Accessibility links

Newsline - February 1, 2002


RUSSIAN PREMIER BEGINS TALKS IN WASHINGTON...
Mikhail Kasyanov arrived in Washington on 31 January and began his working visit with meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, and the other American officials, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 January. After meeting with Powell, Kasyanov said, "we had very intensive talks aimed at realizing new frameworks of bilateral cooperation," ITAR-TASS reported. According to the daily, one of the primary goals of Kasyanov's visit is to convince the U.S. to cancel the Jackson-Vannik Amendment adopted by U.S. Congress that imposes restrictions on emigration from the former Soviet Union, and which Russia feels has unjustly limited its ability to export high-tech goods. Kasyanov will also seek official U.S. recognition that Russia has a market economy, a status that could soften antidumping restrictions on state-subsidized Russian goods, especially steel. In addition the premier is seeking U.S. permission to allow Russian banks to open branches in the United States, and will promote Russian computer software. After the discussions he was scheduled to fly to New York to join the Russian delegation assembled there for the World Economic Forum, which began on 31 January. VY

...AND ACTIVATES FINANCIAL INTELLIGENCE ARM
On the eve his departure to Washington, Kasyanov signed a directive allowing the Committee on Financial Monitoring (KFM) to begin operations on 1 February, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 January. The establishment of the financial intelligence entity should help convince Washington that Russia possesses a market economy, the daily commented. Last November, President Vladimir Putin created the KFM in order to combat money laundering and criminally earned capital in Russia, which amounts to some $17 billion, according to the daily. VY

ANALYSTS SAY PUTIN TO FACE KEY TEST THIS YEAR
In an overview in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published on 31 January as to how Russian political analysts view Russian President Putin, Sergei Karaganov, the head of the Foreign Policy and Defense Council, predicted that Putin will "inevitably encounter the problem of the ineffectiveness of state executives and the power vertical" this year. Union of Rightist Forces deputy Boris Nadezhdin expressed a similar point of view, suggesting that "the moment of truth" for Putin is drawing near. Nadezhdin believes that Putin may decide to make a sharp turn away from liberalization. However, analyst Igor Bunin said he believes that Putin has a "messianic complex... He decided that he must bring the country to the West, and that's what he has been doing." During a speech in Washington, on 25 January, Regina Smyth of Pennsylvania State University argued that Putin has not yet tackled the toughest reforms, such as agricultural land privatization, and military and pension reforms (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 28 January 2002). In addition, according to Smyth, the real test for the Putin regime will likely lie with implementation of the reforms it has already pushed through the legislature. JAC

PUTIN VETOES MASS MEDIA AMENDMENT FAVORING FOREIGN INVESTORS...
President Putin rejected on 31 January an amendment to the Law on Mass Media that would have allowed foreigners to retain co-ownership of Russian television companies if they were among the proprietors prior to August 2001, gazeta.ru reported on 31 January. The amendment approved by the State Duma last August does not allow for foreign ownership in Russian television media companies that broadcast to over 50 percent of Russia's territory or reach an audience of over 50 percent of Russia's population. However, the legislation included an exception for foreign investors who had attained ownership before the amendment was approved last August. However, Putin vetoed the exception, saying it would place domestically owned companies at a disadvantage. Gazeta.ru commented on 31 January that through his decision Putin, a lawyer by profession, violated a basic principle of jurisprudence: that a law cannot be enforced retroactively. "Kommersant-daily" added the same day that Putin's veto deprives Russian television companies of the option of attracting both foreign and private domestic investments, leaving them at the mercy of semi-state energy companies when looking for investors. VY

...AS GOVERNMENT SAYS IT IS HAPPY WITH 'EURONEWS' CHANNEL...
Andrei Bystritskii, the deputy head of the All-Russian Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), said that VGTRK will not take part in the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights, as it is content with its current EuroNews broadcasts, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 31 January. Bystritskii added that EuroNews is a vehicle to promote Russia's future membership in the EU, and the Russia is paying for the right to broadcast EuroNews programs just as EU members are. He refused to name the price Russia pays for those broadcasting rights, but said EuroNews reaches some 25 percent of the domestic television audience. VY

...AND UNION OF RUSSIAN WRITERS SUPPORTS IDEA OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHANNEL
The Union of Russian Writers that unites mostly nationalistic authors published a letter to President Putin that calls on him to embrace the idea of the creation of a Russian Orthodox television channel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002), Interfax reported on 31 January. In letter signed by Valentin Rasputin, Valise Belov, Vasilii Lanavoi, Iliya Glazunov, and others, the authors call for the formation of channel to be known as Sobor under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church. They argued that the state should fund the channel because "most taxpayers are believers and patriots who hate the cynicism and immorality that dominates television today." VY

NTV TO DO OLIGARCH SWAP?
"Izvestiya" reported on 31 January that with the end of January, Gazprom head Aleksei Miller's promised deadline for announcing the price and structure of Gazprom's shares in NTV that will be offered for sale elapsed. The daily also reported that some unidentified sources continue to name the Alfa Group as a likely purchaser of NTV. These sources note that Alfa Group already has shares in the STS and MUZ-TV channels, and that it has political connections. Deputy presidential chiefs of staff Vladislav Surkov and Aleksandr Abramov both used to work at Alfa. The newspaper also reported that Federation Council representative (Tuva) Sergei Pugachev has also "evinced at least indirect interest in NTV." Pugachev is considered to be close to Putin and the presidential administration. JAC

NEW INDICTMENT AGAINST SIBUR PRESIDENT
A spokesman for the General-Prosecutor's Office announced on 31 January that it has brought a new indictment against Yakov Goldovskii, the president of the petrochemical company Sibur who was arrested in January for "abuse of office and funds" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002) RIA-Novosti reported. The new accusation that Goldovskii engaged in "massive embezzlement and plunder of alien property" is based on claims by Sibur's paternal concern Gazprom that he siphoned off Gazprom funds amounting to some 2.6 billion rubles ($86 million), the spokesman added. However, he failed to say whether the same charges would be levied against Goldovskii's deputy, Nikolai Koshits, who was arrested together with him. VY

