Accessibility links

Newsline - August 30, 2001




PUTIN TAKES CHARGE OF EDUCATIONAL REFORM

Sergei Katanandov, the Karelian president who crafted some of Russia's educational reform proposals, told ITAR-TASS on 29 August that the most important result of the State Council's discussion of educational reform is that "from now on," all those programs will be under President Vladimir Putin's personal supervision. Putin for his part called for modernizing Russian schools, bringing them up to European standards, introducing new technology, and expanding local and regional involvement in the process. But discussions at the meeting, articles in the press, and polls of Russian attitudes suggest that he faces an uphill fight and one that may be complicated or reduced in scale by a shortage of funds. PG

EDUCATIONAL REFORM MAY REDUCE CORRUPTION, HELP REGIONS

Among the proposals made at the session of the Russian State Council on 28-29 August during the discussion of the reform of the Russian educational system were calls for replacing the current system of individual institutional entrance examinations with a single national exam, Russian agencies said. Such an exam would aim to reduce the level of corruption in a system that has not been fundamentally changed since 1960 and would give students from the provinces greater access to the universities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. It would also reduce the role of subjective evaluations of students by secondary-school teachers. VY

STATE COUNCIL DISCUSSES STATUS OF NON-RUSSIAN LANGUAGES IN RUSSIA

Aleksandr Dzasokhov, the president of North Ossetia, told the State Council on 29 August that the Russian government must reverse a 40-year decline in official attention to the study of the languages of non-Russian groups living in Russia, Interfax reported. President Putin responded that "it is not a bad thing to develop national languages, but it is necessary to be attentive to the risk that we may lose that which we ought to value." He further noted that "in Europe, for example, they speak English."

KASYANOV TELLS PUTIN INFLATION IN AUGUST WILL BE ZERO

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told President Putin on 29 August that inflation in Russia will be zero in the month of August, Russian agencies reported. PG

NEW BUDGET SAID FULL OF ACCOUNTING TRICKS

In an article in "Kompaniya" on 27 August, analyst Boris Grozovskii pointed out that the cabinet has pulled several accounting tricks to make the draft 2002 budget look better than it is. Perhaps the worst example, according to Grozovskii, is that budget revenues are based on the assumption that oil prices will be $17 a barrel, while spending is based on the assumption that oil prices will be $22 a barrel. Such built-in assumptions are intended to allow the government to find funds to service its foreign debts. PG

GOVERNMENT FINALIZES GAZPROM SHARE-TRADING LIBERALIZATION

The cabinet is putting the finishing touches on a decree that will liberalize the rules governing the trading of Gazprom shares, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 August. According to a copy of the draft decree published by the paper, the new rules will allow more shares to be traded and reduce restrictions on foreign ownership of them. But the decree maintains the past regulation that foreigners may not own more than a total of 20 percent of the gas giant's outstanding shares. The cabinet is also planning to set up regional divisions within the Railways Ministry, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 August. Under the planned arrangements, the Moscow railway will include a number of regional lines. The goal of the restructuring, the paper suggested, is to take away from particular regional leaders' control over particular railways. VY

GOVERNMENT REPORTEDLY WON'T DELAY CENSUS

Despite President Putin's proposal earlier this summer that officials delay the next national census until early 2003, the government apparently has decided to go ahead with the fall 2002 timetable, an unnamed government source told Interfax on 29 August. The government plans to spend 4 billion rubles ($133 million) on the eight-day enumeration of the population. PG

GOVERNMENT SETS COMPENSATION TERMS FOR CHERNOBYL VICTIMS

Prime Minister Kasyanov on 29 August signed a decree setting the levels of compensation for those in the Russian Federation who suffered from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Interfax reported. The government also approved a federal program for expanding scientific research over the next five years. That program will cost almost 20 billion rubles ($600 million), the news agency said. PG

NEW CABINET INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION CHIEF NAMED

Prime Minister Kasyanov has named Tatiana Valovaya to be the chief of the department of international cooperation of the apparatus of the Russian government, Interfax reported on 29 August. PG

MANILOV CONFIRMED AS FEDERAL COUNCIL MEMBER FOR PRIMORSKII KRAI

Former first deputy chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Valerii Manilov, was confirmed on 29 August as the representative of Primorskii Krai in the Federation Council, Interfax reported. Sixteen of the deputies in the regional parliament voted for him, while eight voted against, the news service said. PG

BEREZOVSKY SAYS RUSSIA MUST BECOME A CONFEDERATION IN ORDER TO SAVE ITSELF, DOMINATE REGION...

In an Internet press conference on 29 August, embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky said that Russia must become a confederation based on national republics because only such a shift and division of authority will "preserve Russia as a single state." He said that in his opinion, Russia "is not in a position any longer to effectively exist as a federal state." If it becomes a confederal state, he continued, a union with Belarus and even "with an overwhelming number of the countries" of the former Soviet Union will be "completely natural." He added that the division of the post-Soviet space is "only beginning" and criticized Western governments for their fundamental mistake in seeking to "disintegrate" the "former Soviet space." Indeed, the West's efforts to "draft particular republics into some kind of unions including military ones without Russia is a catastrophic error." But he said that Russia can only continue to dominate this region if it first transforms itself into a confederation. PG

...BUT SHARPLY CRITICIZES PRESIDENT PUTIN

In response to other questions at his Internet press conference on 29 August, Berezovsky said that President Putin is undoubtedly "politician No. 1" in Russia but that the Kremlin leader is "committing many mistakes" and departing from the path laid down by former President Boris Yeltsin, Interfax reported. He said, for example, that Putin's creation of federal districts was unconstitutional. In other comments, Berezovsky said he will continue to use his media outlets and particularly his Internet sites to advance his political agenda. PG

COMMUNIST LEADER ZYUGANOV PROMISES PROTESTS, BUT WANTS PUTIN'S HELP

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 29 August said his party this fall will lead protest actions against the government's draft budget, Interfax reported. But the same day, he said that he hopes President Putin will intervene in the pre-election struggle in Rostov Oblast, where a Communist hopeful was kept off the ballot, the news agency reported. PG

KASYANOV SAYS MOSCOW MILITARY DOCTRINE IS ALSO FOR MINSK

Speaking in advance of a joint Russian-Belarusian military exercise this week, Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov said on 29 August that the Neman-2001 maneuvers are a "final exam" for Minsk in the process of adapting itself to the Russian military doctrine, "Vremya novostei" reported. Kasyanov said that the new joint doctrine will be the Russian doctrine with some relatively minor amendments involving nuclear strategy. Kasyanov's declaration came at a meeting of the Union Council of Ministers. At the same session, Kasyanov also said that representatives of the two countries have agreed on a budget for 2002 of 3.3 billion rubles ($120 million). He emphasized that plans for further integration were independent of the outcomes of elections in either country. VY

PUTIN CONGRATULATES KYRGYZSTAN ON INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY

President Putin on 29 August sent a message of congratulation to his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev noting that Russia "attaches great importance to the declaration on eternal friendship and partnership" that the two countries have signed, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin dispatched Russian Security Council secretary Vladimir Rushailo to take part in the celebrations in Bishkek later this week. PG

FIVE MILLION UKRAINIAN CITIZENS SAID WORKING IN RUSSIA TODAY

According to "Vremya MN" on 29 August, up to 5 million citizens of Ukraine are now working in Russia because they are paid better there. But their presence, the paper said, is an increasingly important factor in drawing the two countries together. PG

