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Newsline - January 17, 2001




MORE RUSSIAN REACTION TO BUSH INTERVIEW

Political figures and journalists continue to comment on "The New York Times" interview given by U.S. President-elect George W. Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2001). Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 16 January that Bush is "absolutely right" to say that the U.S. will not send more aid to Russia unless Russia reforms, Interfax reported. "We are tired of corruption and of our criminal leaders, who have concluded transactions to Russia's detriment," he said, adding that Bush's position will prevent Russians "from thinking that the IMF or World Bank will always be feeding us." But "Kommersant-Daily" on the same day said that Bush's statement not only ends any hope of restructuring Russia's debt but is likely to generate an anti-reform reaction in Russia itself. And "Nezavisimaya gazeta" added that Russia's own position on the Paris Club had virtually invited Bush's stance by making Moscow more vulnerable to outside pressure. PG

GOVERNMENT SEEKS DUMA SUPPORT ON DEBT ISSUES

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin told Duma deputies on 16 January that the Russian government expects the Duma to back its position on dealing with the Paris Club of creditors, Russian agencies reported. Duma Speaker Seleznev said that he believes the deputies will recommend that Moscow seek talks with both the Paris Club and the IMF to restructure Soviet-era debt, Interfax reported. Duma budget committee chairman Aleksandr Zhukov said that "the current state of Russia's balance of payments allows it to do without" large new loans. And Vladimir Nikitin, the head of the Duma commission on Russia's foreign debt, told Ekho Moskvy that demands that Russia repay the full amount due this year will disrupt the budget, undermine the country's economic development, and thus put any future payments in doubt. Government sources told Interfax that talks with the Paris Club will begin on 24 January. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" reported on 16 January that upcoming talks with Germany on debt rescheduling and reduction will be very difficult. The negotiations have already been pushed back from 15 January, the paper said, adding that Russia lacks enough good companies to implement its offer of swapping shares for debt relief. PG

PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA HAS 'OVERCOME NIHILISM'

In a Kremlin ceremony on 16 January where he presented state awards to Christian clergy, President Vladimir Putin said that he believes that "Russia is forever above spiritual nihilism and moral emptiness, over the epoch of the fierce struggle for the people's right to believe," Interfax reported. He added that "we are entering the new millennium with hope," a time, he suggested, that will witness "Russia's historical and spiritual transformation." The Russian president acknowledged the sufferings of the Russian Orthodox churchmen in Soviet times and praised them for their steadfastness. PG

UNESCO HEAD SAYS MEDIA FREEDOM UNDER THREAT IN RUSSIA...

In a letter to Russian President Putin, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said that he is concerned about the state of media freedom in Russia and especially about the situation of NTV, Reuters reported. Matsuura called on Putin to intervene in that case, which the UN official said is "but one recent illustration of this worrying development." PG

AS MEDIA-MOST OFFICIAL ARRESTED

The Office of the Prosecutor-General on 16 January arrested Anton Titov, the head of the Media-MOST financial department, Russian agencies reported. He has not yet been indicted, his lawyer said. In response, Media-MOST issued a statement saying that "the hypocritical nature of the Russian authorities has displayed itself fully today. Only two days after President Vladimir Putin made a public statement on his devotion to freedom of speech and his readiness to curb abuses by the Office of the Prosecutor-General," that office arrested Titov. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said that the relations between the city and MOST-Bank and Media-MOST had been entirely legal and that the city is prepared to provide whatever documentation the prosecutors seek, Interfax reported. PG

MEGA-INTELLIGENCE SERVICE SAID TO BE IN THE WORKS

Writing in "Versiya," no. 1, Yuri Nersesov said that a draft document calling for the merger of the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Federal Security Service, the Federal Protection Service, the Federal Agency for Governmental Communications and Information, and the Interior Ministry's Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime into a single Federal Security Department has been circulated to presidential envoys in the federal districts. Nersesov said that if this plan goes through, the new agency's capacities "will be even greater than those of the former KGB, and its director will become the second most influential person in Russia." The interior and emergency ministries will lose their forces, and the regional leaders will have no say in its operation. Nersesov said that he believes the likely head of this new department will be Sergei Ivanov, the current secretary of the Russian Security Council. Meanwhile, "Tribuna" reported on 16 January that President Putin and his aides have launched a new program to prevent government secrets from leaking out. And "Versty" on the same day said that the Federal Tax Police have sent a proposal to Putin calling for the establishment of a new and expanded system of state financial control under what the paper said is a "secret structure." PG

MORE SPY TRIALS

A Moscow city court on 16 January resumed hearings in the case of former diplomat Valentin Moiseev, who is charged with spying for South Korea, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the Russian Supreme Court on the same day overturned the conviction of Platon Obukhov, another diplomat sentenced in July 2000 to 11 years in jail for espionage, and ordered a re-examination of the case. PG

INDEPENDENT SCIENTISTS HOPE TO SAVE MIR

Specialists from the Russian Independent Association of Scientists said in Moscow on 16 January that "the service life of the Mir station may be prolonged for three to four years" by installing a new kind of electromagnetic engine at relatively low cost, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Russian officials said the same day that the Russian spacecraft will be deorbited on or about 6 March. PG

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT IGNORES MOSCOW'S REQUEST

"Vremya novostei" reported on 16 January that Moscow had asked Alyaksandr Lukashenka not to discuss military issues when he arrived in Moscow this week lest he further inflame Western concerns about reports that the Russian government has put nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad; but the paper said that Lukashenka had largely ignored that request. On the same day, Lukashenka met with Russian Central Bank head Viktor Gerashchenko to report on progress toward economic and financial integration and with Pavel Borodin, the secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union, to talk about the interest of Western firms in investing in the union state, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOLDOVAN PREMIER MEETS KASYANOV

