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Newsline - April 10, 2002


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN GERMANY WITH ENORMOUS DELEGATION...
Vladimir Putin arrived in Weimar on 9 April for informal talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder within the framework the bilateral initiatives started last year and known as the St. Petersburg Forum, Russian and Western news agencies reported. According to Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, the two leaders will discuss Russia's debts to Germany and the improved relations between Moscow and NATO. Putin is accompanied on the two-day visit by an impressive delegation including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Lebedev, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, and Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi. The delegation also includes Gazprom head Aleksei Miller, Russian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska, and many prominent business and cultural figures. VY

...PUSHES FOR INCREASED RUSSIAN ENERGY EXPORTS TO EU
Speaking at the first session of the Russian-German forum in Weimar on 9 April, President Putin called on the EU to revise its energy-import rules to allow for more Russian energy exports, Russian news agencies reported. In order to ensure the diversification of its energy suppliers, the EU currently does not allow the import of more than 30 percent of its energy from a single outside source. Putin argued that this restriction should not apply to Russia, because "Russia is part of Europe." He said that if Europe continues to treat Russia as an "alien source," then Russia will be reluctant to intensify its energy cooperation with the EU that the union seeks for stabilizing its commodities markets. However, Putin said that if the restriction is lifted, Moscow will agree to long-term obligations for energy supplies to the EU. VY

MOSCOW REFUSES TO BUDGE ON OIL-EXPORT POLICY
Speaking at the Eurasian Economic Forum in Almaty on 9 April, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that Moscow will not increase or cut its oil exports as a result of Iraq's decision to suspend its oil output, RBK reported. "Baghdad's decision is economically negligent and therefore, will not impact our level of exports," Khristenko remarked. VY

EES LAUNCHES TRANSCONTINENTAL FIBER-OPTIC PROJECT
Unified Energy Systems (EES) has signed a contract with the Cyprus company FTA Enterprises Ltd., which plans to develop over the next five years a transcontinental fiber-optic telecommunications network comprising Europe and Asia and known as the Trans-Russian Optical Network (TRON), "Vedomosti" reported on 9 April. According to the $1 billion contract, FTA Enterprises, whose ownership has not been disclosed to the public, will lay down telecommunication lines alongside the EES electrical grid. The first phase of the project, known as the "Baltic ring," will connect St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Ventspils, and Riga. In the next stages the project will link Russia and Europe to Japan, South Korea, and China. VY

ENERGY MINISTRY SEEKS CUTS IN POWER USE
The Russian Energy Ministry will ask the country's industrial enterprises to dramatically cut their energy use, RBK reported on 9 April, citing government sources. The ministry will ask Russian companies to cut energy usage by 30 percent by 2010, and by another 30 percent by 2015. The issue will be discussed at a special meeting on energy strategy that the ministry has scheduled for 14 April. BW

RUSSIAN MEDIA MINISTER PROMISES TO CUT FUNDING FOR 'POLITICALLY ORIENTED MEDIA'...
Speaking at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on 9 April, Mikhail Lesin defended the Russian government's policies pertaining to independent media but admitted that "developments surrounding the NTV and TV-6 companies certainly had a political background, and there is no denying it," RIA-Novosti reported. He also announced that the Russian government will cut 90 percent of the financing for what it deems to be "politically oriented mass media." Lesin, who is in the United States to discuss the development of free media in Russia, went on to stress the importance of Russian-U.S. dialogue on mass-media matters, which he said "will raise the question of RFE/RL's broadcasting in the North Caucasian languages." VY

...SAYS RUSSIAN MEDIA SHOULD NOT BE HELD TO U.S. STANDARDS
Lesin also said on 9 April that Russia's media is experiencing "growing pains" and that it would be unfair to hold them to U.S. standards at this stage, Reuters reported. Noting that U.S. media have been independent for more than a century, Lesin said, "Let us remember how this 100-year-old gentleman looked when he was 10 years old. He did not have any problems at that time?" BW

AUDIT CHAMBER UNCOVERS MISUSE OF FOREIGN LOANS IN ST. PETERSBURG...
The Audit Chamber has made public its probe of misappropriation of foreign loans given to the government of St. Petersburg to prepare for celebrations of its 300th anniversary, abn.ru reported on 9 April. According to the investigation, city authorities misused some of a $46 million loan released by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In particular, $11.5 million was used for "disproportionately high payments to foreign consulting services," and $2.3 million was spent on "project realization support personnel." VY

...AS PROSECUTOR OPENS INVESTIGATION OF $200 MILLION EMBEZZLEMENT
Based on documents provided by the State Audit Chamber, the Prosecutor-General's Office has launched a criminal investigation into a $200 million loan provided by the British government for the reconstruction of the historical center of the city, abn.ru reported on 9 April. The money was allegedly redirected by the company Rapid Highways (VSM). Because the credit was provided under federal guarantees, and because VSM is nearly insolvent, the federal government has already lost $64.3 million including $27.5 in overdue payments, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti the same day. VY

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND TRADE MINISTRY ARGUES WITH PUTIN
Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Arkadii Dvorkovich has publicly challenged President Putin's criticism of the Russian government's lower-than-expected projections for economic growth, polit.ru reported on 9 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). Speaking to journalists at a presentation the government's economic program in Moscow, Dvorkovich said that "it is not feasible to substantially change the prognosis on middle-term economic growth rates." In addition, he said the planning of budget policy based on figures that are higher than those already projected would be risky. VY

BANKER DECRIES LACK OF ACCESS TO FOREIGN CREDIT
A leading banker complained on 9 April that Russian financial institutions and businesses lack access to foreign credit, Interfax reported. The "limited" opportunity to borrow abroad, Vneshtorgbank President Yuri Ponomarev told a banking forum in Weimar, Germany, impedes small and medium-sized business in Russia. One solution, according to Ponomarev, would be for Russian banks and businesses to adopt international accounting standards. "Leading German institutions, including state ones, could give Russian banks methodological assistance in this matter," he said. He also said government supervision is essential for Russian-German financial and banking cooperation. "The better the control, the fewer crises and the more confidence on the part of investors," he said. BW

