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Newsline - February 26, 2002


PROSECUTOR-GENERAL STILL LOOKING FOR ANSWERS TO 'KURSK' CATASTROPHE
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov told RTR on 25 February that if his office's investigation finds that any actions or inactions by officials led to the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine, those responsible will be tried in court. However, when asked about what caused the explosion on board the submarine, he insisted that "investigators never said that an explosion of a torpedo initiated an even larger explosion that destroyed the submarine." He added that records removed from the "Kursk" make no mention of any emergency situation either on board or near the sub. Therefore, the ultimate answer might be found next fall, when the last compartment of the submarine will be lifted from the bottom of the Barents Sea, according to Ustinov. VY

LEADING RUSSIAN FIGURES PLAN ELECTRICITY CUT PROTESTS, PRAYER...
"Kommersant-Daily" asked a number of Russian personalities and political figures on 26 February what they expect to happen over the course of the coming week. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov responded that his party plans to conduct a protest against the "activities of the energy fuehrer," Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais. Zinovii Kogan, the chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Associations of Russia, said that he will be praying that there will not be an invasion of Iraq. He said, "I will pray for the best, but will expect something bad." JAC

...AS OIL REGION SENATOR CALLS FOR EXTENDING OIL-EXPORT CUTS
Federation Council member (Tyumen) and former Energy Minister Aleksandr Gavrin predicted that there will be new meetings between Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Russian oil company executives. He said that he believes the agreement to reduce Russian oil exports by 150,000 barrels per day should be extended to the second quarter of the year. JAC

RUSSIAN ALUMINUM SEEKS COMPENSATION FOR OLYMPIC DEFEATS...
Vladimir Aleksandrov, the press secretary of Russian Aluminum (Rusal), which was the main sponsor of the Russian national team in the 2002 Winter Olympics, said that his company will pay for the "best law firms in the world to protect the interests of Russian sportsmen in court against the International Olympic Committee (IOC)," gazeta.ru reported on 23 February. In addition, Aleksandrov said that the company, which is controlled by company head Oleg Deripaska and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, will file its own suit against the IOC for "material damage caused to the company by defeats of the Russian team due to biased treatment of IOC judges... It is well known that the reputation of brand names linked to sports depends on the victory or defeat of the sportsmen advertising them; consequentially, Rusal products lost much of their market value because of the failure of the Russia team." Meanwhile, Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov said his chamber will support the lawsuit the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) is preparing to submit against the IOC in an international arbitration court, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on 25 February. VY

...WHILE UNIFIED RUSSIA IS 'DISAPPOINTED WITH AMERICA'
Franz Klintsevich, a member of the pro-presidential Unified Russia party, said that his party is "disappointed with America" for the way the Winter Olympics were conducted in Salt Lake City, RosBalt reported 25 February. "As the Olympic Games were transformed into a game without rules, the world community should begin to think about an alternative competition," Klintsevich said. He added that his party plans to have a serious talk with ROC head Leonid Tyagachev, who is a member of Unified Russia. VY

FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER TO LEAD NEW LEFTIST PARTY
The founding congress of the new left-wing Peoples-Patriotic Party held near Moscow on 23 February elected former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov as its head and adopted its program, RosBalt reported on 24 February. Although the new party will be more radical that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, it will respect parliamentary democracy, Rodionov said. He added that the party has set up 70 branches throughout Russia, and that the party's main goal will be the preservation of a "united and indivisible Russia, [and to] ensure its economic security and a decent life for the people," RosBalt reported. Rodionov is a signatory of a recent letter published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya," condemning President Putin's policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). VY

FEDERAL FUNDS FOR CHECHNYA GO TO 'DEAD SOULS'
Federal law enforcement agencies have found that funds allotted for the restoration of Chechnya in 2001 have been plundered, strana.ru reported on 25 February. So far, federal investigators have proved that some 91.3 million rubles ($3 million) were misspent, often through social benefit payments to deceased residents, or "dead souls," according to the website. While federal authorities sometime bring the perpetrators to justice, strana.ru commented that they fail to end the practice "because there is no shortage of 'dead souls' in Chechnya while the war goes on." VY

RUSSIAN POLITICIAN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER MOLDOVAN PROTESTS
The head of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, Mikhail Margelov is bewildered by the mass demonstrations taking place in Moldova against the imposition of mandatory Russian-language classes in schools, smi.ru reported 24 February. Margelov was quoted as saying that "the protests against the Russian language are strange; for example, in Yakutia [Sakha] there are three official languages -- Yakutian, Russian, and English -- but nobody goes to the streets to protest against English." On 22 February, the Moldovan government annulled its decision to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes, which will now be optional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). VY

MINATOM LOBBIES FOR IMPORT OF NUCLEAR WASTE
Speaking at an ecological conference devoted to the problems posed by nuclear waste, Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Valerii Lebedev said on 25 February that Russia should take advantage of the money it can earn from importing foreign nuclear waste in order to earn enough to process its own waste, Interfax reported. He suggested that through these funds, Russia could build a second nuclear waste-processing facility to help ease the burden on the current facility, which he said is only able to process 200 tons of nuclear waste a year. However, Lebedev's plan will face strong opposition from environmentalists, smi.ru reported the same day. Renowned ecologist Aleksei Yablokov argued that Russia should not import any foreign nuclear waste, saying that processing just one ton of spent nuclear fuel produces 4.5 tons of nuclear waste, according to the website. VY

