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Newsline - March 6, 2002


RUSSIA-NATO TALKS ON NEW FORM OF PARTNERSHIP HIT STALEMATE
The round of negotiations between NATO Deputy Secretary-General Guenther Altenburg and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov held in Moscow on 4 March yielded no results, smi.ru reported on 5 March. Both sides acknowledged considerable difficulties in working out a new framework for Russia-NATO cooperation according to the proposed "19+1" formula (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 27 February 2002), and will likely not be able to overcome those issues before NATO's spring session in Reykjavik in May, "Izvestiya" added on 5 March. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that "it is not yet clear how the new '20' will differ from the old Permanent Joint Council, or whether we are talking merely of a cosmetic change," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Chief of General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin told "Moskovskaya pravda" on 5 March that NATO military exercises and the alliance's long-standing plans continue to view "Russia, Belarus, and the other CIS countries as potential adversaries, and that means that there is nothing to talk about [with NATO.]" VY

BEREZOVSKY UNVEILS FOOTAGE CLAIMING FSB INVOLVEMENT IN APARTMENT BOMBINGS
Boris Berezovsky provided evidence in London on 5 March to back his claims that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was involved in the organization of four apartment building bombings that killed more than 300 people in the fall of 1999 in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk. The embattled oligarch also claimed that President Vladimir Putin, then-Security Council Chairman Sergei Ivanov, then-Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, and others in the Russian leadership knew about the bombings beforehand, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Berezovsky also provided a video and documents to support his allegations, and presented former Russian government explosives expert Nikita Chekulin, who claimed to have worked as a secret collaborator for the FSB. According to Chekulin, an organization in which he worked sent explosives of the same type used in the bombings and stolen from the military to various locations in Russia. After the bombings, according to Chekulin, the FSB thwarted investigations and tried to cover up the story. In conclusion, Berezovsky said that he and Liberal Russia, a political movement he bankrolls and co-chairs, will file formal appeals to the European Parliament in an effort to force a full investigation into the bombings. VY

...AS FSB COUNTERS THE ACCUSATIONS...
Back in Moscow the same day, an FSB spokesman said his agency will not officially comment on statements made by "a private person suspected...of financing terrorist groups," RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 4 February 2002). However, the spokesman went on to say that, in anticipation of the charges against him, the individual is attempting well in advance to present himself to the world "as a victim and a fighter for political freedoms in Russia." VY

...AND PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE SAYS HE MAY HAVE AIDED ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS
Meanwhile, a senior official from the Prosecutor-General's Office, Pavel Barkovskii, said his organization is investigating the possible role of Berezovsky in financing the invasion of Daghestan in 1999 by Islamic extremists, as well as the kidnapping of Russian officials in Chechnya, including Major General Gennadii Shpigun, who was reportedly abducted "on orders from someone in Moscow" at Grozny airport in March 1999, and whose body was found 15 months later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999, and 9 June and 22 September 2000). Meanwhile, Fatherland-All Russia Duma faction head Vyacheslav Volodin told gazeta.ru the same day that, from the legal point of view, Berezovsky has committed a crime by not reporting his knowledge of the alleged crime when he held an official position in the Russian government. "Today this information looks more like a settling of political accounts," Volodin added. VY

PUTIN CALLS ON INTELLIGENTSIA TO MOLD NEW IMAGE OF RUSSIA
Speaking to Russia's literary, cinema, and showbiz elite assembled at the Kremlin on 5 March for a meeting of the Culture and Art Council, President Putin called on them to create "an industry of culture serving to consolidate the nation's collective consciousness," Russian news agencies reported. "We should seek new ways to utilize the [country's] cultural potential for forming an image of Russia and establishing [Russia's] new role and place in the civilized world, " the president said. Putin called on Russia's cultural figures to pay special attention to the development of television for children that, in his words, "should create an environment necessary for molding the [next] generation of full-fledged citizens." In doing so, Putin said, they should "squeeze out" primitive characters and plots in TV programs and reinforce national values, including those in Russian-produced cartoons. "One should remember that cartoons have no less impact than the Internet," Putin warned. VY

LIBERALS SEEK SALVATION FOR RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY
In an open letter released on 5 March, Russian human rights activists and liberal politicians called on all political forces, both left and right, to come together for the "salvation of democracy, freedom, and human dignity in Russia," Interfax reported. "The current policy of the regime is not a new stage of reforms, but is its liquidation," according to the authors. "The crisis [surrounding] democratic development in Russia first became apparent in the 1990s, when the 'directed democracy' took shape, the freedom of choice gave way to competition between oligarchic clans, and civil society increasingly alienated itself from the government and the state," they said. They went on to say that the crisis has reached the point where independent television has practically been destroyed, and opposition has been pushed out of politics. The appeal was signed by Elena Bonner, the widow of renowned Soviet human rights activist Andrei Sakharov; Duma deputies Yulii Rybakov and Sergei Yushenkov; writers Arkadii Vaksberg and Feliks Svetov; and political analysts Andrei Piontkovskii and Igor Yakovenkov. VY

FRENCH AND SWISS SUSPECT YUKOS OF LAUNDERING MONEY...
French tax authorities have discovered that the Russian oil giant Yukos headed by Mikhail Khodorkovskii has laundered hundreds of millions of dollars through Swiss banks via front companies in Panama and the British Virgin Islands, "Nouvel Observateur" and "Le Temps" reported on 3 March. Most of the funds were transacted via Geneva's Banque Leu to a bank account of a French woman of Russian origin. However, she told investigators that the money belongs to "Yukos," and is controlled by one of the oil company's directors. VY

...AS YUKOS EMPLOYS BRITISH EX-FOREIGN MINISTER
Meanwhile in Moscow, Khodorkovskii announced that former British Foreign Minister David Owen will join the company as the head of its London-based affiliation Yukos International UK, which the company purchased for $100 million last November, Prime-TASS and RBK reported on 4 March. VY

PRIME MINISTER DENIES TRADE WAR BETWEEN U.S. AND RUSSIA
Speaking to journalists in Kaliningrad, Mikhail Kasyanov said that the ban on the import of some American poultry products to Russia is in no way connected to the imposition of higher import duties by the United States on steel from Russia and elsewhere (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 4 March 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 5 March. Mikhail Kravchuk, the chief state sanitary inspector, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 5 March that the ban on the import of American chicken legs will take effect on 10 March. The daily commented that both sides stand to lose money as a result of this unpleasant development -- U.S. farmers about $600 million, and Russian steelmakers $700 million. VY

