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Newsline - March 21, 2002


STATE DUMA SPEAKER UNDER PRESSURE
Duma deputies voted on 20 March to deprive speaker Gennadii Seleznev of his deciding vote in the Duma Council, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). The vote was 245 in favor to 159 against, with two abstentions, according to RIA-Novosti. The Duma Council sets the agenda for the lower house. Yabloko deputy Sergei Ivanenko said the measure was practically senseless, since in the past six years Seleznev had only two or three opportunities to use it. However, deputies the same day voted to start a more serious procedure. By a vote of 247 to 127 against, they called on the Committee on Duma Regulations to start the process of removing Seleznev from his position as speaker, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputy Gennadii Raikov, head of the pro-Kremlin People's Deputy faction, said on 21 March that a vote to oust Seleznev could be taken within the next three weeks. "This question could be decided on 3 or 5 April," Raikov said, according to AFP. Seleznev, a member of the Communist Party, has been speaker of the Duma since 1995. The move to oust him comes less than four months after the Kremlin installed Putin-supporter Sergei Mironov as speaker of the Federation Council. JAC/RC

PUTIN ASKS LEFTIST ECONOMISTS TO DRAFT LEGISLATION ON NATURAL RESOURCES
On 20 March, "Novye izvestiya" reported that during a recent meeting with Communist Party of the Russian Federation head Gennadii Zyuganov and several noted left-leaning economists, President Vladimir Putin said that he shares their view that revenues from the export of natural resources must be diverted away from the oligarchs and directed into the national budget. During the 15 March meeting, Putin also told the head of the Duma Committee on Economic Policy and Entrepreneurship, Sergei Glaziev; the head of the Duma Industry Committee, Yurii Maslyukov; and academicians Nikolai Petrakov and Dmitrii Lvov that he wants them to prepare a package of legislative initiatives that would "enable him to solve this problem." On behalf of those present, Glaziev handed Putin the "alternative socio-economic program" of the leftist opposition, including proposals for massive increases of the debit side of the state budget and of foreign investment, as well as a strategy for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, regions.ru reported on 16 March. VY

LOCAL LEGISLATORS, ACTIVISTS WITH TIES TO BEREZOVSKY ATTACKED IN PERM...
Aleksandr Kostarev, a member of the political council of Liberal Russia and one of the organizers for the local showing of the film "Assault on Russia," was severely beaten in Perm on 20 March, RFE/RL's Perm correspondent reported. Three unknown men attacked him in the hallway of his apartment building with a metal rod. Kostarev sustained a concussion and is hospitalized. "Assault on Russia" was the film financed by embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky to prove the Federal Security Service's (FSB) role in the bombing of four apartment buildings in Russia in the fall of 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 18 March 2002). The Perm branch of Liberal Russia believes that the attack was politically motivated. JAC

...AND IN ST. PETERSBURG...
Meanwhile, State Duma deputy and Liberal Russia member Yulii Rybakov told reporters in Moscow that unidentified men beat up three of his employees and also attacked a fellow faction member, AP reported on 20 March. In addition, he said two criminal groups in St. Petersburg have orders to kill him. Rybakov was detained at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport on 9 March while attempting to bring copies of "Assault on Russia" into the country. Liberal Russia has called on President Putin to form a commission to investigate the 1999 explosions. Also in St. Petersburg, the director of the city's branch of the human rights group Memorial, Veniamin Iofe, was attacked on the afternoon of 18 March following the showing of the film there, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent reported. Iofe was struck on the back of the head after exiting the building where the film was being shown. JAC/RC

...AS FILM GETS SCREENED OUTSIDE OF MOSCOW
Meanwhile, "Assault on Russia" was shown in Novosibirsk's city press center on 19 March. Its screening was sponsored by Yabloko, Union of Rightist Forces, and the Helsinki Group, and was attended by local television and newspaper journalists, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Liberal Russia official Arkadii Yankovskii told reporters that "Assault on Russia" will eventually be screened throughout Siberia, and that he already has agreements to show it in the cities of Tomsk and Barnaul. Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent) told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that the film has already been shown in Irkutsk. JAC

GOVERNMENT, CENTRAL BANK PLEDGE COOPERATION
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov congratulated the newly confirmed chief of the Central Bank, Sergei Ignatiev, on 21 March and said that the bank's new leadership can count on the support of the government, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Kasyanov stated that the government's cooperation will come in the form of "the implementation of its credit and monetary policies and in questions of further liberalization," according to the news agency. In response, Ignatiev said, "cooperation between the Central Bank and the government will be effective and ongoing," according to the news agency. RC

MEDIA MINISTRY DECIDES TO SUPPORT 'MILITARY-PATRIOTIC' MASS MEDIA
Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii announced on 20 March that his agency is currently spending 560 million rubles ($16 million) to support more than 200 "military-patriotic" media projects involving 27 mass media outlets in 19 Russian regions. The purpose of the program is to "stimulate the interest of the mass media in military-patriotic education," RIA-Novosti quoted Seslavinskii as saying. Despite these efforts, Seslavinskii noted, there has been no radical change in public opinion toward the military, and his ministry is working with the Defense Ministry to develop additional programs to encourage "military-patriotic publications." The Media Ministry is also seeking to restore the Soviet-era institution of staff military correspondents in the central mass media, Seslavinskii told the news agency. VY

FRANKS IN MOSCOW FOR TALKS ON COORDINATING ANTITERRORISM CAMPAIGN
Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 20 March, the commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, said after talks with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu that he is highly satisfied by Russia's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Franks especially noted Russian humanitarian-aid and intelligence-sharing efforts. Speaking at the same press conference, Ivanov stressed that U.S.-Russian antiterrorism coordination has reached a practical phase, as a group of Russian liaison officers have arrived at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida. Meanwhile, a group of FSB investigators flew on 19 March to the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, to interrogate several captured Al-Qaeda prisoners who are thought to be Russian citizens, polit.ru reported on 20 March. VY

DON'T CLASH WITH THIS BULL
"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 21 March quoted Sergei Markov, the director of the Institute of Political Research who is reputed for his close ties with Putin's Kremlin, as saying that since "the United States is the center of world power and strength, the closer Russia is to it, the stronger Russia is." Markov also said that "we are present at the formation of a new world order shaped by the United States, and for Russia to resist this and to look for an adequate reaction to every move Washington makes is counterproductive." Markov concluded that "if we had not destroyed our own country, we would, of course, speak with America in another language. But now we are a matador and the United States is a bull with which we should not clash." VY

NATO APPROVES PROGRAM TO RETRAIN RETIRED RUSSIAN OFFICERS
The chief of NATO's Directorate for Economic Affairs, Patrick Arduan, and Russian Deputy Defense Minister Lyubov Kudelina signed an accord in Moscow on the opening of a social-adaptation and retraining center for Russian officers about to be discharged from service as a result of Russian military reforms, "Krasnaya zvezda" reported on 21 March. Speaking at the signing ceremony, Arduan stressed that the center will be created with NATO financial support and is designed to help the Russian military adopt itself to the post-Cold War environment. VY

OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT PUSH FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP
First Deputy Duma speaker Lyubov Sliska told reporters on 21 March ahead of a joint meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's three committees in the Duma, that Russia would not raise the question of its joining the North Atlantic alliance, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "Our relations with the...alliance should be brought into conformity with the new challenges of the times," she said. Sliska highlighted the fight against international terrorism, combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and European security issues as areas in which Russia and NATO can cooperate most effectively. "We attach great importance to the project to create a joint European missile defense," Sliska said, referring to President Putin's proposal to create a local missile-defense shield as an alternative to U.S. missile-defense initiatives. RC