RUSSIAN COURT SENTENCES 'TERRORIST' CABLE THIEVES
A court in Arkhangelsk Oblast has sentenced several local residents found guilty of stealing communications cables to two to seven years in prison for "terrorism," RosBalt reported 25 February. According to local Interior Ministry investigator Irina Zaostrovtseva, the thieves were sentenced in line with a recently introduced article to the Criminal Code that classifies causing repeated disruptions to the functioning of vital federal facilities as terrorism. The pilfering of electrical cables and other sources of metal for sale to scrap traders is popular in Russia's regions. VY

ANOTHER PUTIN COMRADE-IN-ARMS SELECTED FOR UPPER HOUSE...
Leningrad Oblast is expected to select Oleg Safonov as its representative to the Federation Council on 26 February, Interfax Northwest reported on 25 February. Safonov is an adviser to Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov on security issues, according to the agency. From 1991 to 1994, Safonov worked as the chief specialist for the Committee for Foreign Relations of St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. In 1991, President Putin took over chairmanship of that committee and continued to work for Sobchak through 1996. JAC

...AS MIRONOV PREDICTS ELECTIONS FOR UPPER HOUSE TO COINCIDE WITH PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT...
Also on 25 February, Federation Council Chairman Mironov again spoke in favor of holding elections for seats in the upper chamber. He told Ekho Moskvy radio that such a system could be in place within two to three years. On 19 February, Mironov declared that the practice of concluding power-sharing treaties between the federal center and regions is outdated and has no future, RIA-Novosti reported. JAC

...AND KIRIENKO TOUTED AS REAL WINNER OF COMPETITION FOR LEADERSHIP POSTS
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 February examined the distribution of leadership posts in the Federation Council by federal districts. After tallying up the number of chairs and deputy chairs of committees and commissions, it concluded that while the Central federal district has the highest number of representatives in leadership posts, the Volga federal district, which is overseen by presidential envoy Sergei Kirienko, in fact did the best: It snagged the chairs of four committees, all of which are high-profile, such as the Committees for the Budget; Economic Policy, Entrepreneurship, and Property; Industrial Policy, and Questions of Local Rule (see "Russian Political Weekly," 5 February 2002). The daily also reports, citing unidentified sources, that officials in the Southern federal district are dissatisfied with the distribution of leadership posts, and asserts that "in the near future, it should not be excluded that a group of senators will initiate a re-examination of the distribution of leadership posts." JAC

ELITE FOREIGN POLICY GROUP CELEBRATES A BIRTHDAY
The influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP) celebrated its 10th anniversary on 25 February, "Izvestiya" reported the same day. In an interview with the daily, SVOP head Sergei Karaganov explained that when the group started in early 1992, it was "necessary to integrate the old elite into the new society." According to Karaganov, the group has grown from dozens of members to 136. Over that time, 15 members have left of their own accord, while one was booted out. Karaganov also revealed that both Putin and former President Boris Yeltsin read and discussed many of SVOP's reports. And he noted that the philosophy of the group's book, "Strategy for Russia: Agenda of the Day for the President-2000," "coincides to a significant degree with developments in today's Russia." JAC

GOVERNOR CALLS FOR ALTERING CONSTITUTION, LAMENTS INCOME GAP
Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak declared on 25 February that it is necessary to correct the constitution, regions.ru reported, citing "Izvestiya." Prusak said that "if we do not make these amendments, then the rights according to the constitution will belong [only] to six oligarchs but the obligations to the entire country." He added that he cannot accept a society in which one person can earn $40 billion a year, and another cannot earn 2,000 rubles ($65). "This is some kind of brutal system, which appeared during the period of the so-called reforms," he said. JAC

TATARSTAN TOPS IN FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN VOLGA DISTRICT
The Republic of Tatarstan attracted almost half -- 43 percent -- of the total foreign investment last year in the Volga federal district, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 25 February, citing Stanislav Spitsyn, head of the Central Bank's main administration for Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Some $687 million flowed to the district as a whole, of which 25 percent went to Samara Oblast, 12 percent to Orenburg Oblast, and only 2.2 percent to Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, according to Interfax. According to Spitsyn, total foreign investment in the Russian economy amounted to $10 billion. JAC

COSSACKS REMEMBERED IN ROSTOV
Writer Vladimir Karpenko and sculptor Yegor Derdiyashchenko are looking for investors to back their project to build a sculpture honoring the "glory of the mountain Cossacks" on the right bank of the local bay in the city of Volgodonsk in Rostov Oblast, "Vremya MN" reported on 25 February. The sculpture would depict Cossack General Yakov Baklanov, a hero of the Cossack War in the 19th century, leaving the mountains on horseback. According Derdiyashchenko, Baklanov would personify the free spirit of the Cossacks, and the mountain, split into two parts, would symbolize the split of the Cossacks into red and white forces. JAC

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT TO FIRE CONVICTED BODYGUARD...
President Robert Kocharian will soon dismiss Aghamal Harutiunian, the member of the presidential bodyguard found guilty last week of the manslaughter of an Armenian from Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002), an unnamed member of the presidential administration informed RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 25 February. That source cited an Armenian law that bars persons who have been convicted of a crime from serving in national security agencies. Meanwhile, relatives of the victim have said they will appeal the two-year suspended sentence handed down to Harutiunian, which they consider too lenient. Also on 25 February, Noyan Tapan summarized a press release issued by the Prosecutor-General's Office arguing that the verdict on Harutiunian is not "unprecedented," and that of 11 other cases of manslaughter heard by Armenian courts last year only one resulted in a prison sentence. LF

...MEETS WITH VISITING U.S. OFFICIAL
Kocharian met in Yerevan on 25 February with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe, who is also a former U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The two discussed "a broad range of issues" related to bilateral relations and the situation in the South Caucasus. Pascoe also met separately with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to discuss the international antiterrorism campaign, the Karabakh conflict, and the upcoming visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen. LF

