RUSSIA AND NATO COME CLOSER TO NEW FORMAT OF RELATIONS...
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson in Brussels on 15 April that the creation of documents for establishing a new NATO-Russia Council, or "NATO at 20," is nearing completion, Western and Russian new agencies reported on 15 April. The new agreement is expected to be discussed at NATO's Foreign Ministers Meeting in Reykjavik on 14-15 May. "The new mechanism provides for Russia's participation in the development, approval, and implementation of decisions," ITAR-TASS reported Ivanov as saying. It had earlier been reported that under the new agreement Russia will not have veto rights and NATO decisions will continue to be made by the North Atlantic Council, in which Russia will not be offered membership. The new NATO-Russia Council would replace the Permanent Joint Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). VY/MES
...AS EXTRAORDINARY NATO-RUSSIA SESSION IS PROPOSED
Meanwhile, Ivanov arrived in Luxembourg on 16 April and said after talks with Silvio Berlusconi that the Italian prime minister proposed that a special NATO-Russia session be held at end of May in Italy. According to RIA-Novosti the same day, the intention of the session would be to codify the new relations between the two sides. VY
RUSSIA LIFTS BAN ON U.S. POULTRY IMPORTS...
Russia partially ended its embargo on U.S. poultry products on 15 April. "We are very glad that the ban has been lifted and American products can again enter the Russian market," ITAR-TASS quoted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman as saying. Claiming that the U.S. products did not meet Russian health standards, Russia imposed the embargo on 10 March in what was widely seen as a retaliatory measure over U.S. restrictions on steel imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 4, 6, 8, and 11 March 2002). Poultry is one of the largest U.S. exports to Russia. After a series of negotiations and inspections of U.S. poultry-producing facilities, new veterinary certificates for the U.S. imports were agreed upon. All current licenses for poultry importers to Russia will be annulled and new ones must be obtained in conformance with the new measures. On 15 April, Ekho Moskvy radio quoted Russian First Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Dankvert as saying that in three months Russia will introduce additional requirements concerning the use of genetic engineering and antibiotics as regards U.S. poultry. VY/MES
...WITH NOTABLE EXCEPTIONS...
The ban will still be in effect for a six-month period for four U.S. states -- North Carolina, Virginia, Maine, and Pennsylvania -- ITAR-TASS reported on 15 April. In addition, 14 U.S. companies that were found by Russian inspectors not to meet Russian sanitary standards were removed from the list of U.S. poultry suppliers to Russia. Veneman told ITAR-TASS on 16 April that, "We are working closely with the experts. My understanding of the situation is [that on 13 April], when the latest discussions took place in Russia, the parties agreed that a number of questions still remained regarding some states and individual companies that need further consideration." VY/MES
RUSSIA MIGHT BOW OUT OF STEEL ACCORD WITH UNITED STATES...
A spokesman from Russia's Economic Development and Trade Ministry told Interfax on 15 April that Russia is considering withdrawing from the comprehensive steel-export accord it signed with the U.S. in 1999 that established quotas for imports of certain Russian steel products. According to the spokesman, the issue was to be addressed during Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref's visit to the U.S. from 14-16 April, in which he was to meet with U.S. government officials to discuss bilateral trade and economic-cooperation issues, the agency reported. "Vedomosti" reported on 15 April that following the recent U.S. decision to impose quotas on steel imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 4, 6, 8, and 11 March 2002), which negatively affected Russia, Moscow is looking to concentrate on exporting steel products that would not be subject to the new quotas. VY/MES
...LOOKS TO SET UP STEEL-PROCESSING FACILITIES IN U.S.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said in Moscow on 15 April that Russian steelmakers are considering setting up final-stage production facilities in countries that import their products, particularly the United States, Interfax reported. "I would not say that this will make everybody happy, but this step may protect [steel-exporting companies] from antidumping measures and all-out protectionism in those countries," Khristenko said. VY/MES
PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS ACCUSED OF SHODDY AUDIT OF GAZPROM
The international investment company Hermitage Capital Management Ltd. is launching legal actions against PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and is demanding that the company have its audit license suspended in Russia because of controversial audits it made of Gazprom, AFP and Russian media reported on 15 April. Hermitage Capital, which runs the Hermitage Fund dedicated to investments in Russia and is a member of the London-based HSBC Group, is claiming that PwC intentionally distorted or falsified information in its 2000-2001 audit of the Russian gas monopoly, particularly regarding Gazprom's sale to Itera of a stake in its Purgaz subsidiary. "These and other similar noncommercial and questionable transactions led to billions of dollars of losses for Gazprom and resulted in Gazprom shares being deeply depressed over a long period of time," AFP quoted Hermitage Capital Chief Executive William Browder as saying. "This is Russia's Enron," he added. VY/MES
PUTIN RECEIVES CROATIAN PRESIDENT
Russian President Vladimir Putin received his Croatian counterpart, Stipe Mesic, in the Kremlin on 16 April shortly after Mesic arrived in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Before leaving Croatia, Mesic told the Russian news agency that he wants to "consolidate" bilateral relations, "in which there are no unsettled problems, and stress that our two countries have good prospects for the development of bilateral relations not only in trade and economic [matters], but also in...culture, education, and sports." Bilateral trade amounted to $700 million in 2001. PM
RUSSIAN JEWISH CONGRESS WANTS TO DEMONSTRATE SOLIDARITY WITH ISRAEL
The Russian Jewish Congress (REK) released a statement to the media on 15 April in which it said it is organizing mass demonstrations to be held nationwide by Russian Jews to show their support for Israel in the current crisis in the Middle East and to protest anti-Semitism and xenophobia, ntvru.com reported on 15 April. The statement said, "A wave of anti-Semitic actions has rolled across Western Europe and many other countries, has reached the border of CIS countries, and is approaching the territory of Russia." It added that recent attacks, including one on a synagogue in Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002), as well as others in Belgium, France, Germany, and Tunisia, "show the consolidation of terrorist organizations with European neo-Nazis." VY
INTERIOR MINISTRY PREPARES FOR SURGE OF EXTREMIST ACTIVITY...
