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Newsline - December 17, 2001


RUSSIA HINTS IT MAY WITHDRAW FROM START-2
The chairman of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, Mikhail Margelov, said on 16 December that he does not rule out the possibility that Russia may respond to the announcement by the United States of its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty by withdrawing from the START-2 treaty, according to RIA-Novosti. Margelov said Russia's withdrawal from START-2 could prove to be "the most effective and pragmatic option aimed at maintaining the country's national security at the proper level." He added, however, that he does not think such a step would be appropriate in the near future. Margelov also stressed that Russia's reaction to Washington's decision was calm and reserved because a U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was "long expected" and had been agreed with Russia. VY

DUMA REJECTS APPEAL TO U.S. CONGRESS OVER ABM WITHDRAWAL
On 14 December, the Duma turned down a proposal by the Yabloko faction to send the U.S. Congress a letter stressing the Russian parliament's disapproval with Washington's decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin, "there is no need" to send such a letter. Meanwhile Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky argued that the American initiative is beneficial for Russia as it "unties our hands." VY

RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER TALKS OIL PRICES IN CARACAS
On the final leg of his tour of North and South America, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 13 December 2001), Mikhail Kasyanov discussed the stabilization of oil prices with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, RBK reported on 16 December. Kasyanov told Chavez, whose country currently holds the chair of OPEC, that while Russia's policy is to allow all oil-producing countries a free hand to decide what price they will charge for their oil, Moscow would prefer a fair price of between $22 and $25 per barrel. Kasyanov also discussed with Chavez bilateral deals, in particular an arrangement under which Venezuela will supply oil to Cuba in fulfillment of Russian contracts, while Russia will fulfill Venezuela's obligations to supply oil to its European customers. The details of this arrangement have been not made public, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 December. VY

BEREZOVSKY ACCUSES FSB OF ORCHESTRATING APARTMENT EXPLOSIONS...
Speaking via telelink to a conference on Civil Society and Human Rights on 14 December, embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky accused the Federal Security Service (FSB) of being behind the explosions of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in August and September of 1999, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Berezovsky said that while he "could not say that Putin gave the order for this operation [or] that Putin personally commanded this operation," but he is convinced that the FSB is responsible for the explosion and is ready to meet with "those people in court." The FSB declined to comment officially on Berezovsky's allegations, according to Interfax. However, an FSB official who asked not to be identified told Interfax that Berezovsky should "return to Russia to make his accusations." He also charged that Berezovsky "wants his name to be mentioned [again] in Russia." JAC

...AS OLIGARCH HIMSELF CONSIDERED EITHER PLAYER OR TOOL IN POLITICAL GAME
In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, political analyst Andrei Pointkovskii pointed out that although federal authorities have launched a federal search for Berezovsky, they have not sent a corresponding inquiry to Interpol to arrest and extradite him. "This creates the impression that there is some kind of strange game continuing between the authorities and Berezovsky," he continued. When asked whether the so-called St. Petersburg group within the Kremlin might be trying to use Berezovsky to squash the "Chekist" group of intelligence and former intelligence officials, Pointkovskii declined to comment. JAC

DUMA GIVES BILL ON TERRORISM INITIAL NOD...
On 14 December, Duma deputies passed on first reading a bill on terrorism, which amends both the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code. The legislation toughens sentences for groups found guilty of engaging in terrorism, according to Interfax. The bill was passed by 367 votes to zero, with one abstention, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill was supported by the Kremlin, but the Supreme Court objected to it, noting that the corresponding legal base for the struggle against terrorism does not yet exist. JAC

...AS 2002 BUDGET GIVEN FINAL APPROVAL IN LOWER CHAMBER
As expected, deputies approved the 2002 budget on fourth and final reading on 14 December by a vote of 280 to 106, with three abstentions, RIA-Novosti reported. Only the Communist faction and Agro-Industrial group voted against the bill. The draft budget sets spending at 1.95 trillion rubles ($65.5 billion) and revenues at 2.13 trillion rubles. GDP is forecast at 10.95 trillion rubles. Average inflation is predicted to be 12 percent, and the ruble-dollar exchange rate is set at 31.50 rubles per dollar. The largest expenditures are for social policy (430.3 billion rubles), debt servicing (285 billion rubles), national defense (284.1 billion rubles), financial aid to budgets at all levels (265.4 billion rubles), and law enforcement and state security (173.8 billion rubles). Following the budget's acceptance, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin expressed his certainty that the Federation Council will approve the bill when it considers it on 26 December. JAC

PUTIN SENDS HIS GREETINGS TO MUSLIMS...
President Putin sent his greetings to Russian Muslims as they marked the end of Ramadan on 16 December. In the message, Putin noted that the spiritual traditions of Islam can be characterized by peacefulness, religious tolerance, and concern for other people. Putin continued, "These qualities are especially important today, when the government and all constructive forces of society are combining forces for the prevention of the global threat of terrorism and extremism." According to Interfax, the service conducted in both the Russian and Tatar language by Talgat Tadzhuddin, the Supreme Mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, was scheduled to be shown on ORT. JAC

...AND MESSAGE TO ARAFAT ON TERRORISM
President Putin sent Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat a message on 15 December expressing his hope that as a result of the Palestinian leadership's consistent efforts, "a reliable barrier will be put up against terrorism," Interfax reported on 15 December. According to the presidential press service, Putin also said in his message that "those who organize acts of terror not only target Israelis, but also seek to undermine the Palestinian Liberation Organization's prestige and positions, and finally derail the peace process." JAC

AFGHAN VET PRAISES U.S. MILITARY STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN
Moscow Oblast Governor and former Soviet army commander in Afghanistan Boris Gromov has praised the U.S.-led anti-Taliban campaign in Tora Bora, Interfax reported on 14 December. According to Gromov, the Americans "are doing everything right. First, the area was sealed off and then strikes were delivered at it forcing the Taliban fighters to surrender." Gromov added that the entire anti-Taliban operation in Afghanistan was professionally planned and implemented. JAC

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS PRETORIA
Igor Ivanov and his South African counterpart Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma signed an accord in Pretoria on economic partnership and cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 December. The two also signed an agreement on joint ventures in the diamond mining sector and an agreement on military-technical cooperation. Ivanov told journalists that he also signed an agreement on diamond mining with neighboring Namibia when visiting that country the previous day. He also said that further agreements will be signed. VY

