PUTIN CAUTIOUS ON UNION WITH BELARUS
President Vladimir Putin met in St. Petersburg on 11 June with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to discuss the introduction of a single currency within the Russia-Belarus union and elections to a union parliament, RIA-Novosti and the other Russian news agencies reported. The two presidents also discussed a unified customs and tariffs policy, as well the extension to Belarus of Russian energy prices. Putin remarked that progress on the union state depends not only on political and economic issues, but on public opinion as well. He noted that polls in Belarus show the country about evenly divided on the idea of union with Russia. Putin said that Lukashenka agrees with him that unification can only proceed in a way that does not contradict the national interests of either country. VY
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT ATTEND PRAGUE NATO SUMMIT
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov arrived in Whistler, Canada, for a meeting with his G-7 counterparts on 11 June and stated that Russia will not attend the Prague NATO summit in November, RIA-Novosti reported. During the summit, NATO is expected to invite several Central and Eastern European countries -- including the three Baltic states -- to join the alliance. "Issues that have no relation to us will be discussed at this meeting," Ivanov said. He also commented on the 9 June soccer riots in Moscow, saying that the rampage might mar Russia's new image in the world. "For years, the president and the government have been doing a great job shaping a new image of Russia as a democratic and civilized state that respects democratic values, and now one incident casts a shadow on all those efforts," Ivanov said. VY
INTERIOR MINISTRY WATCHFUL ON INDEPENDENCE DAY...
In the wake of the 9 June street riots in Moscow, security was tight in the capital for the 12 June Independence Day holiday, Russian news agencies reported. Interfax reported that the Interior Ministry (MVD) moved two divisions of its internal troops into Moscow, according to Vladimir Pronin, chief of the Moscow MVD's Main Directorate. Pronin, speaking to journalists on 11 June, said that he has no reason to suspect there would be any disturbances, although his forces will be on alert. However, Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin told Interfax the same day that his agency is monitoring at least 13 extremist groups in order to prevent violence. Police have been widely criticized for lax crowd control during the 9 June rampage, which reportedly left one dead and scores injured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2002). Polit.ru reported on 12 June that 5,000 police have been deployed in city parks and the sale of all beverages in glass bottles has been banned. VY
...AS KREMLIN ENJOYS 'MODEST' BANQUET...
Meanwhile, presidential Press Secretary Viktor Khrekov said that the Kremlin will mark the holiday with a modest -- "without excess" -- banquet for 900 guests, featuring specialties of Russia cuisine and flower arrangements in Russia's national colors of red, white, and blue. VY
...AND MOSCOW SAYS THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Despite the 9 June rioting, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov announced on 11 June that the city will continue its large-screen presentations of Russia's World Cup soccer matches, Western and Russian news agencies reported. "We won't yield to those who would like to deprive people of the opportunities of communication, the information possibilities characteristic of a modern civilized nation, a modern civilized city," Luzhkov said, according to AP. Russia will play Belgium on 14 June and needs a draw to advance to the next round of the competition. RC
FINANCE MINISTRY HAILS INVESTMENT GROWTH
For the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the inflow of capital to Russia exceeds capital flight, Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev told ORT on 11 June. Ulyakov attributed the growth in foreign investment to the widespread perception that Russia has become a less risky investment target. He added that he expects the country's hard-currency and gold reserves to continue to grow and that the exchange rate will not exceed 33 rubles to the U.S. dollar at the end of the year. VY
REGIONAL CITIES FACE BANKRUPTCY OVER ENERGY DEBTS
Five of the largest municipalities in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast might face bankruptcy and outside administration in the near future, smi.ru reported on 12 June, citing the Kazan-based newspaper "Vremya i dengi." Speaking at a press conference in Nizhnii Novgorod on 10 June, oblast Duma Chairman Yevgenii Lyulin said that the five cities -- Nizhnii Novgorod, Dzerzhinsk, Arzamas, Kstovo, and Bor -- have amassed large and growing debts to the regional energy companies Nizhnovenergo and the Nizhnii Novgorod Heating and Energy Company. Lyulin said the oblast's total debt to the two companies exceeds 2 billion rubles ($606 million). He said that the oblast legislature will take up the matter on 13 June and might recommend that the oblast Audit Chamber investigate the debts. If regional or municipal administrations are found to be responsible, the oblast Duma could ask the oblast administration to proclaim the cities bankrupt and place them under external administration. RC
PATRIARCH PUSHES FOR OWNERSHIP OF CHURCH LAND
Patriarch Aleksii II on 11 June called on the State Duma to affirm in the new land code the Russian Orthodox Church's ownership of lands currently being farmed by its monasteries, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The patriarch noted that monks farm the land not only for their own benefit, but to feed pilgrims and the poor, and that their ability to continue this practice should be codified. He added that, because of their expertise and long experience, the clerics are a positive example of "assiduous relations with the land." Prior to the 1917 revolution, the Orthodox Church was one of the largest landholders in the Russian Empire. VY
U.S. TO EXPEDITE EXTRADITION OF RUSSIAN GUANTANAMO DETAINEES...
