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Newsline - June 3, 2002


PUTIN SEEKS TO MEDIATE INDIA-PAKISTAN CONFLICT...
Russia criticized Islamabad on 3 June for last week's missile tests, even as the Kremlin continues its efforts to mediate the current crisis, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "Against the background of the conflict, Pakistan's testing of [nuclear-capable] rockets was a provocative gesture," Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said, according to Interfax. Ivanov, who was visiting China over the weekend, said "both Moscow and Beijing will undoubtedly play an especially important role" in resolving the crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan, for a regional security conference. President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold separate talks at the conference with Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but a face-to-face meeting between the two is considered unlikely. RC

...AS MOSCOW SAYS THERE WILL BE NO EMBARGO ON ARMS TO INDIA
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said on 30 May that Russia does not intend to impose an embargo on supplying military equipment to India, RIA-Novosti reported. He said that an embargo could not change the situation significantly since India's military capacity greatly exceeds that of Pakistan. Instead, Losyukov urged the international community to continue pressuring both sides to refrain from escalating regional tensions. The Foreign Ministry announced on 1 June that it will not follow the lead of the United Nations and some Western countries by evacuating its personnel from Pakistan. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER FINISHES TALKS IN CHINA...
Defense Minister Ivanov completed a three-day visit to China by signing several documents expanding bilateral military ties, supplying new Russian weapons to China, and training Chinese officers in Russian military academies, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 2 June. China is the leading purchaser of Russian arms, spending about $1 billion per year and accounting for up to 40 percent of Russia's annual arms exports, Interfax reported on 1 June. Arms account for about 20 percent of the trade between the two countries. On 3 May, the state arms export agency, Rosoboroneksport, signed a $1.5 billion deal to supply China with eight Project 636 submarines equipped with Club missile systems, Interfax added. VY

...AND STRESSES STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF BILATERAL TIES...
Ivanov told journalists in Beijing on 1 June that his talks in China touched not only military and security matters, but geopolitics and economics as well, ORT and ITAR-TASS reported the next day. "It is quite clear that China is our privileged strategic partner in Asia, and Russian politicians who stress Russia's orientation toward the West are mistaken," Ivanov said. "Russia is pursuing a multi-vector policy aimed at strengthening security and stability, first of all with its neighbors," he added. VY

...AS PUTIN PUTS RELATIONS WITH CHINA ON A HIGHER LEVEL THAN THOSE WITH THE UNITED STATES...
In an exclusive 30 May interview for Chinese media, President Putin said that Russia's recent strengthening of ties to the United States and NATO "does not mean that we are neglecting relations with China," RTR and pravda.ru reported on 30 May. "[Last year] we signed a friendship treaty with China on the initiative of our friend Jiang Zemin and that means that our relations with China are by nature higher than those with the United States," Putin said. He added that he is pleased that Jiang will attend this month's Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Russia, and said that "we still ought to improve our relations and fill the treaty with specific content." VY

...WHILE NEWSPAPER SAYS ALIENATION BETWEEN MOSCOW AND BEIJING IS GROWING
It is certainly possible to dispute Putin's statement that relations with China are a higher priority than relations with the United States, as both Moscow and Beijing have tilted increasingly toward Washington over the last year, pravda.ru editorialized on 30 May. The newspaper noted that Chinese media hardly paid any attention to the Sino-Russian friendship treaty compared to the euphoria exhibited when China was admitted -- with U.S. support -- to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Moreover, Chinese state planning organs view Russia alongside Eastern Europe and Latin America as just one of several new markets to be exploited. At the same time, the paper wrote, Moscow's policy is increasingly designed to satisfy the United States. VY

ZHIRINOVSKY SUGGESTS RETURNING KURILE ISLANDS TO JAPAN...
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the deputy Duma speaker and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) told journalists in Moscow on 31 May that Russia should return to Japan the disputed Kurile Islands in exchange for "big investments in the Russian economy," Russian news agencies reported on 31 May. Speaking before an official trip to Tokyo, Zhirinovsky claimed that Japan has about $100 billion worth of free capital that "can work on the Russian market," and that he will discuss his proposal and other options for resolving the Kurile problem with senior officials in the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Zhirinovsky's remarks are noteworthy because he often launches trial balloons prior to foreign-policy shifts. For example, last December he signaled important changes in Russia's policy toward the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 17 December 2001). VY

...AS OFFICIAL QUESTIONS U.S.-RUSSIAN BERING SEA BORDER AGREEMENT
Yevgenii Nazdratenko, head of the State Fisheries Committee, called on local leaders in the Far East to pressure Moscow to reject a 1990 agreement with the United States that demarks the U.S.-Russian border in the Bering Sea, ITAR-TASS and AP reported on 31 May. Nazdratenko said that the agreement, which has not yet been ratified by the State Duma although the United States considers it legal, unfairly gives the United States fishing rights over 50,000 square kilometers of waters that should belong to Russia. He noted that depleted fish stocks in Russian waters left hundreds of Far-Eastern fishing boats idle this year. Nazdratenko called on local leaders to push for a discussion of the agreement in the next session of the Duma. RC

PRESIDENT URGES TIGHTER FEDERAL CONTROL OVER STATE REVENUES
President Putin sent his annual budget message (see http://www.president.kremlin.ru) to the State Duma on 2 June, Russian news agencies reported. In the message, Putin proposes introducing rigid central controls over regional finances in order to build up a new, "centripetal" Russia, "Izvestiya" wrote on 3 June. The paper argues that Putin is seeking to radically curtail regional financial independence. In his message, Putin also calls for more precise definitions of the regions' areas of financial responsibility and for removing the burden of local community services from the federal budget. Previously, attention was devoted to delineating mechanisms for distributing budgetary resources; now, Putin said, the main goal should be precisely determining local and national budgetary obligations. Putin also called for adopting a three-year budget rather than the current annual budget, saying that such a move would result in improved financial planning, "Vremya novostei" reported on 3 June. VY