U.S. SAID WILLING TO GIVE MOSCOW MASSIVE ASSISTANCE FOR ACCORD ON MISSILE DEFENSE

The American government reportedly is willing to provide Russia with up to $10 billion in aid and loan forgiveness if Moscow will agree to scrap the 1972 ABM Treaty and to allow the U.S. to pursue its missile defense system, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 35, reported. Indeed, the weekly said, the U.S. now has President Putin in much the same position that it had former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev: If Putin agrees, he will be rewarded, but if he doesn't, his opposition will be ignored. PG

RUSSIA, NORWAY SIGN AGREEMENT ON MONITORING RADIATION AROUND 'KURSK'

The Russian and Norwegian governments on 29 August signed an agreement that will allow Norwegian efforts to monitor radiation levels in the area where the "Kursk" submarine sank in August 2000 while the vessel is being raised from the bottom in September, AP reported. PG

MOSCOW, TEHRAN DISCUSS STATUS OF CASPIAN

Viktor Kaluzhnii, the Russian presidential envoy for the Caspian region, met in Tehran on 29 August with his Iranian counterpart Ali Ahani for a final round of bilateral talks before the Astana meeting of the five littoral states, Russian and Western agencies reported. Kaluzhnii will seek to get Iran to agree to Moscow's recent shift in position concerning the legal status of the sea, a shift that moves Russia away from Tehran's past views and closer to those of Baku, the agencies said. VY

PLANS TO ISSUE SPECIAL THREE-DAY VISAS IN KALININGRAD AGAIN DELAYED

Foreign Ministry officials told Interfax on 29 August that plans to issue at the border of Kaliningrad special three-day visas to foreigners who want to visit that Russian exclave have again been delayed due to both technical problems and a reevaluation of the entire program. Such visas had earlier been trumpeted by Moscow officials as an indication of Russian interest in using Kaliningrad as a bridge to the European Union. PG

SOLDIER WINS BACK PAY FROM INTERIOR MINISTRY FOR HIS SERVICE IN CHECHNYA

In what may be the first such case, Interior Ministry Lieutenant Colonel Yurii Kikin won his suit in a Novosibirsk court against his ministry for having failed to pay him 18,000 rubles ($600) for part of his service in Chechnya, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 August. PG

PROSECUTORS SAY THEY HAVE ESTABLISHED LINKS BETWEEN FOREIGN ISLAMIC GROUPS AND WAHHABIS IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Vladimir Kravchenko, the head of the administration of the prosecutor-general for the North Caucasus, told Interfax on 29 August that his investigators have found clear links between foreign Islamic organizations and the Wahhabis of the North Caucasus. Specifically, he said, the investigators have determined that these foreign sources are both financing and directing the activities of a group that Russian officials describe as extremist and violent. PG

INVESTMENTS IN CHUKOTKA TRIPLE OVER LAST YEAR

Officials of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug told ITAR-TASS on 29 August that investments in the economy of that region are this year running at a pace three times greater than last. Investments during the first seven months of 2001 totaled 506.7 million rubles ($18 million), the news service reported. PG

LUZHKOV FORMALLY BANS BULLFIGHTING

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 29 August signed a formal directive prohibiting the holding of a bullfight in Moscow in September, Interfax-Moscow reported. Organizers said they will give refunds to ticket holders and seek redress in the courts. In other actions the same day, Luzhkov issued a decree making what officials said were technical corrections to the structures of the city's governmental organizations, and repeated his threat to bankrupt Unified Energy Systems headed by Anatolii Chubais unless that company becomes more cooperative, Russian agencies reported. PG

SECURITY BEEFED UP AT SERBSKY INSTITUTE

Officials at the Serbsky Psychiatric Hospital in Moscow have beefed up security now that Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is accused of killing a Chechen woman, has been taken there for psychological evaluation, Interfax reported on 29 August. PG

PATRIARCH DECORATES CULTURE MINISTER

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II on 29 August presented Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi with the order of St. Danil, second class, Interfax reported. The patriarch also presented a lesser award to First Deputy Culture Minister Natalia Dementieva. The news agency said that those awards were given in recognition of the contribution of the two to the restoration of church facilities. PG

GOVERNMENT WANTS TO END MEDIA TAX BREAKS

As of 2002, the government plans to do away with special tax exemptions and other benefits that the media have enjoyed, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 29 August. If the government succeeds in pushing this measure through the Duma, the paper said, it will lead to the collapse of many of the country's newspapers and journals. VY

GRU DENIES REPORTS IT WILL MERGE WITH FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE

Spokesmen for the military's intelligence arm, the GRU, told RIA-Novosti on 29 August that there is no truth to the report in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 August that the GRU will be subordinated or otherwise combined with the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). A spokesman for FAPSI, the government's information security agency, also denied the paper's suggestion that it too will be merged with the SVR. But neither agency denied the fact that in recent months six GRU directorate heads have been replaced by SVR generals, nor did either deny that SVR veteran Lieutenant General Oleg Chernov has been tipped by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as the leading candidate to replace current GRU chief Valentin Korabelnikov. VY

A HOLIDAY FOR SPETSNAZ TROOPS?

Interior Ministry Lieutenant General Aleksandr Strelnikov, who heads the cadres department there, told Interfax on 29 August that a number of federal agencies are preparing a proposal to make the Day of the Special Forces Soldier (Spetsnaz) into a national holiday. The same day, President Putin greeted representatives of this elite force at the Kremlin, noting that they have always been "the pride of the force structures" of Russia. PG

FSB REPORTS ON CORRUPTION IN PORT FACILITIES

The Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate that is responsible for transportation security has prepared and sent to President Putin a report on corruption in Russian ports, stringer.ru reported on 29 August. The report detailed the tax evasion schemes of organized crime groups and also the involvement of state-owned enterprises in these operations. The FSB reportedly called on Putin to restore state control over the management of the ports in order to end corruption in this "strategic sector." VY

1,500 COMPANIES SAID INVOLVED IN MASSIVE TAX EVASION SCHEME

Aleksei Orlov, the head of the Interior Ministry's main directorate for fighting white-collar crime, said that his investigators have identified 1,500 Russian companies and 30 Russian banks that are engaged in fraudulent export schemes to avoid taxes, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 August. He said that the banks inflated the value of exported goods and then sought refunds of value added taxes, but his officers have been able to secure orders for the return of 70 percent of the state funds that had been illegally acquired this way. PG

RUSSIA FORMS A LINE FOR SPACE TOURISTS

Russia's national space agency Rosaviakosmos announced on 29 August that it will train on a regular basis "cosmic" tourists who want to fly to the International Space Station on board the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and who are prepared to pay for the experience, Interfax reported. Among such commercial travelers this year will be South Africa's Mark Shuttleworth, Italy's Roberto Vittori, and Belgium's Frank de Winne, the agency said. VY

RUSSIAN PROGRAMMER FACES U.S. TRIAL FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY VIOLATIONS

Dmitrii Shlyarkov, a Russian programmer arrested in Las Vegas on 18 June after he began to disseminate special software capable of breaking through the Adobe eBooks program, will go on trial for intellectual property theft in the United States, Interfax reported on 29 August. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sklyarov, who is out on $50,000 bail, said he had made a contribution to Adobe by showing its officers how vulnerable their system is. VY

GOVERNMENT EXPERTS SAY TEXTBOOKS TOO NEGATIVE ABOUT RECENT RUSSIAN HISTORY

A government commission has concluded that history textbooks now being used in Russian schools have too negative a treatment of Russia's recent history, Interfax reported on 29 August. The experts recommended that the textbooks be rewritten or replaced with more patriotic ones. PG