The United States and Russia have reached an agreement under which Washington will accelerate the extradition of Russian citizens detained during the military operation in Afghanistan and being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, NTV and other Russian media reported on 11 June. According to Sergei Fridinskii, deputy prosecutor-general of the North Caucasus Federal District, three confirmed Russian citizens -- residents of Bashkortostan and Kabardino-Balkaria -- are being held, against whom Russian law enforcement agencies have gathered enough evidence to issue indictments. Fridinskii also said that four other individuals are being held who are believed to be Russian citizens, although their identities have not yet been confirmed. VY
...AS ISRAEL EXTRADITES RUSSIAN MURDER SUSPECT
Israel on 11 June extradited to Moscow an Israeli citizen charged with murder and other serious crimes, ORT and RIA-Novosti reported. According to Aleksandr Shubov, the MVD's representative in Israel, the extradition of Andrei Zhuravlev is an unprecedented development that represents an important contribution to cooperation between law enforcement agencies of the two countries. Zhuravlev is accused of committing a number of serious offenses in Russia between 1995 and 1998, after which he emigrated to Israel and entered a religious school in what authorities describe as an effort to evade prosecution. VY
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ALLOWS SINGLE-CANDIDATE ELECTIONS
The Constitutional Court ruled on 11 June that it is legal to hold second-round elections with just one candidate on the ballot if all other contenders withdraw from the race, gazeta.ru reported. The court ruled on a case involving an election last year in Tula Oblast, in which incumbent Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev was to compete in a second-round runoff against Andrei Samoshin. Three days before the poll, however, Samoshin withdrew his candidacy, as did all other first-round contenders in what was widely interpreted as a bid to halt the vote because the election law bans single-candidate elections. However, the Constitutional Court ruled that candidates have the right to withdraw their candidacies, since there is no basis to compel people to run for office. Gazeta.ru commented, however, that by establishing this precedent, the court might have created a loophole that will legitimize single-candidate elections. VY
MESKER-YURT SWEEP ENDS
Russian troops have ended their 20-day search of the Chechen village of Mesker-Yurt, chechenpress.com reported on 12 June. On 10 June, the site published a list of 19 people detained during the search whose whereabouts are unknown. Ten villagers whose relatives are members of the armed resistance were shot dead. In an interview published in "Krasnaya zvezda" on 11 June and summarized by Interfax, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who commands the combined federal forces in Chechnya, said that the use of force by Russian troops during the Mesker-Yurt search operation was justified because the villagers were protecting a band of some 50 Chechen fighters who had been using the village as a base from which to attack Russian forces. LF
PETROZAVODSK TO HONOR ANDROPOV
A monument to long-time KGB Chairman and CPSU Central Committee General Secretary Yurii Andropov, who died in 1984, is to be erected in Petrozavodsk, the capital of Andropov's native Karelia, Interfax reported on 11 June. LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SESSION SUSPENDED AFTER RENEWED CONFRONTATION
Parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian suspended this week's parliament session for one day on 11 June after opposition deputies again occupied the podium to protest his refusal to include on the agenda an opposition demand for a debate on impeaching President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). Khachatrian also ordered that beginning 12 June all deputies must deposit firearms in the guardroom before entering the parliament chamber. Pro-government and opposition legislators traded insults, and a member of the People's Deputy faction that supports Kocharian punched opposition deputy Aramayis Barseghian in the head. Kocharian condemned the standoff as "hooliganism" and laid the blame for it on the opposition. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES SECURITY SERVICES OF INTERFERING IN BUSINESS ACTIVITIES
Addressing a meeting on 11 June of senior police and security ministers, Kocharian condemned what he termed "unwarranted and illegal interference" by those agencies in the business activities of local firms, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "Creating equal opportunities for business must be a top priority for all of us," Kocharian said. The Armenian business community has long complained about frequent and unjustified inspections of their companies by tax officials and about police harassment and demands for bribes. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEMANDS PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE ON NARDARAN CLASHES
Several opposition parliament deputies called on 11 June for a debate on the 3 June clashes between police and residents of the village of Nardaran, Turan reported. But speaker Murtuz Alesqerov rejected the request, saying a debate will be held only after the investigation into the clashes is completed. Also on 11 June, Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Deputy Chairman Rovshan Ahmedov told a press conference in Baku that he does not know the whereabouts of party Chairman Alikram Aliev, who was arrested the previous day for his alleged involvement in the Nardaran clashes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). Ahmedov said that Aliev was not in Nardaran on 3 June. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEMANDS THAT PKK BE DECLARED A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION
Some 50 journalists staged a demonstration on 11 June outside the Baku headquarters of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party to demand that its parliament faction formally declare the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) a terrorist organization, Turan and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. For the past month, the Azerbaijani opposition has called on the parliament to do so (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 20, 7 June 2002). The journalists also demanded an end to reprisals against opposition and independent newspapers that have printed articles accusing Azerbaijani officials of supporting or sympathizing with the PKK. LF
AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA AT ODDS OVER TOPONYMS, SURNAMES
At the request of speaker Alesqerov, the Azerbaijani parliament has written to its Georgian counterpart requesting that Georgia revert to the traditional Azerbaijani toponyms for villages in the largely Azerbaijani-inhabited region south-east of Tbilisi and formally designate that region by its traditional Azerbaijani toponym, Borchalo, rather than by the Georgian name Kvemo Kartli, Turan reported on 11 June. On 4 June, Georgian parliament deputy Revaz Mishveladze expressed his "outrage" that the Azerbaijani authorities have failed to implement a decree issued by President Aliev on enabling members of Azerbaijan's Ingilo (Georgian) minority to revert to their Georgian surnames, Caucasus Press reported. Mishveladze quoted an appeal to the Georgian parliament from Ingilos who complained that local authorities in northwestern Azerbaijan are preventing them from changing the Azerbaijani names they were forced to adopt during the Soviet era. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH LEADER OF ABKHAZ COMMUNITY IN U.S...
. Meeting in Tbilisi with Inal Kazan, the visiting head of the Abkhaz community in the United States, Eduard Shevardnadze expressed his appreciation of Kazan's offer to mediate in the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported on 11 June. Kazan was for several years Abkhazia's envoy in the United States, but resigned that post in April 1999 after a policy disagreement with President Vladislav Ardzinba. Ardzinba's aide, Astamur Tania, rejected Kazan's overture on 11 June, saying that Abkhazia has not requested, and does not need, his services as mediator. Also on 11 June, the independent Georgian daily "Akhali taoba" quoted Geno Kalandia, a Georgian parliament deputy by virtue of having been elected in 1991 as a member of the Abkhaz parliament, as proposing that Kazan run for Abkhaz president. LF
...AS OPPOSITION POLITICIAN SAYS U.S. WILL MEDIATE IN ABKHAZ CONFLICT...
