Accessibility links

Newsline - January 10, 2002


FORMER RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT FAILS TO SWAY COURT IN APPEAL OF ESPIONAGE SENTENCE
The Russian Supreme Court on 9 January rejected former diplomat Valentin Moiseev's appeal against a guilty verdict for passing Russian state secrets to South Korea over several years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1998 and 17 December 1999), RFE/RL's Russian Service and gazeta.ru reported. As a result, Moiseev must serve a 4 1/2-year prison term handed down last August. Moiseev, the former deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's First Asian Department, was arrested on 4 July 1998 on charges of passing secret documents to the South Korean secret services. Moiseev argued that he merely provided a copy of a speech he was planning to make at an open conference in South Korea. In 1999, a Moscow court found Moiseev guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment, which was reduced to 4 1/2 years on 14 August 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2000 and 15 August 2001). Following the latest decision, Moiseev's lawyer, Ksenia Kostromina, said she will no longer attempt to appeal to Russia courts, and will take the case to the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg, NTV reported. VY

DUMA SPEAKER CONCERNED ABOUT U.S. BASES IN CENTRAL ASIA, BUT PUTIN IS NOT
Speaking at a press conference in Astana, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said he against the long-term deployment of U.S. forces in Central Asian states, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 January. He said any decision related to the establishment of permanent American bases in the region must be made only after collective discussions between those Central Asian states and Russia. In addition, Seleznev said that the use by the United States of airfields in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan means that from there the U.S. will attempt to control not only the situation in Afghanistan, but also on the Indian-Pakistani border, the western areas of China, and in Kazakhstan. "Kommersant-Daily" noted the same day that Seleznev's comments are at odds with the position of President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly said that the "presence of American partners in the region must be solved by Washington and the related countries on a bilateral basis." The daily went on to argue that the presence of U.S. troops can only help Russian efforts to protect its border from illegal immigration and the trafficking of drugs and weapons. VY

ZHIRINOVSKY CALLS ON MOSCOW TO SIDE WITH INDIA IN DISPUTE WITH PAKISTAN
Deputy Duma speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky told journalists in Moscow on 9 January that Russia must "decisively" take the side of Delhi in the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, RTR reported. As the international efforts to preserve peace in that region are bringing few results, Russia must back India's fight against Kashmir extremists both "as the member of antiterrorist coalition and long-time friend of India," he said. In final judgment, Russia and India are alike in their "fight with internal separatism and confrontation with troubled neighbors," according to Zhirinovsky. VY

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL OPENS CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST GAZPROM AND SIBUR HEADS...
The public relations department of the Prosecutor-General's Office announced that it has detained Sibur President Yakov Goldovskii, Vice President Yevgenii Koshits, and board Chairman Vyacheslav Sheremet, who is also the first vice president of Gazprom and a longtime associate of former Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev, RBK news agency reported on 9 January. All three will be charged with abuse of office and embezzlement of funds. The case was initiated by the present management of Gazprom led by Aleksei Miller, who provided the office with compromising materials, according to RBK. The raid by the Prosecutor-General's Office on Sibur's offices in Moscow took place one day prior to the company's general assembly of shareholders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2001), which was to discuss the possibility of separating Sibur from Gazprom. "Izvestiya" commented on 9 January that through his actions Miller prevented such a development. VY

...AS COMMENTATOR TRIES TO GRASP LOGIC OF RUSSIAN LAW ENFORCEMENT
Political journalist Sergei Mitrofanov wrote on smi.ru on 9 January that the arrests and release from custody of prominent personalities in the past year have evolved into part of the political life in today's Russia. He noted that it is remarkable that while so-called "spies" like Grigorii Pasko and Moiseev remain in prison, reputed wheeler-dealers and practitioners of corruption such as diamond dealer Andrei Kozlyonok and former Kremlin facilities directorate head Pavel Borodin are free. Against this background, Mitrofanov said, the events surrounding Sibur look normal. VY

EXPERTS SAYS 10 PERCENT OF U.S. DOLLAR NOTES IN RUSSIA ARE FAKE
Aleksei Bezdenezhnykh, the director of the private Russian security company Sistema that produced equipment for detecting counterfeit currency, said that about 10 percent of all U.S. dollar banknotes circulating in Russia are counterfeit, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 January. Bezdenezhnykh said such an amount is enormous as the amount of dollars circulating in Russia is second only to those in the United States itself. The spreading of counterfeit dollars is aided by the fact that the forgeries are usually of very high quality, and that most currency exchange centers in Russia have neither the equipment nor the desire to detect counterfeit dollars. VY

GOVERNMENT DRAFTS BILL ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE
The government has prepared a draft bill on alternative service to compulsory military duty based primarily on the proposals of the General Staff and the Defense Ministry, strana.ru reported on 9 January. According to the bill, those who do not want to serve in the army still can be conscripted, but will be given the option of serving in noncombat roles. The four-year terms for alternative service will be one year longer than that of conventional military duty. In addition, the bill rejected a proposal that called for candidates to be able to serve close to their place of residence. According to the document, alternative civil service should be extraterritorial; i.e., a draftee can be sent to any area in Russia. VY

NO FUNDS FOR EVACUATION OF RUSSIAN SPY CENTER FROM CUBA
Major General Viktor Denisov, the commander of the Russian military's aviation transport division, said that the withdrawal of the Russian electronic espionage center from Lourdes, Cuba, has been suspended for an indefinite period of time due to a lack of funding, smi.ru reported on 9 January. Although it was originally planned to begin dismantling the center, which occupies 70 square kilometers and employs 1,500 officers, on 15 January, no finances were allotted to initiate the project. As a result, three AN-124 transport aircraft that were sent to Lourdes to evacuate personnel are sitting on the runway, smi.ru reported. VY

TATARSTAN SEEKING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES IN AFGHANISTAN
Timur Akulov, the head of Tatarstan's presidential Foreign Affairs Department, told reporters on 8 January that Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah recently confirmed his country's interest in using KamAZ trucks, Kazan-made helicopters, and Tatarstan construction companies to help rebuild the Afghan economy, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. According to Akulov, the interim Afghan government is also interested in learning more about Jadid Islam, a secularized religious school of thought established by the Tatar intelligentsia in the late 19th century. JAC

