FSB HEAD SAYS FOREIGN SPIES BOOSTING THEIR ACTIVITIES IN RUSSIA...
In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 20 December, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolai Patrushev charged that foreign intelligence services have launched "significant efforts to expand their intelligence positions in Russia." In addition, he said, the work of these services "is now more coordinated than ever before" as they operate from the territory of Eastern Europe, which "welcomes" such guests. Patrushev also claimed that the arrest and prosecution of convicted U.S. spy Edmond Pope showed that the era in which foreign "businessmen-spies" could "for kopeks acquire know-how accumulated through the work of thousands of people" is now "over." On 19 December, the head of the FSB's directorate in Khabarovsk Krai also charged that foreign secret services are "stepping up their spying and subversive activities in the Russian Far East," ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
...AND ACCUSES RESEARCHER OF PASSING INFORMATION TO US CITIZEN
In his interview, Patrushev also claimed that Igor Sutyagin, a researcher at the USA and Canada Institute who is in jail on suspicion of spying, passed "secret information" to Josh Heller, a graduate student at Princeton and former Greenpeace staffer. Sutyagin was doing research on civil-military relations and has been in jail in Kurgan Oblast for more than a year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2000). JAC
MOSCOW OFFICIALS SOFTEN THEIR TONE ON GUSINSKII, MEDIA MOST...
Valerii Nikolaev, an investigator at the office of the Prosecutor-General, told a number of leading Russian businessmen on 19 December that if Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii returned to Russia, his office would consider not keeping him in jail. "Why should we feed Gusinskii...at the public's expense?" he asked, according to Interfax. The previous day, Tatyana Luzhina, the head of the Moscow city tax inspectorate, offered to settle the issue of Media-MOST's's tax debts out of court. Her department earlier filed suit to liquidate some Media-MOST companies, including NTV, because of those tax debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). Media-MOST spokesman Dmitrii Ostalskii said on 19 December that while he found Luzhina's statement "reassuring," it was also "surprising" that the tax inspectorate "which has had [Media-MOST's] balance sheet since March did not notify the company's directors or accountants about its claims" except in the form of a lawsuit. JAC
...AS DEADLINE FOR NTV SALE MISSED
Also on 19 December, Gazprom Media head Alfred Kokh told Interfax that a planned agreement between his company, Media-MOST and Deutsche Bank about the sale of a 25 percent stake in NTV to a Western company was not signed by the18 December deadline for doing so. However, Kokh said he was not inclined to dramatize the situation, and Media-MOST spokesperson Yelena Bruni told Reuters that "nothing tragic has happened" and that talks will continue. On 18 December, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that there has been an "unnecessary whipping up of tension" about the forthcoming shutdown of NTV. He said "the NTV channel will continue to exist" and "everyone should calm down." He continued, "The [only] problem is who will be NTV's shareholders." JAC
PUTIN MAKES PITCH FOR CANADIAN INVESTMENT IN RUSSIA
Addressing a gathering of top businessmen and academics in Toronto on 19 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that Russia's investment climate has greatly improved, in part because of the success of his administration's efforts to impose the rule of law. According to Putin, Russia has recently "seen a considerable strengthening of [its] administrative system," while "gaps in the economic and legal structure of the country have been eliminated," Reuters reported. Putin acknowleged that more needs to done to protect property rights, but stressed that GDP and real incomes are rising while inflation is dropping. According to ITAR-TASS, Putin praised the Northern Dimension initiative and the Arctic Bridge project, which allows both countries to support their native peoples of the North as well as to reorient cargo traffic between the countries to northern routes using northern sea ports. Putin wrapped up his two-day visit to Canada on 19 December. JAC
TOP MOSCOW OFFICIAL SERIOUSLY WOUNDED IN BLAZE OF BULLETS
The deputy head of Moscow's city administration, Iosif Ordzhonikidze, was wounded on 19 December in an apparent murder attempt after gunmen fired 26 armor-piercing bullets into his car, AP reported. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told reporters that he thinks the assasination attempt was connected to Ordzhonikidze's professional activities, noting that city officials often receive job-related threats. According to Luzhkov, Orzhonidikidze oversees large scale investments in foreign currency. In addition, Interfax reported, Orzhonidikidze oversees the city's casinos, hotels, and tourism. He was also involved in the city's recent decision to build a Formula One racetrack. Orzhonidikidze is in critical condition. JAC
UPPER HOUSE APPROVES NEW FLAG, ANTHEM
Members of the Federation Council voted on 20 December to approve draft laws establishing Russia's flag, national anthem and coat of arms. The Soviet anthem was reaffirmed with a vote of 144 in favor, 1 against and 2 abstentions, according to Interfax. The two-headed eagle was adopted as national emblem with 139 votes in favor, 2 against and 8 abstentions, while the current tricolor flag was confirmed as the national flag in a 139-1 vote with three abstentions. All 147 senators with only one abstention supported the red banner of the Russian armed forces. The bills passed the State Duma earlier this month with the only opposition coming from "right-wing" factions such as the Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko. The bills will now go to President Putin, who is expected to sign them into law before the end of the year. JAC
COMMUNIST CANDIDATES ENJOY VICTORY IN REGIONAL BALLOTS
Communist candidates won four of the seven run-off ballots for regional heads that took place on 17 December: Vyacheslav Lyubimov (Ryazan Oblast) and Aleksandr Chernogorov (Stavropol Krai) were both re-elected by a wide margin, while the heads of the regional committees of the Communist Party won in Kamchatka and Ivanovo Oblasts. However, President of Marii El Vyacheslav Kislitsyn, who was backed by the Communists, lost in his re-election bid to Leonid Markelov, a local businessman and former State Duma deputy who then belonged to the faction of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. While Kislitsyn came under considerable pressure from the center in recent months, Markelov enjoys the backing of the federal center. In Arkhangelsk Oblast, incumbent Governor Anatolii Yefremov succeeded in winning re-election, while in the Komi Permyak Autonomous Okrug, Nikolai Poluyanov, the administration head of the past four years, was ousted by the chairman of the oblast Audit Chamber, Gennadii Saveleev (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 December 2000). JC
TOP HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL CALLS FOR DEADLINE EXTENSION...