RUSSIA TAKES GO-SLOW APPROACH TO SECURITY COUNCIL EXPANSION
The Kremlin continues to support the notion of expanding the UN Security Council, but feels it should be done "without artificial haste," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 2 June, according to ITAR-TASS. Reforming the Security Council is one of the topics that will be discussed during UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's 4-6 June visit to Moscow. Any expansion should be based on the broadest possible support, Yakovenko said, and "the status of the incumbent permanent members..., including their right to veto, should remain intact," the news agency reported. Russia wants "the United Nations to play a key role in securing stable and balanced socioeconomic development around the world," Yakovenko said. RC

PUTIN'S APPROVAL RATING REACHES 75 PERCENT...
A public-opinion poll conducted at the end of May found that President Putin's popularity rating has reached 75 percent, up 4 percent over April, regions.ru and ntvru.com reported on 30 May. The national survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) asked 1,600 respondents to evaluate a number of leading national political figures. Just 20 percent of respondents said they had a negative view of the president. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov received a positive rating from 42 percent of respondents, while 38 percent viewed him negatively. Fifteen percent of respondents expressed support for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, down from 17 percent in April. RC

...ALTHOUGH FOREIGN-POLICY SUPPORT IS WEAK...
Nearly one-half of respondents in another VTsIOM public-opinion poll expressed disapproval of Russia's recent foreign policy vis-a-vis the United States. Only 25 percent expressed support for the Kremlin. Respondents listed the impending U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the possible expansion of NATO, the closing of Russian military bases in Vietnam and Cuba, and the introduction of Western military forces in Central Asia and Georgia as examples of the Kremlin's "weakness." RC

...AND NOTED AUTHOR UNLEASHES HARSH CRITICISM
Nobel-prize winning writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn criticized President Putin on 31 May, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The 83-year-old writer, who endorsed Putin when the latter became president two years ago, spoke out against the Kremlin's policy of authorizing land sales, including the sale of farmland. "Our best factories, our priceless natural resources were transferred -- practically free of charge -- into the hands of a group of adventurers," Solzhenitsyn said. "When our new president came to power, there were hopes that he would crack down on those imposters...but this has not happened." RC

WTO MEMBERSHIP IS IN COUNTRY'S NATIONAL INTEREST
Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said on 2 June that accession to the WTO is important for Russia's national security, ITAR-TASS reported. Rushailo noted that within the framework of the WTO "countries agree virtually all the main questions connected with the regime of international trade in goods and services," and that "it would be wrong to stand aloof from processes of hammering out such decisions," according to the news agency. He added that some countries are trying to impose demands of "a political nature," and "naturally, Russia cannot accept such conditions." Rushailo said that membership will be advantageous to Russia because it "will help to end discrimination against Russian goods...and will also increase the export of ready-made goods." RC

MUSCOVITE KILLED BY BOOBY-TRAPPED MOBILE PHONE
A woman was killed on 1 June when an explosive device concealed in a mobile phone went off when she attempted to turn the phone on, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Olga Trishina died and her husband Aleksandr, who told authorities that he found the phone at a Moscow subway station, was injured in the incident. A police spokesman said that the explosive device was similar to booby traps used by the warring sides in Chechnya, lenta.ru reported. On 27 May, a booby-trapped anti-Semitic sign near Moscow exploded, seriously injuring a 28-year-old woman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2002). VY

PRECIOUS-METALS EXPORT CHIEF STEPS DOWN
Deputy Finance Minister Valerii Rudakov, who headed Goskhran, the state depository for precious metals and gems, resigned on 31 May, Dow Jones reported. Rudakov will turn 60 this month, the official retirement age for state officials. The resignation comes amid reports that Goskhran will be restructured and the position of its director will be downgraded from deputy-minister status, the news agency reported. Goskhran controls Russia's exports of valuable commodities such as diamonds, palladium, platinum, and rhodium. RC

NUMBER LIVING BELOW THE POVERTY LINE AGAIN ON THE INCREASE
One-third of Russians live below the poverty line, Western and Russian news agencies reported on 1 June, citing figures released on 31 May by the State Statistics Committee. The number of people living in poverty -- which is defined as less than 1,719 rubles ($55) per month -- increased to 47.7 million, reversing a downward trend observed during most of last year. RC

RUSSIANS LARGELY INDIFFERENT TO SOCCER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Just 8 percent of Russians believe that their country's team will win the soccer World Cup that got under way in South Korea and Japan on 31 May, according to yet another VTsIOM poll, lenta.ru reported on 31 May. Nineteen percent of respondents said that they will be following the tournament very closely, while 41 percent said that they will not be paying any attention. RC

JUSTICE MINISTRY OFFICIAL DENIES RADUEV HAS DISAPPEARED
Deputy Minister of Justice Yurii Kalinin on 1 June dismissed as erroneous media reports that Chechen field commander Salman Raduev and his henchmen disappeared while being transported from Makhachkala -- where they were tried and sentenced for their role in the Kizlyar hostage taking -- back to Moscow's Lefortovo prison, Interfax reported. The Supreme Court in April rejected Raduev's appeal of his life sentence for that raid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001 and 19 March and 12 April 2002). LF

SENIOR ARMENIAN LAWMAKER SAYS IMPEACHMENT BID VALID
Viktor Dallakian, who chairs the Armenian parliament committee on legal affairs, said on 1 June that the attempt by six opposition deputies to convene a debate on impeaching President Robert Kocharian is legally grounded, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 May 2002). That initiative is based on a recently adopted parliament statute that entitles any deputy to table a motion on the issue under discussion. Pre-presidential deputies argued on 30 May that no such valid connection exists between the debate on the report submitted by a parliament commission monitoring the investigation into the October 1999 parliament shootings and the impeachment demands. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PRISONS HEAD SENTENCED
A Yerevan district court handed down a seven-year jail sentence on 31 May to Mushegh Saghatelian, the former head of Armenia's penitentiary system, on charges of abuse of power, fraud, and attempting to secure false testimony implicating President Kocharian in the October 1999 parliament shootings, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Saghatelian pleaded not guilty to those charges, which he claims are politically motivated; his lawyer criticized the verdict as "disgraceful." Saghatelian was arrested last fall after openly expressing his belief that Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian were behind the parliament killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2001 and 14 March 2002). LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER COMMENTS ON U.S. SANCTIONS, KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS
Speaking on 31 May at a press conference in Yerevan, Vartan Oskanian said the Armenian leadership is continuing a dialogue with the United States over the sanctions imposed last month on the Lizin chemical plant for selling dual-purpose technology to Iran, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 17 May 2002). The plant's owners have denied the charges. Oskanian also said both Armenia and Azerbaijan are satisfied with the Karabakh mediation activities of the OSCE Minsk Group and are not searching for an alternative mediator. LF