EU BANS RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT ON EUROPEAN ROUTES
Deputy Transport Minister Pavel Rozhkov announced on 31 January that he has failed to reach agreement with his EU counterparts to delay the implementation of an EU directive banning some Russian aircraft from flying over European airspace, NTV reported. The ban was imposed on the most widely used Russian passenger aircraft -- the Tu-134, Il-62, Il-76, and Il-86 -- because they do not meet EU noise-emission requirements that are to be put into force beginning on 1 April. The Tu-204 and Tu-154 are the only Russian passenger planes that conform to the new standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Rozhkov said that Russia is now "simply obliged to take reprisal measures in order to prevent a one-sided advantage for the European airlines." He said that in retaliation Russia can "reduce the number of routes for European airlines flying to Russia, and restrict their transit flights over Russian territory and replace them with their Asian competitors." VY

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW TO 'WARM' BILATERAL RELATIONS
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said following his meeting in Moscow on 31 January with his visiting Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Pasi that the "period of cold" in relations between the two countries is over, and that the two countries are seeking to restore their relations to "their traditionally warm level," Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to journalists after his talks with Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, Pasi said Russian-Bulgarian relations are not restricted to cooperation in the energy sphere, but also include dialogue on joint actions within the antiterrorist coalition, arms control, and disarmament measures. He also revealed that at the end of February a session of the Russian-Bulgarian Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, and Technological Cooperation will be held in Sofia, following which Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski will pay a visit to Moscow. VY

BOTHERED BUTKA BLASTS BIRTHDAY BOY
In an interview with "The Moscow Times" on 1 February, Galina Filimonova, the deputy head of the local administration in Butka, revealed that the town will not be sending former President Boris Yeltsin a congratulatory telegram on his 71st birthday, 1 February. Yeltsin was born in Butka in Sverdlovsk Oblast, and on the 325th anniversary of its founding last year Butka residents invited Yeltsin to return. Filimonova admitted that the townsfolk never expected Yeltsin to actually show up, "but he did not even send any thank-you note or some kind of congratulatory message," she said. Responding in kind, Butka did not send Yeltsin any birthday wishes this year. However, Filimonova held out the hope that perhaps the town's invitation and other telegrams did not reach him, adding, "maybe you, through your newspaper, will tell him that we wish him many more years of life and wish him to remember us," she said. JAC

REGIONS CONTINUE TO PROTEST PASKO SENTENCE
A picket in support of military journalist Grigorii Pasko was expected to take place in St. Petersburg on 1 February, Interfax-Northwest reported on 31 January. Pasko was convicted last December of espionage and sentenced to more than four years imprisonment for handing over information about the Pacific Fleet's hazardous handling of nuclear waste to Japanese journalists. The protest is being organized by Civil Control, the Association of Environmental Journalists, Memorial, Soldiers' Mothers, and For Military Reform. Meanwhile, in Irkutsk Oblast, the NGO Baikal Ecological Will is collecting signatures in support of Pasko. JAC

REGIONS ACCUSED OF FINANCIAL SHENANIGANS
The Audit Chamber has charged that a number of regions have committed gross violations in their use of "gold credits" last year, regions.ru reported on 31 January. The Audit Chamber singled out the governments of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the republics of Sakha and Buryatia, as well as the companies Vasilevskii mine in Krasnoyarsk, Berezovskii mine in Sverdlovsk, and Norilsk Nickel as the main debtors. According to the website, the total debt in gold credits as of 1 January 2002 was $982 million. JAC

FSB FLOATS IDEA OF PATRIOTIC HACKING
A group of student computer programmers in Tomsk Oblast who hacked into the Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, regions.ru reported on 31 January. The directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Tomsk Oblast issued a statement that the students' efforts to create difficulties for the website did not violate Russian law and was merely a way for the students to express their views as Russian citizens. According to an FSB spokesman, the Internet site Kavkaz-Tsentr, propagates ideas of separatism, international terrorism, and regional and racist hatred. JAC

GOVERNOR PEEVED BY PHOTO CAPTION
A criminal case has been launched against Sergei Bachinin, the editor in chief of "Vyatskii nablyudatel," for insulting Kirov Oblast Governor Vladimir Sergeenkov, "Izvestiya" reported on 31 January. The governor was irked by an issue featuring a photo caption below a picture of himself along with a number of pigs. Sergeenkov had just visited a local pig farm. The caption read "Third on the left --- Vladimir Nilovich." According to "Izvestiya," "Vyatskii nablyudatel" is an independent paper that has frequently criticized local authorities. The head of the oblast's legal department told the daily that " this is not the first such incident with this newspaper. But we opt for civilized methods and defend our interests in court. How much can we tolerate? There are ethical norms." JAC

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSAR ADMITS VIOLATIONS IN RECENT CHECHEN SWEEPS
Vladimir Kalamanov, who is President Putin's special representative for human rights issues in Chechnya, told journalists in Moscow on 31 January that complaints by local residents that Russian servicemen committed human rights violations during operations in January in the towns of Tsotan-Yurt and Argun are true, Russian agencies reported. The U.S. State Department condemned Russian troop brutality against civilians during those operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2002). LF

TWENTY SUSPECTS DETAINED FOR DAGHESTAN BOMBING
Police have detained 20 people on suspicion of involvement in the 18 January car bomb that killed seven Russian servicemen in Makhachkala, Russian agencies reported on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). They also located and confiscated an arms cache in the city. Yurii Demidov, a spokesman for Daghestan's Interior Ministry, told ITAR-TASS that there is "solid evidence" that the detainees had traveled to Daghestan from Chechnya in order to perpetrate terrorist acts. LF