KARABAKH LEADER CONCERNED AT PROSPECT OF INSTABILITY IN AZERBAIJAN
Arkadii Ghukasian, who is president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was quoted by AFP on 25 February as expressing concern that if Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev leaves office, the domestic political situation in Azerbaijan may become volatile, and Aliev's successor could embark on a more militant policy toward Karabakh. Referring to Aliev as the guarantor of stability in Azerbaijan, Ghukasian stressed that Karabakh does not want another war, but feels obliged to maintain a high degree of defense readiness. Meeting last week with U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Secretary Paul Grove, Ghukasian argued that Baku's consistent rejection of direct talks with the Karabakh leadership on how to resolve the conflict shows that Baku is unwilling to consider any compromise solution, Noyan Tapan reported on 25 February. Ghukasian also stressed that it is the Karabakh Defense Army, and not troops of the Republic of Armenia, that are currently occupying several districts bordering Karabakh. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT TO RETURN TO BAKU 'WITHIN DAYS'...
President Aliev "feels very well" and will leave the Cleveland clinic where he underwent prostate surgery on 14 February and return to Baku "today or tomorrow," Azerbaijan's ambassador to the U.S., Hafiz Pashaev, told Turan on 25 February. Other sources said Aliev will arrive in Baku on 28 February. Also on 25 February, Aliev received a telephone call from his Turkish counterpart Ahmed Necdet Sezer, who enquired after his health, Turan reported. LF

...AND WILL VISIT IRAN
In Baku, a spokesman for the Iranian Embassy told Turan on 25 February that a new date for Aliev's long-postponed visit to Iran, most recently scheduled for late February, will be agreed after Aliev returns to Baku. Turan also reported on 25 February, without citing its sources, that an Iranian warship entered Azerbaijan's territorial waters close to the coastline on 22 February but was constrained by an Azerbaijani patrol boat to retreat. On 21 February, Iranian media reported that an Azerbaijani patrol boat entered Iran's territorial waters near Astara two days earlier. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS FINED FOR STAGING UNSANCTIONED PROTEST
Police used force on 24 February to break up an unsanctioned demonstration in Sumgait by the local branches of the Democratic and Civic Unity parties and briefly detained several Democratic Party members, Democratic Party General Secretary Sardar Djalaloglu told Turan on 25 February. Djalaloglu said the two parties' local branches had requested permission from the local Mayor's Office to stage the protest, but received no response. The demonstrators had planned to demand the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh and government action to resolve economic problems. LF

NEW DEMONSTRATION IN AZERBAIJANI EXCLAVE
Residents of the village of Bananiyar in Nakhichevan staged a new demonstration on 24 February to protest the detention by local police of two members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Turan reported on 25 February. The two had presented to local officials a list of villagers' demands, which include job opportunities and improved economic conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002). The villagers have warned they will stage further protests if those demands are not met within 20 days. LF

ANOTHER AZERBAIJANI CASPIAN TEST WELL FAILS TO YIELD OIL
Exxon-Mobil has suspended drilling of a test well in the Nakhchivan Caspian field after failing to find oil, according to AFX on 25 February, as cited by Groong. Exxon-Mobil is the operator of the consortium to develop that field and holds a 50 percent stake; the other 50 percent is owned by Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR. Three trial wells drilled in 2001 by international consortia similarly failed to yield crude in commercial quantities; two Western consortia were liquidated in 1999 for the same reason (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 16 March 1999). LF

AZERBAIJAN MARKS 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF KHODJALY KILLINGS
On 25 February, Azerbaijan marked the 10th anniversary of the killing by Russian and Armenian forces of 613 Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh village of Khodjaly. In a statement pegged to the anniversary and summarized by Turan, President Aliev described the killings as the culmination of "a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide" carried out by Armenians against Azerbaijanis over a period of 200 years. Azerbaijan's senior Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, accused the international community of double standards for failing to bring "Armenian extremists" to trial for the killings. LF

DIVERSE EXPLANATIONS OFFERED FOR GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL'S SUICIDE
Georgian political figures continue to advance various hypotheses to explain the 25 February suicide of 60-year-old Georgian National Security Council Secretary Lieutenant General Nugzar Sadzhaya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). President Eduard Shevardnadze blamed Sadzhaya's death on the accusations that Sadzhaya was a homosexual made by former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani. Shevardnadze expressed regret that he had pardoned Kitovani, who was quoted by "Rezonansi" on 26 February as pointing out that he first accused Sadzhaya of being gay six years ago. Kitovani said he believes Sadzhaya was murdered, but did not specify by whom. Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Giorgi Baramidze implied that Sadzhaya had been driven to take his life by a slander campaign undertaken by Aslan Abashidze's opposition Revival Union at the instigation of Russia. Former Deputy Defense Minister Gia Karkarashvili said Sadzhaya fell victim to "an attempt to change the political course of the country" by engineering the return to active Georgian politics of fugitive former Security Service chief Igor Giorgadze, according to "Akhali taoba" on 26 February. LF

GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS POSTPONED
The meeting planned for 26 February between Georgian and Abkhaz government officials and members of the UN Observer Mission to continue discussing joint patrols of the Kodori Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 February 2002) has been postponed because inclement weather conditions prevented the plane carrying the Georgian participants from landing in western Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S NEW PREMIER AGAIN LISTS SHORT-TERM PRIORITIES
Elaborating on statements made at his first cabinet session on 7 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2002), Imangaliy Tasmagambetov told a session of both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament on 25 February that his cabinet's top priorities for the period 2002-2004 are to ensure annual GDP growth of 5-7 percent, raise per capita GDP to $1,600-$1,700, and reduce to under 20 percent the percentage of the population who live under the poverty line, Russian agencies reported. He added that Kazakhstan intends to switch gradually from the export of raw materials to that of semiproduced and manufactured goods. LF

