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Newsline - May 10, 2001




PUTIN REVIEWS RED SQUARE PARADE...

Standing in front of the mausoleum where Vladimir Lenin is entombed and with the red banner of the armed forces again floating past, Russian President Vladimir Putin on 9 May reviewed the first Victory Day Parade in which aging World War II veterans did not march and in which the Russian defense minister was a civilian, Russian and Western agencies reported. As 5,000 servicemen marched past, Putin and other dignitaries faced a banner on the opposite side of Red Square reading "USSR-Victory!" Putin told the crowd that "the victory elevated our country, glorified the people of Russia, rallied and steeled them." He said "we won the most just war of the 20th century," and concluded his speech with congratulations for all Russians: "Glory to the victor-people! Glory to Russia! Hurrah!" PG

...SENDS MESSAGES TO WEST, CIS COUNTRIES

President Putin also used his speech on Red Square to send a message to Western countries. He said that "the war's lessons are what we need today," adding that "the entire experience of post-war history shows that it is impossible to build a safe world for oneself alone, and still less to the detriment of others." Putin also sent individual messages of greeting to each of the 11 leaders of the former Soviet republics that along with Russia now form the Commonwealth of Independent States, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 May. He praised the contribution each of the republics made to the 1945 victory over fascism and suggested that this provides the basis for ever closer cooperation in the future. PG

RUSSIANS SAY THEY COULD HAVE WON WORLD WAR II WITHOUT HELP

According to a poll reported by strana.ru on 9 May, 71 percent of Russians believe that the Soviet Union could have won World War II without any help from its allies, a figure that is 9 percent higher than polls showed a decade ago. Moreover, fewer now than a decade ago blamed dictator Joseph Stalin for the enormous losses Soviet forces suffered -- 22 percent as against 33 percent. And, according to the same set of polls, 35 percent of Russians now believe that the USSR suffered more losses than did Germany, compared to a figure of 21 percent 10 years ago. PG

VETERANS UPSET BY WESTERN MOVIE ON STALINGRAD

A group of Russian veterans has sent a letter to the Duma complaining that French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Enemy at the Gates" does not accurately reflect the fighting at Stalingrad, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. The veterans are upset that Soviet soldiers are portrayed as unthinking executors of the orders of their officers and as cannon fodder. They demanded that the film be banned from Russian cinemas. PG

U.S. AWARDS FORMER SOVIET SAILOR FOR WW II RESCUE WORK

Fifty-eight years after he helped rescue American sailors on an Allied convoy carrying supplies to the Soviet Union in 1942, Valentin Dremlyug, 82, was scheduled to receive a commendation from the U.S. Defense Department for Meritorious Humanitarian Service, AP reported on 9 May. Dremlyug is the only living survivor of that operation, the news service said. PG

COMMUNIST CALL FOR STRUGGLE AGAINST 'ANTI-PEOPLE' REGIME

Some 4,500 demonstrators led by Gennadii Zyuganov's Communist Party of Russia (KPRF) marched from the Belarus train station to Lubyanka Square to denounce and call for a struggle against what participants called "the anti-people" regime of President Putin, Russian agencies reported on 9 May. They carried Soviet flags, portraits of Lenin and Stalin, and a variety of banners including one reading "Everything will be as it was in 1945!" Some of the slogans were directed against non-Russians living in Moscow. Zyuganov told the demonstrators that the head of the Russian Defense Ministry should always be a military man because "the last 700 years of our history has been a war." PG

FAR-LEFT ACCUSES COMMUNISTS OF BETRAYAL

Representatives of communist parties that reject Zyuganov's KPRF accused that party of betrayal during a small Victory Day march on 9 May, Interfax reported. Aleksei Prigarin, the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party of the Soviet Union, told about 500 followers that Zyuganov's party is "the Menshevik" bloc of today and insisted that his own followers are the true "Bolsheviks." Prigarin's followers shouted slogans including "Death to Capitalism! Long live Russia Soviet and Socialist!" and "Power and labor to the people, land to those who work it, and the gallows for the privatizers!" Representatives of several extreme nationalist groups also attended the demonstration. PG

MOSCOW REWARDS REGIONS WITH VODKA

According to "Izvestiya" on 8 May, the Russian government allocated additional vodka supplies for the May holidays to the North Caucasus republics, Kalmykia, Kaluga Oblast, and to the Siberian Division of the Academy of Sciences. The paper said that those locations were being given extra vodka this year because of the good work they carried out during the past 12 months or because of the danger that people in some of these areas will turn to illegal sources of alcohol. PG

PUTIN BY NUMBERS...

An article in "Izvestiya" on 8 May provided a statistical summing up of President Putin's first year in office. It noted that he issued approximately 1,640 decrees, or 4.5 a day. It said that he had made 22 domestic trips and 28 foreign ones and that he hosted international visitors at least 60 times over the past 12 months. At the same time, the paper said, Putin took 59 days off, including weekends and holidays. PG

...AND BY THE POLLS

According to polls reported by "Novoye vremya," No. 19, approximately 70 percent of all Russian people think that Russia needs a strong hand to restore order, with a large fraction of them believing that Putin "alone will restore order in the nation." The journal added that 42 percent of Russians believe that "all power should be concentrated in one person right now." Putin benefits, the polls suggest as well, from the low ratings of the government, the Duma and other figures on the Russian political landscape. Meanwhile, in polls conducted by the Public Opinion foundation and reported by strana.ru on 7 May, 56 percent of Russians said that the president is responsible for choosing the direction of reforms and making them work. PG

PAVLOVSKII SEES CABINET SHAKE-UP SOON

Gleb Pavlovskii, the head of the Effective Policy Fund and a Kremlin media adviser, told Interfax on 9 May that the process of reorganizing the cabinet of ministers must be completed in the next month or so. He said that President Putin's "softness" on cadres issues has slowed the process, but that it is essential that the entire government work as a unit. "Because the president is the chief executive," Pavlovskii said, "his headquarters and the cabinet must work as parts of the same mechanism. If they do not, there is friction between them." Once the reforms are implemented, he continued, the two will be "a good working team." PG