UPPER CHAMBER HEAD WANTS MORE ACTIVE ROLE IN LEGISLATIVE PROCESS...
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told reporters in St. Petersburg on 9 January that he wants the upper legislative house to become more active in the legislative process, convene more often, and examine pending legislation more carefully. According to Mironov, the council was responsible for only 1.3 percent of all legislative initiatives over the last two years. In addition, Mironov said he would like senators to stop automatically approving any legislative initiative passed by the State Duma, and to "independently and meticulously" examine each bill. Mironov also again spoke in favor of a longer presidential term. JAC

...AND MORE FEDERAL FUNCTIONS, FINANCING FOR ST. PETERSBURG
Mironov also announced while in St. Petersburg, that he and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev have authored a bill that would transfer some of the functions of the federal capital to St. Petersburg, polit.ru reported. The bill is currently undergoing judicial review and will eventually be introduced in the State Duma. According to Mironov, St. Petersburg was originally built as a capital city and continues to fulfill certain functions of that nature, such as hosting meetings of world leaders. However, up to this point the maintenance of historical and cultural monuments has been left up to the city to finance, and the proposed bill would make such maintenance a responsibility of the federal budget. JAC

RUSSIAN ALUMINUM, NORILSK NICKEL ALLEGEDLY PULLING STRINGS IN KRASNOYARSK...
Deputies in Krasnoyarsk Krai's Legislative Assembly re-elected Aleksandr Uss as their chairman on 9 January. Commenting on Uss's victory, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed said there had been a struggle between Russian Aluminum and Norilsk Nickel over the speaker's nomination, and that Russian Aluminum decided to nominate Uss. Lebed added that it will likely be easier to say how the battle between the two companies will affect the lives of Krasnoyarsk residents only after two or three sessions of the oblast's legislature. According to some sources, Russian Aluminum also plays a large role in the political life of the republic of Khakasia, which is headed by Lebed's brother, Aleksei. JAC

...AS REGIONAL VOTERS NOW GIVEN A SAY IN OLIGARCHIC ARRANGEMENTS
In an interview with "Novoe vremya" on 6 January, Dmitrii Oreshkin, the director of the Merkator research center, said LUKoil is "very active" and is quite often "successful" in regional elections. According to Oreshkin, the company does not care if the candidate is left or right: For example, the company supported [Governor Nikolai] Maksyuta in Volgograd Oblast, [Governor Vladimir] Yegorov in Kaliningrad Oblast, and [Anatolii] Yefremov in Arkhangelsk Oblast. According to Oreshkin, LUKoil's conscious "corporate strategy" is that is it necessary to control the largest regions to protect its business, and "it does this through elections. " He continued: "Earlier there was a covert lobbying system, but now it is more or less done legally through elections. In this, there is the obvious sadness because voters in the best case are invited to rubber-stamp the result of an agreement between oligarchic structures. But this is a positive moment," he said, "because nonetheless the voters are appealed to. Before, no one asked them anything." JAC

INFORMATION SECURITY COMMISSION IN THE WORKS IN THE FAR EAST
Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii has launched the creation of an interdepartmental commission for information security, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported on 9 January. The commission's membership will be composed of the directors of the Far East departments of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Federal Agency for Government Communication and Information (FAPSI), chairmen of state technical commissions, as well as representatives of the municipal administrations in the district. Pulikovskii's press secretary, Yevgenii Anushin, said that the commission will focus on the protection of databanks of commercial and state enterprises. It will not control the activities of journalists, he said. JAC

VORONEZH FSB ACCUSED OF COLLECTING KOMPROMAT ON LOCAL LEGISLATORS
Deputies in the Legislative Assembly of the city of Voronezh have accused the mayor of that city compiling files of compromising materials about each of them, NTV reported on 9 January. One deputy told the network that Mayor Aleksandr Kovalev's chief of staff, who also happens to be the former director of the Voronezh FSB directorate, told the deputies that the materials will be made public if they continue to criticize the mayor. And another deputy said that Kovalev himself admitted to having ordered the investigations because he needed the materials to properly assess their work. However, the current spokesman for the FSB directorate denied that his office has ever been authorized to conduct such investigations. JAC

CHECHNYA TO REMAIN A PRESIDENTIAL REPUBLIC
Chechnya's proposed new constitution, which will be formally unveiled for public debate after its approval by legal experts, envisages a presidential, not a parliamentary republic, Chechnya's representative to the Federation Council Akhmad Zavgaev told Interfax on 9 January. The president will be elected for a five-year term. Zavgaev added that the draft was jointly prepared by Chechnya's Consultative Council, the pro-Russian Chechen administration headed by Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, and former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov. Zavgaev said the parliamentary model had been considered but was discarded as "inconsistent with the overall [Russian] constitutional field." Gantemirov favored the parliamentary model, possibly envisaging himself as prime minister under such an arrangement (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 41, 13 December 2001). A proposal that Chechnya be granted special economic status was rejected, as it was feared such status would only provide loopholes for the embezzlement of federal funds, according to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 10 January. LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY SUMS UP RESULTS OF ARGUN OPERATION
Life is reportedly "returning to normal" in the Chechen town of Argun following a six-day operation to locate and detain Chechen militants, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 9 January. Chechen Prosecutor-General Vsevolod Chernov said a total of 187 residents of the town were investigated, of whom 27 were taken into custody and two identified as "members of illegal bandit formations," according to Interfax. It is not clear whether the other 25 have been released. Also on 9 January, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, commander of the North Caucasus Military District, named Colonel Viktor Smirnov military commandant in Argun. The previous commandant, Colonel Nikolai Sidorenko, was dismissed last month for negligence in allowing Chechen militants to enter the town and investigators are deciding whether disciplinary charges should be brought against him. LF

