will also be a partner. "We shall try to facilitate the dialogue, providing advice and expertise," he said. MS

...AS VERHEUGEN WARNS AGAINST BLOCKADE RENEWAL

Addressing a meeting of the EU-Czech Republic parliamentary committee in Strasbourg on 13 December, EU commissioner in charge of enlargement Guenter Verheugen warned that if Austrian protesters resume blockades at the border between the two countries, the European Commission will start proceedings against Vienna for violating the free movement of people and goods, CTK reported. Representatives of anti-Temelin organizations said in Vienna the same day they are not satisfied with the agreement and will demonstrate at several border crossing points on 16 December. They did not, however, announce any blockades. MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER TO BE DISMISSED?

Vladimir Vetchy is to be dismissed this month, the daily "Lidove noviny" reported on 14 December, citing "government sources." The daily said the dismissal is due to "chaos" in the ministry and to Vetchy's "loss of control" over subordinates. A tender for the supply of subsonic aircraft to the Czech army, approved by the government in October, has been altered by the staff of the ministry without Vetchy's or the cabinet's knowledge and has had to be postponed for this reason, the daily added. It also reported that Vetchy responded "with a sad smile" to a question about his possible dismissal, saying "it is inappropriate to speak about such things." MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2001 BUDGET

The parliament on 13 December voted 90 to 45 with four abstentions to approve the 2001 budget submitted by Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet. The budget provides for 180.6 billion crowns in revenues ($3.763 billion), 217.8 billion crowns in expenditures, and a deficit of 3.87 percent of the GDP, AP reported. One day earlier, some 12 doctors went on a hunger strike outside the parliament building demanding that more resources be allotted in the budget to the health care system, CTK reported, The strikers also demand higher pay and the improvement of conditions in Slovak hospitals. MS

ALBRIGHT VISITS HUNGARY

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking in Budapest on 13 December, praised the democratic changes in Hungary and thanked the cabinet for supporting the democratization process in Yugoslavia. At a ceremony at which she awarded a U.S. government prize to Erika Csovcsics, director of the only Romany high school in the country, Albright also praised Hungary for its efforts to bridge ethnic and religious differences. Prime Minister Viktor Orban decorated Albright with the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary. The U.S. secretary of state also met with Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SUMMIT CLOUDED BY FUNDING DISPUTES

Representatives of Hungarian parliamentary parties and of ethnic Hungarians from countries bordering Hungary began a two-day conference in Budapest on 13 December to discuss a bill on special treatment in Hungary for ethnic Hungarians from abroad. If passed by the parliament, the bill will provide advantages in border crossings, work permits, public transport, health care, education, and culture. Prime Minister Viktor Orban told the gathering that the World Federation of Hungarians (MVSZ) is a "disorganized organization" that cannot expect funding from the authorities. He said that the parliament recently redirected 237 million forints ($790,000) in subsidies from MVSZ to the Illyes Foundation. MSZ




ANGRY SERBS BLOCK NIS-SKOPJE ROAD

For the second consecutive day, several thousand angry Serbs blocked the main highway connecting Nis in southern Serbia with Skopje, AP reported on 14 December. Participants said that they want to call attention to what they termed the presence of armed ethnic Albanian formations in the demilitarized buffer zone bordering Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. AP wrote that supporters of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic organized the protest in order to put pressure on the new government in the runup to the 23 December Serbian elections. The atmosphere in the area is "very tense," "Danas" reported. PM

SECURITY COUNCIL SLAMS VIOLENCE IN SOUTHERN SERBIA

The UN Security Council has "condemned acts of violence by armed groups in southern Serbia and reiterated their call for an immediate cessation of violence," Reuters reported on 13 December. Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov, who chairs the council, added that the diplomats "support" measures by NATO to prevent further infiltration of ethnic Albanian guerrillas into the demilitarized zone. Lavrov said that the council will meet on 19 December to discuss the situation in southern Serbia. On 13 December, Kostunica called on that body to hold an "emergency meeting" and appealed to "the international community...to fulfill its obligations" to promote peace and security in the area. PM

KOSTUNICA PROMISES SERBIA'S MINORITIES NEW LAW

Kostunica said in Belgrade on 13 December that the authorities will soon propose new legislation aimed at clarifying the rights of the country's ethnic minorities, "Danas" reported. He stressed that Yugoslavia is "the most multi-ethnic of all the former Yugoslav republics." The new law will include provisions for regional and local autonomy, as well as for voting rights. Previous policies aimed at discrimination and assimilation will stop, he told the OSCE's visiting ethnic minority affairs representative, Max van der Stoel. PM