LUKIN SEES NO BASIS FOR EXCLUDING RUSSIA FROM G-8

Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Lukin, a leader of Yabloko and a former Russian ambassador in Washington, told Interfax on 9 May that there is no reason for excluding Russia from the G-8. Lukin's comments came following a proposal by U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos that Russia be excluded because of its actions against the free media. Lukin said that "a large number of countries, particularly because of their strong dissatisfaction with the U.S., are interested in our remaining there." PG

TOBIN'S FATHER HOPES U.S. PRESIDENT WILL HELP FREE SON

John Tobin told Reuters on 8 May that he believes that U.S. President George W. Bush and other senior American officials will have to intervene in order for his son, also named John, to be freed from a Russian prison. The junior Tobin, an American exchange student in Voronezh, was convicted on 27 April for possessing marijuana and sentenced to 37 months in jail. PG

MOSCOW HOPES FOR MORE FINNISH INVESTMENT

In advance of Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's scheduled visit to Helsinki on 10-11 May, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that Moscow hopes that economic ties between Russia and Finland will "gather momentum," ITAR-TASS reported on 9 May. Yakovenko noted that bilateral trade between the two countries increased by almost a third from 1999 to 2000, with a total trade turnover of $5.2 billion in the latter year. But at present, Yakovenko said, Russia's "share in Finland's foreign investment accounts for less than 1 percent." On the same day, however, AP reported that Finland's Nokia cellular phonemaker has reached an agreement with Russia's MegaFon to provide a mobile telephone network in the North Caucasus. PG

NEW JAPANESE PREMIER SAYS ISLANDS ISSUE MUST BE PART OF PEACE TREATY

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that he plans to conclude a peace treaty with Russia on the basis of a resolution of the Kurile Islands dispute between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 May. PG

DRAFT MEDIA LAW TO BE CHANGED, TIGHTENED

According to an article in "Vedomosti" on 8 May, the draft law on the media and particularly its sections on foreign ownership will be significantly revised and drastically tightened both by Duma deputies themselves and by Kremlin proposals before it comes up for a vote on second reading. PG

MOSCOW CITY INTRODUCES NEW REGISTRATION RULES FOR FOREIGNERS

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed a directive on 9 May setting new rules for foreigners working in city markets and trading centers, Interfax-Moscow reported. According to the new rules, anyone wanting to work in Moscow will have to obtain a special document by presenting a declaration with personal information, place of work, and identity certification. PG

MOSKOVIA MEDIA DISPUTE GROWS

The administration of Moscow Oblast, which owns 44 percent of the shares in the Moskovia teleradio company, has accused the new owner, the Television Technical Center -- which controls 56 percent of the shares -- of violating court orders in its operation of the station, Interfax-Moscow reported on 7 May. The oblast authorities said that they will seek enforcement of the original decision that gives them more control over the station's broadcasts. PG

RUSSIA TO SEEK AMERICAN RECOGNITION AS MARKET SOCIETY

Maksim Medvedkov, the deputy minister of economic development and trade, said on 8 May that at the end of May or the beginning of June Russia will send to the United States a memorandum requesting that Washington recognize the Russian Federation as a country with a market economy, Interfax reported. He said that this would help Moscow promote additional reforms and also to gain entrance into the World Trade Organization. PG

DEFENSE MINISTER MUZZLES GENERALS ON NMD

"Vremya novostei" reported on 7 May that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has forbidden Russian generals to make any public comments on U.S. plans to build a national missile defense system. But ministry sources told the paper that the Defense Ministry has been asked by the Kremlin to come up with possible responses to any American deployment. PG

RUSSIA NOW WITHOUT A SPY SATELLITE IN ORBIT

According to an article in the 9 May "Jane's Defence Weekly," Russia does not now have a military photo-reconnaissance satellite in orbit. A generation ago, the Soviet Union routinely launched 30 or more such satellites every year, the journal said, but in 1999, only one such satellite was put in orbit, and in 2000, only three. Now, those satellites have been deorbited or are no longer functional. PG

MILITARY EXPERTS CONCERNED BY RADAR SITE IN NORWAY

An expert at the Russian Academy of Military Sciences told ITAR-TASS on 7 May that the Globus-2 radar station in Norway represents a threat to Russian security because of U.S. plans to include it as part of a unified national missile defense system. Meanwhile, the Russian Fisheries Committee proposed that Moscow and Oslo work to develop a system whereby neither country will stop a ship belonging to the other in the Barents Sea, Interfax reported on the same day. PG

DUMA TO CONSIDER MAKING ILLEGAL THE TRANSPORT OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

The Duma Committee on Legislation is preparing to discuss a draft on making the transport of illegal immigrants into or through Russia a crime, Interfax reported on 7 May. PG

TWO 'WAHHABIS' APPREHENDED IN MOSCOW

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 May that authorities have apprehended two Wahhabi activists in the Russian capital and confiscated explosives, heroin, and Islamist literature from them. One of the two previously served as an assistant to a Duma deputy, the paper said. PG

POTATO CROP THREATENED BY IRISH POTATO BLIGHT

Some agricultural experts fear that the Russian potato crop may be harmed by the same fungus that caused the Irish potato famine in the 19th century, UPI reported on 8 May. Last year, the experts said, the blight wiped out some 15 percent of the Russian crop, and this year it could harm even more of the crop. PG

FOUR TIMES MORE YOUNG PEOPLE RELIGIOUS NOW THAN TWO DECADES AGO

Yurii Kovrizhnykh, the deputy minister for secondary and professional education, said that approximately 45 percent of Russian young people aged 13-14 believe in God, a figure that is "four times more than in the 1980s," Interfax reported. Some Russian Orthodox clerics put the figure even higher, with one telling the news agency that in many regions of Russia up to 80 percent of students in the fifth and sixth grades are believers. PG

ROOSEVELT'S GRANDDAUGHTER PROMOTES RUSSIAN RESTORATION

Priscilla Roosevelt, the granddaughter of wartime U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, visited the Arkhangelskoe museum estate outside Moscow as part of her campaign to help restore such architectural monuments, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 May. Roosevelt, the head of the Society of American Friends of Russian Estates, has already helped to promote the restoration of several buildings at Gonzago, the news service said. PG

MUSCOVITES WARNED AGAINST FALLING BALCONIES

Some 4,000 balconies in the Russian capital are at risk of collapse, according to the city government. Some of the balconies are simply old, officials told Interfax-Moscow on 7 May, but others may have been badly constructed and thus may fall on passersby. PG

'IF LENIN IS BAD, WHY IS HE EVERYWHERE?'