RUSSIAN ARMY BEGINS MILITARY EXERCISE IN KURILES
Colonel Vasilii Afanasiev, spokesman for the commander of the Far Eastern Military District, Colonel General Yurii Yakubov, announced that troops in the region have begun a large-scale training exercise on the Kurile and Sakhalin islands, lenta.ru reported on 19 March. The purpose of the exercise is to improve mobilization coordination between the army, the Pacific Fleet, the Federal Border Guard Service, and Interior Ministry troops stationed in the region, Afanasiev explained. VY

BASHKORTOSTAN PRESIDENT MULLS THIRD TERM...
Speaking to Interfax-Eurasia on 19 March, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov said he has "theoretically and practically considered" the possibility of running for a third term, which he said is "permitted by the present legislation," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service reported the next day. Rakhimov added that he will "support the decision" of republican legislators if they vote to move the June 2003 balloting and hold republican presidential elections on the same date as elections to the republican parliament and Russian State Duma in December 2003. RFE/RL's Ufa correspondents have quoted Central Election Commission Chairman Barii Kizyangulov as saying such a decision would be "advisable" for voter convenience. JAC

...AS PROSECUTOR TO CHALLENGE CONSTITUTION AGAIN
The deputy prosecutor-general in the Volga federal district, Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, told Interfax on 19 March that Bashkortostan's Supreme Court acknowledged that 20 articles in the republican constitution contradict federal legislation and confirmed that 13 other articles containing similar provisions are invalid. However, the prosecutor added that the court left provisions on Bashkortostan's sovereignty and a number of others unchanged, despite his challenge. Meanwhile, the republic's leadership is categorically defending its position on the question of Bashkortostan's sovereignty, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 March, JAC

RUSSIA CONSIDERING PROTECTION FOR AUTOMAKERS
Prime Minister Kasyanov said on 21 March that the government will take steps to help the country's struggling automobile industry, including possibly adopting protectionist measures, AFP reported the same day. "I do not exclude that we will need to take temporary protectionist measures to stimulate" the sector, Kasyanov said in comments broadcast by RTR television. A development plan for the sector was discussed at a government meeting attended by Kasyanov that would seek 475 billion rubles ($15 billion) in investment for the sector over the next seven years. It also calls for state measures to protect the industry from foreign competition. According to the plan, Russia currently has just 140 cars per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to 550 in the United States. RC

RUSSIAN ALUMINUM TO INVEST IN AUSTRALIA
Aleksandr Livshits -- formerly President Boris Yeltsin's economic adviser and deputy head of his administration and now the deputy general director of Russian Aluminum (RusAL), which is controlled by oligarch Oleg Deripaska -- said that on 19 March his company has signed an agreement with Australian Aldoga Aluminum on the construction of an aluminum smelting plant in Queensland, Australia, polit.ru reported. Australia has enormous bauxite ore reserves and is an optimal place for the development of aluminum production, Livshits was quoted as saying. He also mentioned that his company has plans for investment in other projects in Australia "in keeping with RusAL's strategy for the geographical diversification of its business." VY

SWITZERLAND CONFISCATES ASSETS OF RUSSIAN CRIMINAL FIGURE
The Criminal Chamber of the Geneva Canton Court ruled on 20 March that authorities may seize $2.6 million in Swiss bank deposits of the late Vladimir Misyurin, who was reputed to be a key figure in the Russian mafia, polit.ru reported. Misyurin, who made his fortune by illegally exporting oil from Russia, was killed in Brussels in 1994, presumably as the result of a conflict between criminal groups. Meanwhile, the Russian Audit Chamber announced that Geneva authorities have agreed to return to Russia part of Misyurin's money as compensation for the damage he caused to the Russian economy, which the chamber estimated to be more than $200 million. VY

MOSCOW REGISTERS UPSURGE IN INFANTICIDE
Over the past four years, police in Moscow have registered over 700 cases of infanticide, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 March. The abandoned bodies of 10 dead infants have been found since the beginning of this year alone. A local police official told the paper that "there have always been such cases, but they have never before assumed such horrific dimensions." Most of the women charged with murdering their newborns are found after psychiatric examination to be mentally stable. And the majority of them are also not natives of Moscow, but market traders from Ukraine, Moldova, or Belarus, according to the daily. The maximum prison term for infanticide under the Russian Criminal Code is five years. LF

ANOTHER FOREIGNER ATTACKED IN VLADIVOSTOK
A Japanese student, Furukawa Takashi, was found dead in his apartment in Vladivostok, with cash and valuable equipment missing, Russian agencies reported on 20 March. The 24-year-old student was studying Russian at Far Eastern State University, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Earlier this month, South Korea's consul general, Lee Joong Hwa, was attacked by unknown assailants, after which he told local reporters that the attack against him "is of considerable diplomatic significance, and is likely to influence the region's reputation worldwide... If a consul general, who is protected by law, is attacked," then no foreign national can feel safe there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). Vladivostok will host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in September. Meanwhile, Russian border police detained two Chinese citizens on 20 March for trying to smuggle 14 wood frogs, which are reportedly considered a Chinese delicacy, out of the country. JAC

NIZHNII RESIDENTS DON'T WANT HAPPY MEALS
The antiglobalist group "ATTAK -- Nizhnii Novgorod" conducted a protest on 15 March in front of the local McDonald's restaurant in Nizhnii Novgorod, VolgaInform reported on 20 March. The protestors carried signs saying "McDonald's -- Out of Nizhnii Novgorod." One organizer told the agency that "McDonald's spends more than 1.8 billion annually on advertising, but the smiling Ronald McDonald hides the reality that McDonald's is interested only in money, making profits on everything from everyone -- as are all transnational corporations." Organizers also maintained that the restaurant chain is using ingredients that have been genetically modified in all "non-European countries, including Russia, which lacks a system of control for such products." The previous day, protestors in Voronezh gathered in a central square to oppose the construction of the first McDonald's in that city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). JAC

SOAR LIKE A PUTIN
St. Petersburg residents associate President Putin with lions and eagles and the rest of Russian politicians with rodents, according to Zinaida Sikevich, professor at St. Petersburg State University and director of the laboratory of ethnic sociology and psychology, RosBalt reported on 20 March. Sikevich based her conclusions on research conducted among subjects whom she asked to freely associate. While Putin elicited thoughts of a soaring bird, other politicians were likened to various rodents and small predatory animals, such as polecats. JAC

ARMENIAN COURT REJECTS APPEAL ON BEHALF OF CONTROVERSIAL JOURNALIST
A Yerevan court on 20 March rejected a petition submitted by the lawyers of Nicol Pashinian, editor of the opposition newspaper "Haykakan zhamanak," to drop the slander charges against him, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Pashinian is charged with slandering Armenian Civil Aviation Agency head Hovannes Yeritsian in a caption published in the paper last November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 8 March 2002). LF

