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Newsline - January 4, 2001




PUTIN MEETS ON ECONOMIC ISSUES

President Vladimir Putin on 3 January met with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Central Bank chief Viktor Geraschenko and other senior officials to discuss the state of the country's economy, Interfax reported. Kudrin reported that in 2000 inflation had fallen to 20.2 percent for the year, pointing to that figure as evidence that the anti-inflation program of the government and Central Bank had worked, the agency said. One part of that program was tigher control of the country's banking system. The Central Bank withdrew the licenses of 36 banks during the last twelve months, reducing the number of credit organizations in Russia to 1,316. PG

DUMA DEPUTY CALLS FOR CHECHEN TALKS

Colonel General Eduard Vorobev, the chairman of the Duma defense committee, told Ekho Moskvy that Moscow should enter into talks with Chechen leaders "who are not criminals," Interfax reported on 3 January. He said that Russia should talk "both with civilian leaders who enjoy the confidence of the population and with those field commanders who are not criminals." He excluded field commander Shamil Basaev as a possible negotiating partner but said at talks could be held with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Vorobev added that Moscow should "increasingly move from military actions to social and economic measures" and thus win "the struggle for the civilian population" in Chechnya. PG

MOSCOW DENIES MOVING NUCLEAR WEAPONS INTO KALININGRAD

The Russian Defense Ministry and the Baltic Fleet on 3 January denied a report in the "Washington Times" on the same day which said that Moscow is transferring tactical nuclear weapons into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Russian agencies reported. The "Washington Times" cited U.S. intelligence and defense officials as its source for the story. A spokesman for the Baltic Fleet said that the report was "either a political provocation or inaccurate journalism." PG

AGRARIAN HEAD WANTS MORATORIUM ON BUYING AND SELLING OF LAND

Duma deputy and Agrarian Party chairman Mikhail Lapshin told Interfax on 3 January that Moscow should introduce a moratorium on the buying and selling of real estate. PG

ISRAELI AIDE VISITS MOSCOW

Danny Yatom, a security aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, came to Moscow on 3 January to meet for two hours with First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avedeev, ITAR-TASS reported. Yatom brought a personal letter from Barak to President Putin. Yatom described the current state of talks with the Palestinians and agreed with Avdeev on "the necessity of a stop to violence and relief of tension." Avedeev added that Moscow will continue to "take energetic efforts" to promote peace in its capacity as the co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process. PG

LUKIN SAYS TALKS LIKELY TO SUCCEED UNDER BUSH ADMINISTRATION...

Duma Deputy Speaker and former Russian ambassador to Washington Vladimir Lukin told Interfax on 3 January that he believes the new U.S. administration will have greater chances of success in talks with Israel and the Palestinians than did current President Bill Clinton. Lukin said that he believes the U.S. under President George W. Bush may take a position that the Arabs will find more acceptable. PG

...ALEKSII II URGES ISRAEL, PALESTINE TO END VIOLENCE

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II has called on both sides in the Middle East conflict "to stop the bloodshed and start a full-scale dialogue," Interfax reported on 3 January. PG

RUSSIA'S UN ENVOY CALLS FOR LIFTING SANCTIONS ON IRAQ

Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Sergei Lavrov told ITAR-TASS on 3 January that the humanitarian situation in Iraq could be radically improved by lifting sanctions against Baghdad. In the same interview, Lavrov said that Russia's chairmanship of the UN Security Council in December 2000 had promoted international cooperation in the struggle against international terrorism. PG

RUSSIA TO CUT NUMBER OF AIRLINES

Russian officials told ITAR-TASS on 2 January that they plan to close two-thirds of the country's 299 existing airlines. Aleksandr Neradko, the head of the state aviation authority, said that Russia can support a maximum of five to eight national companies as well as a variety of local ones, but not as many as exist at present. PG

RUSSIA SELLING NEW ANTI-AIRCRAFT SYSTEM

Russia is selling a new Buk-M1 universal anti-aircraft missile system, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. Russian Defense Ministry officials said that the new missile can hit shortrange missiles as well as water and landbased targets. It reported that the new missile, described as "without parallel in the world," has already been purchased by Finland. Meanwhile, the news agency said that Russia retained its status as the world's third largest arms seller for the tenth year in a row, selling $4.3 billion of arms abroad. That was $400 million more than in 1999. The United States and Great Britain are the only countries selling more weapons internationally. PG

RUSSIAN INVENTION TO MAKE PLANES MORE COVERT

The Keldysh Research Center told ITAR-TASS on 3 January that it has developed a new and unique plasma technology that absorbs radar waves and makes warplanes more difficult to detect. The center's researchers estimated that the system will make planes 100 times more covert. PG