A letter published in "Argumenty i fakty," No. 19, asks whether the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Lenin, is to be considered "good" or "bad," noting that he is much criticized but his name appears on all kinds of institutions and his body remains in the Red Square mausoleum. "I don't know," one of the letter's authors says, how to answer my 10-year-old grandson when he asks: "If Lenin is bad, why is he everywhere?" PG

NIZHNII NOVGOROD CANDIDATE CLAIMS INTRIGUE ORGANIZED AGAINST HIM

State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Dmitrii Savelev told reporters on 8 May that he thinks a "flagrant provocation" has been committed against him in connection with his candidacy for the governorship of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The previous day, local police arrested a group of people who were found falsifying signatures in support of Savelev's candidacy. Savelev said that although he earlier announced his intention to run, he has not yet registered with the oblast electoral commission, nor has he begun gathering signatures to support his candidacy. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 May, Savelev has asked the local prosecutor to investigate the situation. On 7 May, another State Duma deputy (Communist), Gennadii Khodyrev, registered as a candidate in the 15 July elections. JAC

TWO ABRAMOVICH STAFFERS TO FIGHT IT OUT OVER DUMA SEAT

Two advisers of Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich are planning to run in 1 June elections for the State Duma seat that Abramovich had to give up when he became governor last January, the pro-Kremlin website strana.ru reported on 8 May. According to the site, six candidates are registered, but the real battle is expected to be between just two candidates, the governor's adviser on the problems of numerically small peoples, Vladimir Yetylen, and Nikolai Zheleznov, the governor's scientific adviser. Zheleznov has frequently spoken out in favor of preserving the region's unique wildlife and against the region accepting imports of spent nuclear fuel. Yetylen finished second to Abramovich in the gubernatorial elections, attracting only 3 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January 2001). JAC

SUSPECT ARRESTED IN MURDER OF CHECHEN PROSECUTOR

A former police officer has been arrested in connection with the 14 April murder in Grozny of Chechen First Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Moroz, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 6 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). The killing is believed to have been ordered by Chechen field commander Arbi Baraev. LF




EBRD TO EXPAND ACTIVITIES IN ARMENIA

The President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Jean Lemiere, said in Yerevan on 7 May at the end of a two-day visit that despite the failure of three of its large-scale lending programs the bank intends to continue and expand its cooperation with Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Lemiere said that the EBRD will concentrate specifically on helping the development of small and medium businesses, an approach that President Robert Kocharian lauded during his talks with Lemiere earlier on 7 May. The EBRD president also said the bank is willing to acquire a 20 percent stake in four state-owned energy distribution networks to be offered for international tender a second time following the failure of the first tender last month. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT COMPARES ARMENIAN ARMED FORCES WITH NAZIS

Speaking in Baku on 9 May at a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the end of World War II, President Heidar Aliyev compared the destruction of homes, hospitals, and monuments in occupied Azerbaijani territory by Armenian forces with the activities of Hitler's forces, Turan reported. In a reference to the ceremonies held the same day in Stepanakert, the capital of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, to mark the ninth anniversary of the liberation by Armenian forces of the neighboring town of Shusha, Aliyev warned that "this is a temporary victory." LF

AZERBAIJAN AGAIN DISMISSES TURKMEN CASPIAN CLAIMS

Turkmenistan's demands, contained in a Foreign Ministry note delivered to Baku last week, that Azerbaijan suspend exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons in Caspian deposits to which Turkmenistan claims ownership are devoid of any legal foundation in international law, Turan on 9 May quoted Azerbaijan's First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov as saying in Baku. Turkmenistan issued the protest after a sixth round of talks aimed at resolving the two countries' conflicting claims collapsed after only two days, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 8 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001). LF

AZERBAIJAN TO RESCHEDULE GEORGIAN DEBT

The Georgian Finance Ministry has reached agreement with the Azerbaijani government on rescheduling payment of Tbilisi's $16 million debt to Baku, Caucasus Press reported on 10 May. Three days earlier, Turan reported that an official visit to Azerbaijan by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, originally scheduled for late May, has been postponed. LF

MISSING GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY WAS ABDUCTED

Petre Tsiskarishvili and his fiancee, who were reported missing in eastern Georgia late on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001), are alive and are being held by their kidnappers in the Pankisi gorge in northeastern Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 10 May, citing local police officials. President Shevardnadze has taken personal control of the hunt for the kidnappers. LF

GEORGIAN POLICE DETAIN FIVE FOR ILLICIT ARMS DEALING

The Georgian Military Prosecutor's Office has brought criminal charges against five people arrested in Gori on 9 May on charges of illegal possession of and trade in arms, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The five are members of the joint peacekeeping force deployed in Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia. They were in possession of 10 portable missile systems, nine grenade launchers, and several thousand cartridges. LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES APPEAL TO RUSSIA

Abkhaz parliament deputies have addressed an appeal to the Russian State Duma condemning "permanent terrorist acts" by Georgian guerrillas who infiltrate Abkhaz territory, Caucasus Press reported on 10 May, quoting Apsni Press. The appeal said those attacks endanger the "fragile peace" established by Russian peacekeeping forces, and calls on the international community to help "establish peace in the region." LF