ARMENIA REACHES TENTATIVE AGREEMENT TO IMPORT TURKMEN GAS
Meeting on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Almaty on 28 February, Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov reached a provisional agreement that Armenia will buy 2 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually, Armenian Ambassador to Turkmenistan Aram Grigorian told journalists in Ashgabat on 19 March following talks with Niyazov, Interfax reported. The gas will be shipped via Iran once a gas pipeline linking the two countries is built. The agreement is to be finalized during a visit by Niyazov to Yerevan later this year, for which no date has yet been set. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON ABKHAZIA...
Following two days of inconclusive debate on 14-15 March, deputies voted unanimously on 20 March in favor of a toughly worded 13-point resolution on Abkhazia, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The preamble accused the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone under the CIS aegis of failing to fulfill its mandate, and of functioning instead as "frontier guards" between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia; claimed Abkhazia has become "a haven for international terrorists" and a base for drugs and arms trafficking; and accused the Abkhaz leadership of refusing to cooperate with the UN and OSCE. The resolution repeats the parliament's demand of 11 October 2001 that the Russian peacekeepers be withdrawn; that those persons guilty of the "genocide" of the Georgian population of Abkhazia be brought to justice; that the international community inspect the Russian military base at Gudauta to determine whether Russia has complied with its commitments to withdraw weaponry from there; and condemns Russia's waiving for residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of the visa requirement that obtains for all other Georgian citizens. At the same time, it calls on the parliament's Provisional Committee to draft a resolution by 30 June on how to resolve the Abkhaz conflict; calls on the Georgian president and government to assess compliance with previously signed decrees and agreements on Abkhazia; and affirms that "Georgia will not resort to military force as long as the possibility of a peaceful solution of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict exists." LF

...AND CRITICIZES RUSSIAN STATE DUMA...
Also on 20 March, the Georgian parliament approved a statement in response to, and condemning, that adopted on 6 March by the Russian State Duma, Caucasus Press reported. The Duma resolution condemned the Georgian government's alleged failure to prevent international terrorists from infiltrating the Pankisi Gorge and its rejection of Russian offers of assistance in countering that threat while accepting U.S. military aid. It expressed support for Georgia's territorial integrity, but reserved the right, "if relations [with Georgia] develop unfavorably," to consider the formal requests by the leaders of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for "associate membership" of the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 March 2002). The Georgian response branded the Duma statement as interference into Georgia's internal affairs, and accused Russia of supporting separatism in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and of failing to acknowledge Georgia's territorial integrity. LF

...AS FALLOUT FROM PEACEKEEPERS' ABDUCTION CONTINUES
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Moscow on 20 March after talks with President Vladimir Putin that any repeat of the 18 March abduction of four Russian peacekeepers in the Abkhaz conflict zone "must be stopped at the very outset," ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov rejected Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's claim that the Russian peacekeepers had earlier "abducted" two Georgian guerrillas apprehended during an attack on a peacekeeping post, and whom the Russians handed over to the Abkhaz authorities. Speaking in Tbilisi on 20 March, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze similarly characterized the Russian decision to hand the guerrillas over to the Abkhaz as "illegal," Caucasus Press reported. Interfax on 20 March quoted Georgian National Security Council Deputy Secretary Djemal Gakhokidze as claiming that a UN convention acknowledges the right of persons who have been driven from their homes to join a guerrilla movement. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR MORE EFFECTIVE FIGHT AGAINST CRIMINALITY
Addressing a Georgian government session on 20 March, President Shevardnadze called upon law enforcement agencies to draft a special plan to combat lawlessness, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze expressed special concern over repeated abductions and attacks on foreigners, which he said have contributed to a steep decline in the number of foreign tourists visiting Georgia. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION MEETS IN WARSAW
Representatives of the opposition United Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (ODP), which comprises the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, the National Congress of Kazakhstan, and the Azamat party, met in Warsaw on 16 March, forumkz.org reported on 20 March. The opposition representatives discussed the ongoing consolidation of opposition forces against the present leadership, noting that this spontaneous process is gathering momentum, especially in the regions. They also focused on the authorities' efforts to thwart the holding in Kazakhstan of the founding congress of the ODP. LF

VICTIMS OF KYRGYZ CLASHES BURIED...
The five people killed during clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan's Djalalabad Oblast between police and participants in a protest march on 17 and 18 March were buried on 20 March in the village of Kara-Suu, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 March 2002). Parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release from detention the protesters were demanding, attended the funeral, which passed without further clashes or demonstrations. Also on 20 March, parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov told Interfax that the Kyrgyz opposition has proposed convening a roundtable discussion in southern Kyrgyzstan that would be attended by government and opposition representatives and members of the local population. He said the current most-important priority is "to preserve peace and stability." LF

...AS HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST REJECTS ACCUSATIONS
Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov denied on 20 March the claim made the previous day by Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev that he and his supporters bear responsibility for the fatal clashes between police and demonstrators on 17 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akunov said he tried to restrain the demonstrators from any illegal actions, and that he was himself detained by police before the police opened fire on the demonstrators. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT URGES ECONOMIC REFORM IN UZBEKISTAN
Speaking in Tashkent on 20 March at a ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. embassy there, U.S. Ambassador John Herbst noted the ongoing strengthening of bilateral relations as a result of Uzbekistan's support for the international antiterrorism coalition, AP reported. But at the same time he urged the Uzbek leadership to take bolder steps toward economic reform, including compliance with its repeated pledge to make the national currency fully convertible. LF

BELARUSIAN TRACTOR GIANT HAS NEW DIRECTOR
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed Alyaksandr Pukhavy as a new director of the Minsk Tractor Factory (MTZ), Belarusian Television reported on 20 March. "The Minsk Tractor Factory and its production is a trademark of the Republic of Belarus... The primary task is to develop [the factory's] traditions and maintain the MTZ as the global center of tractor manufacturing," Pukhavy said in accepting his nomination. According to official data, by 1 March the MTZ had accumulated a backlog of 3,200 unsold tractors, which is roughly equal to the plant's four-month average production capacity. The MTZ's previous director, Mikhail Lyavonau, was arrested in January and charged with abuse of office, negligence, and bribery. MTZ employees have appealed to Lukashenka to release Lyavonau, saying he is innocent. JM

YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC TO BE OUSTED FROM UKRAINIAN ELECTION?
Central Election Commission Chairman Mykhaylo Ryabets on 20 March said the commission received a complaint that the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc has violated the election law in the campaign by using resources other than those in its official election fund, UNIAN reported. Meanwhile, Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc activists, including lawmaker Oleksandr Turchynov, warned media earlier the same day that the presidential administration has issued an "instruction" to disqualify the bloc from elections. According to the activists, the reason for the disqualification may be a book about Tymoshenko that was published several months ago. They suggest that the bloc will be charged with sponsoring this publication and subsequently ousted from the election race by a court resolution. JM

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR SAYS MOSCOW WORRIED ABOUT OUR UKRAINE BLOC...
Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin said on 20 March that Russia is with those parties and election blocs in Ukraine that call for the development and deepening of relations between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin noted that there are also forces in Ukraine that do not pursue such a goal, adding that "this cannot but worry us." According to him, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine is a cause for such concern. "Yushchenko himself says that he favors broad democracy and supports President Leonid Kuchma. But when we look at the structure of [his] bloc, we see who is in it and what statements they make, and this is beginning to worry us," Chernomyrdin said. JM

...AS RUSSIAN LAWMAKER WARNS AGAINST 'NATIONALIST FORCES' IN UKRAINIAN ELECTION
Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Russian State Duma's International Relations Committee, suggested on 20 March that if "nationalist forces" win the upcoming parliamentary election in Ukraine, Moscow and Kyiv may face problems in bilateral relations, Interfax reported. "Ukrainian nationalism has similar roots to Chechen extremism," Rogozin said. And he added: "We have encountered Ukrainian nationalists in the Chechen mountains. They are not taken prisoner as they have committed especially cruel atrocities against Russian servicemen." JM

