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Newsline - April 18, 2001




PRO-PRESIDENTIAL MAJORITY FORMED IN DUMA...

Four parliamentary groups -- Unity, Fatherland, Russian Regions, and People's Deputy -- who combined hold 234 of the 450 seats in the Duma, agreed to coordinate voting on some economic and political issues and thus give President Vladimir Putin a working majority on those questions, Russian and Western agencies reported on 17 April. In a joint statement, the parties declared their "intention to create a coordination committee of centrist groups with a view to forming an interfaction committee to achieve a solid parliamentary majority." PG

...BUT OTHER GROUPS REMAIN SKEPTICAL

Several deputies and commentators suggested that the four-party group was far from united and might fall apart at any time. Among those making that point was Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who said that the party lacks a clear ideological base and that "when they meet their first failures, this company will soon split," Reuters reported on 17 April. Meanwhile, Duma deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin (Union of Rightist Forces, or SPS) said that the formation of the group would make it easier for his party and Yabloko to cooperate, Interfax reported. In addition, he warned the creators of the coalition that they must not have any "illusions that the creation of such a monster means its victory." PG

U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER NTV TAKEOVER

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 16 April that the United States is "concerned about the lack of an open and transparent process" in Gazprom's takeover of NTV, Reuters reported. Boucher said Washington is also concerned about "the overall issue of freedom of speech and freedom of the media in Russia," and he said that "we think it would be a great loss to the people of Russia if the changes at NTV reduce their access to a wide range of news and views over the airwaves." Meanwhile, in the wake of Gazprom's takeover of NTV, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April that U.S. media magnate Ted Turner "is revising his plans to buy" a share of the NTV company. PG

'ITOGI' EDITOR FIRED, STAFF LEAVES

The Sem dnei publishing house, which is part of the Media-MOST group, on 17 April fired Sergei Parkhomenko, editor in chief of the weekly news magazine "Itogi," Russian and western agencies reported. Most of the rest of the staff departed with him, agencies reported. Parkhomenko told AP that the move against him was the logical next step of the move against NTV: "Now I think the situation will move much more quickly to a resolution because the light has gone out and, in the dark, those who want to get rid of us can feel much more free." Parkhomenko said that he will attempt to set up another weekly under another name. The U.S. magazine "Newsweek," which owns a share in the "Itogi" operation, described the moves against Parkhomenko and other staff members as "serious and disturbing," Reuters reported. The owner of Sem dnei named a new editor after blaming Parkhomenko for his statements about threats to media freedom in Russia, Interfax reported. It is not clear when or if "Itogi" will reappear, nor was it clear as of 17 April whether the "Segodnya" newspaper will start up again under new editor Kirill Dybskii, whose appointment "Kommersant-Daily" discussed on that date. PG

PRESSURE ON GUSINSKY'S EMPIRE BUILDS...

Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko said on 17 April that in the near future a decision will be taken about lifting the license of MOST-Bank, another part of Vladimir Gusinsky's now-crumbling empire, Interfax-AFI reported. On the same day, the tax police expanded their charges against the television network TNT, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. And the procuracy renewed its criminal case against popular television journalist Sergei Dorenko, Interfax-Moscow reported. Meanwhile, a Spanish court on 17 April again put off a decision on the extradition of Gusinsky to Russia, but Russian agencies continued to suggest that he is unlikely to be returned to Moscow. PG

...BUT MEDIA-MOST PLEDGES TO CONTINUE TO OPERATE

In a statement released by its press service on 17 April, Gusinsky's Media-MOST said that it will continue to operate despite government and nongovernmental pressures against it, Interfax reported. The statement said that "Media-MOST, together with the journalists who have been forced to leave their workplaces, will defend their rights and the right of their viewers, readers, and listeners by all lawful means. We will find the means to continue our work" unless and until a "harsh dictatorship is set up in Russia." PG

WILL EKHO MOSKVY BE NEXT?

Aleksei Venediktov, the chief editor of the radio station Ekho Moskvy, told Interfax on 17 April that it is entirely possible that his station will suffer the same fate as NTV, "Segodnya," and "Itogi." He said that such a possibility is even more likely when Media-MOST's payments on a major loan from Gazprom are due. Media-MOST owns 38 percent of the shares in Ekho Moskvy, while Gazprom controls 25 percent. If Gazprom does take control, Venediktov told Reuters, "we will not work" for the gas giant, rather "the team will break up and go." PG

DOES PUTIN'S VICTORY THREATEN HIM?

In an analysis published in "Novye Izvestiya" on 17 April, commentator Otto Latsis argued that President Putin "is doomed -- he has won." Latsis said that the NTV case has shown "the full extent of the contradiction between democracy and authoritarianism in Putin's methods" and also "the professional methods of the secret services," which are "becoming characteristic of the business known as the Russian state." But precisely because Putin is operating on such a narrow circle, Latsis warned, he may find himself in trouble. At the same time, Latsis said, groups like SPS have "compromised themselves by not defending NTV" more actively. PG

PUTIN RAISES PENSIONS

President Putin signed a decree on 17 April raising average pensions to approximately 2,300 rubles ($80) per month, Russian agencies reported. Putin said his decree will help some 18 million pensioners. Meanwhile, Putin has said that work on pension reform is going well, Pension Fund chief Mikhail Zurabov told Interfax on the same day. PG

PREMIER SAYS CABINET STRUCTURE TO BE CHANGED ONLY SLIGHTLY

Speaking on ORT television on 17 April, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that he plans to amend the structure of the cabinet only slightly over the next several months. He said "our country has lived through many upheavals, ruptures, and breakthroughs" and consequently, he has no plans to "hash everything up and then to build anew." Kasyanov said that he believes that ministries and departments were strengthened over the past year. In other comments, the prime minister said that economic growth will be continuous and stable, noting that "the results of the first quarter are reassuring." He said he is confident that the living standards of the Russian population will "definitely not be worse" by the end of 2001. PG