GOVERNMENT MULLS OVER STATE MONOPOLY ON STRATEGIC GOODS
The Economic Development and Trade Ministry is discussing with other state agencies the possibility of introducing a state monopoly on some strategic goods, in the first instance oil and oil products, "Vedomosti" and ITAR-TASS reported on 15 December. The Ministry argues that such a state monopoly would increase control over export revenues and would therefore result in an increase in the volume of tax duties to be paid into the state budget. VY

AUDIT CHAMBER FINDS RUSSIAN NUCLEAR WASTE PROCESSING IN CRISIS
The Audit Chamber announced that, according to a recent probe it conducted, national facilities dealing with spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste are in a critical condition, RIA-Novosti reported on 16 December. Thus, most of the storage facilities for nuclear waste are filled almost to capacity, the equipment belonging to such facilities is in need of urgent repair and modernization, and their safety systems are not adequate to protect the population and environment of surrounding areas. VY

INTERIOR MINISTRY CREATES STATE DATABASE ON RUSSIA'S POPULATION
The Interior Ministry announced that by 2004 it plans to create a computerized database named the State Population Register that will list all Russian citizens and foreigners living on the territory of the Russian Federation, RBK reported on 14 December. The rationale cited for establishing such a register was social security needs, but the database will also be available to law enforcement and medical institutions. It will cost 3.5 billion rubles ($116 million). VY

A NEW JOB FOR PRIMAKOV
Former Prime Minster Yevgenii Primakov was elected chairman of the Russian Trade and Industry Chamber at a congress of that organization in Moscow on 14 December, Russian news services reported. In his address to the chamber, Primakov said he sees his mission as promoting cooperation between the business community and the government, mediating disagreements between business elites, and advancing Russian economic interests abroad. Primakov also noted the crucial role the chamber will play after Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization. VY

DEPUTY PREMIER FLIES TO SAKHA...
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin was scheduled to fly to Sakha Republic (Yakutia) on 16 December to familiarize himself with the diamond-production company ALROSA, which is about to sign a deal with De Beers, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, Kudrin will meet in Yakutsk with Sakha presidential candidate and ALROSA President Vyachelsav Shtyrov; however, the Russian government will not participate in the agreement as it has in the past. Meanwhile, Shtryov's chances of being elected in the 23 December presidential race continue to brighten. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov announced his withdrawal from the race on 15 December. "Kommersant-Daily" reported earlier that in a meeting between Putin and incumbent Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev, Putin agreed to drop the Kremlin's support of Kolmogorov, provided Nikolaev withdrew (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001).

...AS MORE CANDIDATES WITHDRAW FROM PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Sakha Interior Minister Semen Nazarov also announced on 15 December that he too is withdrawing from the race and called on voters to support Shtyrov. Nazarov, like Shtyrov, is considered a close ally of Nikolaev. Sakha Education Minister Yevgenii Mikhailov and Nikolaev both withdrew from the race earlier. Ntvru.com noted on 16 December that Shtryov no longer has any significant competition in the race. JAC

SPS CRITICIZES PUTIN'S CADRE POLICY...
The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) movement transformed itself into a party at a congress held outside of Moscow on 14 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The change was necessary in keeping with the recently passed law on political parties. Addressing the more than 300 delegates gathered, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov criticized his party's rival, the Communist Party, for being the "elderly" party of "bureaucracy," and he slammed the new alliance of the Unity and Fatherland parties as "aggressively obedient... They follow what Putin says, but if Putin were to suddenly change his attitude toward the economy or foreign policy...they would also happily change." Nemtsov also criticized President Putin's formation of a "St. Petersburg mafioso-group" as his personnel policy. According to Nemtsov, Russia "needs professionals" and "that there are good people not only in St. Petersburg." JAC

...AS CHUBAIS DEFEND HIRES FROM ST. PETERSBURG
SPS Co-chairman and Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, who is from St. Petersburg, responded that "only a lazy politician does not disparage people coming from St. Petersburg these days, since there are such favorable grounds for this: St. Petersburg is not full of idiots," Interfax reported. JAC

LUZHKOV WILL NOT HAVE TO RESIGN
Elections for the Moscow city Duma of 16 December were declared valid the same day as turnout had already reached more than the minimum necessary, 25 percent of eligible voters, by 6:00 p.m. that day, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier, some media had reported that Luzhkov would resign if there was insufficient voter turnout for the race, a report that Luzhkov dismissed as "rubbish," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001). According to Interfax-Moscow, preliminary results showed that candidates from the joint "Unity-Fatherland-Union of Rightist Forces-Yabloko list were leading. JAC

PUTIN CLAIMS RUSSIA HAS ALREADY GRANTED CHECHNYA DE FACTO INDEPENDENCE
In an interview published in the "Financial Times" on 17 December, President Putin said that by withdrawing all its military and law enforcement troops from Chechnya in 1996 (following the signing of the Khasavyurt Accord), Russia thus granted Chechnya independence "de facto, if not de jure... So nobody can accuse us of suppressing the desire of the Chechen people for independence," Putin argued. The result, Putin continued, was that "this legal and ideological vacuum was filled immediately with international terrorists and fundamentalists. What we got instead of a new state entity was a quasi-state of a terrorist nature" that "destabilized the entire Russian Federation." For that reason, Putin said, Moscow cannot afford to repeat its mistake of 1996 and withdraw from Chechnya a second time. He claimed that two groups of fighters are currently resisting the Russian forces in Chechnya, "the residue of bandit formations," and "international terrorists...raised and trained in Afghanistan in military camps run by Al-Qaeda, financed by [Osama] bin Laden." There are links between those two groups, Putin said. He reaffirmed Moscow's readiness to cooperate with international organizations to improve the humanitarian situation in Chechnya, and to prepare the Chechen public for new elections for a parliament and executive. LF

FIGHTING CONTINUES IN ARGUN
Russian troops were still fighting on 16 December to restore their control over the Chechen town of Argun, Nikolai Britvin, a deputy presidential representative to the Southern federal district, told ITAR-TASS that day. He said Russian troops have killed or captured the majority of the Chechen fighters who took refuge in the town on 12 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). That statement seems improbable, however; the Chechens are estimated at 200-300 men, but Russian military spokesmen have reported only up to 20 Chechens killed and 18 captured. Thirty-five of the town's residents have been taken into custody on suspicion of sympathizing with the infiltrators. LF