Dumitru Braghis met his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov in Moscow on 16 January to discuss bilateral commercial ties, the settlement of Moldova's debt for past gas deliveries, future gas deliveries, and the Transdniester issue, Russian agencies reported. ITAR-TASS reported that Russia's ITERA will sell more gas to Moldova because of the progress Chisinau has made in paying for earlier deliveries. Meanwhile, Moldovan Defense Minister Boris Gamurari met his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, to discuss implementation of the bilateral military cooperation agreement for 2001. PG

RUSSIA, IRAN, INDIA APPROVE NORTH-SOUTH TRANSIT CORRIDOR

Indian officials announced on 16 January that they had approved, along with Russia and Iran, the creation of a North-South transit corridor which will link Russia and India via Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. The new route will cut in half the time for land transport between the two countries, officials said. The three countries had agreed on the corridor project last fall. PG

MOSCOW'S HARD LINE ON KURILES SLOWS PROGRESS WITH JAPAN

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said on 16 January that Moscow considers its border with Japan "fixed: the four islands are part of our territory [and] this is laid down in our constitution," Interfax reported. His statement appeared to reverse President Putin's statement to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Brunei in November that Moscow was prepared to acknowledge a 1956 Soviet declaration acknowledging that two of the islands should be returned. As a result, meetings between Russian officials and visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono made relatively little progress and no date was set for a Russian-Japanese summit. Moreover, the agreements that were announced -- on publishing documents about the Kuriles and opening a Japanese Consultate-General in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk -- were relatively minor. PG

GAZPROM UNAFFECTED BY BLUE STREAM SCANDALS

Yuri Komarov, a Gazprom executive, said that his company is not involved in widely-reported scandals and arrests in Turkey revolving around the Blue Stream pipeline project, Interfax reported. These Turkish actions, Komarov said, involved a company that is "only a consumer of gas" and that has "no commercial ties with Gazprom." PG

MOSCOW BEGINS WORK ON SECOND IRANIAN REACTOR

Atomic Power Minister Yevgenii Adamov told ITAR-TASS on 16 January that Russia has begun work on building a second reactor for Iran's nuclear power station at Bushehr. He said that Russia's actions in no way threaten the anti-proliferation regime: "There is not a single fact to indicate that by building nuclear power plants we could facilitate the development of the nuclear weapons sector abroad, much less in Iran." Meanwhile, Adamov found himself in a dispute with the office of the Prosecutor-General. He denied that he had been called in as a witness in a criminal case, while a spokesman for the prosecutors said that he had, noting that "the Minatom [ministry of atomic power] head has strange lapses of memory." PG

NGO ACTIVISTS CLASH ON MOSCOW'S IRAQ POLICY

Sergei Zhuravlev, the head of the Russian Society for Friendship with Iraq, told ITAR-TASS on 16 January that former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had failed to defend Russia's national interests in 1991 at the time of the Gulf War, but he suggested that the current Russian government appears to be taking a different tact. Meanwhile, on the anniversary of that war, Vadim Sementsev, the chairman of the Moscow Arabist Association, sharply criticized Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's government and said that Baghdad must comply with the demands of the international community. PG

AVDEEV SAYS PACE SESSION TO DETERMINE MOSCOW-COUNCIL TIES

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev told Interfax on 16 January that how Russia is treated at the upcoming meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will determine Russia's relationship with the Council in the future. Avdeev said that he hopes PACE will take a more serious approach to the issue of Chechnya than it had in the past. At the same time, Duma Vice Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who will go to Strasbourg, said that Russia's delegation to the meeting had been cut from 36 to 18. PG

MOSCOW PREPARED TO CONTINUE WALLENBERG PROBE

FSB Colonel Vladimir Vinogradov, who served on the joint Swedish-Russian panel that investigated the case of former Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001), said in Moscow on 16 January that the Russian authorities are willing to continue the probe but via requests to the Foreign Ministry rather than via the commission itself, Reuters reported PG

NEW SUBMARINE TO BE LAUNCHED THIS YEAR

The Northern Works yards told ITAR-TASS on 16 January that it will launch a new nuclear-powered submarine in July. The submarine, described as a general-purpose submarine of the third generation, currently is being prepared for additional sea trials. PG

FAR EASTERN CRISIS DRAWS ATTENTION OF NATIONAL PARTIES

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 16 January that his party's faction, the largest in the State Duma, wants the lower legislative house to examine the "catastrophic situation" with heating supplies in Primorskii Krai and other eastern regions, Interfax reported. On the same day, the presidium of Unity's political council issued an appeal to President Putin to declare a state of emergency in the Far Eastern krai because the situation there is characterized by a "systemic crisis, paralysis of power, and collapse." The previous day, some 100 residents of Vladivostok blocked a federal highway to protest a new round of electricity blackouts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2001). JAC

HOW COLD IS IT?

Meteorologists in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk report that for the first time in 100 years the temperature in the capital of Sakhalin Oblast has dipped to minus 32 degrees Celsius, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 January. With humidity between 60-80 percent, the temperature is comparable to that being recorded in the coldest parts of Siberia, according to ITAR-TASS. Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov told reporters that his region will have to seek additional financial help from the center because of the unusually cold weather, since local power stations are being forced to burn more fuel. The region has also been hit by heavy snowfalls causing avalanches in some areas. JAC

SAKHA RESISTS CHANGING CONSTITUTION

Members of the lower legislative assembly in Sakha (Yakutia) rejected a bill on 16 January that would introduce amendments to the republic's constitution making it conform with federal laws, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The legislators in particular objected to the exclusion of three articles from the Sakha Constitution declaring the republic's government to be sovereign, democratic, and lawful. In a recent interview, the deputy head of the presidential administration, Dmitrii Kozak, said that Moscow faces particular difficulties when trying to bring local laws into line with federal ones in Sakha and other ethnic republics (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 January 2001). JAC

ITERA HALTS DELIVERIES TO UKRAINIAN COMPANIES

Gas-distribution company ITERA said on 16 January that it has suspended deliveries of natural gas to four Ukrainian energy firms because the latter had fallen behind in their payments, ITAR-TASS reported. ITERA said that it had warned the firms two weeks ago that they will be cut off. The four owe the Russian company some $64 million. PG