TAX REFORM TO ENHANCE GOVERNMENT REVENUE

Gennadii Bukaev, the minister for taxes and duties, said that the tax reforms planned by the Russian government will increase budget revenue by 7 to 8 billion rubles ($2.5 to 2.7 billion) annually for the next six years, "Vremya MN" reported on 17 April. But at the same time, Bukaev acknowledged that back-taxes owed to the state had increased in 2000 from 244 billion to 292 billion rubles. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported on the same day that there is mounting concern that officials will arbitrarily assign the level of fees and taxes to be paid by firms involved in developing natural resources. PG

CONTROVERSIES CONTINUE OVER COURT, CRIMINAL CODE REFORM PLANS

An article in "Izvestiya" on 17 April notes that the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office is opposed to the draft court reform being prepared by the Kremlin because it reduces the power of that office. The paper said that others oppose the reforms because of their enormous cost and the government's failure to say where it will get the money to pay for everything. Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta" in its 16-18 April issue reported that "battles over the new criminal code continue" with some suggesting that it is time to replace the current one, which the paper describes as "a relic of the Stalin era," and others insisting that the planned reforms are not liberal enough. And in a move that straddles both issues, Russian prosecutors announced that they will systematically ensure that all legal rules are obeyed in the country's pretrial detention centers, facilities that have been much criticized for the failures of those supervising them to obey the law, Interfax reported. PG

INTERIOR MINISTER SAID TO BE STARTING PURGE

"Rossiya" and "Kommersant-Daily" on 16 April reported that new Interior Minster Boris Gryzlov has begun purging that agency. He reportedly has already removed several generals from their positions and may fire others as he seeks to put his stamp on the Interior Ministry. PG

REGIONAL ORGANIZATIONS HELP PROMOTE EXPORTS

According to an article in the 17 April "Nezavisimaya gazeta," some 1,500 organizations in Russia's regions are helping businesses there to increase exports. PG

MOSCOW PLANS TO SEND MORE TROOPS TO NORTH CAUCASUS; TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Minsk on 17 April that the Russian government plans to increase deployments in the North Caucasus and along the Afghan border even as it cuts overall troop levels during the next several years, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

MOSCOW FOCUSES ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 17 April that Moscow is very much concerned by the rising tide of violence in the Middle East, ITAR-TASS reported. He called on both Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from the use of force. On the same day, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan arrived in Moscow for 18 April talks with the Russian leadership. Ramadan is the first senior Iraqi leader to visit Moscow since the Gulf War. Also on 17 April, Deputy Foreign Minister Vasilii Sredin told visiting Kuwaiti parliamentarian Mohammad Sakr that Russia seeks to expand its dialogue with Kuwait as well, ITAR-TASS reported. On 16 April, President Putin accepted an invitation to visit Syria from visiting Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al Sharaa and extended one to his Syrian counterpart in kind, Russian agencies reported. PG

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SUMS UP MOSCOW MEETINGS

After meeting with Russian President Putin on 16 April, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin told reporters in Moscow on 17 April that he will seek to integrate his country into the Russia-Belarus Union, but that Chisinau is not prepared to join any time soon, Russian and Western agencies reported. In other comments, Voronin said that Russian peacekeeping forces had fulfilled their mission in Moldova and could be withdrawn. (See articles in Part II for more on Voronin's visit.) PG

DEFENSE INDUSTRIES PREPARING REFORM PACKAGE

Aleksandr Dondukov, the minister for industry, science and technology, said on 17 April that his agency has begun preparing a federal program on "Defense Industry Reform up to 2010," ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the sector has grown by 25 percent in 2000 compared to 1999, with the share of civilian goods produced by the sector growing to 21 percent last year. PG

ARMS EXPORTS SEEN RISING TO $6 BILLION A YEAR

Boris Kuzyk, the head of the New Programs and Concepts program of the defense sector, said in Moscow on 17 March that Russia could eventually increase its share of the international arms market to about one-sixth of the total, or $6 billion, Russian and Western agencies reported. He said that Russia will have to rely on its traditional partners and said that U.S. criticism of Moscow's arms sales to Iran and other countries must be ignored: "One still has to defend one's own interests," he said. PG

ANTIMILITARY WEBSITES ENCOURAGE DRAFT EVASION

According to an article in the 17 April "Vremya MN," the number of Russian-language websites on the Internet calling for young men to avoid the draft is "multiplying." The sites both speak against military service in general and provide visitors with highly specific information on how to avoid serving in the army. PG

PRIMAKOV GIVEN GORCHAKOV MEDAL

Yevgenii Primakov, a former foreign minister and current Duma deputy, on 17 April became the third person -- Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin were the first and second -- to be presented with the Gorchakov Medal, given for contributions to the revival of Russian foreign policy, Interfax reported on 17 April. The award is named for the 19th-century Russian Foreign Minister Aleksandr Gorchakov, who helped rebuild Russia's fortunes after its defeat in the Crimean War. PG

CHUBAIS SEEN WEAKENED

An article in "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 April suggested that Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais has lost support within the government and that he may not be in a position to dictate future plans for the reorganization of the electric power monopoly. The paper reached that conclusion on the basis of statements following two government meetings about energy matters on 16 April. PG

BORODIN HOSPITALIZED

Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary and former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin was admitted on 17 April to a Moscow hospital for a check-up after his 14 April return on bail from Switzerland, Russian and Western agencies reported. Borodin was hospitalized both in New York and Switzerland during his legal ordeal, during which he was extradited from the United States and then freed on a $3 million bond paid by the Russian government. PG

LIMONOV CHARGED

Russian officials formally charged Eduard Limonov, the leader of the National Bolshevik Party, with the illegal acquisition, transport, and holding of firearms, Interfax reported on 17 April. Limonov, who remains in Moscow's Lefortovo prison, "categorically" denies the charges, his lawyer said. PG

WAHHABISM, NOT WAHHABIS SEEN THREATENING RUSSIA

In an extensive article appearing in the 17 April "Nezavisimaya gazeta," analyst Khozh-Akhmet Nukhaev warned that many Russians think that Wahhabis are threatening Russia, but in fact it is not the Wahhabis themselves but their ideas which pose a challenge to Russian control of much of the country. PG