MARS ANNOUNCES $120 MILLION PROJECT IN MOSCOW REGION
The Mars Corporation has launched a $120 million project to produce instant soup in the Lukhovitsii district of the Moscow region, deputy chief of the regional administration Anatolii Volkov said on 9 April, Interfax reported. The new facility is scheduled to begin production in September or October. Volkov also announced that raw materials for making the soups are likely to be purchased locally. Mars has been operating in Russia since 1991, and has invested more than $500 million in the country's economy. BW

NEW AIRLINE DIRECTOR INSTALLED BY FORCE
Security services of the East Line airline company supported by local police seized an office belonging to Domodedovo Airlines on 9 April in an effort to install a new general director, gazeta.ru reported. Officials from the Property, Transportation, and Civil Aviation Ministries were planning to come to the scene to introduce Andrei Maslov to employees as the new general director of Domodedovo Airlines. BW

EIGHTEEN INJURED IN BATTLE FOR FURNITURE FACTORY
Eighteen people were injured when court bailiffs attempted to enter the premises of Moscow's Mosmebel furniture factory on 10 April, Interfax reported. Workers at the factory had barricaded the entrance to prevent court bailiffs from entering the building with the company's new owner. The factory's old management, in protest of a court ruling, was refusing to allow the new owners to take control of the business. After a massive fight, 10 ambulances had to be called to the scene. BW

RUSSIAN TROOPS END NEW SWEEP IN TSOTAN-YURT
Russian forces ended their blockade of the village of Tsotan-Yurt on 10 April after detaining 28 suspected Chechen fighters in the latest of a series of search operations, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 April 2002). LF

CHECHEN LEADER HOPES FOR INCREASED POWERS
In a 9 April interview in Moscow with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said President Putin has approved increasing the authorities of the Chechen administration and scaling back those of the Russian military command in Chechnya. LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY COMMANDER IN CHECHNYA SAYS SEIZED MISSILES ARE GEORGIAN
A check of the identification numbers proves that the two "Igla" surface-to-air missiles recently found in Chechnya's southern Vedeno Raion were part of the armaments that Georgia inherited from the former Soviet Army, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, the commander of the combined federal forces in Chechnya, told ITAR-TASS on 10 April. The Georgian Defense Ministry issued a statement on 5 April denying that the missiles were Georgian property (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). LF

DOCUMENTS CONFISCATED FROM HEADQUARTERS OF DISQUALIFIED INGUSH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
FSB personnel and OMON troops cordoned off an entire district in Nazran on 9 April where the headquarters of former Interior Minister Khamzat Gutseriev are located and seized documentation pertaining to his unsuccessful presidential bid, Interfax reported. On 5 April the Russian Supreme Court ruled that Gutseriev, who was tipped as the favorite, should be barred from running the Ingush presidential election on 7 April. None of the remaining eight candidates won an outright victory, and a runoff between Alikhan Amirkhanov, who expressed his support for Gutseriev, and FSB General Murat Zyazikov is to be held by 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). LF

SIGNATORIES AIM TO UPGRADE CIS SECURITY TREATY
Meeting in Yerevan on 9 April, deputy defense and foreign ministers from the six signatory states to the CIS Collective Security Treaty (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) discussed the possibility of transforming the Collective Security Treaty into an international organization corresponding to the UN charter, Noyan Tapan reported. Valerii Nikolaenko, who is secretary-general of the CIS Collective Security Council, said that it is not anticipated that any new members will accede to the treaty. Also discussed was the possibility of creating three separate divisions for cooperation between signatory states: Armenia and Russia, Belarus and Russia, and the three Central Asian signatory states. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM OF TV TENDER
Robert Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 9 April that he rejects the conclusion drawn by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan last week that the closure of the independent TV station A1+ following its failed bid to retain its broadcast frequency constitutes a threat to media freedom, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2002). Kocharian challenged journalists to cite any occasion during the past three-four years when he has exerted pressure on them, and pointed out that the U.S. Embassy statement did not question the legality of the tender for the broadcast frequency used by A1+, which was won by the Sharm company. Kocharian again denied having influenced the nine-man commission that decided the tender outcome, and rejected the argument that the silencing of A1+ could jeopardize free and fair media coverage of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. He pointed out that the election law guarantees parties and presidential candidates equal access to the media. LF

ARMENIA POSTS RECORD Q1 GROWTH
Visiting a textile factory in Yerevan on 9 April, Kocharian announced that Armenia achieved 20 percent economic growth during the first three months of this year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That figure is the highest ever recorded. He added that exports over that period rose by 40 percent compared with the corresponding period for 2001. Kocharian said that economic growth could provide some 20,000-25,000 new jobs this year, including 10,000 in industry and 12,000 in construction, according to Noyan Tapan. But he warned that sustained growth, and thus the number of new jobs, will depend in part on political stability and on "how aggressive the opposition will be." LF

RUSSIANS DETAINED IN AZERBAIJAN HANDED OVER TO RUSSIAN EMBASSY
The five Russians detained in Baku last week on suspicion of espionage were handed over to the Russian Embassy late on 8 April at Moscow's request, Turan reported the following day. The men's affiliation is unclear: Turan reported that they initially claimed to be employed by a private security firm in Moscow, and later said they were officers of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). But the newspapers "Rossiya" and "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 April both said that the five initially claimed to work for the FSB, but subsequently admitted that they worked for a private company. Two of the men were said to have been detained close to President Heidar Aliev's residence, which they had videotaped; but Turan quoted them as saying that they were shadowing Chechens. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Visiting Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze and his Azerbaijani counterpart Colonel General Safar Abiev signed a protocol in Baku on 9 April on bilateral military cooperation, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The two ministers discussed regional security, their two countries' cooperation with NATO, combating terrorism and "aggressive separatism," and various aspects of bilateral cooperation, including protecting oil- and gas-export pipelines that transit the two countries. They also discussed, and in remarks to journalists stressed the importance of, strengthening their respective air-defense systems. Tevzadze assured journalists that military intervention by Georgia in Abkhazia is not on the agenda "at this stage," ITAR-TASS reported. But he added that Tbilisi will not tolerate indefinitely the abuse of the rights of Georgian and other residents of the breakaway unrecognized republic. Caucasus Press on 10 April reported that Tevzadze also met with President Aliev and Prime Minister Artur Rasizade. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DENIES PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS
In a statement released on 9 April, parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov rejected media speculation that he aspires to become president, Turan reported on 10 April. An unsigned article in the newspaper "Tezadlar" had suggested that if President Heidar Aliev were constrained by mass demonstrations to step down, Alesqerov might become acting president (in compliance with the constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic), and President Aliev's son Ilham would succeed Alesqerov as parliament speaker, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported on 9 April. Also on 10 April, "Hurriyet" reported that the Azerbaijani diaspora in Russia, some of whose representatives traveled to Baku to meet with President Aliev on 8 April, wants Ilham Aliev to succeed his father as president. LF

