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Newsline - May 22, 2001




RUSSIANS REMEMBER SAKHAROV

On what would have been Academician Andrei Sakharov's 80th birthday, Russians commemorated the Soviet academician, nuclear physicist, and human rights activist, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 May. Human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov said that Sakharov made "a gigantic contribution" to the formation of the human rights movement in the former Soviet Union. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov stressed Sakharov's contribution to the defense of the Soviet Union but said that his political activities had "negative consequences," which he had failed to foresee. Meanwhile, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky told Interfax that one of Sakharov's main contributions was his stress on the importance of morality in politics. The Yabloko leader expressed regret that over the last decade "we have not been able to create the foundation of a free democratic society" about which Sakharov dreamed. Yavlinsky added "today the country needs a new course." PG

POLITICIANS REACT TO BUSH-SCHROEDER MEMO

Russian politicians across the political spectrum on 21 May reacted to the publication of a purported record of a conversation between U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian agencies reported. Communist leader Zyuganov said it was no surprise to him that Western countries are opposed to providing more aid as long as Moscow is unable to prevent capital flight. Agrarian leader Nikolai Kharitonov said that the Bush-Schroeder comments point to a new and tougher Western approach to Russia. Fatherland-All Russia representative Nikolai Kovalev said that the report, carried in German news magazines over the weekend, gives grounds for "pessimistic assessments" about future contacts between Russia and the West. The leader of the Unity faction in the Duma, Vladimir Pekhtin, said that he does not think the document was leaked but that it rather represents "an active measure" by the West against Russia. But former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said that he doubts that the published materials are in fact genuine, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN FOCUSES ON FLOODING IN FAR EAST

President Vladimir Putin on 21 May discussed with the cabinet the status of efforts to combat flooding in the Lena River basin, Interfax reported. He said that the government reacted in a timely fashion and thus reduced the amount of damage involved. Even as waters moved toward a crest in Yakutsk, emergency situations ministry officials said that the situation there is generally "manageable," Interfax reported. But some 45,000 people have been evacuated in Sakhar so far, and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the city of Lensk should not be rebuilt where it was but rather relocated to higher ground, the agency said the same day. PG

PUTIN EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT RUSSIAN JEWS IN ISRAEL

During a meeting with visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, President Putin said on 21 May that because of violence in Israel, he is concerned about the fate of Jews from Russia now living there, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Peres that Russia is prepared to support virtually any initiative that would help end the violence in the Middle East, ITAR-TASS reported. On the same day, the Palestinian ambassador in Moscow, Khairi al-Oridi, said that PLO leader Yasser Arafat will visit Moscow on 8-10 June for talks with Putin, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

JOURNALISTS' UNION SAYS SOFIA DECLARATION NOT OBSERVED IN RUSSIA

The Union of Journalists of Russia has published the findings of experts who conclude that Russia is not observing the provisions of the UNESCO Sofia Declaration on media independence, "Inostranets," No. 17, reported. The media are increasingly owned by the state, the government has restricted the rights of journalists to do their jobs, and the state now requires journalists to reveal sources, all in violation of the Sofia Declaration, the experts said. Meanwhile, on 21 May, negotiations continued on the purchase of part of the shares of the Ekho Moskvy radio station by its employees from Vladimir Gusinsky, Interfax reported. PG

JUNE INFLATION PREDICTED TO BE 1 PERCENT

Vladimir Mau, the head of the government's center for economic reforms, said that in June inflation will "definitely be less than 2 percent" and more likely "around 1 percent," Interfax reported. But the Russian-European Center of Economic Policy released a report saying that inflation in Russia for the year as a whole will approach 20 percent, the news service said. PG

UNION OF UNITY, FATHERLAND PREDICTED BY END OF 2001

Vyacheslav Volodin, the deputy leader of Fatherland-All Russia, said that Unity and Fatherland-All Russia will form a single party "some time around November-December" 2001, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 19 May. Volodin said that the two groups are working together but not trying to force the situation. PG

REFORMS MAY SHIFT PROTEST VOTE TO THE LEFT

An analysis published in "Versty" on 19 May concluded that a continuation of the government's economic reforms may lead to a situation in which most protest voters will support left-wing rather than right-wing parties and thus undercut the latter at least in the near term. Meanwhile, former Soviet President Gorbachev called for the unification of all social democratic groups, Interfax reported on 21 May. Gennadii Raikov, the leader of the People's Deputy Duma faction, announced that his movement will transform itself into the People's Party of the Russian Federation, Interfax reported on the same day. PG

ONE RUSSIAN IN THREE SEES LITTLE DIFFERENCE AMONG PARTIES

According to a poll conducted by VTsIOM and published by "Versty" on 19 May, some 36 percent of all Russians do not see any difference between Russia's several dozen political parties. Moreover, 60 percent of the sample said that "political parties only serve to satisfy their leaders' interests. And what is more, they infallibly succeed." PG

AGRARIANS THREATEN DISSOLUTION RESOLUTION IF LAND CODE IS PASSED

Nikolai Kharitonov, the leader of the Agrarian faction in the Duma, said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 May that if the government-backed land code is in fact passed, his party will insist on the dissolution of the Duma and new elections. PG

ROSSEL CALLS FOR 30 FEDERAL SUBJECTS...

Sverdlovk Governor Eduard Rossel said that the Russian Federation should consist of 30 large, economically independent subjects and that each of them should be subdivided into 10 to 15 districts, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 19 May. PG

...AS POLICE SET UP ADMINISTRATIONS IN FEDERAL DISTRICTS

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said that senior police structures will be set up in each of the seven federal districts as part of "the reestablishment of a hierarchy within the Interior Ministry," "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 19 May. He noted that the interior officials will report to the head of district. PG

FORMER NOVOSIBIRSK GOVERNOR FACES CHARGES

"Rossiya," No. 18, reported that the office of the prosecutor-general in the Siberian federal district is bringing charges against former Novosibirsk Governor Vitalii Mukhta for his role in the NovosibirskEnergo shares case. The prosecutors said Mukhta is being charged with exceeding his authority. PG

GAZPROM BOARD MEETING DELAYED AMIDST CHARGES

Gazprom on 21 May postponed a board meeting to discuss the possible dismissal of its chief executive Rem Vyakhirev amidst charges that senior officials at the company are engaged in corruption, AP reported. The charges have been reported by "Vedomosti," "The Moscow Times," and other papers. The meeting, originally scheduled for 22 May is now set for 30 May, the news service said. PG