GEORGIAN PAPER ACCUSES ARMENIA OF BACKING TERRORISM
The English-language weekly "Georgian Times" in its 27 May edition accused the Armenian authorities of harboring terrorist groups that are planning an armed insurgency in the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Djavakheti in southern Georgia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 1 June. The paper claimed representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun from various countries met secretly in Switzerland in March to plan that uprising. The article lists terrorist attacks allegedly perpetrated in the 1970s and 1908s by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and other unnamed diaspora-based Armenian terrorist organizations that, it claims, receive support, arms, and funds from the Armenian government, and whose current activities are in part dictated by Russian special services with the aim of increasing pressure on Georgia. LF

POLICE LAUNCH SPECIAL OPERATIONS IN NARDARAN, NORTHERN AZERBAIJAN
Hundreds of police and Interior Ministry troops cordoned off the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku on 3 June for reasons that are unclear, Turan reported. The villagers staged several protests earlier this year against appalling socioeconomic conditions (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 8, 28 February 2002, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 13 May 2002). Police, army, and border troops have also launched a special operation in northern Azerbaijan, the objective of which is unclear, according to "Hurriyet" on 31 May, as cited by Groong. One man has been arrested so far. LF

FORMER RULING PARTY TROUNCED IN GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS...
According to preliminary returns on 3 June, the opposition National Movement-Democratic Forum and the Labor party each polled 25 percent of the vote in local elections the previous day, Caucasus Press reported. They were followed by the New Rightists (12 percent); the Christian Conservative Party (9 percent), on whose list supporters of former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania ran; Industry Will Save Georgia (7 percent); and the All-Georgian Revival Union (6 percent). The remaining 16 parties, including the pro-presidential Union of Citizens of Georgia, failed to poll over 4 percent. LF

...AMID HIGH TURNOUT, CLAIMS OF FRAUD
Despite heavy rain and the lure of World Cup soccer on television, some 41 percent of the Georgian electorate turned out to vote on 2 June, Caucasus Press reported. Turnout in the previous local elections five years ago was only marginally over the minimum 33.3 percent required for the poll to be valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). But the vote was declared invalid in the towns of Zugdidi and Khashuri in western Georgia, and in Rustavi. In Zugdidi, half the polling stations closed early because of theft of ballots and pressure on voters, according to ITAR-TASS. In Rustavi, unidentified armed men attacked a van on 2 June and stole some 40,000 ballots. There were numerous other reports of irregularities, including multiple voting. LF

GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT, ITERA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON DEBTS
Talks last week in Tbilisi between the Georgian government and senior Itera official Mikhail Potapenko failed to yield an agreement on rescheduling Georgia's outstanding $117 million debt to that company, Caucasus Press reported. Itera the debt repaid within seven years, while the Georgian government wants to repay over 10 years. Finance Minister Mirian Gogiashvili has said the debt will not be repaid from the state budget. LF

ABKHAZ, SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADERS ACCUSE GEORGIA OF PLANNING NEW AGGRESSION
Speaking on 31 May at a joint press conference at Interfax, Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia and South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoiti accused Georgia of planning to launch new hostilities against their unrecognized republics under the guise of a crackdown on international terrorism. They pledged mutual military assistance in the event of an attack on either republic. In March, Kokoiti had denied that South Ossetia and Abkhazia had concluded any such mutual assistance pact. Kokoiti said the conflict between South Ossetia and the central Georgian government can only be resolved by peaceful negotiations. Djergenia for his part called for closer economic cooperation between Abkhazia and Russia. LF

ABKHAZIA, RUSSIA GIVE GO-AHEAD FOR INTERNATIONAL INSPECTION OF RUSSIAN BASE
Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told Apsny-Press on 31 May that during talks in Moscow earlier in the week the Abkhaz side again agreed to an inspection by international observers under the auspices of the UN and the OSCE of the Russian military base at Gudauta. But Shamba added that Sukhum would not agree to Georgian representation on the inspection team. During talks in Tbilisi on 23 May, Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov similarly assured his Georgian counterpart Nino Burdjanadze that Moscow is ready to allow international inspectors into Gudauta to confirm that Russia has complied with its undertaking to withdraw all its troops and military hardware. LF

POLICE IN KAZAKHSTAN DISPERSE UNSCHEDULED RALLIES
Police in Almaty broke up a demonstration on 31 May to commemorate the victims of the 1930s famine and Stalin's repressions and to protest the ongoing official crackdown on the independent media and opposition politicians, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Members of a local NGO in Semey, northeastern Kazakhstan, were similarly forced by police to disperse when they tried to demonstrate to demand the release of the arrested leaders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. LF

ARRESTED KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST'S HEALTH AGAIN DETERIORATES
Zhaqiyanov was placed in intensive care in Pavlodar hospital on 1 June for the second time in two weeks, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2002). He suffered internal bleeding after being given an unidentified medication for a stomach ulcer. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOT SEEK FURTHER TERM, WOOS MINORITIES
Askar Akaev told journalists in Bishkek on 31 May that he will not run again for president when his current term expires in 2005, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The Kyrgyz Constitution does not, in fact, permit him to do so. Akaev also accused the opposition of unwillingness to cooperate, saying its representatives have turned down the offer of positions in the new government. Akaev said the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan, in which the country's minorities are represented, should play a major role in forming a Council of Democratic Security and drafting a Democratic Code. To that end, he signed a decree on 1 June raising the assembly's status to that of a consultative body subordinate to the president. Abduhalim Raimdjanov, who is deputy Assembly chairman and represents Kyrgyzstan's Tajik minority, said on 1 June that more representatives of the country's minorities should be named to government posts. Kyrgyz account for some 65 percent of the country's 5 million population. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY APPEALS SENTENCE
Azimbek Beknazarov submitted an appeal on 31 May to the Djalalabad Oblast court against the one-year suspended sentence handed down to him by a local court on 24 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2002). Beknazarov was found guilty of abusing his official position by failing to bring criminal charges while working in 1995 as an investigator against a man who killed another in self-defense. Beknazarov and his supporters consider that his trial was political retaliation for his criticism of the 1999 Sino-Kyrgyz border agreement. On 1 June, the Djalalabad authorities granted Beknazarov's supporters permission to stage a demonstration on 4 June to demand his sentence be annulled. LF