Russian Federation Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov has called on President Putin to extend the deadline for re-registering religious organizations as it is set under current law from 31 December 2000 to 31 December 2003, Interfax reported on 19 December. Under the law, such organizations face liquidation if they fail to re-register. According to a letter which Mironov sent to Putin on 29 November, only 56 percent of existing religious organizations have so far managed to re-register. A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, Viktor Malukhin, told the agency on 18 December that failure to meet the 31 December deadline will not mean "disaster because no one is banned in Russia from praying or preaching their religious beliefs." He added that "if an association is not able to reregister, this only means that its right to become a legal entity will be delayed until a later time, before which it will not receive access to educational institutions or to the army and will not be able to preach its doctrine widely through the mass media." JAC
...AS ORTHODOX CHURCH SAYS NOT TO WORRY
However, Anatoli Pchelintsev of the Law and Religion Institute told "The Moscow Times" on 16 December that small churches or religious organizations new to Russia are likely to be downgraded to "groups" and will lose their right to hold services in public places, distribute literature, own property or invite foreign guests. JAC
RUSSIAN NEWSPAPERS TAKE THEIR MEASURE OF NEW US SECRETARY OF STATE
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov hailed U.S. president-elect George Bush's selection of Colin Powell as Secretary of State, telling reporters on 19 December that Powell is an "experienced, balanced politician." He added that as soon as Bush's administration is put together, Russia "will begin a frank, constructive dialogue" on issues relating to strategic stability. "Segodnya" on the same day reported that the Moscow has interpreted Powell's words that Russia "is a nation in search of itself" as "a clear signal indicating a stiffer foreign political and defense policy" from the U.S. "Kommersant-Daily," on the other hand, argued that Powell is advocating a pragmatic, non-confrontational approach toward both Russia and China. JAC
MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW
Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz on 19 December met in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Ivanov, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said he is "glad" that the first trip abroad by the new Moldovan chief diplomat was to Russia. Cernomaz said the two states are "linked by their common political biographies." Ivanov also said the Transdniester problem is "an internal problem of the Republic of Moldova" and but added that Russia is ready to contribute to settle the conflict and wants to see a "political solution" to it. MS.
TATARSTAN'S PARLIAMENT PRESERVES BILINGUALISM REQUIREMENT FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES...
During a plenary session on 18 December, Tatarstan's State Council rejected a proposal by opposition deputy Aleksandr Shtanin to amend the law on the presidential election to abolish the requirement that presidential candidates must be fluent in both of Tatarstan's state languages (Tatar and Russian), RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Shtanin argued in vain that this requirement is discriminatory and violates Russian laws. But State Council chairman Farit Mukhametshin declared that "there will be no amendments to the law on the presidential elections before the next ballot," which is to be held in March or April 2001. LF
...AS OPPOSITION CONDEMNS ALLEGED INFRINGEMENTS ON REPUBLIC'S RIGHTS
The moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center convened a meeting in Chally on 17 December to protest what it termed infringements by the federal center on Tatarstan's constitutional rights, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Specifically, participants condemned Moscow's ruling that federation subjects should pay a greater proportion of the taxes they collect to the center. They argued that this approach contravenes the main aim of sovereignty, which they defined as economic self-sufficiency for Russia's republics and regions. The protesters also expressed concern that the Moscow is implementing a crackdown on Islam under the guise of eradicating "wahhabism." LF
BEREZOVSKII, LEBED CALL FOR CHECHEN SETTLEMENT
Self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii was quoted by the "Financial Times" on 19 December as saying that he has resumed contacts with unnamed representatives of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in the hope of mediating an end to the war. He singled out Maskhadov as "the most logical interlocutor," but added that talks should also be conducted with field commanders, including Shamil Basaev. Berezovskii argued that "there is no point" in conducting such talks with Chechens who are loyal to Moscow. Berezovskii is credited with securing the release during the 1994-1996 Chechen war of several Russians and foreign nationals taken hostages by Chechen militants. In a clear rejection of Berezovskii's proposal, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said in Moscow later on 19 December that the Kremlin does not need foreign, Russian or emigre mediators to resolve the Chechen conflict, according to ITAR-TASS. On 20 December, the "Financial Times" quoted Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, who negotiated with Maskhadov the agreements that ended the first war, as calling for talks "with those in authority" to end the fighting. Lebed excluded radical field commanders Basaev and Khattab as possible negotiating partners. LF