ARMENIAN ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF SPYING FOR TURKEY
An Armenian citizen was arrested on 26 January and will be charged with spying for Turkey, a National Security Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 31 January. The man is said to have collected "military, economic, and political information" that he passed to Turkey. LF

ARMENIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER REPLACED
As widely anticipated, President Robert Kocharian dismissed Agriculture Minister Zaven Gevorgian and named former Minister for Industrial Infrastructures David Zadoyan, a member of Premier Andranik Markarian's Republican Party and de facto deputy premier, to succeed him, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 3, 17 January 2002). LF

INDIAN COMPANY ACQUIRES ONE-YEAR LEASE OF ARMENIAN CHEMICAL GIANT
The Armenian government has granted the Indian-owned company Ramsalt management rights to the debt-ridden Nairit-1 chemical plant for a period of one year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 31 January. Ramsalt has for several years been one of the main purchasers of Nairit-1's primary product, synthetic rubber. Industry and Trade Minister Karen Chshmaritian said on 31 January that a contract will shortly be signed with Ramsalt under which Ramsalt will purchase a majority stake in Nairit after the one-year term expires and invest some $20 million in the company. That news implies that earlier talks with a Ukrainian company that had considered purchasing Nairit have collapsed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November and 4 December 2001). LF

AZERBAIJAN TO EMULATE UZBEKISTAN AND EXTEND PRESIDENTIAL TERM?
Eldar Ibragimov of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) proposed to Azerbaijan's parliament on 1 February that the presidential term of office be extended from five to seven years "in the interest of preserving stability in the region," Turan reported. Parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov endorsed that proposal, as did other YAP deputies, but at the same time Alesqerov proposed putting the issue to a referendum as was done last month in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," Vol. 2 No. 5, 31 January 2002). President Heidar Aliev's current second five-year term is due to expire in October 2003. Aliev, who is 78, has said he will run for a third term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER REFUTES REPORT OF BOMBING RAID
David Tevzadze denied at a press conference in Tbilisi on 31 January that aircraft had bombed the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge earlier that day, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Parliament deputy Iveri Chelidze had told legislators that two unidentified aircraft dropped bombs near the village of Atskuri (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002). Joint patrols of the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge by UN monitors and members of the CIS peacekeeping force are to resume on 1 February. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BUDGET IN SECOND READING
Parliament approved the 2002 budget on 31 January in the second and final reading by a vote of 134 in favor and 20 against, Caucasus Press reported. The former majority Union of Citizens of Georgia faction, which had voted against the draft in the first reading after its demands for increased spending were not fully met, supported the budget in the second reading. LF

KAZAKH WORKERS DEMAND PUBLICATION OF REPORT ON OFFICIAL CORRUPTION...
Members of the Almaty's Workers Movement (AWM) demanded at a press conference in Almaty on 31 January that the report compiled by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev on corruption among top Kazakh officials be made public, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. In November 2001, Aliyev, who at that time held the post of National Security Committee deputy chairman, warned the Kazakh government that he planned to report to the Kazakh parliament about corruption among top officials. Aliyev was sacked from his post several days later and transferred to the position of deputy commander of the Presidential Guard, from which he was dismissed earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2002). His current whereabouts are unknown. LF

...AS PARLIAMENT DEPUTY CLAIMS NEW OPPOSITION MOVEMENT IS CREATION OF GOVERNMENT
Mazhilis deputy Tolen Toqtasynov told journalists on 31 January that the decision to create the Aq Zhol Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002) was made by the Kazakh government, and not by members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. According to Toqtasynov, the rationale for doing so was to split DVK into two opposing parts. Toqtasynov said that some leading members of Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice were named to posts in the new cabinet earlier this week. He said the Kazakh leadership is trying either to take DVK under its control or to destroy the movement from the inside. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO LAWS ON TERRORISM, RELIGION
The Senate (the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament) on 31 January approved amendments to the law on terrorism and religion passed by the Mazhilis earlier in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 18 January 2002). The law on terrorism now makes any attempt on the life of a state official punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment or the death sentence. Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 31 January, Amirzhan Qosanov, the chairman of the executive committee of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, condemned the amendments as intended to provide a legal foundation for future pressure on the opposition. The law on religion now allows unregistered religious groups to be banned, requires all missionaries to register with the authorities, and denies legal registration to all Muslim organizations outside the framework of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan, Keston News Service reported on 1 February. LF

KYRGYZ OFFICIAL DENIES DEPUTY'S ARREST POLITICALLY MOTIVATED...
In a statement released in Bishkek on 31 January, presidential press secretary Ilyas Bekbolotov said that the 5 January arrest of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, who has been charged with abuse of office, was fully in compliance with Kyrgyz law and was not politically motivated, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bekbolotov condemned as unwarranted pressure on the country's authorities the nationwide protest pickets and hunger strikes to demand Beknazarov's release. LF

...OR THAT RESTRICTIONS EXIST ON KYRGYZ PRESS
In the same press release, Bekbolotov denied the existence of any restrictions on the free press in Kyrgyzstan, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said the recent dispute between the state-owned publishing house Uchkun and the independent newspaper "Moya stolitsa-novosti" was purely economic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 31 January 2002). Despite a court ruling on 29 January, Uchkun declined to print the 31 January issue of "Moya stolitsa-novosti." LF

LOCAL KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES CLAIM TO HAVE ARRESTED LEADING MEMBER OF BANNED SECT
The authorities in Osh Oblast announced on 30 January the arrest of one of the leaders of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir party in possession of 43 cartridges and antistate literature, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the following day. LF