PUTIN SENDS NEW-OLD ANTHEM TO DUMA FOR APPROVAL

Interfax reported on 16 January that President Putin has sent to the Duma a bill containing the words and music of the new-old national anthem for legislative approval, Duma Speaker Seleznev told Interfax on 16 January. PG

SMOKERS TO CONFRONT NON-SMOKERS IN DUMA

Deputies who smoke will seek to reverse a ban on smoking in the Duma building that was imposed last summer, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January. The original measure passed 290 to 72 with three abstentions, making repeal an uphill battle. At the same time, Duma Health and Sports Committee chairman Nikolai Gerasimenko urged his colleagues to vote against it. PG

MCDONALD'S IN RUSSIA IN VIOLATION OF LABOR LAWS

The Federal Labor Inspectorate has found "a number of labor law and safety violations" at McDonald's restaurants in Russia, Interfax reported on 16 January. The inspectorate, whose findings were contained in a report submitted to the Duma, nonetheless gave the company a relatively clean bill of health: the international chain's restaurants in Russia, it said, have a satisfactory compliance record compared "with the absolute majority" of restaurant and trade businesses in the country. PG

PACE DELEGATION CONTINUES TOUR OF CHECHNYA

A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe headed by Lord Frank Judd visited Grozny, the Russian military base at Khankala, and the infamous detention center at Chernokozovo on 16 January. Meeting in Khankala with Russian troop commander Lieutenant General Valerii Baranov, Lord Judd expressed concern at frequent reports that Russian servicemen extort bribes from civilians and subject them to maltreatment, Reuters and AP reported. He said that Russian troops must demonstrate "responsibility and decency" in order to bring stability to Chechnya. Judd met in Grozny with women who appealed for help in tracing missing male relatives, and with selected inmates of the Chernokozovo detention center who assured him they are treated well. LF

RUSSIAN SPOKESMAN DENIES RECENT HEAVY LOSSES IN CHECHNYA

Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 16 January rejected as untrue a claim by Chechen ideologue Movladi Udugov that federal forces have lost 33 men in fighting in Grozny and the Argun gorge over the previous two days, Russian agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii also denied that 30 civilians were killed by a Russian helicopter attack in the village of Vedeno. LF

INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN REJECTS REUNIFICATION WITH CHECHNYA

Ruslan Aushev told Interfax on 16 January that the possibility of reuniting the republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia in a single federation subject was not raised during his talks either with Russian President Putin or with the presidential representative to the South Russia Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, on 16 January. He said such reunification "would only exacerbate existing problems," to the point that "even three federal centers would not be able to cope" with the resulting "explosive mixture." Moreover, Aushev argued, the Ingush people would not voluntarily relinquish the sovereign status the republic acquired as a result of the abolition of the former Checheno-Ingush ASSR in June 1992. Aushev appealed to those Ingush who support reunification to abandon their campaign to achieve it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). LF




EU PROVIDES SIMULATOR FOR ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT...

A simulator financed by the EU was inaugurated at Armenia's Medzamor nuclear power plant on 16 January, according to a press release issued by the EU office in Yerevan the same day. The simulator will enhance safety at the plant by enabling personnel to conduct more extensive training in how to react to accidents. The EU has provided 12 million euros ($10.2 million) since 1996 in funds to improve safety at Medzamor, and is expected to commit a further 11 million euros for that purpose in 2001. LF

...AS RUSSIA THREATENS TO WITHHOLD NUCLEAR FUEL

The Russian government has officially notified Armenia that it will suspend supplies of nuclear fuel for Medzamor pending repayment of Yerevan's $16 million debt, according to the independent daily "Azg" on 13 January as cited by Groong. The Armenian parliament ratified in April 1999 a $20.6 million loan from Russia intended to finance purchases of Russian nuclear fuel for Medzamor. Armenian Energy Minister Karen Galustian was scheduled to travel to Moscow on 16 January for talks both on fuel supplies for Medzamor and Yerevan's $14.7 million debt to Moscow for gas supplies. It is not known whether Armenia's debts were discussed in the course of the 15 January telephone conversation between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. LF

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL CONCLUDES ARMENIA VISIT...

Lord George Robertson held talks in Yerevan on 16 January with President Kocharian and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian on regional conflicts and security, military parity in the South Caucasus, the CFE treaty, and Armenia's participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Robertson characterized his talks with Kocharian as "very good [and] detailed," and NATO-Armenian relations as "dynamic, evolving, and rewarding for both sides," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Robertson said in a public lecture at Yerevan State University the same day that a speedy solution to the Karabakh conflict is an essential precondition for economic development in the South Caucasus, adding that such a settlement cannot be achieved without Russia's participation. He ruled out any "lead role" for NATO in mediating such a settlement, but added that the Alliance is ready to support efforts by the OSCE and UN to do so. Asked to comment on the absence of diplomatic relations between Armenia and NATO member Turkey, Robertson said that NATO does not interfere in the policies conducted by member states. "If there was a settlement of the Karabakh dispute, the dispute between Armenia and Turkey would disappear," he predicted. LF

...ARRIVES IN AZERBAIJAN

Robertson then flew to Baku where he met late on 16 January with President Heidar Aliev. During that meeting, Robertson again emphasized that a solution to the Karabakh conflict is essential in order to preclude the emergence of new "military, social, and economic problems" in the South Caucasus. He said such a solution depends on the two conflict parties, but also hailed Russian President Putin's stated readiness to mediate a settlement. Robertson also conveyed his thanks to Aliyev for the participation of an Azerbaijani contingent in the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosova. LF

KYRGYZ COURT RESUMES PROCEEDINGS AGAINST OPPOSITION LEADER

The Bishkek City Military Court on 16 January resumed its review of the case against former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Kulov was arrested in March 2000 and went on trial three months later on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as National Security Minister in 1997-1998, but was acquitted on 7 August. In September, however, the court's board ordered the case reopened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August and 12 September 2000). LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR INCREASED MILITARY READINESS

Speaking at a session of Kyrgyzstan's Defense Council on 16 January, Askar Akaev warned that as in 1999 and 2000, Kyrgyzstan could face new incursions by Islamic militants this summer, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He instructed Defense Minister General Esen Topoev, who outlined new security measures to the Council, to take all necessary steps to repel such an attack. Addressing parliament last month, Akaev had asked for a substantial increase in military and defense spending in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NEW OSCE MISSION HEAD...

