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Newsline - November 20, 2001




RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS RETURN TO KABUL

A delegation of officials from Russia's foreign, defense, and emergency situations ministries arrived in Kabul -- the first such visit in many years, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 November. According to the daily, the 12-member delegation is headed by special envoy Aleksandr Oblov and includes Vladimir Kuvshinov, the deputy head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's International Cooperation Department. The delegation intends to examine the problem of opening a Russian embassy in Kabul and making preparations for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. And, according to Interfax, the delegation will provide "technical assistance" to the Northern Alliance in forming a coalition government. RTR noted on 19 November that although a U.S. delegation is reportedly also present in the city, the Russian delegation is the "first and, so far, only foreign mission of that rank and size here in Afghanistan." JAC

IVANOV WELCOMES NEW FOOTING FOR RUSSIA WITHIN NATO...

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov responded positively on 19 November to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent proposal for closer NATO-Russia cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2001). According to Ivanov, Moscow welcomes Blair's proposal, which will increase European security and stability, RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying. Ivanov added that NATO and its 19 members should not "restrict themselves to a '19+1' formula" but should find a way of "enabling all participants on an equal basis to discuss with each other the task facing them and seek joint approaches to meeting them." In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Viktor Kremenyuk of Moscow's Institute for U.S.A. and Canada Studies suggested that "both sides understand" that Blair's proposal is "an attempt to do one thing, help [Russian President Vladimir] Putin save face, and at the same time not interfere with anything NATO was already planning to do." JAC

...AS LEGISLATOR SAYS NATO MEMBERSHIP FOR FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS IS WORST OPTION

Meanwhile, in an interview with "Vek" on 16 November, Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee, said that for Russia, the worst option among those being discussed for expanding NATO would be one in which some former Soviet republics join the alliance. However, at the same time, he noted that while Russia is still opposed to NATO expansion, the issue itself has "receded into the background" in terms of real threats to Russian security. JAC

PUTIN CHECKS IN WITH JIANG ZEMIN

Russian President Putin telephoned Chinese President Jiang Zemin to debrief him on the results of Putin's recent trip to the U.S., Russian agencies reported on 19 November citing the presidential press service. According to the service, Jiang praised the agreements reached by Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush. At the same time, both Putin and Jiang reiterated their countries' close position on the ABM treaty. And, they both spoke in favor of greater UN involvement in the Afghan peace settlement. JAC

NUMBER OF POLITICAL REFUGEES TO RUSSIA PLUMMETS

According to official statistics, the number of political refugees entering Russia has dropped almost 10 times over the last five years, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' regional representative in Russia, John McCallin, told reporters in Moscow on 19 November. According to strana.ru, McCallin attributed the decline to the fact that a large number of the refugees either receive Russian citizenship or use Russia as a transit country to a final destination. McCallin added that an influx of refugees into Russia from Central Asia because of the military activities in Afghanistan has not been observed. JAC

ANALYSTS SUGGEST MOTIVES FOR BUSTLING NEW ACTIVITY OF PROSECUTORS, AUDITORS...

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 November asked a number of political analysts to comment on the recent increase in high-profile cases pursued by the Audit Commission and Prosecutor-General's Office, such as the investigation of Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko and his close associates on charges of corruption (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 and 30 October 2001). The responses were quite varied. State Duma deputy (independent) Vladimir Ryzhkov suggested that the security structures are more actively lately because of the creation of the new financial-monitoring committee and pending judicial reforms. "Every [investigative] agency is trying to demonstrate its bustling activity," he noted. Andrei Fedorov of the Political Research and Consulting Foundation suggested instead that the motivation was financial; the decline in world oil prices has caused the government "to change its tactics regarding everyone who has money, the Railways Ministry, Gazprom, etc." JAC

...AND SPAT BETWEEN AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD, PREMIER

Meanwhile, Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center told the "The Moscow Times" in its issue dated 19 November that the recent rebukes exchanged by Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov are a sign that a struggle is heating up between Putin's team of mostly St. Petersburg natives and the group that former President Boris Yeltsin left behind (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2001). Kasyanov responded on 16 November to Stepashin's criticism that the government had not responded with sufficient vigor to the chamber's findings by noting that the government is not obligated to act on the Audit Chamber's findings, which are only recommendatory. JAC

GOVERNMENT DENIES PLANS TO SEQUESTER BUDGET

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov's press secretary told reporters that a front page article in "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 November, quoting Klebanov as saying he planned to sequester the 2002 budget was fictive, Interfax reported on 19 November. According to the newspaper, Klebanov made the statement after the price of Russian oil fell below $15 a barrel. The current draft 2002 budget assumes the prices of oil will average $18.50 a barrel. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told NTV on 18 November that despite the drop in oil prices, there is no need yet to revise next year's budget. The Duma is expected to consider the budget in its third reading on 30 November. JAC

SKURATOV'S BACK, AND THE FEDERATION COUNCIL'S GOT HIM...

Legislators in Buryatia's parliament confirmed on 19 November that former federal Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov is their representative in the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Skuratov said that he will not join the Federation group in the upper legislative chamber if it appears that the group's own political interests are placed higher than the interests of the regions. Skuratov, who is perhaps best known for his investigation into corruption in the presidential administration of former President Boris Yeltsin, added that he considers his nomination to be a form of "political rehabilitation." JAC

...AS MORE SENATORS CRITICIZE PUTIN REFORMS

"Vremya MN" reported on 17 November that during recent hearings in the Federation Council on "perfecting" legislative activities in that body, "practically all senators" criticized the current rules for forming the upper house. The publication also speculated that since Duma deputies have lately supported the senators, it is possible that the Duma will support another amendment to the law establishing the Federation Council. For example, they may vote in favor of holding direct elections of regional representatives to the Federation Council. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev recently made a similar prediction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2001). JAC

MORE HEADS ROLL

Prime Minister Kasyanov has signed a decree relieving Grigorii Rapota from his post as first deputy minister of industry, science, and technology, Russian agencies reported on 19 November. Last month, Rapota's superior, Anatolii Dondukov, was also sacked from his post (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 October 2001). Mikhail Lychagin, who most recently worked in the secretariat of Deputy Prime Minister and new Minister of Industry, Science, and Technology Klebanov, will replace Rapota. Also on 19 October, RIA-Novosti reported that President Putin has signed a decree dismissing Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Sergeev, who will retire. JAC

TV PROGRAM ALLEGES MASSIVE CORRUPTION IN KOMI REPUBLIC

As incumbent Komi President Yurii Spiridonov prepares for presidential elections on 16 December, Ren-TV broadcast a program on 17 November which asked the question why "nobody knows where the [proceeds from the republic's] natural wealth goes to." The correspondent reported that the republic's forests have an estimated value of tens of millions -- maybe hundreds of millions -- of dollars but the republic's budget does not receive even a fraction of this money. Nikolai Moiseev, head of the local branch of Yabloko, is quoted as saying that "everything that is of any value is being stolen: oil, timber, coal...Everything here was long ago split between visiting tycoons and the local elite." JAC

NO HEAT, HOT WATER OR TELEVISION?