RADUEV AGAIN PLEADS NOT GUILTY
In his final statement on 14 December at his trial in Makhachkala, Chechen field commander Salman Raduev again pleaded not guilty to charges of hostage taking, murder, and banditry resulting from the January 1996 raid he led on the town of Kizlyar, AP reported. Raduev repeated that he cannot be held responsible for killings by his subordinates during that raid, in which some 78 people died. Presiding judge Bagudzha Unzholov is expected to pronounce the verdict on Raduev and his codefendants on 25 or 26 December. LF

FSB, CHECHEN VILLAGERS CRITICIZE DANISH HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATION
In what bears the hallmark of a concerted effort to force the expulsion from Chechnya of one of the few international aid organizations working there, residents of villages near Gudermes have complained that the Danish Council for Refugees is distributing canned products that are unfit for human consumption, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 December. Three days earlier, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted the head of the local directorate of the FSB, Sergei Babkin, as saying that the council distributes aid only to the families of Chechen fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). The paper also quoted an unidentified council spokesman as saying that it provides aid to 310,000 people, all of whom have been registered "in accordance with international humanitarian principles and standards." LF

OSCE OFFICIAL MEETS WITH KYRGYZ OPPOSITION
OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis held talks in Bishkek on 14 December with the leaders of the opposition Ata-Meken, Erkindik, People's, and Ar-Namys parties, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Those talks focused on the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan, pressure on the independent media, and the case of jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov. Also on 14 December, some 50 people staged a demonstration outside the hotel where the conference was taking place, carrying banners calling on the OSCE to "open its eyes" to the situation in the region and condemning "Central Asian dictators." LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE HAS FULFILLED EMPLOYMENT PLEDGE
Robert Kocharian told a press conference in Yerevan on 14 December that he has made good on his pledge of November 2000 to create 40,000 new jobs, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). Trade and Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian produced a detailed statistical breakdown by region and sector of the new openings, but figures provided by local authorities and government ministries showed some discrepancies. LF

DONORS APPROVE PROPOSAL TO LEASE ARMENIAN ENERGY DISTRIBUTION NETWORKS
The World Bank and other Western donors have endorsed the Armenian government's proposal to merge four state-run energy distribution networks and lease them to a foreign operator, World Bank adviser Salman Zaheer told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 14 December. But he added that the government should set up "a governance board for the companies that will oversee the work" of their future operator. Two successive tenders to privatize those networks, which was a precondition for obtaining a new World Bank loan, have failed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 April, and 3 December 2001). Zaheer and resident World Bank representative Owaise Saadat said the $20 million loan will be made available in February 2002, even though the new tender to lease the merged networks will not be completed until after that date. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONDEMNS VIOLENCE AGAINST AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS...
In a press release summarized on 14 December by Turan, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walther Schwimmer expressed concern at the use of force by Azerbaijani police to disperse a 12 December demonstration by journalists in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 December 2001). "Azerbaijan, as other member states, must respect the commitments it undertook when joining the Council of Europe. This meant, inter alia, respect for freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. This is unfortunately not the first time that we have received worrying reports from Azerbaijan about difficulties for the press to freely play its role. In a democratic society, the authorities must accept criticism and the fact that people call for their rights in public," Schwimmer said. LF

...WHILE DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER APPROVES IT
Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mamedkuliev, who is President Heidar Aliev's son-in-law, told journalists that he considers the Baku police were acting within their rights in using violence to break up the unauthorized 12 December demonstration, Turan reported on 14 December. He argued that the supremacy of the law is among the fundamental principles espoused by the Council of Europe. LF

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY TRAVELS TO AZERBAIJAN...
Donald Rumsfeld held talks in Baku on the morning of 15 December with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Aliev and with President Aliev, whom he thanked for Baku's support for the international antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld also assured Aliev that President George W. Bush will waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which bars direct U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan, before the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). Rumsfeld said that move will pave the way for U.S. military aid to, and expanded military cooperation with, Azerbaijan. U.S. officials traveling with Rumsfeld could not confirm that in return for the aid supplied, the U.S. has asked for the use of Azerbaijani military airfields. Caucasus Press on 15 December quoted Abiev as saying that Azerbaijan would only continue to make its air space available, while Turan quoted him as saying that the issue of U.S. use of Azerbaijani facilities has not yet been raised. LF

...ARMENIA...
Rumsfeld traveled from Baku to Yerevan the same day, where in what he described as "very good discussions" he delivered a similar message of thanks for support and offer of greater U.S. military assistance to President Kocharian. Rumsfeld also discussed with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian the use of some $4.3 million in military assistance to Armenia allocated by Congress last month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sarkisian said his ministry would like to use those funds for personnel training, modernizing communications facilities, and establishing a demining center. LF

...AND GEORGIA
Rumsfeld arrived in Tbilisi late on 15 December and met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who expressed support for what he termed the U.S.'s "critical support and assistance to Georgia," according to "The New York Times" on 16 December. But Shevardnadze also made clear he hopes for greater support from the international community in the settlement of unresolved conflicts. He noted that "nationalism and aggressive separatism" are among the factors that breed terrorism, according to AP. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES NEW MINISTER OF STATE
In his traditional Monday radio broadcast, Shevardnadze said on 17 December that he has proposed 50-year-old Avtandil Djorbenadze, a trained physician whom the parliament confirmed on 4 December as minister of labor, health and social welfare, as minister of state, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze characterized Djorbenadze as sociable, open, and capable of coordinating the activities of the government and coping with both political and economic issues. He also stressed that Djorbenadze does not belong to any political party. Observers had predicted that after withdrawing the proposed candidacy of former Tax Revenues Minister Levan Dzneladze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 16 and 29 November 2001), Shevardnadze would propose outgoing minister of state Gia Arsenishvili for his previous post. Caucasus Press quoted unnamed sources in the presidential administration as saying that Arsenishvili will be named Georgia's ambassador to Austria. LF

DID GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS GIVE UN ENVOY HOSTILE RECEPTION?
Dieter Boden, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, was met in Zugdidi on 14 December with whistles and jeers by Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia, according to Caucasus Press and Interfax. The fugitives reportedly accused Boden of pro-Abkhaz bias, and the members of the UN mission in the conflict zone of caring only about their princely salaries. Boden denied those allegations, characterizing his meeting with the displaced persons as friendly and saying that only one person criticized the work of the UN mission. LF