National Movement-Democratic Forum leader Mikhail Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 June that during his recent visit to the United States, he met with Rudolf Perina, who heads the U.S. State Department Negotiators' Group for conflicts in the former USSR, to discuss the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili said that Washington intends to become directly involved in mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict as Russia's efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully have failed. Also on 11 June, Russia's special envoy for the Abkhazia, Valerii Loshchinin, arrived in Sukhum for talks with the Abkhaz leadership, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
...PEACEKEEPERS' FATE REMAINS IN BALANCE...
Lieutenant General Valerii Yevnevich, who is deputy commander of the Russian Land Troops Peacekeeping Forces, met in Tbilisi on 11 June with Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze and Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze to discuss whether the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed since 1994 under the CIS's aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone should be extended when it expires next month, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian leaders are demanding that the mandate be changed to authorize deployment of the peacekeeping force throughout Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. Also on 11 June, Tamaz Nadareishvili, head of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament in exile, announced that he has collected 700,000 of the 2 million signatures he hopes to gather for a petition calling for the CIS peacekeepers' withdrawal. LF
...AND ABKHAZIA, GEORGIA TRADE ACCUSATIONS
Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Zurab Abashidze expressed concern on 11 June that large quantities of arms are being transported to Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. He did not specify whether those weapons are being brought by sea from Turkey or by land from Russia. On 12 June, Apsny Press quoted Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia as telling journalists that Georgia is trying to legalize the presence of its army troops in the Kodori Gorge by claiming that they are border guards. Georgia undertook in March to withdraw its army troops from Kodori by 11 April and insists that it has indeed done so. LF
TURKEY ALLOCATES MORE FUNDS FOR GEORGIAN MILITARY
General Huseyn Kivrikoglu, who is chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, and Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 11 June under which Ankara will provide a further $2.8 million grant to provide equipment for the Marneuli military airfield south of Tbilisi and to continue improving the infrastructure at the Vaziani military base, Caucasus Press reported. Kivrikoglu pledged that Turkey will continue to provide funding to help Georgia bring its armed forces into compliance with international standards. On 10 June, Shevardnadze presented Kivrikoglu with the Order of Honor in recognition of his role promoting bilateral military cooperation and helping modernize Georgia's armed forces. LF
PICKET IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN CONTINUES
The number of participants in a protest picket near the town of Tash-Komur in southern Kyrgyzstan has risen to 1,500, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 11 June. The picketers, who earlier blocked the main Bishkek-Osh highway, are demanding the release of seven people detained in a scuffle with police on 8 June; the annulment of the verdict handed down last month to parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov; and that the officials responsible for the violent clashes between police and demonstrators in Aksy Raion on 17-18 March be punished (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 June 2002). LF
RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
Vladimir Rushailo met in Bishkek on 11 June with President Askar Akaev and Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev to assess the threat still posed to Kyrgyzstan by the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau and Russian agencies reported. Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov told journalists after those talks that IMU units are amassing on the border between Afghanistan -- where many of them fought on the side of the Taliban -- and Tajikistan and are planning a new incursion into Kyrgyzstan similar to those they undertook in 1999 and 2000. LF
FORMER TAJIK OFFICIAL SENTENCED FOR TERRORISM
After a four-month trial, Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 11 June sentenced Abdulaziz Khamidov, former governor of Leninabad (now Sughd) Oblast, to 15 years' imprisonment on charges of embezzlement, terrorism, creating illegal armed groups, and attempting to assassinate government officials, including his successor as governor, Kasym Kasymov, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2002). Two of his subordinates charged with the same crimes received 25-year jail sentences. Khamidov is a close relative of former Tajik Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullodjonov, who is believed to have been behind repeated insurgencies in 1996 and 1997 by rebel Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. Khamidov fled to Tashkent after the most recent of those failed insurrections. LF
UZBEK DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES 'EMERGENCY' AT KHANABAD
Interfax on 11 June quoted an unnamed Uzbek Defense Ministry source as rejecting as "deliberate rumors or disinformation" reports of an "emergency" at the Khanabad military base. Some 1,000 U.S. troops participating in the international antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan were evacuated from that base after the discovery there of traces of nerve and mustard gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). The Defense Ministry official denied that either chemical or biological weapons were ever stored at Khanabad. LF
PACE RAPPORTEUR CALLS ON BELARUS TO PAVE WAY FOR EUROPEAN INTEGRATION
Wolfgang Behrendt, rapporteur on Belarus in the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said in Minsk on June 11 that the present situation in Belarus impedes the country's integration into Europe, Belapan reported. Behrendt was addressing a seminar attended by members of Belarus's legislature and a group of PACE representatives who are currently visiting the capital. Behrendt called on Belarusian legislators to make a more active effort to resolve the ongoing conflict between Belarus and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) over the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk. JM
BELARUSIAN NGO WARNS OF UNFAIR TRIAL FOR JOURNALISTS
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHK) has warned that journalists Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka, who are currently on trial on charges of slander (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002), may be unfairly convicted for criticizing President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2001 election campaign, Belapan reported on 11 June. "The trial has shown that the court does not intend to abide by the generally recognized principles of justice such as independence, impartiality, openness, lawfulness, the presumption of innocence, the right to defense, etc.," the BHK said in a statement. The BHK said the judge denied representatives of nongovernmental organizations permission to assist the defense, thus violating Article 62 of the constitution, which guarantees the accused the right to defend themselves by all available legal means. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CONSTITUTES COMMITTEES