REACTION TO ENERGY SECTOR REFORM DIVIDED

Andrei Illarionov, presidential economics adviser, told ORT television on 20 May that the proposed reform of the Unified Energy Systems (EES) electricity monopoly "only reflects the interests of a small minority, that of EES management," AFP reported. He added that the government will have to assume responsibility for the consequences of its decisions. But Vladimir Kotrenko, the chairman of the Duma's Energy Committee, gave the reform plan a generally positive review, Interfax-AFI reported on 21 May. PG

DRAFTEES INCREASINGLY NEGATIVE ABOUT ARMY

According to an article in "Rossiya," No. 18, young people subject to the draft have increasingly negative views about the Russian military "and are trying to avoid army service by any means." As a result, the paper said, the moral, educational, and health standards of those actually drafted has continued to fall. Meanwhile, "Trud" reported on 17 May that those who do serve face numerous difficulties after they are discharged because current transition arrangements are inadequate in most places. PG

MILITARY SUPPORT ELEMENTS UNDERCUTTING DEFENSE EFFORT

A hearing of the Duma Defense Committee concluded on 21 May that support elements of the Russian army now work so poorly that their operations are having a negative impact on the combat readiness of frontline forces, Interfax reported. One of the reasons for the poor performance of these units, the committee found, is that they are not given the tools needed to do their jobs. In 2000, the committee said, these units were only given 39 percent of the fuel they needed. Meanwhile, Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said on 21 May that the pension reform must include a sharp increase in military pensions as well, Interfax-North-West reported. PG

ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTRY IGNORES DUMA...

The Atomic Energy Ministry has began negotiations with Novorossiisk port authorities on transporting nuclear waste into Russia without waiting for the Duma to pass on third reading the bill that permitted the ministry to do so, "Inostranets," No. 17, reported. PG

... AS NOVOROSSIISK DECLARED 'NUCLEAR WASTE-FREE FREE ZONE'

Some 300 residents of Novorossiisk declared the port city a nuclear waste-free zone at a meeting on 18 May, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported. That declaration was prompted by fears that the port could be used for the transit of spent nuclear fuel should the Russian government decide on the import and storage of such waste from abroad. The protesters called on citizens of neighboring towns to adopt similar declarations. LF

KRASNODAR ELECTS NEW DUMA DEPUTY

Nikolai Denisov, deputy krai administration head and the leader of the local branch of Fatherland-All Russia was elected State Duma deputy for the Tikhoretsk federal district on 20 May with 59 percent of the vote, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported the following day. LF

SAKHALIN HEAD SAYS MOSCOW PUSHING FISHERMAN INTO POACHING

In an interview published in "Vedomosti" on 21 May, Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov said that the government is consciously pushing Russian fishermen into poaching because the authorities have set quota prices at levels that mean the fishermen must harvest more than they are supposed to in order to recover their costs. PG

EES PREDICTS ENERGY CRISIS IN KAMCHATKA NEXT WINTER LIKELY

Officials of the EES electricity monopoly on 21 May warned that there may be a new energy crisis in Kamchatka next winter if nothing is done to ensure a better payment record by users there, Interfax reported. The officials said that the debts of consumers there now total 2.5 billion rubles ($88 million). PG

NO BASIS SEEN FOR DELAYING PRIMORE ELECTIONS

Aleksandr Veshnyakov, the chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission, has concluded that there is no basis for delaying the 27 May gubernatorial elections in Primorskii Krai, "Vremya MN" reported on 19 May. He said that violations of election law during the campaign there can be addressed in court at a later date. PG

NEW CATHEDRAL PLANNED FOR KHABAROVSK

Viktor Ishaev, the head of the Khabarovsk Krai administration, said on 21 May that a new cathedral will be built in Khabarovsk in 2003, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The Moscow Patriarchate has approved the project, and the cornerstone will be laid in October 2001. PG

CHERNOMYRDIN OFFICIALLY NAMED AMBASSADOR

President Putin signed a decree on 21 May officially appointing former Prime Minister and Gazprom head Viktor Chernomyrdin as Russian ambassador to Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin is expected to go to Kyiv before the end of the month. PG

RUSSIA, U.S. COMPLETE NUCLEAR INSPECTION PROJECT

Russia and the United States said on 21 May that the two countries have agreed that their 1987 agreement on the inspection of each other's medium- and short-range nuclear-capable missiles has been fulfilled, Interfax reported. Colonel General Valerii Manilov, the first deputy head of the Russian General Staff, called this decision "a historical event." Over the last 14 years, some 20,000 people from the two countries conducted more than 1,400 inspections. PG

RUSSIA, U.S. TO COOPERATE ON RAILROADS

First Deputy Railroads Minister Aleksandr Misharin arrived in the U.S. on 21 May for a six-day visit to explore expanding bilateral cooperation in the development of rail transport, Interfax reported on 21 May. Misharin plans to meet with federal officials, AMTRAK leaders, and industrial company officers. PG

PUTIN MEETS SPANISH PRIME MINISTER

President Putin on 21 May met with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to discuss increasing bilateral trade and investment, Russian agencies reported. PG

RUSSIA, ROTHSCHILDS DISCUSS DOCUMENT EXCHANGE

The Russian government and the banking house of the Rothschilds are negotiating the exchange of some of the letters of Tsar Aleksandr II, which are held by the bank, for documents about the origins of the Rothschilds that are in the possession of the Russian government, the "Daily Telegraph" reported on 21 May. The paper said that the talks have been going on for several years. PG

BORODIN SAYS HE WON'T NAME NAMES

In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 21 May, Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary and former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin said that he will not provide any names to Swiss prosecutors lest new investigations be launched. "If I name a single last name," Borodin said, "this would immediately provoke" new investigations, which he does not want to do. He also said that the three-year-long investigation into his activities had been "a test from God." PG

MONUMENT FOR JAPANESE POWS PLANNED

A monument is to be erected in honor of Japanese prisoners of war who died between 1945 and 1957 in a prison camp in Khakassia, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May. Similar monuments are also planned at the site of former camps near Novosibirsk, Kemerovo, and Nizhnii Tagil. Meanwhile, in the Amur Oblast, a search continues for the remains of Japanese soldiers buried there during the Russian Civil War and also in Soviet prison camps after 1945, Interfax reported the same day. PG

CHINESE CITIZEN CONVICTED OF SPYING

An Irkutsk court has convicted a Chinese citizen on charges of spying against Russia and sentenced him to 10 years in prison, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May. Meanwhile, the Kaluga court again postponed a hearing in the case of Igor Sutyagin, a former Institute of U.S. and Canada researcher charged with spying for the United States, Interfax reported. The next session of the court will take place on 24 May. PG

CHINA, RUSSIA BEEF UP BORDER GUARDS DURING HERB HARVEST

The Russian Federal Border Service announced that both Chinese and Russian border guards have increased their patrols of the border to prevent violations during herb-collection season, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May. PG

MOSCOW CITY SEEKS POSITIVE IMAGE...