MOSCOW DID NOT CHARGE ENOUGH FOR PRIVATIZATIONS

Writing in the 17 April issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Politekonomiya," commentator Ivan Ustinov said that Russian officials have failed to charge high enough prices for Russian assets that have been privatized. He noted that privatization revenues in Russia amount to $56.40 per capita while in Hungary they stand at $1,252.80. "Had Russia sold its assets for real money," Ustinov said, "it would have earned enough to pay off all its foreign debts and to avoid economic collapse and impoverishment." But because it did not do so, he concluded, "Russia is now compared to Burkina Faso, a third-world country, but with nuclear weapons -- with huge foreign debts and a mostly impoverished population." PG

YET ANOTHER THEORY ON THE 'KURSK' DISASTER

In an article published in "Versiya" in its 17-23 April issue, journalist Vadim Saranov reported that some investigators believe that the "Kursk" submarine disaster was the result of a torpedo attack by the "USS Memphis." Saranov said he had been shown a picture that he said makes it "absolutely clear that the 'Kursk' was hit by torpedoes." PG

RUSSIAN ICE-CREAM PRODUCERS UNITE IN AD CAMPAIGN

Faced with falling sales and the increasing popularity of alternative consumables like chocolate and beer, Russian ice-cream producers have agreed to launch a joint ad campaign later this year to help convince Russians to return to ice cream, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 April. PG

SMIRNOV VERSUS SMIRNOFF VODKA CASE RESOLVED

A Moscow city court has decided that two firms, one American and one Russian, each have the right to call their product Smirnoff, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 April. The decision appears to bring to an end a case that has been dragging through the courts for a decade. PG

MOSCOW REPORTEDLY WORRIED ABOUT FUTURE EU TELEVISION BROADCASTS

Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, and presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii concluded a working visit to Kaliningrad on 17 April. The official purpose of the trip was to see what information the Russian Baltic exclave's population is receiving in the run-up to the upcoming EU expansion, according to Interfax. However, "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 April suggested that "Moscow is planning on fighting the influence of the West in the region." According to the daily, federal authorities' discomfort is well-founded, as practically all oblast residents have the ability to watch Polish and Lithuanian television without obtaining any special apparatus. Radio broadcasts are even more accessible, and reportedly the majority of the region's population can understand Polish without a translator. Meanwhile, coverage of Kaliningrad by Russian national media is weak. State television began to include weather forecasts for Kaliningrad only one year ago at the personal request of then-All Russian Television and Radio Company head Mikhail Shvidkoi. JAC

EBRD TO LEND MONEY FOR TOXIC WASTE DUMP?

Citing unidentified sources in St. Petersburg's administration, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will lend some $5.5 million to restore the Krasny Bor toxic waste dump, which is located some 40 kilometers away from the city. According to the anonymous sources, EBRD officials and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev signed a credit agreement for the project on 13 April. More than 1 million tons of toxic waste have reportedly accumulated at the dump during its more than 30-year existence. Local health officials are concerned about the dump's proximity to the Neva and Izhora rivers. JAC

CHICKEN KOLA MAKING INROADS IN FAR NORTH OBLAST?

For the last two days, residents in Murmansk have been drinking water with a dash of chicken parts, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 April. The Murmansk poultry factory allowed some of its waste spill into the local Kola River, and from there the water flowed into the city's water-treatment facility. As a result, residents are now joking bitterly: "Pem ne Koka-kolu, a kaku iz Koly" ["We drink not Coca-Cola, but fecal matter from the Kola (River)."] The local center of the State Epidemiological Inspectorate has suggested that the quality of the water will improve naturally over time. The center also recommended that the population drink water only after boiling it, after which "the smell will be better and the taste more pleasant," according to the daily. JAC

COSSACK DENIES ANTI-ARMENIAN MOOD IN STAVROPOL

Cossack Lieutenant General Gamlet Badasaryan said in Yerevan that suggestions that there is an anti-Armenian mood in Russia's Krasnodar Krai are "an absolute provocation," Snark reported on 17 April. He said Armenians in that Russian region "live very well" and that any problems which may arise are "quickly solved." PG

NEW SECURITY MEASURES IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA

Officials in Nalchik said that they have introduced a special pass for all those living in high-rise buildings in Kabardino-Balkaria, Interfax reported on 17 April. These passes will allow residents to control access and thus prevent crime there, the officials said. PG

MOSCOW SAYS IT HAS TIGHT FISCAL CONTROL IN CHECHNYA

Vladimir Yelagin, the Russian minister for Chechen affairs, said on ORT television on 17 April that his agency has established tight fiscal control over government money sent to that north Caucasus republic. He added that he expects his ministry to supervise the disbursement of approximately 1 billion rubles ($35 million) during 2001. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported the same day, Vladimir Kalamanov, the Russian human rights ombudsman for Chechnya, said his office will also tighten control over the distribution of humanitarian aid there. PG

TRIAL BEGINS FOR RUSSIANS WHO FOUGHT ALONGSIDE CHECHENS

A military court in Rostov-na-Donu has opened a trial against two former Russian soldiers charged with deserting their units during the 1994-96 war and then remaining with Chechen forces and executing Russian soldiers while there, Russian and Western agencies reported on 17 April. PG

GROZNY-MOSCOW PASSENGER TRAIN TRAVEL TO RESUME

Stanislav Ilyasov, the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen government, told ITAR-TASS on 17 April that passenger travel between Grozny and Moscow will resume on 21 April. He said that the train will be routed through Daghestan, Astrakhan, and Volgograd in order to service "the numerous Chechen diasporas" in those places. PG




ALLEGED ASSASSINATION RINGLEADER SAYS HE WAS TORTURED TO IMPLICATE ARMENIAN PRESIDENT

Nairi Hunanian, who is being tried as a ringleader of the 1999 Armenian parliament assassinations, told a Yerevan court that he was tortured by authorities while in custody in an effort to get him to implicate current Armenian President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 17 April. PG