HAGUE PROSECUTOR TO VISIT SERBIA

Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said in Nairobi, Kenya, on 13 December that she will visit Belgrade in January 2001, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. She said that she will tell Kostunica that Serbia must cooperate with the tribunal and extradite Milosevic to The Hague. Kostunica regards the tribunal as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy and not a legal international body. It is widely believed in Serbia that Kostunica agreed to a request by Milosevic not to extradite him in return for the former dictator's decision to step down peacefully in October. PM

POLITICAL ROW CONTINUES IN CROATIA OVER HAGUE TRIBUNAL

President Stipe Mesic said in Palermo, Italy, on 13 December that the Croatian authorities must cooperate fully with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2000). Mesic stressed that it would be unwise of the government to repeat the mistake of the late President Franjo Tudjman and not fully cooperate with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Mesic added that he knows that the tribunal is preparing indictments against six Croatian generals and two civilians in connection with alleged war crimes against Serbs during and after the Croatian army's 1995 offensives against Serbian rebels. Meanwhile in Zagreb, Prime Minister Ivica Racan pledged full cooperation with The Hague and denied comments by Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt that the Croatian government knows who the eight suspect war criminals are, "Novi List" reported on 14 December. Racan added that, in a telephone conversation, Mesic denied media reports that he criticized the government. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PLEADS GUILTY IN THE HAGUE

Stevan Todorovic pleaded guilty in The Hague on 13 December to a single charge of war "crimes against humanity," or ethnic cleansing, in Bosnia in 1992-1993. He faces a sentence of up to 12 years in prison, AP reported. Todorovic's move was a plea bargain, according to which he also dropped a charge against NATO peacekeepers for "illegally" arresting him. In return, the court dropped 26 additional charges against Todorovic. His charge against NATO had resulted in an end in June to arrests of war crimes suspects by peacekeepers, AP added. The tribunal relies on peacekeepers to arrest war crimes suspects. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PARTY CHANGING ITS WAYS?

Leaders of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party confirmed in writing on 13 December that the party supports the 1995 Dayton peace agreements, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Sarajevo. Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who is the international mediator for Bosnia, said in Banja Luka that the participation of the SDS in the government is "acceptable" to the international community, provided that the SDS respects democratic principles and the Dayton agreements. In recent months, leaders of the SDS have repeatedly asserted that their party has nothing more to do with Karadzic and that it accepts the Dayton agreements. Several representatives of the international community in Bosnia are not so sure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2000). PM

ITALY PRAISES SLOVENIAN ROLE IN COMBATING ORGANIZED CRIME

Italian Interior Minister Enzo Bianco said at a conference on organized crime in Palermo on 13 December that Slovenia's anti-Mafia cooperation with Italy is "exemplary," "Dnevnik" reported. In preparation for its membership in the EU and NATO, Slovenia has stressed concrete, practical steps of cooperation with its immediate neighbors. PM

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS EXTREMIST'S APPEAL

The Constitutional Court on 13 December rejected an appeal by the Greater Romania Party to annul the results of the 10 December runoff because of alleged fraud, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The ruling is final. MS

FUTURE PREMIER WANTS 'ROMANIAN PROGRAM' OF GOVERNANCE...

Responding to the recent evaluation by the IMF of his country's performance and to the fund's recommendation that the budget deficit not exceed 3 percent of the GDP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2000), Adrian Nastase said on 14 December that his government's program will be a "Romanian one." He said his Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) is "informed" about the positions of international financial lenders but "for now, we are working on a program whose political, economic, and social priorities will respond to the mandate we received from voters." The PDSR had already announced that it will seek a new agreement with the IMF, providing for a 4-4.5 percent deficit. Nastase also said that the State Ownership Fund will be restructured and transformed into an Agency for Privatization and State Assets. MS

...RENEWS CONTACTS WITH OPPOSITION PARTIES

PDSR and National Liberal Party representatives met on 13 December to discuss the envisaged agreement on parliamentary cooperation and said they are both satisfied with the results of the meeting, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Among other things, the two sides agreed on setting up a joint commission to examine possible constitutional amendments and election laws. Nastase later met with Democratic Party leader Petre Roman to discuss the proposed agreement and decided to continue consultations. MS