The Verkhovna Rada on 11 June approved the composition of 24 parliamentary committees, Ukrainian media reported. The heads and first deputy heads of those committees were appointed last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2002). JM
UNITED UKRAINE REPORTEDLY TO BECOME LESS UNITED
The United Ukraine parliamentary caucus has launched a "process of creating an interfactional association" based on the bloc's deputies, UNIAN reported on 11 June, quoting United Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Onishchuk. According to Onishchuk, the parties currently constituting United Ukraine -- Labor Ukraine, Popular Democratic Party, Party of Regions, Agrarian Party, and Party of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists -- want to create their own parliamentary groups within the United Ukraine "interfactional association." Meanwhile, Communist Party lawmaker Heorhiy Kryuchkov commented that the transformation of United Ukraine into such a group is "not a split but decomposition oriented toward obtaining a larger amount of official offices and cars." JM
ESTONIA, SWITZERLAND SIGN TREATY ON AVOIDING DOUBLE TAXATION
Estonian Ambassador to Switzerland Mart Laanemae and Swiss Tax Board Director Urs Ursprung signed an agreement on avoiding double taxation in Bern on 11 June, ETA reported. The agreement was initialed in March 2001, and the Estonian government endorsed it in July. It still must be ratified by the parliaments of both countries. Last year, Switzerland was 21st among Estonia's trade partners with about 1 percent of total trade. SG
IMF WARNS ESTONIA AGAINST SUPPLEMENTARY BUDGET IN 2002
The director of the International Monetary Fund's second European department, John Odling-Smee, advised Prime Minister Siim Kallas in Tallinn on 11 June that the government should not adopt a second supplementary budget but instead place any budget surplus in reserve, ETA reported. The same day, President Arnold Ruutel promulgated an addendum to the state budget that the parliament adopted earlier in the month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002), incorporating 410 million kroons ($24.6 million) in additional expenditures beyond the initial 2002 budget line of 33.13 billion kroons. SG
LATVIA CLOSES TAX AND REGIONAL POLICY CHAPTERS IN EU NEGOTIATIONS
Latvia successfully closed the "Taxation" and "Regional Policy and Structural Instruments" chapters in its EU membership negotiations on 11 June, raising the number of completed chapters to 27 of 31, LETA reported. Finance Minister Gundars Berzins noted that Latvia has been granted the longest transition period (until late 2009) among EU candidate countries for raising the excise tax on tobacco to EU required levels. It was also allowed to keep the annual turnover limit for which a company must register as a VAT payer at the current level, which is four times higher than that set in EU directives. Latvia also received permission for its free ports and special economic zones to continue functioning after it enters the EU. International Financial Affairs Minister Roberts Zile told a press conference that Latvia should receive 1.16 billion euros ($1.06 billion) in financial aid from the EU in 2004-06, almost half of which would come from the Cohesion Fund. SG
LITHUANIA PLEDGES TO CLOSE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT IN 2009
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen approved an agreement in Luxembourg on 11 June under which Lithuania made a commitment to close the second reactor of its nuclear power plant at Ignalina in 2009, BNS reported. The agreement also states that the EU, recognizing that the decommissioning of the plant "represents for Lithuania an exceptional financial burden not commensurate with the size and economic strength of the country," is "ready to continue to provide adequate additional Community assistance to the decommissioning effort" after Lithuania becomes an EU member. The Lithuanian Economy Ministry has estimated that the costs of closing the two reactors will amount to 2.4 billion euros ($2.2 billion) over the coming 20 years. Lithuania also closed the "Energy" and "Regional Policy and Structural Instruments" chapters in its EU membership negotiations, raising the number of completed chapters to 28 of 31. SG
POLAND TO SEEK PROTECTION FOR ITS GRAIN MARKET
Poland will ask the European Union to shift from 1 July to 1 October the opening of a duty-free import quota for grain to protect domestic producers and stabilize the agricultural market, PAP reported on 11 June. Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski told journalists that he will "immediately" start talks with Brussels to postpone the opening of a 480,000-ton import quota for wheat from the EU, because imports of cheaper EU grain would further hurt Polish farmers. The government will also spend some 370 million zlotys ($92.5 million) to subsidize pork and beef exports and to intervene on the grain market by purchasing surplus wheat and rye. JM
POLAND, RUSSIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON COMBATING ECONOMIC CRIME
Poland's General Customs Inspectorate has signed an accord with Russia's Tax Police on cooperation to combat economic crime, PAP reported on 11 June. "Cooperation is a must in view of Poland's forthcoming EU entry," Andrzej Anklewicz from the General Customs Inspectorate commented. The inspectorate estimates that 30-40 percent of alcohol and 20-25 percent of cigarettes on sale in Poland's eastern regions are smuggled from Russia. JM
ONE CZECH PRIME-MINISTERIAL CANDIDATE WARNS OF GROWING GERMAN INFLUENCE...
Vladimir Spidla, the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) prime-ministerial candidate in the elections scheduled for the end of this week, warned voters that German influence in the country would become too strong if Prague failed to join the EU, AP reported on 11 June, citing the daily "Pravo." In a campaign speech in his hometown of Jindrichuv Hradec, Spidla said the Czech Republic might "become just another German state" if it does not gain EU membership. Asked to elaborate, Spidla said he had simply used "a metaphor" and there is no danger that the Czech Republic will "formally" lose its sovereignty. He added that if the Czech Republic "wastes this opportunity" [to take part in the first wave of EU enlargement], German influence in the country will "eventually prevail." "We would become partially dependent on Germany" and "German influence would be of greater significance than it is now," he explained. MS
...WHILE ANOTHER PLEDGES TO RETIRE IN EVENT OF 'DRAMATIC LOSS'
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus on 11 June told Radio Frekvence 1 that he will step down if his party suffers a "dramatic loss" in the elections, Reuters reported. "I will take a vacation [from politics] for about two years," Klaus was quoted as saying. He did not elaborate on what he means by a "dramatic loss." The ODS is trailing the CSSD in the latest opinion polls by about two to four percentage points (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). MS
CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE SETS CONDITIONS FOR PARTICIPATION IN GOVERNMENT...