U.S. TO AID SAFETY AT ARMENIAN NUCLEAR PLANT

The U.S. Department of Energy will provide the Armenian nuclear power plant with assistance worth $5 million to upgrade safety there, the Snark news agency reported on 17 April. That assistance package comes on top of the $18 million Washington has already supplied to date and the 11 million euros ($9.5 million) the European Union has announced it will provide later this year. PG

MOSCOW NAMES NEW BORDER SERVICE HEAD IN ARMENIA

The Russian government has appointed Major General Vladimir Pankov, 49, to be the commander of the Russian Federal Border Service contingent in Armenia, the Snark news agency reported on 17 March. PG

CONTAMINATED FOOD HURTING ARMENIAN GENE POOL

Armen Sagatelyan, the director of the ecological research center of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, told the Snark news agency on 17 March that the high concentration of heavy metals, such as lead, in the vegetables sold in Armenian markets is inflicting serious damage to the country's genetic pool. PG

AZERBAIJANI, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS KEY WEST

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the telephone with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev on 17 April concerning the recent Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Key West, Azerbaijani TV reported the same day. Meanwhile, Russia and Azerbaijan signed an interparliamentary cooperation agreement on 17 April, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

AZERBAIJANI FORCES END EXERCISE

Baku's ANS television reported on 16 April that the Azerbaijani military has successfully completed its week-long military exercise. On 17 April, Baku's "Sarq" newspaper suggested that Azerbaijani forces had retaken two positions from the Armenians. And in another indication of Baku's increasing attention to areas occupied by Armenia, Azerbaijani officials said on 17 April that they were setting up a new transmitter to improve reception of radio and television in the western portions of the country, the Trend news agency reported. PG

GEORGIA'S ZHVANIA MEETS IRANIAN PRESIDENT

Zurab Zhvania, the chairman of the Georgian parliament, met with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami in Tehran on 17 April, Prime-News and IRNA reported. The two discussed expanding bilateral ties and promoting regional stability, the two agencies said. Zhvania then met with ethnic Georgians residing in Iran. PG

'WASHINGTON POST' STORY SPARKS CONTROVERSY IN GEORGIA

Both OSCE mission head Jean-Michel Lacombe and the Georgian parliament's economic policy chairman, Vano Merabishvili, on 17 April denied that they had been quoted accurately by "The Washington Post" of 14 April in regard to Georgia's economic difficulties, Caucasus Press reported. The two have come under fire from others who say that the two slandered Georgia and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in the article. PG

GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ HOSTAGE CRISIS DEEPENS

Neither Georgia nor the breakaway Abkhaz republic showed any signs on 17 April of backing down from their ongoing hostage crisis, Georgian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April). Residents of Abkhazia staged protest rallies while Georgian officials demanded the release of five of their citizens being held captive in Abkhazia, something Abkhaz officials said will not happen, Prime-News reported. PG

CORRECTION

The 17 April "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "Georgia, China Sign New Agreements" should have read: "Beijing will allocate Georgia a 30 million yuan ($4 million) long-term credit and a 5 million yuan grant."

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT PASSES STRICT MEDIA LAW

The Kazakhstan Senate on 17 April approved a draft media law that imposes strict limits on the retransmission of foreign programs in the republic and will also make Internet web pages subject to the same controls as print media, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 17 April. PG

KAZAKH MOTHERS PICKET PARLIAMENT

More than 40 mothers picketed the Kazakhstan parliament building in Astana to demand that they be paid their share of the roughly $5 million the government owes mothers with a large number of children, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 17 April. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Tokaev said that his government plans to increase expenditures on social welfare programs, Interfax-Central Asia reported the same day. PG

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PAPER WARNED

A Bishkek court has directed the opposition newspaper "Asaba" to pay the $30,000 judgment that was made against it for slandering a parliamentary deputy, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 17 April. The paper has not paid the fine because it was not formally notified of the judgment until two days ago. It now plans to appeal. The paper has not appeared since 6 March because of a court judgment against it in another case. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported, the editor of the "Kyrgyz Rukhu" independent weekly, Beken Nazaraliev, said that he was beaten the day before. PG

TURKMEN PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT AGAINST CORRUPTION

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov denounced central and regional officials for graft and demanded that they clean up their acts within five days, Turkmen TV reported on 16 April. PG

UZBEK DEPUTY REJECTS HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICISM

Akmal Saidov, a parliamentary deputy and the president of the National center of Uzbekistan for Human Rights, on 17 April called "tendentious" most criticism of the human rights situation in his country, Interfax-Central Asia reported. He said that people "calling themselves human rights activists" had slandered Uzbekistan and its people. PG




OSCE REJECTS MINSK'S SPY ALLEGATIONS

The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk rejected allegations on 17 April that it is recruiting spies to work as election monitors, Reuters reported. In a statement, the OSCE office said its training programs "were and continue to be transparent and have nothing to do with espionage or political militancy." The espionage charge was made by Leonid Yerin, the head of Belarus's Committee for State Security, or KGB. The OSCE plans to put in place a total of some 14,000 observers in order to monitor voting at each polling station during the Belarusian presidential elections, which are scheduled to be held later this year. PB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES CLOSE MILITARY COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said after a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Minsk on 17 April that Belarus will always coordinate national security with and have a "common defense policy with Russia," ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka, who cut short a visit to Yekaterinburg to meet with Ivanov, said the two countries "are closely cooperating in the political and, especially, military spheres." Ivanov said the Russian-Belarusian military group "is a large force which has to be reckoned with." Both he and his Belarusian counterpart Leonid Maltsev declined to say who will exercise control over the military formation. Ivanov said: "since we remain sovereign states, the prerogative of control belongs to the Russians for the Russian part and to the Belarusians for the Belarusian part." Ivanov added that the military doctrine of the Belarusian-Russian Union will be "published as soon as it is...approved by the union's Supreme State Council." PB

...CRITICIZES DEMOCRATIC, INDEPENDENT RUSSIAN POLITICIANS

Belarusian President Lukashenka said in Yekaterinburg on 17 April that Russia's system of government is "no good because everybody is elected, everybody is independent," Belapan reported. Lukashenka was critical of Russian oblast and republican governors that do not appoint mayors and local leaders. He said "the governor must be the boss for those below, from the mayors and the district chiefs down." PB

UKRAINE PREMIER DEFENDS HIS GOVERNMENT'S RECORD...