MUNITIONS PRODUCERS TO CUT COSTS

Russia's munitions manufacturers are switching over to energy-saving technologies whose costs will be recovered within one to three years, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. The Russian Conventional Weapons Agency (RAV) said that the move was prompted by high expenditures for fuel and other energy resources. PG

TATAR AUTO GIANT TO PRODUCE ARMORED VEHICLES

Tatarstan's debt-ridden KamAZ auto plant is to begin assembling armored personnel carriers, RFE/RL's Tatar Service reported on 2 January quoting a KamAZ press release of 30 December. The new APC will be a modified version of an existing KamAZ four-wheel drive truck and will prove cheaper to build than traditional APCs. LF

FOG CLOSES MOSCOW AIRPORTS

A heavy fog closed all three major Moscow airports on 3 January, Russian and Western agencies reported. No planes were able to land, and more than 40 take-offs were delayed. PG

FAR EASTERN PROVINCE STARTS 2001 IN THE COLD

Some residents in Primorskii Krai continue to live without heat in their homes, despite the passage of a deadline of 15 December set by Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu for heating to be restored throughout the krai (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 December 2000). According to Interfax-Eurasia on 3 January, almost 14,000 residents greeted the New Year without heat. Also on 3 January, it was announced that homes in Vladivostok will be subjected to a new series of black-outs of 3-4 hours a day because the local power plant is again running out of coal. Dalenergo's chief engineer Aleksandr Ius told ITAR-TASS that the plant began winter completely unprepared, with zero reserves of fuel. According to that agency, temperatures in the city have dipped to minus 30 degrees Celsius. JAC

JINGLE FOR DEADBEATS HITS THE AIRWAVES IN KUZBASS

Administration officials in the city of Kemerovo are appealing to local residents to pay for communal services such as housing, water, and electricity via a song being played daily on local radio and TV, "Vremya novostei" reported on 29 December. City officials argue that in 2000, the economic situation in the oblast improved and local industries were able to eliminate the backlog of unpaid salaries to local workers. Therefore, Kemerovo officials believe these workers in turn should be better able to pay for city services, so that muncipal workers who work in these spheres may also be paid on time this year. One line of the song goes, "Sitting at the table drinking with your friends, empty is your glass [stakan]. He who does not pay for his apartment is the last hooligan." JAC

NEW YEAR HOLIDAY TAKES TOLL ACROSS RUSSIA

Fires in Primorskii Krai claimed 25 dead over the new year, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. A fire in St. Petersburg damaged an historical monument, and gas explosions in Novosibirsk and Biysk claimed six lives. Meanwhile, 16 Muscovites died from alcoholism and exposure over the holiday. And firecrackers injuried 35 celebrants, three of them seriously enough to require finger amputations. Some 70 people were hospitalized in Chuvashia after eating stale holiday cakes, the agency said. And authorities in Arkhangelsk reported that they had finally detained three suspects accused of murdering several taxicab drivers in that northern city. PG

SNAKE BEAUTY CONTEST HELD IN TULA

The world's largest reptile zoo, with more than 2,000 animals, in the central Russian city of Tula is holding a snake beauty contest to improve the image of that animal in this, the Chinese year of the snake, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIANS EXPECT COUNTRY TO REMAIN IN ONE PIECE

A poll reported by Ekho Moskvy on 2 January said that 65 percent of Russians believe that Russia will remain a single state throughout the 21st century. PG

RUSSIAN ELITE FAILS TO FOLLOW PUTIN INTO JUDO

"Argumenty i fakty" reported on 3 January that while many members of the Russian elite had taken up tennis in emulation of former President Boris Yeltsin, few of them had followed current President Putin into the practice of judo. Prime Minister Kasyanov reportedly likes to ski as do Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, and Interior Minister Boris Rushailo. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii runs twice a day, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov plays volleyball and billiards, and the leader of the Party of Right Forces Boris Nemtsov continues to favor tennis and windsurfing. PG

PUTIN EXPECTED TO RESTORE HONOR GUARD AT LENIN MAUSOLEUM

The administration of the organization which helps to preserve the Lenin Mausoleum on Red Square told Interfax on 3 January that it expects that President Putin will restore the honor guard there by 21 January, the anniversary of Lenin's death. PG




BORDER GUARDS INTERCEPT KURDISH INTERLOPERS NEAR ARMENIAN-IRANIAN BORDER

Russian border guards apprehended three armed Kurds in the southeast Armenian regional center of Meghri on 2 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. The men had illegally entered Armenia from Iran. Five Kurds from Iran were detained last month attempting to cross from the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan into Armenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2000). LF

