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Newsline - April 11, 2002


SELEZNEV OPTS TO REMAIN DUMA SPEAKER DESPITE KPRF'S RECOMMENDATION THAT HE LEAVE...
Gennadii Seleznev announced on 10 April, after an extraordinary plenum of the Central Committee Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), that he has made the ultimate decision to stay on as the chairman of the State Duma despite the committee's recommendation that he resign, Russian news agencies reported. An emergency plenum of the KPRF's Central Committee met earlier the same day to discuss the issue, and decided by a vote of 74 to 15 to recommend that Seleznev step down. VY

...SAYS KPRF'S, PUTIN'S INTERESTS MOTIVATED HIS DECISION...
Following the emergency plenum, Seleznev told journalists that he told the assembled KPRF Central Committee members that he was prepared to abide by the "party's will, but for the KPRF it would be better if I stay," Russian news agencies reported on 10 April. He added that he told the plenum that, "As the speaker, I have many crucial functions, including membership in the Security Council [and] chairmanship of the parliament of the Russia-Belarus Union, and it is not easy to leave all that." Seleznev, who like President Vladimir Putin is from St. Petersburg, also told journalists that his decision was "in part prompted by the request of the president." VY

...AS ZYUGANOV MAKES BEST OF FOILED SITUATION
Appearing with Seleznev at the same press conference, KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that, in spite of its own recommendations, the plenum ultimately decided to leave the final decision to Seleznev, as a "real statesman" and a man who "understands the policy of his party very well." Zyuganov stressed that Seleznev will retain his membership in the KPRF and the Communist Party faction in the State Duma. As for the party itself, Zyuganov said the plenum decided to form a shadow government and to provide tough opposition to Putin's administration. VY

CORRECTION:
The 9 April "RFE/RL Newsline" report titled "Seleznev Quits As Russian State Duma Speaker" was incorrect. The report should have cited Ekho Moskvy radio as reporting that in a meeting between Seleznev and KPRF leaders on 9 April, Seleznev had agreed to abdicate his post as Duma speaker.

RUSSIA JOINS RANKS WITH THE U.S., EU, AND UN ON THE MIDDLE EAST
In Madrid on 9 April, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and EU Foreign Policy Commissioner Javier Solana signed a common declaration calling on Israel to withdraw all of its troops from the Palestinian Authority immediately, and especially from the headquarters of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 April. The "document of four" also demands that Israel and the Palestinian Authority agree to an immediate cease-fire and refrain from acts of terror, and asks Israel to provide "complete and full access for international humanitarian organizations to the Palestinian population." Pravda.ru commented on 10 April that the signing of the declaration is unique in that all four power centers in the world are united in their positions on the matter, leaving Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon practically without allies. VY

SCHROEDER SLASHES RUSSIA'S GDR DEBT
Speaking to journalists during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Weimar on 10 April, Russian President Putin announced that the two leaders had solved the problem of the Soviet debt to the German Democratic Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002), RIA-Novosti reported. According to the agreement, Russian debt of 6.5 billion "transit rubles" will be slashed to 500 million euros ($440 million), which Russia will pay over the next three years in cash installments. Schroeder added that he met Putin's request because last year Russia began to repay its debts to the Paris Club of creditor nations ahead of schedule. VY.

GOVERNMENT PREDICTS HIGHER INFLATION
The Russian government said inflation could be as high as 14 percent in 2002, RBK reported on 11 April. The prediction is 2 percent higher than the 12 percent inflation rate that the 2002 budget forecast. The inflation rate in March 2002 was 1.1 percent, according to the State Statistics Committee. Food prices rose by 0.5 percent, and the cost of services increased by 3.7 percent. BW

RUSSIA TO GIVE UP $170 MILLION BECAUSE OF STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH UKRAINE?
Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov told journalists in Moscow on 10 April that the Russian Federation, because of "strategic considerations," may stop collecting value-added tax on Russian imports of energy resources to Ukraine, UNIAN reported. According to Kasyanov, after canceling VAT on Russian gas imports to Ukraine, the Russian budget could lose revenues amounting to some $170 million a year. Kasyanov added, however, that such a move may be viewed "proceeding not from purely economic interests, but from strategic partnership interests and geopolitical interaction" of both countries. "The Russian government can give up this $170 million, and I think that we will be able to survive [without this sum]," Kasyanov said, adding that such a cancellation is possible only if there is "adequate movement on both sides." Earlier the same day, Kasyanov held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoliy Kinakh. Kinakh told journalists that next month Ukraine might adopt a decision on joining the Eurasian Economic Community (currently composed of Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan). JM

FSB SAYS IT HAS UNCOVERED CIA OPERATION IN MOSCOW
The Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it has "disrupted a big CIA operation to recruit a Russian citizen working for the Defense Ministry and through him to steal Russian military secrets," Russian and Western news agencies reported from Moscow on 10 April. According to the FSB, among those involved in the operation were Ungu Kensinger, a former third secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, who no longer resides in Russia, and alleged CIA officer David Robertson, who the FSB said led the operation from abroad. This is the first spy scandal between the two countries since last year, when following the arrest of FBI agent Robert Hannsen for spying for Moscow, the U.S. ordered 50 Russians working for diplomatic missions in the United States to leave the country. Moscow retaliated by expelling an equal number of American diplomats from Russia. VY

POULTRY BAN TO LAST AT LEAST TWO MORE DAYS
The Agriculture Ministry has extended a month-old ban on U.S. poultry imports until at least 12 April in order to study the 300 pages of documents the United States has submitted to prove that U.S. poultry is safe for consumption, Russian and international news agencies reported on 10 April. Prime Minister Kasyanov said the same day that Russian and U.S. officials are determined to overcome the final obstacles to resuming supplies of U.S. poultry to Russia, RBK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 April 2002). BW

RUSSIAN OIL COMPANIES PESSIMISTIC ABOUT IRAQI OIL DEALS
Russian oil firms are pessimistic that deals they signed to develop Iraq's oil and gas deposits will ever be fulfilled under Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's rule, Reuters reported on 10 April. As long as the current Iraqi regime remains in power, sources in the oil industry said, the UN will not lift sanctions against Iraq. And even if Saddam were to be removed, they said the Russian companies would lose their advantage and rival companies would move in. "We do not have any illusions anymore. It's clear that the United States will never allow us to work in Iraq under Saddam. And we ourselves are not rushing any more either. We are waiting...," a senior source from a Russian oil major told Reuters. BW