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 15 April, Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Aleksandr Chekalin said that his agency expects Russian neo-Nazi and skinhead groups to conduct violent anti-Semitic and xenophobic acts on the eve of Adolf Hitler's birthday on 20 April, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). Chekalin said his agency in Moscow is taking preventive measures to protect foreign students in that city's institutions of higher education. He added that the Interior Ministry keeps 13 extremist organizations and more than 1,000 individuals known as "organizers and activists" under permanent surveillance, and that any individuals who participate in violent, racially motivate acts will be punished severely. Some 10,000 Russians, mostly young people, are members of neo-Nazi groups, according to the Russian Interior Ministry, AFP reported. VY
...AS YOUTH GROUP PROTESTS ATTACKS ON FOREIGN STUDENTS
Activists from the pro-Kremlin youth group Moving Together held a protest in Rostov-na-Donu on 14 April to demand that local police protect foreign students from attacks by members of pro-fascist organizations, RFE/RL's Rostov correspondent reported the next day. Around 200 youths, carrying signs demanding that the mayor bring order to the city, blocked traffic for two hours on a central street in Rostov. Students from Latin America and Africa have recently been attacked in the city. According to the correspondent, the protest ended 10 minutes after the police took away three leaders of the organization. JAC
ONE OLIGARCH DROPS OUT OF TV-6 CONSORTIUM
Kakha Bendukidze, general director of the United Machine-Building Factories (OMZ), has decided to drop out of the founding board of Media-Sotsium, which recently won the tender for TV-6 broadcasting rights, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002). OMZ Information Director Andrei Anufriev said Bendukidze's decision was based on "purely pragmatic reasons" -- he did not agree with the new company's business plan. According to the daily, Bendukidze may be only the first of the businessmen needed to finance the new operation to leave. Around $10 million needs to be raised as the required capital for the company, "Izvestiya" reported. JAC
ANALYST SUGGESTS MORE MASS PROTESTS AGAINST HIGHER RENTS POSSIBLE IN FUTURE...
Igor Bunin of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technology argued on the center's website (http://www.politcom.ru) on 15 April that the recent protest that took place in Voronezh over higher rents could be repeated in other cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2002). According to Bunin, the protest in Voronezh was the "first significant act of protest against the reform of the housing and communal-services sector." Estimates of the number of persons participating in the protest range from 7,000 to 20,000 -- either of which would mark a significant turnout even for Moscow, let alone Voronezh. According to Bunin, the Voronezh protest showed that the population has not only a pained reaction to higher rents, but could even be provoked to take radical actions. He also noted that it is not simply a matter of the amount of the increase in rent or utility payments, but that the heart of the matter is the reaction to the potential loss of "one of the most important...legacies of socialism," which the population had taken for granted. JAC
...AS FINANCE MINISTER PROMISES TO FIX PROBLEM OF WAGE ARREARS BY END OF YEAR
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters in Moscow on 15 April that the situation with the payment of wages in the regions will stabilize by the middle of the year and will be solved completely by the end of the year, ITAR-TASS reported. Kudrin explained that problems cropped up after the government decided to raise the base salary rate by 89 percent; however, he said salaries are delayed by one month only in two or three regions, including Krasnoyarsk Krai. The same day, 700 workers in the public-utilities sector picketed the office of the municipal administration in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka, demanding back wages owed since December 2001, RIA-Novosti reported. And in Primorskii Krai, 15 city drivers ended their hunger strike after back wages owed since August 2001 were paid to them in full, the agency reported. JAC
IS TATARSTAN SEEN AS NEW SPAWNING GROUND FOR TERRORISM?
Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office is preparing a request to U.S. authorities for their assistance in investigating the case of three Russian citizens who are accused of being members of the Taliban and are currently incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ntvru.com reported on 15 April. The three men are Almaz Sharipov of Chally, Tatarstan; Ravil Gumarov of Ufa, Bashkortostan; and Rasul Kudaev of Kabardino-Balkaria. According to the site, the three men were involved in Islamic groups before they left Russia. Both Sharipov and Gumarov are ethnic Tatars. Meanwhile, the Kazan-based "Zvezda povolzhya" reported on 11 April that, inspired by the news reports about the two Tatars, Moscow-based media have launched an information war against Tatarstan, which as a result is constantly being featured by federal television channels as a seat of terrorism, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. JAC
GOVERNOR COULD FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR IGNORING COURT ORDER
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has placed under his personal control the criminal investigation against Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Butov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April. Butov is accused of not fulfilling an order by a Moscow arbitration court to sign a license to develop the Musyurshorskii oil field. Severnaya Siyanie, in which high-profile entrepreneur Lev Chernoi is a shareholder, won a tender to develop the field last March. But Butov has refused to grant the company its license to exploit the oil field, arguing that numerous violations occurred during the tender process. Unofficial sources told the daily that Butov had hoped the Nenets Oil Company, which he is reportedly close to, would win the competition. According to the newspaper, the criminal case against Butov was opened as soon as he lost his immunity from criminal prosecution when he ceased to be a member of the Federation Council. JAC
BURYATIA GIVES UP SOVEREIGNTY DECLARATION
The parliament of Buryatia decided on 15 April to cancel that republic's declaration of state sovereignty, Russian agencies reported. Two previous attempts to vote on canceling the declaration failed, but this time Buryatia's president, Leonid Potapov, warned legislators that the chamber would be disbanded if they failed to resolve the issue, according to Interfax-Eurasia. After a "brief but heated discussion," the vote was 46 in favor to three against, with three abstentions. According to ITAR-TASS, the republic's Supreme Court adopted the sovereignty declaration in October 1990. JAC
PROTESTERS DEMAND ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CONVENE TO DISCUSS A1+ CLOSURE
Over 200 demonstrators protested in front of the Armenian parliament on 15 April to demand that the legislature convene a special session to review a government commission's decision to award the broadcast frequency of the country's main independent television station, A1+, to Sharm TV (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2002), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Organizers of the protest pledged that they will force the parliament to dissolve the government's National Commission on Television and Radio and to revise current legislation governing the country's media. The protest follows an opposition demonstration on 12 April of nearly 10,000 protesting the recent closure of A1+. RG