PUPILS SUFFER POOR HEALTH, BAD LUNCHES

Moscow health officials told Interfax on 29 August that Russian schoolchildren had become increasingly unhealthy over the last five years. Meanwhile, an article in "Izvestiya" the same day noted that pupils often have to put up with bad and even unhealthy food in school cafeterias. The paper noted, however, that this is not a uniquely Russian problem. PG

NEW BOOKS DETAIL HISTORY OF RUSSIAN MASONS, STALIN'S TREATMENT OF JEWS

The "Ex Libris" supplement of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 August carries reviews of two new books likely to spark debate. The first, Andrei Serkov's "Russian Masonry, 1731-2000," is 1,224 pages long and provides the fullest accounting yet of the role of the secret society in Russian social and political life. The second, Gennadii Kostyrchenko's, "The Secret Policy of Stalin. Power and Anti-Semitism," also is a massive work. Its 738 pages detail Stalin's approach to Jews from the time of the revolution to his death. PG

TSARIST SYMBOLS RETURN TO ST. PETERSBURG

Newly installed bells at the cathedral in St. Petersburg Peter and Paul Fortress now play the tsarist hymn, "Lord Protect the Tsar," Interfax-Northwest reported on 29 August. Meanwhile, city officials confirmed that the remains of the last dowager empress of Russia, Maria Fedorovna, will be returned from Denmark in September 2002 and buried with other members of the imperial family in the Peter and Paul Fortress, the news service said. PG

HEALTH MINISTRY HAS NO 'OFFICIAL' DATA SHOWING ANY MINISTER TO HAVE AIDS

First Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko told Interfax on 29 August that "we do not possess any official data to confirm reports" in the Russian media that "in all the power structures of Russia, including at the ministerial levels, there are HIV-infected people." PG

OIL PIPELINE IN DAGHESTAN BURSTS

Interior Ministry officials in Daghestan said on 29 August that an oil pipeline there burst following an explosion, Russia and Western news agencies reported. The officials said that the most likely explanation for the leak is "a terrorist act," but they indicated that it might have been caused by criminals seeking to divert oil from the pipeline without paying for it. No oil was being pumped through the pipeline at the time of the blast -- Azerbaijan had already filled its quota for August -- and as a result, there was only a minor spill of oil into the Caspian Sea. PG

DAGHESTAN DENIES ANY TERRITORIAL CLAIMS ON AZERBAIJAN

Mukhu Aliev, the head of the Daghestani parliament, told Interfax on 29 August that his republic has never had any territorial claims on neighboring Azerbaijan and cannot be blamed for tensions between people from Daghestan who are living in the northern sections of that country. He said that the causes of the conflicts in Azerbaijan are rooted in the dismal economic conditions of the Avar ethnic community there and the virtual absence of any Avar representation in Azerbaijani institutions at any level. At the same time, Aliyev said, Daghestani authorities have tried to help the Avars in Daghestan by providing them with textbooks in their native language and by raising the issue of the status of the Avars with Baku. PG

DAGHESTANI COURTS PREPARE FOR RADUEV TRIAL

Anvar Magomedov, the head of the Daghestani Supreme Court, told Interfax on 29 August that he has assigned Judge Baguzha Unzholov to oversee the trial of Salman Raduev, the Chechen militant who is charged with terrorism for his role in the attack on Kizlar in 1996. Magomedov said that it will likely take the judge four to six weeks to familiarize himself with the 129 volumes of evidence that prosecutors have assembled. The justice said that the trial will take place in Makhachkala or Kaspiisk. And he said that Raduev is unlikely to be transferred from Moscow to Daghestan until the trial is about to begin. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS TO CALM NORTH OSSETIA-INGUSH TENSIONS

Interior Ministry Major General Yakov Stakhov, the special Russian presidential representative on the regulation of the Ossetian-Ingush conflict, told Interfax on 29 August that he and his colleagues are working to prevent any further exacerbation of tensions between the two ethnic communities. Meanwhile, officials in North Ossetia said that they are taking special measures to prevent any terrorist actions there, even as the Ingush government released a statement in Moscow accusing North Ossetia of "crude violation of human rights" against Ingush nationals, the news agency reported the same day. PG

KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE CONFISCATION OF WEAPONS, EXPLOSIVES

Officials at the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Interior Ministry told Interfax on 29 August that they have confiscated 200 guns, 76 grenades, and a large amount of explosives in the republic during the first seven months of 2001. PG

MOSCOW CLAIMS PROGRESS IN CHECHNYA, BUT CAR BOMB KILLS 12

Vladimir Kalamanov, the presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya, said on Ekho Moskvy radio on 29 August that "clashes will continue in some region or other of Chechnya" but that the federal authorities are making progress in restoring the legal and economic situation there, ITAR-TASS reported. But the night before, Russian and Western agencies reported, a car bomb went off near Grozny and killed six Russian soldiers as well as six civilians. And an article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 29 August said that Moscow has failed to provide any serious backing for its plans to have refugees return from Ingushetia to Chechnya before the onset of winter. PG

NORTH CAUCASUS STILL A RUSSIAN TOURIST DESTINATION

"Despite all the difficulties, tourism in the North Caucasus [by Russians] is actively developing," according to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 August. PG




ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT TO ADDRESS PENSION ARREARS PROBLEM

After a demonstration by invalids demanding that the government pay up on their pensions, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said on 29 August that Yerevan will seek to pay off the 81 million drams ($146,000) it owes those who became invalids as a result of fighting with Azerbaijan, Noyan Tapan reported. PG

BRIGITTE BARDOT, GERMAN GROUPS, AND ARMENIAN CHURCH OPPOSE BULLFIGHT IN YEREVAN

French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot, German animal rights groups, and the leadership of the Armenian Orthodox Church issued statements on 29 August in opposition to plans to stage bullfights in the Armenian capital 7-9 September, Noyan Tapan, Mediamax, and Interfax reported. PG

HIGH PERCENTAGE OF ARMENIAN WOMEN SUFFER FROM SECONDARY STERILITY

The Armenian association "For Family and Health" on 28 August told Noyan Tapan that the average Armenian woman has 2.7 abortions over the course of her lifetime and that because of that and because of other environmental factors the level of secondary sterility among women of reproductive age is high. According to the findings of one study, the association said, 28.5 percent of 1,400 women of reproductive age surveyed suffer from secondary sterility. PG

AZERBAIJAN COOPERATED WITH CIA AGAINST BIN LADEN

A source in the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry said that Azerbaijani officials had cooperated with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to prevent accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden from sending assistance to the Chechen independence movement, Baku's "Ekho" newspaper reported on 29 August. The cooperation took place in 1996-98, the source said. The paper said that a former senior official of the Azerbaijani presidential administration has confirmed the story. PG

Aliyev TO GO TO TEHRAN AT LAST

President Heidar Aliyev will make an official visit to Iran on 17 September, Iranian officials said in Baku on 29 August, according to ITAR-TASS. Aliyev on 28 August had complained to visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani about the fact that his visit has been delayed several times. But he said he looks forward to discussing all issues with Iranian leaders. PG

2,000 AZERBAIJANI SOLDIERS SAID TO HAVE DIED FROM NONCOMBAT DEATHS IN 1995-2000

An article in "Zerkalo" on 25 August said that a retired officer has told the paper that more than 2,000 Azerbaijani soldiers and officers have died while in service as a result of disease, accidents, and bullying during the 1995-2000 period and that more than 3,000 others ended up disabled. Noncombat deaths in the Azerbaijani army have become an increasingly worrisome issue in Baku recently following claims that 19 Azerbaijani soldiers died during a 23-day period earlier this month, the paper said. PG