MOSCOW'S ENVOY FOR ABKHAZIA BLAMES ATTACK ON CIS PEACEKEEPERS ON GEORGIA...
Speaking in Moscow on 9 April, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loschinin, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin recently named his special envoy for talks on resolving the Abkhaz conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002), assessed the prospects for a settlement of that conflict, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. He noted that neither the Georgian nor the Abkhaz leadership is happy with the wording of the UN draft document on the "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi," and that the incursion into the Kodori Gorge last October of Chechen militants led by field commander Ruslan Gelaev aggravated tensions between the two sides. Echoing the statement released on 8 April by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Loshchinin said the multiple attacks on CIS peacekeepers in the Abkhaz conflict zone during the night of 6-7 April could not have taken place without the permission of the Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). Also on 9 April, the commander of the Russian ground forces, Lieutenant General Valerii Yevnevich, warned that the peacekeepers will return fire if they are subjected to further attack, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

...AS DISPLACED PERSONS CLAIM ABKHAZ PREPARING ATTACK ON KODORI GORGE
"Rezonansi" on 10 April quoted Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, as warning that the Abkhaz are concentrating troops and military hardware in the village of Akarmara in Tkvarcheli Raion in preparation for attacking the nearby Kodori Gorge at some point before 20 April. Nadareishvili warned last week that the Georgian troops deployed in the gorge should not be withdrawn or Tbilisi would risk losing control over the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 8 April that there is no evidence that the Abkhaz are preparing such an attack. LF

PENTAGON: NO DATE SET FOR ARRIVAL OF U.S. MILITARY INSTRUCTORS IN GEORGIA
ITAR-TASS on 9 April quoted a spokesman for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff as telling journalists that Washington has not yet decided how many military instructors to send to Georgia or when. President Shevardnadze and Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili have both said the instructors will arrive in Georgia before the end of this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER DISCUSS ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Meeting in Almaty on 9 April on the sidelines of the Eurasian Economic Summit, Nursultan Nazarbaev and Viktor Khristenko discussed the terms of a midterm agreement on the export of Kazakh crude via Russian pipelines, which Khristenko later told journalists will be signed within two months, Interfax reported. Also to be signed in early May is an intergovernmental agreement on demarcating the modified median line dividing the two countries' respective sectors of the Caspian Sea bed. Khristenko and Nazarbaev also discussed the cooperation within the CIS and the Eurasian Economic Community, and preparation for the summit of Caspian littoral states to be held in Ashgabat later this month. Khristenko also met with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Imanghali Tasmaghambetov to discuss Kazakhstan's involvement in the North-South Transport Corridor. LF

KAZAKHSTAN SKEPTICAL OVER OIL EXPORT VIA AFGHANISTAN
Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told journalists in Almaty on 8 April that at present the country's leadership does not consider the possibility of exporting oil via Afghanistan realistic, Interfax reported. Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are hoping to resurrect plans for oil- and gas-export pipelines from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT'S LOWER CHAMBER SOFT-PEDALS ON AKSY INVESTIGATION...
The ongoing discussion of the circumstances of the 17-18 March clashes in Djalalabad's Aksy Raion in which five people died triggered a split in the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament) on 9 April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau. Thirty-six of the 60 deputies voted in favor of asking President Askar Akaev to take under his personal control the government commission investigating the clashes. They also proposed that the government adopt a special program to improve social and economic conditions in Aksy. Deputies from the "Kyrgyzstan" group and the Communist Party faction walked out in protest prior to the vote and convened a press conference at which "Kyrgyzstan" group leader Ishenbai Kadyrbekov called for the resignation of Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev, Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev, and Djalalabad Oblast officials believed to share responsibility for the fatalities. Abyshkaev heads the government commission investigating the clashes. LF

...WHILE UPPER CHAMBER DECRIES 'DOUBLE STANDARDS'
During a 9 April debate on the state of law and order, the People's Assembly (the upper chamber of the Kyrgyz legislature) noted that the Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies are guilty of double standards, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Deputies adduced the criminal case brought after an interval of seven years against parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, which they contrasted with numerous decisions to drop criminal proceedings brought against senior government officials. LF

KYRGYZ OBLAST HEAD REQUESTS TANKS
Mamat Aibaliev, governor of Batken Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan, asked visiting Defense Minister Esen Topoev and Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov on 9 April to send tanks to the oblast to protect the population, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He pointed to frequent cases in which Uzbek border guards open fire on Kyrgyz citizens on disputed sections of the two countries' common border. LF

WORLD BANK PRESIDENT VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
James Wolfensohn met in Bishkek on 9 April with President Akaev and Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev to discuss the poverty reduction program sponsored by the bank and its subsidies for Kyrgyz agriculture, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

UZBEKISTAN FEARS AIDS EPIDEMIC
Uzbekistan is "at the early stages of an AIDS epidemic," Interfax quoted the country's chief epidemiologist, Bakhtiyar Niyazmatov, as telling journalists in Tashkent on 9 April. He gave the number of AIDS patients as 779 (of a population of 25 million), two-thirds of them intravenous drug users, but added if the incidence of HIV infection continues to grow at the present rate it may result in an epidemic. He said over 200 medical stations have been opened at which drug addicts may seek advice and exchanges used syringes for new ones. In an interview with the National Information Agency of Uzbekistan on 9 April, First Deputy Minister of Health Damin Asadov said that as part of a sweeping reform of the country's medical facilities, a new network of 2,800 first aid posts is to be created nationwide by 2005; 1,600 such facilities have been opened to date. LF