RUSSIA SLAMS REHABILITATION OF FORMER UKRAINIAN SS SOLDIERS
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 March harshly condemned the recent decision by the Ivano-Frankivsk city authorities to grant combatant status to 24 veterans of the SS Division Halychyna (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002), ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The ministry said in a statement that the decision constituted "a shameful act of betrayal" of millions of Nazi victims, adding that it will negatively affect Russian-Ukrainian relations. "It is regretful that Ukrainian officials have not appropriately resisted the provocative actions by Ukrainian nationalists," the statement read. JM


Ukraine on 20 March imposed a tariff of 41 percent on Russian cement imports to take effect over the following four months, Inter Television reported. The measure was adopted following an investigation by the Economy Ministry that found that the recent increase of cement imports has significantly damaged domestic producers. Quoting the "Uryadovyy Kuryer" daily, UNIAN reported on 20 March that Ukraine also introduced an antidumping 74 percent customs duty on imports of Belarusian ruberoid (a type of roofing material) for a period of four months starting on 19 March. JM

ESTONIAN PREMIER ADMITS PENSIONERS' SITUATION DIFFICULT TO IMPROVE
During the parliament's information hour on 20 March, Siim Kallas said that it will not be easy to fulfill the pledge of the coalition agreement of the Reform and Center Parties to raise average pensions to 40 percent of average wages, BNS reported. He expressed regret that a lack of funds made it impossible for the government to support the Moderates' proposal to increase pensions from 1 April by more than the indexation approved by the previous government. Kallas asserted that the coalition will stick by its plan and raise pensions more than previously planned as of 1 July. After the general meeting of the coalition the same day, Reform Party parliament faction Chairman Jurgen Ligi announced that the coalition does not plan to yield to possible EU pressure in its membership negotiations, and will maintain its tax laws granting companies tax exemptions from reinvested profits. SG

OSCE OFFICIAL CALLS ON LATVIA TO CONSIDER GRANTING OFFICIAL LANGUAGE STATUS TO RUSSIAN
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Director Gerard Stoudmann suggested during a conference on cooperation between the OSCE and Latvia in Riga on 20 March that Russian should be given the status of an official state language in Latvia, LETA reported. He also asserted that Latvia should change its election laws in the next few months to end the Latvian-language requirements for candidates for the parliament and local councils. Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins told LETA by telephone from Geneva that he hopes Stoudmann's suggestion on the Russian language "was a misunderstanding." He declared: "I believe that two state languages would pave the way for a state of two communities, which would create insurmountable problems and practically not only halt, but reverse, the integration process." Berzins also noted that the suggestion was a complete surprise since no NATO foreign minister, EU minister, or any other high official of those organizations had ever proposed two state languages. The Latvian parliament that day passed by a vote of 79 to 16 the first reading of amendments to the constitution aimed at strengthening the status of Latvian as the state language. SG

ITALY REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR LITHUANIAN MEMBERSHIP OF EU AND NATO
During an official two-day visit to Italy, parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas heard firm pledges from top officials that Italy backs Lithuania's efforts to join the European Union and NATO, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 21 March. On 19 March, Italian Chamber of Deputies Chairman Pier Ferdinando Casini said he favors the rapid inclusion of Lithuania into the EU, and urged Lithuania to maintain good-neighborly relations with Russia. Paulauskas raised the issue of the return of Lithuania's pre-World War II embassy in Rome, which the Soviet Union took over, and mentioned that France has agreed to compensate Lithuania for the similar loss of its embassy in Paris. The next day, Senate Chairman Marcello Pena also discussed EU and NATO expansion with Paulauskas, who also had a brief meeting with Pope John Paul II. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES AUSTRIA, HUNGARY OVER STANCE ON BENES DECREES
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 20 March criticized a demand by Austrian and Hungarian officials that Prague abrogate the Benes Decrees expelling millions of Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II, AFP reported. "My opinion on that point is different from that of the Hungarian prime minister and Austrian chancellor... That period should remain closed, in the judicial sense. We must retain the status quo concerning borders after the war," Kwasniewski told a group of foreign journalists. The discord over the Benes Decrees led to the cancellation of a summit of the Visegrad Four prime ministers in Budapest earlier this month. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT APPROVES PURCHASE OF 48 JETS TO UPGRADE AIR FORCE
The Sejm on 20 March amended a law on the purchase of multirole fighters to upgrade Poland's air force to NATO standards, Polish media reported. The amendments extend the delivery period to 2008 instead of 2006, raise the number of planes to be ordered by four to 48, and stipulate that all of them must be brand new. The government expects to name a winner for the purchase contract in August or September. JM

BRUSSELS ACCEPTS POLAND'S STANCE ON LAND SALES
The European Union has accepted Poland's position on land sales (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002), thus allowing the Polish government to close an important chapter on the free flow of capital, Polish media reported on 21 March. JM

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL CHECKING PREPARATIONS FOR PRAGUE SUMMIT
Lord George Robertson said on 20 March after meeting Czech President Vaclav Havel that he has "no doubts" that the Czech Republic will successfully organize the November summit of the organization in Prague, CTK reported the same day. Robertson arrived in Prague to check on preparations for the summit and was to meet on 21 March with Prime Minister Milos Zeman and with Alexander Vondra, the Czech commissioner in charge of organizing the summit. Havel and Robertson agreed that NATO should invite several new countries to join the organization in November. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said they also agreed that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be invited to Prague during the summit. MS

GERMAN PARLIAMENT TO EXAMINE BENES DECREES
The Bundestag will examine the Benes Decrees to establish whether they are in line with EU legislation, Bundestag European Commission Chairman Friedbert Pflueger told CTK on 20 March. Pflueger said the examination will be similar to that under way in the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission. European Parliament Chairman Patrick Cox is to arrive in Prague at the end of the week to discuss with Czech politicians ways of preventing the dispute on the decrees from turning into what he described in an interview with CTK as "serious complications" awakening "historical sensibilities." Cox said he hopes the discussions in Prague will "shed some light" on this "sensitive question." "I hope this will be light, not heat, because if it gets too hot in the [EU] kitchen, we all have to leave," he said. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC WILL NOT SUBMIT RESOLUTION ON CUBA
The Czech Foreign Ministry has decided against submitting a resolution on the violation of human rights in Cuba this year, CTK reported on 21 March, citing the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." The resolution was to have been submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission at its annual session in Geneva. The decision not to submit the resolution was made in the absence of Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who is in Monterrey, Mexico, attending a UN conference on financing development. Kavan earlier visited several Latin American countries and reports said that he found little support in the region for the envisaged resolution. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT MAKES CONTROVERSIAL CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPOINTMENT
President Havel on 20 March officially appointed Eliska Wagnerova as deputy chairwoman of the Constitutional Court, CTK reported. Wagnerova was replaced as Supreme Court chairwoman by Iva Brozova, who is a judge on that court. Both appointments had placed Havel in conflict with the government and the main opposition Civic Democratic Party, which opposed the appointments of both Wagnerova and Brozova. MS