SHEVARDNADZE TO MEET U.S. PRESIDENT BUSH IN OCTOBER

The White House announced on 29 August that President George W. Bush will meet with visiting Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 5 October, Caucasus Press reported. PG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE'S READY TO ANSWER FOR HIS DEEDS BEFORE GOD AND THE PEOPLE

On the sixth anniversary of the first assassination attempt against him, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 29 August told the Georgian government that "all I have been doing has been prompted from above and that I will answer for it before the Lord and the people," Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze's comments came the day after parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania released an open letter sharply criticizing conditions in the country. Caucasus Press said that presidential aides said that Zhvania discussed the letter with Shevardnadze prior to releasing it. Meanwhile, the agency said, opposition groups said that Shevardnadze may be attempting to exploit the tensions in the country and that more conflicts with Abkhazia are likely. The groups said that they do not exclude an attack of some kind on Ajaria as well. Ajar President Aslan Abashidze said he is worried about that possibility, the agency said. PG

GEORGIA SAID THREATENED BY DEMOGRAPHIC CATASTROPHE

Toma Gugushvili, a Georgian expert on migration, told Interfax on 29 August that Georgia has entered into a new phase of demographic catastrophe. Over the last decade, he said, the population of his country had declined by 20 percent. Most of the decline reflects the departure of working-age people, Gugushvili said. He said that emigration is increasing this year and that the population, which now stands at 4.6 million, will decline by another 300,000. PG

KAZAKHSTAN SAYS IT NEEDS $1 BILLION TO CLEAN UP NUCLEAR CONTAMINATION

President Nursultan Nazarbaev said on 29 August that his country needs more than $1 billion to clean up from the nuclear tests conducted by Soviet officials on the territory of Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported. But Kazakh Commercial TV reported the same day that the U.S. government will not provide Astana with funds for this effort. Meanwhile, Nazarbaev awarded a group of anti-nuclear testing activists, including writer and diplomat Olzhas Suleymenov, who formed the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear testing group in the 1980s, Interfax reported. And Kazakhstan officials have erected a statue called "Stronger than Death" at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test range, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. PG

OKIOC BECOMES AGIPKCO

The Offshore Kazakhstan International Operating Company, or OKIOC, announced on 29 August that it has renamed itself AgipKCO for the Agip Kazakhstan North Caspian Operating Company, the Megalopolis agency reported. The company said that this change of name reflects the fact that Agip is now the sole operator of the project. PG

KYRGYZSTAN'S AKAEV SAYS THERE IS NO 'UNIVERSAL' FORM OF DEMOCRACY

On the 10th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's declaration of independence on 29 August, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" carried an article on Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akaev who said that he is convinced that "no universal formula of democracy exists." Also on the anniversary date, Akaev issued a decree simplifying procedures for ethnic Kyrgyz who want to return to Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported. PG

'THE BIGGEST BRIBE IN TAJIK HISTORY?'

A Tajik banker was arrested on 28 August for trying to bribe officials in the Office of the Tajikistan Military Prosecutor with as much as $1 million, Asia-Plus reported the next day. The agency said that this might well be the biggest bribe in the history of the country. Meanwhile, Tajik officials arrested four Uzbekistan citizens for alleged participation in the November 1998 mutiny, the news agency reported. PG

TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE AGREE ON RESTRUCTURING KYIV'S GAS DEBT

Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov spoke by telephone with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 28 August and agreed on restructuring Kyiv's outstanding $282 million energy debt to Turkmenistan, Interfax reported. A Ukrainian delegation will arrive in Ashgabat on 30 August to finalize the deal. PG

UZBEKISTAN'S KARIMOV SAYS HIS COURTS NOT AS REPRESSIVE AS SOVIET ONES

Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov on 29 August told the country's parliament that Uzbek courts today are not as repressive as those that existed in Soviet times, Uzbek radio reported. He said that he will continue to push for the liberalization of the judicial system and asked the deputies to reduce the number of crimes -- there are now eight -- for which those convicted are subject to the death penalty. PG

ETHNIC KAZAKHS WANT TO LEAVE UZBEKISTAN

Kazakhstan's ambassador in Tashkent, Umarzak Uzbekov, told Interfax on 29 August that 3,000 families of ethnic Kazakhs living near the Aral Sea want to leave Uzbekistan and resettle in Kazakhstan, and that they are seeking financial help to do so. There are approximately 1.2 million ethnic Kazakhs in Uzbekistan at present, he said, and recently the desire to emigrate to Kazakhstan has "somewhat increased." PG




LUKASHENKA SLAMS POWELL FOR 'INSOLENT' MESSAGE, U.S. FOR IMMATURITY

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 29 August denounced the statement U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made on the occasion of Belarus's 10th anniversary of independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2001) as "insolent [and] unprecedented." Powell criticized the Belarusian regime for abandoning "the transition to democracy and the rule of law" in 1996. "Such a statement is totally inadmissible. Let God forgive him [Powell]. It just came to my mind this morning: Their civilization is 300 years old, while ours [Belarus's and Russia's] is over 2,000 years of age. They haven't yet grown up to our civilization. Do you see? They can't behave themselves in a proper way," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying in an interview with a Russian journalist. JM

OSCE TOP OFFICIAL VISITS BELARUS

Kimmo Kiljunen, the vice president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, visited Minsk on 28 and 29 August, the OSCE said in an official statement. Kiljunen, the OSCE's special coordinator for the OSCE Election Observation Mission to Belarus, expressed his concern over visa denials to two members of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' Limited Election Observation Mission in Belarus as well as over the procedures governing early and mobile voting, which present opportunities for electoral manipulation. Kiljunen expressed hope that the reported incidents of media harassment and human rights violations will stop, thus improving the environment necessary for a free and fair election. JM

HANCHARYK APPEALS TO PUTIN TO HELP ENSURE FAIR VOTE IN BELARUS

In his second prerecorded campaign spot on Belarusian Television on 29 August, opposition presidential candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin "to act as a guarantor" of a truly democratic presidential election in Belarus. Hancharyk said Putin's neutral stance on Belarus's ballot would be welcome if the election campaign were being conducted in accordance with Belarusian legislation and international standards. However, Hancharyk argued, Belarus is witnessing "not a presidential election campaign, but a propaganda campaign in favor of one man [Lukashenka]." Hancharyk added that the current presidential campaign is a "parody" and warned that the presidential election may end in an "international, shameful nonrecognition" of its results. JM

BELARUS WANTS 50,000 TONS OF FRUITS, VEGETABLES FROM MOLDOVA

President Lukashenka met with Moldovan Premier Vasile Tarlev in Minsk on 29 August. Lukashenka told Tarlev that Belarus needs to urgently import 50,000 tons of fruits and vegetables from Moldova. Tarlev responded that Moldova is interested in increasing its imports to Belarus, Belapan reported. JM

CORRECTION:

On 28 August, in its report presenting findings of Minsk's Novak Sociological Laboratory regarding election campaign coverage in Belarus's state-run media, "RFE/RL Newsline" erroneously suggested that these findings may reflect the stance of the European Institute for the Media. JM

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR URGES UKRAINIAN INVESTMENT IN RUSSIA

Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin on 29 August called on Ukrainian businessmen to act "more bravely" on Russian markets, Interfax reported. Speaking at a news conference in Zaporizhzhya (southeastern Ukraine), Chernomyrdin said the Ukrainian government should create favorable conditions to stimulate investments in the Russian economy. Simultaneously, he noted that Russian capital in Ukraine has been operating at a "weak" level. According to official data, Russia is Ukraine's largest trade partner, having received 27.2 percent of Ukraine's exports and supplying Ukraine with 38 percent of its imports over the first six months of 2001. JM