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION

During a brief visit to Baku on 3 January, Indulis Berzins, who chairs the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, assured President Heidar Aliyev of Latvia's support for Azerbaijan's acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe later this month, Azerbaijani media reported on 3 January. In talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayat Quliev, however, Berzins noted that in order to achieve that objective Azerbaijan must rise to "challenges," including ensuring that the 7 January repeat parliamentary elections are free and fair. Berzins also met with leading members of the Musavat and Azerbaijan National Independence Parties and the "reformist" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Turan reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Berzins as saying that if the opposition supports Azerbaijan's Council of Europe membership it should abandon its ongoing boycott of the new parliament. Most opposition parties that won representation in the 5 November parliamentary elections have refused to participate in the work of the new legislature, arguing that falsification of the election returns deprived it of legitimacy. LF

AZERBAIJAN SEEKS EXPANDED COOPERATION WITH NATO

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Quliev told journalists in Baku on 3 January that Azerbaijan would like to expand military cooperation with the Atlantic Alliance in order to ensure its security, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Quliev said that the logical result of such cooperation would be eventual NATO membership, but he added that unlike neighboring Georgia, Baku has set no concrete timeframe for joining the alliance. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson is scheduled to visit Baku on 16-17 January during a tour of the South Caucasus. LF

PRESIDENT NAMES HEAD OF AZERBAIJAN'S OIL FUND

President Aliyev has appointed Samir Sharifov, the general manager of Azerbaijan's National Bank, to head the state oil fund, Turan reported on 3 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). LF

ELEVEN AZERBAIJANI SOLDIERS KILLED BY AVALANCHE

A total of 11 servicemen, including one officer, have been killed in three separate avalanches on Mount Inaldag, near the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier, Turan and Interfax reported on 3 January. Two men died on 17 December, three on 21 December and six on 27 December. To date, four bodies have been recovered. Rescue operations are continuing. LF

RUSSIA RESUMES GAS SUPPLIES TO GEORGIAN CAPITAL

Russia resumed natural gas supplies to the main Tbilisi power station late on 3 January, after Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had addressed a written appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Russian agencies reported. Georgia's Fuel and Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava had flown to Moscow on 3 January to try to negotiate a resumption of supplies with Gazprom. Gazprom had cut off supplies to Georgia on 1 January even though, according to the Georgian Foreign Ministry, Tbilisi had paid in advance for gas to be supplied this month. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER RESPONDS TO PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGE

Former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who now heads the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 3 January that he is "prepared to answer the frivolous and politically motivated charges" of embezzlement and tax evasion brought against him by the Kazakh authorities in "any legitimate independent court in the world." He noted that he had twice been thwarted in an attempt to do so, when he was detained at Moscow airport in September 1999 and in Rome in July 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1999 and 17 July 2000). Replying to questions from TV viewers in Kazakhstan late last month, President Nursultan Nazarbaev had argued that Kazhegeldin should return to Kazakhstan to answer prosecutors' questions, Interfax reported on 28 December. Kazhegeldin also rejected Nazarbaev's accusation that he spent $18-20 million on election campaigning, pointing out that he was refused permission to contend either the January 1999 presidential elections or the October 1999 parliamentary ballot. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES STATUS OF REFUGEES

The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 3 Januuary began debating the draft law on refugees, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Altynshash Zhaghanova, who heads the State Migration and Demography Agency, told deputies that the draft should be amended to specify the status in Kazakhstan of fugitives from Chechnya, who are currently regarded simply as citizens of the Russian Federation. But at the same time she warned that giving persons who fled the Chechen war the status of refugees in Kazakhstan could adversely affect Astana's relations with Moscow. Zhaghanova also pointed out that Kazakhs from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan who immigrate to Kazakhstan are given the status of repatriate, not of refugee. LF

IMPRISONED KYRGYZ POLITICIAN HOSPITALIZED

Opposition party leader Topchubek Turgunaliev, who was found guilty on 1 September on charges of masterminding a plot to assassinate President Askar Akaev, has been transferred to the hospital of the prison camp near Bishkek where he is serving his six-year sentence, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 3 January. He is believed to be suffering from a cold and a facial rash. LF

MORE CABINET REGIONAL APPOINTMENTS IN KYRGYZSTAN

President Akaev on 3 January reappointed previous incumbents Tolobek Omuraliev, Sadirdin Jeenbekov and Roman Omorov to head the Agency for the Registration of Real Estate, the Committee for State Property Fund and Direct Foreign Investment, and the Agency for Local Government and Regional Development, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Head of government staff Ratbek Eshmambetov was named minister of ecology and emergency situations. Akaev also appointed Rustambek Isaev and Kubat KojonAliyev as deputies to the prosecutor-general, and dismissed six local district administrators in Chu, Osh and Djalalabad Oblasts. LF