CHECHEN WARLORD VOWS TO AVENGE BROTHER'S DEATH
Relatives of Chechen field commander Shirvani Basaev have begun receiving formal condolences, although his death has not yet been officially confirmed, Interfax reported on 19 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000). Residents of the Basaevs' native village of Vedeno say, however, that Shirvani died of a bullet wound in the stomach received in an exchange of fire with federal troops one month ago. Russia's RTR television on 19 December quoted Shirvani's brother and fellow field commander Shamil as vowing to avenge his death. LF
RUSSIAN MILITARY BRACES FOR NEW CHECHEN ATTACKS
Speaking at a 19 December press conference at Interfax's Moscow office, former Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said there are indications that Chechen field commanders are preparing to step up their activities aimed at destabilizing the situation in Chechnya. He suggested that such moves could include terrorist attacks in the towns of Grozny, Gudermes and Argun, or a new incursion into Daghestan. Interior Ministry forces in that neighboring republic have been placed on alert, according to Glasnost-North Caucasus. ITAR-TASS on 19 December similarly quoted unidentified Russian military sources in Chechnya as saying that intercepted radio conversations indicate that Chechen fighters plan to try to recapture Grozny by the New Year. LF
ARMENIAN COMMUNISTS CONDEMN MINISTER'S DISMISSAL
Parliament deputy Gagik Tadevosian (Communist Party of Armenia) on 19 December expressed his regret at the dismissal the previous day of Minister of Local Government Leonid Hagopian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hagopian, the only Communist minister in Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's cabinet, was dismissed following his election as a member of Armenia's Academy of Sciences. The Communists claim that Hagopian disagreed with the government's economic policy and was himself willing to quit. Tadevosian said Markarian's decision was dictated by "political expediency," and shows that Markarian no longer needs broad multi-partisan support for his cabinet. He added that his party will now have, and make use of, greater freedom to criticise the cabinet and its policies. President Robert Kocharian on 18 December named Ararat governor Hovik Abramian, a senior member of Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia, to succeed Hagopian as minister. LF
KARABAKH PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES GOVERNMENT CHANGES, PRAISES ARMY
At an18 December meeting in Stepanakert with the commanders of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, Arkadii Ghukasian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, promised sweeping changes in the structure and composition of the enclave's government, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. Ghukasian pledged to ensure that "democracy takes root" in the enclave. He also praised the unrecognized republic's top brass for "considerable progress" in boosting military discipline. He said recent maneuvers show that the armed forces "continue to enhance their combat readiness and are totally prepared to repulse the enemy if need be." LF
IRAN DENIES AGREEING TO BUY GAS FROM AZERBAIJAN
An unnamed Iranian Foreign Ministry representative has denied that Tehran has held any talks with Azerbaijan on purchasing Azerbaijani gas, Turan reported on 19 December quoting IRNA. Interfax last week quoted Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev as having told visiting Turkish Deputy Energy Minister Yurdakul Yigitguden that if Turkey does not make a firm commitment to buy gas from the Shah Deniz Caspian field, Baku will consider selling it to Iran, which, Aliyev was quoted as saying, has already agreed to purchase it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000). LF
RUSSIA APPROVES DRAFT BORDER AGREEMENT WITH GEORGIA
The Russian government has approved a draft agreement with Georgia redefining the competence of the two countries' officials in guarding their joint border, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported on 19 December. Both sides will appoint a representative who will liaise with his opposite number to resolve border violations and other incidents. The draft is based on, and presumably augments, two comparable agreements signed two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1998). LF
FIRE DESTROYS GEORGIAN AUDIT CHAMBER RECORDS
A fire that broke out late on 19 December in the Georgian Audit Chamber building in Tbilisi destroyed the agency's computer center and part of its archives, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze said he believes the blaze was accidental, while Audit Chamber Chairman Sulkhan Molashvili said he does not rule out arson. Speaking at RFE/RL earlier this month, a prominent Georgian political analyst characterized the Audit Chamber as one of the most corrupt agencies in Georgia. LF
KYRGYZSTAN LIFTS EMBARGO ON SALE OF AGRICULTURAL LAND...
The lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 19 December to amend the Land Code, lifting the moratorium imposed two years ago on the sale and purchase of farm land, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The amendment will take effect on 1 September 2001 after being signed into law by President Askar Akaev. Of the chamber's 60 deputies, 52 attended the session; 36 supported the proposed amendment, nine voted against, one abstained and a further six did not take part in the vote. Akaev, who was present at the vote, thanked deputies for approving the amendment which, he said, "will allow rural Kyrgyz, who account for 65 percent of the country's population, to exercise their constitutional right to own land," Reuters reported. Akaev predicted that the reform will boost agricultural production by 7-9 percent. LF
...UPS ALLOWANCES FOR DISABLED, ORPHANS
Allowances for the disabled and for orphans will be raised by 50 percent in 2001, from an average 149 soms ($3) per month to 225 soms, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 19 December quoting the government press service. Next year's budget allocates 106 million soms for such payments. Also on 19 December, Finance Minister Sultan Mederov told parliament that his ministry can allocate only 2 million soms instead of the planned 5 million to enable Kyrgyzstan's estimated 19,000 veterans of World War II to buy a horse and cart. He did not offer a reason for the 50 year delay in introducing that benefit. LF
TWO IMPRISONED TURKMEN DISSIDENTS REPORTED TO HAVE RECANTED
Official Turkmen media on 15 December broadcast what were said to be statements of repentance by two prominent critics of the country's leadership, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Nurberdy Nurmamedov, an activist of the pro-democracy group Agzybirlik, was sentenced in February 2000 to five years' imprisonment on charges of hooliganism and conspiracy to murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). Physician Pirimguli Tanrykuliev, was jailed for eight years in 1998 on charges of misappropriating state funds after he informed members of the international community that he planned to run for president. Observers in Ashgabat believe the two men may be eligible for amnesty. Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has announced that some 10,000 persons serving sentences for minor offenses will be released later this month to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2000). LF
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH SLAMS ABUSES, TORTURE IN UZBEKISTAN
The New York-based Human Rights Watch on 19 December released a 62-page reported detailing and condemning police brutality in Uzbekistan against persons under arrest, Reuters reported. The report criticized the Uzbek government for routinely failing to investigate such abuses or punish those responsible. The report focuses specifically on the mass arrests, especially of religious dissidents, that followed the February 1999 car bombs in Tashkent. It noted a rise over the past three years in deaths in custody. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth arrived in Tashkent on 19 December to discuss the report's findings with senior government officials, Interfax reported. LF
LUKASHENKA WARNS WEST AGAINST PREPARING 'COLLABORATIONISTS' IN BELARUS...
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 December addressed the newly elected Council of the Republic, Belarus's upper house, touching upon a wide range of international and domestic issues, Belapan and Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka warned the West against any interference in Belarus's domestic affairs, particularly against subsidizing the creation of "teams of collaborationists" within the country. Lukashenka noted that the West is currently preparing 14,000 observers for next year's presidential ballot. He characterized those observers as "militants." "Who is asking you [the West] to do this?," Lukashenka asked rhetorically. He pledged to take severe measures against foreign diplomats in Belarus in the event they "overstep the framework of our laws." Later the same day, Lukashenka told journalists that Belarusian police "every day" confiscate caches of ammunition and explosives that are shipped to Belarus from abroad. He did not provide any details. JM
...BOASTS OF ARMS TRADE, SPY CATCHING
Lukashenka also told the upper house that Belarus is now the world's "sixth or seventh" weapons exporter and pledged to increase weapons sales even further. "Why cannot I, or Belarus, trade in weapons, while you [the U.S. and Russia] can?... You see, they don't like it, because we entered the market [not intended for us]," Belapan quoted Lukashenka as saying. Later the same day he told journalists that three people have recently been arrested in Belarus on spying charges. "One Belarusian, one Balt, one Pole. I know that [the charges involve] issues of defense and the armed forces, but I do not rule out that there may be something different," he said. Lukashenka also said one German was arrested in September on spying charges. "The German side is behaving very decently in this regard, it does not deny [the spying]," Belapan quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM
MINSK SAYS U.S. ENVOY NOT 'FULL-FLEDGED' AMBASSADOR YET
The Foreign Ministry said on 19 December that "the legitimacy of the Belarusian authorities is determined by the people of Belarus, not by Mr. Kozak," Belapan reported. The ministry was commenting on U.S. Ambassador to Minsk Michael Kozak's statement in a press interview that the Belarusian legislative and executive authorities are illegitimate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000). "Mr. Kozak is an appointed ambassador, in order to become a full-fledged ambassador, he should present his credentials to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka," the ministry noted in a statement. JM
DEMONSTRATORS WANT 'UKRAINE WITHOUT KUCHMA'