IS WAL-MART COMING TO RUSSIA?
A delegation from Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail chain, has completed a visit to Moscow where it was exploring the possibility of opening a store in Russia, "The Moscow Times" reported on 11 April. The delegation met with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and with representatives of the Russian produce supplier Belaya Dacha about a future partnership, a Belaya Dacha spokesman said. BW

PRISON POPULATION FALLS
The number of prison inmates decreased by some 10,200 people over the past year, Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin announced at a press conference in Moscow on 10 April, Russian news agencies reported. As of 1 March 2002, the number of prisoners in Russia was 968,100. Kalinin said his ministry spends about 200 rubles ($6.40) a day per prisoner, including 22.55 rubles ($0.72) on food. He also noted that prisoners are employed in 750 various enterprises, including 50 farms. The annual output of these enterprises is more than 10.9 billion rubles ($350 million). BW

FEDERATION COUNCIL TO ANSWER U.S. CRITICISM OF CHECHEN WAR
The Federation Council plans to debate the draft of a message to the United States Senate in response to U.S. criticism of Russia's human-rights record in Chechnya, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 April. Valerii Goreglyad, first deputy speaker of the Federation Council, said U.S. criticism of human rights in Chechnya is "a violation of Russia's sovereignty." He also accused Washington of a double standard on fighting terrorism. "One half is the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan and on the territory of Palestine, while the other half is Chechnya, where, as the U.S. Senate believes, human rights are being grossly violated," Goreglyad said. BW

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL FILES CHARGES OVER SBS-AGRO COLLAPSE
The Prosecutor-General's Office has opened a criminal case against a Central Bank official for the nearly $1 billion lost in the collapse of SBS-Agro Bank, Russian news agencies reported on 10 April. Prosecutors have filed abuse-of-power charges against Aleksandr Alekseev, who signed off on a loan of 5.86 billion rubles (which was worth less than $1 billion at the time) to SBS-Agro following the August 1998 financial crash,. The loan was never repaid and SBS-Agro, once Russia's largest bank, collapsed. BW

DUMA BANS CLONING OF HUMANS
The Duma on 10 April adopted on second reading a bill banning human cloning for five years, RIA-Novosti reported. The bill bans the import and export of cloned human embryos, but does not address the cloning of animals. Duma Health and Sports Committee head Nikolai Gerasimenko said the adoption of the bill is of a preemptive nature because, to the best of his knowledge, there are no cloning experiments being conducted in Russia because of lack of funds. VY

RUSSIA EXPELS CATHOLIC PRIEST
Russia has barred a Roman Catholic priest from returning to his parish, international news agencies reported on 10 April. The move comes amid heightened tension between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church. Reverend Stefano Caprio, who has lived in Russia since 1989, said that after he landed in Italy on 5 April he realized that border officials in Moscow had ripped his visa out of his passport. Caprio was refused a new visa and was told he was on a list of banned foreigners compiled by Russian security services, AP reported the same day. "Every nation has the right to determine who can stay on its territory," Russian Border Service spokesman Sergei Ivanchenko said. BW

CORRECTION:
The 10 April "RFE/RL Newsline" report titled "Russian Media Minister Promises To Cut Funding for 'Politically Oriented Media,'" incorrectly attributed a quote to Media Minister Mikhail Lesin. The item quoted Lesin as saying he "will raise the question of RFE/RL's broadcasting in the North Caucasian languages" in Russia-U.S. talks on matters of the mass media. The statement should have been attributed to an RIA-Novosti report that cited that information as coming from a member of the Russian delegation currently visiting the United States to discuss the development of free media in Russia.

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AZERBAIJAN
Robert Kocharian met U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson in Yerevan on 10 April to discuss regional problems, including the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Ordway was also present. No further details were available. Ambassador Wilson met with leaders of several key parliamentary factions and groups the previous day. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REACTS TO CRITICISM OVER CLOSURE OF TV STATION
In a statement released on 10 April, Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian defended the closure of the independent television station A1+ stemming from the tender for its broadcast frequency, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The foreign minister dismissed the recent criticism by the U.S. and nongovernmental organizations, accusing them of "neglecting" the Armenian legal requirement for radio and television tenders, and adding that "freedom of speech is being respected in Armenia." The statement follows a similar reaction by President Kocharian in defense of the closure (see RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). The demise of the popular independent television station has become the focal point of the country's political opposition in recent weeks. RG

OPPOSITION VOWS TO STEP UP PROTESTS AGAINST ARMENIAN PRESIDENT
Following mass rallies of several thousand participants demonstrating against Armenian President Kocharian last week, leaders of 14 opposition parties announced plans to stage more mass rallies in the coming weeks, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 10 April. The opposition threatened to launch a new campaign of "civil disobedience" to protest the recent closure of the A1+ independent television station. The government's standing in the wake of the station's closure has been further complicated by the awarding of the station's frequency to an entertainment company linked to the government. RG

OSKANIAN CALLS FOR 'PACKAGE APPROACH' FOR KARABAKH MEDIATION
Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian called for the application of the so-called "package approach" to the mediation effort for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenpress reported on 10 April, as cited by Groong. The foreign minister expressed optimism that the recent appointment of Armenian and Azerbaijani deputy foreign ministers as special envoys for the Karabakh conflict would help to restart the stalled talks. He also announced that the Armenian and Azerbaijani envoys would hold their first meeting under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group sometime in May. RG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL CONCLUDES VISIT TO BAKU
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis concluded his visit to Azerbaijan in his capacity as a Council of Europe official on 10 April, according to ANS. Valionis met with senior Azerbaijani officials and President Heidar Aliev and discussed issues of cooperation and development, as well as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Council of Europe will also send monitors to supervise local by-elections in three districts for the Azerbaijani parliament on 12 April. RG