President Imomali Rakhmonov met on 16 January with Marc Gilbert, the new head of the OSCE mission in Dushanbe, to discuss the prospects for bilateral cooperation, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. Rakhmonov stressed his readiness for such cooperation, especially in measures to promote further democratization and the formation of democratic institutions. Also discussed were the recent civilian casualties as a result of mines laid by Uzbekistan along the border between the two countries in order to deter incursions by Islamic militants. Reuters quoted Gilbert as saying he intended to raise that issue with the OSCE. LF

...AS TAJIK GOVERNMENT COMMISSION DENIES PRESENCE OF MILITANTS IN EASTERN TAJIKISTAN

Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khairullaev told ITAR-TASS on 17 January that the government commission dispatched two weeks ago to assess the situation in the country's eastern Tavildara region had established that no members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan had taken refuge there (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"11 January 2001). Russian media have in recent months repeatedly suggested that former Tajik field commanders, including Mirzo Zieev, who is now minister for emergency situations, collude with the Islamists. Asked by a Russian journalist last month to comment on Kyrgyz charges that helicopters belonging to his ministry had been used to transport arms and food supplies to the Islamists, Zieev denied that his ministry has any helicopters. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT DISMISSES TWO DEPUTY PREMIERS, OTHER GOVERNMENT MINISTERS

Saparmurat Niyazov on 16 January fired Khudaikuli Khallykov, deputy prime minister responsible for transport, communications, and construction, for unspecified shortcomings in his work and also transfered Khallykov's duties to Transport and Communications Minister Rovshan Kerkavov, Reuters and Interfax reported. Khallykov was named chairman of the state company in charge of the country's highways, replacing Nurmurad Gullmuradov, whom Niyazov dismissed and indirectly accused of corruption. Niyazov also fired Chary Yazlev, deputy prime minister responsible for education, saying he lacks experience. The president also criticized Yazlev's choice of textbooks on Turkmen history. Also dismissed were Agriculture Minister Amanmukhammed Ataev, held responsible for the cotton harvest shortfall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 27 November 2000), and Education Minister Abat Rizaev. LF




BELARUSIAN REGIONAL LEADER PROPOSED AS LUKASHENKA'S CHALLENGER

Representatives of 24 Belarusian NGOs gathered in Minsk on 16 January to endorse Syamyon Domash as a candidate in this year's presidential elections, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Domash, who resigned the post of Hrodna Oblast governor to protest President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's handling of the 1996 constitutional referendum, leads the Regional Belarus association. Many in Belarus consider Domash, who is not affiliated with any political party, to be the best independent candidate. Domash said he is ready to withdraw his candidacy in favor of a contender with a better chance of beating Lukashenka. The Belarusian opposition is also pondering two other candidates to challenge Lukashenka: former Premier Mikhail Chyhir and trade union leader Uladzimir Hancharyk. "We will work in one team, it is not important who of us will be appointed [to run]," Domash pledged, referring to Chyhir and Hancharyk. JM

BELARUSIAN PROTESTANTS ACCUSE STATE MEDIA OF SLANDER CAMPAIGN

Leaders of Protestant Churches in Belarus have accused the government-controlled media of mounting a slander campaign against Protestant denominations, Belapan reported on 16 January. Syarhey Tsvor from Belarus's Pentecostals told a 15 January roundtable on religious relations that many state newspapers carry "biased and libelous articles" that present Pentecostals as "wild fanatics." Tsvor recalled that last November Belarusian Television broadcast a documentary "Ekspansiya" (Expansion) that "flagrantly encroached on the Christians' rights and defiled their feelings" by presenting Pentecostals as a "mystical and fanatic cult." Another participant in the roundtable said the government favors Orthodoxy to the detriment of other faiths, evicting some non-Orthodox churches from their premises and encouraging some state media to indulge in propaganda of "religiously chauvinistic national patriotism." JM

JOURNALIST NOT ADMITED TO BELARUSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER'S BRIEFING

Valerii Shchukin, who is a correspondent with the opposition newspaper "Nasha volya," was prevented from entering a news conference given by Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau on 16 January, Belapan reported. In a skirmish with police at the entrance to the Interior Ministry building, Shchukin was seriously injured by broken glass and taken to the hospital for surgery. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION...

Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch on 16 January called on lawmakers to find a "different approach" to the media sphere in Ukraine in order to eliminate censorship. Lawmaker Oleksandr Zinchenko said the authorities apply "political censorship" in both nationwide and regional media and "manipulate public opinion" through the state-controlled media. Ihor Lubchenko, head of the National Union of Journalists, told the parliament that Ukrainian journalists live with the fear that they may be beaten or even murdered for their professional activities. Communist lawmaker Borys Oliynyk said a majority of Ukrainian media outlets either depend on the authorities or "serve the [oligarchic] clans." Socialist lawmaker Oleksandr Moroz said honest journalists are a threat to the authorities, adding that there will be no freedom of expression in Ukraine without changing the current ruling regime. JM

...WHILE DISSAPPEARED JOURNALIST'S MOTHER COMPLAINS OF PRESSURE

Lesya Gongadze, mother of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, told the parliament the same day that she is being pressured "to agree immediately to the burial of the body" found near Kyiv last year and believed to be her son's. "But I am the mother and want to know whose corpse I am burying," she added. Lesya Gongadze called for an additional examination of the body in order to establish the cause of her son's death. JM

