RUSSIA DOWNPLAYS STEEL-POULTRY TRADE WAR...
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 9 March that Russia's decision to ban imports of U.S. poultry products is a "temporary measure" that is not directly connected to Washington's decision to introduce tariffs on steel imports to the U.S. over the next three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 4, 6 and 8 March 2002), ORT reported. Agriculture and trade experts from each country were to discuss the situation at the Agriculture Ministry in Moscow on 11 March. Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko explained that the Russian measure that came into effect on 1 March was initiated over concerns that "American meat has too high a content of fat and hormones," Ekho Moskvy reported on 9 March. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, Dmitrii Rogozin, said Russian citizens should be "warned about the dangers of consuming U.S. meat." Poultry is a top American export to Russia. VY
...AS CHUBAIS BELIEVES U.S. STANDS TO LOSE MORE
"This [U.S.] decision is shallow, not well thought out, and creates only an illusion of solving a problem but, in reality, only creates new problems," prominent Union of Rightist Forces member Anatolii Chubais said at a German-Russian economic forum in Berlin on 10 March. "I do not know whether the ban on U.S. poultry imports is Russia's retaliation to the U.S. restriction on Russian steel exports, but it is clear that drumsticks are having a much more tangible effect than steel," he added. He indicated that as far as retaliatory measures are concerned, Russia's options are not exhausted. VY
CUSTOMS OFFICERS SEIZE COPIES OF BEREZOVSKY'S EXPOSE
State Duma deputy (independent) Yulii Rybakov, said on 9 March that upon his arrival from Moscow to St Petersburg's Pulkovo airport, 100 copies he possessed of "Assault on Russia" were confiscated, RosBalt reported. The film was made by embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky to prove the Federal Security Service's (FSB) role in four apartment building bombings in Russia in the fall of 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 8 March 2002). Rybakov said that his luggage was searched despite his parliamentary immunity. A St. Petersburg customs official said the tapes were seized because Rybakov was illegally bringing in video material in commercial quantities. Meanwhile, former Justice Minister and Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Pavel Krasheninnikov told Ekho Moskvy on 10 March that Duma deputies Rybakov and Sergei Yushenkov could be charged with slander if it is proved that the film they imported to Russia is even partially found to contain false information. VY
ANTI-AMERICAN SENTIMENT ON THE RISE IN RUSSIA
According to a poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) on 2 March among 1,500 respondents in 44 regions of Russia, only 17 percent see the United States as a "friendly state" and 71 percent hold the opposite opinion, RBK and RosBalt reported on 8 March. VTsIOM explained the sharp increase over the agency's last poll on the same topic, in which 44 percent of respondents considered the U.S. not to be a friendly state, to primarily be the result of Russia's failures in the Winter Olympic Games. The poll also revealed that most Russians remain suspicious of NATO -- 56 percent believe Russia has reason to fear NATO countries, while 30 percent do not. At the same time, 58 percent of Russians believe NATO members have grounds to feel threatened by Russia. Only 7 percent are willing to take the U.S. side in conflicts with Iraq, Iran, or Syria, while 20 percent think Russia should side with those countries. However, the majority believe that Moscow should distance itself from such conflicts and take advantage of any confrontations that develop. VY
PUTIN CALLED ON TO RESTORE DEATH PENALTY
A group has sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin urging him to declare war on the "internal terrorism/criminal world," "Sovetskaya Rossiya" reported on 7 March. The group of Russian educators and public figures stressed that crime in the country has reached such a level that it threatens Russia's existence. "As corruption flourishes and national wealth is plundered, the legal system [remains] inefficient, law enforcement is not protecting citizens, and the authorities are inactive," the letter said. Meanwhile, "the criminal world is striving for power and often getting it." The authors of the letter concluded by asking Putin to lift the moratorium on the death penalty "for the most serious crimes against the state and individuals." VY
UNIFIED RUSSIA APPEARS NOT VERY UNIFIED...
The establishment of a Unified Russia party branch in Chelyabinsk has sparked a scandal, nns.ru reported on 10 March, citing "Chelyabinskii rabochii." According to the daily, of the 343 registered members of the new party, 178 consider the 2 March founding congress illegitimate. The leaders of the Unity, Fatherland, and All Russia branches in Chelyabinsk -- Vladimir Gorbunov, Vladimir Dyatlov, and Viktor Demin respectively -- sent a letter to Moscow's central political council for Unified Russia charging that they were not even invited to the 2 March meeting. According to them, instead of a merger of three parties, what has emerged in Chelyabinsk is a completely new party force. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 6 March, bureaucrats in the oblast administration and businessmen, all of them close to Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, led a mini-coup and elected local businessman Georgii Lazarev as the head of the oblast's party. JAC
...AS CHARGES OF INTERFERENCE...
Meanwhile, in Karelia, the leaders of the local Unity party intend to hold an extraordinary conference of Unified Russia in order to call for repeat elections for the political council of Karelia's Unified Russia branch, RosBalt reported on 7 March. They charge that members of the local Fatherland party violated an earlier agreement and voted against candidates supported by Unity during a 1 March congress. JAC
...AND INCOMPETENCE ARE BANDIED ABOUT
Meanwhile, in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, local Unified Russia branch leader Igor Nak has accused workers in the party's central apparatus of being "incompetent," regions.ru reported on 7 March, citing Sever Press. Aleksandr Bespalov, chairman of Unified Russia's General Council, earlier made some disparaging remarks about the party unification process in certain regions, and included Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug in a group of regional organizations that were unable to select a local party leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). But according to Nak, Unified Russia's General Council apparently confused the Nenets Autonomous Okrug with Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Nak suggested that people who "cannot differentiate among the 89 federation subjects should not be permitted in the future [to comment] on important political events." JAC
IMMINENT BOOK BURNING REPORTED IN WASHINGTON...