OSCE TO EXPAND MONITORING OF GEORGIAN BORDER
Meeting in Vienna on 14 December, the OSCE Permanent Council agreed to extend until 31 December 2002 its monitoring of the 81-kilometer Georgian-Chechen border and to amend the monitors' mandate to encompass surveillance of Georgia's border with Ingushetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2001). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT REVIEWS DECADE SINCE INDEPENDENCE...
Speaking in Astana on 16 December at a ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of his country's declaration of independence, President Nursultan Nazarbaev termed the last decade "difficult but happy," and named as his most important priorities for the next 10 years economic growth, eradicating poverty, and maintaining interethnic harmony, Reuters reported. LF

...SEEKS TO REASSURE INVESTORS...
Nazarbaev told journalists on 15 December in Astana following a session of the Foreign Investors' Council that "we have no intention" of revising contracts signed with foreign investors, Reuters reported. But at the same time he disclosed that 33 of 47 companies approached had agreed in talks with the Kazakh leadership to increase the royalties they pay in light of higher-than-anticipated profits earned, primarily in the oil sector. Nazarbaev further warned that a bill submitted to parliament earlier this year that gave rise to such fears will guarantee equal conditions for foreign and domestic investors in any future deals. EBRD President Jean Lemierre, who also attended the council session, characterized Kazakhstan as having created the most favorable investment climate of any CIS state, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

...RECEIVES AWARDS FROM VATICAN, PARLIAMENT
Papal Nuncio Mario Oles presented Nazarbaev on 14 December with the Order of Pius, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Meeting in emergency session the following day, both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament voted to bestow on the president the title "Hero of the People," Reuters reported. LF

NEW KAZAKH SECURITY CHIEF WARNS AGAINST TERRORIST, ISLAMIC THREATS
Addressing the upper chamber of the Kazakh parliament on 14 December shortly after its members confirmed his nomination as National Security Committee chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2001), Nartai Dutbaev warned that "terrorist forces," by which he presumably meant defeated Taliban militants, could move to Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. Dutbaev also expressed concern over the increasing number of detentions in southern Kazakhstan and Almaty of supporters of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR NEW SYSTEM TO REPLACE ABM
Speaking in Astana on 16 December, Yerlan Idrisov appealed to the international community to use the six months prior to the formal withdrawal by the U.S. from the ABM Treaty to try to come to agreement on the contours of a new system of strategic stability, Interfax reported. He said that it would be "useful" to include all permanent UN Security Council members in those discussions. LF

KAZAKH, KYRGYZ PRESIDENTS SIGN BORDER DELIMITATION AGREEMENT
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, who traveled to Astana on 15 December to participate in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence, signed an official agreement with Nazarbaev delimiting the border between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. That agreement was submitted to a Kyrgyz parliamentary committee two days earlier, but the committee chairman, Azimbek Beknazarov, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 15 December that the committee declined to approve it, saying its members needed more time to study the details. He said that although Kyrgyzstan receives more disputed territory from Kazakhstan than it cedes, it relinquishes control of a part of Talas Oblast believed to contain a gold deposit. For the past six months the Kyrgyz parliament has called for the annulment of border agreements signed with China that cede large tracts of territory. Akaev told a press conference in Astana after the signing of the border agreement that Bishkek is ready to grant Kazakhstan management rights to a gas pipeline under construction from Uzbekistan to Almaty via Kyrgyzstan provided Kazakhstan completes construction of that pipeline, Interfax reported on 15 December. LF

KYRGYZ TERRORISM CONFERENCE ENDS
An antiterrorism conference jointly organized by the OSCE and the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention ended in Bishkek on 14 December, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). Addressing the gathering, OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis stressed that his organization is interested less in the use of force to counter terrorism than in political and economic programs that would help to abolish poverty and sociopolitical conditions conducive to terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the conference would accordingly adopt a Bishkek Declaration and a Program of Action to that end. Those documents do not, however, specify sources of funding for the Program of Action. LF

RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SAYS MOSCOW DOES NOT OBJECT TO KYRGYZ PARTICIPATION IN ANTITERRORISM COALITION
Speaking in Bishkek on 14 December on the sidelines of the antiterrorism conference, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Safonov said Moscow has no objections to Kyrgyzstan offering the use of its airfields to the international antiterrorism coalition, ITAR-TASS reported. Safonov said he is convinced the U.S. is not seeking to maintain a long-term military presence in Central Asia. LF

TAJIK, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS SUPPLYING ELECTRICITY TO AFGHANISTAN
The visiting deputy head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems, Sergei Dubinin, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 14 December to discuss the feasibility of supplying even small amounts of electricity from Tajikistan's Nurek hydroelectric plant to Afghanistan, Interfax reported. Tajikistan stopped supplying power to Afghanistan in 1993 after the Taliban seized control of the northern regions of the country. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS ESSENCE OF BELARUS'S ECONOMIC LIBERALIZATION...
Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with activists of his presidential campaign staff on 14 December and assured them that there will be no "shock therapy" in Belarus despite the government's proclaimed course toward economic liberalization. "When we speak about liberalization, [we have in mind] simplifying the system of registration of economic entities for those who want to work today, who are able to find money somewhere or have money -- you are welcome, do register and produce," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

...PLEDGES TO DEFEND NATIONAL INTERESTS IN UNION WITH RUSSIA...
Lukashenka said Belarus is ready to go forward in the building of a union with Russia as far as the Russian Federation is able to proceed, Belarusian Television reported. "The interests of our state and our people will never be betrayed. You should clearly realize and remember: I don't owe anything to anybody as of today, I've not borrowed a single kopeck from anybody, so I don't need to sell enterprises to some Russian oligarchs. As long as I remain the president, I will never give up Belarus to anybody," Lukashenka vowed. JM

...WANTS STATE MEDIA TO REACH WORLD LEVEL
The Belarusian president also slammed the state-run media and ordered them to improve the coverage of political and socioeconomic processes under way in Belarus. "We have makers of media products...and we have communication lines to supply these products to consumers. But what products do we have? I'm answering: very bad ones. I'm making a comparison with those [media] products released in neighboring states, in Russia, Europe, and the United States," Lukashenka said. In particular, the president criticized newly appointed Information Minister Mikhail Padhayny for his unsatisfactory activity in the media sphere. "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" Editor in Chief Pavel Yakubovich told Belarusian Television that Lukashenka ordered him to transform his main press organ, the "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" daily, into a newspaper of a "European level" by May 2002. JM

