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Newsline - July 30, 2002


DESPITE PUTIN'S ORDER, GOVERNMENT LETS DEADLINE SLIP FURTHER FOR PAYING BACK WAGES...
Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin pledged on 29 July that the government will make good on all wages owed to state-sector workers such as teachers and medical workers by 1 September, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The daily noted that the previous week Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko made a similar promise, but said payments would be made by 1 August. According to the daily, President Vladimir Putin again raised the issue of vacation pay owed to teachers at the government session on 29 July. According to "Izvestiya" on 28 July, 57 regions have no salary arrears, while in 17 regions the situation is particularly bad. For example, teachers in Tula Oblast have not been paid their June wages or their vacation pay, and the total debt owed to education workers there is estimated at 30 million rubles ($950,000). JAC

...AS CENTRAL OFFICIALS RELY ON 'MORAL PRESSURE' TO GET WAGES PAID
According to "Vremya MN" on 27 July, doctors in many regions have also not been paid. For example, doctors in Kirov Oblast, Krasnoyarsk Krai, the Tuva Republic, and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug have not been paid for more than a month. According to the daily, total indebtedness to medical-sector workers nationwide has reached 1.38 billion rubles ($43 million). Nikolai Volodin, who heads the department for medical establishments and cadre policy at the Health Ministry, which tracks the payment of salaries to medical workers, said that they first contact the directors of ministry subdivisions and departments and local administrations. If they are not responsive, then Volodin's office meets with whomever is responsible in Moscow. According to Volodin, in the majority of cases, "moral pressure" -- rather than punishment -- is a "sufficiently effective method." JAC

REPORT: RUSSIA TO SELL ADVANCED FIGHTERS TO CHINA
Russia has inked a deal to sell 40 top-of-the-range Su-30MK fighters to China, "Vedomosti" reported on 30 July. State arms exporter Rosoboroneksport declined to comment on the reports of the deal, which is said to be worth $1.8 billion, Reuters reported the same day. According to "Vedomosti," if the deal is actually for that amount, it "would be the largest aircraft deal struck by Rosoboroneksport this year." Reuters speculated that the deal might be part of China's effort to improve its capability to invade Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province. In response, the United States might offer to sell advanced air-to-air missiles to Taiwan, which boasts an air force made up primarily of U.S.-made F-16s. RC

ORT TO TAKE A NEW NAME, SEEK A NEW FREQUENCY...
State-owned Russian Public Television (ORT) will likely change its name to Pervyi Kanal (Channel One), Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported on 29 July. The decision to change the name was made at a meeting of the ORT board of directors that day and should be approved at an extraordinary shareholders meeting in the fall, the agency reported. According to Ekho Moskvy on 29 July, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, who represents the government on ORT's board, approves of the name change. ORT and its predecessor Ostankino have been popularly known by the informal name Pervyi Kanal since the Soviet era. The board also gave approval for ORT to participate in the upcoming tender for the broadcasting license currently held by Daryal-TV, following a government commission recommendation that that license not be renewed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). "We have exceeded the possibilities of one channel," ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst said after the meeting. "We must have a zone in which we can work out new projects." RC

...AND DECLARES FIRST-EVER PROFIT
According to figures presented at the 29 July ORT board meeting, the channel marked its first-ever operating profit in 2001, strana.ru reported. The size of the reported profit was not revealed. Nonetheless, the station remains mired in debt. ORT owes $117 million to state-owned Vneshekonombank, among others. For the last two years, Ernst told strana.ru, ORT has been negotiating with the Finance Ministry, the Central Bank, and Vneshekonombank about restructuring its debt, although no agreement has been reached. ORT's accounts are audited by Ernst & Young. RC

PULKOVO CRASH INVESTIGATORS SUSPECT TECHNICAL MALFUNCTION
The head of the investigation department of the Interstate Aviation Committee, Valerii Chernyaev, announced on 29 July that the crash of Pulkovo Airlines' Ilyushin-86 airliner near Moscow the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002) might have been caused by a malfunction of the plane's horizontal stabilizer, AP reported. According to the agency, the horizontal stabilizer is located on the plane's tail and controls the pitch of the aircraft's nose in flight. Chernyaev added that is possible that all Il-86 planes will now have their horizontal stabilizers inspected. JAC