A collection of some 2 million books in the Russian language are slated to be burned because Washington, D.C.-based bookseller Victor Kamkin Inc. has been unable to find anyone to buy or take its inventory, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 March. The store is going bankrupt and has accumulated a $200,000 backlog of unpaid rent, according to "The Washington Post." While neither the Russian Culture Ministry nor any other Russian government department appears to be concerned about the loss of this unique collection, according to the daily, it did find a number of Muscovites who are scandalized at the prospect that the books will be destroyed. Director Aleksandr Mitta told the daily that "this instance in Washington can be considered a new aspect of fascism." Actress Natalya Fateeva said that "for me, it is difficult to judge the laws of another country, it isn't possible that there is no other way to resolve this problem than destroying these books. Let the owners send the books to us or other countries. In Russia, such things still happen, but in civilized America?" JAC
...BUT REPRIEVE MAY BE IN THE WORKS
Meanwhile, Constance Morella, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, told "The Washington Post" that she has spoken with some Montgomery County officials who may arrange to store the books for a few days --instead of sending them directly to an incinerator -- while a search continues for a permanent home. JAC
WAGES TO HEALTHCARE WORKERS CONTINUE TO GO UNPAID
Healthcare workers in 41 of Russia's 89 regions are owed back wages, Interfax reported on 9 March, citing the Health Ministry's press service. In the majority of these regions, the backlog ranged from several days to three weeks of unpaid wages. However, in one raion in Chita Oblast, workers have not been paid for three months, and in 18 raions in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast they haven't been paid since January. The ministry is most concerned about the rise of indebtedness in Kirov, Novgorod, and Nizhnii Novgorod oblasts, Evenk Autonomous Okrug, Khabarovsk Krai and the republics of Khakasia and Sakha. JAC
NOVOSIBIRSK SCIENTISTS DEVELOP CANCER VACCINE
Researchers at the Institute for Clinical Immunology have developed a revolutionary anti-tumor vaccine, the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences based in Novosibirsk announced on 9 March, Interfax reported. After four years of testing, scientists believe that the vaccine helps to treat melanomas and tumors of the gastroenterological tract. The vaccine reportedly triggers a powerful immune reaction that kills cancer cells. JAC
MOSCOW, ST. PETERSBURG EXPECTED TO EXPERIENCE HEAVIEST POPULATION DECLINES
According to prognoses of the State Statistics Committee, the regions of Russia slated to experience the largest population declines by 2015 are the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Novgorod, Ivanovo, Smolensk, and Kaluga oblasts, Interfax-Northwest reported on 9 March. The population of Novgorod Oblast is expected to drop to around 631,000 by 2015 from its current level of 719,000 people. Last year, the oblast's population dropped by 9,000 due to rate of births much lower than the rate of deaths. JAC
TRADE ROUTE BETWEEN ESTONIA AND NORTHWEST RUSSIA TO BE REOPENED
Estonia and Russia are expected to sign an agreement at the end of March restoring a transportation route across the Peipsi/Chudoskoe Lake, which borders Tartu, Estonia, and Pskov Oblast, Interfax reported on 8 March, citing the Baltic News Service. According to the agency, the route is navigable from April to September -- weather permitting. JAC
RUSSIAN 'SWEEPS' IN CHECHNYA CONTINUE...
Russian troops conducted a total of seven search operations on 8 March in Grozny and the Kurchaloi, Shali, Shelkovskii, Achkhoi-Martan, Nozhai-Yurt, and Gudermes raions, killing 10 Chechen fighters, Interfax reported. Seventeen men were arrested on suspicion of sympathizing with President Aslan Maskhadov and a further 56 were detained. Forty people were detained in a further search operation in Grozny on 10 March. Meanwhile, in a tacit admission that Maskhadov's guerrillas move freely not just in the mountain regions in southern Chechnya but in the north of the republic, villages in Beno-Yurt (Nadterechnyi Raion) complained on 9 March to the local administrator, military commandant, and FSB representative that members of "illegal" armed formations interfere with their lives and "disgrace honest Chechens," ITAR-TASS reported. LF
...AS DOES PROTEST IN TSOTAN-YURT...
"Thousands" of residents of Tsotan-Yurt and other villages in Kurchaloi Raion are continuing the demonstration they embarked on three weeks ago against the ongoing Russian "sweep" operations, chechenpress.com reported on 10 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). The website also published a list of the names of 82 persons from Tsotan-Yurt killed by Russian troops since the war began in October 1999, and of a further 29 who disappeared after being detained during such sweep operations. LF
...WHILE CHECHEN ENVOY CALLS FOR WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL
President Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev told Reuters in Amsterdam on 8 March that Maskhadov wants a war crimes tribunal analogous to that for former Yugoslavia created to try persons who have "committed genocide against the Chechen people." Zakaev argued that "no matter what the war's outcome is and whether or not we are acknowledged as an independent state, the Chechen people must be guaranteed the same human rights as anyone else in Europe." Zakaev discussed the situation in Chechnya on 7 March with The Hague-based international war crimes tribunal's prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). LF
EFFORTS CONTINUE TO SALVAGE ARMENIAN-TURKISH RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
Members of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission are continuing their efforts to prevent that initiative's total collapse, and have made "some progress toward doing so," a source close to the commission told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 8 March. On 7 March, Arminfo quoted Ross Vartian, the former executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, as saying the commission would not resume its work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). LF
AUTHORS UNVEIL ALTERNATIVE ARMENIAN DRAFT CONSTITUTION
Representatives of the six opposition parties that have drafted an alternative constitution that they want put to a referendum at the same point as the package of constitutional amendments backed by President Robert Kocharian outlined the main points of their draft during a parliament session on 5 March, Noyan Tapan reported on 7 March. They propose that the number of parliament deputies be reduced from 131 to 101, all of whom are to be elected under the proportional system, and that the parliament be empowered to elect the prime minister, ombudsman, and members of the public media council. If a prime minister is not elected in the first attempt, a second vote is to be held seven days later. The parliament may be dissolved if no prime minister is elected in the second attempt; if parliament twice votes no confidence in the premier; or if as the result of a civil initiative the president calls a referendum in which a majority votes in favor of dissolving parliament. The president must be aged at least 40 (not 35 as at present), have been an Armenian citizen for at least five years, and have lived permanently in Armenia during that time. The president would be elected for a term of six years by a college of electors composed of an unspecified number of parliament deputies and local government representatives, and by a two-thirds vote. The prime minister would form the government, which would number no more than 15 ministers. LF
MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN VISIT AZERBAIJAN...