MOLDOVA RETALIATES OVER POLISH VISA REQUIREMENT

The government will introduce as of 14 February the visa requirement for Polish citizens, Infotag reported on 13 December. The decision was taken in response to the Polish announcement that Moldovan citizens will need visas to enter that country as of the same date. MS

PATRIARCH MAXIM SUPPORTERS PROTEST IN SOFIA

Some 2,000 Orthodox clergy and Church members marched in Sofia on 13 December to protest the government's refusal to register the Holy Synod headed by Patriarch Maxim, AP reported. A new law on religious organizations requires that all Churches renew their registration, but the government refuses to register the synod, citing an administrative court ruling that there are two Orthodox Churches in the country. Patriarch Pymen, who headed the dissenting Church and accused Maxim of collaboration with the communist regime, died earlier this year. MS




CHORNOBYL CLOSURE THREATENS NEW TOWN'S LIVELIHOOD


By Lily Hyde

Last weekend, the town of Slavutych was full of children, both local and from other nuclear towns around Ukraine. Families toured exhibitions in Slavutych's Palace of Culture. Costumed dancers prepared for a concert. And cafes and restaurants were full with visiting journalists, choirs, or official delegations.

It may be the final burst of energy before this town dies: On 15 December, when the Chornobyl power plant finally shuts down, most of the town's inhabitants will lose their jobs.

Slavutych was built 12 years ago to house workers from the Chornobyl nuclear plant, which in 1986 became the site of the world's worst civilian nuclear accident. Until a few years ago, it was one of the wealthiest towns in Ukraine, and its population is still one of the youngest: a third of its 26,000 inhabitants are children.

The clean, new schools and playgrounds are located just 40 kilometers from Chornobyl. But the danger of persistent radiation is the last thing the Slavutych population worries about. Although townspeople assisted in the clean-up after Chornobyl's fourth reactor blew up in 1986 and some are now invalids as a result, many feel a worse disaster is on the way--when the plant closes its doors for good.

Serhiy Kasyanchuk, deputy director of the town's Palace of Culture, told RFE/RL that "100 percent of the inhabitants of Slavutych oppose the closure of Chornobyl. The station could work until 2012, and a lot of people are worrying about what they will do for a piece of bread, a roof over their heads. Our town is the youngest town in Ukraine and maybe in the whole [former] USSR. It would be shameful if it had the same fate as Pripyat."

Most of Slavutych's residents originally lived in the town of Pripyat, which had to be evacuated after the disaster. Pripyat, like Slavutych, was once also a special "new" town, housing mostly well-paid workers from the nuclear industry. The dislocation and loss Slavutych's residents suffered then makes the threatened social destruction of Slavutych even more poignant.

Viktor Odinitsya is director of the UN Development Program's Social and Psychological Center in Slavutych. He said that the townsfolk have already lost their workplaces once, their family connections, and their friends. "They lost everything to come here to a new town, where they adapted to new conditions, established new relations. And we want to force a new Pripyat on them. Do we want to make them live through that again? No one wants that. They want to live here, have a family, have a home which they have made their own."

The UNDP center was originally set up seven years ago to offer psychological help to people suffering radiation fears. But it soon found a more useful role--helping people overcome uncertainty. Ukraine has been dragging its heels over the closure of Chornobyl since the early 1990s. Odinitsya told RFE/RL that people who come to the UNDP center ask "What shall I do? Should I build a house or not? Should we buy a garage or not? Should we have a child or not?' The worst thing today is that people don't know what is awaiting them in the future, and so they can't plan."

The immediate future for most people is still unclear. Although the Chornobyl plant will close, it's not certain where many residents will go to find new jobs.

Some 2,000 people are expected to find employment decommissioning Chornobyl and repairing the shelter over its destroyed fourth reactor. But Slavutych's jobless rate is still expected to climb to more than 20 percent from its present 6 percent.

Some of the initial support will come from joint Ukrainian-foreign assistance to provide training and jobs. The Ukrainian government has also established a Special Economic Zone around Slavutych. It has 22 registered enterprises, with hundreds of new jobs projected.

To date, only a small number of those jobs have been created, but Slavutych's mayor, Volodymyr Udovychenko, remains upbeat. "Altogether there are 227 new work places in Slavutych. Is that a small number or a lot? I'm told it's only a few, but I think it's a lot because they are high-tech jobs, where you can earn good wages for our time, about 100 dollars (a month). I would say Slavutych is on the right road, and that's the most important thing."

Nevertheless, about a quarter of the inhabitants say they will leave Slavutych to seek work elsewhere. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Ukraine.


XS
SM
MD
LG