PAKISTAN'S PRESIDENT VISITS TAJIKISTAN
General Pervez Musharraf arrived in Dushanbe on a one-day visit on 2 June for talks with his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov, Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported. The talks focused on regional security, in particular the situation in Afghanistan; reconstruction of Afghanistan's war-shattered infrastructure, including building a highway through the Wakhan corridor to link Pakistan and Tajikistan; and possible Pakistani involvement in economic and energy projects in Tajikistan, including completing construction of the Rogun hydroelectric plant. Rakhmonov expressed his willingness to mediate talks between Pakistan and India. (Visiting Rogun on 31 May, Rakhmonov estimated the cost of completing the first stage of the plant at $450 million, Asia Plus-Blitz reported.) LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT FOCUSES ON SECURITY ISSUES
On 31 May, Rakhmonov chaired a meeting of heads of Tajikistan's law enforcement agencies to focus on the fight against terrorism, political extremism, and drug trafficking, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 3 June. He proposed that a special department for combating international terrorism be established within the Security Ministry. Participants also endorsed the transfer of responsibility for running the country's prisons from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT INVITES NATO FOR JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES
On 1 June, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited a training ground at Barysau where the "Berezina-2002" military exercises were taking place, Belarusian media reported. Speaking to foreign military attaches, Lukashenka said Belarus will hold military exercises every year. "If you wish to participate in such exercises to any extent, we are ready to invite appropriate units, observers, participants, anybody you'll like -- beginning with the United States and ending with our closest neighbors -- to take part in them," Lukashenka pledged. "[We are ready to invite] not only the countries that are signatories to the CIS Collective Security Treaty, not only CIS countries, but also representatives of NATO, including the United States. If you wish, you are welcome," he added. Lukashenka said Belarus will "most likely" conduct joint military exercises this winter with unspecified NATO troops in the Chernobyl-affected areas in Belarus. JM

BELARUS EXPELS OSCE MISSION CHIEF
The OSCE said on 3 June that Belarus has ordered Andrew Carpenter, the acting head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, to leave the country, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Carpenter is the third OSCE diplomat to be barred from the country this year. An OSCE spokesman said Minsk declined to extend Carpenter's visa. He has been in Belarus for the past two years. Carpenter's visa expired on 31 May but he has not left Minsk as expected, Belapan reported. Carpenter's diplomatic accreditation is valid until 14 August and the OSCE hopes that he will be allowed to remain in Belarus until that time. JM

MINSK CONDEMNS NEIGHBORS' PLANS TO INTRODUCE VISA REQUIREMENTS
The Foreign Ministry has urged Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland to refrain from taking steps "reminiscent of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain," Belapan reported on 1 June, quoting the ministry's statement. The statement followed Poland's recent denunciation of a 1985 agreement with the Soviet Union on a simplified border-crossing procedure for border-area residents. "Such actions by Poland and equally, plans by Lithuania and Latvia to impose a full-scale visa regime vis-a-vis Belarus are not reconcilable with the principles of good-neighborliness," read the official translation of the statement posted on the ministry's website. "[Such actions] also contradict the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, as well as other fundamental OSCE documents," the ministry added. JM

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL PRAISES UKRAINE'S MOVE TO JOIN NATO...
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 2 June praised Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership as a positive step toward regional security, AP reported. "It is important that Ukraine is making these attempts to get closer to the rest of Europe," Annan said at Kyiv's airport at the beginning of his first visit to Ukraine. "Today, all European nations are striving to share common values -- values of democracy, human rights, and governance based on the rule of law -- and Ukraine is becoming an important part of that movement, and I'm pleased about that," Annan added. JM

...AS CENTRAL EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS REPORTEDLY ALSO DO
Meeting at an informal summit in Slovenia on 1 June, the presidents of 14 Central European countries hailed Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership, Ukrainian media reported, quoting President Leonid Kuchma. "They accepted this decision as a long-awaited one," UNIAN quoted Kuchma as saying following the summit. JM

NEW PROPOSAL TO SHARE COMMITTEES SURFACES IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT
An unspecified "initiative working group" has proposed a new distribution of the posts of parliamentary committee heads and their deputies among caucuses in the Verkhovna Rada, UNIAN and Interfax reported on 2 June. According to this proposal, the Verkhovna Rada should constitute 28 committees and one "monitoring commission." United Ukraine is being offered the leadership of 13 committees, Our Ukraine seven, the Communist Party four, the Social Democratic Party two, the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc one each, and nonaffiliated deputies one. Last week, the "nonpresidential four" -- Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- failed to agree on distributing the posts of committee heads solely among themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2002). JM

UKRAINE'S TOP TV EXECUTIVE FOUND DEAD
Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the suicide death of Ukrainian National Television Company deputy chief Andriy Feshchenko on suspicion that he was forced to take his own life, Ukrainian media reported. Feshchenko was found dead on 31 May inside his jeep on a street in Kyiv. Police also found a hunting rifle and a note from Feshchenko in the car, but the content of the note -- which has not been released -- prompted prosecutors to start looking for suspects who might have forced Feshchenko to commit suicide. JM

ESTONIAN, RUSSIAN CAPITALS SIGN COOPERATION MEMORANDUM
Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar and Aleksandr Muzykantsky, the head of the Moscow government's Information and Sociopolitical Relations Department, signed a memorandum of cooperation between the capitals in Tallinn on 31 May, BNS reported. The city governments will set up a working group to prepare a framework protocol of cooperation. The two officials later that day attended the unveiling of a monument to Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, who lived periodically in Tallinn in the 1840s. The bronze bust of the writer was a gift from the Moscow government. The Moscow delegation also attended a session of the Tallinn City Council and held talks on possible contacts with Moscow in different spheres of city life. SG