Viktor Yushchenko said in an address to parliament on 17 April that it is "a decisive time" for Ukraine and the country must stick with his government's broad reform plan or risk falling "into an abyss," Reuters reported. Yushchenko said his government's plan is a "pro-Ukrainian policy" and he is proud of that fact. Yushchenko added that "for the first time in Ukraine's modern history we see a real gross national product growth in practically every sector of the economy." Deputies supporting Yushchenko placed at the front of the chamber dozens of boxes filled with a reported 3.6 million signatures of Ukrainians who back Yushchenko's cabinet. After his address, Yushchenko went outside the building to speak at a rally for his government. He told a few thousand supporters assembled there that the only way out of the difficult economic situation in the country is "with a political and public dialogue." PB

...AS PARLIAMENT FAVORS NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

Despite Premier Yushchenko's address, parliament deputies voted 252-62 in favor of holding a no-confidence vote on the government, AP reported. The vote was supported mainly by an alliance of Communist and centrist factions. A no-confidence vote must be held within 10 days and a simple majority in the 450-seat unicameral parliament will be enough to dismiss the government. Former President Leonid Kravchuk, of the centrist United Social-Democratic Party, said the "chances are great" that the government will be brought down in a vote, but that he still hopes that Yushchenko will agree to form a coalition government that includes more parties in the cabinet. PB

GONGADZE'S WIFE HOLDS PRESIDENT RESPONSIBLE FOR JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE

Myroslava Gongadze said on 17 April that until investigators find the people responsible for the disappearance and presumed murder of her husband she will hold President Leonid Kuchma guilty, Reuters reported. Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw, Gongadze said: "If the people who have been accused -- the president and his entourage -- had wanted, then I think this investigation would have been more effective." Gongadze said prosecutors are still denying her access to information about the beheaded corpse that was found in November, which many believe to be her husband's. She said that she has not yet decided whether or not to accept political asylum in the U.S., and added that she strongly supports Premier Yushchenko. PB

FORMER ESTONIAN SPYMASTER RESIGNS AS PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER

Former intelligence coordinator Eerik-Niiles Kross tendered his resignation as an adviser to President Lennart Meri on 17 April, BNS reported. He has been accused of helping the controversial businessman Antonio Angotti, who was involved in the scandal-ridden privatization of Estonian Railways, enter Estonia in November 1999. It was later revealed that Angotti was wanted in the U.S. for money laundering and financial fraud. Kross said he resigned because he could not allow the accusations leveled against him to harm the president. However, he said he did not resign from the supervisory council of Estonian Railways, since such a step could be interpreted as an indirect admission of guilt. Meri sent a letter to Prime Minister Mart Laar the same day asking him -- in his capacity as the head of the governmental commission for analyzing and evaluating state security -- to report to him on what the cabinet or government institutions have done thus far to cover security risks in the privatization. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT SACKS AIR FORCE COMMANDER

The government dismissed Ojars Ivanovs from his position as air force commander of the national armed forces on 17 April and appointed air force Chief of Staff Vitalijs Viesins as acting commander, BNS reported. Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis complained that Ivanovs had failed on several occasions to provide the Defense Ministry with requested information and submitted reports only after repeated inquiries. Kristovskis said that Ivanovs had not been able to improve the situation in the air force as quickly as expected. An investigative commission established in March had proposed that Ivanovs be censured. Ivanovs, who became air force commander in 1997, is the second defense official to be dismissed recently; Kristovskis dismissed Ilmars Viksna as National Defense Academy rector on 26 March. SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES LISCO PRIVATIZATION

At a special cabinet meeting on 17 April, the government approved the draft agreement on the sale of a 76.36 percent share of the Lithuanian Shipping Company (LISCO) to the Danish shipping firm DFDS Tor Line, ELTA reported. The Danish firm will pay $47.6 million for the share and has agreed to invest another $60 million in the entity over the next three years. It also agreed to pay private shareholders the same price as offered to the government. The parliament also devoted considerable time the same day to the issue of LISCO's privatization, and finally decided to discuss two proposals on suspending privatization at its 24 April session. However, legal experts explained that the parliament's decisions on LISCO are only recommendations and are not obligatory for the government. The privatization has received approval from the only relevant institutions -- the State Property Fund and the Privatization Commission. SG

POLISH LEFT AIMS FOR MAJORITY GOVERNMENT

Unveiling the campaign team for this fall's general elections, Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader Leszek Miller said that its goal is an absolute majority in the Sejm for his party's coalition, Reuters reported on 17 April. Polls have shown that the left-wing opposition SLD and its partner, the Labor Union (UP), are supported by 40 percent of Poles. Miller said "victory for us would mean the SLD-UP coalition gaining an absolute majority of seats in parliament." While the SLD has preferred to promote party unity ahead of specific policy platforms, it has signaled that it would attempt to deal with Poland's 16 percent unemployment by creating employment tax incentives for businesses rather than make changes to the labor code. The party has also proposed taking the right to set inflation targets away from the Central Bank and giving it to the government. DW

POLAND TO BUY SPANISH TRANSPORT PLANES

Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski announced on 17 April that the government is negotiating with the Spanish company Casa to buy up to 10 of its C295 transport planes, AP reported. Komorowski said the planes would replace its Soviet-made Antonov-26 aircraft in order to meet NATO requirements, and that the contract will be signed in the next few months. The deal would be offset by Spanish purchases from Polish companies and Casa would participate in the privatization of the PZL Okecie aircraft factory. Two other offers, from Ukrainian and Italian-U.S. companies, were rejected. DW