KYIV REPORTS HEALTHY ECONOMIC GROWTH IN 2000

Natalya Zarudna, Premier Viktor Yushchenko's spokesperson, told Interfax on 16 January that Ukraine's GDP in 2000 grew by 6 percent compared to the previous year. Zarudna added that last year agricultural production increased by 7.6 percent compared to 1999, the first growth registered in the agricultural sector since Ukraine declared independence in 1991. Ukraine's industrial production rose by 12.9 percent compared with the previous year. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS BAN ON EX-KGB EMPLOYEES

The government on 16 January endorsed two bills initiated by the Pro Patria Union requiring candidates for seats in the parliament or local councils to submit a written statement that they had not been employees or agents of foreign intelligence services that have occupied Estonia or repressed its citizens, BNS reported. The statement would take the place of the oath of conscience (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2000) which expired at the end of the year. The parliament also approved the formation of an eight-member special committee to objectively establish the circumstances, both factual and legal, of how the Soviet KGB concluded its operations in Estonia in 1991. SG

LATVIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH BRITISH PARLIAMENT DELEGATION

Andris Berzins on 16 January met with a visiting delegation of British parliament deputies -- which included Select Committee on Foreign Affairs chairman Donald Anderson -- and discussed Latvia's integration into the EU and NATO, LETA reported. The deputies asked questions about the naturalization of non-citizens, the country's economic situation, especially about the privatization process, and the fight against official corruption. They were also interested in how Latvia sees its future in the EU context and views the next intergovernmental EU conference in 2004. Berzins replied that Latvia hopes to attend it as a full EU member, having successfully completed EU entry negotiations by the end of 2002. SG

KAZAKHSTAN TO BOOST TRANSIT VIA KLAIPEDA FOURFOLD

Kazakhstan's ambassador to Vilnius, Ikram Adyrbekov, told parliament chairman Arturas Paulauskas on 16 January about plans to quadruple Kazakh transit cargo through the port of Klaipeda this year to 1.6 million tons, ELTA reported. Paulauskas also encouraged Kazakhstan to investigate the possibilities of refining its crude oil at the Mazeikiai refinery or export it through the Butinge oil terminal. Adyrbekov noted that Kazakhstan has been seeking ways to export its oil to the West under the most favorable terms and views Lithuania as a possible partner. Paulauskas also mentioned that Lithuanian-Kazakh relations should improve after the scheduled state visit by the chairman of Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament, Zharmakhan Tuyaqbaev, to Lithuania on 15-18 February. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT WANTS TO REGAIN CONTROL OVER YAMAL PIPELINE STRETCH

A government commission led by Communications Minister Tomasz Szyszko has found that the government lost control over the Polish section of the Yamal gas pipeline, Polish media reported on 16 January. The government's investigation into the pipeline was launched following an article in the 17 November "Gazeta Wyborcza" stating that an fiber optic cable was laid along the Polish stretch of the pipeline without the knowledge of the Polish government (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 November 2000). Szyszko said the PGNiG company, which represents the state's interests, has only 48 percent of the shares in the company controlling the Polish stretch of the pipeline, while, according to a 1993 Polish-Russian accord it should possess a 50 percent stake. Szyszko said the state wants to regain control over the pipeline stretch but he did not elaborate. JM

WARSAW PROSECUTORS PROBE NURSES' SIT-IN IN HEALTH MINISTRY

The Warsaw District Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation into the protest over low wages by several hundred nurses in the Health Ministry from 4-29 December, PAP reported on 16 January. The Health Ministry complained that the protesting nurses caused damage to property, "broke the inviolability of public officials," and "affected the official activities of the Health Ministry by using force against staff members." JM

CUBA SAYS IT WILL TRY CZECHS AS 'U.S. AGENTS'...

A statement by the Cuban government carried by state media on 16 January said deputy and former Czech Finance Minister Ivan Pilip, and Jan Bubenik, who was detained with him two days earlier, are "U.S. agents" who had come to Cuba to "maintain subversive contacts with members of small counter-revolutionary groups" and will be put on trial, Reuters reported. "Those who rudely violate our laws and conspire against the Revolution, whatever their position and rank, have no right to impunity," the statement said. The Havana authorities rejected protests by the Czech Foreign Ministry, describing them as "hysterical cries worth nothing" that come from an "arrogant" government which is "a true lackey of imperialism." The Czech Foreign Ministry called the allegations "absurd." MS

...AND PRAGUE MAY ENLIST INTERNATIONAL ASSISTANCE

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, in an interview with the daily "Pravo" on 17 January, said that if other efforts to bring about Pilip and Bubenik's liberation fail, "it will be necessary to enlist the display of solidarity from our partners." Kavan said he has in mind not only the EU, but also other "democratic states with which we have excellent relations, including Latin American countries." The Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Commission is meeting on 17 January to discuss the detention. The U.S. based Freedom House, in a statement released by spokesman Michael Goldfarb, expressed "solidarity" with the detained and called on the international community to denounce their arrest. The Cuban government's statement called Pilip and Bubenik "Freedom House agents" and described that institution as "providing means to traitors of their homeland who are engaged in conspiracy against the Cuban Revolution." MS

ODS, CSSD TO DISCUSS BUDGET DEFICIT

Vlastimil Tlusty, leader of the Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, on 16 January said the ODS leadership will discuss next week with the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leadership the widening of the so-called "opposition agreement" under which the CSSD minority government rules with the backing of the ODS. The ODS has demanded the meeting, saying the Milos Zeman cabinet exceeded the budget deficit approved by the parliament last year. Tlusty said that before the meeting takes place the ODS will review the agreement with the ODS "as a whole" and not just those of its parts linked to the budget, CTK reported. Zdenek Skromach, who is Tlusty's counterpart in the CSSD, said the CSSD is ready to discuss the ODS's proposals. MS

AUSTRIAN OFFICIALS CALL TEMELIN'S TEMPRORARY SHUTDOWN 'A CHANCE'