As of 20 November, heat and hot water will be turned off to the residents of one of Saratov Oblast's largest cities, Marks, strana.ru reported on 19 November. According to the site, Marks will be the second city in the oblast for which Saratovgazenergo has turned off supplies because of an outstanding debt. Light snow was predicted for Saratov on 20 November. In Samara Oblast, Samaraenergo told the oblast's radio and television transmission center that unless its debt of more than 54 million rubles is paid up, electricity supplies will be cut off on 23 November, according to Interfax on 19 November. JAC

MORE DETAILS EMERGE OF RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS...

The Russian presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, told journalists in Moscow on 19 November that his talks the previous day with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, did not focus on any practical proposals for ending the current war, Interfax reported. "Vremya novostei" claimed that Zakaev spoke at length in general terms on the situation in Chechnya, leaving Kazantsev "disillusioned and doubting whether further meetings are worthwhile." Kazantsev said further meetings will take place provided Maskhadov makes practical proposals on how to disarm his forces, including field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, who Russian commentators believe refuse to acknowledge Maskhadov's authority. LF

...WHICH ELICIT DIVERGING REACTIONS IN MOSCOW...

The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), headed by Boris Nemtsov, on 18 November hailed the Kazantsev-Zakaev talks, Interfax reported. Nemtsov commented that it is impossible to establish peace in Chechnya without such a dialogue. Russian State Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev said he considers the talks a positive development, and hopes that they will lead to an agreement under which the Chechens will disarm. But Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev was more skeptical, suggesting that the Chechens "continue to play games" by simulating willingness to talk only when winter approaches and combat conditions deteriorate, Interfax reported. Speaking in Paris on 19 November, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said any further talks should focus exclusively on the unconditional surrender by the Chechens of their weapons, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

...AND GROZNY

In Grozny, Chechen administration press secretary Abdulla Izrailov told Interfax on 19 November that "we welcome any steps aimed at achieving peace and stability in Chechnya." He added that administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov "favors a far-ranging solution" to the present situation. But Kadyrov himself, speaking on 19 November in Moscow, said he does see any point in further talks as "neither Basaev nor Khattab will ever obey Maskhadov's orders," ITAR-TASS reported. LF




FUGITIVE ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY STRIPPED OF MANDATE

Parliament deputies voted by 67 to eight on 19 November to strip their colleague, fugitive former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, of his deputy's mandate on the grounds that there is no valid justification for his failure to attend parliament sessions for a period of 19 months, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Siradeghian fled Armenia in April 2000 after parliament voted to strip him of his deputy's immunity so he could be taken into custody for the duration of his trial on charges of ordering several political murders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). In an earlier ballot last month, only 36 deputies favored depriving Siradeghian of his mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2001). Observers attribute the reversal to intense lobbying by the presidential administration and to the fact that the 19 November vote was open while that on 10 October was secret. LF

AUTOPSY FINDING MADE PUBLIC AFTER ARMENIAN CAFE DEATH

Poghos Poghosian, the Georgian citizen found dead in a Yerevan cafe two months ago after having apparently been beaten up by members of President Robert Kocharian's bodyguard, died from a blow to the head, according to Arminfo on 19 November as cited by Groong. Police originally claimed that Poghosian died of heart failure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September and 2 October 2001). LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION FIGURE SAYS HE WILL RUN FOR PRESIDENT IN 2003

Union of Constitutional Law chairman Hrant Khachatrian announced on 17 November that he plans to contest the presidential poll due in the spring of 2003, according to Arminfo as cited by Groong. At the same time, Khachatrian said that in order to avoid a repeat of the situation in 1998, when the electorate was "bewildered" by the number of candidates contesting the preterm presidential ballot, he would welcome the unification of all "healthy" political forces in order to back a single candidate. Khachatrian was one of 12 candidates who participated in the 1998 presidential election; he polled less than 1 percent of the vote. LF

BY-ELECTIONS HELD IN TWO CONSTITUENCIES IN AZERBAIJAN

One member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party and one independent candidate won election to Azerbaijan's Milli Mezhlis in by-elections in the Agdjabed and Tovuz raions on 16 November, Turan reported. LF

POLICE BEAT UP GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY

Four police officers, including former Tbilisi police chief Soso Alavidze, took parliament deputy Gocha Djodjua from his home to a lake on the outskirts of Tbilisi on 18 November and proceeded to beat him up, Djodjua told Caucasus Press the following day. Djodjua said that Alavidze believes that Djodjua's statements to the media earlier this year about corruption within the Tbilisi police force led to Alavidze's dismissal from his post. Alavidze in fact resigned three months ago after being implicated in corruption by then-Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). On 19 November, Alavidze denied participating in the assault on Djodjua and declined to answer questions about the incident from members of parliament committees on the grounds that he was unwell. Caucasus Press quoted Alavidze on 20 November as saying that he has resigned as head of the Ecology Police in order not to hinder the investigation into the attack on Djodjua. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT WILL ASK PUTIN TO ABOLISH VISA REGIME

Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 19 November that at his planned meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin he will ask Putin to lift the visa requirement for Georgian citizens visiting Russia that went into force last year, Russian agencies reported. Shevardnadze said introducing the visa regime was "a mistake." It was Putin, then-Russian Prime Minister, who in November 1999 first proposed the visa regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1999). LF

GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF WANTS INVESTIGATION INTO POSSIBLE LEAK OF INFORMATION

An investigation must be conducted into Kodori Governor Emzar Kvitsiani's allegation that someone within the Georgian security services provided Russia with information on the course of the fighting last month in Kodori, Georgian National Intelligence Service chief Avtandil Ioseliani said in an interview published in "Akhali taoba" on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). On 19 November, "Akhali taoba" quoted Kvitsiani as saying he is ready to publish his proof of those allegations and to work together with Valeri Khaburzania, President Shevardnadze's proposed candidate for the post of national security minister, to identify the official concerned. Shevardnadze, for his part, said on 19 November that he cannot punish anyone for that deliberate leak of information without documentary evidence, Caucasus Press reported. He said Khaburzania's approval as national security minister would guarantee an improvement in the work of the ministry. The same day, Shevardnadze rejected a proposal to introduce that military censorship, Caucasus Press reported. LF

TBILISI POPULATION DEMANDS INCREASED ELECTRICITY SUPPLIES

Some 1,000 residents of Tbilisi one of the city's blocked main thoroughfares on 19 November to demand that the government guarantee electricity supplies to their homes for at least eight hours per day, instead of the present three-four hours, Caucasus Press reported. They appealed to the entire city population to take to the streets to demand the resignation of a president who is unable to guarantee normal electricity supplies. A similar demonstration took place on 20 November. LF

RUSSIAN THINK-TANK PRESIDENT ACCUSES GEORGIA OF RESELLING GAS TO TURKEY

Sergei Karaganov, who heads Russia's influential Foreign Policy and Defense Council, claimed in an interview with gazeta.ru that Georgia has resold to Turkey natural gas supplied by Russia, according to Caucasus Press on 16 November. LF

INCUMBENT TROUNCED IN INCONCLUSIVE PRESIDENTIAL POLL IN SOUTH OSSETIA

The unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia held presidential elections on 18 November in which none of the five candidates polled the minimum 50 percent needed for a first round victory. According to unofficial preliminary results, Moscow-based businessman Eduard Kokoev won over 40 percent of the vote followed by local Communist Party First Secretary Stanislav Kochiev with 25 percent. The two men will participate in a runoff vote that must be held within two weeks. Incumbent President Lyudvig Chibirov was in third place with less than 20 percent. LF

KAZAKH, TAJIK PRESIDENTS DISCUSS AFGHAN SITUATION...

During a telephone conversation on 15 November, Nursultan Nazarbaev discussed with his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov regional security and the optimum structure for a post-conflict Afghan government, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 November. Nazarbaev agreed to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in the form of grain. On 16 November, Interfax reported that the U.S. has purchased 15,000 tons of grain at a cost of $6 million from Kazakhstan to be shipped to Afghanistan, and intends to buy a further 5,000 tons. Kazakhstan's grain harvest this year was one of the best ever, totaling over 13 million tons, according to Interfax on 22 October. LF

...AGREE ON RESUMPTION OF RAIL TRAFFIC

Nazarbaev and Rakhmonov also agreed on the "immediate" resumption of rail traffic between the two countries, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 November. Kazakhstan unilaterally suspended rail communication in late October in order to preclude an anticipated influx of Afghan refugees. On 12 November, Asia Plus-Blitz reported that as a result of the suspension of rail traffic from Dushanbe to Astrakhan via Kazakhstan, flights between Dushanbe and Moscow were fully booked for one month ahead. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2002 BUDGET

The People's Assembly (the upper chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliament) approved the draft budget for 2002 on 19 November, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The draft envisages revenues of 11.69 billion soms (approximately $244 million) and expenditures of 11.17 billion soms. GDP is estimated at 80.19 billion soms, or 4.5 percent higher than in 2001. Inflation is predicted at 6 percent, lower than the 8.2 percent forecast in the original draft presented to the parliament's finance and economy committee last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2001). The budget is predicated on an exchange rate of 49 soms to the U.S. dollar; the present exchange rate is 47.7 soms to the dollar. Also on 19 November, Defense Minister Esen Topoev told Interfax that the budget for next year increases defense spending by more than 170 million soms. That money will be spent on modernizing aircraft, purchasing communications equipment and improving border installations, and raising servicemen's salaries. LF

NEW TAX REGULATIONS INTRODUCED FOR KYRGYZ FREE ECONOMIC ZONE

The Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament) on 19 November passed amendments prepared by the government's Committee on State Property and Foreign Investments to the law on free-economic zones, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The amendments, which were prepared at the insistence of international finance organizations, require enterprises located within the free-economic zone to pay customs payments and taxes on goods they sell within Kyrgyzstan. Busurmankul ToktonAliyev of the Bishkek free-economic zone told RFE/RL that some 50 percent of the goods produced by its 90 enterprises are sold domestically, and the new regulations could drive them into bankruptcy. LF

NEW TAJIK POLITICAL PARTY HOLDS CONSTITUENT CONGRESS

The founding congress of the Vahdat (Unity) Party took place in Dushanbe on 17 November, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 20 November. In a statement released at the congress, delegates acknowledged the progress achieved by the country's present leadership towards establishing a democratic society, but noted unspecified problems that it pledged to assist the leadership in overcoming. LF




RALLY PROTESTS CLOSURE OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION WEEKLY

Some 100 people took part in Hrodna on 19 November in a protest rally against the closure of the local opposition weekly "Pahonya" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 November 2001), Belapan reported. Police charged "Pahonya" Editor in Chief Mikola Markevich as well as journalists Pavel Mazheyka and Andrey Pisalnik with holding an unauthorized demonstration. JM

CHIEF EDITOR OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER SUED FOR LIBEL

Prosecutors have sued Iosif Syaredzich, the editor in chief of the Minsk-based opposition newspaper "Narodnaya volya," for libel, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 19 November. The lawsuit was instigated by Minsk Oblast Executive Committee Chairman Mikalay Damashkevich in connection with a statement published by "Narodnaya volya" before the 9 September presidential election. The statement, signed by democratic opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk and several other opposition figures, alleged that on 5 September Damashkevich held a conference of raion-level executive officials and instructed them on how to falsify results of the voting. JM