IMF LAUDS MACROECONOMIC STABILIZATION IN KYRGYZSTAN

IMF official Tapio Savolainen told journalists in Bishkek on 7 May following two weeks of talks in the Kyrgyz capital that the Kyrgyz government has successfully implemented the macroeconomic measures it pledged to take four months ago, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The fund noted that GDP growth during the first quarter amounted to 5.6 percent, while inflation during that period was 2.8 percent, compared with 9.6 percent in 2000. Savolainen said the fund's board will decide in June on the release of a new $13 million loan tranche. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT LEADS V-DAY MARCH, ANNOUNCES MILITARY EXERCISE

Alyaksandr Lukashenka marched at the head of some 5,000 World War II veterans in Minsk on 9 May to mark Victory Day. Addressing the crowd before the march, Lukashenka slammed unidentified foreign ill-wishers for befouling the Soviet past. "Today some homegrown foreign operators are trying to impose other values on us, show us other political orientation points. All the Soviet past, including developments connected with that horrible war, is being painted in dark colors," Belarusian Television quoted him as saying. Later the same day, Lukashenka said Belarus will hold a large-scale military exercise in Vitsebsk Oblast in the autumn in response to joint NAT0-Baltic maneuvers planned at that time in Lithuania. "We are not going to threaten anyone. But if they begin to show force on our border, under our nose, we will have to respond to this adequately," ITAR-TASS quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN CARETAKER PREMIER URGES CALM, CONSOLIDATION

Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in Kyiv on 9 May that the main problem for Ukrainian politicians this year is to find a "model that would not revolt society [and] could secure control over the socioeconomic situation," Interfax reported. Asked about what would happen if he were once again approved as prime minister, he said Ukrainians would see "a different Yushchenko." The ousted premier noted that only the consolidation of political forces that are ready to assume responsibility for the country "could force" him to go into politics "in a different quality." He added that the achievement of this consolidation is "much more difficult than to take out a placard and go to the opposition." The previous day, Yushchenko said it is possible to keep Ukraine's economy on track, adding that "the ball [now] is in the political rather than the governmental court," the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT OPTS FOR RADICAL ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM PLAN

The cabinet decided on 8 May to support the most radical variant of administrative territorial reform, according to which the current 247 local governments will be reduced to 80-90, ETA reported the next day. In three weeks' time the government will submit official proposals to the local governments on foreseen mergers. It expects at least half of the local governments to accept the proposals without complaint and will take measures to convince the remaining local government units to accept them. Although administrative territorial reform was one of the points in the coalition agreement signed by the three parties two years ago, Reform Party parliament deputy Meelis Atonen said that his party still opposes the compulsory merger of local administrative units, and that the local authorities need not accept the government's proposal. SG

FINNISH PRESIDENT VISITS LATVIA

Tarja Halonen began a two-day state visit to Latvia on 9 April by telling her Latvian counterpart Vaira Vike-Freiberga that Finland respects Latvia's right to choose its own security arrangements, BNS reported. The issue arose after Halonen was quoted in a recent edition of the German magazine "Der Spiegel" as saying that she does not support Latvia's desire to join NATO. The presidents declared after the meeting that Latvian-Finnish relations are very good. Halonen later discussed issues relating to Latvia's entry into the European Union, bilateral economic cooperation, environment protection, agriculture, and justice affairs with Prime Minister Andris Berzins. At Latvia University she delivered a speech entitled "Cooperation Between the Nordic States and European Union Enlargement." She was scheduled to hold talks with parliament Chairman Janis Straume on 10 April. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN VISITS GERMANY

Saxony Premier Kurt Biedenkopf proposed to Arturas Paulauskas on 8 May in Dresden that special groups of German and Lithuanian officials be formed to discuss ways to reduce unemployment, ELTA reported. Saxony parliament leader Erich Ildgen discussed bilateral cooperation projects and the restitution of property to former owners with Paulauskas. The next day, Paulauskas told Bundestag Chairman Wolfgang Thierse in Berlin that the EU proposal to close the second reactor of the nuclear power plant in Ignalina by 2009 is unrealistic, BNS reported. At a subsequent meeting, Vice Chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Markus Meckel told Paulauskas that he supports Lithuania's efforts to join NATO. Paulauskas assured him that Lithuania's friendly relations with Russia may even improve after it joins NATO and that Russian fears about the possible isolation of the Kaliningrad region could be resolved in joint consultations among Russia, Lithuania, and the EU. SG

WORLD BANK URGES POLAND TO REFORM LABOR MARKET

The World Bank has urged Poland to fight rising unemployment by cutting taxes, investing in education and training, and pushing ahead with plans to loosen rigid labor regulations, the "Financial Times" reported on 10 May, referring to the bank's report published the previous day. Poland's unemployment rate reached 15.9 percent in March. World Bank experts predicted in Warsaw on 9 May that Poland's jobless rate is likely to veer between 15 and 18 percent over the next five years, twice the EU average rate of 8.7 percent. "The primary objective cause in unemployment growth in Poland over the last years is not government economic policy...but economic restructuring," dpa quoted World Bank analyst Jan Rutkowski as saying. JM

FORMER OWNERS THREATEN TO CLOG POLISH COURTS WITH RESTITUTION CLAIMS

Former property owners grouped in the All-Polish Accord of Restitution Organizations (OPOR) are planning to file 200,000 property restitution claims, PAP reported on 9 May. "When President [Aleksander] Kwasniewski vetoed the reprivatization law he advised us to go to court, and in this way we intend to file the restitution claims," OPOR National Council head Miroslaw Szypowski said. "We know that the amount of claims we are planning to file will block Polish courts, but this will give us a chance to charge Poland with incompetence," Szypowski added. He also said that a number of Jewish organizations in Poland are planning to stage picket rallies during U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Poland in June. JM

WHO WILL LEAD POLAND'S RIGHT-WING IN ELECTIONS?

The Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) Social Movement, which is headed by Premier Jerzy Buzek, has charged him with the task of organizing and leading a "broad election committee" of Poland's right-wing in the 23 September legislative elections, PAP reported on 9 May. Meanwhile, the Right-Wing Alliance (PP), another party in the AWS ruling bloc, wants Minister of Justice Lech Kaczynski to become the head of an election committee of the Right. "Kaczynski is a politician highly respected by society and efficient in implementing the program for the safety of citizens," PP leader Kazimierz Ujazdowski said in a statement. According to polls, some 70 percent of Poles approve of Kaczynski's performance in the government, while the overall support for Buzek's cabinet does not exceed 20 percent. JM

ZEMAN SATISFIED WITH CZECH GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE

Prime Minister Milos Zeman told journalists on 9 May that he is satisfied with the performance of his cabinet, with the exception of shortcomings in tax collection and defense expenditures. He said that although both problems were inherited from previous governments, dissatisfaction in these sectors has led to replacements at the head of the finance and defense ministries, CTK reported. Zeman spoke after the cabinet approved a report on its performance over the last 12 months. He said he is particularly satisfied with the "90 percent" fulfillment of the tasks set by the cabinet in preparation for EU accession and that the unfulfilled 10 percent is due to the Chamber of Deputies' failure "for reasons difficult to comprehend" to approve bills proposed by the cabinet. He also said he hopes Czech GDP will increase by 3.5 to 4 percent in 2001 and that unemployment will drop to under 8 percent. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER WILLING TO ACCEPT SHORT 'TRANSITION' ON FREE LABOR MOVEMENT...

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on 9 May that he is willing to personally accept a "two-year transition period" on the free movement of labor following the Czech Republic's accession to the EU, AP reported. Kavan told Czech Radio he is confident that "at the end of the day, a compromise will be reached" on the issue and that a short transition period would be acceptable "on condition that it would be reviewed after two years. If such a review proves [that German and Austrian] fears of a cheap labor influx lack foundation, any restrictions would have to be abolished." MS

...IS READY TO PARTICIPATE IN AUSTRIAN-PROPOSED 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' TALKS

Also on 9 May, Kavan told journalists that he considers the Austrian-proposed talks for cooperation between Vienna and Central European countries "immensely useful" but has reservations about the term "strategic partnership" proposed by the Austrians, CTK reported. Kavan will participate on 6 June in a Vienna meeting of foreign ministers from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia with their Austrian counterpart Benita Ferrero-Waldner. In February, Kavan said he was not ready to participate in such a gathering and in March he said he did not back any "new institutionalization" of a group of countries in the region apart from the so-called "Visegrad Four," which includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. MS

VYBORNY DECLINES TO RUN FOR CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMANSHIP

Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) Deputy Chairman Miroslav Vyborny on 9 May declined an offer from KDU-CSL Chairman Jan Kasal to step down in Vyborny's favor at the National Convention scheduled for later this month, CTK reported. Kasal, who is being challenged by former KDU-CSL Deputy Chairman Cyril Svoboda, said on 30 April that Vyborny could be a "compromise candidate" who could "reunite the party." Vyborny said that if Kasal steps down, the move might be interpreted as an attempt at "adroit political manipulation and intrigue" and that Kasal "has no reason to resign." Vyborny said it is "evident" that the calls for a change at the party's head have been initiated by Svoboda and that now there is no other solution in sight but to solve the problem "in a direct personal clash" at the conference where the party's chairman will be chosen. MS

NATO CANDIDATES MEET IN BRATISLAVA

A conference of leaders of states seeking NATO membership was to begin in Bratislava on 10 May, CTK and TASR reported. The forum, called "New European democracies -- Leadership and Responsibility" is also to be addressed by Czech President Vaclav Havel and by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Mark Grossman, who will represent President George W. Bush. Eight NATO candidate countries will be represented by their premiers and two -- Albania and Macedonia -- by their deputy premiers, a Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman told CTK. Former Hungarian President Arpad Goencz will also attend, as will former Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek. The conference will approve at its end on 12 May a "Bratislava declaration" calling for the acceleration of NATO and EU integration. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DISMISSES ROMANY AFFAIRS COMMISSIONER

Deputy Premier Pal Csaky told journalists on 9 May that the government has dismissed Vincent Danihel from his position as Romany affairs commissioner, CTK reported. Danihel had recently filed a complaint against Csaky, alleging he misused World Bank funds allocated to the commissioner's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). Csaky said Danihel had "not always acted in line with the duties of a civil servant" and had also misused international grants aimed at improving the situation of the Romany community. Csaky said he hopes a new commissioner will be selected from among several candidates by June. He said the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda continues to regard Romany problems as "a priority" and does more to address those problems than any other government in East Central Europe. MS

MAVERICK SLOVAK POLITICIAN WANTS TO BE 'PHENOMENON'...

Robert Fico, leader of the Smer (Direction) political party, in an interview with the Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 9 May, said he wants to "end up as a phenomenon in Slovak politics, maybe a more positive one than [former Premier Vladimir] Meciar, but still a phenomenon." Fico said he does not wish to hide the hope that he will be the country's next premier but added that he is unwilling to indulge in "improper political deals" to achieve that purpose. He also said he would not rule out a coalition with Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), provided the HZDS is no longer headed by "Meciar and his team," CTK reported. Asked whether a partnership with the HZDS would not prompt international criticism of Slovakia similar to that which followed the Austrian Freedom Party's participation in the ruling coalition, Fico said that "the people, not the West, must be happy with Slovakia's government." MS

...AND MEANWHILE MAKES RACIST STATEMENTS

Fico also said he favors support being granted to those Slovak Roma "who want to look after themselves and to improve the welfare of their community." However, he added, "we have a great mass of Roma who do not want anything except to lie in bed and survive on social security. These people discovered that, because of benefits paid to them, it is advantageous to have children, who become a source of income." Fico said he would propose that benefits for families be paid only up to the third child. He also said he is aware that the Romany problem could hinder Slovakia's EU accession but that "declarations of political intent," as produced by the ruling coalition, "will not help either." MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES WAGE RISE FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS, TEACHERS