"Izvestiya" reported on 21 May that Moscow city officials are seeking to promote "a positive image" of the Russian capital in order to boost the number of foreign tourists from 280,000 in 2000 to 5 million by 2010. In addition to working on the city's image, Moscow officials are also seeking to promote the construction of more hotels and restaurants to handle the expected influx. PG

...AS IT ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR BOMB SHELTERS

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 21 May signed a decree calling for the construction of underground garages and other facilities in such a way that these can also serve as bomb shelters, Interfax-Moscow reported. Later this year, the Moscow subway system will also consider the ways in which its stations might be used as such shelters, the news service said. PG

EVER FEWER RUSSIAN CHILDREN

The Russian Children's Fund told Interfax on 21 May that the number of children has fallen from 37 million to only 33 million this year. The foundation also said that there are now 600,000 invalid children, of whom 30,000 do not have families and are housed in orphanages. In addition there are almost 700,000 children in orphanages, 90 percent of whom still have living parents. In 1999, the last year for which statistics are available, children committed 208,000 crimes, 2,000 committed suicide, and 200 children were killed by their own parents. One-fifth of the 3 million registered drug users in Russia are schoolchildren, the foundation reported. PG

FEWER SUBSCRIBERS IN MOSCOW THAN IN TATARSTAN

According to Aleksandr Muzykantskii, a spokesman for the Moscow city administration, there are only 105 subscriptions to periodicals entered for every 1,000 residents of the capital, compared to 616 among every thousand residents of Tatarstan, Interfax reported on 21 May. Muzykantskii said that one of the reasons for this is that the market for print media in the national capital is poorly developed. PG

BEREZOVSKY TO PROVIDE LAWYERS FOR YOUTHFUL DEFENDANTS

A charity organized by media magnate Boris Berezovsky will provide funds to pay for defense lawyers for youthful offenders, Interfax reported on 21 May. The $1 million to be disbursed in the first year, officials said, should cover the expenses of defense attorneys for approximately 4,000-5,000 young people. Meanwhile, 20 inmates from two St. Petersburg jails escaped on 21 May, Russian agencies reported. By the end of 21 May, fewer than half had been recaptured. PG

RUSSIA'S POOR SAID RETAINING TRADITIONAL ATTITUDES

According to an article in "Argumenty i fakty," No. 20, Russian and Western researchers have concluded that the poor of Russia have not adjusted their values to conform to the demands of a market society. Instead, they continue to respect the prestige of professions and education even when these are not highly remunerative. Moreover, the article said, the poor in Russia do not apply for subsidies, do not stage hunger riots, and "show no signs of being unsatisfied with their position." The study found that when the poor earn more, they spend additional income on alcohol before buying clothes or attending cultural events. PG

PUBLICITY ABOUT BABY SEALS SAID FAKED TO JUSTIFY CULL

The International Fund for Animal Welfare told AFP on 20 May that recent Russian suggestions that thousands of baby seals were in peril in the Barents Sea was a ploy by fishing interests to get Moscow to approve the unlimited slaughter of the "dying" animals. Meanwhile, the Russian branch of Greenpeace on 21 May called for a total ban on the hunting of Lake Baikal's unique freshwater seals, AP reported. PG

PER-MINUTE PHONE CHARGES SEEN HURTING INTERNET USERS

Sergei Glazyev, the chairman of the Duma's Economic Policy Committee, said on 21 May that the introduction of per-minute telephone charges is reducing the number of Russian users of the Internet and thus hurting the country's progress, Interfax reported. He stressed that "the economic development of society is directly connected with the development of information technologies," and argued that any reduction in the number of people using the Web could thus have negative consequences. PG

NON-PHARMACISTS NOW DISPENSING MEDICINES

Because of a shortage of pharmacists, many Russian pharmacies are employing untrained people to prepare medicines and "they make mistakes not from ill intent but from ignorance," "Vremya MN" reported on 19 May in connection with the 420th anniversary of the opening of the first Russian apothecary shop in 1581. Meanwhile, Roben Rosen, the director of the Association of International Pharmaceutical Producers, said in St. Petersburg on 21 May that the amount of fraudulently produced medicines in Russia has increased 10 times over the last three years, Interfax reported. PG

A POST-SOVIET PARABLE

Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 May that the building of a chapel over the site in Yekaterinburg where the last tsar and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 has been stopped because the contractors failed to pay their electric bills. PG

KREMLIN SAYS BASAEV TAPE EVIDENCE OF CHECHEN MILITANTS' PRESENCE IN GEORGIA...

In what appears to be a direct response to Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze's 18 May statement that there is "no documentary evidence" that Ruslan Gelaev or other Chechen field commanders are ensconced in Georgia's Pankisi gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001), on 21 May the office of Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii released what it claims is a video-taped message from Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev to Gelaev and other field commanders who Basaev says are now in Georgia. Basaev appeals to Gelaev and his men to come to Chechnya, implying that a major offensive is being prepared, including an attack on Grozny. He also lists by their first names several other Chechen field commanders who, he claims, have spent time in Georgia convalescing from wounds, and claims that a large group of Chechen fighters also took up residence in Baku. LF

...BUT IS IT GENUINE?