FORMER STB INVESTIGATOR SENTENCED IN BRNO
The Brno Court of Appeals on 19 March sentenced former communist secret police investigator Vladimir Zavadilik to two years in prison for torturing political prisoner Ladislav Dohnalik in the 1950s, AP reported on 19 March, citing Czech television. Zavadilik, who is now 81, received a two-year suspended sentenced in November 2001 at a lower court in Uherske Hradiste, where the crime was committed, but the prosecution appealed that sentence. The Brno verdict is final and cannot be appealed. MS

SLOVAKIA'S MECIAR IS SHUNNED DURING U.S. TOUR...
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar, currently on a private U.S. tour, has failed in efforts to be received at the White House, the State Department, and by members of Congress, the Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 20 March. The daily's Bratislava correspondent wrote that Meciar's cold reception is in stark contrast to the "open door" shown to Robert Fico, leader of the opposition "Smer" (Direction) party, who is also currently visiting the United States and who has been received by senior officials. The daily says "Meciar's rhetoric" that he is now a NATO supporter has failed to convince anyone in Washington. MS

...SAYS HE 'FATHERED' HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW
In an interview with the Hungarian weekly "Vasarnap" on 20 March, Meciar said that he once suggested to then Hungarian Premier Gyula Horn that parliament pass a law similar to the now-controversial Status Law, TASR-reported. Meciar said he has "some misgivings" about the law as it has been adopted, but that he does not object to ethnic Hungarians being given "even more rights" than they have been by the controversial legislation. Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar dismissed the statement. "What Meciar says now was not true yesterday, and vice versa," Bugar said. Meciar also told "Vasarnap" that he can well imagine a HZDS-SMK post-election coalition. MS

HUNGARY ACCEPTS SLOVAK PROPOSAL ON STATUS LAW PARLEYS
Hungarian Foreign Ministry Political State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth on 20 March said during a visit to Komarno, Slovakia, that he accepts the offer of Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister Jaroslav Chlebo to set up a joint commission to bridge differences over Hungary's Status Law. He added, however, that Slovakia must acknowledge that the law neither affects Slovak sovereignty nor discriminates against Slovak citizens. "In Europe, supporting minorities is not viewed as discrimination," Nemeth said. He expressed regret that the Hungarian law has received so much attention during the election campaign in Slovakia. Chlebo said Slovakia does not oppose support for ethnic Hungarians, but such support must be in line with Slovak law and based on a bilateral agreement, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ, MSZP AGREE ON MINISTERIAL DEBATES FORMAT...
Representatives of the major coalition party FIDESZ and the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) on 20 March agreed to a series of debates between cabinet ministers and their Socialist challengers. The first debate, scheduled for 21 March, will be between Justice Minister Ibolya David and challenger Peter Barandy. The series of 17 debates, each of them lasting two hours, is set to run until 3 April at Millennium Park. FIDESZ and MSZP have also chosen four moderators for the debates and set aside 50 seats for the media. MSZ

...WHILE ORBAN-MEDGYESSY DEBATE STILL UNCLARIFIED
The MSZP candidate for prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, who challenged Prime Minister Viktor Orban to a debate at Millennium Park on 3 April, announced on 20 March that he was unable to book suitable premises for the debate at the park and has been forced to cancel his proposal. Orban still insists that the debate take place on 5 April at the University of Economics, Hungarian media reported. MS

HUNGARIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S. REACTS TO 'WASHINGTON POST' ARTICLE...
In a letter to the editor printed in "The Washington Post" on 20 March, Geza Jeszenszky, Hungary's ambassador to the United States, writes that columnist Jackson Diehl's use of the term "Lebensraum" (living space) with its Nazi associations to describe Prime Minister Viktor Orban's policy was inflammatory and misleading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 March 2002). Jeszenszky said the Hungarian government is building a "cooperative relationship" with all of the country's neighbors and supports efforts of Hungarians outside of Hungary to maintain their national identity. He also wrote that the U.S. State Department has distanced itself from Diehl's article and that Orban has a good working relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush. MSZ

...AND DENIES ANTI-SEMITISM IN HUNGARY
Jeszenszky also rejected as "completely false" Diehl's reference to a tacit alliance between FIDESZ and anti-Semites. In his letter, Jeszenszky quotes Prime Minister Orban as saying that FIDESZ and the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party are "incompatible on fundamental policy goals" and also quotes FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni as saying that his party will not form a government with "radicals of the left or right." Regarding anti-Semitism in Hungary, Jeszenszky says Hungary has the third-largest Jewish population in Europe and that violence against members of the Jewish community is almost nonexistent. He pointed out that the Orban government has instituted an annual day of remembrance in honor of the more than half million Hungarian victims of the Holocaust, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

ACCUSED SERBIAN SPY TO FIGHT ALLEGATIONS
Momcilo Perisic said on 20 March in Belgrade that he will remain in the parliament and as the leader of his political party as he fights to clear his name of espionage charges, Reuters reported. Perisic, who resigned from his post as deputy premier of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002), said at a press conference that "I neither handed over nor received anything." He said that "I have enough knowledge, [and] experience...and am ready, calmly, to enable the institutions of this country to work. They will show in due course what the truth is." Serbian media have reported that the military intelligence service that detained Perisic and U.S. diplomat John David Neighbor possesses audio and videotapes of documents and computer disks allegedly being exchanged between the two men. Analysts say the incident was carried out by the military secret service, which answers to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, in an attempt to preempt plans by Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic to arrest indicted war criminals and extradite them to The Hague, as Belgrade must do before 31 March in order to receive a second tranche of financial aid from the United States. PB

WASHINGTON INFORMS KOSTUNICA ABOUT COOPERATION WITH HAGUE TRIBUNAL
Pierre Richard Prosper, the U.S. State Department's ambassador for war crimes, said in Washington on 20 March that he has personally told Yugoslav President Kostunica that the U.S. is not satisfied with Belgrade's cooperation with The Hague war crimes tribunal, Tanjug reported. Prosper said Kostunica was informed that he, as president of the country, is expected to step up cooperation with the tribunal. The State Department is to decide by the end of this month if Belgrade has met conditions set by the U.S. Congress that include the extradition of indicted persons and the release of ethnic Albanians from Yugoslav prisons. A positive certification by the State Department would result in Yugoslavia receiving some $40 million in aid. PB

CROATIAN DEPUTIES TO CONSIDER STRIPPING TWO COLLEAGUES OF IMMUNITY
A parliamentary commission on credentials and privileges has recommended that the chamber lift the immunity from prosecution of two Croatian Democratic Union deputies accused of abuse of office and fraud, Hina reported on 20 March. The commission was acting on a request by local prosecutors, who believe Ljubo Cesic Rojs embezzled funds while he was an assistant to the country's defense minister. Djuro Decak is suspected of abuse of office when he was a prefect in Virovitica-Podravina. A plenary session is expected to hear details from the commission and debate the issue in its 21 March session. AH

...AS NEW INDICTMENTS MAKE THEIR WAY TO ZAGREB
Budisa's concession to the international war crimes tribunal came two days after the Croatian daily "Jutarnji List" reported on 18 March that a host of indictments are on their way against former Croatian army officials for actions in the country's 1991-95 war for independence, according to Reuters. The tribunal has not confirmed those indictments, but the paper said they are "very likely" and could come in April, the agency said, quoting "a senior government source." The paper speculates that the upcoming indictments are related to the so-called Medak Pocket operation in 1993 and Operation Storm in 1995. A political analyst cited by Reuters, Davor Gjenero, said: "We can say the crisis is brewing, and if the indictments do come we can expect all kinds of problems this summer, and possibly early elections in September." AH