TURKEY ASKS RUSSIA FOR INFORMATION ON CHECHEN RADICAL
Turkey has asked the Russian government for its "extradition file" on Movladi Udugov, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 9 January. Yastrzhembskii described the Turkish request as "an indication of Ankara's readiness to work with Moscow on fighting international terrorism." In mid-November the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a formal rebuttal of President Putin's claim that Ankara does nothing to prevent Chechen fighters from traveling between Turkey and Georgia, whence they enter Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 November 2001). Udugov served in 1995-1996 as Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev's information minister and then in 1999 joined forces with field commander Shamil Basaev in his ill-fated bid to invade Daghestan and proclaim an independent Islamic Republic in the North Caucasus. He currently runs a website that provides information on the ongoing hostilities. According to "Izvestiya" on 10 January, Moscow first asked Ankara to extradite Udugov 18 months ago. It is not clear where Udugov is now based: Yastrzhembskii said he has "been seen in a small country in the Persian Gulf," which observers in Moscow believe to be Qatar. LF

RUSSIA TO INCREASE SUPPLIES OF UNCUT DIAMONDS TO ARMENIA
Moscow will supply Armenia with 400,000 carats of uncut diamonds annually from 2002-2005 and 450,000 carats in 2006, according to Armenpress and RosBusinessConsulting on 9 January, as cited by Groong. Armenia was one of the centers of diamond cutting in the former USSR, but for most of the 1990s foreign suppliers supplanted Russia as the main source of uncut stones. The two countries signed an agreement in late 1998 on supplies for 1999-2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1998). LF

MARTIAL LAW PROLONGED IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH
The leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has extended for a further 12 months the state of martial law first proclaimed in 1992, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 9 January, quoting the office of President Arkadii Ghukasian. No explanation was given for the decision. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION REMAINS DIVIDED...
Meeting in Baku on 7 January, the leaders of the Civic Solidarity, Taraggi, Adalat, and Azerbaijan National Independence (AMIP) parties and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party agreed that it would be expedient to cancel the planned summit of opposition parties that Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar scheduled for 10 January, and at which an agreement was expected to be signed establishing a formal structure for coordinating opposition activities, Turan reported. A similar summit convened by Gambar on 26 December, which neither AMIP nor the Popular Front reformers attended and at which no formal agreement of any kind was signed, was widely considered a debacle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). The five party leaders then met again on 9 January together with the heads of the Liberal and Democratic parties and agreed in principle on the need for the opposition to join forces in order to work for a change of leadership, Turan reported. But they also reaffirmed that they consider it premature to sign a formal coordination agreement at this stage. Liberal Party leader Lala-Shovket Gazdhieva and Taraggi party head Chingiz Sadykhov both proposed to Gambar postponing the 10 January summit, but he said it was not possible to do so. LF

...AS MUSAVAT PROTESTS IMMINENT EVICTION FROM HEADQUARTERS
Also on 9 January, some 50 members of the Musavat Party picketed the office of the Baku mayor to protest the Economic Development Ministry's refusal to extend the lease on the building where the party's headquarters is located, Turan reported. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI MILITARY OFFICIALS ASSESS TURKISH ALLEGATIONS AGAINST ARMENIA
Three former senior Azerbaijani Defense Ministry officials interviewed by the independent ANS-TV on 8 January said they believe Turkish Army Chief of General Staff Huseyin Kivrikoglu's claim that Armenia has weapons of mass destruction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002) is either credible or true, according to Groong on 9 January. LF

GEORGIA LAUNCHES NEW CRACKDOWN ON CIGARETTE SMUGGLING
A draft presidential resolution approved by the Georgian government on 9 January envisages the creation of a special group within the Ministry for Tax Revenue that will keep more reliable records of taxes due and paid on tobacco and oil products, Caucasus Press reported. Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze has likewise formed a new commission to crack down on the smuggling of oil products and cigarettes. Meeting with Djorbenadze on 8 January, parliament deputies from the "Alliance for a New Georgia" faction argued that if all taxes on tobacco are paid, the resulting revenues would be adequate to double teachers' salaries. LF

GEORGIA AGAIN EXTENDS FALL DRAFT
The autumn call-up for military service has been extended a second time, from 31 December to 10 February, as only 60 percent of the young men liable for military service have been drafted, Deputy Defense Minister Dmitrii Lezhava told Caucasus Press on 9 January (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 1, 3 January 2002). Lezhava warned that all commissars who fail to ensure that at least 70 percent of potential draftees are called up will be fired. LF

ABKHAZIA REFUSES TO ALLOW EXPERTS TO CHECK FORMER RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE FOR RADIATION
The Abkhaz leadership will not grant either Georgian or international experts access to the former Russian military base in Gudauta to determine whether or not the departing Russian troops left behind any source of radiation, Caucasus Press reported on 9 January, quoting a spokesman for the Abkhaz Defense Ministry. Georgian Environment and Natural Resources Minister Nino Chkhobadze told journalists earlier that day that she believes it is necessary for experts to examine the Gudauta base given that sources of radiation have recently been discovered at other sites in Georgia vacated by Russian troops. LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT NAMES PREMIER
The parliament of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia approved on 9 January President Eduard Kokoev's candidate for prime minister, Gerasim Khugaev, ITAR-TASS reported. A 57-year-old philosopher, Khugaev is a graduate of Moscow State University and worked in recent years for public organizations in the Republic of North Ossetia-Alaniya. LF

NEW KAZAKH OPPOSITION MOVEMENT TO LOBBY FOR REFERENDUM ON LOCAL ELECTIONS
Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 9 January, two leading members of the recently formed movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, Tilek Alzhanov and Bolat Abilov, said the movement plans to campaign for the holding of a referendum in which citizens will be asked whether they approve the current practice of appointing oblast and local officials or think such officials should be elected, Interfax reported. The movement will also campaign for the adoption of a new, more liberal media law, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. LF

DETAINED KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY APPEALS TO NATION
In an appeal released in Bishkek on 9 January, parliament deputy Azim Beknazarov termed his arrest on 5 January an insult to the country's parliament and proposed that his fellow parliament deputies form a commission to investigate whether or not he is guilty of any crime, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, and 9 January 2002). Beknazarov's lawyer, Moidun Kulchunov, said that Beknazarov has abandoned the hunger strike he began shortly after his arrest. Meanwhile, 11 deputies of the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament) wrote on 9 January to President Askar Akaev condemning Beknazarov's arrest as a violation both of Kyrgyz law and of human rights, and demanding his release. In Bishkek, supporters of Beknazarov including prominent Kyrgyz human rights activists picketed the Prosecutor-General's Office on 9 January for the second consecutive day to demand Beknazarov's release. LF