BELARUSIAN COURT POSTPONES TRIAL OF JOURNALISTS...
The Lenin District Court in Hrodna (northwestern Belarus) on 9 April postponed the trial of Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka, journalists from the closed weekly "Pahonya," saying that the judge who was expected to preside over the trial has been hospitalized, Belarusian media reported. Markevich and Mazheyka are accused of libeling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In the run-up to the 9 September 2001 presidential election, "Pahonya" headed by Markevich published an article questioning whether Lukashenka could run for re-election while being widely suspected of involvement in disappearances of people opposed to his regime. More than 100 people came to the courtroom on 9 April to watch the trial. "The regime wants to cool down the enthusiasm of the people," Belapan quoted Markevich as saying. Some 50 journalists in Bialystok (northeastern Poland) picketed the local Belarusian Consulate to protest the trial in Hrodna, which they view as political persecution. JM

...BUT MANAGES TO JAIL PROMINENT OPPOSITION LEADER
The same day, the same court sentenced Professor Yury Khadyka, the deputy chairman of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, to 10 days in jail for his participation in an unauthorized rally in Hrodna on 24 March to mark Freedom Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). Khadyka condemned the sentence as "an open breach of both the constitution and the Human Rights Declaration, [as well as] a gross violation of the first condition set by the international community for providing aid to Belarus," Belapan reported. "Lukashenka defies these conditions, thus preventing an end to the economic blockade and further aggravating the life of the people," Khadyka said. He has begun a hunger strike in protest against his detention. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CONTINUES COURTING POTENTIAL RUSSIAN INVESTORS
President Lukashenka met on 9 April with the chief executives of Russia's Surgutneftegaz and Slavneft oil companies, Vladimir Bogdanov and Mikhail Gutseriev, respectively, Belapan reported. According to the presidential press service, Lukashenka at his meetings with potential investors tries to convince them that Belarus will strictly comply with investment agreements and that privatization will be as transparent as possible. Lukashenka also pledges that the government's decision to privatize some petrochemical enterprises is final and will not be reviewed. The previous day, Lukashenka spoke with LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002) and Itera head Igor Makarov. JM

BELARUSIAN AIRLINE CANCELS FLIGHTS OVER TOUGHER NOISE STANDARDS
The Belarusian national airline Belavia has been forced to abandon several European routes because of the introduction of more rigorous aircraft noise standards in the EU on 1 April, Belapan reported on 9 April, quoting Belavia General Director Anatol Husarau. In particular, Belavia suspended flights to Vienna, Berlin, and Stockholm, and will stop flying to Paris as of 1 May. The flights on other European routes will be continued with Belavia's four Tu-154M planes, which are unaffected by the new standards. JM

BELARUSIAN CUSTOMS CHIEF SET TO CRACK DOWN ON CORRUPTION
Belarusian State Customs Committee Chairman Alyaksandr Shpileuski warned customs officers in Brest (southwestern Belarus) on 9 April that the committee is planning new measures to root out corruption in their ranks, Belapan reported. He went on to say that all customs checkpoints will be equipped with surveillance cameras to prevent officers from taking bribes. "I met with the president recently and showed him [the pictures of] the houses of some customs officers, including from Brest. I know the owners of these luxury houses by name. It is impossible to earn so much money," Shpileuski noted. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES FORMATION OF PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY...
Leonid Kuchma met with representatives of the For a United Ukraine bloc and urged the creation of a parliamentary coalition centered on this bloc to support the government, UNIAN reported. According to Kuchma, the Ukrainian parliament is facing two options. One is for the legislature "to rise above its political and other ambitions and form a strong enough force to move ahead," while the other is "to leave the parliament in its permanent condition" with three uncooperative groups: the leftists, the rightists, and "a quagmire in the middle." JM

...AS PRO-PRESIDENTIAL BLOC LEADER VOICES THREE CONDITIONS...
For a United Ukraine leader Volodymyr Lytvyn said on 9 April that his bloc will stick to three "axiomatic" propositions in talks about forming a future majority, UNIAN reported. According to Lytvyn, no workable majority can be formed without For a Ukraine. Second, For a United Ukraine should act as an initiator and coordinator of parliamentary coalition talks. Third, the parliamentary majority is to be formed on a platform of market-oriented, democratic reform, and Ukraine's choice on European integration. Lytvyn predicted that the For a United Ukraine parliamentary caucus will expand to 180 deputies by absorbing many of those lawmakers who were elected on an independent ticket. JM

...AND YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC CALLS FOR OPPOSITION TALKS
The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc has appealed to Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party, and lawmakers who won seats in the Verkhovna Rada on an independent ticket to immediately begin consultations on the formation of a democratic parliamentary majority and a new government, UNIAN reported on 10 April. The appeal says that For a United Ukraine has no "moral right" to speak in the name of the people and form a parliamentary majority. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc claims that For a United Ukraine is now resorting to blackmail, threats, and bribery to recruit into its ranks as many lawmakers as possible from those elected on an independent ticket. JM

ELECTION INVALIDATED IN CONSTITUENCY IN WESTERN UKRAINE
The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 9 April invalidated the results of the parliamentary ballot in constituency No. 90 (Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast) and annulled its former decision to register Roman Zvarych (supported by Our Ukraine) as a deputy elected from this constituency, UNIAN reported. The invalidation followed a complaint claiming that the district election commission's decision to withdraw several candidates from the ballot -- including the slain Ivano-Frankivsk deputy governor, Mykola Shkriblyak (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 April 2002) -- was not passed to polling stations promptly. The failure to make relevant changes to the ballots, according to the CEC, distorted the voting results. JM

ESTONIAN KGB-LIQUIDATION INVESTIGATION COMMISSION SUBMITS FINAL REPORT
The final report of the parliament's special commission investigating the liquidation of the Estonian KGB concluded that the state of Estonia has no special obligations to former employees and pensioners of the Soviet secret service, BNS reported on 9 April. It stated that no binding agreements were signed during the liquidation of the Estonian KGB to give its former employees or their families any "special rights and liberties, including the granting of citizenship or residence permits." The head of the commission, Pro Patria parliament deputy Aimar Altosaar, said there is sufficient evidence that such an agreement had been prepared, but it was never signed or brought into effect. He noted that the liquidation was very sloppy and that the government in 1991 had been insufficiently persistent and resolute in demanding the turnover of KGB files, or in preventing local KGB offices from removing them. SG

EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COURT RULES AGAINST LATVIA
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Latvia violated the European Convention on Human Rights by forbidding Ingrida Podkolzina from participating in the parliamentary elections in 1998 owing to her alleged inadequate knowledge of the Latvian language, LETA reported on 9 April. She had obtained the required language certificate from the State Language Center, but one of its examiners later decided that she was not sufficiently proficient and her name was removed from the list of candidates. The ECHR awarded Podkolzina 7,500 euros ($6,563) plus 1,500 euros for legal costs and expenses. Kristine Malinovska, Latvia's representative for human rights institutions, said the verdict was expected and showed that the current measures to protect the Latvian language in the parliament are inadequate. She expressed satisfaction that the court recognized Latvia's right to determine the working language of its parliament. SG

DANISH PARLIAMENT SPEAKER VISITS LITHUANIA
A Danish parliamentary delegation headed by its chairman, Ivar Hansen, visited Lithuania on 7-9 April, ELTA reported. On 8 April he assured his Lithuanian counterpart Arturas Paulauskas that Denmark fully backs Lithuania's entry into the EU and will support its efforts to obtain higher agricultural production quotas. Hansen also stressed that Lithuania must close the second block of its nuclear power plant at Ignalina by 2009, as requested by the EU. The next day, Hansen held talks with President Valdas Adamkus during which he expressed his hope that Lithuania will complete its negotiations for EU membership in the second half of the year while Denmark is heading the EU presidency. In his speech to the parliament, Hansen repeated pledges of Danish support for Lithuania's entry into NATO and the EU, and called for greater political cooperation and broader bilateral contacts in such fields as tourism, culture, education, science, and business. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT WANTS PROTECTIVE TARIFFS, BAN ON SUPERMARKET PRICE DUMPING
The government has approved a draft law allowing for the introduction of equalizing tariffs on imported industrial and agricultural goods subsidized by other countries, PAP reported on 9 April. Under the proposed law, temporary tariffs may be introduced if the import of a given subsidized product is said to harm the domestic industry. The government also adopted amendments to the law on market competition. The amendments ban below-market prices in large supermarkets in a bid "to protect smaller companies from rivalry with which they cannot cope," the government press service said. Under the new provisions, below-margin sales in stores above 400 square meters will be considered dishonest competition. JM

SOLIDARITY CALLS FOR WITHDRAWAL OF LABOR CODE AMENDMENTS
The leadership of the Solidarity trade union has called on the government to withdraw the planned amendments to the Labor Code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002) from the parliament in order to give "social partners" time to discuss the issue, PAP reported on 9 April. According to Solidarity, there are chances for the unions to agree with employers' organizations on the way to abolish regulations criticized by unionists. Solidarity warned that the proposed amendments may give rise to social unrest. JM

CZECH AGRICULTURAL MINISTER SEEKS BETTER DEAL FOR FARMERS
Jan Fencl said on 9 April that the conditions of his country's farmers need to improve before the Czech Republic joins the EU, Radio Praha reported. Fencl made his comments after meeting with Dutch Agriculture Minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst on 8 April. Fencl said that while EU farmers receive $655 per hectare in government subsidies, Czech farmers only receive $130. He also said import restrictions designed to protect the Czech agricultural sector are far lower than in the EU. BW

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS POLITICAL LEADERS ON BENES DECREES...
The Foreign Ministry announced that Jan Kavan will meet the leaders of major Czech political parties to discuss solving the controversy over the Benes Decrees, CTK reported on 8 April. The meeting will seek to formulate a common position on the decrees, which have been sharply criticized by German, Austrian, Hungarian, and EU politicians. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said Christian Democratic Party Chairman Cyril Svoboda, Freedom Union head Hana Marvanova, Communist Party Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek, and Civic Democratic Alliance head Michael Zantovsky will attend the meeting. BW

...AS EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER SET TO EASE TENSIONS
In an attempt to ease tensions over the Benes Decrees, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen will travel to Prague on 11 April, CTK reported. The decrees sanctioned the expulsion of Czechoslovakia's large ethnic German community after World War II. Verheugen has previously said the decrees will not affect the Czech Republic's bid to join the EU. BW

BILL REGULATING OVERSEAS VOTING PASSES LOWER HOUSE
The lower house of the Czech parliament has passed legislation addressing the problem of voting by Czech citizens living abroad, CTK reported on 9 April. Polls in the Czech Republic close at 2:00 p.m. local time, but voting in Czech consulates closes hours later. The time lag delays the reporting of election results, which must wait until all polls have closed. Under the amendment, Czechs living in time zones more than four hours behind the Czech Republic will be able to cast their vote a day earlier. The amendment must now be approved by the Senate and signed by the president. BW

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES BILL ON SOVEREIGNTY OF SLOVAK REPUBLIC...
The Slovak parliament has begun discussions of one of two bills submitted by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) in reaction to the Hungarian Status Law, TASR reported on 9 April. KDH introduced the bill last month, claiming that the Slovak government does not understand the "urgency to do something on the matter." KDH Vice Chairman Vladimir Palko described as "bribery" financial contributions from Hungary to families, and said the influencing of Slovak citizens by a foreign state is "unconstitutional." The KDH bill was criticized by some parliamentarians, while Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said he regrets the measures taken by "friends from the KDH." AS

...WHILE HUNGARIAN PARTY SUGGESTS NOT DISCUSSING IT
The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) has reacted with "disgust" to the KDH bill on the sovereignty of Slovakia, TASR reported on 9 April. SMK representative Arpad Duka-Zolyomi said the purpose of the bill is to curry the votes of nationalist voters prior to upcoming elections, and to "paralyze the Hungarian community in Slovakia." He called on the parliament to not discuss it, and said the "Hungarian law" does not interfere with the judicial code and therefore does not affect Slovakia's sovereignty. AS