KREMLIN FLOATS ANOTHER TRIAL BALLOON FOR ELECTIONS...
Vladimir Pekhtin, leader of the pro-Kremlin Unity faction, said on 5 March that his group supports moving up the date of the next State Duma elections to March 2004 so that they coincide with planned presidential elections, Interfax reported. He said that alternatively, presidential elections could be moved up and held in December 2003 at the same time; however, his group prefers the first option. The same day, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov spoke out against holding the two elections simultaneously. Veshnyakov noted that during the last election cycle there was a three-month interval between the Duma and presidential elections, and as a result, "a normal Duma was elected that has functioned well over the last two years as well as a president who is working extremely effectively." Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told journalists in St. Petersburg that his personal attitude toward simultaneous elections is "extremely negative," regions.ru reported. JAC

...AS OPPOSITION EMERGES TO KOKH NOMINATION
Mironov also told reporters that a raion-level court in Leningrad Oblast has suggested halting the process of confirming former Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh as that oblast's representative to the Federation Council, Interfax-Northwest reported. Kokh was selected by the oblast's legislature on 26 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). Mironov said that when the upper chamber receives the official legal document, the question of Kokh's confirmation will be presented to the Commission on the Standing Orders of the Federation Council. JAC

KREMLIN REPORTEDLY FACING DEARTH OF CHOICES IN REGIONS
Not only the Kremlin but also voters are facing a difficult choice in upcoming elections in the republics of Tuva and Karelia, and Lipetsk and Penza Oblasts, "Izvestiya" argued on 5 March. In Tuva, the daily suggested, the interests of the local elite are locked up in one strong authoritarian leader, President Sherig-ool Oorzhak. And while the republic has stagnated under Oorzhak's rule since 1990, "his departure would lead to a shake-up of the entire bureaucratic and economic structure in the republic." Therefore, Moscow must tread carefully, the daily concluded. Likewise, in Penza Oblast, the choices are not easy. The main contenders are incumbent Governor Vasilii Bochkarev and State Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin. Bochkarev reportedly considers himself "the 'master' of his oblast," and has attracted the disapproval of presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko. Ilyukhin, on the other hand, is a hard-line leftist and has opposed the Kremlin for many years. The daily concluded that it is possible that the Kremlin will be forced to support the old regional elite in a number of regions because of the "deficit of new cadres," and the "opposition of the local political elite" to changes at the top. JAC

ANOTHER ENVOY MAKES A BID FOR CONTROL OF ECONOMIC LEVERS
According to "Obshchaya gazeta," No. 9, a draft program laying out a strategy of development for Siberia, if approved, would give presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii "real power based on economic levers." According to the weekly, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin both oppose the program, which Drachevskii's office drafted. In addition, Drachevskii has reportedly appealed to President Putin for his approval. The program would introduce tariff privileges for Siberian enterprises to compensate them for their higher transportation and energy costs. In addition, revenues from the tax on the extraction of natural resources would be used to boost the competitiveness of the Siberian economy. Drachevskii argues that such measures are needed to prevent the region, whose population is already dwindling, from sliding backward in terms of economic development. The weekly noted that the cabinet's lack of support for Drachevskii's program could be seen as a direct challenge to President Putin, who ordered that a special economic program for Siberia be created. JAC

LUKOIL BOTHERED BY LOBBYING IN THE DUMA
"LUKoil-Komi" issued a press release on 5 March accusing a group of State Duma deputies from the Unity faction of taking part in a trip to the Komi Republic to lobby the interests of the North Oil company, regions.ru reported. According the press release, North Oil paid for the deputies' charter airplane flight to the area and also provided local transport to industrial plants in the area. The deputies, who were not identified by name, reportedly met on 4 March with the head of the Komi Republic and the chairman of the republican legislature, along with the mayor of Usinsk and other Usinsk city officials. LUKoil-Komi complained that the deputies met with officials of just one company engaged in natural resource extraction in the area, North Oil. JAC

DARKIN LAUNCHES PURGE
Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin on 5 March dismissed the head of Public Television Primore, Andrei Kholenko, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The daily charged that Darkin has begun the process of replacing the media personnel who were in place under his predecessor, Yevgenii Nazdratenko. According to the daily, Darkin recently clashed with Nazdratenko, who now chairs the State Fisheries Committee, over the question of distributing fishing quotas among enterprises in the krai. Darkin has subsequently launched a purge of Nazdratenko loyalists, the daily reported. Also dismissed recently was the governor's press secretary, Natalya Vstovskaya, who had worked for Nazdratenko for eight years. JAC

FAR EAST REGION PUTS A NEW FOCUS ON FATHERS
In the city of Svobodnyi in Amur Oblast, a conference was held on 5 March to establish the Amur Association of Fathers, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to a press release issued by the oblast administration, the association was created with the goal of raising the role of men in the upbringing of children, and also in work with troubled teenagers. The project is being launched in Svobodnyi, but officials hope to replicate it throughout the oblast. JAC

MAYOR STRIVES TO IMPROVE CITY WORKERS
Saransk Mayor Ivan Nenyukov told "Izvestiya" on 5 March that he has asked the city government to organize and finance a special Russian-language course for city bureaucrats. According to the mayor, local bureaucrats' mastery of the Russian language is "horrid." He added that special course "could also help city officials put their thoughts on paper correctly -- that is, those who still have thoughts." According the daily, city workers were absolutely unsurprised by the mayor's decision; they have long been accustomed to new edicts. Recently, the mayor ordered all his underlings take up skiing and arranged for them to partake in "a day of health" once a month. JAC

RUSSIAN TROOPS MURDER FOUR CIVILIANS IN CHECHNYA...
The bodies of four young Chechen men, all local residents, were found in an abandoned house in the town of Argun on 2 March, AP reported on 5 March, quoting the deputy head of the town's administration, Aslanbek Ismailov. The bodies had bullet wounds in the head and chest, and bore marks of torture. Ismailov rejected claims by the military commandant that the men were killed during recent fighting, pointing out that no such fighting has taken place. Chechenpress.org gave the names of the young men on 5 March and reported that they were detained by Russian troops on 2 March and taken to the local military commandant's office, where they were shot and their corpses dressed in military fatigues in an attempt to "prove" that they were supporters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. LF