RUSSIA WILL NOT LEAVE KAZAKH COSMODROME BEFORE 2014
Moscow has no intention of withdrawing from the Baikonur cosmodrome in central Kazakhstan before its lease on that facility expires in 2014, Baikonur's director, Lieutenant General Leonid Baranov, told ITAR-TASS on 23 February. LF

U.S. OFFICIAL REJECTS KYRGYZ MEDIA ALLEGATIONS
A spokesmen for the international troops temporarily stationed at Bishkek's Manas international airport within the framework of the international antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan rejected on 25 February as misleading and untrue allegations published in the Kyrgyz Russian-language newspaper "Vechernii Bishkek" on 22 February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The paper had alleged among other things that the U.S. pays only $4,000-$5,000 for each takeoff and landing of a military aircraft from Manas instead of the earlier agreed fee of $7,000. LF

PURGE OF TAJIK BORDER GUARDS CONTINUES
Acting on instructions from President Imomali Rakhmonov, a review commission has over the past three weeks screened an unspecified number of Tajik Border Guard Service officers and dismissed 10 of them who proved either to be convicted criminals, "compromised," or "not professionally fit" to remain in service, Asia Plus Blitz reported on 26 February, quoting the first deputy chairman of the Border Protection Committee, Nuralisho Nazarov. Rakhmonov had ordered such a review last month after dismissing or suspending several leading Border Protection Committee officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 January 2002). Nazarov noted that many unqualified members of the United Tajik Opposition joined the border guards in the demilitarization that followed the end of the 1992-1997 civil war. He implied that some of them have proved to be criminals. LF

SHARP FALL REGISTERED IN TAJIK-RUSSIAN TRADE
Trade between Tajikistan and Russia fell by 36 percent in 2001 to $234 million, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 25 and 26 February respectively. Tajikistan's trade with CIS states similarly registered a 20 percent decline over the same time period. LF

PROSECUTOR DEMANDS SEVEN YEARS FOR FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER'S SON
A prosecutor on 25 February demanded seven years' imprisonment for Alyaksandr Chyhir -- the son of prominent opposition politician and former Premier Mikhail Chyhir -- on charges of large-scale embezzlement, Belapan reported. Chyhir junior, born in 1976, was arrested in February 2001 in a market in Minsk while allegedly selling parts from stolen cars. He and two alleged accomplices are accused of stealing four Ford Transit vans. The defense denounced the charges as a fabrication. Alyaksandr Chyhir said the charges against him were fabricated in revenge for his father's opposition activity. The two others, who previously pleaded guilty, dismissed their testimony as having been forced from them through beatings and torture. Defense lawyers cited official medical evidence confirming that both had numerous bruises. The court hearing was attended by Mikhail Chyhir and U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak. JM

WHO CONTROLS BELARUSIAN ARMS TRADE?
United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka has received a reply to his earlier request that the Prosecutor-General's Office open an investigation into why Belarus's budget law does not include a revenue item pertaining to arms sales, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 25 February. The Prosecutor-General's Office reportedly responded that issues connected with arms trade are beyond its competence. JM

UKRAINE OBJECTS TO IMF'S CONDITION FOR RELEASING ANOTHER TRANCHE
Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Rohovyy said on 25 February that Ukraine has failed to resolve a key tax issue that must be resolved before the IMF will release another tranche of its $2.6 billion loan. Rohovyy, who led the Ukrainian delegation at the talks with the IMF in Washington last week, told journalists that Kyiv will not follow the IMF's advice to immediately repay some 2.7 billion hryvni ($500 million) of VAT refunds to Ukrainian exporters from the budget. "It is a path that may provoke us into building a new financial pyramid and may ruin the financial stability that has been so painfully achieved since 1998," ICTV Television quoted Rohovyy as saying. JM

YULIYA TYMOSHENKO HITS THE ROAD AGAIN
Former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, who leads the election bloc bearing her name, has again set off on a campaign trip to the provinces, UNIAN reported on 25 February. Tymoshenko had toured some Ukrainian regions before her automobile accident on 29 January, after which she was hospitalized. Moreover, on 29 January the Appeals Court restored the earlier restriction on her freedom of movement that did not allow her to leave Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). However, on 14 February the Supreme Court suspended the Appeals Court's decision until 14 March, making it possible for Tymoshenko to travel outside the capital. Oleksandr Turchynov, the deputy head of Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party, told UNIAN that Tymoshenko left the hospital and went on her provincial trip against her doctors' advice. JM

BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS ESTONIA
Geoffrey Hoon, on a one-day visit to Tallinn on 25 February, held talks with Prime Minister Siim Kallas, Defense Minister Sven Mikser, Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, and defense forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts, ETA reported. Hoon said that he cannot reveal which countries will be invited to join NATO at the Prague summit in November, but declared: "In any case my role in visiting Estonia was to support your aspirations." Kallas and Hoon agreed that small countries can contribute to enhancing global security by forming and training small specialized units that could be sent to conflict areas. The same day, Kallas also discussed his country's NATO aspirations with the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, Ambassador Nicholas Burns. Burns mentioned two criteria for NATO candidate countries -- whether its invitation would strengthen the military alliance and whether the candidate country is staunchly devoted to the protection of democratic values. SG

CHRISTIAN PARTIES IN LATVIA WANT REFERENDUM TO AMEND HEALTH BILL ON REPRODUCTION
The New Christian Party and the Union of Christian Democrats announced on 25 February that they will run together in the fall parliament elections and begin a signature drive next week for a referendum on amending the law on sexual and reproductive health, LETA reported. They did not specifically disclose what they want to change in the law, passed by the parliament on 31 January, but its members earlier expressed their desire to ban abortions. It appears likely that the parties will succeed in gathering the 10,000 signatures needed to submit their proposed amendments to the parliament. However, if the parliament does not approve the amendments, in order to hold a referendum they will have to gather within two months signatures equal to at least one-tenth of the number of people who voted in the previous elections. SG