HOMELESS CHILDREN TO BE REGISTERED IN MOSCOW
Moscow's Social Protection Committee has begun keeping a database of abandoned children, strana.ru reported on 26 July, citing an interview with the committee's chairwoman, Irina Osokina. According to the report, the database will include information about each street child picked up by Moscow police, as well as a photograph of the child. Osokina said that the database is necessary in order to get more precise information about the number of street children in the city. She said that her office estimates that there are about 2,000 such children in Moscow. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov appealed to the Duma in February to create a national registry of homeless children, estimating that police in 2001 detained more than 300,000 children under the age of 13, the vast majority of whom were not registered in school (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). Nationally, there are estimated to be between 1 million and 2 million such children (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2002). RC

RESULTS IN FROM OPERATION TABOR
The Interior Ministry announced the results of the 10-day Operation Tabor, a national program directed against Roma that began on 16 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2002), Interfax reported on 30 July. "The purpose of the operation was to combat the exploitation of children, who are engaged in vagrancy, begging, and con games," Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin told reporters. Chekalin reported that during Operation Tabor, 2,143 children under the age of seven and 2,274 between the ages of seven and 16 were identified. Among them, police found 221 non-Romany children whose presence among the Roma could not be explained. In all, 592 crimes were "solved" during the operation. Officers found 116 people on police wanted lists and seized 56.5 kilograms of narcotics, 275 firearms, and 1,800 units of ammunition. RC

NATIONALIST GROUP LIQUIDATED IN KHABAROVSK
A court in Khabarovsk Krai has ruled that the local chapter of the nationalist political movement Russian National Unity (RNE) must be liquidated, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 July. The ruling came in response to a case filed by the local branch of the Justice Ministry, which claimed that RNE has violated its charter and the federal law on public organizations. The complaint included charges that RNE uses a "stylized swastika" and other symbols that are not included in the organization's charter. RNE has the right to appeal the verdict. RC

SIBERIAN COAL COMPANIES SPIRITED AWAY DURING INTERIM ADMINISTRATION...
NTV reported on 29 July that stakes in three major coal mines in Krasnoyarsk Krai were sold without the knowledge of the krai administration and at the very low price of 1 ruble per share -- for a total of 770,000 rubles ($24,000). The krai administration has a stake in the coal companies, which control the Berezovskii, Borodinskii, and Nazarovskii open-pit mines, according to the station. Administration officials said they only learned of the deal six weeks after it was completed. Vyacheslav Nikonov, the krai legislature's representative in the Federation Council, said that "it will not be difficult to declare the deal invalid." The krai is in the midst of a gubernatorial election campaign to replace the late Governor Aleksandr Lebed, who spent much of his time in office fighting to retain control over the krai's coal industry. JAC

...AS A LEADING CANDIDATE ADVOCATES SHARP CUTS IN STATE APPARATUS
Meanwhile, in an article in "Izvestiya" on 28 July, a candidate in the 8 September race, Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, wrote that he thinks the bureaucratic apparatus of the krai and municipal administration should be cut by between 65-75 percent, and the entire krai civil service should be transferred to a contract basis. Khloponin suggested increasing government expenditures on investment construction as a way of spurring economic growth in the region. At the same time, he said he is opposed to state investment in industrial enterprises, because that is a recipe for corruption. The krai's goal in investing should be not only to stimulate development but also to form a market for local manufacturers. "Enterprises should not be given fish, but a fishing pole with which to catch them," he wrote. JAC