UKRAINE AMNESTIES $2.8 BILLION IN TAX DEBTS

State Tax Administration Deputy Chief Fedir Yaroshenko told journalists on 19 November that his agency wrote off some 14.8 billion hryvni ($2.8 billion) in tax debts and rescheduled the overdue payment of 4.8 billion hryvni, Interfax reported. This massive tax amnesty became possible under a law that provided for writing off unpaid taxes accumulated until the end of 1999, and for restructuring the payment of taxes due in 2000 over a period of five years. Yaroshenko added that as of 1 November, the new tax debt in Ukraine totaled 6.6 billion hryvni, including 5.6 billion to the state budget. JM

KUCHMA DISMISSES ENERGY MINISTER, NAMES HIS SPOKESMAN AS NEW TELEVISION CHIEF

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has dismissed Stanislav Stashevskyy from the post of fuel and energy minister, Interfax reported on 19 November. Last week, Stashevskyy was severely criticized by Kuchma and the parliament for failing to accumulate sufficient stocks of fuel at power stations for the winter. Kuchma also appointed Ihor Storozhuk as the president of the National Television Company. Storozhuk, who serves as Kuchma's spokesman, will replace Vadym Dolhanov. Both Stashevskyy and Dolhanov were relieved of their duties with the formulation "in connection with a transfer to another job." JM

ANOTHER ANTIPIRACY BILL SUBMITTED TO UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT

First deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk has registered a new draft bill on the manufacturing, export, and import of discs for laser recorders recently submitted to the parliament by the government, UNIAN reported on 19 November. Medvedchuk said the rejection of a bill curbing audio and video piracy on 15 November was a "drawback" in the work of the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001). Medvedchuk added that the currently submitted bill must be passed as soon as possible and should be treated "very seriously," because the United States is threatening Ukraine with economic sanctions. JM

UKRAINIAN NATIONALIST PARTY ELECTS LEADER

The far-right radical Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA) elected Mykola Karpyuk as its new leader and changed party symbols at its congress on 18 November in Pushcha-Vodynka, Ukrainian media reported. The former UNA leader, Andriy Shkil, who is currently in a remand center on charges of organizing mass disturbances in Kyiv on 9 March, was relieved of his post but remains in the party leadership. The UNA announced that it is going to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections on its own and has no plans to join any electoral bloc. Some Ukrainian observers doubt whether the party will be able to override the 4 percent voting hurdle in the elections. JM

ESTONIA CHANGES TACTICS IN EU MEMBERSHIP TALKS

Prime Minister Mart Laar told the parliament's European Affairs Committee on 19 November that Estonia has changed its tactics in EU membership negotiations, BNS reported. The goal will change to seeking the best possible position for the country rather than to close as many chapters as possible in the shortest possible time, he noted. Laar explained that the end phase of the negotiations is difficult, but Estonia cannot back down on certain demands. He said that a roundtable will be convened soon to discuss the constitutional changes needed in connection with Estonia's entry into the EU, which the government hopes to achieve by the beginning of 2004. SG

SPLIT AMONG LATVIA'S SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

Andris Zorgevics, director general of the state-owned Latvijas dzelzcels (Latvian Railroad), released an open letter to the members of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party (LSDSP) on 19 November, LETA reported. He wrote that he is leaving the LSDSP as "today, it is simply the party of [LSDSP chairman Juris] Bojars, a Bolshevik organization, that has nothing in common with a parliamentary party." Zorgevics said he intends to form a new Social Democratic party. Zorgevics charged that after the 33rd congress of the LSDSP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2001) Bojars has been trying to "cleanse" the party ranks of people who do not support him. Plans to sign a cooperation agreement before the next parliament elections with For Human Rights in a United Latvia, whose leaders Tatyana Zhdanoka and Alfreds Rubiks had openly opposed Latvia's independence, are not acceptable. Zorgevics called on other party members to make their choice and join those social democrats who are represented by Egils Baldzens, Peteris Salkazanovs, and Arnis Mugurevics. SG

GAZPROM MAY DROP PLANS TO BID FOR LITHUANIAN GAS UTILITY

Sources close to the management of Russia's Gazprom said that the company does not like Lithuania's program for selling 34 percent of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) to a Western strategic investor, BNS reported on 19 November. That day information about the program was published in the official website of the Lithuanian State Property Fund and in the "Financial Times." The program allows only investors from the EU, NATO, OECD, or EU associate countries, thus barring Russian companies from competing for the strategic stake. The Russian gas companies Gazprom and Itera have been mentioned as the most likely candidates for acquiring another 34 percent share of Lithuanian Gas as the gas supplier. The contest for the gas supplier will, however, be only begun in the second quarter of 2002 after the strategic investor has been selected. SG

EU SEES 'NEW MOMENTUM' IN POLAND'S MEMBERSHIP TALKS

"I see a new momentum for accession negotiations," EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said after meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz in Brussels on 19 November. Cimoszewicz briefed Verheugen on Poland's new stance in EU-membership talks. Last week the Polish government accepted a two-year restriction on the free movement of labor and reduced to 12 years its earlier demand for an 18-year transition period before foreigners can buy farmland (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 November 2001). However, Cimoszewicz also said Poland will allow EU citizens to buy land plots for leisure purposes seven years after its EU entry, while EU farmers will be able to buy farmland in Poland for their own cultivation after a three-year lease period. This last announcement came as a surprise. Asked why the government has not informed Poles about these decisions, European Affairs Minister Danuta Huebner said "no one has asked about that in Poland," PAP reported. JM

POLISH PREMIER SEEKS GERMAN SUPPORT FOR EU ACCESSION

Addressing a national congress of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in Nuremberg on 19 November, Premier Leszek Miller said early accession to the EU is Poland's strategic goal. Miller, a honorary guest at the SPD congress, was the only foreign visitor to give a speech at the opening ceremony. Miller stressed that more than ever before, Poland counts on the support of the SPD, the German government, and society. German Chancellor and SPD Chairman Gerhard Schroeder said in his speech that Germany cannot imagine Poland not being in the first group of states admitted to the EU. JM

POLES LINE UP AT BANKS TO OUTWIT THE TAXMAN

Last week the parliament approved an amendment to the personal income tax law that introduced a controversial 20 percent tax on interest from bank deposits. This legislative move has given rise to lengthy queues in Polish banks of those wanting to avoid paying the tax. Many banks kept their doors open over the weekend, offering clients special financial schemes, including tax-exempt investment funds designed to prevent the state from gobbling up income earned from bank interest, dpa reported. "Commercial banks are behaving like scouts on parade, not like representatives of institutions of public confidence," said Finance Minister Marek Belka, who proposed the tax on interest. He was echoed by Premier Miller who accused banks of acting against the interests of the state. "During the transformation period banks were protected by the state...they seem to be forgetting this... Is it right...to make it difficult for the democratically elected government to rescue public finances?" Miller said on Polish Radio on 19 November. JM