The Basaev video tape is, however, marked by what appear to be internal inconsistencies, raising the question of whether it is a montage, parts of which were filmed last year. For example, in what Caucasus Press claims is a verbatim transcript of large parts of the tape, Basaev is quoted as saying that he has had no contact for 2 1/2 years with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. That statement is presumably a reference to the standoff between Maskhadov and Basaev in early 1999 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2. No. 6, 10 February 1999). But Basaev also says that after the retreat from Grozny he went to Makhketi "in March," from where he "sent Shirvani to Maskhadov saying we should meet." Those references are to events that took place last year; the last Chechen fighters abandoned Grozny in February 2000, and Basaev's brother Shirvani was killed in December. LF

MASKHADOV SAID SEEKING SUPPORT IN ESTONIA

Interfax and ITAR-TASS on 21 May both quoted unnamed "reliable sources" in Moscow as claiming that Maskhadov is making a concerted attempt to contact Estonian Defense Ministry officials, at least one of whom had allegedly said that some members of that country's General Staff are ready to provide material and technical assistance to the Chechen fighters. Both Russian agencies said their unidentified sources suggested that Maskhadov's approach to the Estonians was prompted by a decrease in the funds he previously received from Islamic extremist organizations. LF




MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRS MEET WITH ARMENIAN PRESIDENT...

The U.S., French, and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group met for 90 minutes in Yerevan on 21 May with Armenian President Robert Kocharian to discuss the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict. The co-chairmen subsequently termed those talks "productive," but failed to specify a date for the next round of talks between themselves, Kocharian, and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev. Those talks had been tentatively scheduled for mid-June in Geneva, but Russian co-chairman Nikolai Gribkov hinted on 20 May that they may be postponed until August or later, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian for his part underscored the role of Russia in the mediation process and added that he may discuss the peace prospects with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the CIS Collective Security Council session in Yerevan later this month. LF

...AS PEACE AGREEMENT SEEN RECEDING

U.S. co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh said on 20 May that a final peace agreement is "probably" now less close than it appeared to be after the April talks in Key West, because the two presidents are now examining in closer detail the broad principles agreed on in Florida, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. He also said that neither Aliyev nor Kocharian has made a concerted effort to convince public opinion of the need for a settlement based on compromise, Reuters reported. Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 21 May that the reason why he has not made public more details of the peace process is that "this is a sensitive issue and we don't want to arouse expectations that will be difficult to satisfy, because then the disappointment will be greater," Reuters reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S DEFENSE MINISTER LEAVES FOR PAKISTAN

Colonel General Safar Abiev began a four-day visit to Pakistan on 21 May, during which he will meet with government head Parviz Musharraf, and the foreign, interior, and oil and natural resources ministers, Turan reported. Pakistani diplomats last year rejected as fabricated a Russian press report that Musharraf had offered Aliyev military help if Azerbaijan chose to begin a new war to restore its control over Nagorno-Karabakh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 19 June 2000). LF

MILLIONS STOLEN FROM LOCAL BRANCH OF AZERBAIJAN NATIONAL BANK

Over 500 million manats ($100,000) has disappeared from the Yevlakh district branch of the Azerbaijan National Bank, Turan reported on 21 May. The theft was discovered during an internal audit on 18 May. National Bank Board Chairman Elman Rustamov denied reports that the theft was carried out by computer transfer. He said it was the result of "gross" security violations. LF

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN TO DEMOCRATIZE LAWS

Joschka Fischer made a one-day visit to Baku on 21 May, Turan reported. Fischer told journalists after talks with President Aliyev that as a member of the 13-state OSCE Minsk Group, Germany is interested in a solution to the Karabakh conflict as well as to other deadlocked conflicts in the region. He said he discussed with Aliyev the course of the negotiating process; regional security issues; bilateral economic cooperation, especially German participation in the privatization of state-owned enterprises; and Azerbaijan's commitments as a newly accepted member of the Council of Europe to bring its laws into conformity with democratic standards. LF

PATROLS INCREASED AFTER SHOOT-OUT IN BREAKAWAY NORTH GEORGIAN REGION

The Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia has increased from two to seven the number of mobile patrols it will maintain, Caucasus Press reported on 22 May. That decision was made in the wake of a shoot-out late on 13 May between local police and Chechen militants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2001). LF

KYRGYZSTAN EXTENDS INVESTIGATION OF IMPRISONED POLITICAL LEADER...

The Prosecutor-General's Office has extended until 6 July the investigation opened in February against imprisoned Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov is suspected of abuse of his official position and inflicting financial damage on the state when he was governor of Chu Oblast in 1995. An investigation opened in 1997 was dropped after the Chu Oblast administration appealed to the Constitutional Court. Kulov was sentenced in January to seven-years imprisonment on similar charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

...AS PRESIDENT SAYS OPPOSITION 'IMPORTANT' IN DEMOCRATIC STATE

Speaking in Bishkek on 21 May at a conference to mark the 80th anniversary of the birth of Andrei Sakharov, Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev said that a political opposition should exist in any democratic state and should be able to voice its opinions, Interfax reported. LF

TURKMENISTAN, U.S. DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION

Visiting U.S. General Tommy Franks held talks on bilateral military cooperation and regional security in Ashgabat on 21 May with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, Interfax reported. Niyazov said bilateral military cooperation must be structured to take into account Turkmenistan's status as a neutral state and the fact that its military doctrine is purely defensive. LF




BELARUSIAN KGB TO WARN OSCE MISSION HEAD AGAINST OUSTING LUKASHENKA

Belarusian KGB spokesman Fyodar Kotau has accused Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, of inciting the ouster of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, AP reported on 21 May. Kotau said on state television that Wieck is a former German intelligence officer, and charged him with holding secret meetings "where he instructed his interlocutors...to work out plans for pushing the current president from power." Kotau implied that the KGB has collected sufficient compromising material against Wieck to have him refused entry to Belarus. "However, since he is a high-level international official and he represents the OSCE here, and it has never been and never will be the task of the KGB to interfere with that mission, another decision was made: to call him in for a meeting," Kotau noted. JM

'FOR A NEW BELARUS' MOVEMENT TO SUPPORT LUKASHENKA'S CHALLENGER

Some 100 politicians and public figures on 21 May founded a "For a New Belarus" Popular Movement to provide support to democratic presidential candidates in order to defeat incumbent President Lukashenka in this year's presidential elections, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Former Agriculture Minister Vasil Lyavonau, who had previously been imprisoned by the regime in what was widely seen as act of political revenge by Lukashenka, will head the new group. The movement was joined by former Supreme Soviet speakers Stanislau Shushkevich and Mechyslau Hryb. The movement endorses the pledge of five potential presidential candidates -- Mikhail Chyhir, Uladzimir Hancharyk, Syamyon Domash, Syarhey Kalyakin, and Pavel Kazlouski -- to cooperate in the presidential campaign and to appoint a single challenger to Lukashenka from among them. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER SAYS PRESIDENTIAL ASSOCIATES LAUNDERED 'HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS'

Lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko told the parliament on 22 May that he has received from abroad documents affirming "the laundering of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars by certain persons from the Ukrainian president's entourage," Interfax reported. Omelchenko said he asked parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch to impart this information to President Leonid Kuchma, adding that one of the candidates currently being considered for the post of prime minister is involved in money laundering. Omelchenko did not disclose the name of that candidate. Kuchma said later the same day that he will propose Anatoliy Kinakh, head of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, for the prime minister post. Meanwhile, leaders of parliamentary groups on 21 May discussed the candidacies of Mykola Azarov, Valeriy Pustovoytenko, Anatoliy Kinakh, and Serhiy Tyhypko to head the cabinet but failed to agree on any one of them. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION UNVEILS MONUMENT TO DEAD JOURNALISTS

Ukrainian opposition groups on 21 May marked the birthday of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze by unveiling a stone plaque bearing the names of Gongadze and six other journalists who died under unclear circumstances or were murdered in independent Ukraine, Interfax reported. The plaque -- which was cracked in two by vandals in the yard of the Rivne stonemason hired to complete the work -- was placed outside the offices of the UNIAN news agency in Kyiv. "We are laying a memorial to independent journalists in Ukraine today," Reuters quoted Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz as saying at the ceremony. Some 150 people staged a rally in front of the presidential administration building later in the day and placed signboards with an inscription "Heorhiy Gongadze Street" on the nearby Constitutional Court building. JM

ESTONIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE REFUSED REGISTRATION

The Interior Ministry declared on 21 May that it cannot formally register the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate under that name because it is not clearly discernible from the already officially registered Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which is subordinate to the Constantinople Patriarchate, BNS reported. Moreover, the ministry said that facts presented in the registration application as proof of autonomy and continuity of activity can be interpreted in different ways. Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus proposed that the church assume a different name and provide new wording of some articles in its statutes. The Moscow subordinate church, however, refuses to change its name, explaining that registration under a different name would strip it of rights to the church's historic property. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS AT ATHENS FORUM

In her speech to the Athens Forum, an annual political and economic conference whose primary focus this year is the development of information technologies (IT), Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 19 May talked about Latvia's possibilities in the E-world. While admitting that IT development in Latvia has not yet reached a sufficient level, she pointed out that it has been selected as a top priority for the country. In talks with former European Commission President Jacques Santer on 21 May, Vike-Freiberga discussed decision-making processes in the European Union and the possibilities for small countries to protect their interests, BNS reported. She also had meetings with the chairman of the Greek parliament and the defense, transport, and communications ministers and is scheduled to meet Greek President Constantine Stephanopoulos on 22 May. SG

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS FINLAND

Finnish President Tarja Halonen told Antanas Valionis in Helsinki on 21 May that Finland supports Lithuania's bid for membership in the European Union, BNS reported. She noted with satisfaction that Lithuania had reached the midpoint of its EU admission negotiations when it closed two more chapters on 17 May. Valionis discussed the pace of Lithuanian EU integration with his Finnish counterpart, Erkki Tuomioja. He also talked about his country's relations with Russia and the Kaliningrad exclave, noting that negotiations have been started regarding the introduction of visa regulations for Kaliningrad residents, who are currently able to visit Lithuania visa-free. SG

POLAND MOVES EU ENTRY GOAL TO 2004

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, head of the Polish government's Office for European Integration, said on 21 May that Premier Jerzy Buzek is ready to accept January 2004 as the date of Poland's EU entry instead of the January 2003 target that has been pursued thus far by Warsaw, PAP reported. Saryusz-Wolski added that the modification in Poland's position results from the lack of a breakthrough in EU membership talks, which Poland had expected to take place during talks in the first half of the year. "We have urged Sweden, the EU's current president, for a breakthrough in accession negotiations... It has not come," Reuters quoted Saryusz-Wolski as saying. JM

ZEMAN REBUFF'S HAVEL'S CRITICISM OF CZECH MINISTER

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 21 May rejected criticism of Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr that was voiced by President Vaclav Havel, CTK reported. In an interview with the daily "Pravo" on 19 May, Havel said he had delayed the appointment of Gregr as deputy premier because "I simply disagree with his vision of the economy [and] consider his 'technological zones' a destruction of our country." Havel said he would appoint Gregr in late May, adding that he would be ridiculing his own presidential functions if he signed everything Zeman placed on his desk. "If Premier Zeman became president one day, he would certainly be angry with me" for setting such a precedent. Zeman said in reaction that he judges people on the basis of "facts, not sentiments" and that Gregr is "a moving force" in the effort to attract foreign investment. He also said he would only run for president "if all other candidates were unacceptable." MS

CRITICISM VOICED OVER CZECH TV COUNCIL SELECTION SESSION

Karel Kuehnl, leader of the Four Party Coalition, on 21 May said the coalition might boycott the Chamber of Deputies' session at which the 15-member Television Council will be selected from among the 45 remaining candidates, CTK reported. Kuehnl said the way the 45 candidates were selected from among a list of 156 shows that the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) are attempting to forge a sort of "media opposition agreement," parallel to the "opposition agreement" that the two parties have. He said that last year the CSSD and the ODS failed to abolish the independence of the council and are now attempting to achieve that goal by other means. The striking committee that led the sanctions at Czech TV also criticized the selection and said it is considering holding protest rallies "up to the next parliamentary elections." MS

CZECHS CONFIDENT ON EU COMPROMISE

Pavel Telicka, chief Czech negotiator with the EU, told CTK on 21 May that he is "confident" a compromise will soon be reached on the free movement of labor following the accession of new EU members. Telicka said that the German ambassador to Brussels told him that the emerging compromise will have 12-13 EU members agreeing to a fully free movement of labor two years after accession, and that the transition period would be automatically extended by three more years by those countries that "still feel they have problems with it." Also on 21 May, government spokesman Libor Roucek announced that "66 percent" of Czech legislation has been brought in line with that of the EU. MS

CZECH RELIGIOUS LEADERS JOIN JEWISH DENOUNCEMENT OF NEO-NAZISM...