OTPOR CALLS ON YUGOSLAV, SERBIAN LEADERS TO STOP EQUIVOCATING ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE
Ivan Marovic, a member of the Serbian student movement Otpor (Resistance), called on Yugoslav President Kostunica to make it clear to the Serbian people "whether we will conceal or extradite people," Tanjug reported on 19 March. Marovic said: "We have heard President Kostunica make contradictory statements about cooperation with The Hague tribunal," explaining further that some officials say that former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are not in Serbia. Furthermore, he said that "it would be risky to arrest them." Marovic also urged Kostunica to explain why he views relations between Belgrade and Washington as "delicate." Marovic asked if relations are also delicate "with the EU, Council of Europe," or other countries that demand Belgrade's cooperation with The Hague tribunal. PB

MONTENEGRIN NATIONALIST PARTY WITHDRAWS SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT
Miodrag Zivkovic said on 20 March that his Liberal Alliance will no longer support the government coalition of Premier Filip Vujanovic, Reuters reported. The Liberal Alliance is not formally part of the ruling coalition, which does not have a majority in parliament, but the alliance's six deputies in parliament gave their support to the ruling coalition in exchange for a pledge that the government will hold a referendum on independence. Zivkovic said the party's decision to withdraw support was motivated by last week's signing of an agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002) by Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic to form a loose union with Serbia. PB

MILOSEVIC'S TRIAL POSTPONED FURTHER
The UN war crimes tribunal trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be postponed further because the defendant has the flu, AP reported. Doctors said after examining Milosevic that he is suffering from a high fever and has difficulty speaking. His trial cannot continue in his absence because he is defending himself and must be present to cross-examine witnesses. PB

RUSSIAN COMMANDER IN KOSOVA
Valerii Yevnevich, the deputy commander of Russia's land forces, arrived in Kosova on 20 March and held talks with UN mission head Michael Steiner and KFOR commander Lieutenant General Marcel Valinten, ITAR-TASS reported. Yevnevich is reviewing the areas in the Serbian province controlled by Russian peacekeepers and will also meet with the commanders of the U.S., French, and British troops stationed in both Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina. PB

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST FORMER OFFICERS SUSPECTED OF WAR CRIMES
Authorities in southern Croatia on 20 March arrested three former army officers suspected of war crimes in 1992 against a group of Serb rebels, including the fatal shooting of one prisoner, AP reported. They are accused of breaching international conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war when leading approximately a dozen Serbs to an estuary in Sibenik, southern Croatia, the agency said. The men, identified only by their initials, face possible prison sentences of 20 years each. AH

COUNCIL OF EUROPE WELCOMES BOSNIAN MEMBERSHIP
The 43-country Council of Europe approved Bosnia-Herzegovina's application on 20 March, making it the fourth former Yugoslav republic to join after Slovenia, Macedonia, and Croatia, AP reported. Member states were acting on a recommendation from council's Parliamentary Assembly in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). The council said membership will help promote the transition to democracy in the ethnically divided country, the agency added. Officials from the Council of Europe say Bosnia, which immediately applied for membership in the wake of its 1992-95 war, was only recently considered due to the organization's democratic requirements. A ceremony to mark Bosnia's accession is slated for late April. AH

U.S. AGAIN SHUTS DOWN EMBASSY IN BOSNIA
The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo shut its doors to the public on 20 March in response to a reported security threat, one day after announcing it was increasing security measures, local and Western agencies reported. The move marks the second time the embassy has closed its doors since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October. "In response to continued concerns over an unverified threat report, the U.S. Embassy has decided to close its offices to the general public and reduce operations until further notice," it said in a statement. An embassy spokeswoman was quoted by Reuters as saying she was not aware of any link between the closure and raids the previous day on an Islamic charity in Bosnia suspected of having links to terrorism. AH

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE COULD BE COMPLETED QUICKLY
Prime Minister Ivica Racan said on 20 March that the legislature could appoint two new ministers as early as the following day, if talks with Social Liberal Party (HSLS) head Drazen Budisa were concluded quickly, Hina reported. Racan was speaking after a meeting that included four of the five ruling parties, while an HSLS Executive Council meeting continued late into the day. Racan declined to speculate about any new ministers. AH

BACK IN GOVERNMENT, CROATIA'S BUDISA BACKS COOPERATION WITH HAGUE...
Drazen Budisa announced an about-face in the 20 March edition of "Globus" when he told an interviewer that he no longer opposes Croatian cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, dpa reported. "All Croatian citizens...must answer if they are called by the tribunal," said Budisa, whose power grab was effected recently after a month of maneuvering that followed his return to the head of the ruling coalition's Social Liberal Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). Now a first deputy prime minister, Budisa opposed such cooperation last summer, when he stepped down from his party's leadership to protest a decision to hand over two indicted generals. AH

RIJECKA BANKA MANAGEMENT STEPS DOWN, CROATIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKS NEW OWNER
The entire management board of devastated Rijecka Banka resigned on 20 March, Croatian television reported, clearing the way for new managers to try and pick up the pieces after a $90 million foreign-exchange debacle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). The country's central bank immediately appointed managers to replace the three-member board, Reuters reported the same day. Meanwhile, the government hopes to find an investor to take over the country's third-largest bank and "complete the transaction within 10 days," the agency added, citing Deputy Prime Minister Slavko Linic. Reuters reported that Austria's Raiffeisen has confirmed interest, while Erste Bank, Hypovereinsbank, and Charlemagne Capital Fund are rumored to be looking at a possible entry. A bridging loan of about $100 million from the central bank is expected to receive cabinet approval on 21 March, Reuters reported. Authorities have broadened their investigation beyond forex trader Eduard Nodilo and his boss, Snjezana Podobnik, "to include people outside Rijecka who had certainly taken part in the affair," a local prosecutor told the agency. The central bank has calculated that, under a worst-case scenario, the bank's collapse could force the government to inject as much as $59 million in capital, Reuters said. AH

JOURNALISTS GROUP CALLS CROATIAN VERDICTS 'UNJUST AND PUNITIVE'
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has accused the Croatian judiciary of "jeopardizing the future of a respected independent magazine and eroding the hard-fought freedoms journalists have gained in the post-Tudjman era," Hina reported on 21 March. The CPJ expressed its concern in a statement responding to two recent libel judgments against the satirical weekly "Feral Tribune" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper reportedly is urging Croatian judicial authorities to "review these unjust and punitive verdicts," which meted out a combined $25,000 punishment against the publication. The group quotes "Feral" Director Zoran Erceg as saying that the paper will appeal both rulings to the Croatian Supreme Court, but first must pay the fines in full. AH

CROATIAN PARLIAMENTARY LEADER COLLAPSES, CONDITION UNCLEAR
Mato Arlovic, the deputy speaker of the country's parliament, collapsed while presiding over a legislative session on 20 March, Hina reported, putting an end to the proceedings. No information was immediately available on his condition. Arlovic, who reportedly suffers from high blood pressure, is a member of the Social Democratic Party. AH

MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY PREPARING WEAPONS-COLLECTION OPERATION
The Interior Ministry is preparing a draft law regulating the collection of light firearms from Macedonian citizens, "Nova Makedonija" reported on 21 March. Citizens may go unpunished if they voluntarily hand in illegally possessed firearms to special arms-collection points within 45 days. If illegal arms are later found, their owners will be prosecuted. There are also plans to include the OSCE and EU missions into the arms-collection effort. UB