SON OF SLAIN UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST CRITICIZES INVESTIGATION

Oleksiy Aleksandrov, the son of slain journalist Ihor Aleksandrov, has written in an open letter that the official investigation into his father's death is inefficient, AP and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 29 August. Oleksiy Aleksandrov said his father was killed because he was planning to publicize the corruption activities of several local officials in Slavyansk, eastern Ukraine, where he ran a television station before his death. Oleksiy Aleksandrov also said the investigators are trying to cover up the real reason for his father's death, adding that they recently told his mother "in confidence" that his father's attackers mistook the journalist for someone else. Last week, Deputy Prosecutor-General Serhiy Vynohradov said police have arrested one suspect in the case. JM

NORDIC COUNTRIES REAFFIRM SUPPORT FOR BALTIC MEMBERSHIP IN NATO

Foreign ministers from Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Finland discussed a broad range of topics, including the enlargement of the European Union and NATO, with their Baltic state counterparts in Helsinki on 28 and 29 August, BNS reported. The Nordic ministers expressed their firm support for inviting the three Baltic states to join NATO at the 2002 Prague summit and stressed that nonmembers have no veto on the decision. The ministers said the admission of the Baltic states would add to the stability of Europe and would not be directed against any state. They also dismissed speculation that NATO membership of one or more Baltic states would force the region's neutral countries, Sweden and Finland, to join the Atlantic alliance, and said current EU candidate countries should participate in discussions on the future of Europe. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DIFFERENTIATED VAT RATES

In an effort to bring Latvian tax laws in line with EU directives, the cabinet decided to apply a 9 percent value added tax (VAT) on pharmaceuticals and medical goods; educational, scientific and children's books; the mass media; special baby food; hotel services; water supplies; sewage and waste disposal; and funeral services beginning in 2003, LETA reported on 29 August. Those products and services had been exempt from VAT, but will have a rate of half the full VAT rate of 18 percent. The Finance Ministry estimates that the new taxes will add about 2.65 million lats ($4.25 million) to the budget annually. SG

AMBER HOPE 2001 MILITARY EXERCISES BEGIN IN LITHUANIA

President Valdas Adamkus, armed forces chief Major General Jonas Kronkaitis, and generals from the U.S. and other European countries officially opened the Amber Hope 2001 international military exercise at the Gaiziunai military base in Rukla on 29 August, ELTA reported. With a total of 2,800 troops from 14 countries -- Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and the United States -- the exercises are the Baltic states' largest this year and will last through 6 September. They will be conducted at two sites, Rukla and Pabrade, which are 150 kilometers apart. The international battalions BALTBAT and LITPOLBAT will be together in one exercise for the first time and will be joined by an international battalion of servicemen from Lithuania, Italy, Great Britain, and the U.S. Since the main emphasis of the exercises is preparation for peacekeeping operations, considerable attention will be devoted to cooperation with the media and civilian organizations such as the International Red Cross, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugee Affairs, and the International Migration Organization. SG

POLISH PROSECUTORS SUSPECT 'MASSIVE CORRUPTION' AT STATE RAILWAYS

Prosecutors have begun a probe into what they say is "massive corruption" at Polish State Railways (PKP), Polish Television reported on 29 August. They suspect Jan Janik, the PKP's president in 1996-99, of abuse of office and the infliction of loses on the company amounting to 333 million zlotys ($78 million according to the current exchange rate) and $4.5 million. According to Justice Minister Stanislaw Iwanicki, the PKP case is another major economic scandal in the country, following the one at the state insurer PZU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2001). When Janik was leaving PKP, the company's debt exceeded 6 billion zlotys. JM

POLISH PREMIER VISITS STRIKING STEELWORKERS

Jerzy Buzek on 29 August visited 11 workers of the Baildon SA Steelworks in Katowice (southern Poland), who have remained on a 38-day hunger strike in protest against layoffs, PAP reported. Baildon SA declared bankruptcy in May and two-thirds of its 1,000-strong workforce were laid off. The company's debt amounted to 500 million zlotys ($118 million). Buzek promised the workers that he will help find a strategic investor for the plant. JM

GERMAN CONCERN BUYS FIVE SUGAR PLANTS IN POLAND

Germany's Pfeifer und Langen corporation has purchased majority stakes in five sugar plants located in Wielkopolska Province, PAP reported on 29 August, quoting a corporate spokesman. Under the agreement, the German concern accepted debts burdening the plants and totaling 235 million zlotys ($55 million). It also pledged to invest 75 million zlotys in the plants. The deal makes Pfeifer und Langen the second-largest sugar producer in Poland, with a market share of 16 percent. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES ARMY PROFESSIONALIZATION BLUEPRINT...

The government on 29 August approved the blueprint for the army's professionalization submitted by government commissioner Jaroslav Skopek, CTK reported. The blueprint provides for the full professionalization of the army by 2007, when it will have a total of 35,000 soldiers and 10,000 civilian employees. Prime Minister Milos Zeman told journalists after the meeting that "if we want the army to be cheaper, it will have to be more expensive in the short run." He added that military expenditures will not, however, exceed the 2.2 percent of GDP that the Czech Republic agreed to commit to defense purposes when it joined NATO in 1998. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said the army will become "small, mobile, modern, and young -- not only in age, but also in thinking." President Vaclav Havel attended the meeting and said afterward that he will soon convene a meeting between all political parties except the Communists in order to find a consensus on the reform. "The army's professionalization must not become an electoral issue," Havel said. The cabinet designated Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla to mobilize support for the blueprint among parliamentary parties and Tvrdik was put in charge of mobilizing support among defense experts. MS

...TRANSFERS FIRST PROPERTIES TO JEWISH COMMUNITY

The government also approved the first transfers of properties formerly owned by Jews to the Czech Jewish communities, in line with an earlier decision, CTK reported. Spokesman Libor Roucek said the government wants to "at least in part compensate [the communities] for the wrongs suffered when properties were confiscated during the Holocaust." The cabinet approved the transfer of 12 land plots and one building, among them an old cemetery near the ruins of Rabi castle in western Bohemia and a former Jewish grammar school in Brno. The Jewish communities have compiled a list of 1,450 properties they claim, but Roucek said the state will not be able to return more than 50-100 properties. MS

CZECH ROMA EXPECTED TO LEAVE FOR COUNTRIES OTHER THAN BRITAIN

An official from the Czech Helsinki Committee (CHV) told journalists on 29 August that Czech Roma will attempt to leave for countries other than the U.K., following the resumption of controls at Prague's Ruzyne airport. Helena Kunstova said she came to that conclusion based on information "from the Roma themselves" and from the fact that many Roma have asked the committee for information on countries that do not request an entry visa from Czech citizens and on asylum procedures in those countries. Roma International Union President Emil Scuka and Romany Civic Initiative Chairman Stefan Licartovsky said in reaction they have no information about such preparations. Scuka said the Roma are not traveling to the U.K. now because "they read newspapers and watch television" and know that "they would have to paint themselves white" to overcome the airport checks. Kunstova also said that the CHV is continuing to monitor the checks at Ruzyne airport. Four Czech citizens (all non-Roma) have been denied permission to board planes bound for the U.K. since controls were reintroduced earlier this week. MS

CZECH HELSINKI COMMITTEE SAYS RUZYNE CONTROLS DISCRIMINATORY

The procedure used by British officials during the first controls applied at Ruzyne airport from 18 July to 9 August were discriminatory, according to a CHV legal analysis released on 29 August. The report was quoted by CTK as saying that Roma were treated differently than other passengers and were assumed from the beginning to be intending to seek asylum, rather than just travel to Britain. The report also said the U.K. asylum system is far more liberal than the system in other countries, this being one of the reasons why it attracts so many people who "intend to profit from it." But the report also adds that intention to seek asylum cannot be established during airport controls. The CHV says both the Czech Republic and the U.K. violated the International Convention on Refugee Status. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT INTRODUCES VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR ROMANIAN CITIZENS