ZEMAN: ANTICORRUPTION CAMPAIGN DISAPPOINTING

Reflecting on 1,000 days in government, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said that the only disappointment has been the slow pace of the "clean hands" anticorruption campaign, CTK reported on 17 April. He also pointed to problems in tax collection and the failure to pass laws on judicial reform in parliament. Otherwise, Zeman said his Social Democratic government has achieved 75 percent of its program, pointing to lower inflation, a doubling of foreign investment, and falling unemployment. He said the government intends to complete the privatization of banks and privatize the telecommunications, chemical, and power industries. DW

TEMELIN BACK ONLINE AGAIN

After two weeks of running at less that 2 percent of capacity due to an oil leak in a pipe to the main turbine generator, the spokesman for the Temelin nuclear power plant, Milan Nebesar, said on 17 April that the reactor would be running at up to 40 percent capacity by the morning of 18 April, CTK reported. "Then we plan to increase the output and will be testing the plant with the reactor running at 55 percent of its nominal capacity," he said. This latest shutdown will delay plans to test the reactor at full capacity from early May to June, if not later. DW

SUDETEN GERMAN OFFICIAL: CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER HAS 'FORKED TONGUE'

The executive chairman of the Austrian Sudeten German Landsmannschaft (SLOe), Gerhard Ziehsel, has criticized Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan for saying the Austrian side "misinterpreted" his alleged promise to seek a Czech-Austrian agreement closing the issue of the postwar transfer of ethnic Germans, APA reported 17 April. Ziehsel said that Kavan has a "forked tongue," but that his group is used to Czech politicians "denying things as soon as they return home." The dispute stems from Kavan's opening with Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner of the first bilateral conference of historians on Czech-Austrian relations, where Kavan allegedly said that there should be no discussion taboos. Upon returning to Prague, Kavan said he had been "misinterpreted," and stood by his position that property claims had been settled by the Austrian-Czechoslovak agreement of 1974. DW

SLOVAKS DISCUSS JOINT MILITARY UNIT WITH CZECHS, POLES

Slovak Defense Minister Jozef Stank told CTK on 17 April that Slovakia is looking at the possibility of forming a joint military unit with NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic that would be based on NATO standards. Stank said that the proposal had already been made in October to his predecessor, Pavol Kanis, by Czech Defense Minster Vladimir Vetchy, and that he discussed the issue with Vetchy in March. Stank said he also discussed the idea with Polish Defense Minister Bronislaw Koromowski on a visit to Warsaw. Stank did not say what kind of unit was envisioned, only that it "will come out of discussions of military experts and also from the potential of the individual armies." DW

FAKE FOREIGN CONSULATES IN SLOVAKIA?

The Slovak Foreign Ministry is checking the credentials of all honorary consulates in Slovakia following reports in the magazine "Plus 7 dni" that the Cameroonian Consulate in Bratislava has no connection to its government, AP and CTK reported 17 April. Businessman Eduard Jahchan has been running an honorary consulate for Cameroon in the Slovak capital for three years, even though Cameroon rejected his request to do so, according to Cameroonian Ambassador to Moscow Andre Ngongang Ouandji, who is also responsible for Slovakia. Ministry officials said they had no reason to question the permit given to the consulate by the previous government of Premier Vladimir Meciar. DW

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT HONORS HOLOCAUST VICTIMS...

Parliament officially marked Hungary's first Holocaust Memorial Day on 17 April with addresses from Speaker Janos Ader and Chief Rabbi Jozsef Schweitzer. Hungarian President Ferenc Madl was unable to attend the ceremony, as he is undergoing treatment in hospital, but in his letter written for the occasion he stressed that "no power can ever feel authorized to extinguish millions of lives." Ader emphasized that what happened in 1944 and earlier to Hungarian Jews did not reflect the will of the majority of the population. The Federation of Jewish Religious Communities asked the parliament to firmly reject all racist and anti-Semitic manifestations within the walls of the parliament and to pass bills that will punish incitement against ethnic minorities and the denial of Holocaust. Representatives of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party did not attend the memorial. MSZ

...AND AMENDS LABOR LAW

Despite repeated protests from trade unions and opposition parties, parliament on 17 April approved amendments to labor regulations that will take effect on 1 July. The amendments, affecting rest days, overtime, and bonus payments, were approved by a majority of 175-133, with two abstentions. Although the new law reduces the work week from a maximum of 72 hours to 48 hours, it reduces the rest period from 48 to 40 hours, and only obliges employers to guarantee one of the two weekend days to employees. Opponents to the law claim that the changes give more power to employers at the expense of employees. Trade union officials have threatened to challenge the new regulation in the Constitutional Court. MSZ

EXTREMIST LEADER SAYS PRODI SLAPPED HUNGARIANS IN THE FACE

Istvan Csurka, Chairman of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, told parliament on 17 April that European Commission President Romano Prodi gave Hungary "a big slap in the face" when he said during his 6 April visit to Budapest that countries hoping to join EU will have to wait on the introduction of the free flow of labor. If the EU does not permit the free employment of Hungarians in the union, then multinational companies must be expelled from Hungary, Csurka said. MSZ




BOSNIAN PEACEKEEPERS AGAIN RAID HERZEGOVINIAN BANK

For the second time in about two weeks, international officials and SFOR troops entered the offices of Hercegovacka Banka in Mostar at 2 a.m. local time on 18 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2001). Reuters added that the officials ended their work by 6 a.m. and that the raid on the bank took place without protest or incident. An SFOR spokesman said: "SFOR supported the OHR [Office of the High Representative] operation last night to seize remaining documentation necessary for the continuation of an investigation into the Hercegovacka bank's operations," Reuters reported. The moves are aimed at breaking the financial backbone of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which is boycotting the institutions of the Bosnian federation and attempting to set up a para-state. PM

PETRITSCH TO BOSNIAN SERBS: STOP COMPLAINING AND START ARRESTING

High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch told Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic in Sarajevo on 17 April that he and other Bosnian Serb officials should stop complaining about NATO's arrest of Serbian war criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). Petritsch's spokesman told reporters: "Instead of complaining about sealed indictments and unexpected arrests, Mr. Sarovic should use his influence to ensure that the Republika Srpska authorities arrest the 15 publicly indicted war criminals and transfer them to The Hague. Unfortunately, not a single indicted war criminal has so far been arrested by the Republika Srpska authorities," Reuters reported. Sarovic is a member of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party. As president of the Republika Srpska, he is legally bound to cooperate with The Hague, "Oslobodjenje" stressed. PM