TAJIKISTAN'S MAN IN KABUL OUTLINES PRIORITIES
Farhod Mahkamov, who was named last week as Tajikistan's new ambassador to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2002), told Asia Plus-Blitz in an interview on 9 January that his priorities will be establishing economic cooperation between Tajikistan and Afghanistan; postconflict rehabilitation; combating drug smuggling; and creating conditions for border trade and the issuing of visas between the two countries. A 52-year-old agronomist, Mahkamov also graduated from a higher military college in the USSR, transferring in 1981 from the Soviet military to the diplomatic service. He has a decade of experience as a diplomat in Afghanistan, having served from 1981-1987 at the Soviet Embassy in Kabul and from 1987-89 at the Soviet General Consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, and is fluent in both Dari and Uzbek. LF

U.S. LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON DEFENSE COOPERATION WITH TAJIKISTAN
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 9 January that restrictions imposed in 1993 on the transfer of military equipment to Tajikistan have been lifted due to that country's close cooperation with the international antiterrorism coalition, AP reported. LF

BAPTIST PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE RELEASED IN TURKMENISTAN
Turkmenistan's best-known prisoner of conscience, Baptist Shageldy Atakov, was released from prison on 8 January, several months before his four-year prison term on what are generally regarded as fabricated charges of swindling was due to expire, Keston News Service reported on 10 January. Atakov has been reunited with his family in the town of Kaakha close to the Turkmen-Iranian border but has not yet been given a formal certificate of release from prison, nor have his identity papers been returned to him. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TURKMENISTAN...
Igor Ivanov held talks in Ashgabat on 8 January with his Turkmen counterpart Rashid Meredov and on 9 January with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Ivanov and Meredov signed a protocol on cooperation between their respective ministries and discussed the situation in Afghanistan and preparations for Niyazov's upcoming state visit to Moscow, scheduled for 21 January. Niyazov told journalists after his talks with Ivanov that a new date for the planned summit of Caspian littoral states, originally scheduled for early 2001 but twice postponed, will be set after his visits to Moscow and Iran, and that the meeting could take place before the end of this year. Niyazov noted that "general approaches" exists toward dividing the Caspian seabed, but that the five littoral states cannot agree on dividing the water surface, which he argued should be divided on the condominium principle, with each state having a coastal zone of 10-20 miles. Niyazov also argued that the five littoral states should desist from exploiting disputed hydrocarbon deposits until a final agreement on the legal status of the sea is reached, but ruled out military action by any state to defend its territorial interests, Media-Press reported. Vremya.ru quoted Niyazov as saying that he hopes that during his upcoming visit to Moscow a "document defining the legal basis for bilateral relations" will be signed, but added that the Russian Foreign Ministry has denied any knowledge of such an accord. LF

...AND UZBEKISTAN
Ivanov flew from Ashgabat to Tashkent on 9 January and met the same day with President Islam Karimov to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, in particular the prospects for bilateral cooperation within the framework of joint efforts by the international community to promote a long-term peace in Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. Ivanov noted after those talks that Russia and Uzbekistan "share common fundamental approaches to the formation of a new world order based on civilized democratic standards," to the struggle against international terrorism, and to postconflict reconstruction in Afghanistan, according to Interfax and RIA-Novosti. Also discussed were various aspects of bilateral trade, economic, humanitarian, and military-technical cooperation. Ivanov also signed together with his Uzbek counterpart Abdulaziz Komilov a cooperation agreement between their respective ministries. LF

MINSK TRACTOR FACTORY DIRECTOR SAID TO CAUSE LOSSES OF $4 MILLION...
Valery Yarasheuski from the State Control Committee told Belarusian Television on 9 January that the Minsk Tractor Plant has lost no less than $4 million because of trade operations conducted by its director, Mikhail Lyavonau. Yarasheuski was commenting on the recent arrest of Lyavonau on charges of abuse of office and negligence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2002). JM

...WHILE OPPOSITION POLITICIANS SEE OTHER REASONS FOR HIS ARREST
Meanwhile, former National Bank Governor Stanislau Bahdankevich has said the arrest of Lyavonau took place within the framework of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's "campaign of intimidation" against business executives, Belapan reported. "Lukashenka has earlier announced that, for starters, 15 major directors will be arrested and imprisoned," Bahdankevich noted. United Civic Party deputy head Vasil Shlyndzikau said the authorities are now arresting "more-or-less independent people who have their own view of economic processes in the country." And he added: "Soon the task of finding candidates for managerial posts in Belarus will become as complex as appointing collective farm heads -- there will simply be no people wishing [to assume such posts]." JM

BELARUSIAN OFFICIAL DISMISSES ALLEGATIONS OF ILLEGAL ARMS TRADE
Belarusian Deputy Defense Minister Pyotr Rahazheuski said Belarus sells arms and military hardware "in strict compliance with international regulations and only to countries that are not under the UN embargo," Belapan reported on 9 January. Rahazheuski was commenting on an article in "The Washington Post" of 3 January alleging that "Belarus is quietly acting as a leading supplier of lethal military equipment to Islamic radicals -- with terrorists and militant organizations in the Middle East, Balkans, and Central Asia often the recipients." Rahazheuski dismissed the allegation as "nonsense," noting that "the desire to drive Belarus out of the world's arms market" is behind the article. Rahazheuski said Belarus has never supplied and does not intend to supply arms to Iraq, but added that Minsk cannot control re-exports. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER ACCUSED OF ROLE IN OUSTING MEDVEDCHUK
On 9 January in Kyiv, Dmytro Ponomarchuk, a leader of the Popular Movement of Ukraine election bloc, made public an audiotape of what he said were telephone calls between Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko and former Premier Viktor Yushchenko, in which both politicians appear to discuss details of the vote on the 13 December dismissal of the first deputy speaker and the leader of the Social Democratic Party (United), Viktor Medvedchuk. Ponomarchuk also demonstrated a recording of Yushchenko's other public pronouncement stating that his political bloc, Our Ukraine, had nothing to do with the ousting of Medvedchuk. Ponomarchuk did not disclose from whom he obtained the audiotape. The "Ukrayinska pravda" website commented that Ponomarchuk's disclosure is primarily intended to undermine Yushchenko's trustworthiness in the election campaign. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine is widely tipped to win significant parliamentary representation in the 31 March ballot. JM