The government on 29 August decided to introduce visa requirements for Romanian citizens as of 1 October, CTK reported. The measure was proposed by the Interior Ministry, which said that the number of Romanian asylum seekers in the Czech Republic has sharply increased in 2001 and that Romanian citizens now make up 11 percent of all applicants for that status. The ministry also said Romanians head the list of refugees who tried to illegally cross the Czech border last year. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT SPEAKS OF POST-PRESIDENTIAL PLANS

Vaclav Havel on 29 August told journalists in Prague that after his mandate ends in early 2003 he intends to "return to my old love -- writing," AP reported. Havel said his next book will be "something between [former U.S. Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger and [U.S. underground poet and novelist] Charles Bukowski." He said the book is not going to be "serious memoirs" but rather "a series of loose personal reflections." He said that after 2003 he intends to "withdraw from public life as much as possible and catch up with lost time in reading, studying, and writing." However, he added, "I may still consider speaking my mind on human rights issues or similar things if I am asked to do so, but not on politics." He said that "looking back" at the year 1989 from the perspective of what he knows now, "I would have done quite a few things differently." As for the world at large, "I do not condemn it, it's just that sometimes I do not understand it," Havel said. MS

SLOVAKIA OBSERVES NATIONAL UPRISING ANNIVERSARY

Senior politicians and war veterans on 29 August paid homage to the 57th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising, CTK reported. At a ceremony in Bratislava, President Rudolf Schuster said the August 1944 uprising, which was quashed by the Nazis in November of that year, was "a precious instance in history, when Slovaks joined the advanced European nations that fought fascism." Schuster said that after 1989, Slovaks were again learning what freedom is all about, but deplored the lack of unity around the meaning of freedom. "If the Slovaks were united on that notion, we would not be divided by differences in human and political relationships," Schuster said. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 28 August said that in 1944 the Slovaks had "refused to humiliatingly wait for the victorious powers to bring them freedom" and the uprising "contributed to the final defeat of the fascists in World War II." Dzurinda spoke in Banska Bystrica, which was the center of the uprising. MS

OFFICIAL SAYS HUNGARY ORCHESTRATES PRESSURE ON SLOVAKIA

A Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said that Slovakia suspects Hungary of having promoted a decision to monitor the implementation of the recently adopted Local Public Administration Law, the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" reported on 30 August. The monitoring decision was taken by ambassadors representing Council of Europe countries. Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo told the ambassadors at a recent meeting in Bratislava that the law is "in full harmony with Slovakia's international commitments" and criticized the Hungarian Coalition Party's threat to leave the coalition if that law is not amended. MS

HUNGARIAN PARTIES PREPARE FOR ELECTION

Deputies of the Hungarian Democratic Forum on 28 August unanimously approved an agreement for electoral cooperation with FIDESZ. The agreement is to be signed in a few days and stipulates that the two parties will field joint national and regional lists under the name FIDESZ-Democratic Forum, "Nepszabadsag" reported. FIDESZ will also guarantee that the Democratic Forum will have an independent parliamentary group. In other news, the Democratic Federation of Independent Smallholders, led by Defense Minister Janos Szabo, will not be merging with the Smallholder Federation led by Sandor Cseh, party officials explained. Contrary to earlier reports, the two groups only signed an electoral cooperation agreement and not a merger pact, Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2001). Finally, the Socialist Party's convention that is to approve the national list of candidates in next year's election will be postponed until early next year, rather than be held this fall as originally planned, party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs told Hungarian media on 28 August. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER COMMENTS ON MIEP'S ANTI-SEMITIC REMARKS

In response to an interviewer's question about the recent anti-Semitic remarks made by Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Deputy Chairman Laszlo Bognar, Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 28 August said on Hungarian television that people "express their opinion in different tones, directions and volume." Orban said some of those opinions "may have injured the self-respect and honor of a few Hungarian nationals," and therefore the state secretary at the Youth and Sport Ministry found it necessary to express his displeasure. Bognar uttered his insults reacting to the sale of the Ferencvaros soccer club to Fotex, a company owned by Jewish businessmen. "It was not a case of anti-Semitism creeping into soccer jargon," Orban said, but rather one of "emotions whipped up by soccer slipping into directions they should not have taken," he concluded. Opposition Free Democrat parliamentary member Gabor Fodor said the next day that Orban "had again missed an opportunity" to condemn anti-Semitism and express support for democratic norms. MSZ/MS.

ANTI-TRIANON GROUPS TO PROTEST AT HUNGARY-ROMANIA SOCCER MATCH

Several Hungarian nationalist groups are calling for demonstrations against the Treaty of Trianon and Romania's policy towards ethnic Hungarians, "Magyar Hirlap" reports. The daily says the groups plan to organize protests during a Hungary-Romania soccer match on 5 September. The report says that one group, calling itself The Trianon Forum, will demonstrate outside "Nepstadion" before the match, while the Hungarian Revision Movement will organize an anti-Trianon demonstration at the Nyugati railway station one day earlier. Unidentified organizers are urging Hungarians to attend the game in as large numbers as possible on what they label as the "day of revenge." A police spokesman said police have no legal grounds to interfere until expressions of hatred and agitation or terms offensive to Romania are uttered. "We will immediately intervene at that moment," the spokesman official said. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT INCREASES 2001 BUDGET

The government will submit a budget amendment to parliament on 31 August seeking an additional 285 billion forints ($1 billion), or 7.5 percent more than planned for this year's budget, Finance Ministry State Secretary Andras Tallai told Hungarian media on 29 August. Of the 285 billion forint surplus revenue, 114 billion will be received by the social security funds, 44 billion by the State Privatization and Holding Company, and 33 billion will be spent on increasing civil servants' wages. MSZ




NATO COMMANDER IN MACEDONIA: ONE-THIRD OF EXPECTED WEAPONS COLLECTED

Speaking in Skopje on 30 August, Danish General Gunnar Lange, the commander of NATO's Operation Essential Harvest, said that he has given a letter to Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski "informing him that during the [just completed] first phase of the Task Force Harvest Mission, more than one-third of the weapons...that the so-called NLA (National Liberation Army [UCK]) are voluntarily going to hand over now have been collected," AP reported. "And I really hope that this will contribute to the parliament process," he added. The legislature is slated to begin debate on a comprehensive peace plan on 31 August and vote on it once Operation Essential Harvest is completed. Dpa reported on 30 August that NATO has collected 1,400 weapons, having originally planned to secure 1,100 weapons before the debate begins. PM

NATO'S ROBERTSON CALLS ON MACEDONIA FOR WISE APPROACH

Speaking in Skopje on 29 August, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said: "Members of parliament will hold the future of this country in their hands when they vote in the next few weeks. I don't think that there is much of an alternative to what is being put forward now," AP reported. He added, "This country has the chance to show that it is possible to deal with an internal conflict before the blood starts to pour down the streets." PM

ROBERTSON LEAVES DOOR OPEN ON FOREIGN ROLE IN MACEDONIA

In an article in the "Financial Times" on 30 August, Robertson argued that "the mission of Essential Harvest remains clear and precise: the collection and destruction of weapons. When that job is completed, so too will be the job of this NATO mission." Robertson noted that "this mission is not intended to provide the ultimate solution to the crisis. The collection of weapons is only one element of a broader package, enshrined in the agreement signed in Skopje by Macedonia's main political parties." However, AP quoted him in Skopje on 29 August as saying that "I don't think the international community could stand back if the people of Macedonia cry for help." He noted that NATO is not the only international organization carefully monitoring developments in Macedonia. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS GIVE UP 'MISSILES'