FOUR UZBEK CONVERTS TO CHRISTIANITY OSTRACIZED IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

Some 1,000 residents of the village of Kurkol in Djalalabad Oblast convened a meeting on 3 January at which they demanded that four ethnic Uzbeks who recently converted to Christianity leave the village, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The local Muslim Religious Board estimates that some 130 local residents have recently converted to Christianity. In late December, police in the southern city of Osh arrested five members of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir organization who had pasted in public places leaflets calling for the overthrow of the Kyrgyz leadership and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the Ferghana valley, Russian agencies reported. Up to 300 people, most of them Hizb-ut-Tahrir members, were arrested in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2000 for distributing religious literature. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS OF UZBEK MILITANT THREAT

In an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service that was broadcast on 2 January and summarized the following day by Asia Plus-Blitz, Islamic Revival Party chairman Said Abdullo Nuri expressed concern that the presence in Tajikistan of Uzbek militants from the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan may pose a threat to peace and tranquillity in Tajikistan. He said the Tajik government's "cautious" policy towards the militants is motivated by the fear that confrontation could lead to renewed bloodshed. Nuri denied that the United Tajik Opposition had facilitated the Uzbek militants' passage to Tajikistan, laying the blame for their infiltration on the failure of the Russian border guards deployed along Tajikistan's frontier to intercept them. Russian media have accused former UTO military commander and Emergencies Minister Mirzo Zieev of collusion with the IMU. LF

MINIMUM WAGE TRIPLED IN TAJIKISTAN

In accordance with a decree signed by President Imomali Rakhmonov on 20 November, the Tajik government on 1 January raised the minimum wage of state sector employees from one to three somonis ($1.36) per month, Reuters reported. Pensions were raised by 2 somonis. Medical personnel and teachers will receive a 40-percent salary increase on 1 April, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




BELARUSIAN STREET VENDORS ON STRIKE

Entrepreneurs who sell goods on street corners are on strike across Belarus to protest the introduction of new income tax and customs laws that they say will undercut their business, Interfax-West reported on 3 January. Organizers hope that more than half of the registered traders in Minsk, Borisov, Slutsk, Soligorsk, Grodno, Gomel, Mozyr, Rogachev, and Vitebsk will take part. Currently the strike is set to end on 5 January, but organizers said they may extend it if their demands for modification of the regulations are not met. PG

FATHER FROST MURDERED IN BELARUS

A man in a Father Frost costume was found murdered in Grodno Oblast on 1 January, Interfax-West reported on 3 January. Other misfortunes in Belarus over the New Year's holiday included the death of 20 people in some 107 fires and the suicide of three heavily intoxicated people in the country's capital city. PG

PRESIDENT SAYS 2001 TO BE 'BREAKTHROUGH' YEAR IN UKRAINE

In a televised address to the Ukrainian people, President Leonid Kuchma said that he will seek to make 2001 "a year of breakthrough in the social sphere," Interfax reported on 3 January. Kuchma said that "one would like to believe that Ukraine has already overcome the most difficult transition stage" and he viewed Ukraine as "a mature state" in the tenth year of its modern independence. The Ukrainian leader used this speech to reiterate his demands for constitutional changes to end the deadlock between himself and the parliament. PG

JOURNALIST'S DEATH SAID BECOMING 'POLITICAL CHERNOBYL'

Writing in Moscow's "Argumenty I fakty" on 3 January, Aleksandr Kondrashov said that the murder of Heorhy Gongadze is now known in Ukraine as "Kuchmagate" and that it is rapidly becoming a "political Chernobyl" for President Kuchma. And he added that this explosion is likely to extend to Russian political figures as well. PG

MOSCOW PROTESTS UKRAINIANIZATION OF TV RADIO

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 3 January issued a press release saying that it is surprised by Ukrainian efforts to ban Russian-language programming on that country's television and radio channels, ITAR-TASS reported. It said that "the squeezing out of the Russian language from Ukrainian mass media is a policy underlying derussification of all sides of Ukraine's social life." The ministry added that it creates the impression that "somebody in the Ukrainian political establishment does not like the improvement of Russian-Ukrainian relations, including in the humanitarian field which gained significant momentum during the recent visit of Leonid Kuchma to Russia." PG