...AS LOCAL RESIDENTS DEMAND THAT MASS GRAVE BE EXCAVATED
Some 200 women staged a demonstration on 4 March outside the Military Prosecutor's Office in Argun to demand that a date be set for the excavation of a recently discovered mass grave, chechenpress.org reported on 5 March. LF

ARMENIA, IRAN SIGN DEFENSE COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Visiting Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani held talks in Yerevan on 5 March with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Shamkhani and Sarkisian signed a memorandum of understanding that both men described as laying the foundations for bilateral military cooperation. The text has not been made public. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE VISITS ARMENIA...
Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama, who is also OSCE chairman in office, met in Yerevan on 4 March with Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian and on 5 March with President Kocharian to discuss the prospects for revitalizing the Karabakh peace process, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Gama told journalists after those talks that the OSCE "is very keen" to do so given that "it has been 10 years since the creation of the Minsk Group and we need concrete results." Gama declined to elaborate on the new peace proposal that the Minsk Group co-chairmen intend to unveil during their upcoming visit to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. But he said NATO has no plans to become involved in mediating a settlement to the Karabakh or other conflicts in the South Caucasus, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. LF

...MEETS WITH KARABAKH PRESIDENT
Gama also met in Yerevan on 5 March with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Interfax and Armenian agencies reported. Ghukasian told journalists after the meeting that if peace talks are renewed, his republic will participate in them directly. Azerbaijan has consistently rejected any such participation. Ghukasian also said he finds it difficult to imagine what the new Minsk Group peace proposal might comprise, since "all the possible ideas have already been discussed." He also criticized as "blackmail" Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's recent statement that Baku may resort to force if it is not possible to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. "If this is what the Azerbaijani president really thinks, this conflict might remain unresolved for another 50 years," Mediamax quoted Ghukasian as saying. LF

AZERBAIJAN REFUTES REPORTS OF CHILL IN RELATIONS WITH TURKEY
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 5 March denying reports carried by Caspian News Agency on 4 March and by the newspapers "Azadlyg," "Ekho," and "Ayna/Zerkalo" of an alleged cooling in relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). LF

ILL-FEELING MARS MEETING BETWEEN AZERBAIJANI, IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS
The newspapers "Ekho" and "Yeni Yuz Il" reported on 6 March that tensions and a "diplomatic incident" marred a meeting the previous day between Azerbaijani parliament deputies and a visiting parliamentary delegation from Iran, Turan reported. The tensions reportedly centered on the recent standoffs in the Caspian Sea between Iranian and Azerbaijani vessels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2002). Aliasker Sherdust, who chairs the Iranian-Azerbaijani group for interparliamentary cooperation, reportedly angered his Azerbaijani colleagues by refusing to answer questions concerning the Iranian defense minister's visit to Armenia (see above) and when Tehran will make good on its pledge to open an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz. LF

RUSSIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS CONFER
Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned his Azerbaijani counterpart on 5 March to brief him on the proceedings of the 1 March informal CIS summit in Almaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Aliev did not attend that gathering as he is still recuperating from surgery last month. The two presidents also discussed the legal status of the Caspian Sea, noting that their approaches on that issue are identical, according to Turan on 6 March. Putin assured Aliev of Russia's readiness to do all in its power as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group to promote a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS PRESIDENT'S SON COULD SUCCEED HIM
Ramil Usubov told a session of the Interior Ministry collegium on 5 March that he can envisage President Aliev's son Ilham as a future Azerbaijani president, Turan reported. Usubov pointed to Ilham Aliev's successes in implementing the country's oil strategy, and in heading its Olympics Committee and delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SELECTS NEW NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD
Eduard Shevardnadze said on 5 March that he intends to name Tedo Djaparidze, who is currently Georgia's ambassador to the U.S., to succeed Nugzar Sadzhaya as National Security Council secretary, Caucasus Press reported on 6 March. Djaparidze is 55 and a trained philologist who worked from 1972-1989 at the prestigious Institute of the U.S.A and Canada in Moscow. From 1992-1994 he served as an adviser to Shevardnadze. LF

ADJAR LEADER CONFIRMS ALLEGED PLOT TO KILL HIM
Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze told the independent TV station Rustavi-2 on 5 March that he has evidence to substantiate allegations made during a congress in Tbilisi last month of displaced persons from Abkhazia that Georgia intelligence chief Avtandil Ioseliani is plotting to have him assassinated, Caucasus Press reported on 6 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). Abashidze also said he does not believe official claims that the death on 25 February of National Security Council Secretary Sadzhaya was a suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 February 2002). LF

FORMER INCUMBENT SEEKS TO ABOLISH SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENCY
Lyudvig Chibirov, who lost his bid last fall for re-election as president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia to businessman Eduard Kokoev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 26 November 2001), is collecting signatures on a petition demanding that the presidency be abolished, Caucasus Press reported on 5 March. Chibirov is also planning to bring legal proceedings against the republic's Central Election Commission, which he argues violated the law by registering Kokoev, who is a Russian citizen, to contest the presidential ballot. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA CAMPAIGNS FOR ASSOCIATE MEMBERSHIP OF RUSSIAN FEDERATION
In an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 6 March, Kokoev affirmed that South Ossetia, like the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, seeks to align with the Russian Federation once Moscow has recognized it as an independent entity. Kokoev said that he has dispatched parliament speaker Stanislav Kochiev to Moscow to discuss that possibility with the Russian leadership. Should that request be rejected, he will seek unification with the Republic of North Ossetia, which is a subject of the Russian Federation, and whose president, Aleksandr Dzasokhov, supports the merger of the two republics. Kokoev also disclosed that the leaderships of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are in constant consultation regarding their respective bids to secure associate membership of the Russian Federation. LF