NEW AZERBAIJANI-RUSSIAN AGREEMENTS SIGNED
Several new bilateral agreements were signed by officials in Baku attending the sixth meeting of the Azerbaijani-Russian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation on 10 April, ANS reported. Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minster Abbas Abbasov and his Russian counterpart Viktor Kristenko formally signed the accords, which focus on extending the legal framework for cooperation in regional energy and transport, customs, communications, and which call for long-term economic cooperation. RG

TUBERCULOSIS OUTBREAK STRIKES MORE THAN 50 AZERBAIJANI STATE OIL COMPANY WORKERS
Azerbaijani state oil company (SOCAR) officials have confirmed reports that more than 50 SOCAR workers were hospitalized after an outbreak of tuberculosis on 10 April, ANS reported from Baku. SOCAR President Natik Aliev said that Health Ministry officials are investigating the source of the outbreak. RG

CONFUSION REPORTED OVER GEORGIAN TROOP PULLOUT FROM KODORI
General Anis Bajwa, head of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, said on 10 April that Georgia has withdrawn "most" of the 350 troops it deployed in the Kodori Gorge, ITAR-TASS reported. Under an agreement signed last week, 10 April was the deadline for the withdrawal of troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002). Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze told Caucasus Press on 10 April that Georgia will comply with the deadline. But Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia said after meeting on 10 April with Bajwa that the Georgians have pulled out of the village of Chkhalta, but that 40 Georgians remain in Gentsvishi. LF

GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL BID
Imereti Governor Temur Shashiashvili announced in a televised interview in Kutaisi on 10 April that he will participate in the presidential election due in 2005, ITAR-TASS reported. President Eduard Shevardnadze said earlier this week that he will not seek a third term even if the Georgian Constitution is amended to enable him to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST SEIZED, FLOWN TO PAVLODAR
Kazakh Interior Ministry forces stormed into the Almaty home of opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov on 10 April, handcuffed him, and flew him to the northeastern city of Pavlodar, AP and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Zhaqiyanov, whom authorities accuse of abusing his power while he was governor of Pavlodar Oblast, had been under house arrest since 4 April after leaving the French Embassy where he had taken refuge. His supporters said the government had broken a written promise to the ambassadors of the U.S., France, Germany, and Britain that Zhaqiyanov would not be removed from his house during the course of the investigation, Interfax reported on 10 April. But the Foreign Ministry said his transferal to Pavlodar, the scene of his alleged crimes, was necessary for the police's work. The ministry also complained that representatives from EU member states were continually visiting Zhaqiyanov during his house arrest in Almaty and hindering the investigation, RFE/RL reported on 11 April. AA

DEPUTIES PLEDGE INVESTIGATION INTO SWISS BANK ACCOUNT
Following Kazakh Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov's revelation last week that the government was holding some $1 billion in a secret account in a Swiss bank, a group of parliamentarians announced on 10 April their intention to file official inquiries with the bank, Interfax reported. Deputy Gani Kasymov demanded that the authorities specify the exact sum in the account and furnish guarantees that there are no more secret accounts. Tasmangambetov has insisted that since the account was established personally by President Nursultan Nazarbaev in 1996 with money from the sale of the Tengiz oil field, $900 million in emergency funds have been drawn from it to "save the country from bankruptcy" during various financial and economic crises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2002). Nevertheless, reports of the amount in the account still range as high as $1.3 billion. AA

AKAEV VISITS DJALALABAD...
On 10 April Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev made his first trip to Aksy Raion since antigovernment demonstrators clashed with police there three weeks ago, AKIpress reported. In a surprise visit, Akaev attended a session of the Djalalabad regional council and told deputies that he was personally overseeing the investigation into the March 17-18 incidents. He promised that the guilty would be rooted out and punished. But he did not meet anyone wounded in the disturbances or relatives of the victims, saying that he was too busy on this trip but would come again, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Meanwhile, parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose inconclusive trial sparked the riots in the first place, told RFE/RL on 10 April that Akaev had committed a political blunder by showing himself insensitive to the victims' plight, and that the president should not merely have met with ordinary people in Djalalabad Oblast but begged their pardon for what happened. AA

...AND FIRES REGION'S TOP OFFICIALS
Blaming local authorities for the 17-18 March clashes on the grounds that they should have been more sensitive to the people's social and economic needs, Kyrgyz President Akaev fired Djalalabad Oblast's top three officials on 10 April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. At an extraordinary session of the Djalalabad regional council attended by Akaev, Governor Sultan Urmanaev was replaced by Jusupbek Sharipov, who had been the governor of Issyk-Kul Oblast. The region's chief prosecutor, Zootbek Kudaibergenov, and the head of the local branch of the Interior Ministry, Kubanychbek Tokobaev, were also sacked, Kabar news agency reported. Although the dismissals were announced on 10 April, the decree about them, which claimed the officials were stepping down voluntarily, had apparently been signed the previous day, despite the council's show of voting on the decision. While in southern Kyrgyzstan, Akaev said the root cause for the demonstrations had been social discontent due to economic hardship; he also distributed about 250 tons of food and sugar that he had brought with him, RFE/RL reported on 10 April. AA

WORLD BANK HEAD DISCUSSES TAJIK POWER STATIONS
World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who is in the middle of an eight-day working trip around Central Asia, was received by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 10 April, Asia-Plus reported. Wolfensohn identified poverty reduction and further implementation of market reforms as key areas where the World Bank should be cooperating with Tajikistan. Furthermore, the two sides talked about the bank's possible involvement in finishing construction of the Rogun and Sangtuda hydroelectric power stations. Once completed, their system of dams and reservoirs will ensure more-regulated water flow for the whole region, improve the situation in the drying Aral Basin, and provide a better mechanism for the country to deal with droughts, such as those that have devastated Tajik agriculture for the last three years, Tajik radio reported on 10 April. AA