UKRAINE'S STATE DEBT FALLS

The state debt of Ukraine fell from 64.9 billion hryvna ($11.8 billion) in January 1999 to 54.6 billion hryvna now, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko said that 72.1 percent of this indebtedness is domestic, while 27.9 percdent is to foreign lenders. He added that Ukraine's debt now is "in any case less than 50 percent of GDP." PG

KYIV PLEDGES TO MAKE PRIVATIZATION MORE TRANSPARENT

The Ukrainian government has announced that it plans to increase the pace of privatization and to make that process more transparent in 2001, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 January. It has already compiled a list of enterprises to be privatized during the next 12 months and has prepared a draft bill that would end a ban on the privatization of approximately 200 firms. PG

UKRAINE STEPS UP DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITIES

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatolii Zlenko said that Ukrainian diplomats will become more active in 2001, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 January. Indications of that include the announcement of President Kuchma's plans to visit Belgrade on 9 January and the scheduling of a visit to Kyiv by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi for 30-31 January, the agency reported on 3 January. PG

VOLUME OF SHIPPING BETWEEN ESTONIA FINLAND AMONG LARGEST IN EUROPE

More than 6 million people traveled by ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki in 2000, ETA reported on 3 January. The only larger ferry passenger operations in Europeare between England and France and Denmark and Sweden. Viljar Jaamu, marketing director of the Hansatee shipping company, noted that of every 10 passengers traveling between Tallinn and Helsinki, eight are Finns and two are Estonians. He said that the number of passengers is so large due to the tax-free shopping on board the ships, and that "if tax-free shopping is liquidated upon accession to the European Union, the number of passengers will drop by a half, and the total number of tourists visiting Estonia will drop by one third." The port duties of 20 kroons ($1.22) per passenger gave Tallinn more than 100 million kroons of revenue last year. SG

LATVIAN OIL TERMINAL INCREASED TURNOVER IN 2000

The Ventspils Nafta (VN) oil terminal last year reloaded 18.8 million tons of oil and oil products, or some 400,000 tons more than in 1999, LETA and BNS reported on 3 January. VN handled 13.6 million tons of crude oil, 4 million tons of diesel fuel, 1.2 million tons of car gasoline and other oil products. VN spokesperson Gundega Varpa said that "these results top initial estimates by VN which expected its performance indicators in 2000 to fall short of 1999 figures due to the complicated situation with export of oil and oil products in Russia." Since its opening in 1961, VN has reloaded a total of nearly 770 million tons of oil and oil products. SG

PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR LITHUANIAN NATO MEMBERSHIP INCREASES

A survey, performed in December by the SIC Rinkos Tyrimai polling firm, indicated that 48.9 percent of Lithuanian residents would vote in favor of Lithuania's membership in NATO if a referendum on the question were held now, BNS reported on 3 January. Some 22.3 percent would vote against membership with 28.8 percent undecided. Polls conducted by Baltijos Tyrimai in January and by SIC in August had indicated that 38 and 42.2 percent of Lithuanian residents favored NATO membership, respectively. A SIC poll in November indicated that 26.2 percent of Lithuanian residents unconditionally supported NATO membership, with 22.4 percent against, 12.7 percent were "more for than against," 13.6 percent were "more against than for" NATO membership, and 25.1 percent said they did not know. Petras Zapolskas, director of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry's information and culture department, said that the growth of public support for NATO from November to December could have been caused by the discussions of Lithuania's NATO membership at the NATO parliamentary assembly in Berlin in November and the session of the Baltic Assembly in Vilnius in December. SG

POLISH TV JOURNALISTS EXPRESS SOLIDARITY WITH CZECH COLLEAGUES

The 1,800 members of the Solidarity trade union at Polish state television on 3 January dispatched a letter expressing support for their Czech colleagues who are protesting the appointment as TV director-general of a man they believe is politically biased, AP reported. The letter said that "a political grip on public television is a remnant of the communist regime and [that] there is no room for it in a civilized world." PG

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT AMENDMENT TO TV LAW...