Cyril Svoboda and Hana Marvanova, leaders of the two parties that make up the Coalition alliance, announced on 11 June the alliance's conditions for joining a government after the elections, CTK reported. They said they will only join a cabinet that is clearly pro-European and that pledges to lower taxes for all citizens and companies, to fight corruption, to finance free university education, to support families with children, and to encourage citizens' participation in decision-making. Svoboda, who is chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, called on all voters who are dissatisfied with the current political situation to come to the polls and not to waste their votes on minor formations. MS
...AND CSSD, ODS REJECT THEM
According to CTK, the CSSD opposes the Coalition's demand that taxes be reduced for all citizens and companies, while the ODS says it is not ready to endorse EU membership at any cost. ODS Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer told the agency that the Coalition's conditions do not include any new ideas and the alliance should clearly state what it means by "a pro-European government." He said that if the costs of EU membership include "lowering the quality of life of Czech citizens, then my answer is a clear 'no.'" MS
CSSD LEADERS DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM ZEMAN ON POSTELECTION COALITION
CSSD Deputy Chairman Zdenek Skromach, the party's parliamentary-group leader Bohuslav Sobotka, and Chamber of Deputies Foreign Affairs Commission Chairman Lubomir Zaoralek, told CTK on 11 June that they want the CSSD to be part of a coalition government backed by a parliamentary majority. The three leaders thus contradicted outgoing Prime Minister Milos Zeman, who said he favors a cabinet formed by a single party even if it is a minority government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). MS
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER DEFENDS RECORD ON EU NEGOTIATIONS
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in Brussels on 11 June that it is not the number of chapters closed in negotiations with the EU that matters, but "their content," CTK reported. The Czech Republic has closed 25 chapters of the acquis communautaire, but lags behind Slovakia (see below). Kavan also said Prague is not alarmed over the failure of EU foreign ministers to reach an agreement on the agricultural subsidies new EU members will receive after accession, but added that if an agreement is not reached on the matter by October, a crisis may erupt in the enlargement process. He said he believes reaching such an agreement will become possible "after the German elections" in September. MS
CZECHS HOPE TO SELL MILITARY TRAINING JETS TO INDIA
The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 11 June that Aero Vodochody is competing against British Aerospace in a tender to sell "several hundred" military training jets to India, dpa reported. The Indian government is reportedly interested in purchasing either the Czech-made L 159 B trainer or a British-made Hawk aircraft. The deal is estimated to be worth more than $7 billion. MS
CZECH SUPREME COURT SAYS FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER HAS NO PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY
The Supreme Court on 11 June ruled that former Communist Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina does not enjoy parliamentary immunity and his prosecution can proceed, CTK reported. Obzina has been charged with heading the "Asanace Operation," which from 1977 to 1985 tried to force dissidents to leave the country through physical and mental pressure. The criminal proceedings were put on hold in February when a Prague district judge asked the Supreme Court to rule on Obzina's claim that he enjoys parliamentary immunity because he was a member of the Communist parliament. MS
SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER REASSURES EU OVER ELECTIONS...
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in Luxembourg on 11 June that the outcome of Slovakia's September parliamentary elections will not affect the country's bid to join the EU, Reuters reported. Kukan said that even if former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia wins, it will not be able to form a government because it "will not find a coalition partner." Kukan reiterated that the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda will complete by the end of the year the reforms needed to clinch EU and NATO membership. MS
...AND DZURINDA SAYS SLOVAKIA WILL HAVE 'TRUSTWORTHY GOVERNMENT'
Prime Minister Dzurinda said on 11 June after meeting with President Rudolf Schuster that after the elections Slovakia will have "a trustworthy government that will continue to adhere to democratic values," CTK reported. Schuster informed the prime minister about his visit to the United States and Canada last week. MS
SLOVAKIA CLOSES TWO MORE CHAPTERS IN EU ACCESSION TALKS
Slovakia on 11 June closed the "Justice and Home Affairs" and the "Institutions" chapters in its EU accession negotiations, RFE/RL reported from Luxembourg. Slovakia has now closed 26 out of the 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire. But Kukan said he is disappointed that the EU foreign ministers failed to reach agreement on the agricultural subsidies to be paid to acceding EU members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). Kukan said this will "complicate" the electoral campaign in his country, although it will not "dramatically" influence the outcome of the poll. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER SAYS PRIVATE TV STATIONS LACK IMPARTIALITY
Prime Minister Dzurinda said on Slovak Television on 11 June that he is concerned about freedom of speech in his country, CTK reported. He said that Markiza TV -- whose former co-owner, Pavol Rusko, heads the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) party -- is biased in favor of ANO and that Rusko's wife is head of Markiza TV's news desk. Dzurinda denied that his views are influenced by polls that show ANO's influence growing at the expense of his own Slovak Democratic and Christian Union. Dzurinda was reacting to a recent dispute between the management of Slovak Television and several journalists who objected to an invitation extended to Rusko to participate in a talk show and accused Slovak Television Director Milan Materak of backing Rusko. Three of the journalists resigned in protest. In related news, License Council Deputy Chairwoman Maria Hradiska said on 11 June that while Slovak Television coverage is objective and balanced, Markiza TV favors ANO, and the recently established private TV Joj "focuses on sensationalism" and hardly covers Slovak affairs. MS
FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER EXPLAINS ELECTORAL DEFEAT
Viktor Orban on 11 June attended a Washington, D.C., dinner for heads of delegations to the International Democratic Union (IDU) conference, and had a brief conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush, Hungarian media reported. Orban told journalists at the Hungarian Embassy that the integration of FIDESZ into the international conservative world will be enhanced when the party joins the IDU, which is likely to happen in the fall. Orban said that the world is currently undergoing "a change of culture and mood," and that the previous trend of civil liberties is now being completed by a return to traditional values. This, he said, explains the electoral successes of conservative forces around the world. In his speech to the IDU conference on 10 June, Orban explained his own April electoral defeat by saying that in East-Central Europe opposition parties win elections. He claimed that just 1,500 votes had tipped the balance in favor of the Socialist-Liberal alliance. MS
U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL IN HUNGARY
Visiting U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft met in Budapest on 11 June with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, Justice Minister Peter Barandy, and Interior Minister Monika Lamperth to express his gratitude to the Hungarian authorities for being an "excellent partner in combating organized crime," AP and Hungarian media reported. In a lecture at the International Law Enforcement Academy, Ashcroft said the United States remains firm in its commitment to combat terrorism and counts on the support of freedom-loving countries in this struggle. Ashcroft added, however, that civil liberties must not be curbed by the fight against terrorism, because it is precisely these rights that terrorists threaten. "The law is freedom's best friend," he said. Asked whether the United States is concerned about the use of Hungary and other Central European countries by citizens of the Middle East as a potential foothold for entry to the rest of Europe, Ashcroft said: "We believe it is important to view terrorism as the enemy -- not any specific nationality of individuals." MS
SERBIAN PARLIAMENT BOOTS OUT TRUANT LEGISLATORS...