The U.S., French, and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group met in Baku on 8 March with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. U.S. co-Chairman Rudolf Perina told journalists after the meeting with Aliev that the co-chairs unveiled "new ideas on how to invigorate and energize" the peace process, but declined to elaborate, according to AFP. French co-Chairmen Philippe de Suremain, however, said the co-chairs' latest proposal is not entirely new, and that "we are working on the same track as before." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, who accompanied the co-chairs, said that the peace talks should ideally be "of a more systematic and consistent character," and that since Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian meet only infrequently, it would be desirable for the two presidents to name representatives who would meet regularly. Trubnikov also remarked that although the OSCE recognizes the inviolability of borders of member states, "no one bans countries from thinking of how to change or not change their borders by [mutual] agreement." LF
On 9 March, the three co-chairs held talks in Yerevan with Armenian President Kocharian that they later told journalists were "very good, very positive," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Perina said the co-chairs hope to issue a statement on the mediation process "within a week or so," after the co-chairs meet with representatives of the other Minsk Group member states in Vienna. The co-chairs declined to comment on Trubnikov's proposal that the two presidents name envoys to participate in the mediation process. But Mediamax, as cited by Groong, quoted Gribkov as saying that the co-chairs consider it "necessary to resume negotiations within the OSCE Minsk Group framework with the participation of Nagorno-Karabakh's representatives." The co-chairs traveled on 10 March to Stepanakert to meet with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS DETAINED
Police in Sumgait on 8 March detained some 50 members of the local branch of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) who planned to participate in a demonstration the following day to demand President Aliev's resignation, Turan reported on 8 March, quoting DPA Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu. The detainees were remanded for three to five days. LF
FORMER MAJORITY PARTY ANNOUNCES ITS OPPOSITION TO GEORGIAN PRESIDENT
Members of the parliament faction of the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), which was founded in 1993 as President Eduard Shevardnadze's personal power base, announced on 8 March that they are joining the parliamentary opposition, Caucasus Press reported the following day. They also announced an initiative to rebuild the party's parliament faction, which split last fall into three groups -- the SMK, "Tanadgoma," and the Alliance for a New Georgia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 33, 8 October 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2001). Shevardnadze on 11 March expressed surprise, commenting that the decision that the party will join the opposition should have been taken by the party as a whole, and not just by its representatives in the parliament. LF
GEORGIAN DESIGNER STAGES FASHION SHOW IN PANKISI
Fashion designer Maka Asatiani staged a fashion show that she termed "the beginning of the end for terrorism" in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge on 10 March, Caucasus Press, Reuters and "Izvestiya" reported. The catwalk was situated in front of the last Georgian police checkpoint in the gorge. Local villagers and some 300 representatives of Tbilisi's beau monde attended the show together with Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili, Minister of Culture Sesili Gogiberidze, Chechnya's unofficial envoy in Tbilisi Khizri Aldamov, and some 200 police. President Eduard Shevardnadze declined an invitation, nor did he send his wife Nanuli. But in his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 11 March, Shevardnadze described the undertaking as "a gesture of solidarity" with the population of the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SACKS SUBORDINATES FOR FAILING TO FULFILL DRAFT
Acting on a warning he delivered in December, Georgian Defense Minister Davd Tevzadze has fired 30 local officials responsible for conscription for failing to meet the target for the minimum number of young men to be inducted into the army, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 1, 3 January 2002). That figure represents almost 40 percent of the total number of such officials. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT INTERVENES ON BEHALF OF INDEPENDENT TV STATION
During talks in Astana late on 7 March, President Nursultan Nazarbaev instructed Transport and Communications Minister Ablay Myrzakhmetov to find a way of reversing the court decision of 5 March ordering the suspension for six months of broadcasts by Almaty's TAN TV channel, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). According to his press secretary, Nazarbaev has received numerous letters from residents of the former capital asking him to intervene to lift the suspension. TAN TV's staff claims the court decision was politically motivated, noting that it was one of only a very few media outlets that provided coverage of the mass opposition meeting in Almaty in January. LF
KYRGYZSTAN RECEIVES MILITARY AID FROM TURKEY
A Turkish military transport aircraft delivered a consignment of military equipment worth some $1 million to Bishkek on 9 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The consignment includes ammunition and radio equipment. Turkish army Chief of Staff General Hussein Kivriloglu is expected in Bishkek on 13 March and will sign a bilateral cooperation agreement with Defense Minister Esen Topoev. LF
TWO MORE TURKMEN SECURITY OFFICIALS SACKED
President Saparmurat Niyazov has fired two National Security Ministry Committee department heads and stripped them of their commissions, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 March. The two men were said to have engaged in illegal searches and detentions. Niyazov publicly reprimanded National Security Committee Chairman Mukhammed Nazarov at a cabinet meeting on 4 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE HEAD APPEALS TO BELARUS OVER DEATH PENALTY
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer has condemned the use of the death penalty in Belarus and urged the Belarusian authorities not to sentence to death the suspected kidnappers of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski who are currently on trial in Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2002), Belapan reported on 9 March. Referring to a recent remark by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that Belarus regards the Council of Europe as a major partner in its dialogue with the European community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002), Schwimmer said, "Belarus could never hope to be considered for Council of Europe membership for as long as it maintains these brutal punishments." Schwimmer urged Minsk to move quickly toward a moratorium on capital punishment. JM
MINSK REPORTS PROFITABILITY DROP IN 2001
According to the Belarusian Ministry of Agriculture and Foodstuffs, Belarus's economy finished 2001 with overall profitability of 8.2 percent, compared with 13.1 percent in 2000, Belapan reported on 10 March. Profitability dropped from 6.2 percent to 0.2 percent in agriculture and from 15.8 to 10.8 percent in manufacturing. As many as 4,002 enterprises, or 34.2 percent of the total number, operated at a loss in 2001, compared with 22.3 percent the previous year. The share of loss-making enterprises grew from 41.8 percent to 54.2 percent in agriculture and from 18.4 to 29.7 percent in manufacturing. JM