POLISH SHIPYARD TO LAY OFF HUNDREDS OF WORKERS

The shipyard in Gdynia will lay off 600 employees by the end of March 2002 due to economic recession, PAP reported on 19 November, quoting shipyard spokesman Miroslaw Piotrowski. Piotrowski explained that the cut is expected to reduce shipyard costs by some $10 million annually, adding that all fired workers will be offered retraining at the expense of the shipyard. The Gdynia shipyard employs 9,250 people. JM

IAEA SENDS INSPECTORS TEAM TO TEMELIN

An international team of nuclear safety experts began on 19 November a planned week of inspections at the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, international agencies reported. The team includes experts from several countries and is organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN. It will check whether Temelin meets the IAEA recommendations outlined in a 1996 report of the agency. The plant has been shut down several times due to malfunctions and has not been operational since 31 October, when an oil pump was leaking. The plant is to be restarted at the end of the week. Meanwhile, 25 antinuclear activists staged a sit-in at the Vienna offices of the ruling People's Party on 19 November to protest Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's refusal to veto Czech EU access if Temelin is not decommissioned. MS

CZECH PROSECUTION WIDENS OVER 'ASANACE' OPERATION

The Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes (UDV) is accusing more former communist secret police (StB) officials of being involved in the 1978-1984 "Asanace" operation, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 20 November. Five former Interior Ministry officials, including former Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina, have already been charged in the case, and court proceedings are due to begin in December. The "Asanace" operation aimed at exerting illegal pressure and harassing people suspected of dissidence in order to force them into leaving Czechoslovakia. The UDV has accused 13 more officials of participation in that operation, including directors of StB regional branches. MS

CZECH POLITICIANS DESCRIBE PRIEST'S PROSECUTION AS 'ABSURD'

Politicians from both the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the right wing opposition on 19 November told CTK that the police's decision to prosecute Roman Catholic priest Vojtech Protivinsky is "absurd and senseless." Police launched a lawsuit against Protivinsky after complaints from the Breclav branch of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) that Protivinsky urged parishioners during the electoral campaign for the Senate in 2001 not to vote for the KSCM. He has been charged with "defamation of a nation, a race, or a group of people" and faces two years in prison if convicted. Freedom Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova said a 1993 decision of the Chamber of Deputies has declared the communist regime to have been illegal. She added that if Protivinsky is prosecuted, all Four-Party Coalition representatives should be as well. CSSD parliamentary group leader Bohuslav Sobotka said statements made during electoral campaigns should not be subject to prosecution. MS

CZECH PREMIER MEETS SLOVAK COUNTERPART...

Visiting Czech Premier Milos Zeman and his Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda said after talks in Bratislava that they will support each other's quest to join the EU and expressed the hope that they will do so around the same time, AP reported. Zeman said he personally believes Slovakia, alongside Slovenia and the Baltic states, will be invited to join NATO at the Prague 2002 organization's summit. Zeman also said that he "does not believe" that a visa requirement will be introduced for Slovak citizens staying in the Czech Republic for longer than 90 days but that officials from the two countries' interior ministries, who meet in Prague later this week, will have to examine the problem of Slovak citizens working permanently in the Czech Republic. MS

...AND SLOVAK PRESIDENT

Zeman told journalists after talks with President Rudolf Schuster that the outcome of next year's elections in Slovakia will "not be an irrelevant factor" for the NATO decision on whether to include Slovakia in the next wave of expansion, CTK reported. Schuster thanked Zeman for Czech support of Slovakia's NATO and EU integration, as well as for cooperation within the Visegrad Four group, and added that the group has already been accepted as such by the EU. He also said that it would be best if both countries joined the EU at the same time, which means there would be no need for a "Schengen border" between the two states. Zeman also met with parliamentary speaker Jozef Migas. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS VERHEUGEN

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in Brussels on 19 November after meeting with Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, that if it maintains its current effort, Slovakia could become an EU member by 2004, CTK reported. He said Verheugen has expressed satisfaction with Slovakia's progress and is sending through him a message to Slovaks that they are "well on the way to integration." On the same day, Kukan opened in Brussels an exhibition on Alexander Dubcek, who was Czechoslovak Communist Party leader at the time of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion and became Federal Assembly chairman after the fall of the communist regime. Kukan said Dubcek is a "great personality" in his country's modern history. MS

FICO LEADS IN SLOVAK POPULARITY POLL

Robert Fico, leader of the Smer (Direction) Party, is the most popular Slovak politician at present, according to a poll conducted by MVK, CTK reported. He is the politician most trusted by 26.4 percent of the respondents to the survey. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda is the most mistrusted politician, with 45.4 percent saying they do not trust him, and 13.4 percent saying they do. The second most trusted politician is former Premier Vladimir Meciar (24.4 percent), followed by Slovak National Party (SNS) Chairwoman Anna Malikova (11.7) and Bela Bugar, leader of the Hungarian Coalition Party (10.5 percent). MS

SLOVAK EXTREME NATIONALISTS SAY COURT RULING IS 'NONSENSE'

Jan Slota, chairman of the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS), on 19 November said that the ruling last week by the Supreme Court barring the PSNS from running in the forthcoming regional elections is "absolute nonsense," CTK reported. Slota said the PSNS has been officially registered as a political party and cannot be prohibited from running. He said the court's decision was "political, non-transparent and misleading" and that the PSNS will launch an appeal with the Prosecutor General's Office and the Constitutional Court. Slota said that the judge who ruled in the case, Stanislav Lehotak, is a member of the SNS with links to SNS Chairwoman Malikova, and that several years ago Lehotak unsuccessfully ran against him for the SNS chairmanship. MS

SLOVAK JEWISH COMMUNITY OPPOSED TO PRIEST'S BEATIFICATION

The Central Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia on 19 November criticized President Schuster for supporting the beatification of Roman Catholic Bishop Jan Vojtassak, AP reported. The proposal to beatify Vojtassak was made to the Vatican by the Slovak Catholic Church and Schuster expressed support for it during a recent visit to the Vatican. The Jewish leaders say Vojtassak could have saved some of the 80,000 Slovak Jews who perished in Nazi extermination camps during World War II. They said that the bishop served on the State Council and had been informed about the intent to deport the Jews, but refrained from either warning them or publicly protesting against the plan. In response, Marian Gavenda, spokesman for the Confederation of Slovak Bishops, said Vojtassak had saved the lives of many Jews during the war and that testimonies of those rescued were attached to the beatification proposal. MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARY OF EU 'BIG BANG'...