OUR UKRAINE'S PARTIES PLEDGE TO FORM SINGLE PARLIAMENTARY CAUCUS
Ten parties constituting the Our Ukraine election bloc led by former Premier Yushchenko on 9 January signed a formal agreement on the creation of their election coalition and pledged to set up a joint caucus in the future parliament, Interfax reported. Our Ukraine is formed by the Popular Rukh of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, the Reforms and Order Party, the Christian-Popular Union, the Solidarity Party, the Forward Ukraine Party, the Republican Christian Party, the Youth Party, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Liberal Party. Yushchenko told journalists after the signing ceremony that the bloc's election list will be made known at an interparty congress on 16 January. JM

KYIV REPORTS RECORD INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT
Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Rohovyy told journalists in Kiev on 9 January that Ukraine's industrial output grew by 14.2 percent in 2001 compared with 2000, UNIAN reported. This is a the highest growth rate since Ukraine declared independence in 1991. In 2000, Ukraine posted industrial growth of 12.4 percent over 1999. Also on 9 January, the State Statistics Committee reported that Ukrainian farmers harvested 39.7 million tons of grain last year, significantly surpassing the 2000 harvest of 24.8 million tons. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS TALKS WITH LEADERS OF POLITICAL PARTIES
Arnold Ruutel held talks on 9 January with the leaders of nine political parties about the political situation following the resignation of the three-party coalition, ETA reported. The chairmen of the Center Party (Edgar Savisaar), People's Union (Villu Reiljan), and Pro Patria Union (Mart Laar), advocated calling new elections, while the leaders of the other parties said early elections would go against Estonia's interests. Ruutel stated that he favors the formation of a new coalition "because if we now fail to form a new government, the people will be even more disappointed in power." In response to Savisaar's invitation to hold talks on forming a coalition, Moderates Deputy Chairman Eiki Nestor sent a statement saying: "The prerequisite for talks over any government coalition lineup is President Arnold Ruutel's decision on naming a candidate for prime minister." Nestor also claimed that he thinks talk of a new coalition is just a trick to show voters that the Center Party is not rushing to form a coalition with the Reform Party. SG

PUBLIC PROTESTS MAY MOVE LATVIA'S NEW RADAR SITE
Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said on 9 January that the ministry's plans to build a NATO-level radar system manufactured by the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin in the Audrini district of the eastern Latvian county of Rezekne may be changed due to protests by local residents, BNS reported. He said experts from the joint Baltic air space control project BALTNET determined that the district is the best location to provide maximum radar coverage of the air space over the Baltic states and some 350 kilometers beyond their borders because of the area's relief and access to a nearby military airfield. Ignoring explanations that the radar would not have any negative effects on human health and the environment, Audrini residents have vehemently opposed the construction of the radar station. Kristovskis plans to visit Audrini on 19 January to calm the population's fears, but admitted that the radar site could be moved some 10-20 kilometers away from Audrini. However, he said such a move would increase costs as access roads and electric power and telecommunications lines would have to be built. SG

LITHUANIAN CAPITAL APPROVES AGREEMENT OVER HEATING SYSTEM LEASE
The Vilnius City Council by a vote of 38 to six, with three abstentions, approved on 9 January a draft agreement on leasing the city's heating system for 15 years to the French Dalkia Co., "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Dalkia has promised to invest about 700 million litas ($175 million) into the heating network while retaining the existing heating fees until 2004. The agreement has been very controversial and its terms modified following comments by the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Finance Ministry, and the State Audit Office. After talks on 8 January with Economy Minister Petras Cesna, Vilnius Deputy Mayor Algimantas Vakarinas, and the head of the National Energy Association Leonas Asmantas, President Valdas Adamkus suggested that the Vilnius council should delay voting on the draft agreement until all parties concerned "arrive at common consensus." SG

POLISH CABINET, NATIONAL BANK AGREE, BUT ON WHAT?
Prime Minister Leszek Miller and his three deputies on 9 January met with National Bank Governor Leszek Balcerowicz and five other members of the Monetary Policy Council (RPP) to discuss financial policies, Polish media reported. Miller's cabinet has been recently pressing the RPP to make deep cuts in interest rates in order to boost the flagging economy. Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Marek Belka said the government and the RPP agreed at the meeting on "several areas of cooperation" but gave no details. Balcerowicz also kept silent on results of the meeting, saying only that "the meeting was useful and will enable both sides to work in peace according to their constitutional mission." Earlier the same day, Balcerowicz told Polish Radio that "we are not coming [for the meeting with the government] so as to negotiate the level of interest rates...[but] to hold back the dangerous process of confrontation which was after all not started up by us." JM

POLISH TREASURY MINISTER SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
The Sejm on 10 January failed to oust Treasury Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek, PAP reported. The no-confidence vote in Kaczmarek, which was proposed by the opposition Civic Platform and Law and Justice, was supported by 169 and opposed by 251 deputies, while 13 lawmakers abstained. JM

GOVERNMENT SCRAPS CZECH ENERGY TENDER, HINTS AT DIRECT SALE
The Social Democratic government announced a decision to cancel a tender for control of the country's electricity sector on 9 January, and will review future plans for the sector at the end of February, local and Western agencies reported. The planned sale of majority stakes in dominant electricity producer CEZ, its coal plants, and regional energy distributors met with disappointing offers from a number of international bidders. Environmentalists blamed the failure on the inclusion of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, and unsuccessful bidders have noted the complexity and guarantees required of any deal that includes such facilities. The cabinet rejected final bids from Electricite de France (EdF) and an Italian-Spanish consortium of Enel and Iberdola of 213 billion crowns (roughly $6 billion) and 136 billion crowns, respectively. Prime Minister Milos Zeman said the government has asked the Industry and Finance Ministries to investigate how privatization of the energy sector could go ahead, and their conclusions are due on 28 February, dpa reported. EdF has been viewed as a front-runner for some time, and the prime minister said a direct sale cannot be ruled out. AP reported that new bids will be accepted until the same 28 February deadline. Analysts have noted that a completed sale, expected to be the largest in the country's history, could benefit the ruling Social Democrats less than six months ahead of national elections. AH