ANOTHER KAZAKH TV STATION ORDERED TO SUSPEND BROADCASTS
Kazakhstan's Communications and Transport Ministry announced on 5 March the suspension for six months of broadcasts by TAN TV on the grounds of "technical problems" and alleged violation of the law stipulating that at least 50 percent of all programs must be in the Kazakh language, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) and the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan staged a protest demonstration later on 5 March in front of the Almaty Oblast Communications and Transport Department building to demand the annulment of the ministry's decision, which they said was politically motivated. Also on 5 March, former Industry, Trade, and Energy Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov, who is one of the founders of DVK and is believed to finance TAN TV, was sacked from the position of chairman of the Directors' Council of Temirbank. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES EXPRESS CONCERN FOR CO-ETHNICS IN UZBEKISTAN
A group of deputies to the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament) announced on 5 March that they have written to Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov asking him to raise with the Uzbek leadership the situation of the Kazakh minority in Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Tashkent estimated that minority at 1.5 million, while Kazakh scholars say it is closer to 2 million. The Mazhilis deputies said the number of Kazakh-language schools in Uzbekistan is steadily declining, and asked the premier to raise the possibility of allowing young Kazakhs from Uzbekistan to attend schools in South Kazakhstan Oblast. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SLAMS PROTESTS AS 'POLITICAL EXTREMISM'...
Speaking on 4 March in Berlin during an official visit to Germany, Kyrgyzstan's president, Askar Akaev, described the ongoing mass protests in Kyrgyzstan against the arrest and trial of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov as "political extremism," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 5 March. Akaev added that protest demonstrations and hunger strikes are "not democratic," and that it is up to a court of law to decide whether Beknazarov is guilty. LF

...VETOES AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY
President Akaev has vetoed the amendments, passed on 17 January, to the law on the status of parliament deputies, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 5 March. The amendments stipulate that only the prosecutor-general is empowered to sanction the arrest of a parliamentary deputy. Parliamentary immunity was restricted by a referendum in October 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 1998). Parliament may override a presidential veto by a qualified majority. LF

TAJIK PARLIAMENT JOINS PROTEST OVER RUSSIAN OFFICIAL'S DISPARAGING REMARK
Tajik parliament deputies adopted on 5 March a statement addressed to Russian President Putin and the Russian State Duma protesting that "statements by individual persons...casting doubt on the friendship and mutual understanding between the Tajik and Russian people are absolutely inadmissible," Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 6 March. The protest was prompted by a remark by Aleksandr Kotenkov, Putin's representative to the Duma, last month that "Moscow...is full of beggars and Tajiks" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February and 5 March 2002). LF

INDEPENDENT HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP REGISTERED IN UZBEKISTAN
The Uzbek Justice Ministry formally registered the Independent Human Rights Organization headed by Mikhail Ardzinov on 4 March, 10 years after it first applied for registration, AP reported the following day. It is the first such organization to be publicly registered in Uzbekistan. LF

BELARUSIAN LAWYER IN KIDNAPPING TRIAL CHARGED WITH SLANDER
Prosecutors in Minsk have brought a charge of slander against lawyer Ihar Aksyonchyk, who represented the family of abducted journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in the ongoing trial of Zavadski's alleged kidnappers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2002), Belapan reported on 5 March. In a statement issued to the media on 13 February, Aksyonchyk said the four defendants were "nothing but tools" in the abduction of Zavadski. He linked the Zavadski case to the disappearances in 1999 of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski. Aksyonchyk accused President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of "illegal interference" with the investigation into the disappearances. He also cited testimony from former investigators saying that the abductions and subsequent murders of Zavadski, Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski were ordered by Lukashenka's top aide, Viktar Sheyman, who is now Belarus's prosecutor-general. The whereabouts of Aksyonchyk have not been known since mid-February. JM

BELARUSIAN NGO FAILS IN EFFORTS TO SUE 'SOVETSKAYA BELORUSSIYA' FOR LIBEL
A district court in Minsk rejected a libel suit on 5 March by the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the country's largest human rights organization, against the daily "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," which is the main press mouthpiece of President Lukashenka's administration, Belapan reported. The committee and its chairwoman, Tatsyana Protska, complained that their reputations were injured by an "analytical report" in "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" on 5 September 2001, which alleged that there was an international plot involving the Belarusian opposition, NGOs, and Western intelligence services to overthrow President Lukashenka's regime (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 September 2001). The daily mentioned the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and Protska among the plotters. "[The report] was a dispute within the framework of political topics... It does not contain any assessment of the business or professional qualities of plaintiff Tatsyana Protska, or an assessment of the economic performance of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee as an entity of economic relations," the court said in dismissing the suit. JM

FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER'S SON SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR ALLEGED CAR THEFT
A district court in Minsk on 6 March sentenced Alyaksandr Chyhir, the son of prominent opposition leader and former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, to seven years in prison on charges of car theft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2002), Belapan reported. Chyhir and two other defendants, who were sentenced to 7 1/2 years and 11 years, denied the charges. The defendants' lawyers said they will appeal the verdict. "This is political persecution of our family," AP quoted the mother of Alyaksandr Chyhir as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT URGES MORE TOP-LEVEL PROBES...
The Verkhovna Rada on 6 March backed a nonbinding motion asking the prosecutor-general to bring criminal proceedings against President Leonid Kuchma in connection with allegations that Kuchma ordered an assassination attempt on lawmaker Oleksandr Yelyashkevych, Ukrainian media reported. The previous day, the parliament passed a similar motion, accusing Kuchma of assisting former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko in plotting the murders of two lawmakers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). The parliament also asked the prosecutor-general to launch criminal probes into the role lawmaker Oleksandr Volkov had in alleged money laundering, as well as against presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn and State Tax Administration chief Mykola Azarov over alleged abuses of office. JM

...BUT FAILS TO ADDRESS ISSUE OF MELNYCHENKO TAPES
The same day, lawmakers failed to pass a resolution on giving the floor to lawmaker Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the temporary commission dealing with the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze, who is expected to report on the results of a recent U.S. expert examination of audiotapes made in President Kuchma's office by former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 February 2002), Interfax reported. Lawmaker Yelyashkevych has been occupying the parliamentary rostrum since the inauguration of the current parliamentary sitting on 5 March, demanding that the parliament address the issue of Melnychenko's tapes. The motion to address this issue was backed by 191 deputies (the required majority is 226 votes). JM

COURT REFUSES TO REREGISTER HRACH AS ELECTION CANDIDATE IN CRIMEA
The Central District Court in Simferopol has rejected the complaint of Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach against its decision of 25 February to annul his registration as a candidate for a seat in the Crimean legislature (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 March 2002), UNIAN reported. Hrach originally filed his complaint with Ukraine's Supreme Court, which subsequently returned it to Simferopol with a remark that the complaint should be filed through the court of the fist instance; that is, the Central District Court. However, Judge Oleksandr Opanasyuk from the Central District Court dismissed Hrach's complaint, saying that the 25 February decision on ousting Hrach from the election race was final and not subject to appeal. Hrach's supporters have pitched 15 tents on Simferopol's Lenin Square to protest his ouster from the election. An organization called the League of Officers of Crimea have pitched eight tents on the same square in protest against the protest of Hrach's supporters. JM