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY FACTION WANTS TO GIVE PRESIDENT MORE POWER
The largest faction in the Armenian parliament, the Unity faction, called for widespread amendments to the country's electoral laws on 15 April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The bloc is proposing amendments to the election law to grant the president expanded powers to appoint nearly half the members of all electoral commissions. Currently, President Robert Kocharian plays no part in the composition of the national and regional 13-member election commissions. The commissions are made up of three government-appointed members with the remaining 10 members appointed by political parties. The opposition has vehemently opposed granting the president such broad powers, although backers of the proposal announced that their planned changes would not be implemented until after the next parliamentary elections. RG
ARMENIAN MINISTER ANNOUNCES NEW ACCORD FOR PROPOSED IRAN-ARMENIA PIPELINE
Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian announced on 15 April that the Armenian government has prepared a new agreement on the planned construction of a natural-gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia, the Caspian News Agency reported. This new agreement, to be signed in the next two months, follows a series of meetings between Armenian and Turkmen officials last month and includes a special role for Turkmenistan in the gas-pipeline plan. Construction of the pipeline is to begin in early 2003 and seeks to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Iran and on to Armenia. RG
EU CONFERENCE ON INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN ARMENIA
An EU conference on information technology (IT) in the Southern Caucasus ended in Yerevan on 15 April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The conference examined the challenges facing its Caucasus Information Technology Initiative (CITI), a program to develop the region's IT sector as an important element for regional integration. The Armenian government has identified that sector as the country's most promising area and seeks to exploit EU plans to invest $1.6 million (1.8 million euros) in a new IT training center to be opened in Yerevan later this year. Armenian state statistics reveal that the output of the roughly 200 IT-related private firms expanded by more than 30 percent in 2001 with exports of IT products surpassing $20 million. Armenian IT has emerged as the country's most attractive sector for foreign investment, including significant U.S. investment. RG
AZERBAIJANI ECONOMIC DELEGATION ARRIVES IN IRAN
A 15-member delegation of leading Azerbaijani economic and commercial figures arrived in Tehran on 15 April for a series of meetings with Iranian government officials and businessmen, IRNA reported. The Azerbaijani delegation, taking advantage of the recent warming of bilateral relations, is seeking to negotiate new commercial agreements to expand trade and investment with Iranian counterparts. The most immediate result of the trade initiative is a new contract with Iranian investors planning to open a small chemical plant in Baku. RG
AZERBAIJAN AND PAKISTAN CONCLUDE NEW AGREEMENT ON MILITARY COOPERATION
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev met with Pakistani Defense Minister Lieutenant General Hamid Nawaz Khan in Baku on 15 April to formally sign a new agreement on bilateral military cooperation, the Caspian News Agency reported. The agreement calls for an expansion of the existing program of training for Azerbaijani officers in Pakistani military academies and formalizes bilateral cooperation and technical assistance. Following a discussion of regional stability and efforts to combat terrorism, the two ministers pledged mutual support to each other in the Nagorno-Karabakh and Kashmir conflicts. RG
GEORGIAN ELECTION OFFICIAL PLEADS FOR FINANCIAL HELP FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
Georgian Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Dzhumber Lominadze met with Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli on 15 April to seek state financing for the commission's work in holding local elections, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a presidential decree, the CEC was granted 4.1 million laris (roughly $2 million) to organize and hold local elections slated for 2 June but has not yet received any funds. RG
ABKHAZIA CALLS ON RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO RETURN TO KODORI GORGE
Abkhaz officials issued a call on 15 April for the return of Russian peacekeepers to the Kodori Gorge, the "Georgian Times" reported. The sudden deployment of Russian troops to the Kodori Gorge late last week led to a crisis that was resolved only after telephone negotiations between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Russian President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). The Abkhaz also claim that Georgia has not withdrawn all of its troops from the gorge, despite the Georgian government's announcement on 11 April that the pullout was complete. The situation remains tense as Russian military officials still vow to conduct patrols of the gorge in the future. RG
GEORGIA BEGINS CENSUS OF CHECHEN REFUGEES
Georgian government officials announced on 15 April that a census of Chechen refugees is under way, international media reported. The six-day census is to focus on the Chechen refugee population in the Pankisi Gorge but will also attempt to measure the influx of refugees to other areas of Georgia. The last census was conducted in 2001 and registered more than 7,000 refugees from Chechnya. There are some estimates that as many as 2,000 of these refugees have returned to Chechnya or have left Georgia for refuge in other areas of the Caucasus. RG
KAZAKH WATCHDOG ORGANIZATION TO TRACK HYDROCARBON REVENUES
Opposition leaders from western Kazakhstan's oil-producing regions announced they have created an organization called the People's Oil Fund in order to monitor the government's financial activities, RFE/RL reported on 15 April. The move follows Prime Minister Imanghali Tasmaghambetov's admission earlier this month that President Nursultan Nazarbaev created a secret foreign bank account in 1996 containing some $1 billion that the Kazakh government received from selling a stake in the Tengiz oil field, although he denied that any of the money was for Nazarbaev's personal use (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2002). The founders of the People's Oil Fund said they hope to promote transparency in the government and to expose any other secret hoards of public money held by "high-ranking bureaucrats in Astana," RFE/RL reported. The organization called on the government to make earnings from oil and gas projects public while maintaining that only about $300 million of an estimated $4-5 billion in annual revenues go into the national budget. Meanwhile, on 15 April, Nazarbaev received the visiting CEO of ChevronTexaco, David O'Reilly, and awarded him with the government Order of Kurmet (Respect) "for making a great contribution to developing Kazakhstan's economy," Khabar TV reported. AA
'NONETHNIC' RUSSIAN PARTY FOUNDED IN KAZAKHSTAN
The Russian Party of Kazakhstan (RPK), a new political organization headed by Gennadii Belyakov, registered with the Justice Ministry and intends to field candidates for the parliament and local government, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 15 April. Belyakov, 55, has run the Association of Russian, Slavic, and Cossack Public Organizations since 1997. The party manifesto says it was established on a "nonracial, nonethnic, nonreligious" basis and calls for a more efficient administration by cutting bureaucracy and ending "financial, psychological, and ideological" repression. It also stresses the importance of preserving the country's territorial integrity. Some 30 percent of Kazakhstan's population of 15 million is ethnically Russian. AA