CZECH PRESIDENT'S OFFICE QUESTIONS CABINET MANEUVERING
The director of the Czech Presidential Office's legal department has challenged the handling of a resignation reportedly being offered by Industry and Trade Minister Miloslav Gregr, the daily "Pravo" reported on 10 January. Prime Minister Zeman quickly rejected the offer, which Gregr announced on 8 January following a public pledge based on meeting certain deadlines at the Temelin nuclear power plant. But Brigita Chrastilova insisted that "the president has the right to decide whether or not the resignation is accepted" under the Czech Constitution. The move was widely viewed as political theater, and the prime minister said he is confident he acted correctly, and that he is not obliged to turn to the president "if a particular minister announces that he offers his resignation," CTK reported. AH

TRADE MINISTRY SUBMITS PROPOSAL TO COMBAT CZECH-BASED TRADE WITH TERRORISTS
Czech Industry and Trade Minister Gregr has given the cabinet a proposal aimed at preventing Czech-made weapons and nonmilitary goods from falling into the wrong hands, dpa reported on 9 January. The proposed amendments to a 1997 export control law would "improve the tools for preventing military conflict and limit the availability of strategic material and technologies for the development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and for terrorists," the agency quoted a ministry statement as saying. The plan would expand restrictions to include "dual-use" goods and technologies, dpa added. The ministry said the draft changes would bring Czech law into line with that of the European Union. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have consistently been among the most criticized of postcommunist countries for what the West perceives as loose regulation of arms sales. AH

BRITISH REINSTATE SCREENINGS AT PRAGUE AIRPORT
British officials said on 9 January that they have resumed checks of passengers bound for Great Britain from Prague's Ruzyne Airport, CTK reported, in part of an ongoing effort to discourage asylum seekers from the Czech Republic. Consular officials cited "operational needs" in reviving the screenings just three weeks after they last halted them, according to the agency. AH

EUROPEAN COMMISSION URGES SLOVAK, HUNGARIAN AGREEMENT OVER STATUS LAW...
A spokesman for the European Union's executive body reiterated that the EC expects Hungary's contentious Status Law to be "applied in close cooperation with Hungary's neighbors," TASR-Slovakia reported on 9 January amid ongoing talks between Bratislava and Budapest. "We welcome Budapest's agreement with Romania, but that is not all. We expect and really hope that an agreement will be reached between Hungary and Slovakia," Jean-Christophe Filori said. Executive regulation of the law must comply with last year's recommendations by the so-called Venice Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001), the agency quoted him as saying. AH

...BUT BRATISLAVA, BUDAPEST REMAIN IN A STALEMATE
Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister Jaroslav Chlebo stressed after meeting with a Hungarian delegation in Bratislava that his country rejected "the principle of extraterritoriality," Reuters reported on 9 January. Chlebo was speaking after presenting Hungarian government representatives with "our clear stance...that Slovakia be excluded from [the impact of] the [Status] Law," the agency reported. Slovak officials said no foreign laws will interfere with their own laws and called for exclusion from the Status Law, dashing the hopes of any who thought Slovakia would accept a compromise pact similar to that signed by Romania in December. Chlebo added that his country may introduce measures to prevent the effects of the law in Slovakia, but did not specify what those steps might be. AH

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT RECEIVES ETHNIC HUNGARIAN LEADERS
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, and other senior Hungarian officials on 9 January received in parliament the leaders of ethnic Hungarian organizations from neighboring countries, inviting them to share their experiences in implementing the Status Law that went into effect on 1 January, Hungarian radio reported on 10 January. The minority leaders expressed their content with the Romanian-Hungarian memorandum of understanding on the law's implementation, and released a joint statement in support of the Status Law. Responding to the opposition Socialist Party's recent criticism of the memorandum of understanding, Bela Marko, the chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, said that only the memorandum would make it possible to implement the law in Romania. MSZ

HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST PARTY PRESENTS 10 PASTORS AS CANDIDATES
Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka announced on 9 January that neither his party nor the 10 Calvinist pastors who will run for parliament as MIEP candidates during the April general elections consider it irreconcilable to "preach the gospel and engage in public service." The pastors say they do not wish to suspend their church activities, despite the Calvinist synod's decision last November, which is to take effect on 1 March, banning pastors' involvement in politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001), Hungarian media reported. MSZ

KOSOVA PARLIAMENT MEETS TO ELECT PRESIDENT...
The legislature met on 10 January to elect a president, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 19, and 20 December 2001). Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) has 47 votes, the largest single bloc. Some two-thirds of all deputies, or 81 legislators, must approve a given candidate to elect that candidate on a first or second ballot. A simple majority of 61 votes is sufficient to elect on a third ballot. On the first ballot in December, Rugova received only 49 votes. PM

...BUT NOTHING IS CERTAIN
It remains difficult to see how Rugova can put together a working legislative majority on 10 January and afterward without going into a coalition with either or both of the other two large Albanian parties or with the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The leaders of those two Albanian parties -- Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) and Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) -- have threatened to boycott the vote. Vienna's "Die Presse" wrote on 9 January that Rugova has refused Thaci's demand to be made prime minister as part of an overall deal. U.S. diplomats have proposed veteran publisher Veton Surroi as a compromise candidate for prime minister, the daily added. Oliver Ivanovic of Povratak told the BBC on 10 January that the Serbs will draw a line through their ballots as a sign that they are voting neither for Rugova nor against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). PM

RUGOVA LOSES KOSOVA VOTE
Reuters reported from Prishtina on 10 January that Rugova won only 50 votes in the latest ballot for president. His defeat comes as a disappointment to international diplomats, who hoped to get a government up and running as soon as possible (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2001). PM