Amid threats of a strike, the government on 9 May approved raising wages for health care workers and teachers, CTK reported. Health care workers in the state sector are to receive wage hikes of between 20 and 40 percent as of June. Teachers are to benefit from a gradual increase in wages, amounting to a total raise of some 16 percent by April 2002. MS

ORBAN REFUSES TO ACCEPT HUNGARIAN HEALTH MINISTER'S RESIGNATION

Health Minister Istvan Mikola submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 9 May, following a resolution passed by the parliament one day earlier that required Mikola to seek the agreement of the Finance Ministry before reducing the number of beds in hospitals. Orban refused to accept the resignation, saying that he himself disagrees with the parliament's resolution. In other news, former Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth said in a letter to the Socialist Party's Borsod County branch that he does not intend to run for a place in parliament in the 2002 elections. The branch had asked Nemeth to run for a parliamentary seat after he refused to become the party's candidate for prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001). MSZ




BUSH TELLS KOSTUNICA: COOPERATE WITH THE HAGUE

President George W. Bush joined a meeting of Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and visiting Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica for about 10 minutes on 9 May, VOA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). Bush called on Kostunica to take "concrete steps" to cooperate with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, which wants to bring former President Slobodan Milosevic to trial there. Bush did not offer specifics, but State Department officials said that Washington would like Belgrade to set a date for the extradition. PM

POWELL SAYS U.S. SUPPORT FOR DONORS CONFERENCE DEPENDS ON COOPERATION WITH HAGUE

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington on 9 May that he told Kostunica in a "good, candid talk...to keep moving in the direction of democracy and economic freedom. [I] indicated to him that he would continue to enjoy the strong support of the United States [if he does so]... He received similar assurances from President Bush and Vice President Cheney and Dr. Rice earlier today," Reuters reported. Powell stressed, however, that Washington's support for a donors conference for Serbia will depend on Belgrade's cooperation with The Hague: "I look forward to seeing what else Yugoslavia will be doing in the weeks ahead that will allow me to make a judgment with respect to releasing that condition." PM

KOSTUNICA SEEKS U.S. AID FOR SERBIA

The Yugoslav leader said in Washington on 9 May that his government wants "a shot of economic adrenaline" from the U.S., "The New York Times" reported. He also sought U.S. support for the donors conference. But White House spokeswoman Mary Countryman stressed that the "U.S. ability to assist Yugoslavia depends on Belgrade's relations with the tribunal" in The Hague, Reuters reported. Some observers have suggested that the key Western role in Serbia might be played by the EU, given Brussels's desire to manage European problems by itself and the high level of anti-American feeling in Serbia, including that of Kostunica himself (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2000 and 5 January 2001). PM

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT IS STALLING

Richard Dicker, who heads Human Rights Watch's international justice program, said in Washington on 9 May that Kostunica is using legal arguments to justify not sending Milosevic to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). Dicker stressed that the Yugoslav president is "trying to immunize himself from complying with the outstanding obligation to surrender to the war-crimes tribunal all those indicted for genocidal crimes against humanity," AP reported. Dicker pointed out that Belgrade has done nothing for over a month to show that it is sincere about working with the tribunal. PM

MONTENEGRIN LEGISLATOR REBUFFS KOSTUNICA

In New York on 8 May and in Washington the following day, Kostunica repeated his view that maintaining the unity of Serbia and Montenegro is essential for Balkan stability (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 April 2001). Ranko Krivokapic, a Social Democratic member of the Montenegrin parliament, said in Podgorica that Kostunica's idea of "normal" relations with Montenegro are relations in which Montenegro does not exist as a full-fledged partner, "Pobjeda" reported on 10 May. Krivokapic charged that Kostunica's legalism is a sham because the basis of his "legal" arguments is legislation introduced by Milosevic without Montenegrin approval. PM

YUGOSLAVIA BACK IN WORLD BANK

World Bank Director Christiaan Poortman said in Washington on 8 May that "the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has fully satisfied the requirements for bank membership. We look forward to working together on reviving the country's economy and improving living conditions for all the people of Yugoslavia," Reuters reported. In other news, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said in Belgrade that the cash-strapped government will soon close 11 embassies in South America, Africa, and the Far East in order to save $1.5 million this year, AP reported. She did not elaborate. PM

MACEDONIAN STALEMATE CONTINUES

The opposition ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) continues to hold up plans to set up a grand coalition government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). PPD officials said that they will announce their decision in the afternoon of 10 May, Reuters reported from Skopje. PPD officials argue that they want a cease-fire in place before they will agree to joining the coalition. But Deutsche Welle suggested that the real reason for the delay is that many in the PPD leadership feel that joining the coalition is not in the party's interest if it wants to win votes from supporters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) in the general elections expected later in the year. Macedonia's Western backers want the coalition in place as soon as possible as a first step toward ending the crisis. Meanwhile, northeast of Skopje, the army continued bombarding UCK positions on 9 and 10 May. The VOA reported that the rebels have established control over a strip of territory between Kosova and the greater Skopje area. PM

HAEKKERUP SAYS KOSOVA NEEDS SELF-GOVERNMENT

Hans Haekkerup, the UN's chief administrator for Kosova, told a press conference in New York on 9 May that it is important to hold general elections and establish self-government there: "What we're doing is not discussing the final political settlement. That's left for the future. What we are discussing is provisional self-government under [UN Security Council resolution] 1244... Those who want to start the discussion about the final political settlement [should know that] that's not in my mandate" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 April 2001). He added that "the international community does not want any referendum clause in the legal framework," which the Albanians demand. Haekkerup also called for firm measures to combat crime: "What is important is that if we don't take the necessary steps now, we will not in the future be able to combat terrorism and organized crime." He noted that Albanians and Serbs are unlikely to reach full agreement on Kosova's future legal framework. "They are not yet ready [to reach a] consensus, but we came pretty close" in recent talks with both sides, RFE/RL reported. PM