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on 16 January said the temporary shutdown of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant is "a chance to conduct all necessary tests according to EU standards and under EU supervision." The shut down was announced by the Czech Nuclear Safety Authority last week, following several incidents during the plant's testing stage. Austrian Defense Minister Herbert Scheibner said the shutdown proves that it was a mistake to put the plant online. MS

GERMANY WANTS 10-YEAR EU 'TRANSITION PERIOD' ON BORDER CROSSING

German Interior Minister Otto Schilly on 16 January said he expects the EU full traffic of people and goods provision to apply to Czech and Polish border crossing points only after a "transition period" of 10 years, CTK reported. Schilly said the two countries have made progress in fighting organized crime and improving border controls, but their frontier with Germany remains "the main gate to the West for illegal immigration." The statement follows a recent proposal by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that a "flexible" period of seven years apply to the provision on the free movement of labor force after the union's eastward expansion. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC BANS AUSTRIAN, ITALIAN BEEF

The Czech Republic on 16 January announced it is widening its ban of beef imports to include Italy and Austria, where cases of BSE, or "mad cow disease," have recently been discovered, Reuters reported. The country's veterinary authorities also said they are starting special tests of cattle to ensure that the disease has not spread the Czech Republic. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT SAYS POSTWAR DEPORTATION OF GERMANS WAS 'MISTAKE'

President Rudolf Schuster, in a message to the Sudeten Deutsche Academy, said the postwar deportation of Germans from CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan countries was a "tragic mistake" and called on those countries to "admit their responsibility," the Czech daily "Pravo," cited by CTK, reported on 17 January. "I believe it is not enough for countries from which citizens of German nationality were forcibly resettled to apologize from time to time; as in the case of the Holocaust, these countries must admit their responsibility and thus show future generations that Europe can only be built on the principles of tolerance, understanding, and humanity," Schuster wrote. In 1990, the Slovak parliament of which Schuster was chairman, apologized for expelling Germans under the 1945 Benes decrees but did not describe the deportation as "a tragic mistake," nor did it challenge the legality of the decrees. MS

FICO IS MOST TRUSTED SLOVAK POLITICIAN

Robert Fico, chairman of the Smer (Direction) party, continues to be the most trusted Slovak politician, according to the findings in a public opinion poll released on 16 January by the Public Opinion Research Institute (UVVM), CTK reported. Fico is trusted by 20.7 percent and is followed by former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, with 14 percent. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda is trusted by 11.8 percent of those polled, and is followed by Schuster, with 10.2 percent. Compared with the poll conducted by the UVVM in October 2000, Meciar's trustworthiness dropped by 3.1 percent. The largest decline was suffered by the leader of the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, Anna Malikova, who is now trusted by 8 percent, instead of 12.6 percent in October. Trust in Schuster, on the other hand, has risen by 4.5 percent since then. MS

HUNGARIAN ANNUAL INFLATION DOWN, BUT LESS THAN EXPECTED

According to figures released on 16 January by the Central Statistics Office, the annual inflation rate in Hungary for 2000 was 9.8 percent, compared to 10 percent in 1999. The 0.2 percent fall breaks the trend in recent years of significant drops in inflation. The Finance Ministry said that external factors, such as high oil prices and the weak Euro, are the main reason for the inflation rate being higher than previously forecast. The government predicts a 6 percent inflation rate for 2001, but analysts say the figure is overly optimistic and predict a 8 to 8.5 percent rate. MSZ




SERBIA'S DJINDJIC CONTRADICTS KOSTUNICA ON HAGUE, DEL PONTE

Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic told Beta news agency in Belgrade on 16 January that he will meet with Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on her upcoming trip to Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2001). Contradicting the views of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Djindjic said: "The Hague tribunal was formed by the UN Security Council and it is, therefore, an institution of the UN. It is the duty of a politician to meet with the representatives of all international organizations. ...I respect Mr. Kostunica and his team, and I believe that this [refusal of Kostunica to meet her] is a minor incident which will be resolved to the benefit of all." PM

MIGHT YUGOSLAV LEADER CONSENT TO MEET DEL PONTE IN FUTURE?

Kostunica hinted in Athens on 16 January that he does not rule out seeing Del Ponte at another time. "I haven't thought about it, and I'm still not thinking about it. We shall deal with this matter at an appropriate moment, and then we shall find a way of informing Carla Del Ponte about everything concerning The Hague. ...It is not a secret that I believe there are legal shortcomings with the international court and I will raise them when she comes again," AP quoted Kostunica as saying. PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT NOT WORRIED ABOUT HAGUE

Milan Milutinovic told TV Politika on 16 January that his "conscience is clear" and that "I see no reason to surrender myself to the tribunal," in response to an indictment for war crimes. He stressed that the indictment against him contains no hard evidence. Milutinovic is one of the highest-ranking Milosevic allies still in power. His term expires in 2002. Djindjic recently told "Der Spiegel" that Milutinovic is not only not making difficulties for the new authorities but that he "has actually been cooperative." Over the years, reports surfaced in the media from time to time about alleged differences between Milosevic and Milutinovic. PM

IS FORMER YUGOSLAV LEADER CONCERNED FOR OWN SAFETY?

Slobodan Milosevic recently met with Kostunica in order to express fears for his personal safety and that of his "businessman" son, Marko, "Vesti" reported, quoting unnamed sources in the governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2001). Milosevic is concerned about possible attempts to extradite him to The Hague, as well as about being kidnapped. The former leader reportedly also inquired about the safety of his son if Marko returns to Serbia from self-imposed exile. It is not clear what the outcome of the talks was. Milosevic reportedly sought but did not receive assurances that several of his top aides -- including Nikola Sainovic and Mirko Marjanovic -- will not become the object of lawsuits. PM

MONTENEGRIN LEADER TO BELGRADE

President Milo Djukanovic is slated to arrive in Belgrade on 17 January for talks with Kostunica and Djindjic. He said that there is "room for talks" despite the differences between his and Kostunica's rival proposals on the future of Serbian-Montenegrin ties, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2001). "If we fail to reach an agreement, the citizens will say in a referendum" what they want, Djukanovic said. Djukanovic added that he will ask his hosts "why Serbia persistently wants Yugoslavia and why it does not want to be an independent state. ...In any case, after [seeing] Kostunica's proposed platform, there's a reason for us to be skeptical" about his intentions. Djukanovic stressed that he firmly believes that Montenegro and Serbia "can get to Europe faster" if they are independent countries rather than joined in a federation, "Vesti" reported. PM

SMOOTH SAILING FOR MONTENEGRO?