OUR UKRAINE WARNS AGAINST 'DEAD SOULS' IN ELECTION
The Our Ukraine election bloc has warned that the authorities may take advantage of some 1.5 million "dead souls" to rig the 31 March parliamentary election, UNIAN reported on 9 March. Our Ukraine campaign chief Petro Poroshenko noted that, according to official data, there are currently 38 million eligible voters in Ukraine. "This is strange, since such a figure was cited at both the previous parliamentary  and presidential  elections," Poroshenko commented, adding that last year's census showed that Ukraine's population has "considerably" decreased over the past years. According to Poroshenko, the number of voters may have decreased by as many as 1.5 million. He noted that the authorities may rig the vote by adding votes to the "party of power" from the cadre of 1.5 million "dead souls." JM
ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER GETS FINNISH SUPPORT FOR EU MILK QUOTA
During a one-day visit to Helsinki on 8 March, Siim Kallas discussed Estonia's EU membership talks with President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, ETA reported. Kallas told them about his recent trip to Brussels and expressed his concerns about suggested EU agricultural quotas. Lipponen assured him that Finland supports just treatment for Estonia in regard to EU milk quotas. The premiers also discussed the safety of the Baltic Sea in connection with increasing oil and gas transit. Halonen noted that Estonia's EU membership talks are going much faster than the earlier membership talks of Finland and Sweden. She said that by paying more attention to social balance the leaders of EU candidate countries will help the people better understand the European Union. SG
LATVIAN FARMERS WANT A CLEARER PICTURE FROM EU
Andrew Rasbash, the head of the European Commission delegation in Latvia, told the conference "Latvian Agriculture in the European Union: Threats and Opportunities" in Jelgava on 9 March that the current stance of the EC on farm policy is a compromise between EU member and candidate countries, LETA reported. He said the EC proposals should be evaluated in their entirety and not in regard to specific measures. Andris Miglavs, the director of the State Agrarian Economy Institute, noted that although agricultural financial support from the EU in 2004 will be more than 1 1/2 times greater than the current financing provided by the Latvian government, it will not ensure production growth but rather promote stagnation. The conference was organized by Farmers' Saeima, an organization of some 400 farmers. SG
LITHUANIAN LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS
Former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas was elected chairman of the newly established Liberal Democratic Party in Vilnius on 9 March, receiving support from 563 of the 566 delegates, BNS reported. Parliament deputy and former Environment Minister Henrikas Zukauskas was elected the party's first deputy chairman, with parliament deputies Dalia Kutraite and Vladas Zalnerauskas, architect Valentinas Mazuronis, businessman Remigijus Acas, and Klaipeda University Professor Vytautas Valevicius elected deputy chairmen. Paksas said the party's principles are "liberalism toward business, social policy based on labor, and order in the state." He noted the party supports Lithuania's efforts to join the EU and NATO, and that Lithuania should remain a nuclear energy-producing country. SG
NATO EXPERTS COMPLETE LAST SURVEY OF LITHUANIAN PROGRESS
NATO Deputy Secretary-General for Defense Planning and Operations Edgar Buckley arrived in Vilnius on 8 March to help complete the last report on Lithuania's readiness to join the alliance before the NATO summit in Prague in November, ELTA reported. Other NATO officials spent the week in Lithuania gathering information for the report. Buckley told Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas that he is pleased with Lithuania's domestic political picture, democratic development, foreign policy, relations with neighbors, macroeconomic progress, and public support for NATO membership. He told a subsequent press conference that Lithuania needs to continue the reforms of its armed forces and fulfill its pledge to have a motorized infantry battalion that is capable of taking part in combat operations outside Lithuania by the end of the year. SG
POLISH, BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET AT FOLK FESTIVAL
Poland's Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz met in Bialystok (northeastern Poland) on 10 March with his Belarusian counterpart Mikhail Khvastou on the sidelines of a local Belarusian folk song festival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002), PAP reported. "We have confirmed the will of both countries for developing those forms and areas of cooperation that are possible in Belarus's current political reality; that is, economy, social contacts, culture, and local-level contacts," Cimoszewicz told journalists. He added that Warsaw is still concerned about restrictions on the freedom of expression and opposition activities in Belarus, adding that these restrictions make it difficult for Belarus to restore full-fledged relations with European countries. JM
POLISH PRESIDENT PRAISES ARMY'S CONTRIBUTION TO NATO
Aleksander Kwasniewski on 9 March visited the Drawsko Pomorskie training range where NATO's Strong Resolve 2002 exercises are currently taking place, Polish media reported. "There's no doubt today that Poland is well integrated and valued in NATO. We are about to celebrate the third anniversary of our NATO membership with our heads held high, and convinced that the alliance is stronger, not weaker, because of Poland's participation in it," Kwasniewski told journalists. Kwasniewski underscored that the Polish army is now integrated with many command systems of the alliance. He added that exercises like Strong Resolve 2002 are evidence that Poland performs its role as a host in an excellent manner. Strong Resolve 2002, NATO's largest exercises in four years, involve some 20,000 troops from 15 NATO members and 13 Partnership for Peace countries. JM
CZECH SENATE APPROVES DECLASSIFICATION OF SECRET POLICE FILES
The Senate on 8 March approved a bill by a vote of 42 to 11, with nine abstentions, allowing access to previously classified communist secret police files, international agencies reported. The Chamber of Deputies approved the bill last month and the legislation will be enacted after its promulgation by President Vaclav Havel. Czech citizens have been able to access their own files since 1996, but not the files of other people. The new legislation excludes from access only files of foreign nationals and those containing information that could endanger national security or the lives of other people. The bill stipulates that a new Institute for the Documentation of the Totalitarian Regime will oversee access to the files and ensure the transparency of the process. MS
CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER DENIES U.S. VISIT IS LINKED TO VETTING PROCESS
Vladimir Spidla, on a visit to Washington, denied on 8 March that the visit is in any way connected with alleged U.S. dissatisfaction with the vetting process in his country, CTK reported. Spidla, who is the Social Democratic Party's candidate for premiership in the June elections, is currently in charge of security affairs in the government. Also on 8 March, Czech Television cited Jitka Smidova, who resigned last week from the National Security Office (NBU), as saying that Interior Minister Stanislav Gross had personally pressed for the vetting of Deputy Police Chief Vaclav Jakubik and promised "larger support" for the NBU in the cabinet if the vetting was granted. Gross denied the allegation as "complete nonsense." MS
CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER COMPLAINS ABOUT 'NOISY' U.S. MILITARY EXERCISES
Jaroslav Tvrdik has warned that U.S. soldiers training near Karlovy Vary may in future be banned from conducting drills in the Czech Republic if their helicopters leave the base's airspace, CTK reported on 9 March, citing the daily "Pravo." Tvrdik said that the base where the exercise is taking place is large enough for the Czech military and that "if foreign units demand larger areas, they will have to train in other countries." Residents of the region have complained about the noise made by the U.S. helicopters and the fact that they reportedly fly outside the training grounds, often at low levels. Some 250 U.S. soldiers with 21 helicopters are currently participating the Talon Strike drills at the Hradiste base near Karlovy Vary. MS
VIENNA WELCOMES NEW 'EUROPEAN DIMENSION' OF BENES DECREES DEBATE
Austrian Foreign Ministry official Hans Winkler told the Austrian APA agency on 10 March that the debates concerning the Benes Decrees are acquiring a "European dimension," and welcomed the development, CTK reported. Winkler said the impact of the decrees on the process of EU enlargement has already been placed on the agenda of the European Parliament and the European Commission. He said Vienna is awaiting the results of the Czech parliamentary elections in June before pursuing the matter further with Prague. On 9 March, the organization representing the Sudeten Germans called at its annual conference in Vienna for the abolition of the decrees, which it described in a resolution as "racist." MS
BUDAPEST MAYOR VISITS RFE/RL HEADQUARTERS
Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky told journalists at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on 8 March that he wishes RFE/RL would move to his city. Demszky said this would set a good example for the freedom of the press, which he said is endangered in his country by the ruling coalition. He also said that he owes his present position to RFE/RL, which made his name known to the Hungarian public when he was an anticommunist dissident. Demszky attended a meeting in Prague of mayors from the capital cities of EU candidate countries. He emphasized the importance of EU accession. In response to a journalist's question, Demszky said cooperation among the Visegrad Four countries is important for "symbolic reasons," but that he does not expect the group to continue acting jointly after accession. MS
HUNGARIAN PARTY IN SLOVAKIA TO RAISE ISSUE OF BENES DECREES IN NEXT COALITION...
Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar said on 10 March that if his formation participates in the next ruling coalition, it will place the issue of the Benes Decrees on the government's agenda, CTK reported. Bugar said the SMK is opposed to those Benes Decrees that affected ownership rights of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. He said his formation does not insist on the "abolition" of the decrees, but wants "a solution to the problems" of ethnic Hungarians who were excluded from restitution as a result of them. "The law must equally apply to both ethnic Slovak and ethnic Hungarian citizens," he said. MS
...PROMPTING REACTION FROM PREMIER
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said in response that the "coexistence of all Slovak citizens can continue...even without the government being forced to reopen the issue." He said, "I take the liberty to declare with certainty that the Benes Decrees need not be abolished and will not be abolished," CTK reported. In related news, TASR reported on 10 March that more that 21,000 ethnic Hungarian Slovaks have applied for the Hungarian ID card, which they are entitled to under the provisions of the Status Law. MS
HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST LEADER HAS HIS BENES CAKE AND EATS IT TOO
Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman Laszlo Kovacs told CTK on 8 March that "it is not Hungary's task to say under what conditions other countries should be admitted to the EU," and that the statements made in Brussels by Prime Minister Viktor Orban regarding the Benes Decrees were "undiplomatic." At the same time, Kovacs added, the reactions in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia to the statements were "excessive," and reflected the fact that preparations for elections are under way in both countries. Kovacs said the decrees "undoubtedly inflicted wrongs on many thousands of ethnic Hungarians" who were deported from Czechoslovakia as a result of their issuance. Kovacs said that if the MSZP wins the elections, he would favor having teams of experts from both sides examine all aspects of the decrees "without emotions taking over." MS
HUNGARIAN FKGP RULES OUT ANY ELECTORAL DEALS
Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan said on 8 March that the FKGP is not interested in any electoral deals or coalition talks with either the ruling FIDESZ or with the opposition MSZP, Hungarian media reported. He said the FKGP is "the last bulwark of democracy" following the Hungarian Justice and Life Party's (MIEP) alleged plans to withdraw candidates in the elections in favor of FIDESZ, because the Free Democrats and the Democratic Forum "no longer exist as a political force." On 8 March, MIEP leader Istvan Csurka said the offer of cooperation extended by his party to FIDESZ remains in force even though the ruling party has rejected it. MS
HUNGARIAN EXTREME LEFTISTS EXPAND HUNGER STRIKE
Ten parliamentary candidates of the far-left Workers' Party aspiring to represent their formation in the next legislature joined the hunger strike declared last week by the party's deputy chairman, Attila Vajnai, Hungarian media and AP reported. Vajnai is protesting the state-run MTV network's plan for covering the electoral campaign, saying it discriminates against his formation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). Vajnai was briefly hospitalized on 10 March and released home after a checkup. The Workers' Party has never managed to gain parliamentary representation. MS
BOSNIAN PRESIDENT: ARREST OF KARADZIC A TOP PRIORITY
In the wake of televised remarks by Bosnian Serb President Mirko Sarovic in praise of Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian President Beriz Belkic said in Banja Luka on 8 March that catching Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic and bringing them to justice is a top priority, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). Belkic was in the Bosnian Serb capital to "brief" Sarovic and his vice president, Dragan Cavic, on Bosnia's policy toward war criminals. But in referring to SFOR's recent attempts to catch Karadzic, Belkic said that the state presidency had not been informed in advance, adding that the use of force was "inappropriate," dpa reported. PM
CROATIA'S EX-CARDINAL DIES
Franjo Kuharic, who was 83 and the former primate of Croatia, died on 11 March, AP reported from Zagreb. The cause of death was not announced, but he was believed to have had heart problems. Kuharic was a force of moral opposition to the late President Franjo Tudjman's 1993-94 conflict with the Bosnian Muslims. He generally resisted Tudjman's attempts to coopt the Roman Catholic Church for the purposes of the state and of Tudjman's own party. Many of Tudjman's opponents nonetheless charged that the church was too close to the Tudjman regime, even though Tudjman himself was not particularly religious. Josip Bozanic replaced Kuharic as head of the church in Croatia in 1997. The senior ethnic Croat in the Roman Catholic hierarchy is, however, Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Bosnia. PM