The government on 3 January approved the draft amendment of the law on Czech Television and Czech Radio aimed at making the two institutions more independent of the influence of political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). Governmental spokesman Libor Roucek told CTK that the cabinet will now ask the Chamber of Deputies to debate the amendment in "emergency procedure." The amendment must be approved by both chambers of the parliament to become effective. Culture Minister Pavel Dostal on 3 January said he is filing criminal charges against Jiri Hodac, whose appointment as director general of Czech Television last month triggered the protests and the strike by newsroom journalists. Dostal said on a program broadcast by the rebel journalists that Hodac's order on the same day to black out news has prevented most viewers from being informed of the cabinet's decision. MS

... AND SENATE ASKS HODAC TO STEP DOWN

The Senate on 3 January approved a resolution demanding that Hodac submit his resignation and that "uncensored and undisrupted" television broadcasts be resumed. The resolution was supported by 42 out of the 68 senators present. Senators representing the Civic Democratic Party either voted against or abstained, CTK reported. Also on 3 January, Prime Minister Milos Zeman told journalists that he "understands" the demands that Hodac be dismissed. Zeman said Hodac has made "two great mistakes." The first mistake was to interrupt broadcasts and the second to appoint as new TV financial director Jindrich Bezonska, Zeman said. Bezonska was formerly employed in a managerial position at the IPB bank, which had to be placed under "enforced administration" by the National Bank last year. MS

MASS PRAGUE PROTEST DEMANDS END TO POLITICAL INTERFERENCE IN TV...

About 100,000 people participated in a mass protest on 3 January in Prague's main Wenceslas Square against political interference in Czech public television and for the freedom of expression of journalists, CTK and international agencies reported. AP said this was the biggest rally since the 1989 "Velvet Revolution." Zeman criticized the rally as "unnecessary," telling CTK that "in a parliamentary democracy, demonstrations...cannot be the way of changing the law," but his presumptive heir, Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla, addressed the gathering, explaining the government's decision to amend the law on TV and radio. Thousands also gathered in protest rallies in Brno and Ostrava. The Czech Council of Economic and Social Agreement, made up of representatives of the government, employers and trade unions, on the same day called on the TV Council to dismiss Hodac. MS

...AS INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR STRIKERS GROWS

European Commission spokesman Jonathan Faull on 3 January said the commission will "consider" the appeal of the International Federation of Journalists to intervene in the dispute around developments in Czech TV, Reuters and CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). Faull said the commission is "committed to the principles of freedom of expression and of the media, as we are sure is [also] the Czech government." In a statement released in London, the International PEN Club said it is "worried" about those developments, which show "clear signs of political interference in, and manipulation of, public news." MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES TENDER FOR FIGHTERS

The government on 3 January approved a long-delayed decision to launch a public tender for the acquisition of between 24 and 36 fighter planes, CTK reported. The deadline for the submission of offers is 31 May 2001, and a decision is to be taken in October. The cabinet reserved for itself the right to reject all offers, and governmental spokesman Roucek said that a "consensus of all the parliamentary parties" will be necessary to finalize the decision, which is expected to place considerable strains on the budget. The cabinet wants the supplier to invest 150 percent of the purchasing price in offset programs. Five important Western fighter producers have expressed an interest in taking part in the tender. MS

SLOVAK ROMA SAY PLANNED CENSUS DISCRIMINATING

Romany activists in Slovakia sent an open letter to President Rudolf Schuster, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and to the parliament, protesting against the fact there will be no Romany -language version of the questionnaire to be used in the population census planned for 26 May, CTK reported. The activists say the census is therefore "discriminatory" and that it will be impossible for members of the Roma minority to understand the questions. The cabinet on 20 December 2000 decided that the questionnaires will be printed in Slovak-Hungarian, Slovak-Ukrainian and Slovak-Russian versions. Government commissioner for Romany affairs Vincent Danihel said he believes the cabinet will reconsider its decision. "I think some mistake has been made, as a Slovak-Romany version was also originally considered," he said. MS

MARTONYI SAYS HUNGARIANS BILL IS TOP PRIORITY

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said at a New Year briefing on 3 January that a bill on the status of ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries will be the top priority of the country's foreign policy in 2001. He said he trusts parliament will pass the bill with at least a two-thirds majority. Martonyi said there is consensus among political parties on the need for such a bill, but opinions differ on what privileges should be granted and who should be eligible to receive the special status. MSZ




SERBIAN LEADER REGRETS ELECTION CHALLENGE

Zlatko Korac, who represents Serbia's soon-to-be-governing DOS coalition, said in Belgrade on 3 January that a challenge to parliamentary election results in a handful of precincts will cause unnecessary delay to the reform process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). "We are losing time here and we can't afford it. Even a week's delay is a loss because it will postpone the start of badly needed democratic reforms," AP quoted him as saying. He added that "everyone understands clearly that this cannot change anything. All this is aimed at stalling the process of democratic reforms." The challenge was launched by Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party. Three of the polling stations are in Belgrade and four are in Leskovac. The rest are scattered around the country. The outcome of the vote is unlikely to have any effect on the composition of the parliament, where the DOS has a two-thirds majority. PM

U.S., YUGOSLAVIA MARK NEW ERA IN RELATIONS...