The parliament's Administrative Committee agreed on 11 June to revoke the mandates of 34 legislators for frequent absences from parliamentary sessions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May 2002). Twenty-one belong to President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), while the remaining 13 represent other parties in the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition. The seats will to be filled by 12 members of the DSS and 22 members of other DOS parties, marking a potential loss of nine seats by the DSS. The names of the new legislators are expected to be officially announced by the Election Commission on 12 June. (AP reports that the total number of deputies to be replaced is 39.) Leaders from the DSS and former President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) voted against the dismissals. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said he "sees no problem" in the decision, adding that "there can be no compromise in bringing order to the country." PM
...BRINGING SWIFT CONDEMNATION FROM KOSTUNICA, WALKOUT BY DSS
The Yugoslav president minced no words in the wake of the long-expected parliamentary decision in Belgrade on 11 June, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2002). He called the decision "illegal...[and] against the coalition agreement" by which DOS was established in 2000. Kostunica stressed that the DSS will fight the decision with all legal means at its disposal. The DSS announced that it does not recognize the decision and will not accept the 12 proffered seats. The party regards the parliament as illegitimate and will boycott legislative sessions. DSS Deputy President Dragan Marsicanin said that "Slobodan Milosevic used to operate with more consideration" than Djindjic does now, Reuters reported. Observers note that the DSS has grown increasingly estranged from the rest of DOS in recent months. The DSS would, however, risk losing its legitimacy at home and abroad by openly joining the opposition, which consists of three parties that supported Milosevic. PM
MAYOR OF MONTENEGRIN CAPITAL THREATENS EARLY ELECTIONS
Momir Mugosa, who is a supporter of President Milo Djukanovic, said in Podgorica on 11 June that he may call early municipal elections if city council members from the pro-Belgrade Together For Yugoslavia coalition and pro-independence Liberal Alliance (LSCG) do not start attending council meetings by 27 June, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
DJUKANOVIC'S PARTY SETS PRIORITIES
At a meeting in Podgorica on 11 June, the Steering Committee of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) agreed that its top priorities are forming a new government, implementing the agreement on setting up a loose joint state with Serbia, and "intensifying economic reforms," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
DUTCH PRIME MINISTER SAYS SREBRENICA APOLOGY 'OUT OF THE QUESTION'
Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok met in Sarajevo on 11 June with joint presidency head Beriz Belkic and a group of survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim males, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Kok's government quit in April following the publication of an official report on the Dutch role in the events in Srebrenica in 1995, when Dutch peacekeepers were stationed there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2002). Kok said in Sarajevo on 11 June: "We are no murderers, we were there as part of the international community in order to safeguard security and safety, which proved to be impossible. The blame is to [be] put on those who were really responsible for what happened seven years ago in Srebrenica. It was not the Dutch," he added, in reference to Bosnian Serb forces, Reuters reported. Kok stressed that a Dutch apology is "out of the question." One survivor said, "I don't want an apology or mercy. I want someone to be held responsible for this." Kok is scheduled to visit Srebrenica shortly. PM
BOSNIAN LEADERS PLEDGE TO CARRY OUT EU 'DIRECTIVES'
"Representatives of the highest state bodies" pledged to EU representatives in Sarajevo on 11 June that both houses of the joint parliament will pass a package of EU "directives" by the end of the month, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The measures deal with the civil service, public television, and the official ombudsman. If Bosnia approves the measures, Brussels will be willing to start talks on a stabilization and association agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002). In related news, the international community's high representative, Paddy Ashdown, called on the federal and Bosnian Serb finance ministers to resign in recognition of their moral responsibility for the widespread corruption in their respective ministries. PM
BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT SAYS PETRITSCH EXCEEDED HIS POWERS
The Republika Srpska legislature passed a measure accusing the former high representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, of exceeding his authority in May by decreeing a series of changes to the Bosnian Serb Constitution regarding the judicial system, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Banja Luka on 12 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2002). The Republika Srpska will ask for clarification from the international community and take legal steps with the Constitutional Court against Petritsch's ruling. The legislature asked that Ashdown suspend Petritsch's decision until the Constitutional Court rules on the matter. The parliament will also set up a team of legal experts to deal with the matter, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Petritsch sought to break the control over the judiciary by nationalist politicians, and Ashdown has pledged to uphold his predecessor's decisions. PM
CROATIA MAKES DEAL WITH THE HAGUE
Several representatives of the Croatian government reached an agreement in The Hague on 11 June with the prosecutor's office of the war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The agreement provides for lower- and middle-ranking indicted war criminals to be tried in Croatia. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic said that Zagreb will send to The Hague documents dealing with top war criminals indicted or investigated by Croatia but who have not yet been arrested. They include former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, as well as former Yugoslav Army commander General Veljko Kadijevic. PM
LEGAL REFORMS FOR CROATIA
Ivica Crnic, who is chief justice of the country's Supreme Court, said in Zagreb on 11 June that he has sent a letter containing 20 proposals for reforms of the judicial system to Justice Minister Ingrid Anticevic-Marinovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
KOSOVARS NEED ONLY ID CARD FOR TRAVEL TO ALBANIA
Starting this summer, citizens of Kosova will be able to travel to Albania with only their personal identification document, Hina reported from Prishtina on 11 June. The UN civilian administration (UNMIK) said it has no information on the Albanian government's decision. PM
SPLIT THREATENS ALBANIAN PARTY IN MACEDONIA