CROATIAN PRESIDENT SUPPORTS 'FERAL TRIBUNE'
In Zagreb on 9 March, Stipe Mesic bought two books as part of a fundraising effort for the independent weekly "Feral Tribune," whose financial existence is threatened by lawsuits, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
SLOVENIA CALLS ON CROATIA TO RESCIND OIL-TRANSPORT RULES
Slovenian Transport Minister Jakob Presecnik appealed to Croatia on 9 March to repeal its new rules on the overland transportation of oil and oil products, Hina reported from the Slovenian capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 4, and 14 February 2002). He called for a Slovenian-Croatian joint commission to work out rules on transporting hazardous materials on the basis of existing international agreements. PM
MACEDONIAN DONORS CONFERENCE TO OPEN
A meeting aiming to raise $224 million for Macedonia will open in Brussels under the sponsorship of the EU and World Bank on 12 March, AP reported the previous day. Budget assistance will amount to $162 million, $39 million will go to promote reconstruction, and $22 million will fund the implementation of the August 2001 Ohrid agreement. Even before the 2001 conflict, what had been one of former Yugoslavia's poorest republics had difficulties in attracting investments and assistance. The EU and World Bank estimate that GDP shrunk by 4.6 percent in 2001. Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski recently called on the EU to ratify a trade and cooperation agreement signed in April 2001. He stressed that his country does not want "a hand out, but a hand up." PM
NATO ASPIRANTS MEET IN MACEDONIA
The foreign ministers of several countries seeking NATO membership discussed strategies in Skopje on 8 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The countries represented were: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Macedonian Foreign Minster Slobodan Casule warned that it is necessary to include the countries of Southeastern Europe in NATO in order to fight crime, terrorism, and instability. PM
STEINER CALLS ON EU NOT TO FORGET KOSOVA
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Madrid on 7 March that Europe "risks disaster" if it fails to help Kosova rebuild and develop while the international community concentrates on Afghanistan and the Middle East, Reuters reported. He added: "It would be wrong to concentrate on the new crises in this worldwide beauty contest of crises and forget the place on your own continent, because that would be very dangerous for Europe. Don't forget the continent where you come from...because it would be a disaster if this was a failure because this is the middle of Europe." Steiner goes to Brussels on 11 March, followed by trips to Berlin, Washington, London, and, on 15 March, Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. In Prishtina on 10 March, Steiner appealed to all residents of Kosova to hand in to the authorities any illegal weapons in their possession, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
BUSEK PROMISES 'MORE ACTION AND FEWER CONFERENCES' FOR BALKANS
Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led international Balkan Stability Pact, told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 11 March that it is time to get the work of that clearinghouse for development projects "back down to earth" with more action and less talk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). Busek outlined his priorities, starting with the establishment of a free-trade zone serving a region of 55 million people, which has been held up because states tend to see each other as competitors rather than as partners. Other priorities include launching immediate, concrete projects aimed at cross-border cooperation rather than major ones that could take years to get started, especially those involving infrastructure. Solving energy and frontier-related problems, promoting the return and integration of refugees, and collecting illegal weapons are also on Busek's list. He also appealed to the EU to draw up a "clear roadmap" for integrating the Balkan countries into European structures. PM
SERBIAN POLITICAL CRISIS DEEPENS -- AGAIN
President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) issued a statement on 8 March saying it will not take part in future presidency meetings of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, AP reported from Belgrade. The statement added that the DSS wants to protest a "constantly deepening" crisis and "continued violation of coalition agreements at all levels." The DSS has most recently been at odds with the rest of DOS over proposed legislation on cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal -- and not for the first time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). On 11 March, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic accused the DSS of abandoning the coalition, a charge that the DSS has denied. Djindjic and his allies control 131 out of 250 seats in the Serbian parliament. He has threatened to "revoke" the mandates of Kostunica's legislators in the Serbian and federal parliaments if the DSS leaves DOS, under whose banner the DSS legislators were elected. Serbia must extradite additional war criminals to The Hague by 31 March or risk losing U.S. aid. PM
SERBIAN INTELLECTUALS URGE EU NOT TO BLOCK DEMOCRACY
Members of the Belgrade-based Committee for New Regional Cooperation said in a statement on 10 March that the EU is supporting the antidemocratic forces that helped destroy former Yugoslavia by preventing Montenegro from determining its own future, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The committee includes Latinka Perovic, Sonja Biserko, Isuh Berisa, Obrad Savic, and others. On 11 March, "The Independent" wrote that the EU's efforts to keep Serbia and Montenegro together "have only revealed how ready this squabbling couple are for divorce." The commentary also noted that the EU's plan favors traditionalist elements and punishes those supporting reforms. PM
SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER RETURNS TO LIMELIGHT
Vuk Draskovic, who heads the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), addressed 20,000 people in Kragujevac on 9 March in one of his few public rallies since the fall of the former regime in late 2000, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Draskovic called for new elections by the end of 2002, adding that he will hold a series of rallies across Serbia in the near future. The mercurial Draskovic did not join the DOS coalition and was marginalized after its victory. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS NASTASE IS 'MOST CREDIBLE' CANDIDATE FOR HIS POST
Ion Iliescu said in an interview with the private television channel Antena on 8 March that he considers Prime Minister Adrian Nastase to be the "most credible" candidate to succeed him in 2004, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said his relations with the premier are "good." Asked by a journalist to explain why he said last month that Nastase was "arrogant," Iliescu replied that he made the remark after an "amiable discussion" with the premier in which "I made some friendly recommendations, telling him to return his feet to the ground." Iliescu also said that after his presidential mandate ends, he "does not rule out" a return to the ranks of the Social Democratic Party. "In any case, I shall not be inactive," he said. MS
ROMANIAN MAVERICKS TO JOIN FORCES