UZBEK POLICE SENTENCED FOR TORTURING SUSPECT TO DEATH
A Tashkent court sentenced four Uzbek police officers to 20 years imprisonment for having beaten a suspect to death last October, Human Rights Watch reported in a 1 February press release. The detainee was suspected of belonging to the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir party. Human Rights Watch hailed the convictions as "a good first step," while stressing that countless other cases of police brutality have gone unpunished. LF

GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER POSTPONES VISIT TO UZBEKISTAN
Rudolf Scharping has postponed until 11-12 February a two-day visit to Tashkent originally scheduled for 31 January, the National Information agency of Uzbekistan's website reported. Scharping was to have met with President Islam Karimov and Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov. LF

BELARUSIAN COMMUNISTS PROTEST SOCIOECONOMIC HARDSHIPS
The opposition Party of Communists of Belarus (led by Syarhey Kalyakin) held pickets on 31 January in Minsk, Vitsebsk, Polatsk, and Homel to protest the deteriorating socioeconomic situation and the authorities' harassment of the trade union movement in the country. The question "Where is the promised monthly wage of $100?" was displayed most frequently on placards during the pickets. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka promised to increase the average monthly wage to the equivalent of $100 by the end of 2001. According to official statistics, he has succeeded in doing so. The same day, the Presidium of the Trade Union Federation of Belarus decided to hold a countrywide protest action on 5 March. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT BOASTS OF WARM RELATIONS WITH CHINA'S JIANG ZEMIN
President Lukashenka on 31 January received departing Chinese Ambassador Wu Xiao Qiu, Belarusian Television reported. "You know that we are very proud of our relations with great Russia [and] great China... I very much value my relations with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin... I very much value his responsiveness. I'll tell you that there is probably no other leader in the world with whom I have such trusting and kind relations," Lukashenka told her. Wu Xiao Qiu responded: "Over the past four years I have managed to sincerely fall in love with Belarus [and] the Belarusian people. You are so similar to our people." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES BILL ON COMPENSATION FOR DEVALUED SAVINGS
Leonid Kuchma has vetoed a bill on state guarantees to compensate depositors for their devalued savings, Ukrainian media reported on 31 January. The bill, passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 10 January, obliged the government to pay 9 million hryvni ($1.6 billion) this year in compensations for devalued savings, whereas the 2002 budget provides only for 500 million hryvni to be spent for this purpose. Ukrainian banks owe depositors nearly $24 billion dollars in lost savings, which is equal to approximately three times the country's annual budget. JM

UKRAINIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY EXPLAINS REJECTION OF MELNYCHENKO'S ELECTION BID
The Justice Ministry has concluded that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko does not fall into the category of individuals resident in Ukraine in the last five years and therefore may not be registered as a candidate in this year's parliamentary election, UNIAN reported on 31 January. The ministry's state secretary, Oleksandr Lavrynovych, told journalists that, indeed, the definition of permanent residence in the election law covers Ukrainian citizens' stay abroad under active international treaties signed by Ukraine. Lavrynovych added, however, that the ministry analyzed all of Ukraine's international treaties and reached the conclusion that this clause applies only to businessmen and tourists. Melnychenko's stay abroad, according to the ministry, cannot be categorized as such. The Central Election Commission refused to register Melnychenko, and the Socialist Party election bloc has filed a complaint to the Supreme Court. JM

UKRAINIAN ENERGY COMPANY LOSES SUIT IN RUSSIAN COURT
A court of arbitration in Moscow has ruled that a Ukrainian company must pay 452 million rubles ($14.7 million) to the Russian Defense Ministry in debt for supplied gas, New Channel Television reported on 31 January. The defendant in this case was the Ukrainian company Bosfor, while the third party in the claim was the industrial-financial corporation United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU). The debt arose from gas supplied by Russia to UESU in 1996-97. The Ukrainian companies are accused of failing to deliver under a barter agreement signed with the Russian Defense Ministry in 1996, when the UESU was run by Yuliya Tymoshenko. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS EXPORT RULES IN TAX-FREE ZONES
The parliament unanimously approved on 31 January an amendment to the value-added tax (VAT) law that would allow fishing firms to resume exports to Russia via tax-free zones, ETA reported. Tax-free zones had been used to reduce the prices of Estonian exports and make them competitive in Russia due to the double tariffs imposed on imported Estonian products. Suspecting that this could provide an opportunity for VAT fraud, the Finance Ministry convinced the parliament to require VAT payments for products exported from these zones beginning on 1 January. Estonian fish-processing firms have an annual turnover of 2.5 billion kroons ($138 million) and export 85 percent of their production -- 70 percent via tax-free economic zones. The higher costs resulting from VAT payments led to lower sales and forced the companies to suspend their operations and place more than 2,000 workers on forced vacations. President Arnold Ruutel signed the amendment on 31 January. SG

LATVIA, SWEDEN INK JUSTICE, INTERIOR AFFAIRS AGREEMENT
Latvian Justice and Interior Affairs Ministers Ingrida Labucka and Mareks Seglins signed an agreement on cooperation in justice and interior affairs with Swedish Justice Minister Thomas Bodstrom in Riga on 31 January, LETA reported. The agreement foresees cooperation in information and experience exchange, expert visits, and technical assistance in various spheres of judicial and interior affairs. The two countries agreed to pay particular attention to further developing the existing twinning agreements among the courts and exchanging experience concerning development and court administration. They will also heighten cooperation in the law enforcement sector providing support for the development of Latvia's crime registry as well as the fight against corruption in connection with EU enlargement. SG

LITHUANIAN PREMIER SAYS NOT TO EXPECT ECONOMIC MIRACLE FROM EU
Algirdas Brazauskas told a press conference in Vilnius on 31 January that while he will try to gain greater EU support for agriculture, it would not be realistic to expect an "economic miracle" based solely on EU subsidies, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. He noted that the protests by farmers' organizations over the EC's draft proposal calling for new EU members to be provided in 2004 with just 25 percent of the subsidies given to current EU members are not realistic, as only half of the arable land is currently cultivated and the proposed EU subsidies would be greater than the support of 40 litas ($10) per hectare of grain crops that Lithuania currently provides. He estimated that various EU programs would increase this support to 125 litas per hectare in 2004. Brazauskas was pleased that EU assistance to Lithuania in 2004 through structural and regional funds, direct payments, support for rural development, and for the closure of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant would reach about 2 billion litas, or about a third of the national budget, under the proposed plan. SG