BELARUS'S TWO OPPOSITION PARTIES HOLD CONGRESSES
The Conservative Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front and the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front held congresses in Minsk on 16 December, Belapan reported. The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), once an influential opposition force, split into the BNF Conservative Christian Party and the BNF Party in 1999 over a leadership controversy. The congress of the BNF Conservative Christian Party re-elected Zyanon Paznyak, who has been in political exile since 1996, as the party's leader. In a written message to the congress, Paznyak said the party's main task is to seek a new presidential election in Belarus under what he called international protectorate. The BNF Party congress re-elected Vintsuk Vyachorka as the party's leader. Vyachorka said the party's main task is to defend the country's independence in connection with the Lukashenka regime's integration drive toward Russia and a possible election of a Russia-Belarus Union legislature. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA SIGN ACCORD ON COMPLETING REACTORS TO REPLACE CHORNOBYL
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed an accord in Kharkiv on 14 December on Russia's assistance in completing two reactors at the Khmelnytskyy and Rivne nuclear power plants to make up for the power output lost through the closure of Chernobyl, Ukrainian media reported. The amount Russia will provide for assistance to the project has not been made known. Last month, Kuchma announced that Kyiv is dissatisfied with a loan offer from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). On 15 December, Kuchma said Ukraine still expects Western countries to provide the promised assistance, and will continue its talks with the EBRD. He said Russia should participate in these talks. "The reactors are of the Russian design, and nobody would dare exclude Russia," AP quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER TOUTS BREAKTHROUGH IN TRADE WITH RUSSIA
First Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna has announced that the Ukrainian-Russian business forum in Kharkiv on 14-15 December was a breakthrough in Ukrainian-Russian trade relations, Ukrainian Television reported on 16 December. Dubyna said Russia is interested in supplies of Ukrainian turbines for a nuclear power plant, tractors, as well as oil- and gas-drilling installations. He added that in Kharkiv, Ukrainian and Russian representatives of the agro-industrial complex and sugar producers signed many agreements on cooperation. JM

FIVE UKRAINIAN PARTIES FORMALIZE PRO-PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BLOC
On 15 December in Kyiv, the leaders of five Ukrainian parties -- Agrarian Party (Mykhaylo Hladiy), Labor Ukraine (Serhiy Tyhypko), Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (Anatoliy Kinakh), Popular Democratic Party (Valeriy Pustovoytenko), and Party of Regions (Volodymyr Seminozhenko) -- signed a formal agreement on the creation of a "For a United Ukraine" parliamentary election bloc, Interfax reported. The creation of the bloc was announced in early October, while last month it became known that the bloc will be led by presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn. Lytvyn commented after the signing ceremony that For a United Ukraine is "doomed to win in the upcoming election," adding that the bloc's participants are not seeking "to win power for the sake of power, since they are already in power." JM

BALTIC ASSEMBLY CALLS FOR JOINT EU-REFERENDUM
The 19th session of the Baltic Assembly, which met in Tallinn on 14-15 December, adopted an appeal to the parliaments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to organize simultaneous referenda on membership in the EU, BNS reported. Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins suggested in November that 23 August 2003 would be a suitable date for commemorating the Baltic unity shown in 1989, when on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact more than 2 million people formed a chain stretching from Vilnius to Tallinn via Riga calling for independence. However, Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves said that there is no need for the Baltic states to hold referendums together, and that 23 August is "not the best idea" for Estonia since "the EU has several candidate states, not one Baltic state with three provinces," and thus there is no need for Baltic unity. The assembly also adopted a resolution calling on the Baltic governments to take steps intended to reduce excessive consumption of alcohol by working together to equalize excise tax rates, and to prevent alcohol smuggling and the production of low-quality alcohol. SG

LATVIAN RIGHT-WING PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS
The 5th Congress of the union For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK was held in the Riga Congress Center on 15 December, LETA reported. Maris Grinblats was re-elected party chairman, receiving support from 466 of the 610 delegates. Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Vladimirs Makarovs and parliament Chairman Janis Straume were re-elected as deputy chairmen, and a 10-member board with greater representation of the party's regional offices was named. The congress also passed a resolution declaring that the Latvian language proficiency requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils should be maintained since they have provided positive results. All the deputies in the parliament speak Latvian, but Russian is still the working language in some of the local councils even 10 years after independence. The congress also adopted a resolution calling for the passage of the law "On Preservation and Development of Riga's Historic Center," which would regulate planning and construction in those parts of Riga that are included on UNESCO's list of the world's cultural monuments. SG

TWO LITHUANIAN POLITICAL PARTIES MERGE
An extraordinary congress held in Vilnius on 15 December by the New Democracy Party (NDP) and the Peasants Party (VP) resulted in their merger into the Peasants and New Democracy Union, "Kauno diena" reported on 17 December. The merger was not totally unexpected as the four VP and three NDP deputies in the parliament had formed a common faction. NDP leader and former Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene was elected head of the new party, with VP Chairman Ramunas Karbauskis as her first deputy chairman. The congress also elected two deputy chairmen from each party: Gintaras Didziokas and Gema Umbrasiene from NDP, and Viktoras Rinkevicius and Juozas Bertasius from VP. The other posts in the party's leadership were distributed on a proportional basis, with the VP taking nine of the 15 seats on the executive board, and 53 of the 80 seats on the party's council. The congress also elected Prunskiene as its candidate for Lithuania's president. SG

POLISH PREMIER SAYS INTERNAL ROW WILL NOT DELAY EU ACCESSION
Premier Leszek Miller said in Brussels on 15 December that Poland's domestic dispute over sale of land to foreigners will not derail the government's plans to join the EU in 2004. "The successful completion of EU talks is within our grasp. We will not waste this opportunity... I have repeatedly heard here [in Brussels] that 'Poland is back on track' [in EU talks]," Reuters quoted Miller as saying. Miller declined to answer the question whether the Democratic Left Alliance will risk breaking the coalition with the Peasant Party (PSL) over the PSL's opposition to the government's announced concession to allow EU farmers to buy Polish land after leasing it for three years. JM