UZBEK MINES KILL MORE CIVILIANS, SHEEP
Two Tajik citizens, aged 15 and 25, were killed and two more wounded earlier this week when they strayed into a minefield near the Sokhibnazar checkpoint on the Tajik-Uzbek frontier in northern Sughd Oblast, Asia-Plus and Interfax reported on 10 April. The minefield was one of many laid by Uzbek troops along Uzbekistan's borders with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, without the permission of those countries, to discourage incursions by Islamist militants. Since they started mining the border with Tajikistan in August 2000, 53 Tajik civilians have been killed and dozens injured by the mines, but Tashkent refuses to heed requests to remove them, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 10 April. An investigation into the latest deaths has been opened by the Tajik side. Before this week's incident, the most recent victims of Uzbek's mines intended for terrorists were seven sheep that were killed on 4 April, also in Sughd Oblast, the Varorud news agency reported. AA

MINSK DISMISSES WARSAW'S CONCERN OVER MEDIA FREEDOM CURBS
Noting "a campaign in Poland in defense of freedom of speech in Belarus," the Belarusian Foreign Ministry denounced "attempts to bring bare emotions into an issue that falls solely in the domain of law, and to exert pressure on independent judicial bodies in Belarus," Belapan reported on 10 March. "Such approaches are not welcome in any democratic state, not excluding Poland," the ministry added. Minsk was responding to a statement by the Polish Foreign Ministry expressing its concern over the court proceedings against journalists of the closed Belarusian weekly "Pahonya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). The Belarusian ministry explained that "Pahonya" violated the press law, ignored repeated warnings, and was closed down following a court decision. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN BREWERY AGREE ON FURTHER COOPERATION
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 10 April met with Taimuraz Balloev, the head of the Baltika brewing company, and assured him that Belarus wants to continue cooperation with the Russian brewery regarding its investment in the Minsk-based Krynitsa brewery, Belarusian media reported. Earlier this year, Baltika signaled that it wanted some of the $11 million it invested in Krynitsa returned, and accused the Belarusian side of breaking promises linked to the investment. Lukashenka assured Balloev that Baltika's $11 million will be registered as an installment on the privatization of Krynitsa. "I believe we will be able to agree with Baltika and sign the investment project in such a way as to not be reproached for not holding a tender [on Krynitsa]," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN ELECTION AUTHORITY QUESTIONS POLL RESULTS IN TWO CONSTITUENCIES
The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 10 April canceled the decision of district election commission No. 18 (Vinnytsya Oblast) stating that Svitlana Melnyk (Socialist Party) won the parliamentary election in that constituency, UNIAN reported. The CEC obliged district election commission No. 18 to pass a new decision on the election results after reviewing all complaints regarding the ballot in the constituency. The CEC also annulled the decision of district election commission No. 119 (Lviv Oblast) giving the parliamentary seat to Our Ukraine candidate Oleksandr Hudyma. The CEC's ruling followed a complaint from a candidate from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc who said the protocols handed by the district commission to election monitors differ from those passed to the CEC. JM

FOR A UNITED UKRAINE CONTINUES TO SWELL
Six lawmakers of the seven elected in single-mandate constituencies in Cherkasy Oblast (central Ukraine) have declared their intention to join the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine parliamentary caucus, UNIAN reported on 11 April, quoting the Cherkasy Oblast administration spokeswoman. The six reportedly made up their minds following a meeting with President Leonid Kuchma on 9 April. Meanwhile, lawmaker Oleh Tsaryov from Dnipropetrovsk Oblast has announced that he did not sign any declaration to join For a United Ukraine. Earlier this month, Ukrainian media reported that 16 lawmakers elected in single-mandate constituencies in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, including Tsaryov, signed a statement publicizing their intention to join the pro-presidential bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). JM

EU NOTES DEMOCRATIC PROGRESS IN UKRAINIAN ELECTION
The EU said in a statement released on 10 April that Ukraine's 31 March parliamentary election showed progress toward respecting international standards despite "major deficiencies" in the way the poll was conducted, Reuters reported. The statement expressed hope that Ukraine's newly elected parliament will strengthen democratic reforms in the country. JM

DENMARK CLOSES EMBASSY IN UKRAINE
The Danish Embassy in Ukraine will be closed down on 1 June, UNIAN reported on 10 April. The embassy will stop issuing visas on 15 April. Ukrainians must now apply to the Danish missions in Warsaw or Moscow for Danish visas. The Danish government is closing 10 embassies in different countries in an effort to reduce budget expenditures. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT THANKS NORWAY FOR STRONG SUPPORT
Accompanied by a delegation of businessmen, Arnold Ruutel began a two-day official visit to Norway on 10 April with a short welcome from King Harald V and Queen Sonja, who later hosted a dinner in his honor, ETA reported. Ruutel thanked Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik for Norway's strong support in efforts to solve his country's environmental, economic, and social problems, as well as in seeking NATO membership. In a speech at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Ruutel said that regional economic imbalance increased following Estonia's restoration of independence, and that local governments in Norway have agreed to assist in joint studies on how to develop Estonia's administrative organization of local governments. Ruutel was scheduled to travel to Bergen on 11 April before returning home. SG

LATVIA'S PR CAMPAIGN FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP DISCUSSED
In Riga on 9 April, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European Policy Ian Brzezinski discussed efforts to inform the public about Latvia's NATO-membership drive, BNS reported the next day. When Brzezinski, who is on a three-day visit to Riga, mentioned the need to better inform the country's Russian-speaking population on the matter, Kristovskis mentioned that his ministry is preparing a Russian-language version of its website. On 10 April, the Latvijas fakti company released the results of a poll it conducted in March that indicate that 63.9 percent of Latvia's residents favor membership in NATO, with only 24.5 percent expressing opposition, LETA reported. SG

PROPOSED LIBERALIZATION OF PAYMENTS IN LITHUANIA
Bank of Lithuania Chairman Reinoldijus Sarkinas told President Valdas Adamkus on 10 April that the bank's board will discuss the next day amendments to the monetary and foreign-currency laws that would end the requirement that all payments within domestic markets be made only in the national currency, the litas, ELTA reported. Sarkinas said the amendments would allow the settlement of accounts in any currency upon the agreement of the parties involved. Sarkinas also said that the bank wants to cancel the provision in the foreign-currency law requiring the central bank's permission for the opening of an account in a foreign bank. The President's Office later issued a press release indicating that Adamkus supports the amendments and hopes they will improve the business environment in the country. SG