Janos Martonyi said on 19 November that Hungary has an interest in seeing 10 countries join the EU in 2004, but the idea of simultaneous accession must not be the only solution, as "it could fatally delay the enlargement process." Martonyi made his remarks after French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine proposed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers that all candidate countries should join the EU simultaneously. Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that the "big bang plus" approach entails serious risks, and Hungary must ensure that the so-called "regatta principle" is put into practice, according to which the date of admission is decided by the strength of individual performance on a case-by-case basis. MSZ

...PROMISES STATUS LAW CHANGES

Martonyi said on 19 November that Hungary will adjust the implementation decree of the Status Law in order to incorporate in it recommendations by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. Addressing a forum on the recent EU country reports, Martonyi said the report does not call on Hungary to amend the law. However, Hungary is prepared to clarify the criteria related to certificates of Hungarian ethnicity, Martonyi said, pledging that consulates will be involved in the process of issuing the certificates, as recommended by the Venice Commission. MSZ

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO HUNGARY TROUBLED BY OVERT ANTI-SEMITISM

U.S. Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker on 19 November expressed concern about the rise in anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Hungary. Addressing a meeting at the Hungarian Academy of Science, the ambassador said anti-Semitism and xenophobic statements "are the only unpleasant features" that she has come across during her two months in Budapest. She added that she has not experienced "anything like it anywhere else," Hungarian dailies reported. MSZ




OFFICIAL RETURNS CONFIRM RUGOVA'S WIN IN KOSOVA

The OSCE's Daan Everts announced in Prishtina on 19 November that Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) took 46.29 percent of the total vote and first place in the province's first democratic parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 November 2001). Second place in the 17 November vote went to Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova with 25.54 percent. Third place was claimed by the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition, which took 10.96 percent and at least 20 seats in the 120-seat legislature. Ramush Haradinaj's ethnic Albanian Alliance for the Future of Kosova garnered 7.8 percent. Thaci and Haradinaj are former guerrilla leaders. Thaci told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service that he is glad that the elections have given his party a strong position in the overall political landscape, while Haradinaj said that his party is open to cooperation with others. Observers suggest that the Serbian bloc could also play a key role in a legislature in which no single party will have a clear majority. PM

BELGRADE TO SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE ON KOSOVA

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova, said on 19 November that the federal government's committee dealing with that province will be reorganized and incorporated into the existing Coordinating Center, which will then be Belgrade's sole official body for Kosovar affairs, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Personnel changes will be made at the expense of those who called for a boycott of the 17 November vote. Covic stressed the importance of a "unity of views" of officials dealing with Kosova. PM

DIVISIONS PERSIST AMONG KOSOVA'S SERBS

In Mitrovica on 19 November, the Serbian National Council (SNV) met and agreed that the elections had proceeded in an orderly fashion and pledged to work with all who seek to solve the problems of Kosova's Serbs, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. But Marko Jaksic, a local Serb leader who had campaigned for a boycott, remained unimpressed with the election results. He told AP: "These elections were a sloppily written love story in which everyone is supposed to have a happy ending." PM

WASHINGTON CALLS FOR COALITION-BUILDING IN KOSOVA

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in a statement in Washington on 19 November: "We urge Kosovo's new leaders to continue working closely with the international community, and to avoid any action that may threaten that relationship, particularly with respect to Kosovo's final status... Kosovo's newly elected leaders will need to build effective coalitions that give smaller groups and parties a stake in governing. Assembly members...must work together to resolve common issues and seek agreement and compromise in place of conflict," Reuters reported. PM

RUSSIA SAYS TIME TO ACT ON KOSOVA...

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement in Moscow on 20 November that Kosova's "non-Albanian residents are concerned that under nearly two to two and one-half years of international supervision, no solution has been found to the problems of security, the return of refugees, and access to elementary aspects of civilized society -- education, health care, culture, and information... The main responsibility for moving the process of settlement forward lies with international bodies, primarily the UN mission, which must fulfill its obligation...in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244," Reuters reported. The resolution specifies that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia. PM

...BUT WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

Vienna's "Die Presse" wrote on 20 November that the time has come to end the international community's "dithering" and trying to be all things to all sides (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 16 November 2001). The foreigners deny the Serbs' demand for their own police lest the Albanians resort to violence, while at the same time denying the demand of all Albanian parties for independence. This equivocating cannot continue forever, and the question of Kosova's status must be addressed, the daily concludes. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" notes that there will be no solution to the problem of Albanian restiveness throughout the Balkans as long as the status of Kosova remains unclear. The daily argues that a well-supervised independence for Kosova is probably the best of several possible options from the standpoint of Balkan security and stability. PM

YUGOSLAV DEFENSE MINISTER IN CHINA

Slobodan Krapovic has arrived in Beijing for talks on increased military cooperation between the two countries, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 19 November. He and his hosts noted a close similarity of views on terrorism and other, unspecified issues. PM

BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS IN MOSCOW

Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic, Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic, and parliamentary speaker Dragan Kalinic are in Moscow on a visit scheduled to last until 23 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 19 November. They are guests of State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and will attend meetings at the Russian State Duma, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, Interfax reported. On the agenda are expanding trade and economic cooperation, as well as discussions of political and security issues. PM

BOSNIA'S PETRITSCH SAYS ISLAM IS PART OF WEST...

Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, wrote in "The New York Times" of 20 November that "much has been made of the residual influence of the mujahedeen fighters who stayed on in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the 1992-95 war. But no evidence has been produced that the country has served as a base for Al-Qaeda, although this cannot be excluded; after all, the organization had an active cell in Hamburg. Allegations made by some Serb extremists that the wars in the former Yugoslavia were fought to fend off Muslim fundamentalism are ridiculous -- was Mr. Milosevic at war with mullahs when his forces bombarded Dubrovnik? What is truly worthy of note is that the influence of fundamentalist Islam in the Balkans has been so weak. When we step beyond the us-and-them paradigm, we might remember that Islam is part of the European tradition. This is the larger context in which the small country of Bosnia and Herzegovina must prove that peaceful coexistence of Islam and Christianity is possible. More than ever, it needs Europe's support in doing so." PM

...AND BOSNIA IS PART OF EUROPE

Petritsch also wrote in "The New York Times" of 20 November that "the Dayton Peace Agreement ensures that no statelets will emerge in Bosnia based on the religious divide... Bosnian Muslims do not feel any less European than their Croatian or Serbian countrymen... In the long term, Europe must integrate Bosnia and Herzegovina into its political, social, and economic structures. A first concrete step is Bosnia and Herzegovina's accession to the Council of Europe, which is expected to take place early next year. A second step is to continue toward greater formal association with the European Union. Bosnia is the place to render the notion of a clash of civilizations null and void and to prove that democracy, freedom, and human rights are universal." PM

IMF WANTS MACEDONIAN BUDGET CUTS

The IMF demands the reduction of state expenditures by $9 million before Macedonia can be included in the Staff Monitoring Program, the Skopje daily "Nova Makedonija" reported on 20 November. Macedonia's observance of IMF recommendations is a precondition for an international donors conference, which will help reconstruct the economy after the 11-month conflict. The government hopes the donors conference will take place in Brussels in mid-December. As the newspaper reports, the government expects the conference to raise between $52.6 and $83.3 million in assistance. UB

DEL PONTE TO VISIT MACEDONIA

International War Crimes Tribunal Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte will visit Macedonia on 20 November, "Nova Makedonija" reported. She will meet President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski as well as with representatives of the international community. She will collect information about alleged war crimes committed by both sides and about reported mass graves (see also "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 November 2001). UB

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT DELEGATION IN ROMANIA

Baroness Emma Nicholson, who is the European Parliament rapporteur for Romania, met on 20 November with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and will later meet with President Ion Iliescu, Romanian radio reported. Governmental spokesman Claudiu Lucaciu cited Nicholson as saying that Romania's negotiating position with the EU has "significantly improved" in the last year and that she expects the country's economic performance to further improve due to growth in investments. Nastase said Romania wants to open for negotiations all chapters in the aquis communautaire by end of 2002. On 19 November, Nicholson told members of the Senate's Foreign Affairs Commission that she has requested that Guenter Verheugen -- the EU commissioner for enlargement -- open for negotiation all chapters Romania may wish to open by 25 December. She said Verheugen has agreed to do so. Nicholson also congratulated Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on his performance as OSCE rotating chairman. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE CHAIRMAN CONTINUES FAR EAST TOUR

Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu on 20 November arrived in the Philippines, Romanian radio reported. The previous day he ended his visit of South Korea -- the second leg of his trip after Japan -- where he conducted talks with Prime Minister Lee Han-dong, discussing mainly Korean investment in his country and ways to overcome the crisis at the Craiova-based Daewoo Romanian carmaker. Also discussed were possibilities of Korean participation in the construction of units 2 and 3 at the Cernavoda nuclear power plant, Romanian television reported. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO 'DRACULA PARK'

The Senate on 19 November approved with a vote of 62 for and 44 against the government's ordinance to set up a Dracula Park entertainment complex at Sighisoara, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The project was opposed by representatives of the National Liberal Party and the Greater Romania Party, which want the park, aimed at regenerating tourist interest in Romania, to be built near the Bran castle in the vicinity of Brasov (see "End Note" in "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2001).

MOLDOVA, RUSSIA SIGN BASIC TREATY IN MOSCOW

Visiting Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed in Moscow on 19 November the new basic treaty between their countries, local and international agencies reported. They also held discussions on matters of mutual interest, after which Voronin said their views were "either close or coincide," including on the need to fight international terrorism. Putin said after the signing ceremony that he is "personally convinced that it is in Russia's national interest to settle the Transdniester conflict on the basis of Moldova's territorial integrity and sovereignty, while respecting the interests of all ethnic groups living in Moldova, including [those living in] Transdniester." The treaty mentions the need to politically settle the conflict and condemns "separatism in all its forms," pledging that the sides will not support separatist movements. The document also stipulates "measures will be taken to satisfy the need for Russian-language instruction" in Moldova, and Voronin said he wants "all Moldovans to speak Russian." MS

VORONIN, KASYANOV DISCUSS ECONOMIC PROBLEMS

Voronin also met on 19 November with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, with whom he discussed the settlement of Moldova's debt for Russian gas deliveries, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency said the debt is now $912 million, including $672 million for gas deliveries to the Transdniester. It also reported that the two leaders discussed the possibility of a partial payment in Moldovan corporate shares in wineries and the tobacco industry, which make up some 90 percent of Moldovan exports to Russia. Ways of boosting economic ties were also discussed. MS

BULGARIAN OFFICIAL RESULTS CONFIRM PARVANOV'S VICTORY

Official results released by the Central Electoral Commission on 20 November confirmed that Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov has won the 18 November presidential runoff, BTA and international agencies reported. Parvanov garnered 54.13 percent, while outgoing President Petar Stoyanov was backed by 45.87 percent of the vote. Turnout was 55 percent. MS

PARVANOV PLEDGES FOREIGN POLICY CONTINUITY

President-elect Parvanov told Reuters on 19 November that there will be "maximum continuity in our foreign policy, especially where it concerns European and Euro-Atlantic integration." Reacting to recent rumors in diplomatic circles that at NATO's next 2002 Prague summit the organization might grant immediate membership to only a small group and invite a larger group to start membership talks and join after meeting criteria, Parvanov said this will be a "minimal program" and that he hopes for outright membership. "For us it is not simply a recognition [of cooperation with NATO], but also an important guarantee of our security in the constant tensions of the Balkans." He said the country's biggest problem is poverty and unemployment and its biggest advantages are its geopolitical position and its hard-working people. Parvanov said he was ready to work with Premier Simeon Saxecoburggotski in a "constructive manner" despite the ruling party's support of outgoing President Stoyanov in the presidential elections. Parvanov also said he will give up membership of the Bulgarian Socialist Party because the president must be "the head of state of all Bulgarians." MS




Ukraine's Approaching Elections and Fractured Multiparty System


By Taras Kuzio

Ukraine's new election law, which finally came into force on 2 November, preserves the 50:50 split in how deputies are to be elected that was used during the March 1998 elections, even though President Leonid Kuchma had expressed concern that not only well-known reformist parties, but also Ukraine's largest party, the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), would gain from the retention of proportional lists.