POLISH PREMIER SAYS COALITION BACKS CABINET'S ECONOMIC PROGRAM
Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 31 January assured the public that the government's economic program adopted earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002) is strongly supported by the coalition parties -- the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the Labor Union, and the Peasant Party (PSL) -- and their parliamentary representations, Polish Radio reported. Miller added, however, that although there have been no objections to the program, the PSL wants to expand it. In particular, the PSL opts for introducing import taxes and amending the law on the National Bank. The PSL also differs with the SLD on the method for vote counting in the local elections in June -- the SLD supports the d'Hondt method that favors big parties, while the PSL opposes it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). JM

POLISH FARMERS REJECT EU SUBSIDIES PROPOSAL
Jozef Waligora, the president of the National Council of the Farming Chamber, said in an open letter to PAP on 31 January that Polish farmers will not support the country's joining the EU on the terms announced by the European Commission (EC). The previous day the EC released a draft proposal under which direct farming subsidies to new EU member states would begin in 2004 at 25 percent of the level enjoyed by current EU members, would increase to 35 percent in 2006, and then up to 100 percent in 2013. Waligora said his chamber body cannot agree to discrimination against Polish farmers, and demands from the EU that Polish agriculture be 100 percent covered by the EU common farming policy beginning in 2004. Notorious Polish populist and rabble-rouser Andrzej Lepper commented the same day that if the EU fails to propose "better" accession conditions for Poland, he will start persuading Poles to say "no" in a referendum on EU membership. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE DEAD...
Civic Democratic Alliance Chairman Michael Zantovsky told CTK on 1 February that his party will run in the June elections independently or in a coalition with other formations than those in the Four Party Coalition. "The Four Party Coalition," he said, "no longer exists." Coalition leader Karel Kuehnl said the same day he is resigning because "I would [otherwise] be leading something different from what I had a mandate for." The Freedom Union-Democratic Union leadership is to meet on 5 February and Chairwoman Hana Marvanova said she will present her proposals there on how to react to the new situation. On 31 January, the National Conference of the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) decided that the formation will run in the June elections only in partnership with the Freedom-Union-Democratic Union. MS

...AFTER UGLY AGONY
Earlier on 31 January, Zantovsky said the ODA would be ready to withdraw its candidates from the joint Four Party Coalition lists only if KDU-CSL parliamentary deputy Miroslav Kalousek and Freedom Union-Democratic Union parliamentary deputy Ivan Pilip also withdraw. Zantovsky said Kalousek and Pilip "endanger the credibility" of the alliance to no lesser extent than the debt-ridden ODA. He said Kalousek is responsible for losses of hundreds of millions of crowns in the Defense Ministry while he was deputy minister, and that Pilip is responsible for the scandals surrounding the financing from foreign accounts of the Civic Democratic Party, of which he is a former member. MS

AUSTRIA HAS MUDDLED REACTION TO CZECH PROTEST
Austria reacted on 31 January to the Czech protest against the comments made by Peter Sichrovsky, secretary-general of the far-right Freedom Party, but reports on the essence of the reaction differ (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002). According to dpa, Austrian Ambassador Klas Daublebsky delivered a verbal note to the Czech Foreign Ministry, which said that the Austrian government cannot "prescribe opinions to parliamentarians," and therefore has no comment to make. CTK cited Foreign Minister Jan Kavan as saying that the government in Vienna "has taken note" of the Czech protest, but will not react to Sichrovsky's statement. But Kavan added that he praises the fact that the Austrian Foreign Ministry "dissociated itself from the matter" in what is "for the time being, a verbal note." MS

AUSTRIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES RESOLUTION ON BENES DECREES
The same day, the Austrian parliament approved a resolution that asks the government to "resolutely act" for the abrogation of the Benes decrees, CTK reported. It also called on the government to seek the abrogation of the similar Slovenian AVNOJ decrees. The resolution is not binding on the cabinet, but was approved with the support of both parties that make up the current coalition -- the People's Party and the Freedom Party. The resolution also called on the cabinet to continue negotiations on the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant with the Czech government, which will be formed after the June 2002 elections. MS

BRITISH CHECKS AT PRAGUE AIRPORT SUSPENDED AGAIN
Three weeks after they were resumed, British consular officials again suspended checks on flights to the U.K. from Prague's international airport, CTK reported. The checks were first introduced in the summer of 2001 in an attempt to curb the influx of Czech Romany asylum seekers, and have been discontinued and restarted several times since then. MS

CZECH NATIONAL BANK CUTS INTEREST RATES ONCE AGAIN
The Czech National Bank slashed interest rates across the board for the second time in nine days, dpa reported on 31 January, The rates were slashed by 0.25 percent on discount, two-week repo, and Lombard rates following a government report that predicted a weak economy and slower-than-expected economic growth in 2002. Discount rates for commercial bank loans are now 3.25 percent, the repo rate is 4.25, and the Lombard rate 5.25 percent -- all of which are all-time lows. MS

FORMER SLOVAK FINANCE MINISTER LEAVES SDL
Former Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova, who was recently forced to resign by her own Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), announced on 31 January that she has resigned from the party, CTK and AP reported. Peter Weiss, the chairman of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, also quit the SDL. Schmognerova said she is leaving the party following consultations with colleagues in the SDL's pro-reform Modern European Socialist Party faction, but refused to answer a question posed by CTK on whether she envisages setting up a new formation, saying she will announce this "in the following weeks." Schmognerova said that under Pavol Koncos's leadership, the SDL has "embarked on a course leading to the destruction of the current government coalition," and has started "flirting" with Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). MS