OUR UKRAINE ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF FOUL PLAY IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN
The Our Ukraine election bloc in its campaign spot on Ukrainian Television on 4 March accused the authorities of turning the election "into a soccer match with only one goal." The bloc said only pro-government forces can campaign unhindered and have unrestricted access to the media. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said in the spot that Ukraine is now experiencing "a crisis of power," adding that the authorities' support for the For a United Ukraine bloc in the campaign discredits them and "makes people despise them." JM

CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS WEST IS HUMILIATING UKRAINE AHEAD OF ELECTION
Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin on 5 March said the "massive" visits of Western politicians to Ukraine ahead of the 31 March parliamentary ballot are a "humiliation and insult" to the country, Interfax reported. "They have suddenly fallen in love with Ukraine, they have wanted transparency [in the election], and, especially, they have felt an urgent need for a strong Ukraine. As my grandson says, I am 'cracking up' from such pronouncements," Chernomyrdin said, referring to unspecified Western politicians. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT TO SUPPORT MERGER OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
The cabinet decided at its 5 March meeting to replace the previous government's decision to merge the number of local governments from 247 into 108 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2001) with voluntary mergers encouraged by monetary support, ETA and BNS reported. The support will amount to 370 kroons ($20.50) per resident -- 70 kroons in direct support and 300 kroons in investments. The amount of support will be based on the data of the population register on the election day for local councils in October. The meeting also decided not to support amendments to the State Pension Insurance Act sponsored by the People's Union, which call for a 10 percent pension hike for those older than 80 years of age, since such a move would contradict the principle of equal pensions. SG

OSCE COMMISSIONER DISCUSSES VARIOUS ISSUES IN LATVIA
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus told President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 5 March that he supports Latvia's efforts to abolish Latvian-language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils, LETA reported. He praised the progress made in integrating minorities in Latvia, singling out the campaign for informing potential citizens how to acquire citizenship. When asked at a later press conference whether Latvia should grant noncitizens the right to vote in local council elections, Ekeus said this is an internal matter for Latvia, but that most Western countries do not currently allow this. He told the State Language Committee, headed by Mara Zalite, that he understands the importance of strengthening the role of the Latvian language for the internal stability and social integration of the state. The previous day, Education and Science Minister Karlis Greiskalns informed Ekeus about plans to make Latvian the primary language of instruction in all schools as of 2004. SG

LITHUANIA ADVISED NOT TO DISPUTE CLOSING DATES FOR NUCLEAR PLANT
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar advised his Lithuanian counterpart Algirdas Brazauskas in Vilnius on 5 March that Lithuania should comply with the EU's wishes to close the first unit of the nuclear power plant in Ignalina in 2005, and the second unit in 2009, ELTA reported. While not mentioning any specific sums, Aznar told a following press conference that if Lithuania does this "the EU will help Lithuania as much as it will be able to." Brazauskas mentioned that his country will end the no-visa requirements for Kaliningrad residents in mid-2003 to comply with the EU border requirements in the Schengen Treaty, but will try to work out a favorable visa policy for them. The premiers also discussed proposed EU agricultural subsidies to new member countries, and expressed support for NATO enlargement. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT APPROVES LOCAL ELECTION LAW
President Aleksander Kwasniewski has signed the amendments to the local election law that were passed by the parliament last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002), PAP reported. One major amendment provided for the calculation of seat allocations according to the d'Hondt method, which favors large groupings. Another amendment reduced the number of councilors from 19 to 15 in communes inhabited by fewer than 20,000 people. JM

POLAND'S CIVIC PLATFORM REGISTERS AS PARTY
The Civic Platform group, which won 63 parliamentary mandates in the general elections on 23 September 2001, has been registered as a political party under the name of the Civic Platform of the Republic of Poland (POPR), PAP reported on 5 March. The POPR is headed by lawmaker Maciej Plazynski, who was the speaker of the preceding parliament. Plazynski told journalists that the chief authority of the POPR is the Civic Platform parliamentary caucus, which is empowered to elect the party's chairman and leadership. JM

IS VERHEUGEN CHANGING HIS MIND ON BENES DECREES?
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on the German ZDF channel on 5 March that the Benes Decrees "must be modified" if they contain "discriminatory elements that violate the present European norms," according to Hungarian media reports. Verheugen denied that the decrees are causing tension in Czech-German relations. The reports in the Hungarian media emphasize that the statement contradicts Verheugen's previous pronouncements, which ruled out any linkage between the decrees and the EU accession talks. MS

AUSTRIAN FAR-RIGHT LEADER CONTRADICTS SCHUESSEL ON BENES DECREES
Deputy Chancellor Susanne Riess-Pass, chairwoman of the far-right Freedom Party, on 5 March contradicted Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on the Benes Decrees, CTK and dpa reported. In an interview with the daily "Die Presse," Riess-Pass said that the decrees must be abolished before the Czech Republic can accede to the EU, and that the joint program of her party and the senior coalition People's Party specifically mentions this fact. She said the decrees contradict the so-called "Copenhagen" criteria set by the EU in 1993, which refer to minimal standards for respecting human rights and minority rights in EU member countries. Riess-Pass said that Schuessel's recent statement that the decrees' cancellation is not a precondition for EU accession is at variance with the government's program. Schuessel on 1 March called for the decrees to be declared legally ineffective and for "symbolic compensation" to be paid to those who suffered from them. MS

DEPLOYMENT OF CZECH FIELD HOSPITAL TO AFGHANISTAN APPROVED
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said in London on 5 March that the Czech offer to dispatch to Afghanistan a field hospital within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been approved. He spoke after talks with Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik. Hoon said experts are now solving "practical questions" pertaining to issues such as transportation or the location of the hospital in Kabul. The two officials also discussed the purchase by the Czech Republic of the 39 JAS-39 Gripen supersonic fighters from the British-Swedish BAE Systems/SAAB consortium. Hoof said he "welcomes" the Czech decision to purchase the fighters. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS CZECH PRESIDENT NOW BACKING LARGE NATO EXPANSION...
Mircea Geoana told Romanian radio after meeting President Vaclav Havel in Prague on 5 March that Havel is now backing a NATO extension formula that would include seven countries. Geoana called his meeting with the Czech president "important, possibly decisive," and added that unlike last year, when Havel favored a limited NATO expansion, he is now "placing his entire moral and political authority, his symbolic personality" at the service of an expansion that would include Romania and Bulgaria. Geoana also met with Prime Minister Milos Zeman, with whom he mainly discussed economic cooperation. MS