POLISH NURSES DEMAND MORE HEALTH CARE SPENDING
On 10 April, some 1,500 nurses and midwives demonstrated in front of the prime minister's chancellery to demand more outlays for health care, PAP reported. Earlier the same day, the protesters handed a relevant petition to Sejm deputy speaker Tomasz Nalecz. Bozena Banachowicz, the chairwoman of the National Nurses and Midwives Trade Union, said the current government's health care policy will lead to a drastic decrease in the number of nurses. Health Ministry spokeswoman Renata Furman responded by saying that the money saved by recent changes to the list of reimbursed medicines will be used to improve the financial situation of hospitals. JM

POLISH FINANCE MINISTER SAYS ECONOMY IS STAGNATING
Finance Minister Marek Belka told the Senate on 10 April that the country's GDP increased by an estimated 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2002, compared to 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2001, PAP reported. "The economy is stagnating. Internal demand may be the only force to drive the economy in the second half of the year," Belka said. He also said that unemployment, which now exceeds 18 percent, will continue to rise in 2002. On the positive side, Belka remarked that the economy faces no inflationary pressure, and that the government expects average annual inflation to be 3.4 percent in 2002 and to fall below 3 percent in successive years. In Belka's opinion, such low inflation forecasts make it possible for the Monetary Policy Council to cut interest rates. JM

POLAND'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ENDORSES PARTY BAN IN PUBLIC SERVICES
The Constitutional Tribunal ruled on 10 April that the current ban on the right of employees of the judiciary, army, police, Border Guard, State Protection Service, Supreme Audit Chamber, and other public services to unite in political parties is in keeping with the constitution, PAP reported. At the same time, the tribunal said the current exemption from this rule for members of the Radio and Television Broadcasting Council -- who are only required to suspend party affiliation during their term in office -- is unconstitutional. The ruling means that they will have to give up their respective party memberships in order to remain in office. The tribunal's decision followed a motion from Polish ombudsman who claimed that the ban violates civil rights and freedoms. JM

POLISH BREWERY ALLOWED TO USE HABSBURG SYMBOLS
The Appeals Court in Katowice on 10 April ruled that Zywiec SA, Poland's largest and best-known brewery, may continue to use all the symbols of Austria's Habsburg dynasty, except for the family's coat of arms, AP reported. The suit was filed by Swedish, Polish, and Swiss descendants of Archduke Karol Olbracht Habsburg, following the decision of a lower court allowing Zywiec to use all the symbols of the Habsburg family on the labels of Zywiec products. The Zywiec brewery, founded in 1856 by a Habsburg archduke, was nationalized in the communist era and reprivatized in 1989. Zywiec is now the core of a brewing group that controls 37 percent of Poland's beer market. The Dutch giant Heineken has a 50-percent-plus-one-share stake in the group. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES PLAN TO ACCEPT RUSSIAN DEBT PAYMENT IN ARMS
At a meeting of the Czech government on 10 April in Liberec, north Bohemia, a proposal to accept payment of part of Russia's Soviet-era debt in military equipment was approved, CTK reported. The Czech Defense Ministry said Russia is in favor of such a deal, in which the Czechs will receive two or three giant An-70 transport aircraft, seven Mi-24 helicopters, and spare parts for Russian-made military equipment. The equipment would be worth some $300-400 million of the $1.1 billion Russia still owes the Czech Republic. DW

CZECH PARTIES FIND COMMON GROUND ON BENES DECREES
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on 9 April that representatives of the main Czech political parties have agreed on a joint statement on the controversy over the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. After a meeting with party leaders in the evening, Kavan said the statement will aim to reassure Czechs that the consequences of the decrees, which ordered the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans and several thousand Hungarians after World War II, will not lead to new claims for property restitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). BW

LOWER HOUSE REJECTS BOND ISSUE TO FINANCE TROOP DEPLOYMENT
The Czech Chamber of Deputies has rejected the government's request to finance Czech troops to Afghanistan and Kuwait with government bonds, CTK reported on 9 April. Instead, opposition lawmakers said the cabinet should fund the deployment from the state budget. The rejection came shortly after legislators approved the deployment of a Czech army field hospital in Kuwait. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said the government will meet to decide how to finance the deployment, stressing that the Czech Republic must meet its international obligations. BW

CZECH CENTRAL BANK MOVES TO REIN IN STRONG CURRENCY
The Czech National Bank intervened on the currency markets on 10 April to rein in the country's surging currency, Radio Praha reported. By 9 April, the Czech crown had hit all-time highs of 30.04 crowns against the euro and 34.08 to the U.S. dollar. After the intervention, the crown fell slightly, depreciating to 30.50 to the euro and 34.50 to the dollar. BW

BILL ON SLOVAK SOVEREIGNTY REJECTED
The Slovak parliament rejected in the first reading a bill submitted by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) that would allow sanctions against organizations and individuals who cooperate in issuing Hungarian ID cards under the Status Law, TASR reported on 10 April. The bill was prepared in response to the Hungarian Status Law. Frantisek Miklosko, the chairman of the KDH parliamentary group, said the responsibility lies with Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU). According to Miklosko, the parliamentarians of SDKU rejected the bill in an effort to cover up the failures of the Slovak government and Slovak diplomacy in the matter. In an interview with TASR, Miklosko said that by rejecting the bill the parliament wasted an opportunity to defend itself against one-sided steps taken by a foreign state, and again stressed the KDH's conviction that the Hungarian Status Law represents interference in Slovakia's internal affairs by another state. AS

YET ANOTHER LEFTIST PARTY TO EMERGE IN SLOVAKIA?
Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) Chairman Pavel Koncos wants to discuss with deputy Jozef Kalman the possibilities of creating a new left-wing party to be known as the "Left Bloc," TASR reported on 10 April. Kalman recently left the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Koncos described Kalman as a man with a strong social sense, although he acknowledged that Kalman's aim might be to fragment the Slovak left. "Everything is possible, but we need to talk," Koncos said. Meanwhile the parliamentarians of the HZDS rejected claims that Kalman' s decision to leave the party is part of "a political game" concocted by controversial HZDS Chairman Vladimir Meciar. One of the deputies said Kalman's departure proves that there is no "dictatorial atmosphere" in the HZDS. AS