SDL CHAIRMAN AGAIN CALLS UPON SLOVAKIA'S EDUCATION MINISTER TO RESIGN
On 9 April, Party of Democratic Left (SDL) Chairman Pavel Koncos again called on Education Minister Milan Ftacnik to resign, TASR reported. Koncos said that according to the coalition treaty, the post belongs to the SDL. Ftacnik has left the party and joined the recently created Social Democratic Alternative (SDA), but he refuses to resign from his ministry post. In related news, Ftacnik on 10 April confirmed to TASR that he is a candidate for the post of SDA chairman. AS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER FOREWARNS ABOUT A SOCIALIST GOVERNMENT
Viktor Orban told a FIDESZ campaign rally at Budapest's University of Physical Education on 9 April that all the achievements of his government are in jeopardy, as the Socialist Party (MSZP) will exclusively favor international capital that cares only for its own profit, Hungarian media reported. Orban said the MSZP wants to offer an additional monthly (13th-month) pension so the elderly can afford to pay for its plan to raise gas prices. He also warned that in the event that the Socialists return to power, there will be a breakdown in public security, and that the MSZP's program includes permitting the legal use of "certain drugs." The elections were not decided in the first round, Orban told the gathering, adding that FIDESZ was the first party in Hungary's post-communist history to increase its number of votes by 200,000 after four years in power. Some tens of thousands of people -- according to Hungarian Television, as many as 100,000 -- blocked traffic in front of the university to listen to Orban's speech. MSZ

MEDGYESSY UPBEAT ON HUNGARIAN ELECTION PROSPECTS
Socialist prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy met in Budapest on 9 April with more than 20 foreign ambassadors accredited to Hungary, including U.S. Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker, telling them that his party will follow up its first-place showing in the first-round parliamentary elections with a win in the second round, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Medgyessy said that as prime minister he will represent all 15 million Hungarians, adding that he wants to meet the representatives of ethnic Hungarians abroad as soon as possible. Medgyessy concluded by saying that the strength of the MSZP rests in its European-style social democratic platform, which he said represents openness toward both liberal and moderately conservative values. MSZ

HUNGARY'S FREE DEMOCRAT LEADER EXCLUDES COOPERATION WITH FIDESZ
Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze, whose party finished third in the first round of parliamentary elections, announced on 9 April that cooperation with FIDESZ is inconceivable after that party's record over the past four years, Hungarian dailies reported. Kuncze said, "Every bit of information suggests that the government has already started packing," adding that "they are unfortunately beginning to pack things they should not, and want to leave behind what they could take with them." For example, he said, "They could take with them their style, arrogance, and unacceptable handling of public funds, but should leave behind a viable budget." Government spokesman Gabor Borokai said the same day that Orban has asked his ministers "to continue their work calmly and steadily." MSZ

YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT OK'S 'WATERED DOWN' BILL ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE...
Late on 9 April, the federal government unanimously approved a measure to allow limited cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported from Belgrade. In response to the demands of Montenegro's Socialist People's Party (SNP), the bill permits the extradition only of persons already indicted publicly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). It does not allow the extradition of persons who will be indicted in the future or those indicted in secret. The Yugoslav parliament must approve the bill before it can become law. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic once again said he expects the first extraditions to take place in the near future, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

...BUT IS IT ENOUGH?
Observers note that it is not clear whether the Yugoslav bill on cooperation with The Hague will be enough to satisfy the tribunal or Washington, which has frozen $40 million in assistance to Belgrade. Djindjic told Reuters in the Serbian capital on 9 April that "cooperation is our obligation, but it is up to us how we regulate it." It is not certain, however, that Belgrade will have the last word. Jean-Jacques Joris, adviser to chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, told the news agency: "It's not a bazaar. You cannot negotiate cooperation." Matias Hellman, the tribunal's representative in Belgrade, told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 10 April that "Yugoslavia is obliged under international law to cooperate with the tribunal not only now, but in the future as well." He stressed that The Hague alone has the right to determine when and where indicted war criminals can be brought to justice. Hellman added that some 20 of the 30 publicly indicted war criminals are believed to be in Serbia or Montenegro. The EU has said it will not impose sanctions if Belgrade fails to cooperate with the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). PM

GREEN LIGHT FOR NEW UNION OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO...
On 9 April, the parliaments of both Serbia and Montenegro approved the measure aimed at preserving their joint state, which was worked out in March under heavy pressure from the EU, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March and 9 April 2002). The Serbian parliament passed the measure with 146 in favor and 79 against. Voting for the measure were legislators from the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition, except for deputies from New Serbia (NS) and the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia (DHSS), which want an independent Serbia. Also voting against were legislators from former President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which called the EU-sponsored agreement "ustasha," Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported on 10 April. Djindjic argued that "Serbia has lost nothing" in agreeing to the deal, "Danas" reported. PM

...BUT NOT WITHOUT POLITICAL FALLOUT IN MONTENEGRO
In the Montenegrin parliament, 58 deputies from President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the pro-Belgrade SNP voted in favor of the measure, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Voting against were 11 deputies from the Liberal Alliance (LSCG) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). One ethnic-Albanian deputy abstained, while another walked out of the chamber before the vote. SDP President Ranko Krivokapic said that the three SDP members of the government and one independent would submit their resignations on 10 April in protest against the DPS's support for the agreement, which they did. The three are: Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Rakcevic, Transport Minister Jusuf Kalamperovic, and Social Welfare Minister Dragisa Burzan. Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac is the independent. The SNP called for parliament to be dissolved and new elections held. The government lost its parliamentary majority earlier when the LSCG withdrew its support. PM

WHAT FUTURE FOR MONTENEGRO'S COALITION?
It is not clear whether the DPS, LSCG, and SDP will field a joint list of candidates in the local elections on 15 May, as the DPS wants, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica on 9 April. Nor is it clear whether the three parties will be able to agree on a new government. EU security policy chief Javier Solana has invited Krivokapic and Miodrag Zivkovic, who heads the LSCG, to Brussels for talks later in the week, "Vijesti" reported. PM

WORLD BANK AID FOR SERBIA'S BANKS
Mladjan Dinkic, who heads the Yugoslav National Bank, said in Belgrade on 9 April after returning from the United States that the World Bank has agreed to a credit of $85 million to rebuild Serbia's banking system, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Serbs sought $100 million, but the bank initially offered only $70 million. Dinkic added that the U.S. agreed that the project could begin. PM