LATVIA'S WAY APPROVES PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES
In Riga on 1 June, the 13th Congress of Latvia's Way approved the list of the party's 57 candidates to the fall parliamentary elections that was proposed by the party's board, BNS reported. Of the some 330 delegates in attendance, only two voted against the list and three abstained. The candidates include all of the party's current parliamentary deputies and ministers with the exception of Tadeuss Ketlers, as well as well-known people such as Naturalization Board Chairwoman Eizenija Aldermane, Latvian Shipping Council Chairman Druvis Skulte, Latvian Academy of Sciences Vice President Andrejs Silins, biathlete Olegs Maluhins, and several heads of local councils. The congress named party Chairman Andris Berzins as its candidate for prime minister. It also approved the party's platform for the fall elections, which calls for continuing economic development by attracting European investment, creating new jobs, developing Latvia's regional areas, and raising salaries -- particularly for people working in the spheres of education and medicine. SG

LITHUANIA'S LIBERAL DEMOCRATS NOMINATE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The executive council of the Liberal Democratic Party met in the southern Lithuanian town of Liskiava on 1 June and unanimously nominated its party chairman, former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, as its candidate for the presidential elections in December, ELTA reported. Paksas pledged "to bring order to Lithuania and change the life of people" by overcoming social problems, disorder, and injustice, as well as restoring hope to people and encouraging the moral rebirth of the nation. Party officials said that the party, which was formed in early March, currently has 55 local branches and more than 1,800 members. SG

EU WARNS POLAND OVER REVERSAL OF PRIVATIZATION
The European Commission on 31 May called on Poland to try to avoid "shortcomings" in the treatment of foreign investors, and encouraged the government to dispel "potential" anxieties about the continuation of privatization, PAP reported. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen's spokesman told Polish journalists in Brussels that the implementation of the Polish government's new economic program could reverse the country's privatization trend. In a report delivered to European Union governments earlier the same day, the European Commission listed two potential threats: the revision of privatization plans in the financial sector as announced by the government, and proposals to consolidate state-managed firms before their privatization. Polish government spokesman Michal Tober commented the same day that the planned consolidation of some companies prior to privatization is meant to increase their efficiency and competitiveness. "Consolidation is to prepare firms for subsequent privatization," he added. JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS CLOSE GAP ON CIVIC DEMOCRATS...
The latest public opinion polls indicate that the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) has pulled nearly even with the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), CTK reported on 1 June. According to a poll by the Center for Empirical Research (STEM) published in "Lidove noviny" the same day, the ODS leads all parties in the lead-up to the 14-15 June general elections with 23.7 percent support. The governing CSSD is in second place with 22 percent. ODS support dropped by nearly 4 percent after Prague Mayor Jan Kasl resigned his post and left the party on 28 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 31 May 2002). The Coalition, an electoral alliance between the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, has 17.4 percent support, and the Communist Party 14.7 percent. BW

...AS CSSD LEADER SAYS NO COALITION AFTER POLL...
CSSD leader Vladimir Spidla has said his party would not form a coalition with the Communist Party or the ODS after the upcoming general elections, Czech media reported on 2 June. Spidla made his comments during a televised debate the same day with parliamentary speaker and Vaclav Klaus, the leader of the opposition ODS. Spidla said his party would form a minority government after the elections if possible. "My goal is not to form a government in a coalition with Vaclav Klaus," Spidla said, adding, "I will therefore do everything to achieve that the ODS' strength is such that this possibility is out of the question even theoretically," CTK reported. After the 1998 general elections, the CSSD and the ODS formed a so-called "opposition agreement" that gave the CSSD control of the government and granted the ODS key parliamentary posts. BW

...AND CLINTON WON'T ATTEND PRAGUE INVESTMENT CONFERENCE
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will not attend a Czech-American conference on investment and trade, CTK reported on 1 June. The conference is scheduled to take place in Prague on 4-5 June. The conference agenda includes the state of the U.S. economy, how the Czech Republic can attract more investment from the United States, and how the Czech Republic joining the European Union will influence trade relations. CTK commented that Clinton decided not to attend the conference because he does not want his presence to affect the general elections on 14-15 June. BW

CZECH SENATE REJECTS FIGHTER-JET PURCHASE
The upper house of the Czech parliament vetoed legislation on 31 May for financing the purchase 24 Jas-39 Gripen supersonic fighter jets, Czech media reported the same day. The legislation would have allocated 60 billion crowns ($1.84 billion) to buy the fighter jets from the British-Swedish BAE Systems/SAAB consortium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 23, 28, and 30 May 2002). It was voted down 45-32 after nearly four hours of debate in the Senate. The ruling CSSD, the Christian Democrats, and the Communists supported the legislation. The ODS, the Civic Democratic Union, and the Freedom Union opposed it. The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament, can override the Senate's veto with 101 votes. BW

CZECH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES OFFICIALS OVER SUDETEN GERMAN COMMENTS
President Vaclav Havel has criticized recent statements by Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla about the expulsion of Czechoslovakia's ethnic German minority after World War II, Czech media reported on 1 June. Havel said he favors calm reflection on the issue, but added that it is dangerous to inject passion into the debate. Zeman has said that Czechoslovakia's German minority wanted to join the Third Reich, while Spidla has said their postwar expulsion was a source of peace. BW

TWO SLOVAK TELEVISION EDITORS RESIGN
Two editors at Slovak state television refused to moderate the regular Sunday political discussion after the management of the editorial office invited ANO party leader Pavol Rusko to participate in the program, TASR reported on 2 June. Three politicians from other parties were initially invited, but on 30 May the management of the editorial office ordered that Rusko be invited "to ensure the balance in the participation of all political parties in the program." The two editors said that such balance should not be sought by "inviting politicians for the first available program whenever they wish." According to Jan Budaj, the chief of the parliamentary culture and media committee, the committee should discuss the situation as soon as possible. AS