HUNGARIAN PARTIES PREPARE FOR NEXT ROUND OF ELECTIONS
On 10 April, Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman Laszlo Kovacs and his Free Democrat (SZDSZ) counterpart Gabor Kuncze signed an electoral cooperation agreement under which the SZDSZ will withdraw its candidates in 70 constituencies to the benefit of the MSZP in the second-round parliamentary elections, Hungarian dailies reported. In return, the MSZP has undertaken to withdraw seven of its candidates in favor of the SZDSZ. The MSZP scored a surprising first-round victory on 7 April by winning 42.03 percent of the vote compared to 41.07 percent by the governing FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance. Also on 10 April, Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka announced that his party will withdraw its candidates who placed third in the first round in an effort to benefit FIDESZ candidates. MIEP is asking its voters to support right-wing cohesion, Csurka said, but is doing so with "clenched teeth" because of the "bitterness felt over the many instances in which FIDESZ distanced itself from the party." MSZ

SOCIALIST PARTY CRITICIZES ORBAN'S SPEECH
Responding to Prime Minister Viktor Orban's campaign speech warning of insecurity, the return of big capital, and drug use under a Socialist-led government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002), MSZP Chairman Kovacs told reporters on 10 April that Orban opted to make "a desperate move" instead of accepting defeat in worthy manner, and "behaved like a dictator who dreads losing power." Kovacs said that Orban declared war on the majority of voters when he called on his followers to defend the country against most of their fellow citizens. In the first round of elections "the voters evicted the exclusionist, hate-mongering policies of MIEP by voting it out of parliament, but it is still there in the form of FIDESZ," Kovacs said, adding, "We could hear the words of Istvan Csurka from the mouth of Viktor Orban." In a related development, former Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn has advised Orban in an open letter that "one must know how to lose with the dignity [the way Peter Boross did] in 1994 and I did in 1998." MSZ

HUNGARIAN TELEVISION OFFERS AIRTIME TO MEDGYESSY
Hungarian Television (MTV) is offering Socialist prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy an opportunity to broadcast a campaign speech, MTV News Director Peter Csermely said on 10 April, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MTV aired a speech on 9 April by Prime Minister Orban. The daily reported that Csermely and MTV President Karoly Mendreczky said the network will not broadcast another full-length speech by Orban until it airs a speech by Medgyessy in full. In other news, Centrum Party Chairman Mihaly Kupa on 10 April called on Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David to explain Orban's speech. Kupa said, "We cannot be blind and must see that as a result of the first-round election, passions are on the street, the media constantly speaks of a nation divided, and government politicians are calling on their followers to take up a 'fight,'" Hungarian media reported. MSZ

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ SAYS PRISONERS FAVOR SOCIALISTS
FIDESZ Deputy Chairman and parliament speaker Janos Ader said at a press conference in Budapest on 10 April that official minutes prove that in Budapest's 10th District prison polling station some 95 percent of prison inmates voted for the Socialist candidate, compared to 5 percent who voted for the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum candidate, Hungarian television reported. Ader said he credits those results to the fact that the Socialists have rejected amendments in parliament to strengthen the Penal Code, and have promised to set up an amnesty program by the middle of the next election term. "The news could be considered as good for criminals," Ader said, "but bad news for citizens, prison staff, and policemen." Socialist Chairman Kovacs said in response that he is in "no position to know the results of secret balloting," and denied Ader's claim that his party's agenda includes an amnesty program. MSZ

DUTCH STUDY SAYS MLADIC MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR SREBRENICA MASSACRE
International media reported from The Hague on 10 April that the Dutch Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) has issued its long-awaited study on the 1995 fall of Srebrenica and the subsequent massacre of some 7,000 Muslim males. The report contains few surprises and was quickly criticized by survivors and some others as disappointing or a "whitewash." It stresses that Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic was most directly responsible for the killings. The study added, however, that it cannot be said with certainty that Bosnian Serb civilian leader Radovan Karadzic or the political leadership in Belgrade knew about the massacre in advance. The 7,000-page report adds that Dutch peacekeepers at their base at Potocari, near Srebrenica, did not know that the men would be massacred when they obliged Serb requests to remove Muslims who had sought shelter at the base. The study assigns much of the blame to the Dutch military and civilian leaderships, noting that "humanitarian motivation and political ambitions drove the Netherlands to undertake an ill-conceived and virtually impossible peace mission." Prime Minister Wim Kok commented: "We fell short. It was the opposite of a success." PM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL FREES BOSNIAN SERB SUSPECT
The war crimes tribunal in The Hague freed indicted Bosnian Serb suspect Nenad Banovic on 10 April for lack of evidence, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He and his brother Predrag were accused of mistreating Muslim and Croatian prisoners while working as guards at the Keraterm concentration camp in Bosnia. PM

VOLKSWAGEN TO MAKE CARS IN BOSNIA AGAIN?
The Bosnian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 10 April that Volkswagen may restart its production of automobiles in Sarajevo that was halted during the 1992-1995 war, dpa reported. The German automaker has set as a precondition the passing of customs legislation and the return of customs privileges that VW enjoyed prior to the war. The company, which is locally regarded as a prestigious employer, wants to produce the Golf IV in Sarajevo. It has already resumed production of spare parts in Bosnia. PM

CROATIAN PUBLIC PROSECUTOR RESIGNS
Controversial state prosecutor Radovan Ortynski quit his post on 10 April after Prime Minister Ivica Racan and others in the government criticized his work, Hina reported. The last straw apparently came when officials leaked to the media that the government will object to a report by Ortynski that he had not yet submitted, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Racan's main problem with Ortynski is that the latter was not sufficiently dogged in exposing corruption in the privatization process in the 1990s during the rule of late President Franjo Tudjman. PM

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST FOUR FOR DESTRUCTION OF MONUMENT
Police have arrested four men in Lobor for destroying a monument to Josip Broz Tito's World War II Partisans, dpa reported on 11 April. The incident took place on the 51st anniversary of the proclamation of the pro-Axis Croatian state during World War II. The small community of Lobor is located in northern Croatia between Zagreb and Varazdin. PM