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
The Sejm on 14 December voted by 236 to 130, with 44 abstentions, to reject a motion of no-confidence in Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Polish media reported. The motion was opposed by deputies from the Democratic Left Alliance-Peasant Party ruling coalition and supported by those from the League of Polish Families, Law and Justice, Self-Defense caucuses, and the Conservative Peasant Party group. Lawmakers from the Civic Platform mostly abstained from the vote. The motion was lodged by right-wing lawmakers who were outraged by Cimoszewicz's announcement of concessions in EU talks in Brussels last month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). JM

CZECH TRIAL OF EX-COMMUNIST PREMIER BEGINS
A Prague court on 17 December began the trial of former Czechoslovak Interior Minister and Premier Lubomir Strougal for abuse of power, CTK reported. The 77-year-old former functionary is accused of blocking the prosecution in 1965 of communist-era secret police suspected of murdering three men after brutal interrogations. Strougal, who maintains his innocence, faces up to 10 years in prison. He was Czechoslovak interior minister from 1961-65, and premier from 1970 until his retirement in 1988, according to the agency. AH

MAJOR PARTY VOWS TO BLOCK CZECH FUNDING FOR FIGHTER PURCHASE
A deputy chairman and leading foreign affairs voice for the Civic Democratic Party, deputy Jan Zahradil, said on 16 December that his party will not back state loans to secure the purchase of supersonic jet fighters, CTK reported. He said the minority Social Democrats' plan to borrow 70 billion crowns (roughly $2 billion) would deepen indebtedness and should not come so close to general elections, which are set for June 2002. The lower house is expected to discuss the issue in early 2002, following a recent decision by the cabinet to purchase 24 new planes from the British-Swedish consortium of BAE Systems and SAAB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). AH

FORMER PRIME MINISTER'S PARTY WINS SECOND ROUND OF SLOVAK REGIONAL ELECTIONS...
Former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) won six out of the seven contested seats of regional governors in the second round of the regional elections on 15 December. Turnout was 22.61 percent. Two weeks earlier, the opposition HZDS won 146 out of the total of 401 mandates in Slovakia's eight regional parliaments. "The [election] result encourages us to launch, immediately and more resolutely, a drive to oppose what has been done by the current government coalition," CTK quoted HZDS election campaign manager Peter Baco as saying. JM

...WHILE CURRENT PREMIER APPEALS NOT TO 'THROW IN THE TOWEL'
Premier Mikulas Dzurinda on 16 December called the election result "unpleasant" but added that it was predetermined by voters who did not participate in the polls, CTK and TASR reported. "Let's not chuck in the towel! Let's cooperate more -- this is what I view as a way out and a huge potential," Dzurinda called on the parties allied in his cabinet. Dzurinda also lashed out at Smer, a new party headed by popular deputy Robert Fico, which ran in a coalition with the HZDS in several regions. Dzurinda criticized Smer for what he called its nationalist policy leading to a short-term success. Meanwhile, President Rudolf Schuster has commented that the outcome of the country's first regional polls reflects the life and moods of a considerable part of the Slovak population. "Above all, it is necessary to change the life of citizens who live on the subsistence level," Schuster added. JM

SLOVAK PRESIDENT ABANDONS MOBILE PHONES UNDER PRESS CRITICISM
Rudolf Schuster has given up the use of mobile phones and pledged to cover previous invoices for calls placed by himself and his wife, CTK reported on 17 December. The use of 53 mobile phones in the presidential office has been strongly criticized by the Slovak press, which alleged that the office's mobile phone charges reached nearly 3 million Slovak crowns ($63,000) last year. JM

HUNGARY PREPARES FOR 'FINAL LAP' OF EU ACCESSION TALKS
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters in Laeken after the EU summit there on 15 December that "Hungary has received its admission ticket with the EU's recent country report," and has in fact "reached the vestibule of the union and is now turning the door handle to accession." Orban said Hungary can become a full EU member beginning on 1 January 2004, adding that as the accession talks have now reached the "final lap," the country will apply a new negotiating tactic of treating the remaining agricultural, regional, budget, and EU funding accession topics comprehensively, rather than on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Orban said: "A manly struggle is ahead of us, and Hungary will defend its interests very strongly, even if the union's points of reference are not fixed due to its need to coordinate the interests of 25 nation-states." He said the next few months will be of key importance, and he is thus asking Hungarian political parties to leave EU-related topics out of the upcoming parliamentary election campaign. Orban also asked his ministers to concentrate on EU admission-related tasks, and to stay away from the election campaign. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST LEADER OFFERS 'SEVEN YESES' PROGRAM
Peter Medgyessy, the opposition Socialist Party's candidate for prime minister, announced on 14 December his party's program for the 2002 general elections. The program consists of "seven yes," that is, "yes" to common welfare and freedom; responsibility for the poor; respect for labor and performance; responsibility for the nation and family; the chance to take part substantively in decision making; a secure life without fear; and for limiting and supervising the use of political power. Medgyessy told Hungarian media that the program constituted an agreement offered to the country on behalf of the Socialists. In other news, the major coalition party FIDESZ is planning a new "man on the street" campaign strategy in which television ads, giant posters, and handouts featuring comments by the common man, and not party officials, will be used to promote the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance to the public, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 17 December. MSZ

SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN TALKS BEGIN WITH EU MEDIATION
Top leaders from Belgrade and Podgorica are scheduled to meet in the Serbian capital on 17 December to discuss future relations between Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "End Note"). Among the participants are: Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, and Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic. EU security policy chief Javier Solana will mediate. Neither side has changed its well-known position, and talks are expected to be prolonged. EU spokesman Nicolas Kerleroux said in Belgrade: "In order to continue to encourage a negotiated solution, we will attend the start of dialogue today. But it is up to the parties to focus on the substance of the issues involved, rather than the platforms, so that we can have a fruitful dialogue," AP reported. PM

MONTENEGRO SEEKING TALKS AND A REFERENDUM?
Miodrag Vukovic, who is an adviser to Djukanovic, said on 16 December that the talks and a Montenegrin referendum on independence are not mutually exclusive, AP reported. He suggested that plans could go ahead for a referendum while negotiations are taking place. The Podgorica authorities have long spoken about holding a referendum in April 2002, but polls suggest that the outcome of such a vote is uncertain. PM

VOJVODINA LEADER STATES GOALS
Nenad Canak was re-elected chairman of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV) on 15 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade. Canak said that he sees Vojvodina's future not as a separate republic, but "within a democratic and decentralized Serbia." PM