NATO URGES MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT TO DISSOLVE SPECIAL POLICE UNIT
Defense Minister Vlado Popovski and Foreign Minister Slobodan Capsule on 19 March presented the results of Macedonia's national plan for NATO membership, Macedonian media reported. According to "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik," the NATO leadership urged the Macedonian government to dissolve the special police unit known as the Lions. "NATO has many prejudices against the Lions because of the incidents they caused," Popovski said. According to Venko Kalacovski, secretary of state in the Interior Ministry, the latest incident involving the unit occurred in the town of Strumica, where a boy was severely hurt. He called that incident "an individual case," and ruled out the dissolution of the Lions. "Macedonia needs this unit, and it will continue to exist, even if someone thinks otherwise," Kalacovski said. UB

NATO WANTS ROMANIA TO RID ITSELF OF SECURITATE HOLDOVERS
NATO officials want Romania to bar former communist secret police staff from holding sensitive positions in the intelligence services before it can join the Atlantic alliance, AP reported on 20 March, citing a diplomat who requested anonymity. Senate Foreign Policy Commission Chairman Radu Podgoreanu said one day earlier that "NATO officials have asked us to get rid of former Securitate officers with anti-Western attitudes, whose positions would enable them to have access to the allies' information." Speaking before the Chamber of Deputies' Defense Commission on 21 March, Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said that the army has "no problem" with the NATO demand. Pascu said that NATO officials who inspected the Romanian military over the last two month have reached "positive conclusions." MS

CLUJ MAYOR CLAIMS FOUL PLAY IN ROMANIAN CENSUS
Ultranationalist Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar said on 20 March that the central computer gathering data for the census under way in Romania has been "set up to register more Hungarians in Cluj" than there really are, a local RFE/RL correspondent reported. Under current legislation, bilingual street signs are to be displayed in localities where minorities make up 20 percent of the population and more. Cluj has a strong Hungarian minority, although Funar denies the Magyars make up more than 20 percent of the population. Meanwhile, Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Chairman Bela Marko said on 20 March that census officials are refusing to register as Hungarian members of the Csango minority in Moldavia who declare "Hungarian nationality" and "a Hungarian mother tongue." Members of the Eastern-Rite Catholic (Uniate) Church in Cluj county have also complained about the refusal to register them as belonging to that confession. MS

COMMISSION TO MEDIATE IN ROMANIAN CHURCH CONFLICT
The Ministry of Culture on 20 March said it has convoked a meeting of the joint Commission for Orthodox-Uniate Dialogue in an attempt to prevent the exacerbation of a conflict between the two churches. The conflict erupted on the night of 15-16 March, when Orthodox Church members forced their way into a church in Ocna-Mures and evicted the Uniates. A court of justice in Alba Iulia ruled in 1999 that the building must be returned to the Uniates. Under the communist regime, the Uniate Church was abolished and its properties transferred to the Orthodox Church. MS

FIRST FINE IMPOSED IN ROMANIA FOR RACISM DISPLAY
The head of the Dinamo Bucharest fan club was fined 1.5 million lei (about $50, which is an average monthly salary) on 20 March for failing to stop fans unveiling a huge racist banner at a weekend soccer game with cross-town rivals Rapid, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). A police colonel told the agency that the head of the club is "responsible for what his men did during the match." The Dinamo fans displayed a banner telling Rapid fans (many of whom are Roma to "Run off. Antonescu is coming after you." MS

WORLD BANK APPROVES LOAN FOR ROMANIA
The World Bank on 20 March approved a $40-million loan for agricultural development in Romania, AP reported. The funds are to be used to improve roads, as well as for rural water and sanitation projects. MS

MOLDOVAN, ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS SEE DEVELOPMENTS DIFFERENTLY
Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau on 20 March told parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission that Romania has been "meddling in Moldova's internal affairs." Asked about the recent expulsion of Romanian diplomat Ion Ungureanu, Dudau told journalists in Chisinau the same day that "it is not the foreign minister's business to comment on evidence produced by other governmental bodies," but he added that the conclusions reached by the "competent authorities" are "well-documented and well-argued." Meanwhile, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told his parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission that NATO and EU countries "appreciate" the restrained manner of Bucharest's reaction to the expulsion and "do not take seriously" Chisinau's accusations. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'DIALOGUE' WITH SOCIETY
President Vladimir Voronin on 20 March called for a "dialogue" between the government and society at large and said that without it there can be no "constructive" political and social development, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The appeal was published in the Romanian and Russian-language governmental dailies "Moldova suverana" and "Nezavisimaya Moldova." He said that dialogue could and should lead to a "social pact" based on the "moral and ethical principles" that should govern relations between the two sides. He said that instability in Moldova was the result of actions by "partisans of both Western and Eastern unionism." Voronin said "normal development" can take place only when all participants abide by the "universally recognized rules of the [democratic] game," instead of promoting selfish "clan or group" interests. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT, GAGAUZ-YERI GOVERNOR AGREE ON 'MORATORIUM'
President Voronin met on 20 March in Chisinau with Gagauz-Yeri Governor Dumitru Croitor and reached an agreement on a "moratorium" on mutual accusations, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. They also agreed to set up an ad hoc joint commission that will examine the governor's complaint that some aid sent by Turkey to Gagauz-Yeri has been impounded by the central authorities. Voronin and Croitor agreed to meet every Wednesday and to try and solve the dispute between them "by way of dialogue." Voronin promised that Chisinau will continue the process of amending current legislation to reflect the autonomous status of Gagauz-Yeri. Croitor told a Flux correspondent that he is "still considering" withdrawing his judicial complaint against the president. MS

BULGARIA, GREECE REACH AGREEMENT OVER OIL PIPELINE
Ending a seven-year dispute, Greece has agreed to Bulgaria's demand for a 33.3 percent stake in the planned oil pipeline from Burgas to Alexandroupolis, according to the "Financial Times" on 21 March. Russia and Greece will also each have a 33.3 percent stake in the project, but all three countries are likely to sell all or part of their respective shares to private sector companies, the paper quoted Bulgarian Development Minister Kostadin Paskalev as saying. The 256-kilometer pipeline, which will cost an estimated 800 million euros ($708.6 million), will have an annual throughput capacity of 35 million tons and is likely to be used for Russian crude shipped from Novorossiisk. LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov suggested in Athens last December that the pipeline be extended 150 kilometers from Alexandroupolis to Thessaloniki, which has a major refinery. LF

DATE SET FOR BULGARIA'S NDSV TO TRANSFORM INTO PARTY
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski announced on 20 March that his National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) will be registered as a political party on 6 April, BTA reported. The date marks the first anniversary of Saxecoburggotski's decision to enter Bulgarian politics. A first attempt to transform the movement into a party on 26 January was aborted (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2002). Saxecoburggotski said he will not run for the party leadership. "Standart" expects Plamen Panayotov, the chairman of the parliamentary group of the NDSV, and legislator Emil Koshlukov to run for that post. UB

UNEMPLOYMENT IN BULGARIA DROPS SLIGHTLY
According to Deputy Prime Minister Lidia Shuleva, the unemployment rate in Bulgaria fell slightly in February, BTA reported on 20 March. There are currently more than 680,000 people registered as unemployed -- almost 30,000 fewer than one year ago. The unemployment rate in February 2002 was 17.9 percent. Compared with the figures for January, the rate fell by almost 4 percent. Shuleva added that the problem of jobless young people and women has yet to be solved. She stressed that more funding is needed for the vocational training of unemployed people. UB