Some 5,000 people took part in a protest action called "Ukraine Without Kuchma" in Kyiv on 19 December, dpa reported. Parliament deputies from different political forces led demonstrators from the central Independence Square to the presidential palace, which was cordoned off by police. Speakers at the rally demanded an objective investigation into the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and the dismissal of President Leonid Kuchma and his power ministers, whom they accuse of engineering Gongadze's kidnapping. The protesters also demanded that the parliament pass a law detailing the procedure for the president's impeachment. More people from Ukrainian regions joined the protest over Gongadze's disappearance in the tent camp that was pitched on Independence Square last week. Meanwhile, Kuchma pledged later the same day to take every lawful measure to preserve "the constitutional system, political stability, and social tranquility" in Ukraine, Interfax reported. JM
EU CALLS FOR JOINT EFFORT TO HELP UKRAINE
EU Executive Commission President Romano Prodi has called for a special joint effort with Canada and the United States to help Ukraine implement its economic and political reforms, Reuters reported on 19 December. "We agree with the Canadian government--and yesterday I talked to the U.S. president about this--that we need a special strong initiative to help Ukraine," the agency quoted Prodi as saying at an EU-Canadian summit. Meanwhile, the IMF on 19 December noted the Ukrainian authorities' "recent improvements in economic policy implementation and progress on their reform agenda" and allowed Kyiv to draw $246 million from the $2.6 billion loan suspended in September 1999. JM
POLISH NURSES REJECT WAGE INCREASE OFFER
Poland's striking nurses have rejected a government offer of a monthly wage increase of 170 zlotys ($39) next year for all health care employees. The nurses are demanding an increase of 500 zlotys per month. Poland's 250,000 nurses and midwives are among the country's lowest paid workers. Their average monthly pay is between 500 and 900 zlotys, well below the national average of 1,900 zlotys. JM
POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER SURPRISED AT GERMANY'S JOB BLOCKING PROPOSAL
Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski on 19 December said he was surprised by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's recent proposal to prevent citizens of eastern European countries from taking up employment in Germany for a period of seven years after those countries join the EU. "I am surprised but I perfectly understand his reasons. Pre-election campaigning is already under way in Germany. 'Populist issues,' such as protection of jobs from the influx of foreigners, can be exploited before the parliamentary elections in 2002," PAP quoted Bartoszewski as saying. JM
AUSTRIA CONTINUES HINDERING CZECH EU ACCESSION PARLEYS
Austria on 19 December again opposed the closure of the energy chapter in the EU parleys with the Czech Republic, CTK reported. The Austrian representatives said their country needs "more time for reflection" both for the Czech Republic and for Slovenia. They said they welcomed the compromise agreement recently reached in Melk by Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Premier Milos Zeman, as well as the seismic study on the Slovene nuclear power plant in Krsko, but are not yet ready to agree to the closure of the energy chapter in the aquis communautaire. MS
PITHART ELECTED CZECH SENATE CHAIRMAN
As expected, Petr Pithart on 19 December was elected chairman of the Czech Senate, receiving 50 out of the 79 votes cast, CTK reported. Pithart's candidacy was proposed by the Four Party Coalition, which won 16 out of the 27 available seats decided in the November Senate elections. The former Czech premier (1990-1992) has already been chairman of the Senate from 1996--1998. MS
CZECH CABINET POSTPONES DECISION ON JET TENDER
The cabinet on 19 December decided to postpone until next year the decision on bids in a tender for the acquisition of 24 or 36 supersonic jets. This is the third postponement this year for the tender, aimed at modernizing the Czech air force, CTK and dpa reported. Several foreign manufacturers of fighter aircraft have placed bids, but the tender has come under criticism for the heavy load it will impose on the budget. MS
CZECH COURT HANDS LIGHT SENTENCES TO SKINHEAD RACISTS
A court in Karvina, northern Moravia, on 19 December found five people guilty in the death of a Roma run over by a car after being beaten unconscious, but handed down suspended sentences to three of them and light prison sentences to the others, CTK and AP reported. Two skinheads were found guilty of beating Milan Lacko and leaving him lying on the street in May 1988 in Orlova, and were sentenced to one and three years in prison. Their two companions received suspended sentences of one year and of six months, respectively, having been found guilty of hooliganism. The court also sentenced the policeman whose car ran over Lacko to a suspended 18 month sentence. In related news, the Prague prosecutor's office on 19 December brought charges against a person offering on the Internet to sell the recently-published Czech translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," whose publisher has already been sentenced. MS
BRATISLAVA MEETING DOWNPLAYS SCHROEDER COMMENTS
The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia on 19 December met in Bratislava with Dutch Premier Wim Kok to discuss the statement by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of 18 December, CTK reported. Schroeder said the EU must freeze the free movement of labor for seven years when the new members from Eastern Europe access the union. The three premiers, Milos Zeman, Jerzy Buzek and Mikulas Dzurinda said Schroeder's remarks do not reflect the position of the EU as a whole. They also said they have appointed Zeman to be their "spokesman" on this matter. Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi similarly said on 18 December in Budapest that Schroeder's position is not necessarily that of the EU. MS
SLOVAK GOVERNMENT SUFFERS TWO PARLIAMENTARY DEFEATS...