Liberal Democratic Party (PLDR) Chairman Niculae Cerveni announced on 8 March that his formation will "merge through absorption" with the Greater Romania Party (PRM), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor said the merger is intended to "strengthen the ranks" of his party and is part and parcel of his intention to "create a redoubtable team" ahead of the 2004 elections. Cerveni claims the PLDR has 80,000 members, but observers say that figure is hardly credible. Since his split from the National Liberal Party in the early 1990s, Cerveni has headed under different names several "phantom formations" on different points on the political spectrum. PLDR Deputy Chairman Mircea Theodor Vaida said on 9 March that Cerveni's initiative to merge with the PRM is a "strictly personal" action that has neither been discussed nor approved by the PLDR leadership. MS
BULGARIAN PREMIER IN ROMANIA
Visiting Bulgarian Premier Simeon Saxecoburggotski met on 9 and 10 March with President Iliescu, Premier Nastase, and other Romanian officials, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The two prime ministers said their respective countries' quests to join NATO will not be advanced if it is viewed as a "competition," and that their efforts will be better served through "mutual support within the framework of good-neighborly relations." Nastase said the points that each of the two countries can score separately on the road to accession are "less significant than the value of the joint geo-strategic position" the two countries can offer to NATO in Southeastern Europe. They agreed to consult regularly until the NATO summit in Prague in November. Saxecoburggotski told Iliescu that both countries aim in "parallel" to join NATO, and can help each other reach their objective. The Bulgarian premier was also received by former King Michael at his private residence at the Elizabeta Palace in Bucharest. MS
FORMER ROMANIAN MONARCH TO LOBBY FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP
President Iliescu on 9 March told journalists that former King Michael has agreed to his request to tour European capitals ruled by monarchies in order to advance Romania's quest for NATO membership, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
ROMANIAN TEACHERS STRIKE
Romanian teachers on 11 March went on a one-day "warning strike" demanding pay hikes of at least 50 percent, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The government has offered a 5 percent increase, but the Alliance of Educational Syndicates rejected the offer and is warning that the teachers will intensify labor action and prevent the opening of the school year next September. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH RUSSIA BOTHERS ROMANIA
President Vladimir Voronin told the Russian daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that his country is determined to implement with "consistency" its "strategic partnership with Russia," even if that partnership is viewed by Romania "like a lump in its throat," Romanian television reported on 10 March. Voronin also said that Romania wants to treat Moldova "as if we were its colony." He also reiterated statements about a Romanian "ideological diversion" pursued for longer than 10 years and aimed at undermining Moldovan stability and supporting "the creeping idea of unionism, which has penetrated all Moldovan state structures." Romanian Ambassador to Chisinau Adrian Balanescu said he was "surprised" by Voronin's latest statements, and added that Romania will "continue to pursue a policy of good-neighborly relations" and back Moldova's integration into European structures. MS
IMF UNLIKELY TO RESUME FINANCING TO MOLDOVA
The IMF permanent mission to Moldova said at the end of a visit by the fund's representatives to Chisinau that Moldova has failed to meet any of the conditions for a resumption of financing by the fund, Romanian radio reported on 8 March. Moldova must disburse $200 million in 2002 in debt payments, and economic experts warn that without the resumption of funding by the IMF and the World Bank, Chisinau may be unable to meet its obligations. President Voronin told ITAR-TASS the same day that Moldovans must "count on ourselves, instead of hanging on the words of people from abroad." He said that the government has obtained the consent of Russia and Germany to reschedule the $1.9 billion debt owed to those countries. MS
BULGARIA'S RULING NATIONAL MOVEMENT SIMEON II LOSES MAJORITY IN PARLIAMENT
After a meeting with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, five members of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) were urged to leave the parliamentary faction, BTA reported on 10 March. Their subsequent resignation followed a series of open letters in which they criticized government policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). Asked whether he expects further resignations, Saxecoburggotski answered, "We will wait and see." The NDSV parliamentary faction urged in an official statement for the excluded members to give up their seats in parliament, saying: "we consider it politically immoral to the utmost degree that they will remain [members of parliament]. It is assumed that by quitting the group the MPs have shown that they have distanced themselves from [NDSV] policies, whereby they distort the vote of [the electorate]." UB
BULGARIA'S UNION OF DEMOCRATIC FORCES ELECTS NEW LEADER
The 13th National Convention of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) elected former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova as its new chairman on 10 March with some 60 percent of the vote, mediapool.bg reported. Mikhailova had been leading the SDS-dominated parliamentary faction of the United Democratic Forces (ODS) coalition. She ran against Ekaterina Mikhailova, who took over the party chairmanship from Ivan Kostov after the electoral disaster in the June 2001 parliamentary elections. In her first speech as leader of the SDS, Nadezhda Mikhailova thanked Kostov as well as former Prime Minister Filip Dimitrov for supporting her political career. Before the convention, she underscored that in event of a victory over Ekaterina Mikhailova, she will continue to cooperate with her. UB
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ATTENDS HOLOCAUST COMMEMORATION CEREMONY
Georgi Parvanov attended the official Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Plovdiv on 10 March, BTA reported. The ceremony marked the 59th anniversary of the Bulgarian people's successful prevention of the deportation of some 50,000 Jews to death camps. Parvanov in his speech said that 10 March is "a day of deserved national pride." Israeli Ambassador to Bulgaria Emmanuel Siessmann added that on 12 March, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem will grant Metropolitans Stefan of Sofia and Kiril of Plovdiv the title of Righteous Among Nations in recognition of the role the Bulgarian Orthodox Church played in the rescue action. UB
BULGARIAN AGRARIAN MINISTER ANNOUNCES ACTION AGAINST FOREST FIRES
Agrarian Minister Mehmed Dikme of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) said that Bulgaria is in danger of losing many of its rich forests over the next 20 years due to forest fires, droughts, and human intervention, "Monitor" reported on 9 March. According to Dikme's statistics, over the past 10 years some 130,000 hectares (321,100 acres) of forest have been destroyed by fire. He said he has decided to double the yearly reforestation efforts from 5,000 to 10,000 hectares. UB
GREENS, OLIGARCHS, AND ELECTIONS IN UKRAINE
Of Ukraine's 130 registered parties, seven claim to be "green." These include the All-Ukrainian Chornobyl People's Party (registered in October 1998), the Green Ecological Party (February 2001), the Green Party of Ukraine, the Ecological Party, the Ecological Party "Defense" (all in March 2001), and the Green Party--21st Century (April 2001).