Marcela Gavulova, speaking for the Czech Catholic Bishops' Conference, on 21 May said the organization "fully supports" the statement by Jewish organizations denouncing the rise of neo-Nazism in the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001). Czech Christian Academy President Tomas Halik -- whom some view as a possible presidential contender -- said in Czech society "there are mine fields of prejudice" that can "serve as explosives." He added that "indifference on the part of a large segment of the public, including those who are in responsible positions, toward the expression of neo-Nazi postures and the ever growing cult of violence is alarming." Bendrich Jetelina, speaking for the Czech Seventh Day Adventists, said "every person should have the right to express his or her opinion, but that right ends where the rights and dignities of others are infringed upon." MS

...AND CZECH GOVERNMENT CONSIDERS USE OF UNDERCOVER AGENTS

Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said on 21 May after a meeting of the cabinet that his colleagues have agreed to his proposal to use undercover agents in the struggle against "hate groups, such as the neo-Nazis," CTK reported. Gross said that the use of such agents has until now been hindered by "different interpretations of some legal provisions." Meanwhile, a spokesman for Czech police said eight people who participated in April in a neo-Nazi concert in Senohraby, near Prague, will be charged with "promoting a movement aimed at suppressing people's freedom." The extremist Republican Party on the same day said it will demonstrate on 16 June outside Czech Television to protest against the way the party is presented in television reports. The protest will also be joined by two other far-right organizations: the Patriotic Front and the National Alliance. MS

HUNGARY'S FREE DEMOCRATS PROPOSE FOUNDATION INSTEAD OF 'STATUS BILL'

The opposition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) on 21 May proposed the establishment of a foundation to support ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, instead of benefits planned to be granted under the government's "Status Bill." SZDSZ Chairman Gabor Demszky told "Nepszabadsag" that the proposed government foundation would subsidize culture, education, health care, and ethnic Hungarian organizations from a budget of 15 billion forints ($50 million). The SZDSZ also proposed that the government immediately begin talks with neighboring countries -- Romania and Slovakia in particular -- to "restore confidence." MSZ

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS' REFERENDUM INITIATIVE APPROVED

The National Election Commission on 21 May approved an initiative by the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) to collect signatures calling for a referendum on amendments to the Labor Code, the indexing of pension increases, abolition of obligatory military service, and free foreign-language exams for high school students (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2001). MSZP Deputy Chairman Ferenc Juhasz said it is "probable" that the commission's decision will be challenged at the Constitutional Court, but he hopes that the referendum can be conducted before the 2002 parliamentary elections. FIDESZ deputy parliamentary group leader Robert Repassy said the MSZP is "knocking on open doors" with its initiative. MSZ




MACEDONIA CLAIMS SUCCESS AS IT STEPS UP OFFENSIVE AGAINST REBELS

Macedonian troops backed by helicopter gunships and tanks intensified their offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels on 21 May in villages north of Skopje, Reuters reported. The fighting in the area around the villages of Slupcane, Opae, and Vaksince was said to be the most intense in a week. Macedonian army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski said troops destroyed a weapons depot and two rebel jeeps in Opae. He said the insurgents suffered numerous casualties. Markovski said the army responded to mortar attacks by the rebels on Mount Popova Sapka "with artillery and [we] destroyed the terrorist group [there]." Markovski said the army made tentative gains in the northern villages, taking one-third of Opae. Markovski also said there were no army casualties. Fighting was also reported on and in the villages around Mount Sara, near the border with Kosova. PB

ARE REINFORCEMENTS FROM KOSOVA ON THE WAY?

The BBC reported on 21 May that British diplomats are "desperately" trying to prevent ethnic Albanian fighters from Kosova from reinforcing the rebel force in Macedonia. British security services were reported to have intercepted a message from leaders of the National Liberation Army that is fighting in Macedonia, in which it says it will expand the front in Macedonia with the help of 1,000 more rebels from Kosova and southern Serbia. Macedonian leaders have accused officials from the disbanded Kosova Liberation Army of being responsible for the organization and supplying of the rebels in Macedonia. PB

ONE PRESEVO REBEL LEADER PLEDGES TO DISBAND FORCES...

Shefket Musliu said on 21 May in Konculj that his forces will lay down their weapons and disband by the end of the month because "the time has come...to seek changes through political means," AP reported. Musliu, who commanded militants operating in the Presevo valley area, signed a declaration to "demilitarize, demobilize, and disband no later than 31 May." Shawn Sullivan, NATO's envoy in Yugoslavia, said the signing of the accord by Musliu shows "that through negotiations and confidence-building there is still the possibility for reconciliation." The accord states that the militants -- known as the Liberation Army for Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac -- "were forced to take up arms because of maltreatment of ethnic Albanians by previous Yugoslav authorities...and denial of basic human rights." Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojsa Covic called the signing a "great achievement" and pledged amnesty to all insurgents who hand in their weapons. PB

...ANOTHER ONE IS ARRESTED

Muhamed Xhemajli, a rebel commander and reportedly one of the last to refuse to disband his ethnic Albanian troops in the Presevo valley region, was arrested on 21 May in the buffer zone as he tried to enter Kosova, AP reported. It is not clear if he was arrested by Serbian security forces or NATO-led peacekeepers. Serbian Deputy Premier Covic said his arrest "creates full conditions for the entry of our forces into the buffer zone" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001). Meanwhile, the Yugoslav government began a training program the same day for an interethnic police force. The course is being led by OSCE instructors and members of the Belgrade Police Academy. The first class includes seven ethnic Albanians and seven Serbs. The police force is to be used only in the Presevo valley, and it is envisaged to eventually be made up of 400 members. PB

PARTY TO SUPPORT MINORITY GOVERNMENT FOR MONTENEGRO

Slavko Perovic, a leader of the small Liberal Alliance, said on 21 May in Podgorica that his party will back the formation of a minority government in Montenegro, Reuters reported. The Liberal Alliance will have six deputies in the 77-seat parliament when it convenes on 25 May. The pro-independence coalition Victory is Montenegro's now has 36 seats. Talks between the two parties to form a coalition government were unsuccessful (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001). Perovic said his party's announcement "gives this political grouping the possibility to preserve absolute power in Montenegro and respect pre-election promises given to Montenegrin voters about scheduling a referendum on Montenegrin independence." PB

CROATIAN RULING COALITION FACES 'TEST'

As official results continue to clarify the outcome of local elections held on 20 May, the reformist coalition led by Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democrats appears set to take power in at least 15 out of 21 counties, despite the nationalist Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) emerging as the strongest single party in the country, AP and Reuters reported. "The ruling coalition faces a test," said Racan, adding that the coalition will be able to rule only if its members "stick to their positions to form alliances among ourselves." Though the HDZ won 14 of 21 counties, it will only be able to retain control of two former war zones. DW