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER SUPPORTS LITHUANIA'S EU, NATO BIDS
At a dinner hosted by President Valdas Adamkus on 24 February, George Papandreou affirmed that Greece strongly supports Lithuania's efforts to join the EU and NATO, ELTA reported the next day. Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimosziewicz, who was on an informal visit to Lithuania, also attended the dinner. Earlier that day, Papandreou visited the grave of his great-grandfather, Zigmantas Godzava Mineika, and received from Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis documents stored in the Lithuanian State Archives and the coat of arms of the Mineika family. On 25 February, he discussed Greece's experiences in opening its real estate market to foreigners with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas. Brazauskas told reporters after the meeting that his position that Lithuania should not apply for a transition period on sales of arable land to foreigners in its negotiations for EU membership was only strengthened. SG

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT IN POLAND
On 25 February in Warsaw, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski signed a joint statement confirming their countries' active participation in combating terrorism and pledging to strengthen cooperation between Brazil, Poland, the EU, and other Latin American countries, PAP reported. Later in the day, the two presidents opened a Polish-Brazilian business forum. In January-November 2001, the Polish-Brazilian trade turnover amounted to $459 million. JM

CZECH NUCLEAR PLANT SHUT DOWN FOR PLANNED INSPECTION
The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant was shut down on 25 February for a planned monthlong inspection, said plant spokesman Milan Nebesar, as quoted by AP and dpa. Nebesar said technicians started a step-by-step cooling down of the plant and stopped supplies to the national electricity grid. Over the next month, they are to continue tests and replace faulty turbine valves, as well as install new equipment at the plant's reactor, which has been plagued with turbine problems since its launch in the fall of 2000. MS

CZECH EXTREMIST LEADER RE-EMERGES PHOENIX-LIKE
Miroslav Sladek, the former chairman of the far-right Assembly for the Republic-Czechoslovak Republican Party (SPR-RSC), was elected on 24 February as chairman of the newly founded Republicans of Miroslav Sladek (RMS), CTK reported. The SPR-RSC was dissolved in February 2001 after being declared bankrupt. Sladek was backed by 151 out of the 199 delegates at the RMS conference. The new party claims a membership of 5,000. In related news, a court of justice in Prague on 25 February upheld rulings by two lower courts, rejecting the appeal of Michal Zitko, the publisher of a Czech translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf." Zitko was sentenced by the lower courts to a suspended sentence of five years in prison for "promoting a movement aimed at suppressing civil rights and freedoms," and was fined 2 million crowns (some $55,000). Zitko said he cannot pay the fine, in which case he must serve one year in prison instead. MS

CZECH TV COUNCIL MEMBER STICKS TO ANTI-ROMA STATEMENT
Milan Knizak, a member of the Czech Television Council and director of the National Gallery, said on 25 February that he refuses to withdraw an anti-Roma statement made in an interview with the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" last month, CTK reported. Knizak said that Roma are "incapable of using common space" with other citizens and that works by Romany artists are "not worthy" of being displayed at the National Gallery. He also said that he objects to the "preferential treatment" of Roma. Romany representatives, Jewish organizations, and several Czech artists have demanded Knizak's dismissal. Knizak said in response that "the best antiracism is to solve the problems and call a spade a spade." Knizak can be dismissed from the council only by the parliament. Culture Minister Pavel Dostal told the weekly "Respekt" that he will not dismiss him as the head of the National Gallery. MS

FORMER THERESIENSTADT MURDERER DEAD
Julius Viel, who was sentenced in April 2001 by a German court to 12 years in prison for murdering seven Jewish inmates at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, died of cancer on 25 February, CTK reported. Earlier this month he was removed to a hospital outside the prison due to the deterioration of his health. MS

SLOVAK EXTREMIST CALLS HUNGARIAN PREMIER A 'POLITICAL TERRORIST'
Jan Slota, the leader of the Real Slovak National Party, on 25 February described Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a "modern political terrorist," CTK reported. Slota said Orban is a "terrorist who knows how to speak in a decent manner," adding that his demand for a revision of the Benes decrees amounts to "questioning Slovakia's sovereignty." MS

SLOVAK ROMA RETURNED FROM NORWAY
A second group of Slovak Roma, composed of some 60 people, who failed to receive asylum was returned to Slovakia from Norway on 23 February, CTK reported. The first group of 11 Roma was returned on 21 February. In related news, Jozef Vojdula, the chief of police in Presov, eastern Slovakia, on 23 February announced that he is leaving the force after having come to the defense of a subordinate involved in a racial incident. The subordinate refused to shake hands with Romany journalist Denisa Havrlova until she showed him her "sanitary card." Following the incident, Havrlova accused the policeman of racism, but Vojdula said his subordinate had "acted in line with legal obligations, which oblige him to take care of his health." Interior Minister Ivan Simko offered Vojdula another job, citing his "professional skills," but Vojdula turned the offer down. MS

SLOVAK SKINHEADS ATTACK ROMA, OTHERS IN KOSICE
On 23 February, a group of 20 skinheads attacked passengers riding a bus in Kosice, CTK reported on 25 February. The skinheads assaulted some 20 to 30 Roma and non-Roma who were returning from a discotheque frequently visited by the town's young Roma, shouting "black bastards" to the Roma. Some of the passengers were injured in the incident. MS