ALBANIA'S DEMOCRATS RE-ELECT CONTROVERSIAL LEADER
Some 642 out of 673 delegates to the convention of the Democratic Party (PD) voted in Tirana on 16 December to re-elect Sali Berisha as chairman, AP reported. He leads the Unity for Victory opposition faction, which holds 46 seats in the parliament. Critics charge that Berisha is a spent force and should make way for new leaders if the PD is ever to become the dominant party in Albania again. PM

TRIBUNAL RULES PEASANTIST PARTY LEGAL...
On 14 December, the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal approved the 2 June merger of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and the National Alliance Christian Democratic (ANCD), Romanian media reported. The court thus canceled a 27 August decision that considered that merger null and void (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2001). The court also struck the ANCD from the list of existing parties and approved the PNTCD's current leadership elected last summer. The decision can be appealed within five days. Wilfred Martens, the president of the European Popular Party (EPP), hailed the court's decision, Mediafax reported. ZsM

CROATIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS TAKE STOCK
The steering committee of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) met in Zagreb on 16 December under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Ivica Racan to discuss the party's situation after two years in power, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Among the issues on the agenda were relations with the SDP's often difficult coalition partner, the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS). The Social Liberals' longtime de facto leader, Drazen Budisa, wants to resume the formal chairmanship of his party. In a recent interview, he criticized both the SDP and Racan, but Racan told Hina on 16 December that he does not want to be drawn into a public discussion of Budisa's remarks. Many observers believe that Budisa, whom someone once described as "the man who always finishes second," would like to exchange the coalition with the SDP for one with several center and conservative parties -- and with himself as prime minister. Unfortunately for Budisa, he has alienated many of the conservative allies he would need to put together such a coalition. PM

COORDINATED MOVES AGAINST SUSPECTED BIN LADEN BALKAN LINK
Following a decision by the U.S. government to seize records and block assets of the Chicago-based Islamic charity Global Relief Foundation (GRF) on 14 December, KFOR troops detained several persons and seized documents and equipment at GRF offices in Prishtina and Gjakova, Reuters reported the following day. In Sarajevo, police of the Muslim-Croat federation raided the Sarajevo offices of GRF and the charity Taibah International. Some Bosnian media have suggested that there is a link between Taibah International and Osama bin Laden, Hina reported. One German expert told "RFE/RL Newsline" that "a plethora of foreign NGOs" are working in Bosnia, Kosova, and many other parts of the former communist Balkans, with the encouragement of the international community. He added that it is not surprising that "a few bad apples" have appeared on the scene in addition to the many bona fide organizations. PM

...WHILE ROMANIANS FAVOR EU INTEGRATION...
According to an opinion poll published by Mediafax on 14 December, 76 percent of Romanians would vote in favor of EU integration in a referendum. The poll, which was conducted by the Center for Urban and Rural Sociology (CURS) in October, showed that only 4 percent would oppose such a measure. Almost 40 percent of respondents consider their country partially ready for accession, while 28 percent think Romania is not yet prepared for accession. Only 7 percent believe that the government does everything it can to prepare Romania for EU accession in the near future, and 39 percent say the government acts in that direction. Premier Adrian Nastase and his Social Democratic Party (PSD) still lead in opinion polls. Nastase is the most-popular politician, with 58 percent support, and 34 percent of voters would vote for the PSD. ZsM

ALBANIAN SOCIALIST LEADER PAYS CONTROVERSIAL VISIT TO BELGRADE
Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano attended an OSCE-sponsored conference on Yugoslavia's relations with its neighbors in Belgrade and met with President Kostunica, AP reported on 14 December. Nano said that both countries are "now mature and ready to become good neighbors" because both have opted for democracy. "We are not alone in our efforts," he added, alluding to Western support. Nano praised the recent Western-run elections in Kosova, saying that "Serbs and Albanians will each play an important role in the Balkans and the integration of the region into Europe." Observers note that the visit seems sure to arouse controversy in Albania and Kosova, because many there do not consider Kostunica or his Serbia to be democratic. Nano similarly brought criticism upon himself a few years ago when he met then-President Slobodan Milosevic at a Balkan summit in Greece. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ON EU ACCESSION CHANCES...
Upon his return on 16 December from the European Union summit in Laeken, Ion Iliescu said that Romania has a chance of closing all EU accession negotiation chapters by mid-2003, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said Romania bears full responsibility for finalizing accession preparations as soon as possible. He said Romania could thus join the EU in 2004, but added that "wanting to join earlier is not enough; we also have to be able [to do so]." The summit concluded that Romania and Bulgaria will not yet be ready for accession by 2004, but that all negotiation chapters should be opened in 2002. ZsM

...AS DO ETHNIC MINORITIES
Representatives of all ethnic minorities living in Romania, excluding Hungarians, on 16 December signed in the Transylvanian city of Cluj a declaration in support of Romania's European Union accession, Mediafax reported. According to the declaration, ethnic minorities will act in order to consolidate the political system and democratic institutions, and to activate market economy structures and mechanisms. The Hungarian Democratic Federation in Romania (UDMR) did not sign the declaration. Deputy Chairman Gyula Szep said the declaration contains "worn-out and exaggerated" phrases, and that while the UDMR does support Romania's EU integration, his country cannot be considered "a model" for interethnic relations. He added there are several basic requests formulated by the ethnic Hungarian minority -- such as the establishment of a Hungarian-language university and the return of confiscated church properties -- that are still not fulfilled. ZsM

...WHILE DISSIDENT PEASANTISTS LAUNCH NEW PARTY
Dissident members from the PNTCD organized the founding congress of the Popular Christian Party (PPC) on 15 December, Mediafax reported. According to its statutes, the PPC is a center-right, reformist party. The congress elected former PNTCD Deputy Chairman Vasile Lupu as chairman, and former PNTCD Secretary-General Calin Catalin Chirita as secretary-general. The party is to be officially registered next February, pending the organization of national and local structures. Lupu said former PNTCD Chairman Andrei Marga will not participate in the party's work for the next six months, but will continue "to spread the popular doctrine." Lupu added that he is prepared to resign his post to Marga. In his speech at the congress, 106-year-old Emil Wagner said he has been a Peasantist Party member for 81 years, but now he has to leave that party, as it has been penetrated by "foreign elements that tend to destroy its values." ZsM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO BETTER PROTECT ETHNIC ROMANIANS ABROAD?
Public Information Minister Vasile Dancu said on 14 December that in the future the Romanian government will act more strongly in protecting the rights of ethnic Romanians living abroad, Mediafax reported. Dancu said it is "not normal" for Romania to offer "a good, European treatment to national minorities," and then "fight for years" for the opening, in a foreign country, of a "simple Romanian school or against the ban of Romanian magazines." He added, however, that this shift will not result in a change to Romania's internal policies toward minorities, which are to be granted all legal rights. ZsM