Among the weapons surrendered "by the hundreds" are surface-to-air missiles and antitank weapons, Reuters reported from London on 29 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2001). Government spokesman Antonio Milosovski recently referred to the operation as "Museum Harvest," implying that the Albanians are surrendering only old weapons. An unnamed Macedonian museum asked NATO to allow it to have some of the weapons, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 30 August. PM

GERMAN CONTINGENT ARRIVES IN MACEDONIA

After weeks of political infighting in Berlin, the German parliament voted on 29 August to approve participation in Operation Essential Harvest, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2001). German law requires a legislative vote on each deployment of German forces abroad. German units moved from Kosova to Macedonia immediately after the 29 August vote but were delayed by anti-NATO Macedonian nationalists blocking the border crossing at Blace and elsewhere north of Skopje, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 28 August 2001). PM

MACEDONIAN MINISTER WANTS TO 'CLEAN UP TERRORISTS'

Defense Minister Ljube Boskovski said in Skopje on 29 August that Essential Harvest is purely "symbolic," "The Guardian" reported. He added, "I believe that NATO, by this symbolic collection of weapons, will open the way for us to clean up the terrorists," by which the government means armed Albanians. Boskovski argued that "we have to clear the field of weapons according to our [own] laws." Elections are slated for January 2002, and Boskovski's party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, is slipping badly in the polls (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 August 2001). Elsewhere, Boskovski denied a recent report by Human Rights Watch linking him to an atrocity against ethnic Albanian civilians, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2001). PM

CAN MACEDONIA'S MILITARY CRUSH THE UCK?

Reuters on 29 August quoted several British defense experts who do not share Boskovski's confidence in the quality of the Macedonian security forces. One noted that "no part of the Macedonian armed forces displayed any kind of military professionalism in this conflict." Another one argued that "after NATO leaves, there will be a lower level of incidents across the Albanian part of Macedonia. The problem is that the Macedonian army is very ill-equipped for that. The doctrine is still that of the days of the Yugoslav army, with people unwilling to get out of armored personnel carriers, and preferring to shell the enemy from a distance" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 June 2001). One of the experts stressed that the Macedonian authorities must "play their cards right" after NATO leaves and not alienate the bulk of the Albanian population. PM

MACEDONIAN 'MOB' HAMPERED EFFORTS TO SAVE BRITISH SOLDIER

"The Independent" reported on 30 August that the latest evidence shows that "a mob" tried to prevent U.S. medical staff from saving sapper Ian Collins' life on 26 August. The daily added that the "new details suggested the incident was clearly an attack on a NATO soldier." It is not clear whether Boskovski's police are any closer to finding or catching the Macedonian teenagers who killed Collins (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 August 2001). PM

HAGUE COURT RULES ON FURLOUGH FOR BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS

The international war crimes tribunal ruled in The Hague on 29 August that former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic may stay in Belgrade until her trial comes up, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The court noted that Plavsic has been cooperative, and that the tribunal has "credible assurances" from the Serbian authorities that she will come back to The Hague when asked. She will be restricted to the city of Belgrade, placed under a 24-hour guard, and may not talks to witnesses in her case. The tribunal turned down a request by former Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik to go back to Pale to attend a memorial service for his recently deceased father. The court said that he had been uncooperative and that the tribunal could not count on the Bosnian Serb authorities to ensure his return to Holland. Plavsic is the only woman in The Hague prison. She turned herself in to the court, but Krajisnik was seized by NATO troops in his home. PM

FORMER SERBIAN LEADER TO BE TRIED FOR GENOCIDE IN BOSNIA

In his second appearance before The Hague tribunal since his arrival there in late June, Slobodan Milosevic told a pretrial hearing on 30 August that he found himself "in front of a false tribunal for false indictments," Reuters reported. Presiding Judge Richard May cut off his microphone, telling Milosevic that "we are not going to listen to these political arguments." May adjourned the court after a session lasting about 30 minutes. Afterward, chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told CNN that charges against him will be expanded to include genocide in Bosnia. "Croatia is still open," she added. He is currently charged with war crimes in Kosova. PM

ROMANIAN LOWER HOUSE HEEDS SENATE ON PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Heeding a decision by the Senate earlier this week, the Chamber of Deputies on 29 August approved the extension by three months of the deadline for claims of communist-confiscated real estate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The vote was unanimous, because the Greater Romania Party (PRM) parliamentary group walked out in protest before the voting took place. Speaking in Sibiu the same day, President Ion Iliescu said he does not believe it is possible to return to Romania's former royal family properties such as the Peles castle in Sinaia or the Bran castle near Brasov. Iliescu said "huge investments" were made to refurbish and upkeep those castles and the claimants simply do not have the money to cover those costs. He also said it is "naive" to believe that the costs of maintaining such "state patrimony" museums can be covered by an entry tax from visitors. Iliescu also said former King Michael did not inform him beforehand about his intention to reclaim the Peles castle and other properties and added that the former monarch "should have done so." MS

ROMANIAN SENATE COMMISSION CLEARS ROAD FOR DECRIMINALIZING HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS

The Senate's Judicial Commission on 29 August approved the abrogation of Article 200 in the Penal Code, which criminalizes same-sex relationships, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. The plenum must still vote on the law, which was passed earlier this year as a government ordinance. PRM Senator Aron Belascu opposed the law and said his party will demand that a plebiscite be called on the nullification of Article 200. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER WARNS AGAINST TRANSYLVANIAN PARTY

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 29 August said that the government has all institutional and judicial instruments it needs to safeguard the provisions of the Romanian Constitution, and should the statutes of the envisaged new Pro Transylvania Party announced by Sabin Gherman the previous day infringe on those provisions "be it only by a comma," it will not hesitate to demand that party's outlawing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2001). Nastase said Gherman cannot call his party Pro Transylvania, because the constitution divides the country "into counties, not into regions." He reminded his listeners in Snagov, near Bucharest, that the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PSDR) acted against a Gherman initiative to set up a Pro Transylvania Foundation in 1998. That foundation was outlawed by a Cluj court, following appeals by then-PSDR Chairman Ion Iliescu, as well as by the anti-Hungarian Vatra Romaneasca (Romanian Cradle) organization, and that of its honorary chairman, the extreme nationalist Iosif Constantin Dragan. Iliescu himself said in Sibiu on 29 August that Gherman's initiative is "inconceivable, bearing in mind that the Romanian nation has fought for national unity throughout its history." MS

GERMAN CHANCELLOR TO VISIT FATHER'S GRAVE IN ROMANIA

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will pay a private visit to the village of Ceanu Mare, near Cluj, where his father's grave was discovered in April this year, Romanian Radio reported. Corporal Fritz Schroeder was killed in action on Romanian territory in October 1944 and the future chancellor, born in April 1944, never saw his father. Romania in August 1944 switched sides and joined the Allies. Historians say Fritz Schroeder died during an offensive launched by the Romanians to liberate German- and Hungarian-occupied Transylvania. The Romanian authorities said that if the Schroeder family so wishes, the body, which is buried in a common grave, can be exhumed, AFP reported. A report on Romanian television said more than 30 kilometers of roads in the vicinity of the village are being repaired in preparation for the chancellor's visit. MS

ROMANIAN EXTREME NATIONALIST IN CHISINAU

PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, paying an unofficial visit to Chisinau on 29 August, told journalists that former Moldovan President Mircea Snegur and President Ion Iliescu share the blame of not having pursued the unification of the two Romanian countries in 1991. "Who prevented them from calling on their [respective] parliaments to vote for reunification, as the Germans did?" Tudor asked. He said he is "optimistic" that the reunification will come, as it is in his words, "an inevitable process." Tudor also said he "does not feel abroad" when visiting Moldova, feeling rather "at home" and "happy to be with my brothers." MS

PROTESTING TRANSDNIESTER WOMEN BLOCK OSCE MISSION CHIEF...