SLOVAK PREMIER SAYS COUNTRY WILL HAVE BROAD COALITION GOVERNMENT AFTER THE ELECTION
Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said that "whether one likes it or not, Slovakia will have a broad coalition government after the election also," SITA reported on 1 June. In an interview with Slovak Radio, he stressed that if the international community has some issues with Slovakia they are connected with the opposition and the fact that the movement has not come to terms with its own past. "We have an accepted government but an unacceptable opposition," Dzurinda added. He expressed his regret that there are continuous problems in the field of justice, health care, and the social system, and that Slovakia still has the lowest wages of all the four Visegrad countries. AS

NEW HUNGARIAN CABINET ANNOUNCES WAGE HIKE FOR PUBLIC SERVANTS
Following its first official meeting on 31 May, the cabinet announced a 50 percent salary increase to take effect in September for 600,000 public servants, including teachers and health-care staff, and a one-time tax-free 19,000 forint ($73) payment to 3 million pensioners that will be paid in July, Hungarian media reported. In addition, a 100,000 forint ($385) minimum salary for university degree holders will also be introduced and income tax on minimum wages will be phased out beginning on 1 September. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal announced that the cabinet will soon decide on whether to revoke 33 resolutions that were passed by the previous government following the April elections, including a decision to sell state-owned land to local farmers, the granting of significant government financial guarantees for Hungarian Television and Hungarian Radio, and a decision to sell Russian state debt. MSZ

HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST LEADER ASSESSES ELECTION DEFEAT
Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka told reporters on 1 June that his party's defeat at the April elections was primarily due to external causes, "Nepszabadsag" reported. In Csurka's opinion, the expulsion of MIEP from parliament was "a top international and Israeli-American priority." Engaging in self-criticism, Csurka said his party did not sufficiently stress its radicalism before the elections and did not do enough to ensure that they were not presented by the media as "an auxiliary of FIDESZ." He also emphasized that MIEP considers the election result unacceptable and does not recognize either the parliament or the Socialist-Free Democrat government as legitimate. MSZ

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT BACKS HUNGARY
European Parliament Speaker Patrick Cox said in Budapest on 31 May that the EP supports giving Hungary two more seats in the legislature than was agreed at last year's summit in Nice, France. In an interview with "Magyar Nemzet," Cox said he is optimistic that Hungary will be included in the first wave of European Union expansion. In other news, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said in an interview with the Russian daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta," cited by "Nepszava" on 1 June, that the new Hungarian government aims to significantly improve Hungarian-Russian political and economic ties. Kovacs said Hungarian-Russian bilateral relations should be improved both in view of Moscow's international and East European influence, and because closer economic relations are in Hungary's interest. MSZ

FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLICS CALL FOR ADMISSION TO THE EU...
The presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Yugoslavia called upon the European Union to admit their countries to membership, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 3 June. Although the presidents failed to agree on a joint declaration at the meeting of 16 Central European presidents in Bled and Brdo in Slovenia, they appealed to the EU to integrate their countries into that body to provide stability and help alleviate poverty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2002). Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica noted that the wealthy West European countries helped stabilize authoritarian Spain, Portugal, and Greece through investments in the 1970s, and performed a similar function in East-Central Europe in the 1990s. He stressed that the time has now come for the EU to do the same in the Balkans. PM

...WHILE CZECH, SLOVENIAN PRESIDENTS WARN AGAINST POLITICIZATION OF HISTORY
Elsewhere at the Central European summit in Bled, Slovenian President Milan Kucan and his Czech colleague Vaclav Havel warned against using any discussion of the 1945 Benes Decrees or their former Yugoslav counterpart, the AVNOJ Decrees, to divide peoples or score points in election campaigns lest a "Pandora's box be opened." The two men also opposed any raising of the issue of the decrees in conjunction with their two countries' applications to join the EU. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 3 June that Havel and Kucan did not succeed in their attempts to persuade Austrian President Thomas Klestil to sign a joint statement with them. PM

SLOVENES REMAIN SPLIT OVER NATO MEMBERSHIP
In an unusual instance of sharp polarization in the Slovenian body politic, public opinion is nearly evenly divided over joining the Atlantic alliance, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 3 June. According to a recent survey, 39.8 percent of the population want to join NATO, 36.9 percent do not, while 23.3 percent have not yet decided. The primary concern among Slovenes -- who have a long-standing reputation for thrift and self-interest -- is that NATO membership will be too expensive. Slovenia spends $112 per capita on the military annually, compared with the NATO average of $368. Kucan recently warned his countrymen, however, that collective defense is cheaper and more effective in the long run. He also told them that neither terrorism, nor organized crime, nor ecological disasters respect any single country's declaration of neutrality. All mainstream Slovenian political parties support membership in both the EU and NATO. PM

MILOSEVIC'S PARTY WANTS VOTE ON NATO LINKS
The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) will campaign for a referendum on Yugoslavia's prospective membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 1 June. PM

BOSNIAN POLICE ARREST COLLEAGUES ON DRUG CHARGES
Bosnian police arrested two members of the narcotics squad in Travnik as well as three additional individuals for involvement in drug trafficking, AP reported from Sarajevo on 3 June. UN police spokesman Stefo Lehmann said: "The work of the local police is very commendable in this case. Before, it was rare for the police to uncover evidence that implicated their own colleagues." During the arrest, the police confiscated some small arms, 3.5 kilograms of marijuana, and unspecified incriminating documents. PM

MACEDONIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS BLOCK VOTING ON ELECTORAL LEGISLATION
At the request of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the parliament broke off its session on 31 May, during which much of the outstanding electoral legislation was to be passed, Macedonian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 May 2002). The SDSM protested Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti's rejection of an SDSM amendment regarding the nomination procedure for Election Commission members. The Social Democrats say the measure proposed by the government runs against the consensus reached among the leaders of the four largest political parties, including the SDSM. The SDSM called for new talks on electoral legislation in the presence of international mediators in order to overcome the differences. UB

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT TALKS BEGIN
In what is likely to be the start of a drawn-out process with much public grandstanding, Prime Minister-designate Filip Vujanovic began talks in Podgorica on 3 June with Social Democratic (SDP) leaders over the formation of a new cabinet, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2002). Miodrag Zivkovic of the Liberal Alliance (LSCG) said that his party will announce later in the day whether to participate in talks with Vujanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). PM