BULGARIAN COAL MINERS STAGE PROTESTS
Some 12,000 coal miners staged nationwide protests on 20 March, BTA reported. The one-hour warning strikes in the mines of Pernik, Tvurditsa, Troyanovo, and Dimitrovgrad were organized by the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (KNSB). The miners demanded higher wages and a political decision in favor of the domestic mining industry. Pencho Tokmakchiev, chairman of the miners' trade union within the KNSB, said the protests are the result of rising social tension and the ongoing liquidation of the mining industry, which will result in the loss of some 10,000 jobs. According to Tokmakchiev, the workers are severely underpaid and are denied social benefits. The KNSB also announced a large protest meeting in Sofia to be held on 22 March under the motto "For a New Economic and Social Policy." UB

RUKH-1 TO RUKH-2: YUSHCHENKO'S OUR UKRAINE
The Ukrainian Movement for Perestroika (commonly referred to as Rukh) was established in 1988-1989 as a popular front comprising former prisoners of conscience from the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and members of the cultural intelligentsia. Rukh became a catalyst for other opposition parties and civic groups that came on the scene during the last few years of Soviet rule.

During the 1990s, however, Rukh became progressively marginalized within Ukraine's evolving multiparty political system. In 1992, the movement divided into two wings, one led by Vyacheslav Chornovil who stood in "constructive opposition" to President Leonid Kravchuk and another that supported Kravchuk and created the Congress of National Democratic Forces (KNDS).

In the second half of the 1990s, Chornovil's Rukh had better relations with President Leonid Kuchma because of Kuchma's support for reform in 1994-1996 and his pro-Western orientation between 1995-1999. By 1998-1999, though, relations were beginning to sour as Rukh became disillusioned with the type of regime emerging in Ukraine, the rampant corruption, and the widening gap between rhetoric and policies. After the death of Chornovil in a suspicious car accident in March 1999, Rukh again split into two wings. One wing, led by former Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko, maintained good relations with the government, while the other, led by Yuriy Kostenko, leaned toward the opposition and kept close ties with Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland party.Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko has transformed the faction into Rukh-2 (Our Ukraine) for the current elections. That transformation has been so thorough that the only similarity left between the old Rukh-1 and Our Ukraine is that pop singer Taras Petrenenko continues to close all of Our Ukraine's rallies with Rukh's unofficial anthem "Ukraine, Ukraine!"Our Ukraine is more popular than Rukh-1 for a number of reasons. Unlike Rukh-1, Our Ukraine has a socio-economic program, and about two-thirds Yushchenko's typical campaign stump speech is devoted to laying out this program. The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and the oligarchs voted no-confidence in Yushchenko's government in April 2001, despite his record as prime minister in 1999-2001, when he paid back wages and pensions and presided over Ukraine's first period of economic growth in a decade. This track record seems to be working in Our Ukraine's favor.

In Yushchenko, Our Ukraine has a charismatic leader who is able to bridge the gap between citizens and rulers, a gap that was already large during the Soviet era and which grew wider in the 1990s. Our Ukraine has managed to reunite the two wings of Rukh and the successor to the KNDS, the Christian Republican Party. Our Ukraine now includes 25 political parties, including liberal, patriotic, and Christian-democratic factions, as well as the Federation of Trade Unions.It has also broadened Rukh-1's old social base by incorporating pragmatic bankers and others from the financial sector, as well as representatives of business and state officials. Roman Bezsmertnyy, political coordinator of Our Ukraine, is still the president's representative in parliament and is a former member of the Republican Party and of the People's Democrats (NDP). Bezsmertnyy resigned from the NDP after he joined Our Ukraine and the NDP aligned with For a United Ukraine (ZYU).

Pragmatists have been attracted to Our Ukraine because it defines itself as an alternative -- rather than an opposition -- in a country where optimism for a better future has all but evaporated. If Rukh-1 could be described as romantic, Rukh-2/Our Ukraine is purely pragmatic, Ukraine's first real alternative to either a sort of return to the past as envisioned by the KPU or continued muddling along with no clear strategy, as favored by the oligarchs.

It was always a mistake for Western and Russian commentators to categorize post-1992 Rukh-1 as "nationalist," a holdover from the Soviet era, when a "Ukrainian nationalist" was by definition from western Ukraine, spoke Ukrainian and supported center-right parties. It is also a mistake to define Our Ukraine as "nationalist." Our Ukraine supports the Jewish former mayor of Odesa, Eduard Hurfits, who is now running on the Our Ukraine party list. In mid-March, Our Ukraine condemned anti-Semitic leaflets that had been circulated against Hurfits. Our Ukraine's party list also includes Crimean Tatars and ethnic Russians. Volodymyr Hrynyov, a Kharkiv-based former head of the Russophile Social-Liberal (SLON) alliance during the 1998 elections, is now supporting Our Ukraine. The hard-line national-democratic and nationalist parties have joined Tymoshenko's bloc, not Our Ukraine.

A comparison of public-opinion polls conducted by several organizations in mid-March by the Internet publication "Ukrayinska Pravda" gave Our Ukraine a popularity rating of between 24 and 33 percent, far higher than pro-presidential blocs or the KPU and an increase from 18.8 percent a month earlier. UCEPS predicts that this could reach as high as 29.3 percent, due primarily to Yushchenko's personal popularity. Unlike Rukh-1, Our Ukraine's more pragmatic program has generated support in eastern and southern Ukraine, albeit far less than in western Ukraine where polls give it 50-percent support.

Yushchenko has refrained from criticizing the government, and its only criticism is directed at oligarchic groups such as the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o) and former Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko's NDP, which is one of five parties that make up ZYU. "The SDPU-o is as likely to evolve into social democrats as sea lions into lions," Yushchenko tells his supporters at rallies. Yushchenko has also ridiculed the claim that the 1997-1999 Pustovoytenko government laid the foundation for Ukraine's economic revival, claiming that Ukraine was on the verge of bankruptcy when Yushchenko himself became prime minister in December 1999.

It is also wrong to consider Our Ukraine "nationalist" because its support for radical economic and political reforms and for Ukraine's integration into European and trans-Atlantic structures are hardly traditionally nationalist positions. Our Ukraine simply seeks to take back from the oligarchs control of a country that was propelled to independence by Rukh-1 in 1989-1991. That is what Yushenko means when he tells supporters at rallies, "This is your Ukraine! This is your Ukraine!"

Our Ukraine argues that the national revolution successfully launched by Rukh-1 needs to be completed now by a democratic revolution led by Rukh-2. One of the priorities for Ukraine is to overcome its "crisis of power" and change its "momentocracy" for a medium- to long-term plan. "Over the last 10 years, no system has been created that would guarantee Ukrainian democracy," Yushchenko wrote in the weekly "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya."

Our Ukraine has entered Ukraine's political arena during a generational change similar to that experienced by Russia in the late 1990s. Our Ukraine is a young bloc, with an average age of 40 among its candidates. The generation represented by former President Boris Yeltsin in Russia and Kravchuk and Kuchma in Ukraine will go into retirement in two years' time. The generation following them, represented by Vladimir Putin in Russia and Yushchenko in Ukraine, are now taking their places. If Our Ukraine does well in the elections, it could serve as a powerful launch pad should Yushchenko decide to run for the presidency in 2004.Taras Kuzio is a research fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

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