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior State Department official told Reuters on 4 January that the visit of Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic to Washington marks the start of a new period in bilateral relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2000). "The reason this visit matters a lot is...the fact that it signals the end of an era, and an opportunity to try to build the European architecture that Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright has worked hard at over the last few years." Albright herself is something of a hate-object in Serbia, where she is resented for her Balkan polices aimed at stopping former President Slobodan Milosevic's war machine in Kosova. Serbia's macho culture also has difficulties coming to terms with the presence of a strong, decisive woman in a position of leadership. PM

... AS SERBIA LOOKS TO BUSH ERA

It is not clear with whom, if anyone, Svilanovic will meet with from the policy team of President-elect George W. Bush during his three-day stay beginning on 4 January, Reuters reported. For some weeks, there has been speculation in the Serbian media that Bush will withdraw U.S. troops from the Balkans and repudiate the "interventionist" policy of President Bill Clinton. Those commentaries often overlook the fact that, as governor of Texas, Bush supported NATO intervention in Kosova, a fact that he recalled during his presidential campaign. Several members of his policy team have indicated that he will review U.S. military commitments abroad but not take any rash steps. Other Serbian commentaries suggest that there is unlikely to be any great shift in U.S. policy toward the Balkans, which is linked to broader, long-standing U.S. strategies in Europe. PM

YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT SPEAKER SLAMS MONTENEGRIN PROPOSAL

Dragoljub Micunovic, who is speaker of the Yugoslav parliament and leader of the Democratic Center, said in Belgrade on 3 January that Montenegro's proposal for restructuring relations between Serbia and Montenegro is not serious, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). He added that the Serbian authorities will soon prepare a proposal of their own. Echoing the arguments used for years by the Milosevic regime, Micunovic said that eventual independence for Montenegro would lead to independence for Kosova and in turn to new Balkan wars (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000). PM

NEW ELECTIONS FOR MONTENEGRO?

Savo Djurdjevac, who is outgoing deputy prime minister of Montenegro and a leader of the People's Party, said that new elections are necessary following the breakup of the governing coalition, "Danas" reported on 4 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 21 December 2000 and 4 January 2001). PM

BOSNIAN SERB EX-LEADER TO HAGUE?

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has called on former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic to appear in the court on 10 January for her alleged role in "genocide" against Muslims and Croats during the 1992-1995 conflict, "Vesti" reported on 30 December. In The Hague, a tribunal spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny the report, saying that there is no public indictment of Plavsic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 3 January. The following day, "Vesti" reported that Plavsic will tell the tribunal what she knows about Milosevic's role in the war as part of a plea bargain. Accounts of alleged Hague indictments of or summons sent to prominent leaders in the region are regular fare in the Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim press. PM

BOSNIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR REBUILDING IMPORTANT RELIGIOUS STRUCTURES

Zivko Radisic, who holds the rotating chair of Bosnia's three-member presidency, said in Mostar that three buildings will have priority in the program to reconstruct destroyed religious buildings, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 4 January. They are a Roman Catholic monastery near Capljina, the Serbian Orthodox cathedral in Mostar, and the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka. PM

SLOVENIA INTRODUCES EU STANDARDS FOR 'MAD COW DISEASE'

Zoran Kovac, who heads the Slovenian government's office for veterinary affairs, told Reuters in Ljubljana on 3 January that tests have begun on all beef cattle over 30 months of age in keeping with similar measures in the EU. Kovac added that "our rules for protection against mad cow disease are now equivalent to those in the EU." PM

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY TO HOLD EXTRAORDINARY CONFERENCE

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 3 January said that an extraordinary National Conference of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 19 January will elect a new PDSR chairman, who will replace President Ion Iliescu. RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau says the most likely candidate for the position is Nastase himself. The premier also said that the conference is likely to create the position of PDSR secretary general, who will not be a member of the government or the parliament. The conference is also to decide on finalizing the process of PDSR's merger with the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR), with whom it ran on joint lists in the November 2000 elections. The joint formation is to be called Social Democratic Party and will apply for membership in the Socialist International, of which the PSDR is a member. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ABOLISHES PRIVATIZATION AGENCY

The government on 3 January decided to abolish the State Privatization Fund, replacing it with the newly-created Privatization and State-Assets Administration. The cabinet also decided to nullify a number of governmental emergency regulations issued by the previous Mugur Isarescu cabinet. On 30 December, the cabinet approved an emergency regulation of its own, granting facilities to small and medium-seized enterprises, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. Among other facilities, these enterprises will be exempted from VAT on imported equipment, will not pay taxes on profit reinvested for modernization purposes, and will be granted a 20-percent reduction in taxes if in 2001 they manage to create at least 10 percent more jobs than in the previous year. MS

BULGARIANS' LIBYAN TRIAL TO BE POSTPONED AGAIN?