A group of Russian women protesting against the dismantling of the Russian contingent's military equipment on 25 August blocked the car in which OSCE mission chief William Hill was traveling to Tiraspol to meet with the breakaway region's "foreign minister," Valerii Litskay, Flux reported on 29 August. The incident took place near Parcani. Hill said on 29 August that he was not hurt in the incident but was "scandalized" by the fact that Tiraspol police stood by and "did nothing to temper the zeal of the protesters." He also said the incident was an infringement of the agreement reached with the Tiraspol authorities, according to which OSCE mission officials can travel freely on the left bank of the Dniester River. The OSCE mission chief said he is confident that the protests "do not reflect the opinion of the majority of the region's inhabitants" and are "organized by certain forces in the Transdniester." He added that the scrapping of the Russian equipment will continue. MS

...AND TIRASPOL OFFICIAL DISAGREES WITH RUSSIAN GUEST

Military affairs counselor Vladimir Atamanyuk on 29 August met in Tiraspol with General Nikolai Popov, the head of the Russian military commission overseeing the dismantling of the Russian contingent's armament, and told him that Tiraspol "has a different perception" on the ongoing scrapping process than Moscow does, Flux reported. Atamanyuk said the process is causing economic damage to Transdniester and that the separatists demand compensation. Popov expressed "concern" over the "large-scale involvement of public organizations" in the attempt to block the process, saying the protests could hinder his country from fulfilling its obligations to the OSCE. According to Infotag, before the beginning of the talks protesters ended a demonstration at the gates of a Russian military base. MS

MOLDOVAN INTELLECTUALS PROTEST AGAINST POLITICAL MANIPULATION OF OFFICIAL LANGUAGE

A congress of Moldovan philologists on 29 August approved an open protest letter addressed to President Vladimir Voronin, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, and parliamentary speaker Eugenia Ostapciuc, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The signatories protested against the authorities' alleged intention to grant the Russian language the status of official language in Moldova and said such action would "deepen the process of denationalization and raise political and social tensions." The congress was held on the day that used to be marked as the "Day of Our Romanian Language," but the Moldovan authorities changed it this year to "Language Day." The philologists also wrote that the state language must be called "Romanian" rather than "Moldovan," reflecting "the scientific truth acknowledged everywhere in the world." The gathering also approved a resolution that said, "no state that respects itself makes thoughtless concessions to an ethnic minority if those concessions negatively affect the ethnic majority and the country's other ethnic minorities" MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER MAKES CONTROVERSIAL APPOINTMENT

Simeon Saxecoburggotski has appointed his former bodyguard, Boiko Borisov, to be the next Interior Ministry secretary-general, BTA reported on 29 August, citing various Bulgarian newspapers. The new secretary-general was also communist leader Todor Zhivkov's bodyguard, according to the daily "Trud," which ran a photo of Zhivkov and Borisov. The appointment follows the resignation from that position of the ministry's former secretary-general, Slavcho Bosilkov, on 28 August. BTA also reported that Alexander Tomov, the acting chairman of the national Council for Radio and Television, has also resigned. Tomov told BTA that his decision was taken due to his conviction that the new cabinet must be allowed to make its own appointments to the council, and that he believes other council members should follow his example. Tomov is largely considered to be responsible for the crisis at Bulgarian national radio in the spring of 2001. MS




AN END TO RUSSIA'S ETHNIC FEDERALISM?


By Paul Goble

The Russian minister responsible for federation affairs said this week that ethnic groups that do not form a majority within a particular territory should be given extraterritorial cultural autonomy rather than the current territorially based federal units. The move is viewed as the latest indication that some in Moscow may be preparing to do away with one of the last-surviving fundamental principles of the Soviet state.

Speaking at a Moscow meeting of Russia's ethnic Germans on 27 August, Aleksandr Blokhin, the Russian minister for federation affairs, nationalities, and migration policy, said that the Russian government has no plans to restore the German Autonomous Republic that was suppressed in August 1941 when Stalin deported that area's German residents to Kazakhstan and Siberia.

But Blokhin also used the occasion to say that from his perspective, no ethnic group that does not form a majority in a compact territory should have territorial autonomy. Instead, he said, these groups should enjoy extraterritorial cultural autonomy. Such arrangements, Blokhin continued, are the most appropriate form of administration for the many peoples in the North Caucasus.

On the one hand, Blokhin's comments represent the logical extension of Russian state policies over much of the last decade. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union -- which many Russians and others blame on the existence of territorially based ethnic federalism -- the Russian government has sought to prevent the extension of existing ethnic-based political units to any group that did not have one in the past

Moscow has adopted and begun to implement a system of national cultural autonomy for the country's smaller and most dispersed groups that lack their own political territories, and for members of groups that do have such territories but who live outside those territories. Thus, some of the very smallest ethnic communities have formed groups to defend their culture as have larger more dispersed groups like the Tatars.

But on the other hand, Blokhin's remarks point to the possibility that Moscow may be planning a new offensive against existing federal units both in the North Caucasus and more generally. In most of the ethnically based republics in the North Caucasus, the titular nationality does not form a majority. And consequently, under Blokhin's system, they would be candidates for dissolution and inclusion in larger, nonethically based federal units.

Many in that region are likely to view Blokhin's remarks as a direct threat, particularly because "Obshchaya gazeta" recently ran an article calling for the creation of a new eighth federal district in the North Caucasus that would be responsible for managing the ethnic republics in that region. The existing Southern federal district, under this plan, would continue to supervise the Russian regions there.

More generally, Blokhin's plan could lead to the suppression of the majority of ethnically based units elsewhere as well. Of the 22 ethnic republics, oblasts, and regions that exist in the Russian Federation today, only six have non-Russian pluralities. And using Blokhin's logic, the other 16 would appear to be slated for extinction.

Not surprisingly, officials and residents in non-Russian regions far from the North Caucasus are increasingly nervous that President Vladimir Putin's oft-stated wish to reestablish central control over the country and to create a common legal space represents a direct threat to their interests. And some of them are beginning to organize to defend their prerogatives against any such challenge.

In recent days, for example, Bashkir nationalist groups have called for an alliance with Tatarstan to defend the rights of their two republics against a reassertion of Moscow's control. And officials in other non-Russian regions have indicated that they too will seek to defend the interests of their regions even if they are quite willing to harmonize their laws with Russian legislation as Moscow has demanded.

But the leaders of the non-Russian territorial units of the Russian Federation have a vested interest in the current division of power and authority, and they naturally are likely to actively resist any effort to suppress the political units they now head. The danger that such resistance could get out of hand is something that many Russian officials appear to recognize.

These officials have good reason for such an understanding: Many of them now acknowledge that the Soviet Union came apart not only and perhaps not so much because former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev loosened the center's control over the union republics, but rather because having yielded power to the regions, Moscow tried to take that power back and then watched as those republic leaders who had come to enjoy wielding power refused to give it up.

Because of the possibility that such history might repeat itself, Blokhin's proposals are unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. But the fact that he has put them forward suggests that tensions between Moscow and the non-Russian units of the Russian Federation are likely to grow in the immediate future, a trend that may further complicate the lives of the Russian policy makers in the Kremlin.


XS
SM
MD
LG