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told Djukanovic in Zagreb on 16 January that there is no cause for any fear of violence in the Serbian-Montenegrin dispute. He stressed that the two former Yugoslav republics will resolve their differences through negotiations, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Belgrade, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the General Staff, said that the army will not interfere when Montenegrin citizens decide on their republic's political future. He confirmed that the Yugoslav Supreme Defense Council recently decided to disband the Seventh Battalion of the military police. The Montenegrin leadership regards that unit as a political formation created by Milosevic to use against his enemies in the mountainous republic. PM

VOJVODINA HUNGARIAN LEADER CITES DEATH THREAT

Subotica Mayor Jozsef Kasza told Hungarian Radio on 15 January that he recently received an e-mail that contained a death threat. An unspecified Serbian "liberation army" added in the message that all ethnic Hungarians should leave Vojvodina. The mayor stressed that several Serbian politicians, including an official of President Kostunica's party, have contributed to a climate of hate in the province by making anti-Hungarian statements. Kasza has sent copies of the e-mail message to Kostunica and Prime Minister-designate Djindjic, and plans to pass other copies on to Hungarian and international officials. PM

KFOR: ETHNIC ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS STEAL TEACHERS' PAY

U.S. KFOR officials said in a statement on 16 January that fighters of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac recently took $7,500 in Yugoslav dinars from a convoy of Serbs traveling from Bujanovac to Kamenica in eastern Kosova. The statement called the act "banditry," adding that the money was to be used to pay Serbian teachers' salaries. The guerrillas, for their part, displayed the bank notes to reporters, saying that they are investigating whether the money is "linked to crime," Reuters reported from Prishtina. PM

MACEDONIA TO RECOGNIZE TIRANA DIPLOMAS

Education Minister Nenad Novokovski said in Skopje that the government plans to recognize university degrees issued by Tirana University, Makfax news agency reported on 16 January. He added that the Albanian diplomas will be recognized on the model of the way in which Skopje recognizes degrees from Sofia. Ethnic Albanian students with degrees from Tirana recently staged a protest to demand that their diplomas be recognized without their having to take additional examinations. PM

MACEDONIA'S ALBANIAN-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITY TAKES SHAPE

The official name of the new Albanian-language university will be the University of Southeast Europe in Tetovo, MIC news agency reported on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2000). Members of the governing board will be Zamir Dika, Murtezan Ismaili, Reshat Nexhipi, Bajram Polozani, and Danilo Gligorovski. Ferid Murat and Arben Xhaferi will be honorary members. PM

YUGOSLAV-SLOVENIAN BUSINESS CONTACTS

A Yugoslav delegation of 36 businessmen has arrived in Ljubljana for talks with representatives of 110 Slovenian firms, "Delo" reported on 17 January. Marta Kos, who heads the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce, said that 70 percent of Slovenia's trade is with the EU. Only 16 percent of its exports are to "the Balkans," while only 7 percent of its exports come from there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Since the ending of the Bosnian conflict in 1995, many Slovenian businesses have been eager to regain some of their former Yugoslav markets. PM

VETERAN SLOVENIAN POLITICIAN DIES

Sergej Kraigher, who was one of Slovenia's top politicians during the last years of the rule of Josip Broz Tito, died in Ljubljana on 16 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

OSCE SLAMS HERZEGOVINIAN HDZ

In Sarajevo on 16 January, the OSCE's Luke Zahner criticized the recent decision by the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to boycott the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2001). He stressed that a democracy cannot function if each time a party does not get its way it "packs up its toys and goes home," AP reported. PM

UP TO 50,000 ILLEGAL MIGRANTS TRANSIT BOSNIA

The UN's mission to Bosnia said in a statement on 16 January that up to 50,000 people used Bosnia as an illegal transit route to Western Europe last year. The largest numbers came from Iran and Turkey, dpa reported. PM

CROATIA TO FUND HOLOCAUST STUDIES

Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in Zagreb on 16 January that President Stipe Mesic has confirmed that the government will carry out a program of Holocaust studies. Zuroff said it is "an honor" to meet Mesic, whose attitudes he described as "completely different" from those of late President Franjo Tudjman, dpa reported. PM

ROMANIAN EXTREMISTS WALK OUT OF PARLIAMENT IN PROTEST

The parliamentary group of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) in the Chamber of Deputies on 17 January walked out in protest against the approval of an article in the Local Public Administration Law granting minorities the right to use their mother tongue in contacts with the authorities and to post bilingual street signs, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2001). PRM deputy Anghel Stanciu said the article is unconstitutional as it introduces Hungarian as a "second official language." He added that the PRM will contest the law in the Constitutional Court. On 16 January, the PRM asked the court to rule that the new house regulations approved by the Chamber of Deputies are unconstitutional, and announced it will also challenge the restitution law approved by the Chamber of Deputies on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 16 January 2001). MS

WORLD BANK OFFICIAL MEETS ROMANIAN POLITICIANS...