BOSNIAN DIPLOMATS SUMMONED HOME

Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija has written all Bosnian embassies to inform diplomats posted abroad for more than four years that they must return home by 30 June, "Dnevni avaz" reported on 18 April. The new nonnationalist government is seeking to expose what it calls corruption by diplomats close to the nationalist parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2001). Lagumdzija stressed that the ministry's main task will be to promote Bosnian economic interests abroad. PM

KOSOVA SERBS CONTINUE ANTITAX PROTEST

Local Serbs continued on 18 April to protest the UN civilian administration's (UNMIK) setting up of tax-collection points on the border with Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). UNMIK authorities told Reuters that their move is aimed at taxing alcohol, cigarettes, fuel, and luxury goods that are not taxed in Serbia. "Politika" quoted local Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic as saying that he recently learned that Belgrade and UNMIK previously agreed on setting up the tax-collection stations. The Serbian government said in a statement carried by Tanjug that UNMIK had not consulted it about the move. The BBC's Serbian Service reported that former President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, the United Yugoslav Left of his wife Mira Markovic, and local cigarette smugglers organized the protests. PM

SERBIA TO TAX MILOSEVIC-ERA KINGPINS

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Obradovic, who is in charge of investigating corruption during the Milosevic-era, announced in Belgrade on 17 April that legislation is ready to tax those who profited during the former president's rule. The measures call for a one-time tax payment of up to 90 percent of the value of an individual's assets, with a 35 percent deduction for voluntary cooperation with the authorities. Obradovic said: "Targeted here are those who held special positions in the former regime and who gained enormous riches practically overnight thanks to those positions. I think this law will affect a relatively small number of people in this country, perhaps 1 or 2 percent, and 98 percent of Serbia's citizens will not be touched," Reuters reported. Obradovic stressed that "these people are not criminals, not bandits. These are people who have gained their riches by using chances and possibilities [that most] citizens of this country did not have." PM

SERBIAN COURT UPHOLDS MILOSEVIC-ERA SENTENCES OF WESTERN LEADERS

On 17 April, a Belgrade court upheld 20-year prison sentences handed down by a Milosevic-era court against 14 Western leaders for their roles in NATO's intervention against Serbia in the 1999 Kosova crisis. Among the 14 are former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and French President Jacques Chirac, "Vesti" reported. PM

PROMINENT SERBIAN PROFESSORS SHUN KOSTUNICA COMMISSION

Historian Latinka Perovic and international law expert Vojin Dimitrijevic said they will not serve on Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's truth and reconciliation commission because they do not believe it will be impartial, Beta reported from Belgrade on 17 April. Perovic added that the mandate of the commission is not sufficiently clear, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Dimitrijevic argued that the commission's powers are too limited and that there are no Montenegrins taking part in it. PM

MONTENEGRIN ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN FULL SWING

In the run-up to the 22 April Montenegrin parliamentary elections, Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic, who belongs to the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party, is on a visit to Moscow believed to be aimed at influencing traditionally Russophile Montenegrin voters, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 17 April. For its part, the pro-independence Montenegrin government began issuing privatization vouchers to all citizens for the republic's 225 firms slated for privatization. And in Ulcinj, Mehmet Bardhi called on ethnic Albanians to vote for the Democratic League's candidates "in order to make the Albanian voice heard" in the Montenegrin parliament, "Vijesti" reported. Bardhi added that President Milo Djukanovic should remember that only the politicians in ethnically based Albanian parties represent the Albanian voters and not Albanian politicians in mainly Montenegrin parties. PM

DJUKANOVIC: NO MONTENEGRINS INDICTED FOR DUBROVNIK CAMPAIGN

President Djukanovic told private Elmag Television in Podgorica on 17 April that he knows whom The Hague has indicted in connection with the Yugoslav army's 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Djukanovic added that he does not want to reveal who is on the list, but noted that it includes nobody from the current Montenegrin government or its predecessors. PM

UN FORENSIC EXPERTS INVESTIGATE MASS GRAVE IN CROATIA

A team of forensic experts from The Hague-based war crimes tribunal began investigating a grave in the Knin region of Croatia believed to contain the remains of at least 200 Serbs killed during the Croatian army's 1995 Storm offensive, "Novi List" reported on 18 April. Prime Minister Ivica Racan's office said in a recent statement that he approved the investigation "in the hope that the probes will shed light on events during and after the military campaign, and help to identify war crimes perpetrators," AP reported. The exhumations are opposed by some Croatian veterans' groups, which argue that the UN and the government are trying to blacken the image of Croatia's 1991-1995 war for independence in order to discredit supporters of the late President Franjo Tudjman. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES ATTACK LAW ON BUDGET

Deputies belonging to the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) and Democratic Party (PD) attacked the recently adopted law on the country's 2001 budget at the Constitutional Court on 17 April. The 53 deputies argued that procedural rules were breached during debates on the draft law and that several of its provisions are unconstitutional; in particular, the provision allowing the government to modify the structure of the budget without parliament's consent. PD deputy Alexandru Sassu said the law on the budget was approved almost entirely according to the government's proposal, which marks the first step to a "governmental dictatorship." The court will rule on the request in its 25 April meeting. ZsM

GERMAN CHANCELLOR TO VISIT FATHER'S GRAVE IN ROMANIA?