STATUS LAW, BENES DECREES CONTINUE TO MAR HUNGARY'S RELATIONS WITH VISEGRAD PARTNERS...
Peter Weiss, the chairman of the Slovak Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said in Budapest on 25 February that the Slovak parliament backs the government's position that the Hungarian Status Law cannot be implemented in Slovakia. Also on 25 February, the culture ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland -- Pavel Dostal, Milan Knazko, and Andrzej Celinski -- canceled their planned participation in a meeting of Visegrad Four ministers of culture scheduled to take place in Budapest. As was the case with the cancellation of the Visegrad Four summit planned for 1 March, Dostal and Knazko said they were doing so in protest against Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's call for canceling the Benes decrees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). MSZ

...BUT ORBAN WON'T BUDGE
Orban reiterated his stand on the decrees on 25 February, saying "we do not want to raise the issue of the Benes decrees within bilateral relations, but if it is placed on the agenda, Hungary must represent a clear position and must defend its citizens" who were forced to leave their native countries as a result of their implementation, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARY REMEMBERS COMMUNIST-ERA VICTIMS
Civil groups and political parties on 25 February held commemorations across Hungary to mark the official memorial day for the victims of communism. The day also commemorates 25 February 1947, when Soviet military authorities abducted and carried off to the Soviet Union Smallholders Party Secretary-General Bela Kovacs, the leader of the largest political party prior to the communist era. A statue of Kovacs, who was allowed to return to Hungary in 1955, was to be unveiled outside the Parliament building on 26 February. Foreign Ministry Political State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth and FIDESZ Executive Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover laid wreaths at the memorial to the 1956 Uprising in Budafok. Opposition Free Democrat Imre Mecs told a crowd gathered near the wall of a communist-era prison that "we cannot allow any force to arbitrarily expropriate the past to serve its goals," Hungarian media reported. MSZ

U.S. CONGRESSMAN LANTOS IN HUNGARY
Hungarian-born U.S. Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, currently on a private visit to Hungary, on 25 February urged Hungarian voters to go to the polls in national elections in April, saying a large turnout would guarantee that neither the extreme left nor the extreme right will gain seats in the parliament. In connection with the recently opened House of Terror museum in Budapest, Lantos, a member of the board of trustees for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said it is Hungary's moral duty to establish a state-financed Holocaust museum as well. "It is self-evident, given some trends in this country, that Hungarian society sorely needs to be educated in the subject of accepting every human being irrespective of his or her ethnicity, religion, or national origin," Lantos said. MSZ/MS

MONTENEGRIN LEADERSHIP BLASTS SERBIAN PREMIER'S RESPONSE TO EU FEDERATION PLAN...
Speaking on Montenegrin radio on 25 February, Predrag Sekulic, an executive committee member of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, said that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," on 25 February 2002) that "he will not accept a rotten compromise or go beyond the minimum of joint posts is, in essence, contradictory to the principles on which the EU is founded." Sekulic added that the statement shows that "a syndrome of looking at Montenegro through a prism of inherited stereotypes prevails." He further claimed that Djindjic's statement is part of a battle for power within Serbia and encourages nationalist and reactionary forces in Montenegro to pursue the same course they had under former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. DW

...WHO SAYS FUTURE FEDERATION SHOULD BE BASED ON ECONOMY
Also on 25 February, Premier Djindjic said on B92 TV: "We want the common state to have those economic functions that ensure the functioning of a common market, as a condition for integration in the EU," and not a common state, which would be an obstacle to entering the EU. He said that it is necessary to tell EU security policy chief Javier Solana "that the way the economy would function in that state is very important for us, and not only what kind of state would exist and how many seats in the UN it would have. One does not live on a UN seat." DW

HAGUE TRIBUNAL AUTHORIZES BOSNIAN COURTS TO TRY WAR CRIMES CASES
The UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague has authorized Bosnian courts to hear 62 cases, a Bosnian liaison officer said on 25 February, according to AP. Amir Ahmic said he was asked to deliver the decision to Bosnia-Herzegovina's Justice Ministry, adding that all the cases involve Bosnian Serbs and Croats accused of crimes against Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, the agency said. The UN tribunal is the sole arbiter of war crimes cases, based on peace agreements. Meanwhile, Hina reported the same day that The Hague tribunal has allowed the southern Herzegovina-Neretva Canton Court to launch proceedings against three Croats charged with torture and beatings in the 1993 deaths of Bosniak prisoners at a Stolac hospital. AH

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER DISCOURAGES 'RADICAL RESHUFFLE,' EARLY ELECTIONS
Prime Minister Ivica Racan was quoted by Hina as saying on 25 February that a radical government reshuffle in the middle of a four-year mandate is "impossible," adding that the current, five-party coalition talks will bring a result within two to three weeks. Racan told a radio audience he is "a cautious optimist" in coalition relations as the parties try to hammer out new terms governing the functioning of the coalition. The leadership of the coalition Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) was to meet on 26 February to evaluate the performance of its ministers, Hina reported, and sources said the party is likely to demand that Prime Minister Racan appoint Drazen Budisa to the post of deputy prime minister following his recent return to the HSLS chairmanship. Racan has said the HSLS ministerial posts will be the object of further discussion, adding that the fate of the coalition rests on that party's willingness to consult with its partners in government on cabinet changes. None of the coalition parties wants early elections, Hina quoted Racan as saying. AH

CROATIAN PRESIDENT TO PAY 'UNOFFICIAL' VISIT TO RUSSIA
Stipe Mesic will visit Russia on 16 April in an "unofficial" capacity, Hina reported on 25 February. Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Mesic to Moscow to avoid a long break in senior contacts, the agency added. The last official visit between the two countries came in 1998, when Croatian President Franjo Tudjman visited former President Boris Yeltsin. AH