STATE COMMISSION HEADS FOR SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN
A government commission led by Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev set out on 15 April for Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion, site of the 17 March clashes in which five demonstrators were shot dead, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau and the Kabar news agency reported. As part of its fact-finding mission, the commission will investigate the social and economic circumstances in southern Kyrgyzstan that formed the backdrop to the antigovernment protests, Tanaev told journalists on 15 April. It will also look into the legality of deputy Azimbek Beknazarov's arrest and detention, and the role of both state and nongovernmental actors in precipitating the tragedy, Tanaev said. No deadline for the commission to report its findings has been specified. President Askar Akaev appointed Tanaev to lead the commission on 9 April, replacing Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev after many Aksy residents and political opposition members complained that the commission would not be objective, since Abyshkaev himself was partially responsible for last month's bloodshed. Nevertheless, Abyshkaev remains a member of the commission and the opposition continues to accuse it of pro-government bias, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 15 April. AA
MORE AFGHANS GO HOME
Russian border guards in Tajikistan on 15 April report that some 7,500 Afghan displaced persons have already been moved from camps on the Panj River along the Afghan-Tajik border since a UNHCR repatriation operation began on 8 April, RIA-Novosti reported. All displaced Afghans in the area should have returned to their homes in Afghanistan by the end of April, the UNHCR office in Tajikistan announced the same day. Food and transportation is provided by international organizations and the Afghan authorities, while Russian troops guard the convoys, RIA-Novosti reported. Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers predicted that a total of 1.2 million Afghan displaced persons will have been repatriated from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and Pakistan by the end of 2002, IRNA reported on 14 April. AA
U.S. AID FOR NONPROLIFERATION
Addressing Central Asia's sixth regional forum on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and export control, which opened in Tashkent on 15 April, John Schlosser, an official at the State Department's Nonproliferation Bureau, announced that Washington will be distributing $30 million in assistance among Central Asian states to combat WMD trafficking, RFE/RL and Uzbek news sources reported. An additional $20 million is earmarked solely for Uzbekistan to help it strengthen its borders, Schlosser said, noting that eight attempts to smuggle radioactive material out of Central Asia were thwarted last year. He was addressing some 100 export-control officials from the region at a four-day conference titled "Barriers Against Weapons Of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, And Terrorism," co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the Uzbek Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies. The fifth regional nonproliferation forum was held in Bishkek in 2001. AA
UZBEK-IRANIAN HIGHWAY ON THE DRAWING BOARD
Plans are going ahead for a 1,010-kilometer highway running from Dogharoun in northwestern Iran and transiting Afghanistan to Termez, Uzbekistan, with trilateral talks between the countries concerned due to start soon, the Caspian News Agency and AFP reported on 15 April. Tehran said the project will contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and "promote exchanges between Iran and Uzbekistan," whose bilateral trade has been falling and was worth $135 million in 2001, AFP noted. The highway project is only part of a larger conception of regional development rooted in the memorandum of understanding, signed on 12 April by Iranian Minister of Roads and Transport Ahmad Khorram and Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Yunisov, about establishing air, road, and rail connections between the two countries, the Iranian news agency IRNA said. Tehran has been working on improving its transport ties with Central Asia since linking its railway system to Turkmenistan's in 1997. The first rail route between Tehran and Almaty opened last month. AA
OSCE MISSION ACTING HEAD FORCED TO LEAVE BELARUS
The Belarusian authorities have expelled Michel Rivollier, the acting head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, by not extending his diplomatic visa and accreditation, Belarusian and international media reported on 15 April. Rivollier left Belarus the same day. The OSCE mission in Belarus now consists of three people. "The authorities have set themselves a goal of removing the OSCE group from Belarus," Belarusian opposition activist Uladzimir Nistsyuk told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. "The group gets in the way of the authorities, who want to have free hands and have no use for any monitors or advisers," he added. Belarusian government officials have not issued any comments on Rivollier's departure. JM
UKRAINE DENIES TRADING IN ARMS WITH BAGHDAD
Serhiy Borodenkov, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry press service chief, told journalists on 16 April that "Ukraine has not sold, is not selling, and does not plan to sell any weapons to Iraq," adding that the Ukrainian leadership has not been involved in any illegal arms deals with Iraq, UNIAN reported. Borodenkov's statement comes in the wake of recent media reports alleging that in 2000 President Leonid Kuchma approved a sale of $100 million worth of radar systems to Iraq in contravention of UN sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). JM
ALTERNATIVE VOTE COUNT DIFFERS FROM UKRAINE'S OFFICIAL RESULTS
According to an alternative vote count of Ukraine's 31 March parliamentary elections conducted by the For Fair Elections committee, Our Ukraine obtained 25.04 percent of the vote, the Communist Party 21.2 percent, For a United Ukraine 9.4 percent, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc 8.6 percent, the Socialist Party 7.9 percent, and the Social Democratic Party-united 6.3 percent, Interfax reported on 15 April. Yuliya Tymoshenko said For Fair Elections -- which was formed by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party -- counted votes as they were recorded in official protocols from 97 percent of Ukraine's polling stations. Compared to the alternative vote count, the official results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002) show a higher gain of For a United Ukraine and lower gains of all the other parties. Tymoshenko claimed that while vote-rigging in the election took place, its scale was "significantly smaller than that planned by the authorities." JM
OUR UKRAINE LOSES SEAT FROM SINGLE-MANDATE CONSTITUENCY
The Appeals Court in Zaporizhzhya (southern Ukraine) has invalidated the election results in constituency No. 82 where, according to a preliminary report, the seat was won by Oleh Oleksenko from Our Ukraine, UNIAN reported on 15 April. The court ruling is not subject to appeal. JM
COURT IMPROVES RE-ELECTION CHANCES FOR ANTI-KUCHMA LAWMAKER
The Supreme Court has invalidated the election results in eight polling stations of constituency No. 35 and obliged the Central Election Commission to recount votes in this constituency without taking into account ballots cast in those eight stations, UNIAN reported on 15 April. The court ruling followed a complaint by proxies of lawmaker Oleksandr Zhyr, the chairman of the temporary parliamentary commission investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who wanted the election to be invalidated in the entire constituency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). Zhyr's proxies claimed that the election commissions in those eight polling stations rigged the vote results against Zhyr. According to them, Zhyr has a good chance to be re-elected to the Verkhovna Rada as a result of the court ruling. JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS 'WORKABLE' LEGISLATIVE MAJORITY IS IMPOSSIBLE
Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous election bloc, told journalist on 15 April that a "real, workable majority" in the newly elected Verkhovna Rada cannot be created, Interfax reported. Tymoshenko said there are no "basic principles" on which such a majority can be formed. "We can only speak about a situational majority," she added. She appealed to deputies elected in single-mandate constituencies not to join the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc. She also announced that her parliamentary caucus will initiate an impeachment procedure against President Leonid Kuchma in the new parliament. JM
BALTIC, GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET IN BERLIN
German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping told his Baltic counterparts Sven Mikser (Estonia), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania) in Berlin on 15 April that Germany will not lessen its attention to the Baltic region after the NATO summit in Prague in November, BNS reported. The ministers discussed the contribution of the Baltic states in international peacekeeping operations and their role in fighting international terrorism. Scharping stressed the need to maintain pragmatic ties with Russia. The Baltic ministers are scheduled to visit the operation headquarters of the German army, the Bundeswehr, on 16 April. SG
TURKEY WILL SUPPORT LATVIA'S ENTRY INTO NATO
Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer began an official two-day visit to Latvia on 15 April with a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, LETA and BNS reported. He affirmed that Turkey will support the admission of all qualified candidates, including Latvia, to NATO membership at the Prague summit in November. The presidents also discussed their common goal of membership in the EU and the need to increase cooperation. Sezer invited Vike-Freiberga to make an official visit to Turkey and called on Latvia to increase tourism by opening a visa bureau in Turkey if it is not yet prepared to open an embassy. Sezer also visited the Occupation Museum and attended a dinner hosted by Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins. He was scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Andris Berzins and visit a 19th-century cemetery of Turkish prisoners of war in the northern Latvian town of Cesis on 16 April. SG
RUSSIA REINTRODUCES REQUIREMENTS FOR LITHUANIAN TRUCKERS
Russian customs unexpectedly reintroduced on 15 April the requirement that all Lithuanian cargo-hauling trucks traveling through Russia have a police escort, BNS reported. Russia had established the requirement in January after alleging that Lithuanian truckers engaged in contraband trade causing damages of more than $3.5 million to the Russian economy. After the Lithuanian National Motor Carriers Association (LINAVA) agreed to discuss compensation, Russian officials agreed to lift the convoy requirements until 1 May. LINAVA President Algimantas Kondrusevicius said on 15 April that he does not understand why Russia resumed the convoy requirements before the agreed date, especially as Russia and Belarus have received more than $180,000 and $526,000 in compensation payments, respectively. SG
POLISH POLICE FOIL INTERNATIONAL GANG OF ARMS DEALERS
Police officers from Wroclaw (southwestern Poland) have detained seven people, breaking up a gang of arms dealers and liquidating a channel for smuggling firearms, ammunition, and explosives from the Czech Republic to Poland, PAP reported on 15 April. The charges against those arrested, of whom three are Czech citizens, include illegal production of firearms without a license and illegal trading in firearms. The alleged supplier of the weapons owned a gun shop in the Czech Republic, which police say was a cover for his illegal operations. JM
CZECHS VOTE AGAINST UN RESOLUTION CRITICIZING ISRAEL
The Czech Republic has voted against a UN Human Rights Commission resolution condemning Israel for "gross violations of humanitarian law," CTK reported on 15 April. The resolution, which accuses Israel of mass killings of Palestinians and demands an end to its military offensive in the occupied territories, passed by a vote of 40 to five, with seven countries abstaining. The Czech ambassador to the UN described the resolution as unbalanced, because it does not call on Palestinian militants to end their campaign of violence against Israeli citizens. BW
KLAUS OPPOSES CZECH COMPENSATION FOR SUDETEN GERMANS
Chamber of Deputies speaker Vaclav Klaus, leader of the opposition Civic Democrats, has rejected calls for "symbolic compensation" for Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II, CTK reported on 15 April. Klaus said such calls are attempts to revise the postwar settlement in Europe. Klaus also criticized a so-called "Stop Nationalism" petition. A group of luminaries, including Bishop Vaclav Maly, launched the petition to oppose what they call the exploitation of the Benes Decrees in the run-up to June's parliamentary elections. BW
MORE CONTROVERSY IN SLOVAKIA OVER POLITICIAN'S STATEMENTS IN HUNGARY
Peter Weiss, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Slovak parliament, said on 15 April that the statements made by Miklos Duray, a member of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), at a pre-election rally for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002), were an attempt to destabilize Central Europe, TASR reported. According to Weiss, Orban's idea of "Greater Hungarian nationalism" is damaging to relations between Slovakia and Hungary, and that the Hungarian premier's policies of creating a common fatherland for 15 million Hungarians and demanding that the Benes Decrees be annulled encourages nationalism in other parts of Europe as well. He also said that Duray's statements insulted Slovaks and Slovakia, and damaged the reputation of the SMK by calling Slovakia a province of Greater Hungary. Robert Fico, who heads Slovakia's second-largest party Smer (Direction), said Duray's statements are "further proof of the anti-Slovak and destabilizing policies of SMK's top politicians." AS
SLOVAKIA'S FIRST ROMANY PRESS AGENCY OPENS
The first Romany press agency opened on 15 April in Kosice, eastern Slovakia. The Roma Press Agency's aims, according to a TASR report on 15 April, are to change the negative image of the Romany community in the media and to lead the way for future coexistence between the minority Roma and the rest of the population of Slovakia. Roma Press Agency head Ivan Hriczko said a team of Romany journalists will provide information about "reality, not about sensationalized problems." The agency will operate as a civic association and will publish materials on its website (http://www.rpa.sk). Meanwhile, TASR reported the same day that a new illegal Romany settlement has been set up in a clearance zone in Kosice. About 150 Roma live there without water canalization. AS
MINISTERS INSPECT SLOVAK-UKRAINIAN BORDER
Slovak Interior Minister Ivan Simko and Defense Minister Josef Stanko inspected the Slovak-Ukrainian border on 15 April, "Sme" reported the next day. Simko has called protection of Slovakia's borders a national priority. Both ministers said steps are being taken to stop illegal immigration and organized crime, particularly human trafficking. Simko estimated that it will be necessary to invest hundreds of millions of Slovak crowns to upgrade the border, most notably for a monitoring system to prevent illegal immigration. AS
HUNGARIAN PREMIER CAMPAIGNS IN RURAL AREAS...