NATO OFFICIAL SAYS SLOVAKIA IS 'SERIOUS CANDIDATE,' PREACHES COMMON VALUES
Guenter Altenburg, who is NATO deputy secretary-general, said on 31 January in Bratislava that Slovakia is a "serious and successful candidate" for membership in the organization, CTK reported. However, Altenburg added, NATO membership does not depend only on meeting "bureaucratic criteria" but also on sharing common values, such as respect for human rights and the rights of minorities. He refused to comment on Slovakia's chances of being invited to join NATO in 2002 should the HZDS return to power under Vladimir Meciar's leadership. Altenburg also met with Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and was scheduled to meet President Rudolf Schuster and Premier Mikulas Dzurinda. MS

SLOVAKIA JOINS CRITICS OF EC'S AGRICULTURAL POLICY DRAFT
On 31 January, chief Slovak negotiator with the EU Jan Figel criticized the recent draft on agricultural policies and subventions to new EU members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002), but added that "there is still room for negotiations and compromise," CTK reported. Figel said that Bratislava demands an "equal position under equal conditions" for all beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies. But he said other "compensating instruments," such as aid in the development of agricultural infrastructure or foodstuff marketing, could be used to compensate for the losses of new EU members during the envisaged 10-year "transition period." MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER MEETS FOREIGN JOURNALISTS IN BUDAPEST
Viktor Orban said at a breakfast with foreign correspondents on 31 January that he denies any association between himself and a list published in "Magyar Nemzet" criticizing foreign journalists in Budapest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 31 January 2002), Hungarian media reported. When asked at the meeting whether he considers the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) to be extremist, Orban said that he would characterize MIEP and other marginal parties as "radical" because of their desire to carry out profound changes in society. "I consider MIEP...an extremely radical party," he added. "The FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance, along with other smaller parties, stands a good chance of gaining a comfortable [majority] for governing in the next four years," Orban said. Regarding the government's policy toward the Romany minority, he said the cabinet's first goal is to increase support for education of Roma. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER RULES OUT COALITION WITH MIEP
On 31 January, Janos Martonyi flatly ruled out a government coalition with MIEP after the April parliamentary elections, Hungarian media reported. Commenting on U.S. Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker's concerns about anti-Semitism in Hungary, Martonyi told the Israeli newspaper "Ha'aretz" that "we do not like anti-Semitic manifestations either, and in my personal opinion they do a lot of damage to the country." MSZ

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS, FREE DEMOCRATS COOPERATE IN BY-ELECTIONS
Opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs and Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze said at a joint press conference on 31 January that they will back Free Democrat Tibor Gorcz as their joint candidate in the 24 March by-election in Budapest's Kispest district, Hungarian media reported. Kovacs said the two parties fully agree that the stakes in this year's elections are the highest since the change of regime, adding that if the current FIDESZ-led government remains in power, another change of regime -- this time in the direction of authoritarian rule -- will occur. The two party leaders also said that they may consider the possibility of combining forces ahead of the two rounds of the upcoming parliamentary elections, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

SPAIN WANTS EU TO TAKE OVER FROM NATO IN MACEDONIA...
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said in Madrid that he wants the EU to assume responsibility from NATO for limited peacekeeping work in Macedonia, "The Independent" reported on 1 February. He said he wants "Macedonia to be the first example of European security and defense policy operationability [sic], and we would like the decision on that effectively to be reached under the Spanish [EU] presidency." PM

...BUT NATO COOL TO IDEA
"The Independent" of 1 February added that unnamed NATO officials in Brussels "reacted coolly" to the idea, saying that they have not seen "any details" of the proposal. The EU would also like to take over responsibilities for international police in Bosnia from the UN (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). It remains to be seen whether the EU will be able to do all this in light of limited or shrinking defense budgets of its member states and of frequent clashes of national interests among them. Furthermore, while the EU is widely perceived in the Balkans as a welcome source of aid and investment, it has yet to establish itself as credible in security matters. The region's ethnic Albanians in particular trust only the United States. PM

DRNOVSEK SEES SPECIAL NATO ROLE FOR SLOVENIA IN BALKANS
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek told "The Washington Times" on 1 February that his country is determined to obtain membership in the EU and NATO. He noted that "we have cooperated with NATO to ensure stability in the Balkans. We have troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, and this is our neighborhood. This is an area where we can contribute." He argued that the Europeans must compensate for any reduced U.S. military presence in the region, adding that "Slovenia is very close to the region. We have so much experience." Drnovsek stressed that an international military presence will be needed in former Yugoslavia "for at least the next 10 years." He added: "In Bosnia-Herzegovina there are no new conflicts, but [NATO] soldiers must remain there. It is the same in Macedonia. The peace is still quite...fragile." PM

SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT CONCERNED ABOUT CROATS' ATTITUDE
President Milan Kucan said in a local radio interview in Ljubljana on 31 January that he is "baffled at how much mistrust there is among the Croatian public and in political life there toward Slovenia, and I don't know where the mistrust comes from." After more than 10 years of independence, there are still a number of border and other outstanding questions between the two republics. In the ethnic stereotypes widespread in former Yugoslavia, Croats were widely seen as nationalistic, and Slovenes were commonly regarded as clannish and interested only in their own economic well-being. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS MILITARY REFORM PACKAGE
On 31 January, the cabinet approved a package of measures aimed at clarifying the duties of the president and of the government regarding the armed forces, particularly questions regarding the chain of command, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002). PM