HUGE CROWDS TURN OUT TO WELCOME CROATIAN OLYMPIC CHAMPION
An estimated 200,000 people turned out in central Zagreb on 25 February to welcome alpine skiing champion Janica Kostelic on her return from the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, agencies reported. "This that I have seen, ...I will never experience again in my entire life," the 20-year-old told her hometown crowd, according to dpa. Authorities organized a welcoming ceremony that effectively turned into a public holiday as schools were closed. Kostelic won three gold medals and one silver, the first alpine skier to win four medals in a single Olympics. AH

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEES BACK CURRENT APPROACH TO IMMUNITY
Two key committees of the Croatian parliament decided at a joint session on 25 February that the legislature will continue the current practice of stripping deputies of parliamentary immunity based on requests by the state prosecutor, Hina reported. But such requests must further the country's legal order, the agency added. The legislature will refuse such requests in other circumstances, such as individuals alleging slander, the committees decided. AH

U.S. NATO COMMITTEE HEAD IN ROMANIA
U.S. NATO Committee Chairman Bruce Jackson met in Bucharest on 25 February with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and President Ion Iliescu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Jackson told Nastase that Romania is "making real progress," and that if it continues to do so its chances of being admitted as a member of the organization at the November summit in Prague are "real good." He also praised the cooperation between Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey in improving regional security. Nastase said that he agrees with Jackson that candidate countries must "carefully avoid creating internal problems for themselves." In an interview with the daily "Ziua" the previous day, Jackson alluded to what he has in mind, saying that the statues in memory of Marshal Antonescu in Romania, anti-Semitism, and "certain approaches to Romania's history" can undermine Romania's membership quest. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LAW ON CLASSIFIED INFORMATION
The Chamber of Deputies on 25 February approved the final version of the Law on Protecting Classified Information, having earlier eliminated an article in that law that provided penalties for the unauthorized use and dissemination of classified information which had accidentally reached unauthorized persons. The opposition welcomed the article's elimination, but is still objecting to other articles regarded as potentially infringing on human rights. Opposition representatives said they will try to further amend the law when the Senate discusses it. MS

FORMER PRM DEPUTIES JOIN ROMANIAN RULING PARTY
Deputies Ilie Neacsu and Sever Mesca, who until recently represented in the parliament the Greater Romania Party (PRM), announced on 26 February that they have joined the ruling Social Democratic Party and that more of their former party colleagues will follow suit, Mediafax reported. MS

WOULD-BE ROMANIAN CROWN PRETENDER DENIED ACCESS TO ROYAL PROPERTY SHARE
The Supreme Court of Justice on 25 February rejected a lawsuit by Carol Mircea Grigore Hohenzolern to a share of the restitution property to which former King Michael is entitled, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Carol Mircea is the first-born son of late King Carol II, from a marriage that was subsequently annulled by the royal family at the time. The lawsuit was submitted to the court by his son, Paul, who calls himself Paul of Romania. Another lawsuit is underway, in which former King Michael is requesting that the ruling of a Lisbon tribunal that recognized Carol Mircea as the legitimate son of Carol II be annulled. MS

MOLDOVAN EDUCATION MINISTER APOLOGIZES TO PROTEST DEMONSTRATORS...
Education Minister Ilie Vancea told the protesters in Moldova's main square on 25 February that he "made a mistake" in deciding to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes. "I should have been defending my point of view [against that of the government] more than I did, because language and history are sacred for any nation," Vancea said. Asked whether he expects to be dismissed, Vancea responded that he will not resign, but the government may dismiss him. In turn, Vancea asked the protesters whether after the nullification of the decision, they are ready to end the protest, and they shouted back: "Not until the communists are gone!" RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

...AND SUPREME COURT RULES PROTESTS UNLAWFUL
The Supreme Court, acting on the request of the government, ruled on 25 February that the ongoing protests are unlawful and must stop until their organizers receive an authorization from the Chisinau mayoralty, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Popular Party Christian Democratic's (PPCD) representatives said in response that the decision is illegal and that they will appeal it before an expanded forum of judges at the same court. Justice Minister Ion Morei said that if the PPCD does not respect the decision, its activity will be suspended for one year. MS

MOLDOVAN LEADERS MEETS U.S. ENVOY
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev met on 25 February with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer in Chisinau and denied that his cabinet intends to renationalize private enterprises and reintroduce the collectivization of agriculture, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tarlev said these are "rumors spread by certain political forces interested in discrediting the country's leadership." Pifer said the U.S. is prepared to "further assist in finding mutually acceptable solutions" to both Moldova's current political crisis and the Transdniester conflict. Pifer was later received by President Vladimir Voronin, who told him the authorities' economic policies are geared toward overcoming the current crisis and reviving economic growth. Voronin also said Chisinau has three preliminary conditions for renewing discussions with Tiraspol: the evacuation of Russian weaponry, setting up joint Moldovan-Ukrainian customs posts, and restoring the OSCE's activity in the separatist region. MS

PRIMAKOV RECEIVES HONORARY DEGREE IN BULGARIA
Former Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov was awarded an honorary doctorate by the St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, in what dpa described as "another apparent sign of thawing relations between Bulgaria and Russia." Primakov, who recently offered himself as a witness for the defense in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague, criticized in his speech the "seeming emergence of a unipolar world model" dominated by the U.S., BTA reported. He predicted that the "unipolar model" will soon be replaced by a multipolar one. MS

GENDER ISSUES HIJACKED BY 'PARTY OF POWER' IN UKRAINE'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN
The authorities have a clear policy to only allow one women's and one "Green" party linked to the "party of power" to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections on 31 March. The Green Party of Ukraine (ZPU) and Women for the Future are both financed by Vasyl Khmelnytsky, No. 3 on the ZPU's election list and the director of the Zaporizhstal plant, who has close ties to first lady Lyudmyla Kuchma. In February, the Central Election Commission annulled its previous decision to register the alternative Women of Ukraine party and the Rayduha (Rainbow) green election bloc, and forced Larysa Skoryk's Women for the Future of Children party to reregister as the All Ukrainian Party of Interethnic Understanding.