CROATIA AND YUGOSLAVIA REACH FIRST-EVER AGREEMENT ON PREVLAKA
Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula and his Yugoslav counterpart Goran Svilanovic agreed in Zagreb on 10 April that the boundary between the two former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Montenegro will form the state border in the Prevlaka region, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Picula will visit Belgrade in two weeks' time to discuss issues involving the border region including trade, traffic, allocation of maritime and other resources, demilitarization, and other matters. The two ministers agreed that they are on the way to normalizing the situation in the Prevlaka region and thereby creating conditions for ending the UN's mandate there. Prevlaka is Croatian territory that controls sea access to the Bay of Kotor, where Yugoslavia's only deep-water naval base is located. The agreement between Picula and Svilanovic is the first formal one between Zagreb and Belgrade on Prevlaka since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. PM

YUGOSLAV UPPER HOUSE PASSES CONTROVERSIAL WAR CRIMES LEGISLATION
The chamber of the republics voted on 10 April to approve controversial legislation on cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The lower house broke off debate after opposition deputies charged that the legislation contained passages that the Constitutional Court has already ruled unconstitutional. Elsewhere in Belgrade, a representative of the Council of Europe told Svilanovic that the main preconditions for Yugoslavia's admission to that body are "full cooperation" with the tribunal and the establishment of civilian control over the military and the police. PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SLAMS CABINET RESIGNATIONS
Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 10 April that the recent resignation of four pro-independence members of the cabinet was "expected but not rational," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). The pro-independence Liberal Alliance is demanding that Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic resign before it will consider forming a new coalition with Djukanovic's supporters. PM

SERBS CONTINUE PROTESTS IN MITROVICA
Several thousand Serbs demonstrated for the third consecutive day to demand the release of extremist leader Slavoljub Jovic, otherwise known as Pagi, AP reported on 10 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). International judicial authorities in Mitrovica nonetheless ruled that police may hold him for 30 more days in conjunction with recent attacks on UN police, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UN police official John Neil said in reference to Jovic's extremist Bridge Guards: "We totally condemn the behavior of these criminals, that can best be described as one of animals." Meanwhile in Prishtina, President Ibrahim Rugova called on local Serbs to remember that they are citizens of Kosova and to respect the law, order, and peace, Hina reported on 11 April. Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi called the attacks on police "an act of terrorism." PM

ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER PRESENTS NATO ACCESSION STRATEGY TO PARLIAMENT...
Adrian Nastase employed a joint session of Romania's two parliamentary chambers on 10 April to reveal the government's strategy for joining NATO, Romanian media reported. Pertaining to the military sector, the strategy outlines steps for annually allotting 2.38 percent of GDP for defense, reducing the armed forces, and achieving compatibility with NATO communications systems. The strategy also contains precise steps regarding, among others, enhancing border security, improving the situation of abandoned children, eliminating discrimination against minorities, combating human trafficking, improving the business environment, and eliminating arrears in the economy. LB

...SPURRING SUPPORT, DEBATE
The presentation of the strategy was followed by debates and by the adoption of a joint parliamentary declaration according to which Romanian parliamentary parties and organizations of national minorities "fully support the preparations for joining NATO," and "confirm the irreversible commitment of Romania toward this goal." However, during the fierce debates that followed the presentation of the strategy, all opposition parliamentary parties claimed that the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP) did not consult them in developing the NATO strategy. Liberals also claimed that a single party's monopolization of such a major foreign policy objective is "an offense against Romanian citizens," adding that Romanian legislation allows only the country's president to address a joint session of both chambers of parliament on major policy issues. LB

NOMINATION OF PUBLIC RADIO COMPANY CHAIRMAN POSTPONED
During their joint session on 10 April, the two chambers of Romanian parliament approved by 338 votes to 14 the new administration board for Radio Romania, Mediafax reported. The new board will include representatives of all of the groups represented in parliament. However, lack of a quorum prevented the assembly from nominating the new chairman of the board. Pending a final decision to be taken at a new joint session of the parliament, Dragos Seuleanu, who was nominated by the SDP and proposed for the chairmanship by the board, will be the company's interim director. Marius Guran, who was nominated by the presidency as a candidate for the board, will be interim board chairman. LB

CE RAPPORTEURS DISCLOSE CONTENT OF SOME DISCUSSIONS WITH MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES...
"Moldova is a country lacking democracy and a country whose integrity and sovereignty are not properly managed by the government," CE rapporteur Josette Durrieu said at a 9 April press conference, Flux reported. Durrieu strongly complained that the current democratically elected government completely ignores the opposition, a behavior he said has caused a serious political crisis. Durrieu and his fellow rapporteur, Lauri Vahtre, confirmed that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin will not change his procedures for handling the crisis, but that he might agree to a referendum in order to end it. The two rapporteurs also said that Justice Minister Ion Morei said that the European Court of Human Rights' (ECHR) decision regarding the registering of the Bessarabian Orthodox Church will be respected. In addition, they acknowledged that their meeting with Communist parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc was very brief and ended in a quarrel in which all the participants raised their voices sufficiently to be heard from outside the office. LB

...WHILE PPCD APPEALS TO EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS OVER MOLDOVAN SUPREME COURT DECISION
On 10 April, the Popular Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) submitted a complaint against Moldova to the ECHR, Flux reported. The complaint pertains to the Moldovan Supreme Court's 15 March decision to stop the antigovernment protests that began on 9 January. According to lawyer Vitalie Nagacevschi, who will represent the PPCD at the ECHR, the Moldovan court's decision infringes on the protestors' rights to freedom of assembly and free speech. In addition, Nagacevschi said the protestors were not granted a fair trial because the organizers of the protest were not summoned for the trial, and because the protestors were consistently refused an appeal. PPCD is asking the ECHR to acknowledge the breach of the petitioners' rights as laid out in Articles 6, 10, 11, and 13 of the European Convention of Human Rights, and to tell the Moldovan government that the use of force is inadmissible as long as protests are peaceful. LB

ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR TO MOLDOVA MEETS WITH OSCE COMMISSIONER
Adrian Balanescu met on 10 April with OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Rolf Ekeus to exchange opinions regarding the current situation in Moldova, Mediafax reported. Balanescu told Ekeus of the efforts Romania has made over the past 10 years to promote European democratic values in various Moldovan institutions, including financial assistance to various governments in Moldova. The discussion focused on the possible development of viable projects, funded by both Romania and European bodies, aimed at supporting the democratization of society, mitigation of interethnic conflicts, protection of minority rights, and respect for free speech in Moldova. LB

BULGARIAN INFLATION EXCEEDS 5 PERCENT
The National Statistics Institute announced on 10 April that Bulgaria's accumulated inflation rate has reached 5.2 percent since the beginning of the year, "Dnevnik" reported. The inflation rate was 0.8 percent for the month of March. Since March 2001, the accumulated inflation rate rose by 9.2 percent. These figures exceed the target rates laid down by the IMF, which projected an inflation rate of 3.5 percent for the entire year. Experts say the high inflation is due to rising prices for fuel, electricity, heating, tobacco, and medicines. Deputy Finance Minister Krasimir Katev told Reuters that the government will probably revise its projections for this year's inflation in coordination with the IMF. UB

CANDIDATE FOR BULGARIAN STATE NEWS AGENCY DISCREDITED
Bulgarian newspapers reported on 11 April that Stoyan Cheshmedzhiev has been involved in a number of scandals. Cheshmedzhiev was proposed to be the new director of the state news agency BTA by members of the ruling coalition composed of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). "Dnevnik" reported that Cheshmedzhiev was involved in shady financial transactions in his hometown of Varna, where Cheshmedzhiev heads the local radio station Radio Varna. "Standart" and "Monitor" published a Darik Radio interview with a former employee of Radio Varna in which the employee accused Cheshmedzhiev of sexual harassment. Meanwhile, the parliament's Media Commission on 10 April refused to vote on the dismissal of incumbent BTA Director Panayot Denev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). UB

NATO AND EU 'BIG BANGS'


By year's end, we can expect two "Big Bangs" -- the sizeable expansion of both NATO and the EU -- that will reshape the "trans-Atlantic universe" in significant, yet unpredictable, ways.

Each organization will hold a major summit this year, NATO in Prague in late November and the EU in Copenhagen just weeks thereafter. In both cases, the precise extent of expansion isn't known, but talk now is that the clubs could well extend invitations that would increase their memberships to the tune of seven and 10 new members in NATO and the EU, respectively.

One would think that plans to extend such a generous number of invitations to an eager grouping of NATO and EU candidate countries would be a clear cause for rejoicing. Bold expansion of this kind would undoubtedly help build deeper and stronger ties across the Atlantic -- as well as between Western and Eastern Europe -- while widening the community of democracies within the trans-Atlantic space.

But any rejoicing over the potential benefits of expansion is mitigated by the reality that both NATO and the EU must fundamentally review their functions and structures. Both organizations need to reform -- and transform -- in order to meet the challenges of the (post-) post-Cold War era and the likely stress to be caused by a steep increase in membership.

Growing divergences in vision and perceptions between key powers within this indispensable community of democracies also pose difficult challenges that will require determined leadership and political imagination in order to propel the bridge-building projects forward.

NATO, which has served for a half century as the glue between Europe and North America, is a case in point. The yawning gap between U.S. capabilities and those of its NATO allies is emblematic of the divisions within the trans-Atlantic community. The coalition forged and led by the U.S. that took the fight to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has drawn largely on a set of new, nontraditional allies. NATO was effectively relegated to the sidelines in the war in Afghanistan. U.S. allies within the alliance quite literally are no longer playing on the same field with the Americans in military terms and do not seem prepared to make the investments needed to modernize their forces. And with the U.S. perceiving the terrorism threat far more acutely than its allies -- and poised to invest considerably more in its own defenses -- this gap is only likely to widen.

The divergent trends that have evolved are such that NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in a 4 March speech that "the success of [the non-U.S. members'] modernization effort is simply vital. Otherwise, the gap between American forces on the one hand and European -- and Canadian -- forces on the other will be unbridgeable."

For its part, the EU -- the key organization for binding together Eastern and Western Europe -- also needs to modernize and reform, while simultaneously integrating new members from the East.

For EU candidate countries, there is a sense that the enlargement project has lost sight of its essential bridge-building function and that the accession process has become overly mechanical and, too frequently, parochial. In a speech made on 21 November 2001, Bulgarian European Integration Minister Meglena Kuneva spoke on these concerns: "Focusing exclusively on the acquis [communautaire] as a scoreboard in the accession process carries the risk of isolating the [candidate countries] from the process. The political dimension of EU membership goes far beyond the purely economic and legal requirements."

At the same time, EU policymakers are probing for an approach that will make an expanded union an effective one. But frustration with EU decision-making and hesitancy over surrendering sovereignty has led major European powers to explore the idea of a "core" or "pioneer" group of EU countries that would have special decision-making status within the union. This proposed exclusive arrangement provides little comfort to smaller, less-influential member states, especially post-Soviet EU hopefuls that are eager to acquire the meaningful voice they were deprived of in Soviet times.

Not surprisingly, the same major European powers promoting the idea of exclusive decision-making are not keen on what they perceive as U.S. "pioneering" on key international policy matters, including a possible military solution for Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

This takes us back to the question of whether the political will, leadership, and vision will be mustered to continue the critical, yet unfinished, bridge-building efforts within Europe and across the Atlantic.

At a time when much of Western Europe finds itself at odds with the U.S. on many critical policy matters, enlarging NATO and the EU will, among other things, provide the salutary impact of adding to their memberships U.S.-friendly countries in Central and Eastern Europe that will help shape the evolving alliances in a more Atlanticist fashion.

The U.S., despite its preponderance of military and economic power, will need cooperation from its friends in the trans-Atlantic community on key issues ranging from the effective continuation of the war on terror to managing the crisis in the Middle East to forging a new and effective relationship with Russia.

The stakes are high. Coming up short in this bridge-building endeavor will jeopardize the consolidation of a Europe whole and free -- and a relationship across the Atlantic that is sufficiently sound and durable to meet the complex challenges of the 21st century.Christopher Walker is head of the Rapid Response Unit at the EastWest Institute. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the EastWest Institute.

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