SOCCER VIOLENCE LEAVES 130 INJURED IN CROATIA

Rioting by fans of Split's Hajduk team on 9 May resulted in 130 injured, including 30 policemen. Some 90 persons were arrested, AP reported. The fans went amok shortly before the end of a match in which visiting arch-rivals Dinamo of Zagreb were ahead 2-0. Play resumed after police restored order, enabling Dinamo to clinch its victory. Rioting spread to other parts of the city in some of the worst soccer violence that Croatia has known. Hajduk fans have a long-standing reputation for rowdiness. In the former Yugoslavia, they were the arch-rivals of a Belgrade team. Meanwhile, in the Serbian capital, six policemen and 11 fans were injured in soccer violence stemming from a match between Belgrade's two teams, Reuters reported on 9 May. PM

CROATIAN POLICE BREAK UP HUMAN TRAFFIC RING

Croatian police on 8 May broke up a criminal gang suspected of smuggling at least 1,500 Romanians into Western Europe over the past year and a half, AP reported from Zagreb. Two Croats and a Romanian are under arrest, while two additional Romanians are on the run. PM

CROATIAN DAILY CLOSES

The new independent daily "Republika" published its last issue on 9 May, citing low circulation figures and mounting debt. PM

PETRITSCH SUMMONS BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS

Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic said in Banja Luka on 9 May that High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch asked top Bosnian Serb officials for a meeting on 10 May to discuss recent anti-Muslim violence in Trebinje and Banja Luka, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). In Sarajevo, the federal parliament's House of Nations passed a resolution calling for the banning of the hard-line Serbian Democratic Party of Radovan Karadzic, which many believe was responsible for the violence, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

OSCE'S VAN DER STOEL PAYS FAREWELL VISIT TO ROMANIA...

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel, who is ending his mandate on 1 June, told Romanian President Ion Iliescu on 9 May that the recently passed Law on Local Public Administration can "serve as an example to [other] states wishing to solve the problem of the minorities' linguistic rights." The commissioner also said that the strategy recently approved by the Romanian government for solving the problems of the Romany community is "a step in the right direction," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Van der Stoel said the "Status Bill" under debate in Hungary must be worked out in consultation with those neighboring countries that have Hungarian minorities on their territories. MS

...AND ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES PACE REPORT

Iliescu used the occasion of his meeting with van der Stoel to criticize a Finnish report currently under debate in the Cultural Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that deals with the situation of the Csango minority in Romania. This minority regards itself as being of Hungarian origin, while most Romanians believe the Csangos are Magyarized Romanians. Iliescu said the report is "obviously inspired" by "some [Hungarian] influences." The Csangos live in the eastern Romanian province of Moldavia. According to a 10 May Mediafax report citing the Hungarian MTI agency, the private university with classes taught in the Hungarian language will open in the Transylvanian towns of Miercurea Ciuc and Targu Mures as of next autumn. The agency cited Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Deputy Ferenc Asztalos as saying the National Council of Academic Evaluation has recently approved several faculties of the "Partium University" in the two towns. MS

ILASCU MAKES DEBUT AS ROMANIAN SENATOR

Addressing the Senate on 9 May, Ilie Ilascu, who was freed last week from a nine-year detention in Tiraspol, thanked his colleagues for having supported him while in jail, and added that he regards that support as being "not one for myself, but for all Romanians in Bessarabia [the traditional Romanian designation of what is today Moldova] and in the Transdniester." Ilascu's presence was hailed by both Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor and by Party of Social Democracy in Romania Senator Adrian Paunescu with the traditional Easter greeting of "Christ is Resurrected!" Paunescu also read aloud a poem written for the occasion. Both he and Tudor are former "Ceausescu court poets." On 10 May, Iliescu was to decorate Ilascu with one of Romania's highest national orders. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN MONARCH TO BE GRANTED STATE RESIDENCE

The Senate's Judicial Commission on 9 May approved a bill on the rights of former Romanian heads of state. The bill, which must yet be approved by the plenum, grants former presidents and former monarch King Michael I the right to an official residence and a monthly allowance of 50 percent of the incumbent president's wages. Speaking on the private Antena 1 television channel on 9 May, Iliescu said that King Michael wants his next visit of Romania, scheduled to begin on 18 May, to have a "private character" and has explicitly refused to be officially greeted upon his arrival. MS

ROMANIAN COURT SETTLES PARTIES' DISPUTE

Virgil Magureanu, leader of the extraparliamentary National Alliance, said on 9 May on Romanian Radio that the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal has rejected a request by of the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) to restore that formation. The PUNR and Magureanu's own Romanian National Party set up the National Alliance before the 2000 elections, but the alliance failed to gain parliamentary representation. The former PUNR leadership later announced it is leaving the National Alliance and will restore the party under its former name. MS

ROMANIA TO CONDUCT CENSUS IN 2002

The government on 9 May decided that the next Romanian census will be conducted in March 2002, Mediafax reported the next day. The last census was conducted in 1992. MS

MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER, MARK VICTORY DAY

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, in a speech delivered in Chisinau at the monument of Moldovan prince Stephen the Great on 9 May, said that he is committed to rewarding the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and that the parliament will soon examine legislation to compensate the veterans and their families. Voronin spoke in both "Moldovan" and Russian and emphasized that no differentiation should be made between veterans who served in the Romanian army and those who fought on the opposite Soviet side, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Unlike in previous years, when veterans carried Soviet flags, the carefully orchestrated ceremony took place this year under Moldovan national banners alone. In Tiraspol, separatist leader Igor Smirnov told an audience marking the day that "the heroism of Soviet soldiers in World War II has served as inspiration for the [Transdniester] fighters that defended independence during the 1992 Moldovan aggression," BASA-press reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS WORLD BANK OFFICIAL...