Speaking to a crowd of some 3,000 people in Hungary's northeastern town of Kisvarda, Premier Viktor Orban said the voice of rural Hungary will be decisive in the 21 April second-round parliamentary elections, and again called on everyone "to take another person along" with them to vote, Hungarian dailies reported. The FIDESZ candidate reached out to smallholders and pensioners, who he said should remember that pensions hardly rose during the Socialist-led government between 1994 and 1998. He also warned that gas prices will be increased unless the governing coalition wins the elections. Orban also asked young people "to persuade their parents and grandparents to vote correctly." Voters will have to choose between two futures, he said, one of which is the FIDESZ-led forces that want to harmonize people's interests with those of "big capital." MSZ
...WHILE MEDGYESSY BUILDS HIS CAMPAIGN ON CONTINUITY
Socialist prime-ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy told a campaign rally in Kiskunhalas on 15 April that if the Socialists take power they will uphold the present agricultural-subsidy system, will pay cash to former owners of agricultural-cooperative shares, continue to fund students loans, and increase support for housing construction, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Regarding the results of the first-round elections, Medgyessy said the idea that extremist forces have been left out of parliament "is only an illusion." He quoted Hungarian Justice and Life Party Chairman Istvan Csurka, whose party failed to pass the 5 percent electoral hurdle, as saying, "We are there in parliament -- just look at Viktor Orban's speech last Tuesday" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 April 2002). In other news, the same day Medgyessy said it makes no sense for him to debate Orban again after the speech the prime minister gave at the University of Physical Education last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). Medgyessy's campaign spokesman, Zoltan J. Gal, said the result of the earlier debate between the two is reflected in the outcome of the first-round parliamentary election, the daily reported. MSZ
HUNGARIAN POLITICIANS DISAGREE OVER PREVALENCE OF ANTI-SEMITISM
"The increasing prevalence of far-right propaganda supported tacitly by the government is poisoning the minds of young people," Budapest's Free Democrat Mayor Gabor Demszky said on 15 April, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The mayor was speaking on the first of a three-day series of programs held by the Buda district of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Demszky told the gathering that in recent days manifestations of anti-Semitism have turned up in high schools. Government spokesman Gabor Borokai denied Demszky's claims, saying, "one no longer sees militant elements with Swastikas marching in the streets as they did every February at Buda Castle during the era of [former Socialist Prime Minister Gyula] Horn." Borokai also mentioned the court-ordered expulsion of neo-Nazi Albert Szabo and his followers from the country in 1998, and the fact that Holocaust Memorial Day has been officially observed since that year. MSZ
HUNGARY'S CENTRUM PAYS FOR SUPPORTING SOCIALISTS
The Centrum Party alliance has encountered some internal divisions after announcing on 14 April that 12 of its 18 qualified candidates will withdraw from the second round of parliamentary elections in favor of the Socialists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). As a result of that announcement, Centrum Party leadership member Imre Konya resigned. Istvan Gyenesei, a member of the party leadership who disagrees with the alliance's tilt in favor of the Socialists, said he will withdraw from the second round and leave it to voters to decide whom to support, Hungarian media reported. In other news, Independent Smallholders' Party Chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 15 April withdrew from the second-round parliamentary election in his constituency in Mateszalka. Torgyan, who finished third in the first round, did not say which of the remaining two candidates his followers should support. MSZ
EU MINISTERS: SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO NOT YET READY FOR ASSOCIATION TALKS
Meeting in Luxembourg on 15 April, the EU foreign ministers agreed that the recent EU-brokered agreement between Belgrade and Podgorica "brings closer the perspective of negotiating and concluding a Stabilization and Association Agreement [for Serbia and Montenegro], provided that both republics contribute to the effective functioning of the common state," Reuters reported. The statement praised Belgrade's recent decision to release imprisoned Kosovar Albanians and its approval of legislation on cooperating with The Hague. The ministers made it clear, however, that Serbia and Montenegro have not yet met preconditions for starting talks on the agreement with Brussels that marks a first step on the road to full EU membership. The ministers also called on authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia to cooperate with The Hague-based tribunal and to promote the return of refugees. The ministers urged both entities in Bosnia to approve constitutional changes aimed at making Muslims, Serbs, and Croats politically equal throughout the country, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
SLOVENIA LAUNCHES FREE-OF-CHARGE NATO HOTLINE
The Slovenian government on 15 April inaugurated a free telephone service to provide answers to questions about NATO and membership in the alliance, dpa reported from Ljubljana. The government and all major political parties support joining NATO as part of an overall policy aimed at Euro-Atlantic integration. NATO has expressed concern, however, at low levels of public support for membership in the alliance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). An opinion poll recently conducted by the Ljubljana Political Science Faculty showed that only 38.8 percent of the population wants to join NATO. The main reason for the reluctance appears to be that membership would involve additional expenditures. PM
MONTENEGRIN PARTIES BICKER OVER NEW GOVERNMENT
Officials of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the Liberal Alliance (LSCG) denied local media reports that they have agreed to form a new government only after the 15 May local elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). DPS spokesman Igor Luksic told RFE/RL that talks between the DPS, LSCG, and Social Democrats (SDP) should begin before the local poll. The SDP made a similar statement. The LSCG repeated its demand that Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic (DPS) should resign as a first step toward setting up a new government. Constitutional Court Judge Blagota Mitric told RFE/RL that Vujanovic lost his parliamentary majority some time ago and should resign. PM
KOSOVA SERBS CONTINUE PROTESTS
Several thousand Serbs in northern Mitrovica demonstrated on 15 April for the seventh day in a row for the freeing of imprisoned extremist leader Slavoljub Jovic, otherwise known as Pagi, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 April 2002). PM
KOSOVAR SERBS TO JOIN GOVERNMENT?