CROATIA RATIFIES WORLD COURT TREATY

On 21 May, Croatia became the 32nd country -- and the first in Eastern Europe -- to ratify the International Criminal Court treaty, Reuters reported. When the treaty's statutes have been approved by the parliaments of 60 states, the treaty will come into force. While most Western countries have ratified the treaty, the U.S. Congress has yet to do so, and has prohibited U.S. military personnel from participating in UN peacekeeping missions unless they are exempt from prosecution by the court. DW

BOSNIA FEARS U.S. WITHDRAWAL

The government of Bosnia-Herzegovina is "definitely worried" by reports that U.S. officials are considering withdrawing U.S. peacekeepers from the country, an official from the Bosnian joint Foreign Ministry told Reuters. The official referred to an interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in "The Washington Post" on 18 May, in which he said the "military job was done three or four years ago" and he is "pushing" for the withdrawal of the 3,300 U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia from the 20,000-strong NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). "We need strong support from the international community and SFOR troops have a clear role to play," the Bosnian official said. DW

ROMAN TO RESIGN AS ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY PARLIAMENTARY LEADER

Senator Petre Roman, who lost the contest for the Democratic Party's chairmanship on 19 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001) on 22 May told Mediafax that he will resign as leader of the party's parliamentary group in the Senate. Roman said he has "postponed" his resignation "only to avoid media speculations" that he intends to leave the party, which he denies. He said that apart from his Senate membership, in the future he intends to be very active in the ongoing research being conducted by the Institute for Democratic Studies, of which he is a founding member. The institute, he said, is "above ideological disputes." Roman also said he will "not give interviews and will not participate in polemics." MS

TUDOR APOLOGIZES TO ROMANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY...

Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), on 21 May apologized in the Senate for the "macabre and inadmissible" dissemination of a collection of jokes compiled by PRM Cluj City Councilor Ioan Marinescu. Two of the jokes included in the book make light of the Nazi use of ovens, and one of them compares Jews to pizzas. Israeli Ambassador to Romania Avi Millo complained about the book, which was published by the Cluj-based Hiparion publishing house in over 22,000 copies and the Prosecutor-General's Office has launched an investigation. Tudor, who in the past has similarly banalized the Holocaust, said Marinescu has been sanctioned with "a serious warning" and will be expelled from the PRM if he makes similar remarks in the future, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

...WHILE FOCUSING ON THE HUNGARIAN MINORITY FOR NOW

The PRM parliamentary groups in the two chambers of Romania's parliament demanded on 21 May the urgent placement on the agenda of a PRM draft bill postponing the implementation of the Law on Local Public Administration till after the census planned for 2002, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PRM says the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) intends to "change the names" of over 1,000 settlements in Romania under the pretext that more than 20 percent of their inhabitants belong to the national minorities. The PRM also claims that the UDMR intends to change names of streets "in an illegal action, since this requires the prior approval by the parliament." UDMR Senator Gyorgy Frunda said in reaction that the law clearly stipulates that changing street names is a prerogative of the local authorities and that the PRM is "creating a false problem." MS

ROMANIAN SENATE APPEALS TO PUTIN, VORONIN OVER 'ILASCU GROUP'

At the initiative of the PRM, the Senate on 21 May thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin for their "contribution to the liberation of our colleague Ilie Ilascu" from his detainment in Tiraspol. At the same time, the Senate appealed to Putin and Voronin to "use the authority of your function to bring about the immediate release from the Tiraspol prison of the other ['Ilascu Group'] detained -- Alexandru Lesca, Tudor Petrov-Popa, and Andrei Ivantoc." MS

OSCE ROMANIAN OFFICIAL VISITS MOLDOVA

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin, on a three-day visit to Moldova, met on 21 May in Tiraspol with the leaders of the breakaway region, Romanian Radio reported on the next day. Severin said after the meeting that "although our principles remain unchanged," it has been important "to listen to all sides, even when we disagree." Upon his arrival in Chisinau on 20 May, Severin said his visit was aimed at "identifying the parameters for extending Moldova concrete help to safeguard its whole territorial integrity." He said that in order to bring about a solution to the conflict "one should talk less of pressure systems and more of persuasion systems, less of forcing people do certain things and more of creating conditions that allow all to live in peace and security, without putting pressure on others." Before traveling to Tiraspol for talks with the separatist leadership, Severin met with Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz. He is meeting President Voronin and Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev on his return from Tiraspol on 22 May. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN INTELLIGENCE AGENTS EXPOSED BY PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION

A parliamentary commission on 21 May concluded that 52 people who since 1989 were deputies and ministers had previously served the country's communist secret services, AP reported. Six of these are running for seats in the June parliamentary elections. Among those exposed was Ahmed Dogan, leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). Dogan said the commission's revelations are a "manipulation" and that he will not withdraw from the parliamentary race. Also on the list are Aleksandar Staliiski, who was defense minister in the minority United Democratic Forces (ODS) government in 1992, and Rumen Gechev, a former deputy premier in the Socialist government. Under the law, no action can be taken against the former secret police collaborators other than revealing their names. Interior Ministry officials estimate that some 40 percent of the files were destroyed by security officials after the fall of communism in 1989. MS

BULGARIAN POLL SHOWS SIMEON'S MOVEMENT STILL AHEAD...

A public opinion poll conducted by the MBMD institute shows the National Movement Simeon II still leading the field of parties competing in the June parliamentary elections, BTA reported on 20 May. The former monarch's movement is backed by 41 percent, followed by the ODS, with 20 percent. In third place is the Bulgarian Socialist Party (15 percent). The only other formation likely to pass the 4 percent threshold is the DPS, but MBMD Director Miroslava Yanova said that a high turnout on election day might result in the DPS's "just missing" the threshold. Yanova emphasized that the poll was conducted before the former monarch announced that he will not be running for the parliament. She said this may result in a drop in the support for his movement. MS

...AND KOSTOV READY FOR (ALMOST) ANY COALITION PARTNERSHIP

ODS leader and incumbent Premier Ivan Kostov said he "does not rule out any coalition agreement," except with "former communist parties," BTA reported on 20 May, citing Bulgarian media reports. The daily "Trud" interpreted the statement to signify that "Kostov does not rule out a coalition with Simeon" and the daily "Monitor" wrote that "If the ODS coalesces with the National Movement Simeon II, this would make the politically inexperienced Simeon into a powerful backstage player when it comes to the formation of the cabinet." MS