The trial in Libya of the five Bulgarian nurses and one doctor, scheduled for 6 January, might be postponed again, lawyers representing them told Reuters on 3 January. Libyan lawyer Osman Byzanti and his Bulgarian colleague Vladimir Sheitanov said they are now ready for the trial, but a postponement might be requested by lawyers representing eight Libyans and one Palestinian. They are all charged with having willfully infected some 400 children with the HIV virus and if convicted, they face the death sentence. It would be the eighth time the trial was postponed. MS




STALIN AS ROLE MODEL


by Paul A. Goble

The United Georgian Communist Party has voted to rehabilitate former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, a man whom the group describes as "the most gifted politician of the twentieth century" and an obvious role model for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at a party conference last week in Tbilisi, Georgian Communist leader and retired General Panteleimon Giorgadze said that this decision, which delegates to the congress adopted unanimously, reflected the party's desire to boost the reputation of Georgia's most famous native son. But they added that its timing was the result of Putin's decision to resore the Soviet national anthem -- albeit with new words.

Indeed, People's Patriotic Movement leader Vakhtang Goguadze, a close ally of the Georgian Communists, added that the Russian leader had inspired them because of his self-evident commitment to rebuilding a strong state: "Not genetically, not biologically, of course, but politically, because [Putin's] besotted with this brilliant man and it shows in what he does."

Even though they suffered as much or more from Stalin's actions, Georgians typically have had their own and more positive view of the late dictator. When Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's crimes in 1956 and launched his de-Stalinization campaign, some Georgians tried to keep his memory alive by maintaining a museum in Stalin's memory in his native town of Gori and marking his birthday every 21 December. In the late 1980s, a local Georgian Komsomol official spoke for many of his fellow countrymen when he publicly affirmed that "As long as I live, my gods will be Jesus Christ and Stalin."

Because of this national history, many both in Georgia and elsewhere may be tempted to view this latest decision as a uniquely Georgian affair. But in fact, it both reflects and raises three larger issues of post-Soviet history.

First, it calls attention to a new break with the politics of the first post-Soviet decade. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, few leaders, except for the Communists, were prepared to look back to the Soviet past with anything but anger. And most explicitly cast their policies in terms of breaking from or overcoming that past.

Across the CIS and beyond, most people viewed politics as a struggle between democrats and communists, one that they believed time would resolve in favor of the former rather than the latter. Throughout his term in office, Yeltsin routinely exploited this conviction to gather support for himself. But now that has changed.

As political observers Antonina Lebedeva and Ilya Bulavinov point out in the current issue of Moscow's "Kommersant-Vlast," politicians in Russia no longer can be "simplistically divided into democrats and communists as they could be through almost the entire Yeltsin era." Instead, they argue, the dividing line runs between those politicians who are with Putin and those who who are against him, with the latter being "infinitesimally few."

Second, the Georgian Communists' decision, like Putin's promotion of the old-new national anthem and of Soviet-era military flag, inevitably opens the way for the reconsideration of issues that many had believed were settled. When the discussion of Stalin was anathema, few people could consider supporting any of his ideas or try to mobilize political support for any return to what he represented. Now, at least some will be willing to try to do just that.

By rehabilitating Stalin in this way, the Georgian Communists have thereby opened the door to such discussions and such attempts at mobilization. Neither they nor others who follow them may succeed in winning that political struggle, but their decision last week at least permits them to reenter the political fray, a development that inevitably will change the political scene not only in Georgia but in other post-Soviet states as well.

And third, this decision highlights just how little progress some in the region have made over the past decade and how ardently at least a few want to return to the past. Even as the Georgian Communists were singing the praises of Stalin as Putin's role model, Moscow pollsters were reporting that a majority of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians support the restoration of a single state among them.

According to a poll taken by the Moscow Humanitarian Academy, 61 percent of Russians, 53 percent of Ukrainians, and 69 percent of Belarusians want to live in a single state, with 38 percent of the Russians, 43 percent of the Ukrainians and 57 percent of the Belarusians saying they favored the restoration of a unitary state of the kind which existed in pre-1917 Russia.

Again, even these widespread attitudes are not necessarily going to be translated into a new-old political reality, but both they and the rehabilitation of Stalin are a reminder that in many post-Soviet countries, the politics of the 21st century are likely to be defined by those of the 20th and the battle between those who want these countries to move toward democracy and those who do not seems certain to continue.


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