Serbian Deputy Prime Minster Nebojsa Covic told the BBC's Serbian Service on 15 April that he sees conditions shaping up for the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition to take part in the provincial government, "Vesti" reported. He added that he and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica recently spoke to a delegation of Serbs from Kosova about the matter. As part of a deal, Povratak will reportedly chair three legislative committees and hold the deputy chair of an additional nine committees. Covic added that he has been negotiating the deal with Michael Steiner, the head of the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). Steiner had previously said that Belgrade should not meddle in Kosova's affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 March and 4 April 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 January 2002). PM
DOES MILOSEVIC AIDE INTEND TO GO TO THE HAGUE?
An attorney for former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic said in Belgrade on 15 April that his client does not intend to turn himself in to The Hague, as Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic had suggested, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). A spokesman for Sainovic's Socialist Party of Serbia stressed that none of its members will voluntarily go to The Hague. "Vesti," however, quoted Batic as saying that Sainovic is indeed in contact with the Justice and Interior ministries to seek bail guarantees if he turns himself in of his own accord. PM
BELGRADE TO CALL ON INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS TO SURRENDER
Yugoslav Justice Minister Savo Markovic said in Belgrade on 16 April that his ministry will soon issue a list of about 20 indicted war criminals and call on them to turn themselves in, AP reported. Those who do not risk arrest and extradition. Elsewhere, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said that the first extraditions will take place within the next two weeks but that Serbian President Milan Milutinovic will not be among them, "Vesti" reported. Djindjic argued that it would be "problematic" to extradite a sitting president. PM
'EVERY SERB IS RADOVAN'
A far-right political group called Obraz (Honor) has put up posters in Belgrade and Novi Sad with a picture of former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic and the caption: "Every Serb Is Radovan," "Vesti" reported on 16 April. SFOR recently called on Karadzic to surrender. PM
BOSNIA SAYS EX-INTELLIGENCE CHIEF RAN TERRORIST CAMP
State-run television reported on 15 April that legal proceedings have begun against former Interior Minister Bakir Alispahic, who headed the Muslim intelligence service (AID) during the 1992-95 war, and his aides Irfan Ljevakovic and Enver Mujezinovic, dpa reported. Prosecutors said that "criminal charges could be raised against the three responsible for acts of terrorism, espionage, and abuse of office." The men are suspected of having opened a terrorist training center in the Pogorelica area in 1995 with the support of Iranian intelligence (MOIS). NATO peacekeepers raided the camp in 1996, but Alispahic then had Mujezinovic supply those in the camp with forged papers. PM
CROATIAN PRIME MINSTER SAYS THE 'BANKING SYSTEM IS STABLE'
Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 15 April that local media placed a recent remark of his "in the wrong context" and conveyed the erroneous impression that the government is investigating two banks for improper practices, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). PM
NEW TENSIONS BETWEEN ROMANIANS AND HUNGARIANS IN TRANSYLVANIAN CITY
Romanian media has reported that Romanian pupils at Bolyai Farkas high school in the Transylvanian city of Targu Mures are protesting plans to move them to other high schools in the city. The pupils have gathered more than 500 signatures for a petition against the move, arguing that they want to remain together at the same school. According to a local agreement between the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation in Romania (UDMR), the Bolyai Farkas high school is slated to once again become an entirely Hungarian-language school. On 13 April, Education Minister Ecaterina Andronescu visited the school and promised to find a solution to the conflict. On 15 April, UDMR Chairman Bela Marko rejected President Ion Iliescu's charges of "ethnic segregation" in Targu Mures, arguing that Hungarian-language schools have also been re-established in other Transylvanian cities. In March 1990, Targu Mures was the scene of a violent ethnic conflict between Romanians and Hungarians. ZsM
ROMANIA TO REDENOMINATE CURRENCY
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 15 April that the government has made the political decision to redenominate the leu, Romanian media reported. He added that the government and the Romanian National Bank (BNR) will need at least one year to prepare the measure. According to Nastase, this decision is "necessary," but "difficult" to implement. According to previous reports, the BNR intends to cut four zeros from its currency, so that 10,000 lei would become 1 leu. The current exchange rate is approximately 33,000 lei to the U.S. dollar. ZsM
ANOTHER ANTONESCU STATUE DISMANTLED IN ROMANIA
Romanian authorities in Slobozia on 15 April dismantled a bust representing wartime Hitler ally Marshall Ion Antonescu, Mediafax reported. This is the second Antonescu statue to be destroyed following a recent government ordinance prohibiting the public display of statues and the naming of streets in his honor. While the reasons for the dismantling of a bust of Antonescu in Piatra-Neamt remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002), it is believed that the Slobozia statue was removed on the basis of the local ordinance. ZsM
INTERIOR MINISTRY DENIES IT INTENDS TO REPRIMAND PROTESTERS
Moldovan Deputy Interior Minister Mihai Culcitchi denied on 15 April that his ministry intends to reprimand those taking part in ongoing antigovernment protests in Chisinau, Flux reported. Culcitchi added such rumors are intended to misinform the public. He said police are present on National Assembly Square in Chisinau in order "to maintain public order," but do not intervene and have no intention of doing so in the future. Moldovan authorities have previously alluded to resorting to force against the protesters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2002). ZsM
BULGARIA'S PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL ON EUROPEAN AND EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION TO MONITOR EFFORTS
President Georgi Parvanov on 15 April opened the first session of the newly founded Council on European and Atlantic Integration with the presidential administration, BTA reported. The council is to monitor Bulgaria's efforts toward joining the EU and NATO, as well as to advise the parliament, Parvanov said in his opening speech. The council will hear experts from the Foreign Ministry about the protection of Bulgarian interests during the integration process. "None of us wants to see another Kozloduy nuclear power plant scenario, where commitments undertaken in the past have immediate impact on Euro integration while the Bulgarian society is not timely informed about these intentions," Parvanov said. The council has 25 permanent members, including scientists, representatives of NGOs, and former diplomats. UB
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT TO PAY COMPENSATION FOR DESTROYED HOUSES OF FORCED EMIGRANTS
The Finance Ministry will pay compensation for houses of ethnic Turks that security forces destroyed in the southern Bulgarian town of Haskovo in the summer of 1989, "Dnevnik" on 15 April reported. Some 550 houses in the Hisarya neighborhood were bulldozed after their inhabitants were forced to leave Bulgaria for Turkey. The ministry's decision came after the Haskovo City Council decided to ask the government for compensation. In what was later euphemistically called the "Great Excursion," the communist regime under Todor Zhivkov in 1989 forced some 350,000 ethnic Turks to leave Bulgaria for Turkey. The ministry's decision is the first positive decision for compensation. Previous governments failed to meet the demands of the emigrants, brought forward mainly by the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which represents the Turkish minority. UB
BALTIC STATES COPING WITH DECADE-LONG DECREASES IN POPULATION
The main reasons for emigration -- legal or illegal -- are usually tied to economics; that is, the desire for a better job and higher wages.