...CALLS FOR 'SOLIDARITY' OF NATO CANDIDATES IN BRATISLAVA
Meeting later on 5 March in Bratislava with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan, Geoana said a meeting in Bucharest later this month of all NATO candidate countries should "demonstrate unity and solidarity" ahead of the organization's summit, TASR reported. Both ministers said they believe their own country will be invited to join. Kukan and Geoana also discussed the Hungarian Status Law. Geoana said he believes Slovakia and Hungary will ultimately find a solution similar to that agreed between Bucharest and Budapest last December, which he described as being based on "the European spirit and mutual cooperation." Geoana also met with President Rudolf Schuster, and told him EU candidates should "solve mutual problems" before acceding to the organization. MS

HZDS TO MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN SLOVAK GOVERNMENT
The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia plans to initiate next week a no-confidence vote in the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda, CTK reported on 5 March, citing Slovak radio. According to the law, if 30 deputies submit a no-confidence motion, parliamentary speaker Jozef Migas must summon a session of the legislature within seven days. While it is unclear how many non-HZDS lawmakers will support the motion, Radio Twist cited Jan Slota, leader of the Real Slovak National Party, as supporting the move. As grounds for submitting the motion, the HZDS will specify the "government mismanagement" of a recent collapse of several unlicensed savings and loans companies, in which depositors lost billions of crowns (hundreds of millions of dollars), Reuters reported. MS

TURKISH PRESIDENT BACKS SLOVAK NATO BID
Visiting Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on 5 March assured his Slovak counterpart Schuster of his country's support for Slovakia's quest for NATO membership. CTK reported. He said Turkey considers Slovakia to be "the foremost candidate" for NATO membership, and praised Bratislava for having "behaved like a virtual NATO member" in the struggle launched against international terrorism. Sezer also said the two countries should join the EU at the same time. Schuster said Slovakia is interested in cooperating with Turkey in manufacturing military equipment and in having Slovak officers trained in Turkey. MS

PREMIER SAYS 'YES...
BUT' TO DEBATING HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST CHALLENGER. Viktor Orban on 5 March accepted Socialist Party prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy's challenge to a live debate on television ahead of each of the two rounds of next month's elections, Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). As anticipated, however, Orban said the debate should be conducted in front of an audience, stressing that "you cannot have parliamentary elections without the electorate." He also said the debate should be carried by all television stations, state and commercial, and not only by private stations, as proposed by his rival. MS

U.S. 'NOT INTERFERING IN HUNGARIAN ELECTIONS'
The U.S. "does not intend to interfere in any way in Hungary's democratic elections, and regards the country as an important NATO ally that offers essential support as a member of the international coalition fighting against terrorism," U. S. Embassy spokesman Mary Scholl said on 5 March. Scholl was responding to the opinion piece by Jackson Diehl published in "The Washington Post," which said the Bush administration in Washington is wary of Prime Minister Orban's policies. Scholl added that U.S. President George W. Bush continues to foster good relations with Orban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). MS

FIDESZ CHAIRMAN RULES OUT PACT WITH HUNGARIAN EXTREMISTS
FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni told journalists on 5 March that his party rules out any post-electoral coalition with the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), Reuters reported. The agency said Premier Orban "has been asked countless times to distance himself from a possible FIDESZ-MIEP governmental coalition, but he has never quite done so." Orban "usually responds by saying FIDESZ will win outright, making the issue 'academic.'" MS

HUNGARIAN ROMANY LEADER SATISFIED WITH RESULTS OF PACT WITH FIDESZ
Florian Farkas, chairman of the Roma Lungo Drom association, on 5 March said that after the elections, responsibility for handling Romany affairs will be transferred from the governmental Office for Minorities to a newly established Roma Integration Office, which is to be set up within the Social Affairs Ministry, Hungarian media reported. Farkas, who recently signed a cooperation pact with FIDESZ, spoke after talks in Brussels with FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Jozsef Szajer and European People's Party Chairman Wilfried Martens. Martens described the electoral pact between FIDESZ and Lungo Drom as a "historic development," and pledged support for setting up a European Center on Romany Affairs in Brussels. MS

NATO COOL ON EU MISSION FOR MACEDONIA...
Plans by some EU officials -- particularly from France and Spain -- to take over peacekeeping in Macedonia from NATO have come in for sharp criticism from the Atlantic alliance, Reuters reported from Brussels on 5 March (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior NATO official said: "What is the chain of command for the European Union? There isn't one, and no one has come up with one... Without a well thought-out chain of command and procedures, I would strongly recommend against it." Earlier, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon's office said: "There would be a real risk that the EU's first mission would end in failure or rescue by a re-engaged NATO." On 6 March, the "Financial Times" quoted an unnamed NATO diplomat as noting that the current NATO peacekeeping operation Amber Fox is integrated into KFOR's supply networks and asked: "What will happen if the EU takes over? Will it have separate supply lines? ...That would be crazy." The NATO official in Brussels asked what would happen if both NATO and the EU wanted to use the same helicopter at the same time. PM

...WHICH HAS NO MONEY, ANYWAY
The Vienna daily "Die Presse" reported on 6 March that it is unclear how the EU would fund any peacekeeping mission in Macedonia. There is no money budgeted for such a large-scale project, and some unnamed countries are opposed to any attempts aimed at raising or finding the necessary funds. Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser told the daily that there is no consensus in Brussels as to how to fund the project. Unnamed German sources added that the EU does not even have an estimate as to how much the mission would cost. The same daily also reported on a conference of EU Social Democrats in Brussels, where speakers frequently juxtaposed the EU to the United States. One German member of the European Parliament added that the real "clash of civilizations...is between Europe and America." PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN REBELS DENY ROLE IN MYSTERIOUS GROUP
Gezim Ostreni, who is a military official of the illegal National Liberation Army (AKSH), rejected Macedonian Interior Ministry charges that the AKSH is linked to a mysterious band of alleged Islamic terrorists killed recently by police, Reuters reported from Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). Ostreni stressed that the AKSH "did not conduct a religious war in Macedonia. On the contrary, the fight and the demands of the Albanians were about freedoms and human rights." PM