The parliament on 19 December rejected the government's request to dismiss Supreme Court Chairman Stefan Harabin and a bill that would have abolished amnesties granted by former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar before leaving office in 1998, CTK reported. Harabin's dismissal was rejected by a vote of 62 against, 60 for, and 15 abstentions. Nullifying the Meciar amnesties would have required the support of three-fifth of the 150 legislators, but only 61 voted in favor, 48 against and 24 abstained, The minor coalition member Party of the Democratic Left voted against the bill, on the grounds that it would establish a dangerous precedent of retroactive legislation. Failure to abolish the amnesties might stop the prosecution of former Slovak Intelligence Chief Ivan Lexa and some of his associates for involvement in the 1995 abduction of former Slovak President Michal Kovac's son. MS
... AND REGISTERS ONE VICTORY
The parliament also rejected a motion by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) to vote no-confidence in Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner. Forty-three law makers backed the motion, 60 voted against it and 26 abstained. The HZDS moved the motion after Pittner said that the government might ask the judiciary to outlaw the HZDS if investigations show that its leadership knew of, or was involved in, Lexa's orchestration of Kovac Jr.'s kidnapping. MS
HUNGARY TO STUDY SLOVAK RESPONSE ON DAM
Hungary has recently received a response from the Slovak government on Budapest's proposals to settle the pending dispute over the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam over River Danube. The 1,400 page document is in the Slovak language and its translation is expected to take about one month, the daily "Nepszabadsag" reported on 20 December. The presidents of the two countries, Rudolf Schuster and Ferenc Madl, discussed the dispute and ways to solve it during a visit paid by Madl to Bratislava on 16 December. MS
HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS PRIVATIZATION COMPLETED
Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 19 December said after a cabinet meeting that privatization in Hungary has been completed and private ownership is now at a level similar to that of West European countries and, in some cases, even ahead of that level. The privatization agency will be disbanded and replaced by an agency managing the remaining state assets, AP reported. Some 80 percent of formerly state-owned industries and businesses have been privatized during the last decade. Orban also announced price hikes for 2001 for public transportation, electricity and natural gas. He said inflation in 2000 would be double that forecast by the cabinet, reaching some 10 percent, and blamed that rise on higher prices for crude oil on world markets. He said he is confident the rate will drop to 5-7 percent in 2001. MS
PROBE AGAINST TORGYAN STOPPED
The probe against Smallholders' Party leader Jozsef Torgyan and his wife, deputy Maria Cseh over the suspected inaccurate assessment of their assets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000) was stopped on 19 December by a decision of the coalition majority on the Immunity Committee, with the support of the extremist Justice and Life Party, Hungarian media reported. The committee decided to first ask the Constitutional and Procedural Committees to rule whether the existing legislation applies to this case. MS
YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT WANTS TO 'CLEANSE' ZONE OF GUERRILLAS
Vojislav Kostunica told reporters in Belgrade on 19 December that it is in his country's interest to "cleanse" the demilitarized zone in southwest Serbia of "terrorists," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He was presumably referring to the ethnic Albanian Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac. He added that it is not realistic to expect a complete revision of the Kumanovo agreements that ended Serbian authority in Kosova in 1999. Kostunica stressed, however, that he wants to reduce the size of the demilitarized zone so that Serbian forces can remove "terrorists" hiding there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000). PM
SECURITY COUNCIL SLAMS 'ALBANIAN EXTREMIST GROUPS' IN SERBIA
The UN Security Council approved a statement on 19 December condemning violence by armed Albanians in southern Serbia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from New York. The statement, which was read aloud by Russia's representative in the UN Security Council, Sergei Lavrov, also urged that armed Albanian groups in southern Serbia be dissolved and their members made to leave the area. The statement appealed to Kosovar leaders to "contribute to the stability of the situation." Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham nonetheless added: "We would caution against exaggerated charges and calls for military action that have emanated from some on both sides of the Kosovo border." PM
YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER SEEKS TO CALM SITUATION
Goran Svilanovic told the Security Council on 19 December that his "government is prepared to take all necessary measures to integrate the local Albanian population and help them participate actively and be represented in local and central authorities, as well as in other walks of life. [This includes especially the] police, health care, education, et cetera," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Svilanovic added that "no solution can be achieved without dialogue and negotiation. A loss of momentum may bring about the deterioration of the situation and lead to unforeseeable consequences. Such a course of events may not only aggravate the situation in Kosovo-Metohija, but also jeopardize the democratic process in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and affect the stability of the region as a whole." Serbia votes in parliamentary elections on 23 December. Some Serbian conspiracy theorists suggest that supporters of the former regime or "dark forces" in the U.S. may be behind the disturbances, "Vreme" noted on 14 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000). PM
NATO PEACEKEEPERS ARREST 13 IN KOSOVA
British KFOR troops arrested 13 ethnic Albanian males in the early hours of 20 December southwest of Prishtina, AP reported. The KFOR soldiers also seized a quantity of weapons, including seven machine guns, five AK-47 assault rifles, 50 hand grenades, and 30 rocket-propelled grenade warheads. A British KFOR spokesman said that the arrests are "particularly significant in that this is why these troops were [recently] sent there, to stop weapons going across the boundary," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). The Albanians, who did not resist arrest, are being questioned at the U.S. base at Camp Bondsteel. PM