Andrew Vorkink, World Bank director for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, said after meeting President Ion Iliescu on 17 January that the bank is ready to extend up to $1.5 billion in aid in the next four years if the programs proposed by the Romanian government will be judged as being "serious" and "advancing reform," Mediafax reported. After meeting with Prime Minster Adrian Nastase on 16 January, Vorkink said he is "encouraged" by the "seriousness" with which the government tackles the tasks ahead but added that it is "too early" to discuss "specifics." He said he agrees with the government's priorities of creating more jobs, improving the business climate, and attracting investors, as well as with the need to combat poverty. Vorkink also met with Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

...AND ROMANIAN FINANCE MINISTER PREPARES FOR IMF TALKS

Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu on 16 January said he will travel to Washington next week to meet with IMF officials to discuss the government's concept for the 2001 budget. An IMF delegation will visit Romania at the end of January. Nastase said after his meeting with Vorkink that he believes that the new IMF negotiator for Romania, Neven Mates, will display "particular understanding" for Romania's problems in the "transition period" because Mates is of Croat origin and is familiar with the problems of the region. MS

BULGARIA SEES NO 'BALKAN SYNDROME' RISKS FOR ITS KOSOVA PEACEKEEPERS

"Radiological tests conducted last week on soil and water samples from the camps of the Bulgarian troops [stationed in Kosova] showed no uranium isotopes had been additionally introduced," Yurii Dunchev, Bulgarian army chief ecologist, told journalists on 16 January. The results confirmed earlier medical tests that found no health problems among Bulgarian servicemen deriving from depleted uranium ammunition. Dunchev said the 39 Bulgarian peacekeepers are stationed "well away from the regions where depleted uranium ammunitions were used in combat," Reuters reported. In other news, Nikolai Mihailov, department chief in the Defense Ministry, said on 16 January that Bulgaria has fully destroyed its stocks of anti-personnel mines, AP reported. Mihailov stressed that, unlike Bulgaria, Turkey and Yugoslavia have not yet signed the Ottawa Convention on the ban of these mines. MS




OECD PRAISES BULGARIAN FARM REFORMS, CONCERNED ABOUT ROMANIA


By Ron Synowitz

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has recently reviewed agricultural reform in Bulgaria and Romania. While there is praise for Bulgaria, the organization says the slow pace of reform in Romania is a cause for concern.

In a survey released in Sofia on 16 January, the OECD says Bulgaria's agriculture policies in the last four years have saved the sector from collapse. The survey says Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's government has created a solid foundation for Bulgaria to make improvements in agriculture that are vital to its European Union membership bid.

The OECD notes that Bulgaria and Hungary are Eastern Europe's only net exporters of food. The organization attributes this to more open trade policies and to the elimination of price controls that previously kept most farmers from earning profits from their work.

But the OECD says Bulgaria still faces tough challenges. Among them are the need to create a functioning market for land -- where private land can be easily bought and sold or used as collateral for agricultural loans. Another challenge involves restructuring and encouraging competition among companies that process the farmers' output so that farmers receive a fair market price for their products.

Two months ago, the OECD released a study on Romanian agriculture reform that is more critical. The organization cited the lack of an overall reform framework until 1997 as a key reason that Romania has become a net importer of food.

OECD agriculture expert Andrzej Kwiecinski told RFE/RL that one problem facing Romania's private farmers is that they don't have access to the larger national market, since the links between state farms and food-processing companies are still very strong.

He said that small-scale farmers are, thus far to a large extent, cut off from the main domestic and foreign markets. The only remaining option for them is local markets, which could offer the possibility to sell small quantities, but which do not provide small-scale farmers with the chance to expand their activities and to become more efficient.

Private farmers in Bulgaria faced similar barriers in the mid-1990s, when either the state or nomenklatura business groups held monopoly control over food processing. Combined with the many restrictions on exporting at that time, private farmers had little choice but to sell their crops at prices that were far below international market prices. In practice, Bulgaria's main food exporters before 1997 were private business groups with strong enough government connections to obtain export licenses.

The OECD report praises Kostov's government for tearing down some of the pillars of an agricultural sector that was, in effect, a system of nomenklatura feudalism. This was done mainly by liberalizing domestic food prices and abolishing the restrictive measures on exports.

The OECD credits the policies of Kostov's government for stabilizing Bulgaria's national economy and allowing a market infrastructure to develop in agriculture.

The OECD says another major advance for private Bulgarian farmers came in 1998 when laws were passed to establish a western-style warehouse receipt system. Warehouse receipts help western farmers get short-term credits for the seed, fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides that they need through the growing season. Warehouse receipts are essential to free-market agriculture because they allow farmers to obtain loans by using grain they've stored at licensed warehouses as collateral.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has committed about $100 million to a four-year program aimed at developing Bulgaria's warehouse grain receipt system. The EBRD has also praised the Kostov government for setting up the necessary legal framework and liberalizing the grain markets. Experts at the bank say lessons from this program could help neighboring countries improve the financial infrastructure of their own farming sectors.

Agricultural experts from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also agree that a proper legal framework is essential to a successful warehouse receipt program. A USAID pilot program for warehouse receipts in Ukraine during the mid-1990s has been cancelled, reportedly because too many traders used the forum merely as a meeting place and then conducted transactions on their own outside of the program.

In Romania, the OECD says one of the biggest reform tasks facing the new government is to create job opportunities for rural residents who are leaving agriculture. More than 35 percent of all jobs in Romania are in the agriculture sector, but this is expected to decline as the sector becomes more efficient.

Ironically, Romania's land privatization program has created a problem that is the opposite of the situation in Ukraine and Russia. Romanian farm plots are too small to be farmed efficiently. The OECD says the average plot size is about two hectares. The reason for this is because Romania's land privatization was based on restitution to the owners (or descendants of owners) before nationalization in the 1940s.

Many Romanian landowners now are either leaving their fields fallow or are renting them to a few large farms that do not have any interest in protecting the long-term fertility of the soil.

In contrast, Kwiecinski says the average size of farms in Russia and Ukraine is about 7,000 hectares. Most farm workers in those countries have a paper coupon showing they have rights to a portion of land from their former state farms. But few can identify an actual plot of land that is theirs.

Moreover, the large collective state farms have been privatized only on paper, but have not been broken up into the ideally efficient size of 500 to 1,000 hectares. Nor has the management of most former state farms been changed. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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