Six of Ukraine's seven "green" parties have little influence in comparison to the oldest, the Party of Greens of Ukraine (ZPU), which was registered far ahead of the others on 24 May 1991. Until its electoral success in 1998, the ZPU faced little competition from other "greens," but another five "green" parties were registered between the winter of 2000 and the spring of 2001.
The "Greens" underwent a similar process that took place within other Ukrainian political parties. In 1994-98, some centrist and national democratic parties were gradually taken over by oligarchs who needed to convert their newly found economic clout back into political influence. After the ZPU and the People's Democratic Party (NDP) were taken over by them, those members of both parties who stayed loyal to their original pre-oligarch ideology left to create other parties or join existing ones. Those nonoligarchic parties have joined Our Ukraine or the Yuliya Tymoshenko blocs, while the ZPU and NDP support the oligarchs and Kuchma.
Of the 34 parties and blocs originally registered for the election campaign, only two are "green," and both are supported by competing oligarchs. The Rayduha (Rainbow) election bloc included the Ecological Party of Ukraine "Defense" and is financed by Vadym Rabynovych, an oligarch who was recently accused of acting as a middleman in the sale of Ukrainian tanks to the Taliban in the mid-1990s. Rabynovych holds dual Israeli-Ukrainian citizenship, is the head of one of two competing Jewish organizations in Ukraine, and is persona non grata in the United States. The title of this bloc is also meant to appeal to the gay community, whose international flag is made up of the colors of the rainbow.
Rabynovych went ahead and created his own election bloc after falling out with the ZPU, which he helped to finance in its successful return to Ukrainian politics in the March 1998 parliamentary elections. In an interview in August 2001 in "Stolichnye novosti," a newspaper funded by Rabynovych, Ukrainian Ambassador to Canada Yuriy Shcherbak initially toyed with the idea of heading the Rainbow coalition as an alternative "green" bloc to the ZPU. Shcherbak founded the Green World Association in 1986 and was the first head of the ZPU, which he now accuses of having betrayed "green" ideology. Rabynovych and Shcherbak have known each other since the early 1990s when the latter was Ukraine's first ambassador to Israel.
On 20 February, the Central Election Commission cancelled the registration of the Rainbow bloc, following a verdict by a Kyiv district court saying that the bloc was formed in an illegitimate manner. This decision has left the ZPU as the only group representing Ukrainian environmentalists in the elections.
Genuine "green" parties, in the same manner as genuine women's parties, find it impossible to be successful in Ukraine's political system. Only parties that have been captured by oligarchs (such as the ZPU) or created especially by them for the elections (Women for the Future) can be successful because they have financing and, being pro-presidential, also have access to "administrative resources." The Rainbow bloc was not successful in winning popularity because Rabynovych was no longer on good terms with the executive. The Women of Ukraine Party, the only other registered gender party, has also failed to win support because it is backed by neither the oligarchs nor the executive.
Ukraine's largest "green" party, the ZPU, grew out of the Green World Association, an ally of the Rukh nationalist movement in the late Soviet era. It is contemporary Ukraine's third-oldest political party, and its inaugural congress was held in September 1990 where it championed both "ecosocialism" and state independence. Its main base of support then was western and central Ukraine, the same as Rukh's.
After Ukraine became an independent state in 1991, the ZPU began a long period of decline. In the eyes of Ukraine's elites, environmental problems became less important than ensuring sufficient energy supplies in the face of Russia's use of energy pressure, mounting debts, and a shift in world prices. During the ZPU's stagnation, it elected a new leader in October 1993, Vitaliy Kononov, who has remained in that position until today. In 1994, before the ZPU was taken over by oligarchs, the ZPU joined the European Federation of Green Parties.
The ZPU re-entered the Ukrainian political scene in the March 1998 elections when it won 5.44 percent of the vote. The new ZPU was very different from that created in 1990-1991. At its peak the ZPU held 25 parliamentary seats, which has since declined to 15, and it boasts 52,000 members, small by the standards of other oligarchic parties.
The ZPU's 1998 success was due to two factors: a very effective Western-style advertising campaign, and a huge injection of new finances. As with the Women for the Future party in the current elections, the ZPU campaigned in 1998 on an "antiparty" ticket with the slogan "Politicians Utilize Demagoguery." This attracted disaffected young people (the ZPU was one of the youngest factions) and those easily turned off by politics.
The main financier of the ZPU since 1998, as well as the Women for the Future whose campaign is building on the earlier success of the ZPU, is Vasyl Khmelnytskiy, No. 3 on the Green election list, and director of the huge Zaporizhstal plant. He was successful in recruiting other businessmen who needed a "krysha" (roof) to protect their business interests in telecommunications, banking, insurance, hotels, and -- more surprisingly -- energy. Khmelnytskiy's additional support for Women for the Future has been made possible by his close relationship with President Kuchma and first lady Ludmyla Kuchma.
Throughout the entire term of the 1998-2002 parliament, the ZPU remained loyal to the president without going overboard in its support, presumably so as not to turn off potential young voters. Only two minor government positions were granted to the ZPU. Last year, Ambassador Shcherbak severely criticized the ZPU's lack of legislative initiative in the current parliament.
The ZPU has 9.9 and 7 percent support in southern and eastern Ukraine respectively, and its two strongest bases are Zaporizhzhya and Odesa. Ironically, in western and central Ukraine, where the ZPU began 10 years ago, its support is only 5.1 and 3 percent, according to a January poll by the Center for Economic and Political Studies. Khmelnytskiy's two pet projects, the ZPU and Women for the Future, will therefore enter the next parliament, but neither are likely to promote green or gender issues.
Taras Kuzio is a research fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.