UN POLICE STATION ATTACKED IN KOSOVA
Unknown persons attacked a UN police station in Zubin Potok, west of Mitrovica, during the night of 19-20 December, Reuters reported. The attackers used gunfire and hand grenades in the assault, which left four police cars damaged and one van destroyed. Police have since resumed patrols in Zubin Potok and in Leposaviq, where a Serbian crowd recently attacked peacekeepers after the arrest of a Serb for drunk driving (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). PM
YUGOSLAV LEADER SAYS MILOSEVIC SHOULD BE TRIED AT HOME
Kostunica told the Paris daily "Le Figaro" of 19 December that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal is "too narrow" to deal with "everything that happened on the territory of the former Yugoslavia and all the complex relations" in the region. He suggested that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and suspected war criminals from other former Yugoslav republics be tried in their respective home countries. He cited Guatemala and South Africa as examples of such an approach. The president told "Vreme" of 14 December that alternatives to the Hague court must be found. Kostunica has frequently said that he regards the tribunal as an anti-Serbian arm of U.S. foreign policy. This was also the position of the Milosevic regime. Kostunica suggested in his interview with "Vreme" that the U.S. has too much blood on its hands from the Vietnam conflict to be justified in passing judgments on others. PM
YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT WANTS 'HARMONIZATION' WITH MONTENEGRO
Prime Minister Zoran Zizic told EU officials in Belgrade on 19 December that the Yugoslav government wants to "harmonize" relations with Montenegro. The process will include adopting a new federal constitution, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Montenegrin government's position is that Serbia and Montenegro can discuss any future ties only as two sovereign and internationally recognized states. The EU has been adamant in stressing to Montenegrin authorities behind the scenes that they must remain within some sort of Yugoslavia. PM
ELECTORAL REFORM, MONTENEGRIN STYLE
Two deputies from the Liberal Alliance have proposed that in any proposed referendum on independence, voters over 60 years of age receive only one-half vote each, "Danas" reported from Podgorica on 20 December. PM
FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLICS END FIRST SESSION OF ASSETS TALKS
International mediator Sir Arthur Watts said in Brussels on 19 December that he is pleased with the outcome of the first two-day round of talks between delegations from the five former Yugoslav republics, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The delegations will continue negotiations on dividing former Yugoslavia's $100 billion in assets, perhaps in Ljubljana in February. PM
HAGUE COURT'S DEL PONTE TO VISIT CROATIA
Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte will arrive in Zagreb in early January to help clear up outstanding issues between the tribunal and the Croatian government, "Jutarnji list" reported from Zagreb on 20 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000). Defense Minister Jozo Rados told the daily that there are several very big differences between the two sides, and that the tribunal has not respected previous understandings between them. PM
CROATIAN PHARMACEUTICALS FIRM BUYS BRITISH COMPANY
In a world in which Western companies seem to buy up Eastern European ones on a regular basis, Croatia's Pliva company bought Pharmascience UK Limited for nearly $6 million, dpa reported from Zagreb on 19 December. Pliva officials said that they want to strengthen their company's position in Western markets. PM
MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER TO MEET CHINESE LOCAL LEADERS
In yet another sign that Skopje plans to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei back to Beijing, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski will soon meet with a delegation of local government officials from Nanjing, Makfax news agency reported on 19 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2000). PM
CONSTRUCTION TO START ON MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN UNIVERSITY
The construction of Macedonia's private Albanian-language university will begin in Tetovo in February at an estimated cost of $22 million, MIC news agency reported from Skopje on 19 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2000). Funding will come primarily from Western governments and NGOs. PM
BAD START FOR SLOVENIA'S TELECOM
The firm Telekom Slovenije is expected to enter 2001 with debts of roughly $32 million, "Dnevnik" reported on 20 December. The telecommunications market will be opened to competition on 1 January. PM
ILIESCU SWORN IN AS ROMANIA'S PRESIDENT
Ion Iliescu was sworn in as Romania's new president on 20 December, at a joint meeting of the two houses of the parliament. He called for national unity to prevail in the effort to revive a "disastrous" economy, hobbled by years of bungled reforms, Reuters reported. Iliescu said the top priority in foreign policy will be to speed up negotiations on Romania's EU accession and on joining NATO in 2002. MS
CONSTANTINESCU BIDS FAREWELL TO ROMANIANS
In a televised speech on 19 December, outgoing President Emil Constantinescu said that during the electoral campaign "hate and lies" were used by critics of himself and the outgoing government. He said he did not respond because he wanted to be "president of all Romanians." His silence ends with the end of his mandate, Constantinescu said. He harshly attacked those who "come forward with the claim that we had taken over [in 1996] a prosperous country, with an efficient economy and with rules respected by all, and are leaving behind a country in ruins." "At the end of four years in office, my adversaries must admit at least one thing: they have succeeded in gathering the support of hate, but failed to make me hate anyone," he said. MS
NASTASE CONFIRMS INTENTION TO REPLACE NATIONAL BANK CHIEF