BOSNIA TIGHTENS OIL TRANSPORT RESTRICTIONS
After the recent breakdown of talks with Croatian officials aimed at ending the impasse over the transportation of oil and oil products by land, the Bosnian government announced that trucks from Croatia must use one of three specific border crossings, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 1 February. Trucks from other countries have their choice of four crossings. Like Croatia, Bosnia justified its restrictions as aimed at combating smuggling and protecting the environment. Many observers believe that the dispute began as an attempt by Croatia to expand its share of the Bosnian fuel market at the expense of Slovenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29, 30, and 31 January 2002). PM

BOSNIAN SERB TURNS HIMSELF IN TO THE HAGUE
Dusan Fustar from Prijedor arrived in The Hague on 31 January to face war crimes charges stemming from 1992, when he was a leading figure at the Keraterm concentration camp, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He and six other men were indicted together for crimes against humanity for, among other things, holding Muslims and Croats "in inhumane conditions." Three of the seven Serbs were sentenced in November 2001 to sentences ranging from three to 15 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November and 6 December 2002). Fustar's decision to surrender voluntarily was confirmed in Banja Luka by the Republika Srpska government's office for cooperation with the tribunal. PM

U.S. WANTED POSTERS TORN DOWN IN BOSNIA
For the second time in a week, U.S. posters offering up to $5 million in rewards for the arrest and capture of Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic were torn down in unspecified places in the Republika Srpska, AP reported from Pale on 1 February. Posters were previously torn down in Sarajevo as well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). PM

BOSNIAN STATE AUTHORITIES TAKE OVER ADDITIONAL FRONTIER POINT
Bosnian state customs officials formally took control of the international section of the Mostar airport from cantonal officials on 31 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). PM

JUDGE IN KOSOVA ORDERS THREE EX-GUERRILLAS HELD
A judge in Prishtina ruled on 31 January that three recently arrested ethnic Albanian former guerrillas should be kept in custody for an additional month, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). The three men belong to the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK). Former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci, who now heads the Democratic Party of Kosova, said KFOR and the UN civilian administration have "provoked a crisis" by arresting the three men. There have been demonstrations in several parts of Kosova to protest their arrest. PM

SERB ELECTED TO PROMINENT POST IN KOSOVA
Zorica Velic was elected deputy president of the Prishtina City Council on 31 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. This is the first time that a Serb has been elected to a top post in the Prishtina government since the end of Serbian rule there in mid-1999. PM

ALBANIA WARNED TO END GOVERNMENT CRISIS
The IMF informed Albanian officials on 1 February that it has postponed a meeting to approve a $30 million aid package for that country until the current power struggle is resolved, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002). In a separate development, the World Bank warned that $70 million earmarked for three development projects could be held up if the government fails to keep up its commitments to the bank (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 February 2002). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER ATTENDS NEW YORK ECONOMIC FORUM
Adrian Nastase is attending the World Economic Forum in New York, which is meeting for the first time outside its traditional venue in Davos, Switzerland. Nastase will also lecture at Columbia University, participate in a roundtable on Romania at the East-West Institute, and meet with IMF executives, Romanian radio reported. MS

ROMANIAN POLICE INVESTIGATING LINKS WITH ITALIAN MAFIA
Eighteen companies and 50 people are under investigation by Romanian police, being suspected of money laundering on behalf of the Sicilian Mafia, Romanian radio reported on 1 February. The firms were managed by Italian citizen Alabisco Rocco and linked to the "Cosa Nostra" through one of its heads, Giuseppe Pidu Madonia. Madonia has been sentenced in Italy to life imprisonment for his role in several murders and attempted murders. Information on the links was received from the Italian authorities, and Romanian police have searched the premises of the 18 companies. MS

ROMANIANS DEMAND RETURN OF MONEY LOST IN INVESTMENT FUND
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Bucharest on 31 January demanding that the government return to them the money they lost when the National Investment Fund (FNI) collapsed in May 2000, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The demonstration was triggered by a decision by the Constitutional Court on 30 January, which ruled that the investors must be compensated by the National Agency for the Evaluation of Bank Accounts (AVAB), rather than by the national state savings bank CEC, which had guaranteed the investment. The AVAB can attempt to trace the stolen funds, but cannot fully compensate the investors. Businessman Ovidiu Sorin Vantu, currently under investigation, is believed to have masterminded the FNI collapse. The government has so far compensated some 37,000 people for a small fraction of their losses, and Premier Nastase said on 31 January that further solutions will be sought "within the limitations of our resources." MS

MOLDOVAN EDUCATION MINISTER SAYS COMPULSORY RUSSIAN CLASSES MUST BE 'SUSPENDED OR NULLIFIED'
Ilie Vancea, who signed the order to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes in Moldovan schools, has asked the government to "suspend or nullify" that order, Mediafax reported from Chisinau on 31 January. Vancea said the protests against the order are growing and "a large part of the intelligentsia" does not accept it, which is leading to "the division of society along ethnic lines." He spoke after Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean handed the cabinet a report saying interethnic tension in schools in the Moldovan capital is rising, both between pupils and between teachers. MS

PPCD CONTESTS TERRITORIAL ADMINISTRATION DIVISION LAW AT MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
The Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) asked the Constitutional Court on 31 January to verify two recent laws on the country's administrative-territorial division and on local public administration, Romanian radio reported. The PPCD said that the legislation, which reintroduced the Soviet-style local administration division in Moldova, contravenes the European Charter on Local Autonomy as well as constitutional articles on local autonomy and on consulting citizens about problems of local interest. MS