The central assembly of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) elected a new executive committee on 8 June, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Qemal Musliu and Abdylhadi Vejseli were elected deputy party chairmen. Naser Zyberi replaced Muhamet Halili as secretary-general. Halili was expelled from the party because of "destructive activities against the party." Halili had accused party Chairman Abdurrahman Haliti of violating party rules. Halili also tried to form a rival leadership to Haliti's within the PPD. Haliti called on Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski to remove Halili from his position as deputy foreign minister, "Nova Makedonija" reported on 11 June. Halili, for his part, called on Georgievski to dismiss the other PPD ministers -- Deputy Prime Minister Qemal Musliu, Justice Minister Hixhet Memeti, and Minister for Local Self-Government Faik Arslani -- who are still loyal to Haliti. UB
FORMER REBELS IN MACEDONIA TAKE UP POSTS IN ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY
A number of former rebel commanders of the National Liberation Army (UCK) took up leadership roles on 8 June in the Tetovo branch of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), "Dnevnik" reported. The local party assembly elected Daut Rexhepi, formerly known as UCK Commander Leka, as chairman. His secretary will be Sheval Etemi, aka Commander Valoni. Another high ranking officer of the UCK, Ruzhdi Matushi, will represent the Tetovo branch in the party's central assembly. Deputy Party Chairman Menduh Thaci also revealed that the three were members of the PDSH even before they joined the UCK. The PDSH is a rival to the PPD and is one of the parties represented in the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). UB
ROMANIAN SRI COMMISSION DEFENDS FORMER SECURITATE MEMBERS' RIGHTS
Ion Stan, chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), on 11 June warned against publishing the names of Ceausescu-era intelligence officers still employed by the SRI, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In a letter to the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives, Stan said the council's intention to disclose the names of former Securitate members involved in "political activities" who are still employed by the SRI may be libelous and contravene the Penal Code. The commission worked out a set of criteria defining what "political police" activities involved and sent a letter announcing its intention to the SRI. Among those whose names figure on the lists are former Securitate officers who were involved in activities against Radio Free Europe, then based in Munich. Stan said the council defined the criteria "arbitrarily" and has overstepped its legal bounds. In turn, the council protested against Stan's threats and against a draft submitted by the ruling Social Democratic Party to amend the law on the council's activity. It said the amendment would turn the council into a "useless instrument." MS
ROMANIAN PREMIER SIGNS ACCORD WITH TRADE UNIONS
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 11 June accepted the demand of the National Syndicate Bloc and the Cartel Alfa trade Union and countersigned an accord reached with the unions by Labor Minister Marian Sarbu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Before Nastase did so, thousands marched on the streets of Bucharest, shouting antigovernment and anti-IMF slogans. Nastase said the agreement reached is a "compromise" that opens the possibility of an agreement on a "social pact" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 June 2002). MS
SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER IN ROMANIA
Visiting Slovak Defense Minister Jozef Stank met on 11 June in Bucharest with President Ion Iliescu and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, after having held talks the previous day with Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, Romanian radio reported. Geoana said that Slovakia and Romania are the only two non-NATO states which have dispatched troops to Afghanistan and that this is an expression "not only of political determination, but also of military capabilities." He said the two countries' contribution to peacekeeping efforts should positively influence the decision on NATO expansion to be taken at the organization's Prague summit in November. MS
VORONIN RESTRUCTURES MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL STAFF
President Vladimir Voronin on 11 June restructured the apparat of his presidential staff and doubled to six the number of presidential councilors, Flux reported. MS
WORLD BANK EXPERTS CRITICIZE MOLDOVAN JUDICIAL SYSTEM
A group of World Bank legal experts on 11 June told Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev that the appointment process of Moldovan judges lacks transparency, access to legal information is limited, the number of judges is too large, and the system of court administration is inefficient, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The experts recently completed an examination of the Moldovan judicial system. They also said that public notaries need to be deregulated in order to reduce notary costs. Tarlev replied that the government is aware of the need for reform to bring the justice system up to international standards. He added that the World Bank's advice is welcome. MS
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES DEFENSE MINISTER
Speaking at the 11 June swearing in of the new chief of the General Staff, General Nikola Kolev, President Georgi Parvanov criticized Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, mediapool.bg reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). "I do not accept [Svinarov's] opinion that 'whoever is not motivated has to go.' It is our duty to create this motivation," Parvanov said. Svinarov had earlier made the statement in reaction to assertions by members of the General Staff that military reforms are responsible for the high number of breach-of-discipline incidents in recent months. Also on 11 June, the Defense Council reprimanded two generals and temporarily demoted several officers in connection with a 1 June incident in which a drunken sergeant seriously injured a conscript. Two officers were dismissed from service. UB
BTK PRIVATIZATION ENTERS NEXT ROUND
Only three potential buyers have submitted preliminary, non-binding bids for Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK), rather than the 10 that the government expected, BTA reported on 11 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002). Those submitting bids to the Privatization Agency include Poland-based AIG-CET Capital Management, a U.S.-based consortium led by Advent International, and a Turkish consortium comprising Turk Telekom and Koc Holding. The Advent consortium presently includes JPMorgan, but it is believed that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Deutsche Telekom subsidiary Detecom might join it in the future. Other expected bidders, including Hungary's Matav and Greece's OTE, withdrew from the tender. The Privatization Agency will announce a winner within two weeks. UB
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: '80 PERCENT' OF EU NEGOTIATIONS COMPLETED
Speaking upon returning from talks in Luxemburg, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told journalists that "more than 80 percent of the negotiating process with the EU" has been completed, BTA reported. Pasi stressed that this week's closing of the chapter on free movement of goods (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 11 June 2002) will have a direct, beneficial impact on the country's economy. However, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently expressed their doubts that the EU will accept either Bulgaria or Romania as members before 2006, mediapool.bg reported. UB
BANDITRY AS USUAL?