Adrian Nastase, Romania's likely new premier, on 19 December said he intends to appoint Party of Social Democracy in Romania member Florin Georgescu as the new National Bank governor, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Outgoing Premier Mugur Isarescu said several times he would return to that post, of which he is chairman on leave. MS
ROMANIA ABOLISHES VISA REQUIREMENT FOR EU CITIZENS
The outgoing government on 19 December abolished visa requirements for citizens of EU countries, Mediafax reported. Also on 19 December, the European Commission handed to the authorities in Bucharest a questionnaire on fulfillment of conditions for the abolition of visa requirements for Romanian citizens traveling to EU countries. The commission said it expects Romania to reply by 15 January 2001. MS
BOYCOTT OF MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS WIDENS
Former President Mircea Snegur on 19 December announced that his Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM) has decided to boycott the new round of presidential elections scheduled for 21 December, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The CDM has 14 seats in the parliament. Snegur said that if fewer than 61 lawmakers participate in the round, another date will have to be set for it, and "until then we have more time to prepare and, implicitly, find new candidates." It is still unclear whether the Democratic Party, which has 17 seats in the legislature, will join the boycott. The Party of Democratic Forces (9 seats) and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (8 seats) have also announced they will not participate in the ballot. Thirteen deputies are independent, of whom five are loyal to President Petru Lucinschi. The Communists have the largest group, with 40 seats. MS
BULGARIAN CHILDREN GET EXTENDED CHRISTMAS VACATION
Bulgarian schools are closing for nearly one month over the Christmas holidays, to save fuel costs, AFP reported on 19 December. The Education Ministry announced that children will get 25 days off, almost double the regular vacation, because many schools, especially in small towns and villages, cannot meet heating prices. Some schools have already spent their entire annual budget for heating. MS
THE DAYS OF THE CHEKISTS
By Paul Goble
Eight-three years ago, on 20 December 1917, the Soviet secret police was founded. How Moscow celebrates that event may provide important clues as to the direction the Russian government is heading.
Six weeks after the October 1917 revolution, Vladimir Lenin created the first Soviet secret police, the Extraordinary Commission or Cheka. Under Joseph Stalin, that day became a holiday called "the Day of the Chekist." And throughout the Soviet period, officers in Moscow's variously named intelligence agencies proudly called themselves "Chekists" in honor of that name.
But after the fall of the Soviet Union, fewer people did so openly and officials did little or nothing to mark that anniversary--until last year, when then Prime Minister and now President Vladimir Putin took part in a ceremony marking the event, telling the Chekists they should be proud of their work. Later, he went even further and said that no government, let alone his own, could get along without secret agents.
Since last year's commemoration of the creation of an institution that Lenin said was bound by no law except the defense of the revolution, Putin, himself a former KGB intelligence officer, has chosen many people with intelligence backgrounds to work for him as aides, as representatives to the regions, and as his preferred candidates for governorships and other senior positions. Indeed, Putin's suggestion that his own promotion reflected "a successful penetration operation" of the Russian government by the country's security services frightened many Russian democrats and others involved in the defense of human rights in that country. Such groups have been concerned because of their conviction that Putin has selected precisely those former intelligence officers who at the end of the Soviet period worked to stifle dissent and human rights.
Writing in the current issue of the "Moscow Times," sociologist Boris Kagarlitskii argues that the interaction at the end of the Soviet period between the KGB and democrats who failed to understand the distinction between necessary intelligence functions and security activities that threaten society has left Russia with "a security apparatus that is worse than the one [Russia] had under [CPSU General Secretary Leonid] Brezhnev."
Kagarlitskii suggests that the antipathy between the intelligence operatives and the democrats led not to the depoliticization of an agency that advertised itself as "the sword and shield" of the Communist Party but rather to the proliferation of special security services, public and private, most of which remain the tools of the powerful and are unconstrained by legal regulation.
With the KGB itself in a shambles at the end of Mikhail Gorbachev's reign in office, "every agency of government felt the need to create its own armed security organization," Kagarlitskii says. "It became a status symbol." At the same time, he notes, "former KGB officers opened a host of private security agencies, most of which then formed their own close ties with various parts of the state structure."
These two developments combined with the intense hostility of many democratic reformers to any intelligence operation to produce a disaster. Because "the generation of KGB agents who experienced Gorbachev's reforms moved to the private sector," Kagarlitskii says, "their places were filled by newcomers" who lacked the experience of the reform period and had no one to guide them in their work. As a result, he argues, "the 'psychological type' of this newcomer is closer to the NKVD standard of the 1930s than to the Western image of an intelligence professional," a pattern that by itself invites the kinds of abuses that post-Stalinist leaders worked so hard to contain lest they themselves fall victim to them.
If Russia had "a political structure or any working democratic institutions," Kagarlitskii continues, they might prove "capable of controlling the secret police [and] protecting society from political repression." But in the absence of such structures and institutions, he insists, Russian society and Russia's fragile democracy remain at risk on this "Day of the Chekist" as on other such days in the past.
Given the restoration of other Soviet-era symbols in recent weeks, how the Russian government marks this holiday is likely to serve as a litmus test for the prospects of democracy and freedom in a country where the Cheka in the past regularly worked to suppress both.