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL SAYS TROOPS TO REMAIN IN MOLDOVA
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said on 31 January in Tiraspol that Moscow will respect all the agreements of the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit, but it does not envisage withdrawing its contingent from Moldova, Flux reported. Trubnikov hinted that Moscow expects an agreement making possible the continuation of the stationing of the contingent in the Transdniester to be reached with the authorities in Chisinau. He said the OSCE should also be interested in having the envisaged special status for the Transdniester safeguarded by "guarantees of a military or other nature." MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WANTS 'CLEAR SIGN' FROM NATO, EU
Georgi Parvanov on 31 January called on the EU and NATO to give "a clear political sign" that his country will soon be admitted to the two organizations, AFP reported. Parvanov said it is "legitimate" to expect such a sign, adding that this could come in the form of an invitation to attend the November 2002 NATO summit in Prague and by detailing the decisions made at the EU summit in Laeken, Belgium, last December. At the Laeken summit, the EU leaders named the 10 countries likely to end accession negotiations in 2002 and to participate in the EU elections in 2004. Bulgaria and Romania were not included and are expected to join only in 2008. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER TO BE PROSECUTED?
On 31 January, Prosecutor-General Nikola Filichev asked the Bulgarian parliament to lift the immunity from prosecution of former Agriculture Minister Ventsislav Varbanov, who is now a member of the United Democratic Forces parliamentary group, BTA reported. Varbanov is suspected of "gross violation" of legal provisions during his March 1999-July 2001 term as minister. MS

BULGARIAN MUSLIMS SEEK RETURN OF PROPERTIES SEIZED UNDER COMMUNISM
The head of the Bulgarian Islamic community, Mufti Selim Mehmet, raised the issue of properties confiscated by the country's former communist rulers during a meeting with visiting Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit on 31 January, dpa reported. Bulgaria adopted restitution laws in the early 1990s, but has not yet fully returned the confiscated properties to some 1 million Muslims. Muslim leaders estimate the value of the remaining real estate at $750 million. The Islamic community in Bulgaria says that the restitution is crucial in order to limit the possible influence of financially powerful foreign Islamic fundamentalists. In related news, Ecevit the same day said in Sofia that Turkey is prepared to train Bulgarian pilots and other soldiers to expedite the Bulgarian military's alignment to NATO standards. MS

BULGARIA'S NATIONAL MOVEMENT SIMEON II DELAYS TRANSFORMATION INTO PARTY


In a speech on 26 January to what was intended to be the founding congress that witnessed the transformation of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) into a political party, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski took the 700 delegates who were present by surprise when he told them that he had decided not to run for the chairmanship of the future party. The NDSV was formed in April 2001 after the former king decided to get involved in the politics of his homeland, which he was forced to leave as a child more than 50 years ago.

Addressing the convention, Saxecoburggotski said: "I promised the Bulgarian people to devote all my time and energy to the mission of the prime minister and in service of the Republic of Bulgaria...that is why it is out of question for me to run for the leadership of the movement or to perform organizational or honorary functions." He told the delegates that the final adoption of the draft party program as well as the election of a party chairman should be postponed until 6 April. Immediately after the speech, the convention was dissolved.

Due to some irregularities in the documents, a Sofia court refused to register the NDSV as a political party in April 2001. As a party, it could have participated in the June 2001 parliamentary elections with its own list of candidates. But after the registration failed, it had to look for partners with which to form a coalition. These partners were soon found in two small and almost unknown groups -- the Party of Bulgarian Women (PBZh) and the National Movement Oborishte.

Opinion polls predicted an overwhelming majority for Saxecoburggotski's coalition, and it met those expectations by winning 120 out of the 240 seats in parliament. What nobody could have expected prior to April 2001 had come true -- the former monarch became prime minister. It was clearly popular discontent with the government of Ivan Kostov and his party, the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), that helped Saxecoburggotski to power. His electoral promises to ease the hardships of Kostov's liberal economic policy fell on fertile ground. The NDSV victory left the SDS totally demoralized.

But even before the elections, political analysts predicted that Simeon's undeniable popularity would soon crumble under the huge problems he would face. Some even went so far as to say that his government of young, Western-educated technocrats and political nobodies would not survive the presidential elections in November 2001. The main reason for this assumption was that the NDSV did not have any strong organizational structure or political agenda, and that it lacked membership.

The NDSV government did survive the presidential elections -- barely. Instead of nominating a candidate of its own, it supported President Petar Stoyanov. The bottom line of media comments was: "Look, they have to support Stoyanov, because they do not have a promising candidate of their own."

Stoyanov lost the elections, mainly because his own party -- the SDS -- did not support him. The new president became Georgi Parvanov, the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) -- the former Communist Party.

Although it was not Saxecoburggotski's fault that Stoyanov lost the elections, many people believe that the vote was a warning signal by the disappointed followers of the former king.

Saxecoburggotski himself has not hesitated to criticize his ministers' weak points. In his speech before the founding convention, he said: "There are instances of behavior that I disapprove of. I cannot accept petty squabbles, lack of teamwork, ministers interested in solving the problems of their administration rather than those of the people, deputies who have forgotten that they are representatives of the people, and the habit of commenting on what others are doing rather than concentrating on one's own work."

Immediately after the convention dissolved, many delegates said that they understand Saxecoburggotski's decision. Lidiya Shuleva, the deputy prime minister and minister for social affairs, told news.bg that the delegates "expected [the party to be founded], but it is better to prepare something thoroughly instead of having doubts that it might not be prepared as it should." And Vesela Draganova, who leads the PBZh, added: "I did not expect that it might end this way, but it is the statement of an extraordinary dignified person."

Some commentators, however, took the chance to criticize Saxecoburggotski's policies. Petar Karaboev of the daily "Dnevnik" said he believes that the prime minister's move is just further proof of his lack of ideas and the failure of his vision of forming a new political center. "As it lacks a vision the government loses its transparency, because it lacks a party that could say what to do in the long run. And when a government does not know where it leads the citizens, they will look for other leaders or, what is more likely, they will turn their backs on politics even more."

It is not clear, however, whether the transformation into a party is enough to change the citizens' critical attitude toward the NDSV. Ulrich Buechsenschuetz is a free-lance political analyst based in Berlin. He contributes regularly to "RFE/RL Balkan Report."

XS
SM
MD
LG