Between the 1994 elections, held exclusively on the majoritarian principle, and the 1998 majoritarian proportional elections, the number of CPU deputies increased by 50 percent, from 80 to nearly 120. If the new election law had required that 75 percent of deputies be elected according to proportional voting, as established parties such as the CPU had pushed for, the number of Communist deputies would have risen again in the next parliament.

Ukraine's first political party was the Republicans, created in April 1990 as an outgrowth of the Helsinki Union, itself a descendant from the Soviet-era Ukrainian Helsinki Group (UHG). Since 1990, 129 more parties have been registered in Ukraine, a reflection not of the progress of democratization but of a badly fractured and manipulated political system. The parliamentary newspaper "Holos Ukraiiny" recently wrote: "The current regime controls the course of political events and is therefore preventing the different opposition parties from uniting."

Ukraine's multiparty system includes an eclectic array ranging from three rural parties, seven promoting peace and unity, five that aim to defend women's interests, four youth parties, and 21 championing narrow special interests (cars, pensioners, educators, industrialists, health, private property, regions, social justice, the sea, consumers, NGOs, private property, the third millennium, liberty, and small and medium business, among others).

The center has been completely dominated by the "oligarchs," as seen by the recent absorption of the Inter-Regional Bloc of Reforms by the Peoples Democrats (NDPU). These oligarch parties control six parties: Labor Ukraine, NDPU, Agrarians, United Social Democrats, Democratic Party, and Democratic Union. Obviously, their names have little to do with their real party objectives. What remains of the centrists includes three Liberal and four other miniscule parties while the center-left is divided among eight parties, the majority of whom are "social democratic" to varying degrees. The Greens, meanwhile, are divided among eight parties who include every imaginable combination of "ecology" or "green" in their names.

On the center-right, Ukraine's party system has three Rukhs and 14 other center-right parties espousing "patriotic" or "fatherland" interests, as well as seven Christian democratic and one Muslim party. The extreme right has five parties, three of which have illegal paramilitary formations. The Russophile-pan-Slavic wing is badly divided among nine quarrelling, small parties while the extreme left, their natural allies, have 10 parties, five of which include "Communist" in their titles.

Ukraine's older law on political parties was updated and came into force on 5 April of this year. Surprisingly, it does not stipulate any minimum number of members for a party to be registered. But by not imposing any restrictions on the registration of parties, no matter how small or ineffectual they are, the executive ensures that Ukraine's nascent democracy remains weak and disparate.

When submitting registration documents, parties do have to collect 10,000 signatures from those eligible to vote, but that is not a difficult task. To prevent the rise of regional and secessionist parties, these signatures have to be collected in two-thirds of Ukraine's oblasts, the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol (which have all-republican status), and the districts of Crimea. The aim of the law is to create parties that supposedly have an all-Ukrainian status, yet the law fails to ensure this as none of the 130 parties in Ukraine has an all-Ukrainian profile.

Another aspect of the law that is ineffective is its failure to enforce restrictions on the formation and operation of parties (Article 5). Parties are to be prohibited if their programs or activities aim to liquidate Ukrainian independence, forcefully change the constitution or undermine national security, encroach on human rights, maintain paramilitary formations, or if they violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Yet each one of these prohibitions has been infringed by one party or another.

The CPU together with small Russophile, pan-Slavic parties want to liquidate Ukrainian independence. Recently, President Kuchma branded the CPU as "anti-Ukrainian" because it uses the symbols of a non-existent state (USSR). He added that he cannot therefore understand why the CPU is allowed into parliament. In reality, Kuchma would prefer to have the CPU legally registered, as it has proved to be a convenient scapegoat both for the socioeconomic crisis (its deputies dominated parliament until 2000 and have stalled reforms) and during the "Kuchmagate" crisis when CPU deputies allied with the oligarchs against the reformist government of Viktor Yushchenko.

Only one party has ever been temporarily banned in Ukraine, the extreme right Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA), after its members took part in Kyiv riots during the funeral of Patriarch Volodymyr Romaniuk of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarch in July 1995. But this ban was revoked after two years and the party was reregistered. Although its leaders were arrested after the 9 March anti-Kuchma riots and remain in prison, the UNA is still legal.

Paramilitary formations are usually registered as innocuous sports or cultural civic organizations, not parties. UNA has always had a paramilitary formation, the People's Self Defense Forces (UNSO), which have been involved in fighting or political violence in Abkhazia, Moldova, Chechnya, and Belarus. The Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists also has its S. Bandera Sports-Political Association Tryzub, which is reportedly under the control of the local authorities in western Ukraine and is therefore not likely to be banned. Pro-Kuchma Tryzub members from Ternopil were the real instigators of the 9 March violence in Kyiv, for which the anti-Kuchma UNA-UNSO were made the scapegoats; no Tryzub members were arrested for their actions. In addition, there is the Union of Soviet Officers, whose pensioner members the Security Service accused earlier this year of planning a coup d'etat. Ukrainian and Russophile Cossack groups also exist.

The law on political parties has never been invoked to ban separatist parties in the Crimea. Nevertheless, the law has forced them to reregister as all-Ukrainian parties (e.g. the Crimean Russian Bloc became the Soyuz [Union] party). Other Crimean parties who represented the local Party of Power were absorbed into all-Ukrainian oligarch parties.

But Ukraine's many political parties play little or no role in politics and have miniscule influence on public life, a state of affairs that the executive is only too happy to allow to continue. "Kuchmagate" has nonetheless been instrumental in creating three groupings that will go into the next elections as the antistatehood left, the pro-Kuchma oligarch-dominated center, and the anti-Kuchma patriotic center-left and center-right. Yushchenko's "Our Ukraine" bloc hopes to successfully occupy the middle ground between the pro- and anti-Kuchma camps, presenting itself as a patriotic, anti-oligarch, pro-Kuchma formation.

Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.


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