STEINER REACHES DEAL WITH BELGRADE
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, signed an unspecified number of agreements with the Serbia authorities in Belgrade on 31 May, Reuters reported. He stressed that the documents on cooperation between the railway services and police of Kosova and Serbia are "less about philosophical differences...[and] aimed at achieving concrete results." Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova, said that the session was a "very operational meeting, a sign our cooperation is improving regarding solving the problems in Kosovo." The Serbs presented Steiner with a 6,000-year-old figure from Belgrade's National Museum to take back to Kosova. Kosovar archaeologists say that Serbian authorities are holding some 3,000 artifacts from the province's museums that were taken away before Serbia's conflict with NATO in 1999. PM

FEISTY FARMERS FUSS IN CROATIA
Farmers' representatives from Slavonia and Baranja demanded that the government set a grain-purchase price by 1 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Osijek on 2 June. The farmers' leaders said that there is no point in bringing in the harvest unless people know what they will be paid. Zlatko Tomcic, who is speaker of the parliament, said that he will call for unspecified "state intervention" unless the matter is clarified by mid-June. PM

CROATIAN RIGHTISTS SAY NO COALITIONS WITH TUDJMAN'S PARTY
The far-right Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP) will not enter into any local coalitions with the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Dubrovnik on 1 June. The HSP leadership said it cannot compromise its nationalist principles by entering into coalitions with a party that governs jointly with a Serbian party in Vukovar and Sibenik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2002). PM

CROATIAN STREETS 'DESERTED'
AP reported from Zagreb on 3 June that the streets across Croatia were "deserted" as people stayed indoors to watch their World Cup soccer cup team lose 1-0 to Mexico in the opening Group G match in Niigata, Japan. News about the team and its prospects has crowded out much other news from the media in recent weeks. Slovenia is also participating in the championship. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT CREATES ECONOMIC DEPARTMENT
Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase announced on 31 May the creation of a governmental Economic Policies Department directly subordinate to him, Medifax reported. The department, led by Nastase's adviser Eugen Dijmarescu, will also include the Foreign Trade Department, formerly subordinated to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. The new department is to periodically consult with the Romanian National Bank in order to coordinate the government's economic policies with the central bank's monetary policies. ZsM

DID THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY BLOCK THE PSD'S ADMISSION TO THE SOCIALIST INTERNATIONAL?
Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said on 2 June that the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) was not nominated as a candidate party for the Socialist International at the organization's council in Casablanca that ended on 1 June, Romanian media reported. Basescu said the council asked the Democratic Party, which is a member of the Socialist International, to present a report on the PSD. Democratic Party representative Sorin Frunzaverde asked the council to only discuss the PSD's candidacy after the Socialist International's congress next spring. PSD General Secretary Cozmin Gusa, who attended the Casablanca meeting, dismissed Basescu's declaration, arguing he was either "lying or being lied to." He added that, according to the council's last meeting six months ago, the PSD is to be admitted as a full member of the Socialist International at the organization's next congress. ZsM

POPE JOHN PAUL II ASKS ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES TO RESTITUTE CONFISCATED CHURCH PROPERTIES
Meeting in the Vatican on 1 June with the newly appointed Romanian Ambassador to the Holy See Mihail Dobre, Pope John Paul II asked Romanian authorities to restitute church properties confiscated during the communist regime, Mediafax reported. John Paul said he hopes the agreements between the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and the Holy See will be implemented. However, he added that "respect and cooperation would be improved" if Romanian authorities were to "justly restitute" church properties. He said the rapid resolution to "the wounds of the past, which may constitute potential litigation sources" would benefit all Christians and society at large. ZsM

CUBREACOV ASKS THAT FORMER MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN, NEWSPAPER EDITOR BE QUESTIONED OVER HIS KIDNAPPING
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov on 31 May asked Chisinau prosecutor Petru Bobu to question former parliament Chairman Dumitru Diacov and government newspaper "Moldova Suverana" Editor Ion Gonta over allegations they have made regarding his disappearance, Flux reported. On 30 May, Gonta published an editorial arguing that Cubreacov was kidnapped and held captive by PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca. Cubreacov argued that Gonta must be directly or indirectly involved in his kidnapping, since he claimed to know the exact address of the place he was held prisoner. Diacov has declared that he knew "approximately a month [before Cubreacov's reappearance]" that the deputy was alive. Reacting to Gonta's editorial, ruling Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc called the editor's accusations "exaggerated" and suggested Rosca should sue Gonta. ZsM

TIRASPOL ACCUSES ROMANIA OF VIOLATING ITS AIRSPACE
On 1 June, military authorities in the breakaway Transdniester region claimed that two Romanian helicopters had violated the self-proclaimed republic's airspace, Flux reported. According to an ITAR-TASS report, the military authorities reported the unauthorized low-altitude flights of two Romanian helicopters over Russian arms depots on 31 May in the Kolbasna region and interpreted them as "spy" flights. The Romanian Interior Ministry dismissed the charges the same day, arguing that the two helicopters were flying from Bucharest to St. Petersburg, via Chisinau and Kyiv, for scheduled repairs in Russia. The release said all authorizations were obtained from Chisinau and that the allocated flight route was respected. ZsM

EU COMMISSIONER SAYS KOZLODUY QUESTION IS TECHNICAL, NOT POLITICAL
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Guenther Verheugen, in response to criticism raised by some Bulgarian parliamentarians over his speech to Bulgarian parliament on 30 May, said in an interview with the daily "Standart" of 2 June that the question of the decommissioning of blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant is of a technical nature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2002). "The 1999 memorandum, which [the European Commission] and the [previous Bulgarian] cabinet of [Ivan] Kostov signed, states that the Bulgarian government has to set the date of the decommissioning of [the two blocks] by the end of 2002.... I was surprised by the reactions to my speech. I believe that there are forces in Bulgaria that want to draw the people's attention to an exclusively technical question [and turn it into a political one]," Verheugen said, adding that, "They want to block Bulgaria's EU accession." UB

OUTGOING CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF SAYS BULGARIAN ARMY REFORM DEADLINE TO BE MOVED UP
Chief of General Staff Colonel General Miho Mihov told BTA in an interview published on 2 June that the deadline for the modernization of Bulgaria's armed forces will be moved up by five years. He said both the original deadline for the modernization of the army (2015), and the deadline for turning the army into a professional one (2010) will be cut by five years each. Mihov admitted that the armed forces are currently not 100 percent combat-ready but added that the situation has improved considerably compared to the period of 1995-96, stressing the positive effect of Bulgaria's participation in various peacekeeping missions. Mihov's mandate as chief of general staff expires on 11 June. UB

THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING BELARUSIANS 'INTERNATIONALIST'
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met on 24 April with a group of authors who are writing new textbooks on literature, history, and social sciences. The Belarusian leader ordered them to be ready with draft versions of these textbooks by September 2003. He did not miss the opportunity to publicly instruct the authors what texts they are expected to produce.