Voronin told visiting World Bank Regional Director Roger Grawe on 8 May that Moldova's new administration is interested in continuing cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF, but that the priorities in using the assistance offered by the two international lending institutions must be revised, Flux reported. Voronin said Moldovans have "run out of patience" in face of the negative results of the country's economic performance over the past decade and that a state committee will be appointed to analyze the causes of the economic crisis. Grawe told Voronin that the World Bank is ready to support reforms in public administration and the industrial and agricultural sectors, in an effort to reduce poverty and solve the country's economic crisis. MS

...AND UNHCR OFFICIAL

Oldrich Andryisek, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Moldova, on 8 May urged Voronin to accelerate the ratification of the U.N. Convention on Refugees by the Moldovan parliament, Flux reported. Andryisek also said Moldova must urgently approve a bill on the status of refugees. He said Moldova is the only European country that has failed to pass such a bill and is among the few that did not ratify the convention. As a result, no records on refugees are kept, and the UNHCR can offer no assistance in line with international norms. He said the UNHCR is ready to help Moldova improve border security and set up a system for refugees' record-keeping. Voronin said legislation related to refugees will be adjusted to reflect European standards and that the convention will be ratified, adding that the failure to do so until now has been due to "technical reasons." MS




RUSSIA: EKHO MOSKVY MAY BE NEXT IN LINE FOR GAZPROM TAKEOVER


By Sophie Lambroschini and Francesca Mereu

Last month, Russia's state-backed Gazprom gas monopoly succeeded in its takeover bid of NTV television, the crown jewel in Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST empire. Since then, the gas giant has chipped away at more of Gusinsky's media businesses, shutting down the opposition "Segodnya" daily and firing the staff of the "Itogi" political weekly.

Of Media-MOST's most prominent news organizations, only one remains untouched -- radio station Ekho Moskvy. But a court decision last week, which handed shares in a number of Media-MOST outlets to Gazprom and granted it majority control of Ekho Moskvy, has put the popular and outspoken station's future in doubt.

The first radio station in Russia to adopt a "talk radio" format, Ekho Moskvy is the country's largest private, information-based station, with its programs rebroadcast throughout the country by over 70 regional stations.

In Moscow, independent monitors rank the station fifth in listenership, after two powerful state-controlled stations and two music-based stations. Eight percent of Muscovites tune in daily to Ekho Moskvy's famous jingles.

Founded more than 10 years ago, the station is older than most of its fellow Media-MOST outlets. Aleksei Venediktov, the station's current editor in chief, remembers how in 1990 a group of young journalists from the state-owned station Golos Rossii, or Voice of Russia, tired of government restrictions and decided to open the country's first private radio service.

"[One of the founders,] Sergei Korsun -- fed up with working for the government radio, with its atmosphere of censorship, propaganda, and lies, was able to register Ekho Moskvy and then to get [radio] license No. 1 in Moscow. So out came Ekho Moskvy. It first began to broadcast on the 22nd of August, 1990."

On its first day on the air, Ekho Moskvy broadcast news, a conversation with perestroika-era politician Sergei Stankevich, and the Beatles hit "All My Loving." The station soon became an open forum for political debate, airing different points of view and offering an alternative voice in a country where radio broadcasting, to this day, is dominated by state-owned stations.

Venediktov says that from the very beginning, Ekho Moskvy's journalists distinguished themselves by reporting on the top news events as Russia struggled to break with its communist past:

"It was in September 1990 when the military maneuvers first started around Moscow and the army turned against [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev. We were the first -- and only -- ones to report on it. Then, in 1991, we had the Vilnius [independence demonstrations], and we turned into a European and internationally known small radio station."

The station now combines strong news reporting with lighter informational fare. Twice daily -- in the morning and early evening -- Ekho Moskvy broadcasts "information blocks" featuring general news, business and finance updates, and press reviews. The station's commercially sponsored daily programs include everything from gardening tips to Moscow medical care to helping listeners untangle the grammatical complexities of the Russian language.

For several years, one of Ekho Moskvy's trademark shows -- sponsored by the Council of Europe -- aired news on European affairs and held a daily call-in game show on Europe. A separate program invited listeners to call in and voice their opinion on daily news issues ranging from the economy to Chechnya.

But perhaps the station's greatest claim to fame -- and what has made it an indispensable source for Russia-watchers -- are its live interviews with prominent Russians and foreigners.

Ekho Moskvy is the only private radio station in Russia to have hosted heads of state. Its guests have included U.S. President Bill Clinton, who visited the station during his visit to Moscow last year, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who answered radio listeners' questions live during his two-day summit last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian on-air guests have included former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, pop superstar Alla Pugacheva, and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin.

Unlike most other Media-MOST outlets, Ekho Moskvy was not the brainchild of magnate Vladimir Gusinsky. Ekho Moskvy had spent four years building its reputation as a reliable source of news and information before joining Media-MOST in 1994, when a ruble depreciation forced the advertising-dependent station to sell some of its stakes to Gusinsky.

Gusinsky currently holds a 38 percent stake in the station, with station journalists holding 33 percent and Gazprom holding 25. But on 4 May, in the latest round of ongoing litigation over Gusinsky's outstanding debt to the gas giant, a Moscow court ruled that an additional 25 percent of many Media-MOST outlets, including Ekho Moskvy, be handed to Gazprom. If the court decision holds, Gazprom will hold a controlling stake -- 50 percent, plus one share -- in the radio station.

While Media-MOST considers an appeal, journalists at Ekho Moskvy are fighting to keep the station under their own control, saying they are negotiating with Gazprom to buy back the 25-percent stake -- something that Venediktov doubts they can persuade the gas giant to allow.

While Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh has repeatedly said that the company is acting out of purely financial concerns as a creditor, Venediktov argues that Ekho Moskvy's news format means high costs and low revenues -- "not exactly what a businessman would be looking for." According to Venediktov, the station's real worth can be found in its political value, and he fears that if Gazprom does gain majority control of Ekho Moskvy, it will mark the end of the station's independence.

"If Gazprom succeeds in taking the majority of the shares, we will soon be a government station, even if not from a formal [point of view]," Venediktov said. "Then I think that I, as the editor in chief, and most journalists who came here after they left state radio, will have to leave this radio station. There will be only an 'echo' left of Ekho."


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