"It's only business" was the mantra of the Russian government and its apologists throughout the dismembering of oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's media empire in 2000-01. That process ended with the closing in April 2001 of the daily "Segodnya" and the weekly news magazine "Itogi" -- although a publication under that name continues to appear on newsstands -- and the death of the popular television channel NTV, although a channel continues to broadcast under that name.
Even those who believed the whole thing was "only business" -- if there were any such people -- would have to admit that the public was poorly served by the loss of these three media outlets, which, for all their faults, demonstrated as much potential for competent, independent, and popular journalism as any in post-Soviet Russia. By attributing these losses to "market forces," the Russian government may be undermining public support for reform and bolstering antimarket sentiment over the long term: The public knows very well who won and who lost from this particular business deal.
Far more quietly, but also under the rubric of "business," the weekly newspaper "Obshchaya gazeta" suspended publication at the end of May. The newspaper, and its creator and editor in chief, Yegor Yakovlev, were among the few who passed through the entire post-Soviet era with their reputations unsullied. Yakovlev, it should be noted, dismissed the NTV business dispute as "plain banditry."
"Obshchaya gazeta" was created in August 1991, bringing together the editorial teams of several newspapers that were banned during the abortive coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Throughout the Boris Yeltsin era, it maintained a reputation for principled liberal criticism, reporting aggressively on the controversial issues of Chechnya, state corruption, and privatization. During the 1996 presidential election campaign, when virtually all the country's media -- including NTV and the rest of Gusinskii's empire -- thoroughly disgraced themselves in their eagerness to support Yeltsin's re-election, Yakovlev's "Obshchaya gazeta" quixotically endorsed Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii.
True to its origins as a sort of communal response to crisis, "Obshchaya gazeta" also served over the years as a rallying point whenever journalists felt the state was encroaching on the public's right to know. Seven special editions of the newspaper were published at critical moments, most recently on 7 April 2001 in reaction to the NTV crisis. That issue bore the logos of nearly 160 national and regional media outlets and public organizations. A special edition of "Obshchaya gazeta" was also issued in February 2000 in connection with the Russian government's detention of RFE/RL's Chechnya correspondent, Andrei Babitskii.
However, good journalism and a clean reputation are, it seems, hardly the ingredients for market success in Russia. Yakovlev is over 70 years old and can be excused for wanting to bow out. However, in his carefully worded final editorial comment for "Obshchaya gazeta," he cited economic factors for the paper's change of fortune: "The money ran out."
So the respected journalist sold his newspaper to a 33-year-old businessman from St. Petersburg named Vyacheslav Leibman, a man without any publishing experience who is best known for parlaying his romantic association with the daughter of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak into success in the oil-export business. By all accounts, Leibman is someone who knows exactly what the phrase "it's only business" means in Russia. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the selling price of the money-losing paper as $3 million.
Leibman's first step as owner -- a tactic that he apparently borrowed from the takeover scenarios played out at "Segodnya" and "Itogi" -- was to fire the newspaper's entire staff. Firing the talented editorial staff wholesale at the beginning avoids the potential embarrassment of them walking out if they find that their idea of journalism and his are not compatible. Then he suspended publication of the paper until at least the fall. Whatever, if anything, emerges from this reconstruction process will certainly bear no resemblance to Yakovlev's "Obshchaya gazeta."
Why would Leibman buy the paper and then immediately discard its only real asset, its staff? On the one hand, the point could be just to quietly close down an independent paper and remove it from the hands of a journalist who is widely respected and supported throughout Russia and around the world. Three million dollars might not seem like a lot to pay to avoid an NTV-style scandal.
On the other hand, although "Obshchaya gazeta" itself had an insignificant Moscow circulation of just over 18,000 copies, it also had a well-developed network of inserts in leading regional papers in cities around the country. That network's circulation was reportedly 127,000. Getting a tailored message from the center out to the regions has been a daunting task in Russia, at least until the Kremlin's steady process of reining in the media over the last two years made it easier.
So, an aging lion of Russian journalism gets a well-earned rest, a newspaper's fate is decided according to the rules of the Russian "market," and a cantankerous voice that kept a sharp eye on the Kremlin for the last decade falls silent.
Yakovlev is, of course, far from an ideal model of an independent journalist. He is very much a product of the Soviet system in which he was formed, and throughout his long career he subscribed unabashedly to the idea that the media's job was to educate the public and to form public opinion. Despite the 1996 presidential election fiasco, Yakovlev still maintained in early 1997 that the main task of journalists is "to prepare the people for the next presidential election" and to help them choose "correctly." Responding to these comments, analyst Laura Belin wrote in "The New Presence" that "the quality and professionalism of news coverage will suffer as long as most journalists conspire to protect the public from 'dangerous' information at crucial political junctures."
Yakovlev was one of the greatest figures of the greatest phase of Soviet and Russian journalism -- the heyday of glasnost when, for a moment, all the forces of nature and politics seemed favorably aligned. The government paid all the bills, but censorship was increasingly relaxed. The public seemed to live for each new issue of the leading papers, some of which had circulations in the millions. And at that time there were no business interests -- or, more accurately, political interests posing as business interests.
However, Yakovlev was always mindful of the looming danger inherent whenever the media are financially dependent on the state. He welcomed as progress the shift toward a market-oriented media sector, even if "Obshchaya gazeta" never made the leap. "After all, in order for a monkey to become a human being," Yakovlev quipped, "it had to fall out of the tree and break its tail."
While the image of falling out of a tree and getting hurt seems apt, it is hard to imagine that what is going on in the Russian media now -- exemplified most recently by the fate of "Obshchaya gazeta" -- is anything like evolution.