"There should be no nationalism," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "One should take into account that we are not only mild-mannered people but also -- and I want to stress this as our great virtue -- an absolutely internationalist nation. What does nationalism have to do with this? We are now suffering because of nationalism. It needs to be taken into account, it's a conceptual thing."

After Belarus declared independence in 1991, new textbooks were written for schools in an effort to disengage the country from its Soviet intellectual legacy in which the central historiographical tenet asserted that Belarus first came into being only after the October Revolution of 1917 (in the form of the Belarusian SSR) and existed primarily thanks to the benevolent patronage of its "elder brother," Russia.

On the other hand, independent Belarus' history textbooks tried to link the historical succession of the present-day Republic of Belarus to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which was, in terms of territory, the largest state in late-medieval and Renaissance Europe) and the medieval Principality of Polatsk. The idea behind this was to offer a positive set of Belarusian national values and historical myths as well as to instill students with the conviction that they may take pride in both their longstanding national history and the freshly acquired statehood.

When Lukashenka took over in 1994 with his frantic drive toward merging with Russia, the new historiographical outlook promoting the independent state and nation building proved to be a major obstacle for him. Therefore, it is no wonder that the referendum organized by Lukashenka in 1995, in addition to the main question about the people's stance on merging with Russia, also included a question regarding the abolition of the symbols of Belarusian independence -- the white/red/white flag and the historical national emblem (Pahonya) dating back to the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania -- and another one about giving Russian the status of official language along with Belarusian.

These proposals were overwhelmingly endorsed by Belarusians in what is generally believed to have been a fair plebiscite, if we disregard the fact that the promoters of Belarus' destiny as not quite identical with that of Russia were not given any chance to publicize their point of view in the state media before the vote. The symbols of the freshly acquired Belarusian independence and the imminent prospect of making the Belarusian language a full-fledged means of communication in the country fell victim to the powerfully advertised delusion that it was possible to turn back history and resurrect the "good times" of the Soviet Union.

Along with his indefatigable push to eliminate political opposition and consolidate control over socioeconomic life, Lukashenka has continued to unrelentingly fight what he calls "nationalism" in Belarus. "Nationalism" for Lukashenka means primarily attempts by some opposition political parties and NGOs to apply affirmative action to the Belarusian language and to de-Sovietize and de-Russianize public life in the country. Lukashenka -- who, despite all his intellectual narrowness, edgy temperament, and antics in the international arena, is generally credited with possessing an uncommon political instinct -- appears to perceive the development of Belarusian "nationalism" as a major threat to his rule.

Being an "absolutely internationalist nation" for Belarusians in the Republic of Belarus means essentially the same as in the former USSR -- they have to remain primarily Soviet (Eurasian, anti-European) in worldview and Russian in speech and culture. In other words, what was effective in providing the ideological cohesion of Belarusian society in the Soviet era is thought by Lukashenka to be good in ensuring his unperturbed authoritarian rule under Kremlin patronage today. Lukashenka seems to have no problems in perpetuating this "internationalist" mental attitude among older generations of Belarusians who remain unalterably nostalgic for their Soviet past. As for younger generations, rewriting textbooks to fit such an "internationalist" vision of the Belarusian nation seems to be one of Lukashenka's far-reaching measures to prevent the "virus of nationalism" from undercutting his regime.

An obvious conclusion from this is the theory that building a European-type democracy in Belarus is strongly connected with providing support for the promotion of Belarusian national identity as distinct from the Russian one and for the Belarusian indigenous culture as distinct from the Soviet one. Such a task has been bitterly neglected by both Belarusian opposition parties and NGOs as well as their Western sponsors, who apparently believed that it was possible to develop a civil society in Belarus without taking into account factors related to the building and consolidation of Belarusians' national consciousness.

Such a belief with regard to Belarus is especially puzzling as one inspects the patterns of postcommunist transition in Belarus' neighbors -- Poland, Lithuania, or Ukraine. In all of these countries, the "nationalist factor" -- the will to break away from the Soviet suppression of the development of national (nationalist) aspirations -- seemed to play no less of a role in the transition process than the "economic factor" -- the will to transform the inefficient socialist economy model. It also cannot be overlooked that the traditionally strong "nationalist" countries -- such as Poland or Lithuania -- are now nearly meeting Western standards of democracy. Ukraine, where civil-society institutions are not much stronger than in Belarus, also seems to be sheltered from sliding into the "Eurasian political fold" by its "stronghold of nationalism" in Galicia and other western regions.

It is no wonder that Belarus' "nationalism" is the weakest among the former Soviet republics. Unlike Ukrainians, Belarusians have had no sponsor of their national identity in the past. Western Ukraine has benefited, in terms of nation building, from the Austro-Hungarian rule in the 19th century. As for Belarus, there was no such sponsor -- both Poland and Russia viewed Belarusian lands as their fiefdom and tried to Polonize or Russianize their inhabitants. The fact that the Belarusian national identity has survived until today is a miracle in itself.

It seems that in the face of a prolonged unsuccessful effort to build a "non-nationalist" civil society in Belarus, it is time to admit at last that Belarus' return to Europe should be assisted through comprehensive support for initiatives oriented toward the building of Belarusian national identity. Such a view of today's Belarusian affairs implies, in particular, that printing a Belarusian-language book or newspaper in Minsk or another Belarusian city is no less important that organizing an anti-Lukashenka rally.

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