SIMEON MOVEMENT PRESENTS ECONOMIC, FOREIGN RELATIONS PRIORITIES

The National Movement Simeon II on 21 May presented its economic and foreign policy priorities, BTA and Reuters reported. Nikolai Vasiliev, who heads the movement's economic team, said its economic program is "both bold and radical." He said the program envisages a "zero budget deficit" and preserving the country's Currency Board. At the same time, "we plan a radical tax reform and achieving dynamic, even explosive economic growth" through attracting foreign investments and completing privatization. Solomon Passy, who heads the movement's lists for the elections, said NATO and EU membership will make up the foreign policy priorities. Passy said "relations with Ukraine are just as important as those with Russia, and in some respects even more important." MS

MIHAILOVA INVITES SIMEON TO REVEAL LIBYAN TRIAL ACTIONS

Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 21 May invited Simeon to the Foreign Ministry, asking him to share with her information on his activities on behalf of the six Bulgarians currently on trial in Libya for allegedly infecting children with the HIV virus, BTA reported. Mihailova said she has "learned from the press" that Simeon has "long taken steps you believe to be in the interests of the detained" and voiced the hope that he would share with her that information in her capacity of coordinator of the efforts to aid the Bulgarians on trial there. MS




GERMANY SEES ONLY SLOW PROGRESS IN REGAINING ART TREASURES


By Roland Eggleston

German culture officials are distressed that negotiations with Russia on the return of works of art taken during World War II have virtually ground to a halt. According to the Germans, an international conference on trophy art that was held in Moscow earlier this month failed to make any progress and, in the view of some, demonstrated a Russian reluctance to return art works to Germany, Hungary, Poland, and other countries.

It is believed that Russia still holds more than 134,000 works of art removed from Germany by Soviet troops. They include paintings by van Gogh and Degas, sculptures, paintings, and centuries-old books -- including a Gutenburg bible. Russia also allegedly retains thousands of similar items taken from Hungary, Poland, and other East European countries.

Negotiations between Russia and Germany have been underway since 1991 but have produced very limited results thus far. Negotiations with other countries have been equally unsuccessful, as their representatives made clear at the Moscow conference.

During the May conference, Germany was represented for the first time not only by art experts but also by a team of lawyers who tried to find ways around Russia's restrictions. They proposed, among other things, a Russian-German exhibition in Germany with a guarantee by Berlin that the works would be returned to Russia. They also revived the long-discarded idea of a Russian-German foundation to administer the art works now in Russian hands.

A German lawyer, Karin Wollmann, said the proposals fell mainly on deaf ears. She said some of the Russian participants showed interest in the German suggestions, but most of the officials did not. She said a senior official at Russia's Culture Ministry, Yurii Titov, left the impression that it could be a long time before all the hurdles are overcome. "Russia has always been reluctant to return these works of art, but now the negotiations have virtually come to a standstill. It is difficult to see what we can do to invigorate them," Wollmann said.

The Moscow conference ended without any progress being made on claims by Germany, Hungary, Poland, or other countries.

Germany's only real success in the decade-long negotiations over the looted art came last year, when Russia issued an export license for drawings and engravings that were taken from the Bremen Kunsthalle. The drawings and graphic prints included works by Durer, Goya, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Delacroix, and several Dutch and Flemish artists. The heirs of the Soviet officer who took them gave them to the German Embassy in 1993, but Russian law had prevented their return.

The return was made possible by changes in Russian law to differentiate between officially collected Soviet spoils or war and looting by individual Soviet soldiers.

German negotiators, however, have not been able to retrieve another 362 drawings, which were taken by a former Soviet officer, Viktor Baldin. They include works by Durer, Goya, and other world-renowned artists. The works are believed to be in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where 138 of them were exhibited in 1992.

Germany's primary goal is now the return of the 14th-century stained-glass windows that once graced the Marienkirche in the eastern German city of Frankfurt an der Oder. They are now in storage at the Hermitage.

The German Culture Ministry in Berlin says negotiations for the return of the windows have been underway for some time. But the director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovskii, has said he first wants to exhibit them to the Russian public. The windows are important for art historians for their depiction of the life of the Antichrist in a parody of the life of Jesus.

The German Culture Ministry says it still hopes that Russia will act generously because of the help given by Germany in the restoration of the famous Amber Room at Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg. It was dismantled by German troops in 1941 and sent to Kaliningrad, where many pieces disappeared after heavy fighting near the end of the war. Most experts believe the bulk of the room was probably destroyed in a fire.

The room is being recreated with the help of a $3.5 million grant from the giant German gas company, Ruhrgas. Germany has also returned a mosaic and a chest of drawers from the Amber Room that turned up in Germany

The Moscow conference also heard from Hungarian cultural experts seeking the return of books, paintings, porcelain, statues, and other goods taken from the collections of wealthy families and from banks, museums, churches, and museums. The Culture Ministry in Budapest has published a list of more than 3,000 items known to have been taken.

By chance, the conference happened to coincide with an exhibition in Moscow of some of these valuable old Hungarian books and manuscripts. They were once the pride of the library at the protestant college at Szaroszpatak in northeast Hungary. They have been stored since the war in the Volga River city of Nizhnii Novgorod. Hungarian church authorities had placed the most valuable volumes and prints in two Budapest banks for safety, but they were discovered when the banks were looted. Among them are 16th- and 17th-century religious prints published in Utrecht.

German lawyer Wollmann says a major problem is that Russian authorities actually discourage individuals from returning art treasures in the way the heirs of the officer who took the Bremen drawings returned them to the German Embassy. She said that when the issue came up at the Moscow conference, Russian culture official Titov said the task of returning the works of art should be left to his ministry.

"One serious problem is that the Russian authorities want to keep everything under the control of the Ministry of Culture," Wollmann said. "We know of private individuals who want to return works of art directly without too much bureaucracy, but the ministry strongly opposes such initiatives."

An official of the German Culture Ministry -- who asked not to be identified -- told RFE/RL that despite the problems, current Russian law does allow some opportunities for museums and even individuals to apply for the return of their collections.

But the official warned that it would not be easy. He said that in most cases months, and possibly years, of patient and imaginative negotiations will be required before an agreement is reached that would satisfy both sides. Roland Eggleston is a Munich-based freelance correspondent for RFE/RL.


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