STEINER CONDEMNS SERBIAN VIOLENCE IN KOSOVA
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said on 9 April that violence by Serbian extremists against UN police in Mitrovica is unacceptable, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). He stressed that "there are some [extremists]...who want confrontation, not reconciliation," and that the violence "hurts the legitimate interests of Serbs in Kosovo." Elsewhere in Mitrovica, several thousand Serbs demonstrated for the release of an extremist leader held in prison. The next day, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" called Mitrovica "Europe's Ramallah" and urged the international community to get tough with the extremists. PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS DRAFT LAW ON DISARMAMENT
Government spokesman Gjorgji Trendafilov announced on 9 April that the cabinet has adopted a draft law on disarmament and wants the parliament to start considering it soon, MIA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). The government will then ask citizens to turn in illegal weapons to Interior Ministry checkpoints within 45 days. Those who do not comply will be punished according to the law. UB

NATO RAPS SLOVENIA OVER LOW PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR MEMBERSHIP
Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana that NATO officials have told him that "the alliance does not wish to accept countries that do not wish to become members," dpa reported on 10 April. The statement follows the publication of an opinion poll in January suggesting that support in Slovenia for joining the Atlantic alliance is waning, with about 50 percent of the population in favor and 40 percent opposed. Rupel stressed that the public needs to be better informed about NATO membership. He nonetheless added that about 56 percent of Slovenes are in favor of joining. All major Slovenian political parties back NATO membership. PM

ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER DECORATED BY FRENCH PRESIDENT
Adrian Nastase was conferred the Legion of Honor on 9 April by French Ambassador to Romania Pierre Menat, RTV reported. On behalf of French President Jacques Chirac, Menat emphasized the exceptional contribution that Nastase has made to the development of a special partnership between Romania and France. The Legion of Honor medal, the highest French award, was created by Napoleon Bonaparte to reward foreigners who exhibit remarkable merit. Premier Nastase was awarded a Grand Officier -- the second-highest of the five types of Legion of Honor medals. LB

ROMANIAN HUMANIST PARTY THREATENS TO QUIT GOVERNMENT
Romanian Humanist Party (RHP) Chairman Dan Voiculescu openly warned on 9 April that RHP might quit the government if "inconsistencies between the words and actions of the Social Democratic Party continue to come to light," Mediafax reported. During the 2000 elections candidates of RHP, a smaller governmental partner of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), were included on SDP lists and successful RHP senators and deputies subsequently became members of an all-inclusive SDP and RHP party group. However, since those elections the RHP has attracted a sufficient number of parliamentarians who resigned from other parties, which will enable the RHP to form its own parliamentary groups -- a move the SDP is blocking in parliament. RHP Chairman Voiculescu claimed that there are additional reasons that have led him to threaten to resign from his post, but did not elaborate. However, he did mention taking the RHP parliamentary group issue to the Constitutional Court. LB

ROMANIAN RESEARCH ON THE WANE
Romanian Research Minister Constantin Valeca said at the inaugural National Research Congress on 8 April that 23,179 researchers are active in research institutions and centers around the country, just 70 percent of the total four years ago, Mediafax reported. Valeca said increased funding, participation in international programs, the involvement of young people in research activities and, above all, the return of Romanian researchers working abroad are needed to stimulate the research sector. State funding for research hit an all-time low in 2000, when only 0.15 percent of the state budget was allocated. LB

BULGARIAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY CHAIRMAN PROPOSES JOINT SESSION OF ROMANIAN AND BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTS
The secretary of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, Tudor Mohora, announced on 8 April that Bulgarian National Assembly Chairman Ognian Gherdjikov has suggested to the Romanian lower parliamentary chamber a joint session of the two countries' parliaments, Mediafax reported. The intention of such a session would be to affirm the willingness of each country to join NATO. Mohora said the initiative is to be analyzed by Romania's cabinet and Foreign Ministry. LB

CE RAPPORTEURS HOLD TALKS WITH MOLDOVAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL...
Moldovan Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu met on 9 April with Council of Europe (CE) rapporteurs for Moldova, Flux reported. Josette Durieu of France and Lauri Vahtre of Latvia were particularly interested in judicial procedures regarding the arrest of the Gagauz-Yeri leader Ivan Burgudji, and the measures authorities are taking regarding the ongoing protests in Chisinau. Rusu told the rapporteurs that the antigovernment protests in Moldova are clearly in violation of current legislation, and that the authorities must act to mitigate such violations. They also discussed the investigation into the disappearance of PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Rusu assured the envoys that "all efforts" are being made to find Cubreacov. However, the discussions revealed that no political personalities have been investigated thus far. LB

...AND WITH JOURNALISTS FROM MOLDOVAN STATE TELEVISION
The striking committee of journalists at Teleradio Moldova were allowed to meet with the CE rapporteurs on 9 April only after receiving support from some members of parliament and at the insistence of Durieu, Flux reported. While Teleradio Moldova Director Iurie Tabarta has insisted that journalists at the station are not being censored, and that there are no special police forces deployed at the institution, the journalists told the rapporteurs that fully armed troops have been on the station grounds for at least one week. The journalists argued that the presence of the troops is intended to make it impossible for the striking committee to declare a labor strike. LB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS DECLARATION AGAINST RACISM, XENOPHOBIA, AND ANTI-SEMITISM
On the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Bulgarian parliament on 9 April unanimously adopted a declaration condemning all manifestations of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism as a threat to the pillars of a democratic civil society and as contradicting human, moral, and Euro-Atlantic values. In his address, parliament speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov reminded his audience that during World War II Bulgaria's Jews were saved with the assistance of legislators headed by then-Deputy Speaker Dimitar Peshev. He also underscored the positive role of the king at the time, Boris III, who is the father of Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski. "This valuable achievement of a democratic Bulgaria preserved us as an isle of peace and stability in the troubled Balkans," Gerdzhikov said. UB

BULGARIA'S RULING COALITION MOVES TO REPLACE STATE NEWS AGENCY HEAD
The parliamentary majority of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) decided on 9 April to replace the director of the state news agency BTA, Panayot Denev, with the incumbent director of Radio Varna, Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev, "Monitor" reported. The lawmakers accused Denev of not having prevented the BTA press agency from publishing stories referring to the International Monetary Fund as a "killer," and the World Bank as a "satrap." In a radio interview quoted by focus.bg, DPS Deputy Chairwoman Emel Etem said, "BTA is a state agency, which should correspond with the policy of the state of Bulgaria, its government, parliament, and all those who represent the country's institutions, the president included." UB

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: EXTREMISM AND DEMOCRACY IN POSTCOMMUNIST EUROPE


For months, one of the main interests of foreign correspondents with regard to the Hungarian parliamentary poll had been the question of whether FIDESZ would form a government with the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) following the elections. To be fair, this was kept (more or less) relevant by the ambiguity of the FIDESZ leaders, including Prime Minister Victor Orban, who generally answered that this question was irrelevant because FIDESZ would win an absolute majority -- thereby ducking the "moral" issue of forming a partnership with the MIEP. As it turns out, the MIEP will not return to the Hungarian parliament (and FIDESZ will probably not form the government).