MONTENEGRIN, SERBIAN EXPERTS AGREE TO DISAGREE
In Belgrade on 9 January, delegations of experts from Montenegro and the federal government finished their third meeting without agreeing on questions regarding their future constitutional and legal relationship, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001). They said they will issue separate statements on the topic. The did agree, however, on economic, social, monetary, security, and foreign policy matters, and will issue a joint statement on those issues. The statements will not be made public but will be sent to leading political figures, including EU security and foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Zoran Lutovac, a federal representative, said that "after today's talks, the ball is in the politicians' court," Reuters reported. Observers note that it is likely to be only a matter of time before the full texts of the statements find their way into Belgrade and Podgorica dailies. PM

LIBERAL LEADER RESIGNS FROM ROMANIAN PARTY
National Liberal Party (PNL) leader Victor Babiuc resigned from his party on 9 January, Romanian Radio reported. Babiuc was Deputy Chairman of PNL's National Council. Babiuc said that given the current trends within the party, the PNL "will not be able to constitute an alternative" to the current government. He also said that over the past year he has "constantly received signals" that the party "did not need" him. Babiuc, a former Democratic Party member and defense minister, joined the PNL in February 2000. ZsM

ROMANIAN NATIONAL BANK HEAD 'CENTRAL BANKER OF THE YEAR'
The British magazine "The Banker" announced in its January issue that it named Romanian National Bank (BNR) Governor Mugur Isarescu the "Central Banker of the Year" for 2001, Mediafax reported. The paper considers Isarescu "one of the greatest initiators of the capitalist market in Eastern Europe." He is also seen by the publication as the one who paved the way in Romania for the creation of a private banking system and an independent central bank. Isarescu started his mandate at the BNR in 1990, and was Romania's prime minister in 2000. ZsM

YUGOSLAV, CHINESE LEADERS SIGN DECLARATION
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who is on a three-day visit to China, signed a declaration in Beijing on 9 January with his counterpart, Jiang Zemin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002). Yugoslavia pledged not to enter into any sort of relations with Taiwan or to support its admission to international bodies. China said it "trusts" the Yugoslavs to resolve the Kosova dispute in keeping with UN Security Council resolution 1244, dpa reported. Belgrade affirmed that Beijing is the sole government of China, while China "respects the path of development Yugoslavia has chosen," Xinhua reported. PM

CHINESE AID FOR YUGOSLAVIA
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said in Beijing on 10 January that China will provide a $3.6 million economic reconstruction loan to Belgrade, RFE/RL reported. Sun did not go into details. Yugoslavia's debt to China has been estimated as high as $650 million, much of which includes oil purchases, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Yugoslav delegation includes 40 people officially described as "economists." It is difficult to see what, if anything, Serbia's rust-bucket industries have to offer China. Beijing is interested in Belgrade primarily as a market for its own goods and as a gateway to Europe. PM

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER AGREES TO VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
Hoping to bolster his support at the expense of Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano, Socialist Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 9 January that he wants a vote of confidence within the party on his future in office, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 December 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). Nano's position has reportedly been slipping in recent weeks. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER INTENDS TO DISSOLVE BUCHAREST COUNCIL
On 9 January, Romanian government spokesman Claudiu Lucaci announced that Premier Adrian Nastase will on 10 January propose to his cabinet the dissolution of the Bucharest General Council and organize local elections, Romanian media reported. Lucaci said a report of the prime minister's Control Department showed "severe irregularities" in the activity of the council and the Mayor's Office. Out of the 65 councilors, 39 are shareholders or associates at different companies, most of which have contracts with the Mayor's Office. Bucharest General Mayor hailed Nastase's decision and said he wants to work with a "less offending [corrupt] council." He accused Nastase, however, of simply wanting to distract attention from the scandal surrounding controversial businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vantu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2002). ZsM

PROTESTS IN CHISINAU AGAINST COMPULSORY RUSSIAN CLASSES...
Over 5,000 people protested in central Chisinau on 9 January against the introduction of compulsory Russian classes in schools, Flux reported. The protests were organized by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD). The protesters adopted a declaration that calls on the government to cancel an Education Ministry decision on imposing compulsory Russian classes. It also requests the government to withdraw its initiative of proclaiming Russian as the country's second official language, to break off the recently adopted basic treaty with Russia, and to initiate a new "nondiscriminatory and mutually advantageous" treaty. ZsM

...WHILE MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT SHOWS SIGNS OF RETREAT
In response to the protests, Premier Vasile Tarlev said the government may re-examine the Education Ministry's decision on introducing compulsory Russian classes, Flux reported. He also expressed his readiness to hold talks with the protesters. Education Minister Ilie Vancea said he does not rule out canceling the order, but that such a decision can only be taken at a 15 January meeting of the ministry's leadership. He also said he might resign from his post, should protests grow in intensity. ZsM

TURKISH POLITICIAN SAYS OFFICIALS BLOCK BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT POLICY
Kazim Dal, the deputy chairman of the primarily Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), has demanded that a number of officials be removed from their positions as they block the government's policy, "Monitor" reported on 10 January. Dal told journalists that his party has knowledge of sabotage in the middle level of the state administration. He did not rule out the possibility that his party may demand the resignation of deputy ministers as well. Deputy Finance Minister Atanas Katsarchev is the most likely candidate for resignation. Legislators of the largest parliamentary faction, the National Movement Simeon II, have heavily criticized Katsarchev for his restrictive tax policy and his failure to inform parliamentarians of his plans. UB

BULGARIAN MOBILE PHONE OPERATOR TO BE SOLD TO AUSTRIAN INVESTORS
Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 9 January met with a group of Austrian investors who want to take over MobilTel EAD, Bulgaria's first GSM cell phone operator, "Monitor" reported. The new owners of the company are Josef Taus, a former chairman of the Austrian People's Party (OEVP) who also heads the Management Trust Holding AG, who will control 40 percent of the shares; Cordt & Partner, an investment company; MS Privat-Stiftung; and the BAWAG-P.S.K. Group which will each get 20 percent. The latter is Austria's third-largest bank, and is owned by Germany's Bayerische Landesbank and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (OEGB). Taus will head the supervisory board of the new company. UB

NEW BULGARIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE TO BE FORMED
The Bulgarian National Agrarian Union (BZNS) will leave the parliamentary faction of the United Democratic Forces (ODS) coalition, news.bg reported on 8 January. Together with the Union of Democratic Forces, BZNS will form a new opposition alliance. Whether the Democratic Party will join the new alliance is not yet clear, according to Stefan Lichev of BZNS. The ODS ruled Bulgaria until June 2001, but suffered a landslide defeat during the parliamentary elections, which brought Simeon Saxecoburggotski to power. UB

CZECHS QUIETLY MARK 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHARTER 77 PETITION


The 25th anniversary of Charter 77, which was published on January 1, 1977, passed quietly in the Czech Republic, marked only by a few newspaper articles noting that the wide political differences among active "Chartists" continue in today's political arena.