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder might visit his father's grave, which is located in a village near the Transylvanian city of Cluj, Romanian media reported on 18 April. Schroeder's father was killed during World War II and was buried together with eight other German soldiers. The grave was found by German agencies at the request of Schroeder's sister, Gunhild Kamp Schroeder. As there have been no tests conducted on the body, it is not yet certain that the body is actually that of the chancellor's father. The chancellor stressed that his eventual visit will be a private one. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ENDS MOSCOW VISIT

During his two-day visit to Moscow, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed a common declaration calling for a quick and peaceful solution to the conflict in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdniester, Flux reported on 17 April. The two would like to end the conflict by preserving Moldova's territorial integrity and respecting human rights. Voronin added that the Russian troops stationed in the region should only withdraw after the withdrawal of Russian arms located there. The Moldovan leader announced that Moldova is a "neutral state" and thus it will not join "NATO or any other military organizations." Voronin also met Russian Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who is to participate in the 22 April Congress of the Party of Moldovan Communists. Yevgenii Primakov, chairman of the Russian State Commission for the Transdniester conflict, was expected to arrive in Chisinau on 18 April. ZsM

MEMBERS OF ILASCU GROUP REFUSE TO WRITE PARDON REQUESTS

The members of the Ilascu group being detained in the breakaway Transdniester region are refusing to address pardon requests to Tiraspol leader Igor Smirnov, Flux reported. After Moldovan President Voronin asked Smirnov to release the four detainees, Smirnov said he can only pardon them at their own requests. Ilie Ilascu, a Moldovan citizen and parliamentary deputy who was elected to the Romanian Senate last year, and the three other detainees refused, however, to write pardon requests, saying they do not admit to their guilt and do not recognize the Tiraspol authorities. In related news, the Romanian Senate, the upper chamber of parliament, launched an appeal on 17 April "to all the world's parliaments" for solidarity, asking for help in freeing the Ilascu group. ZsM

BULGARIAN-BORN BUSINESSMAN TO RUN KING SIMEON'S CAMPAIGN

King Simeon II announced on 17 April in Sofia that Nikolai Marinov will be the campaign manager in the parliamentary elections for The Movement for King Simeon II, "Monitor" reported, citing "24 Chasa." Marinov, owner of a New York-based real estate agency, said the movement "is a wave that needs to be channeled." He said the king's campaign will be unusual: "We will channel the people's unprecedented enthusiasm as something new." Marinov was introduced as the movement opened its election headquarters in downtown Sofia. He said the campaign will open offices in Svishtov and in Veliko Turnovo in the next week. Marinov said he has no desire to be "prime minister, [a] member of parliament, or even to become a professional politician." PB

POLL SHOWS KING'S PARTY AS THIRD MOST POPULAR

A poll released on 17 April showed that the ruling United Democratic Forces (UDF) coalition is the favored party among prospective voters, BTA reported. Some 23 percent of respondents in the Gallup International poll said they would vote for the UDF if elections were held today. The opposition Socialists garners 19.7 percent, and King Simeon II's movement has 12.6 percent support. The poll also showed that the approval rating of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's government has gone up 3 percent as compared to one year ago, and now stands at 60 percent. PB

NETHERLANDS GRANTS SOFIA MONEY FOR REFORMS

Dutch Premier Wim Kok said on 17 April that the Netherlands will give Bulgaria $8 million in grants to help it with economic, judicial, and social reforms, AFP reported. Kok said after talks with Bulgarian Premier Kostov that the aid will go toward the development of industry and trade, and expertise in improving border control and the combating of drug and illegal immigrant trafficking. Kok added that Sofia is "moving forward and is on the right track" toward gaining EU membership. The Bulgarian government has said it hopes to join the union by 2006. PB




DOING WITHOUT A FREE MEDIA


By Paul Goble

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the American Declaration of Independence, observed two centuries ago that a free press would lead to a free parliament but that a free parliament might not lead to a free press.

Jefferson's point springs to mind as the world watches the Russian government and groups allied with it move against independent media outlets, such as NTV. Indeed, several Moscow observers pointed out this week that Russia now has only one independent domestic media outlet -- the Ekho Moskvy radio station -- capable of reaching the entire country.

Not surprisingly, many Russians and even more Western observers have begun to ask whether Russia can become a democracy if its government cannot tolerate the existence of an independent press. They are also questioning whether the suppression of a free press will in fact lead directly and immediately to the suppression of all other freedoms.

For supporters of democracy, it is an article of faith that without a completely free press, no country can have a genuinely free democracy and even further, no country that strives to become a democracy can do so without that kind of media. There are three obvious reasons for such a belief.

First, in the absence of a vigorous and free press, governments and others with power can do things out of the sight of the people. And they can even structure the opinions of the population about what they are doing through the management of the press. Thus, in Russia today, polls show that most people accept the government's line that the transfer of control over NTV was a question of business and debt rather than one of freedom and democracy.

Second, without such media outlets, political competition is reduced to little more than shadowboxing, with the government rather than the population deciding the issues and the candidates and then presenting the results as being "democratic" when in fact they are simply managed in ways intended to appear that way.

And third, without such a press, the population itself is disempowered, demobilized, and increasingly alienated. Citizens are reduced to consumers of goods and entertainment rather than elevated to the status of people who can make choices for themselves and their society.

Despite the obvious benefits a free press offers society as a whole and to the democratic prospect, both rulers and ruled in many countries have often decided that they can dispense with a free press and still maintain a free society. Leaders who resent any criticism have sought to rein in the media. Moreover, people without much experience with democracy may resent the press for what they see as its overly critical attitude about their own government and society.

And because of this, rulers sometimes can count on popular support for or at least popular indifference to their moves against the press. They can act knowing that some members of the elite will object but that such people will be few in number and easily overridden. Indeed, once the rulers control some of the media, they can portray these elite spokesmen as little more than the handmaidens of the enemies of the country.

Thus, in the short term, rulers may actually gain popular support by acting to do without a free press. They may be able to manipulate many of their citizens through the media they control. And they may conclude that they can dispense with a free press.

But both they and especially their own populations will discover what others already have: doing without a free press ultimately will force the rulers and ruled into a blind alley from which the rulers will try to escape by using force and the ruled by withdrawing from society and developing alternative means of communication.

That is what happened in communist and other authoritarian regimes in the past. But that lesson, articulated so well by Jefferson two centuries ago, is one that many people think they can ignore, but which they and their fellow citizens can ignore only at their peril.


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