In the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the economic situation is unlikely to improve soon. According to a recent report by the European Commission, Lithuania will require 31 years for its citizens to achieve just 75 percent of the average living standards for citizens in the EU. It will take 27 years for Latvia and 19 years for Estonia. These figures are similar to those for the citizens of Romania (34 years) and Poland (33 years), but pale in comparison to the 15 years for Czechs and one year for Slovenes.
A member of Lithuania's parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Algimantas Salamakinas, recently said that emigration from Lithuania is a problem, and that the majority of those leaving the country are looking for better jobs. "It is inevitable," according to Salamakinas, "that some people are leaving because Lithuania is too poor to provide well-paid jobs for everyone. It is [also] sad that many young people, after their studies abroad, choose not to return."
Rasa Alisauskiene, the director of the Gallup Organization's Baltic Surveys polling unit in Lithuania, said surveys conducted this year show that "31 percent of Lithuanians would prefer to live abroad and only about 40 percent say they will stay in Lithuania. However, only 3 percent say they have already decided to emigrate." According to Alisauskiene, the majority of those leaving Lithuania are workers who seek unskilled work in the West and travel abroad for seasonal, and often illegal, jobs.
Others who have made the jump abroad find that, while adjusting to a new life is not easy, they are in no hurry to return to their native country.Reda Zvinakeviciene left Lithuania 11 years ago and resides in Detroit, Michigan. She and her husband are freelance artists who say they earn enough money to afford a decent life in the United States.
Zvinakeviciene said the first days, weeks, and even months in the United States were difficult. She said America was a "completely different world," one that looked more "colorful and strange." But eventually, she said, "We started looking around, observing what was going on in the States and, step-by-step, learned some things about this new world. Later on, we felt more comfortable, but at the same time became more critical about America."
Zvinakeviciene is critical about the health care system in the United States. She can't afford health insurance and said she is afraid she will one day find herself sick but unable to afford to pay for medical assistance.
But Zvinakeviciene said she cannot imagine returning to Lithuania permanently. While she visits Lithuania every year, Zvinakeviciene said she doesn't think she would be able to adapt to what she called "this almost completely new country."
Estonian Evelyn Hoglund married a Finn eight years ago and currently lives in Finland. She said there are approximately 12,000 Estonians in Finland. Many of them arrived after Estonia regained its independence and opportunities to emigrate appeared. The Estonians came from different layers of society and adjusted differently to life in Finland. She said she appreciates the fact that Finland provides a strong social-welfare net, and that while moving back to Estonia is always an option, she would first like to see living conditions improve there.
Latvian native Ilze Ruke, a 25-year-old who emigrated to Sweden four years ago to study at Stockholm University, now works in an advertising company and said she would like to remain in Sweden because of the country's culture, people, and language, and described Stockholm as "fantastic, though noisy." She said she is "considering going back to Latvia, but I do not think I will find an interesting job there. I am having a good time here, and I really like what I am doing here."
Ruke noted that there are laws in Sweden governing the behavior of immigrants, such as a requirement to learn the language. But she said there are thousands of Latvians living in Sweden and that she considers the country to be friendly to immigrants.
Provisional results from the 2001 census shows the number of people living in Lithuania has fallen by 5 percent in the years since 1989. Censuses in Latvia and Estonia conducted a year earlier show that during the 1990s Latvia's population decreased by 11 percent and Estonia's by 12 percent.
Natalija Vaino is an adviser in Estonia's Population Ministry. She said the main reasons for the drops in population are low birthrates and the emigration of Russian speakers to Russia in the early 1990s. Official data is not available, but according to unofficial figures, more than 70,000 Russian speakers left Estonia during that decade. However, beginning in 2000, more Russians are coming to Estonia than leaving, though the numbers are very small.
Latvia's Department of Citizenship and Immigration Affairs director, Martins Bicevskis, said that in the first years of that country's independence, about 100,000 Russian speakers left Latvia. Officials in Latvia do not have complete data about all Russian emigration from Latvia. However, from 1997 until 2001, more than 7,000 Russians left Latvia on the basis of an agreement signed between Russia and Latvia.
Nearly 81,000 Russian speakers left Lithuania during the decade, a substantial segment of the 184,000 decrease in the population during the decade.
Valentinas Mite is an RFE/RL correspondent.