The Charter 77 petition published on January 1, 1977, which called on Czechoslovakia's communist authorities to respect the country's constitution and laws, and the international accords on human rights it had signed, was immediately perceived by those authorities as a direct threat to their monopoly on power. Within a week, leading newspapers in the West published the full text, which circulated in Czechoslovakia and other Warsaw Pact member states only as samizdat.

Charter 77 described itself as "a free, informal, open community of people of different convictions, different faiths, and different professions united by the will to strive, individually and collectively, for the respect of civic and human rights in our own country and throughout the world."

The declaration said international documents signed by Czechoslovakia opposing war, violence, and social or spiritual oppression "serve an urgent reminder of the extent to which basic human rights in [Czechoslovakia] exist, regrettably, only on paper.

"The right to freedom of expression is in our case purely illusory. Tens of thousands of our citizens are prevented from working in their own fields for the sole reason that they hold views differing from official ones, and are discriminated against and harassed in all kinds of ways by the authorities and public organizations. Deprived as they are of any means to defend themselves, they become victims of a virtual apartheid... Hundreds of thousands of other citizens are...condemned to live in constant danger of unemployment or other penalties if they voice their own opinions."

Charter 77 and its offspring, a human rights monitoring group that called itself the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (VONS), served Czechoslovakia's human rights activists as a beacon for 13 years until the collapse of communist power.

Czechoslovak signatories were repeatedly detained for questioning and pressured to renounce their support for the document. Most lost their jobs. Some were forced to emigrate. The overwhelming majority of the approximately 300 early signatories lived in Prague and Brno.

Many Slovak opposition figures, including ousted Communist Party First Secretary Alexander Dubcek and debarred lawyer Jan Carnogursky -- while agreeing with much of the content of the petition -- nevertheless shied away from the document and the movement that developed around it.

The Communist Party leadership subsequently launched what came to be known as the Anti-Charter -- a petition denouncing Charter 77 and its signatories. The leadership organized a "festive assembly" at Prague's National Theater on January 28, 1977, at which hundreds of state-approved pop singers, artists, actors, and other cultural figures signed the Anti-Charter. This document denounced Charter 77 as an "antistate, anti-Socialist, antihuman, and demagogic libel."

Charter 77's authors and original signatories were a diverse group of people. They included a former Communist Party politburo member, Zdenek Mlynar; an ex-communist foreign minister, Jiri Hajek -- both of whom were toppled from power after the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968; and a Trotskyite former student activist named Petr Uhl. There were also Christian-oriented philosophers such as Jan Patocka, Vaclav Benda, and outlawed priest Vaclav Maly, as well as banned playwright and current Czech President Vaclav Havel.

Havel, Hajek, and Patocka were Charter 77's first three spokesmen. But Patocka died following an interrogation by the communist secret police several days after its publication. The signatories authorized the spokesmen, who changed every year, to represent them "vis-a-vis state and other bodies and the public at home and abroad."

Havel had spent more than five years in prison for his human rights activities by the time communist rule collapsed. Despite being under constant surveillance by uniformed and plainclothes police officers, Havel spoke to RFE/RL in Prague on the 10th anniversary of Charter 77's publication, expressing satisfaction with its success.

According to Havel, "the importance that [the] Charter has today in many senses surprisingly gone beyond its original intentions. Not that [the] charter is something other than it wanted to be. It continues to maintain its original purpose -- to openly point out violations of human rights, and request compliance with the laws... Nevertheless, its 10 years of existence, quite spontaneously and freely without having been planned, has given [the] charter such a special position that it is fulfilling even more functions. For example, it is a partner of various political forces on the international plane, leading a dialogue with peace movements," he said at the time.

Havel also noted that Charter 77 had become a part of society and that Czechoslovakia's inhabitants, as well as the rest of the world, knew about it. "It lives in the awareness of the public and of the current authorities," he said.

Another leading signatory was a former Communist Party Central Committee member and university lecturer, Jaroslav Sabata, who spent eight years in prison in the 1970s and '80s for his human rights activities. The Brno-based dissident also spoke to RFE/RL on the 10th anniversary of Charter 77's founding, when he sensed the imminence of change.

"The political atmosphere [in Czechoslovakia] in the 1970's was, to put it mildly, gloomy. [The] Charter entered this situation with the aim of changing it. Understandably with the prospect of radically changing it, but not with the prospect of this radical change in the democratic sense happening immediately," Sabata said. "Today we are standing on the threshold of a development when the possibility of a radical change of the political atmosphere is starting to take shape, not only in our country but in our part of Europe. And precisely because of this, [the] charter -- which has been striving for this change for 10 years -- obviously is of key significance in this process, which is playing out before our eyes."

However, even 10 years after its publication, barely more than 1,000 people had signed the document, of whom only about one-quarter were active dissidents. Most Czechs were only able to read the charter at the end of 1989, when students plastered it on walls during the Velvet Revolution that ended communist rule and chanted "Charter! Charter!" at anti-communist demonstrations.

Numerous Charter 77 signers entered the government or were elected to parliament following the Velvet Revolution. But most went down in electoral defeat in 1992. In addition to President Havel, other Charter 77 signers in senior positions in the Czech leadership today are the Senate speaker Petr Pithart and Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky.

In addition, a few former Chartists can be found in the opposition, including the Freedom Union's Hana Marvanova and Jan Ruml, and a number of diplomats, including Ambassadors Martin Palous in Washington and Jaroslav Basta in Moscow.Jolyon Naegele is an RFE/RL correspondent.

XS
SM
MD
LG