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT TO APPEAL ECHR DECISION ON BESSARABIAN CHURCH?
Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc said on 14 December that the Moldovan government will present new facts to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case against the Bessarabian Orthodox Church, Flux reported. Stepaniuc said Chisinau is satisfied with the ECHR ruling, as it did not "impose on the Moldovan government to register this church" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). He added the government will present the ECHR with "supplementary arguments" proving the Bessarabian Church "divides the [Moldovan] society, and it should not be registered." ZsM

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS ELECT NEW PARTY HEAD
At an extraordinary congress of the Socialist Party on 15 December, Sergei Stanishev was elected chairman with 441 of 657 votes in a secret ballot, Western and local news agencies reported. Stanishev, the 35-year-old international secretary to outgoing party leader Georgi Parvanov, defeated three other candidates, including Rumen Ovcharov, who received 114 votes. Parvanov, who led the party of former communists since they were voted out of government in 1996, relinquished his post after being elected president in November. According to Bulgaria's Constitution, the president cannot be a party member. DW

THE EU AND DEMOCRACY IN MONTENEGRO


Brussels appears to have firmly allied itself with those in Serbia and Montenegro committed to maintaining the union of those two former Yugoslav republics. One leading European expert warns that the EU may be heading for a repetition of its previous policy fiascoes in former Yugoslavia if it stands in the way of free choice.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said separately in Podgorica on 12 December that EU security chief Javier Solana will mediate talks between the Montenegrin and Belgrade leaderships shortly. Solana and other EU officials -- including French President Jacques Chirac -- have put pressure on Podgorica in recent weeks to remain in a single state with Serbia.

But the Montenegrins feel that the EU may change its mind if its representatives have an opportunity to observe what Podgorica regards as Belgrade's bullying tactics. The Montenegrins also welcome the presence of a mediator in what has often been an unequal dialogue, given that the population of Serbia is roughly 10 times that of Montenegro.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica welcomes the talks but maintains that the question of setting up two independent states must not be on the agenda. Djukanovic, however, argues that the discussion topic will be how to recast relations now that the federation is dead. He has also said in recent days that he believes that Montenegro will become fully independent within one year.

But not if Brussels can help it. Independence-minded members of the Montenegrin parliament have told "RFE/RL Newsline" that EU officials sometimes behave "arrogantly" toward Montenegrin officials, apparently forgetting that Montenegro has a long tradition of independent statehood. Anecdotal evidence abounds among Western experts in Balkan affairs, moreover, to suggest that the EU has long been opposed to even considering Montenegrin independence.

Why the stubbornness? Veteran Balkan correspondent Viktor Meier writes in his new book "Jugoslawiens Erben: Die Neuen Staaten und die Politik des Westens" ("Yugoslavia's Heirs: The New States and Western Policy," Munich: Beck'sche Reihe, 2001) that Western politicians in general -- and those of the EU (or EC) in particular -- refuse to learn from their previous failures in former Yugoslavia. He believes that they are intent on repeating their previous mistakes made since 1991 by insisting on maintaining existing states and borders.

Meier argues that Brussels has always been determined to hold as much of the failed former Yugoslavia together as possible and at any cost, despite the wishes of most of its citizens to go their own ways. As a result, first the EC opposed democratically expressed choices made by Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, and Macedonians, and the EU is now making the same mistake with Kosovars and Montenegrins. The outcome, Meier predicts, does not bode well for the EU's reputation or for its future as an effective participant on the international stage.

Nor is he alone in suggesting that this policy is ill-advised. Lord Russell-Johnston, who is the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, recently told the Podgorica weekly "Monitor" that the EU is wrong to take sides in the dispute between the Montenegrin and Belgrade authorities. He stressed that the EU's support for a continuation of the Serbian-Montenegrin union is counterproductive because it will alienate many Montenegrins. Montenegrins, moreover, have the right to determine their own future. Russell-Johnston added that the first thing that the Montenegrins must decide on -- before going ahead with a referendum -- is what will constitute a valid majority in a vote on independence.

The issue of the EU's one-sided approach is precisely the point that some influential circles in Podgorica have taken up. On 11 December, members of the Montenegrin branch of the international PEN Club -- an immensely prestigious institution in former Yugoslavia, where writers traditionally enjoy great respect -- wrote to Chirac to criticize his recent remarks in Belgrade rejecting Montenegrin independence. The writers said that his comments amount to an attack on the dignity of Montenegrins, who have as much right as any other people to determine their own future without any outside interference, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported.

The PEN Club also noted that French support for Belgrade works against the interests of Montenegro's ethnic minorities -- Muslims, Albanians, and Croats -- who prefer to live in a multiethnic Montenegro rather than as part of a larger state that is founded on the ideology of a Greater Serbia.

On 12 December, some 100 Montenegrin academics, professors, writers, and other prominent public figures signed a formal protest against Western support for Belgrade, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica. Like the PEN Club, the broader group of intellectuals noted that Montenegrins have as much right as any other former Yugoslav people to determine their own future, and that this was affirmed by the international Badinter Commission in 1991-92.

The intellectuals also wondered, moreover, whether the West knows where its interests and friends are, pointing out that Belgrade's supporters in Montenegro "celebrated the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on 11 September late into the night."

Nonetheless, Brussels seems to be going ahead with what Meier sees as a doomed effort that will only repeat the mistakes of the past. Kostunica plays on the EU's fears by portraying the continuation of a federal state under his leadership as necessary for "stability" -- even though his own party has shown itself willing to upset the stability of Serbia by calling for early elections.

Of course, the Djukanovic leadership may well be playing with fire by calling for a referendum on independence in the spring of 2002. The results of the 2001 elections and subsequent opinion polls suggest that the outcome of such a vote is anybody's guess and that Djukanovic might well lose, even if he has his way in defining the rules under which a referendum is held.

But a lost vote will be his problem to deal with, not that of anyone in Brussels or even Belgrade, where Montenegrin issues do not play much of a role in political life. Meier and many other veteran Balkan observers stress that the choice must be made by the Montenegrins and by them alone.

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