In the late Soviet era, fixed quotas ensured that one-half of the seats in local councils and a third of the seats in Ukraine's Supreme Soviet were allocated to women. In Ukraine's three parliaments elected in 1990, 1994, and 1998, female representation initially declined but then slightly increased from 2.9 to 4.6 to its current 8 percent. But it still lags far behind that of the Soviet and Mikhail Gorbachev eras. Nevertheless, women's issues continue to remain marginal to the concerns of mainstream politicians in Ukraine.

In the March 1998 parliamentary elections, only one party -- the All Ukrainian Party Women's Initiative (VPZhI) -- campaigned on a gender platform. Its result of 0.58 percent of the vote placed it 22nd on the list of 30 blocs and parties competing in that ballot.

In contrast, Women for the Future (ZhzM), one of two election groups in the current election campaign with a gender platform, has scored far more impressive results in opinion polls, which have averaged between 6-7 percent. These figures suggest that the group will easily pass the 4 percent voting barrier to qualify for the distribution of 225 seats contested under a proportional system. According to a January poll by the Ukrainian Institute for Social Studies, 10 percent of women and 2 percent of men will vote for Women for the Future.

Of Ukraine's 130 registered political parties, five are devoted to women's issues. The VPZhI, registered in October 1997, is the oldest of the five. It is also the only party based outside Kyiv, in Kharkiv. Three others are also small parties -- the Women's Party of Ukraine (registered in March 1997), the Women's People Party United (September 1998), and the Solidarity with Women Party (December 1999).

Women for the Future's rise to third place in popularity among the 36 election blocs and parties has been meteoric. Its registration on 30 March of last year was suspiciously just one day before the deadline for parties to be registered for the 31 March parliamentary elections. Within less than a year, Women for the Future has managed to attract 360,000 members in 500 branches, an impressive figure when compared to the Communist Party's 140,000 members.

Women for the Future is led by individuals with ties to the former Soviet Ukrainian nomenklatura and to Leonid Kuchma when he was Prime Minister in 1992-1993. According to Alexandra Hrycak, a Western expert on gender issues in Ukraine, the ideology of Women for the Future is Soviet and not in tune with gender issues and the women's rights movement in the West. Women for the Future does not oppose the Soviet-era stereotype of the female role in politics being confined to areas such as maternal and child-welfare issues. As "Zerkalo Nedeli/Dzerkalo Tyzhnya" reported, Women for the Future "has no new ideology behind it either."

Valentyna Dovzhenko, the head of Women for the Future, also heads the All-Ukrainian Voluntary Fund of Hope and Good (VDFND) and heads the State Committee of Family and Youth Affairs that was formerly a ministry, as well as the parliamentary Committee on Family and Youth. The head of the controlling committee of VDFND and the president of another NGO, the National Fund for the Social Defense of Mothers and Children, is Lyudmyla Kuchma. The VDFND was established by the Soviet-era Union of Ukrainian Women led by Maria Orlyk, a leading member of Women for the Future.

The answer to the question as to why the Women for the Future party has managed to become so popular so quickly is its access to "administrative resources." "Administrative resources" or closeness to centers of power, such as the executive, ensure high popularity and victory in Ukraine's elections. Independent and thereby genuine women's parties, such as the four women's parties other than the ZhzM, stand little chance in elections when Women for the Future has executive support and -- more importantly -- the backing of first lady Kuchma.

Women for the Future was created especially to ensure that another pro-presidential faction would exist in the next parliament. It will therefore play the same role as the Greens in the 1998 elections, who were able to win 5.43 percent of the vote by targeting floating voters, the undecided, and those disillusioned with party politics. In this sense, Women for the Future campaigns on a platform of hostility to the very idea of the usefulness of party politics. The platform of Women for the Future and its traditional campaigning style appeals to women aged between 30-40 and centers on such issues as women's rights, health (e.g., breast cancer), and domestic violence. Women for the Future's closeness to Ukraine's first lady has also drawn comparisons to the Yugoslav United Party of the Left led by Slobodan Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic.

Members of Women for the Future have been defined as "albinos" by the weekly "Zerkalo Nedeli/Dzerkalo Tyzhnya" because they are devoid of any ideological platform. The party's popularity has not grown because of advertising or rousing speeches in defense of women's rights. On the contrary, party members have instead traveled around Ukraine distributing material assistance at schools, military bases, and factories. In Sumy and Kharkiv Oblasts, foodstuffs have been distributed free of charge. In every raion in Chernivtsi Oblast, "Photos for Mother" events were undertaken in schools, kindergartens, libraries, and cultural clubs -- during which free photos were taken of children standing next to Women for the Future party symbols. Afterward, presents were distributed free of charge to needy families.

According to the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, a third of the distribution of free assistance by election blocs in Ukraine is undertaken by Women for the Future. Grandiose concerts by Ukrainian and Russian pop stars in towns and villages throughout Ukraine organized by the party have cost some $100,000, according to "Zerkalo Nedeli/Dzerkalo Tyzhnya." Yet the party is vague about its sources for the funds to finance the high cost of running such a brash campaign.

Women for the Future is likely to enter the next Ukrainian parliament. But the Soviet ideological influence on the party will likely mean that it will not advance women's rights in the sense understood by women's movements in the West. Instead, Ukraine will obtain another pro-presidential faction in parliament that differs little from other oligarchic factions led by the opposite gender.

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

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