MIEP's failure to overcome the 5 percent electoral threshold for gaining seats in parliament -- it polled some 4.4 percent -- is not an isolated phenomenon in postcommunist European politics. Most spectacular was the demise of Latvia's "flash party," the Popular Movement for Latvia (TKL), or Zigerist Party, an extreme-right party that garnered a stunning 15 percent in the 1995 parliamentary elections only to lose it all three years later after polling just 1.7 percent. And many long-serving extreme-right parties are also facing their demise. One of the oldest extreme-right parties in the postcommunist world, the Czech Republic's Assembly for the Republic-Czechoslovak Republican Party (SPR-RSC), failed to overcome that country's 5 percent electoral hurdle in 1998, when it took a surprisingly low 3.9 percent.

Since then, the party has gone bankrupt, and its main successor, the Republicans of Miroslav Sladek (RMS), is nowhere to be seen on opinion polls. In neighboring Slovakia, which hosts what is likely the most-established extreme-right party in the region, the parliamentary days of the Slovak National Party (SNS) might soon be over. After a split within the SNS leadership, both the SNS and the splinter Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) headed by former SNS leader Jan Slota are below the electoral threshold in opinion polls (4.7 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively).

Even the personification of Eastern European right-wing extremism, Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), has lost most of his glory. After shooting to international stardom in 1993, when the LDPR took 23 percent of the votes in the State Duma elections, Zhirinovsky's star has been fading ever since. In the 1995 elections the support for the LDPR was cut in half, and halved again in 1999 to just 6 percent. With the subsequent introduction of a significant counterweight in President Vladimir Putin, few today believe Zhirinovsky poses a serious challenge to the Russian regime.

Similar stories of waning support can be told about other extreme-right parliamentary parties. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS), a powerful factor during periods of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime, has lost many of its votes and seats and is by and large marginalized in parliament today. A similar situation exists in Croatia, where the Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP) has been able to sustain its parliamentary existence only by forming a coalition with the Croatian Christian Democratic Union (HDKU). Moreover, as a consequence of the fall of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) government in 2000, HSP's role in Croatian politics is even less relevant than before. Finally, the Slovenian National Party (SNS) has not only lost half of the support it achieved in 1992, currently holding some 4 percent, it has moderated so much that few still consider it an extreme-right party.

True, against this list of extreme-right failures stand a handful of successes; most notably, the worrying results of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) and its leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who finished second in Romania's 2000 presidential elections with a staggering one-third of the vote. In addition, the 2001 elections in Poland resulted in shocking victories for Self-Defense (10.2 percent) and the League of Polish Families (LPR) (7.9 percent).

However, the gains of those parties are offset to some extent by the fact that in many other postcommunist European countries extreme-right parties play no parliamentary role whatsoever (e.g., Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, and Ukraine). Even more importantly, in no Eastern European country is an extreme-right party part of the government, as is the case in two Western European countries, Austria and Italy.

Then why this continuing worry over the extreme right in the postcommunist world? True, the presence of such political parties tell only part of the story -- there are also various neo-Nazi groups (like the Russian National Unity), and the skinhead movement remains popular. But despite these organizations' relative success, this "uncivil society" accounts for only a fraction of the societies of postcommunist Europe. Admittedly, an at times quite visible and loud faction, but a minority all the same. For example, a recent report from the Slovak police said that the country counts 3,400 extremists (including sympathizers), of whom a mere 600 are active (which includes 100 left-wingers). Not that impressive for a population of 5.4 million people.

Rather than the strength of the extremist movements, the cause for the continuing concern should be sought in the prevailing lack of trust in the strength of the democratic forces. And this is not without reason. The track records of many "democratic" governments have been unimpressive to say the least. Corruption, incompetence, and indecision have plagued countries throughout the region, even when governed by "democratic" parties. The former Romanian government is a case in point. In addition, the petty bickering and intrigues that are characteristic for the current "democratic" governments in Croatia and Slovakia do the reputation of "democracy" in these countries no good. Finally, the nationalist tendencies in parties like FIDESZ or the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) show that all is not (yet) good in the East.

Commentators, governments, and others concerned should therefore focus their attention on strengthening the democratic side, rather than on trying to weaken the extremist parties. Where is the critical attitude toward FIDESZ's ambiguity on the current national borders of Hungary? Where is the critical but constructive dialogue with former Premier Vladimir Meciar -- a key politician in Slovakia whether people like it or not -- to provide him with incentives to make good on his pro-EU and pro-NATO pledges?

There is no doubt that the democracies in postcommunist Europe are still consolidating, and much more work remains to be done. After all, democracy is an ongoing process. This why it is important that "democratic assistance" is aimed at the long term, rather than at the next election. Much too often such support stops the minute the "extremist threat" is gone. For example, what has become of the pro-vote movements, which had been heavily supported by the West, that helped topple the "authoritarian" regimes in Croatia?

The West can play a positive role in the democratic consolidation of postcommunist Europe by providing supportive, but critical, long-term assistance that is directed first and foremost at the "democrats." The West should make clear that democracy is about dealing with plurality, not constructing a homogenous polity through various forms of exclusion. It should also emphasize that raising expectations in elections can boomerang against democracy as a whole in postcommunist Europe.

Finally, the West should not get caught up in a simplistic extremism-democracy dichotomy, in which "democrats" are supported just to prevent extremists from winning. The biggest threat to democracy in postcommunist Europe is the weakness of the democratic camp, not the strength of the extremists.

Cas Mudde is a lecturer in politics at the University of Edinburgh (c.mudde@ed.ac.uk).

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