ROCKY ROAD FOR SERBIAN COOPERATION WITH HAGUE TRIBUNAL
Representatives of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) and Montenegro's pro-Belgrade Together for Yugoslavia coalition met in the Serbian capital on 5 March to discuss proposed legislation on cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. The meeting ended after 15 minutes because the participants could not agree on how to proceed. The DOS has been promising to enact legislation on cooperation with the tribunal since ousting the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic in late 2000. PM

SERBIAN MINISTER SEEKING ROLE IN KOSOVA?
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova and the Presevo valley, is expected to meet with Michael Steiner, the head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova, in Prishtina on 6 March, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Covic recently charged that Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi was involved in atrocities against Serbs during the 1999 conflict. It is not clear what evidence he has. Rexhepi is a surgeon who served the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) as a field doctor. Covic also wants to discuss with Steiner a demand that a ministry for refugee returns be set up in the new Kosova government and be headed by a Serb from the Povratak (Return) coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Covic also called for additional cabinet posts for Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). Steiner said in Prishtina that the number of ministers is fixed by law and cannot be changed. PM

KOSOVARS HONOR JASHARI FAMILY
Some 30,000 Kosovars attended a memorial gathering in Prishtina's stadium for the 25 members of the Jashari family whose killing in Drenica by Serbian forces in 1998 was a milestone in mobilizing ethnic Albanian support for the UCK, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 5 March. PM

U.S. SAYS NO EARLY CLOSURE FOR HAGUE TRIBUNAL
The U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes, Pierre Richard Prosper, told a news conference in The Hague on 6 March that the tribunal will not close before Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic are caught and brought to justice, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 4 March 2002). PM

CALL FOR RADICAL REFORM OF BOSNIAN JUDICIARY
Speaking at the United Nations in New York on 5 March, several top international officials working in Bosnia urged a reform of that republic's often slow-moving and corrupt judiciary as well as a new commitment to catching war criminals, AP reported. Jacques Klein, who is the UN's top official in Bosnia, said: "Arresting criminals is useless if they are freed by timorous or corrupt judicial officials a few hours later, and then intimidate witnesses or threaten families of police officers. Immediate radical reform of the judiciary and prosecutors is key to everything the international community is trying to achieve in Bosnia-Herzegovina... Band-aid measures are not enough." High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch said that security work in Bosnia "will not be fully effective as long as there is a belief that certain individuals are beyond the reach of the law." PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT CRISIS RESOLVED?
Leaders of the parties in the governing coalition have agreed on a cabinet reshuffle that will end the recent crisis triggered by the decision of Social Liberal (HSLS) leader Drazen Budisa to withdraw his ministers from the government, dpa reported on 5 March, citing Croatian Television (HTV) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). It is not clear whether the changes, which have not been announced in their entirety, will ensure a stable government until the mandate runs out in February 2004. "Jutarnji list" reported on 6 March that most of the old cabinet will remain in place, including most of the HSLS members. RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported that Budisa will joint the government as a deputy to Prime Minister Ivica Racan, citing remarks by Racan. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS CORRUPTION MUST BE ERADICATED 'FROM THE BOTTOM UP'
Ion Iliescu told a meeting of Interior Ministry officials on 5 March that corruption "must be eradicated from the bottom up," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He told ministry staff members that "if you get a telephone call from a public official asking you to resolve a personal problem, pick up the phone and inform your hierarchical superior." The president added that "any official who asks for a bribe must be seized by the collar and fired," but that "the person who was asked to pay the bribe should be the first to sound the alarm." Iliescu later on 5 March convened a meeting to discuss ways of combating corruption with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Prosecutor-General Joita Tanase, Romanian Information Service Director Radu Timofte, and other officials. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER TELLS HUNGARIANS 'NO' ON 'PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION'
Premier Nastase on 5 March said the demand for "proportional representation" of minorities in state structures cannot be met, RFE/RL's Bucharest service reported. Nastase said that if the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania has in mind the upper echelons of the civil service, it must realize that in line with the law, those positions are occupied through competitive examinations, that ethnic Hungarians must meet the same requirements as any other citizen competing for those positions, and that the competition must be "nondiscriminatory." Only political positions at the central and local government levels are filled in line with agreements between parties participating in ruling coalitions, the premier emphasized. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY, SATELLITE FORMATION TO CONCLUDE NEW PACT
Social Democratic Party (PSD) Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc on 5 March said the PSD and the Romanian Humanist Party (PUR) will sign a new one-year agreement of cooperation at the parliamentary, governmental, and local government levels, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Hrebenciuc spoke after meeting with PUR Deputy Chairman Stelian Dutu. The Humanist Party gained representation in the legislature in 2000 while running on joint lists with the PSD. Hrebenciuc said the PSD "does not in principle oppose" the PUR demand to set up its own separate parliamentary group, but that "house regulations'"[in the Chamber of Deputies] do not allow for it. MS

PPCD LEADER TO SUE MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT...
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca announced on 5 March that he will sue President Vladimir Voronin for "calumny," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca said Voronin's allegation that the PPCD-organized protests are being financed by separatist leader Igor Smirnov demonstrates "the terrible confusion that has taken hold of the Communists and their total incapacity to credibly explain the genuine motives of the protests." He said that "in this difficult situation, the power in Chisinau is appealing to the traditional [communist] propaganda procedure, pretending that the PPCD is an internal enemy sponsored by foreign forces hostile to Moldovan statehood." The trick, Rosca said, is an "old communist one and nothing has changed from Lenin and Stalin to Voronin." MS

...AND OTHERS
Rosca also said the PPCD leadership will sue Prime Minister Tarlev for having said that the members of this party provoked the Transdniester war, and that Victor Stepaniuc, the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group, will be sued for having called the participants in the protest rallies "fascists," Infotag reported. Rosca told demonstrators, whose numbers have been dwindling as of late, that the decline is due to "growing persecutions" of the protesters. He said, "brigades of investigators are working in schools." MS

VORONIN WANTS TO SET UP COMMISSION ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA
Speaking on Moldovan television on 4 March, President Voronin proposed that a special commission be set up, which would elaborate a new status for Teleradio Moldova, Infotag reported the next day. He said the commission should be made up of parliamentary deputies, government officials, and representatives of the intelligentsia. The president said that the striking journalists at Teleradio Moldova are being paid for launching the labor action. The strikers' committee the next day issued a strong protest, calling the allegations "libelous and irresponsible," Flux reported. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES AGAINST PPCD
The Constitutional Court on 5 March rejected an appeal of the PPCD against the parliament's decision to reintroduce the Soviet-type local administration system, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The parliament passed the law on 27 December 2001. It provides for a division of the country into 32 "raions," three municipalities (Chisinau, Balti and Bendery-Tighina), and the autonomous Gagauz-Yeri region. MS

BULGARIA TO COMMEMORATE HOLOCAUST
Members of Bulgaria's Jewish community announced on 5 March they are requesting that the day of 9 March be officially declared the Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust Victims and the Rescue of Bulgarian Jews, AP reported. President Georgi Parvanov will be patron of this year's commemoration, which will be held in front of a Jewish monument in Plodviv. On 9 March 1943, preparations were being finalized in Plodviv and other Bulgarian cities to deport some 8,500 Jews to Nazi concentration camps. The deportation was hindered by protests of parliamentary deputies, clergymen, intellectuals, and ordinary Bulgarians. Emmanuel Siessmann, Israel's Ambassador to Bulgaria and himself a Plodviv native who witnessed the events, said the commemoration will "recognize the substantial contribution by Bulgaria, a small country that took a brave and humane stand," to saving Jews in "a move unprecedented in its time." MS

BULGARIA, RUSSIA SIMPLIFY VISA REQUIREMENTS
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi and Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Vladimir Titov signed an agreement on 5 March simplifying visa procedures for travelers from the two countries, AFP and dpa reported. The simplified procedure will apply to businessmen and tourists, but also to people such as truck drivers, state employees, or children under 16. Bulgaria introduced a mandatory visa regime for Russians last year to comply with EU standards, and Moscow reciprocated as a result. MS

ARE BULGARIAN-MACEDONIAN RELATIONS IMPROVING?


In the past, relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia have often been strained. For decades, politicians and historians in both countries engaged in acrimonious discussions over whether there is a Macedonian nation, and if so, if it is distinct from the Bulgarian nation. At the center of these discussions stood the question of the Macedonian language. While the Macedonian government has set up an Institute for the Macedonian Language, Bulgarian scholars work to prove that Macedonian is merely a Bulgarian dialect.

When Macedonia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1991, Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the Macedonian state -- but not the Macedonian nation. Relations subsequently became difficult. Many bilateral agreements made between the governments after Macedonian independence could not be signed, as the Bulgarians refused to accept Macedonian-language documents.

But since the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) came to power in Macedonia in 1998, the situation has improved considerably. Although many questions remained unsolved -- such as the recognition of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria -- Macedonia's pro-Bulgarian prime minister, Ljubco Georgievski, has maintained friendly relations with the conservative Bulgarian government.

When Georgi Parvanov, the new Bulgarian president, decided to make his first official visit to Macedonia late last month, he was aware of the pitfalls in Bulgarian-Macedonian relations. But even if Parvanov -- a historian by profession -- had not been, a brief flare-up of the old differences would have reminded him.

News.bg published short interviews on 5 February with two of the key players in the Macedonian-Bulgarian controversy -- Slavko Mangovski, the editor in chief of the Skopje weekly "Makedonsko sonce," and Professor Bozhidar Dimitrov, the director of the National History Museum in Sofia.

In his answers, Mangovski criticized the Bulgarian side for not recognizing the existence of the Macedonian language and thus laid the blame for the difficult relations between the two countries on Bulgaria. "Why does there have to be a Macedonian Historical Institute in Sofia, if it only works to prove that there is no Macedonian nation? It would be as if we opened a Bulgarian Historical Institute in Skopje and began to prove that the Bulgarians do not exist."

Dimitrov, who is well known for his nationalist views, made it clear right from the start what he thinks of "Makedonsko sonce." Asked whether he knew the publication, he described it as being run by "a bunch of idiots. You just have to take a look a the cover [of the publication] to know what it is worth." Dimitrov then went on to reiterate the classical Bulgarian position, which dismisses the Macedonian nation as a project promoted by the Serbian scholar and politician Stojan Novakovic. At the end of the 19th century, Novakovic planned to divide the Bulgarian nation by creating a Macedonian one, over which Serbia would have greater influence.

Knowing all this, Parvanov obviously decided not to step into the same history trap as his predecessor in office, Petar Stoyanov. Stoyanov had prompted angry Macedonian reactions with his statement that "Macedonia is the most romantic part of Bulgarian history." In order to avoid similar problems, Parvanov said in an interview with the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" prior to his visit to Macedonia that no one can deny their own history, and it does not make any sense to do so, as one can only learn from past mistakes and successes. "History has to be dealt with by historians, not by Bulgarian or Macedonian politicians. Our governments have to concentrate on the future and improve the positive tendencies in our relations," he added.

During his visit on 26-27 February, it seemed as if his tactic to leave history aside worked. The atmosphere during meetings between the Bulgarian and Macedonian leaderships was positive, and there was even time for jokes.

Some Macedonians, however, were critical of Parvanov's attempt to circumnavigate the reefs of history. Tito Petkovski, the former parliamentary speaker and 1999 presidential candidate of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), argued in a polemic for the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" that Parvanov failed to make a step toward reconciliation between Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Bulgarian journalists expressed disappointment that Parvanov's visit did not produce much in the way of results. Mitko Mandzhukov pointed out in the weekly "Kapital" that Parvanov's visit had two main aims: first, the president wanted to show that Bulgaria is a stabilizing factor in the southern Balkans in order to enhance Bulgaria's chances of joining NATO and the EU as soon as possible. Second, Parvanov sought to improve Bulgaria's standing in trade relations with its neighbor.

However, Mandzhukov wrote that he doubts whether the enthusiastically promoted idea of signing an agreement on good neighborly relations would help to increase Bulgaria's economic influence in Macedonia. "As a matter of fact, Greece has signed far fewer agreements with Skopje, but the share of Greek companies in the Macedonian market is enormous." He expressed doubt as to whether Macedonian will keep its promises to improve trade relations. Mandzhukov recalled the joint project for the Sofia-Skopje railway, which has been delayed by the Macedonian side for years.

It is questionable, however, whether the long-standing history dispute can ever be resolved. For the future of the Bulgarian-Macedonian relations, it would be of great help if the historians of both countries decided to cooperate as much as their political leaders have.Ulrich Buechsenschuetz is a freelance political analyst based in Berlin. He contributes regularly to "RFE/RL's Balkan Report."

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