GOVERNMENT STILL WRESTLING WITH PROBLEMS OF SMALL BUSINESS
During a meeting with Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref on 26 July, President Putin once again expressed his concern about the "innumerable inspections" that Russian small businesses must endure, strana.ru reported the next day. Gref confirmed that the laws passed in 2001 have not solved the problem and that "the number of inspections has not been reduced," RIA-Novosti reported. Gref said that although the number of licenses that most businesses must acquire has been reduced, the process of acquiring them has become more convoluted and "the problem has gotten worse." On 25 July, strana.ru reported that the Economic Development and Trade Ministry is preparing a draft law that would establish a three-year moratorium on inspections for small businesses following the initial date of their registration. The bill will be presented in the Duma's fall session. RC

ANOTHER ELEMENT OF PRESIDENTIAL LEGAL REFORMS TO COME INTO FORCE...
As of 1 September, the new Arbitration Procedure Code will come into force, polit.ru reported on 29 July. The new code will broaden the sphere of competence of arbitration courts and will establish a procedure for transferring cases to them from courts of general jurisdiction. The code also will enhance the role of arbitration courts in regulating conflicts between businesses outside of the framework of a court session. At the time of its adoption in the State Duma, Valerii Vorotnikov (People's Deputy), deputy chairman of the Duma's Legislation Committee, said that one of the bill's innovations is that it includes a mechanism for settling a conflict outside of the courts with the assistance of a mediator (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 27 June 2002). JAC

...AS INSURANCE COMPANIES COMPLAIN ABOUT NEW ADMINISTRATIVE CODE
Representatives of the three largest insurance companies in Perm Oblast held a meeting on 29 July devoted to the future of automotive insurance following the introduction of the new Administrative Code, Region-Inform-Perm reported. Insurers are afraid that under the new code, resolving insurance claims and making payments to clients will drag on for months, which could cause auto-insurance companies to lose customers. Previously, the head of the Russian traffic police reported that his officers were having trouble complying with conditions of the code, which came into force on 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL SAID TO BE MORE INVOLVED IN SHAPING LEGISLATION
In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 July, Federation Council Economic Policy Committee Deputy Chairman Viktor Dobrotskii said he believes the upper chamber remains an influential organ of state power even after the changes to the rules governing its formation. According to Dobrotskii, who represents the Perm Oblast legislature, "the prognoses of skeptics who said that after the reform of the senate, the two legislative chambers would be as similar as two drops of water" turned out to be wrong. Dobrotskii said that the senators are more pragmatic than their counterparts in the State Duma, and in comparison with the Duma, the Federation Council considers few questions that are "purely political." In addition, he noted that the upper chamber is becoming much more active in the preparation of legislative initiatives, and senators are expressing their points of view even before a law goes through its first reading. JAC

CONTROL OVER 'ALCOHOL MINISTRY' STAYS WITH ST. PETERSBURG CLAN
Prime Minister Kasyanov has signed a decree dismissing Sergei Zivenko, the general director of the state alcohol monopoly, Rosspirtprom, and replacing him with Petr Myasoedov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 July. According to daily, both men are considered members of the so-called St. Petersburg clan. Myasoedov is former major general with the St. Petersburg tax police, and previously worked on the staff of Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko. His predecessor, Zivenko, who had no prior experience in the alcohol industry, reportedly got his post thanks to his acquaintance with President Putin's personal judo trainer, the daily reported citing an unidentified source. The reasons for Zivenko's dismissal are not clear, but the daily reported that various prosecutors have been interested in Zivenko's personal activities. On 29 July, RIA-Novosti reported that Aleksandr Derkach has been appointed deputy minister of natural resources. Derkach is a former deputy minister for federation affairs, nationalities, and migration policy. JAC

RUSSIA DENIES BOMBING GEORGIAN TERRITORY...
Georgia's Frontier Defense Department claimed on 29 July that a Russian helicopter entered Georgian airspace that day and dropped a bomb on the village of Chontio, killing eight sheep, Caucasus Press reported. But spokesmen for the Russian Federal Border Protection Service responded the same day that their helicopters do not patrol the Georgian-Chechen border, nor are they equipped with bombs. Russian Air Force spokesman Aleksandr Drobyshevskii similarly told Interfax that no air force planes or helicopters flew any missions in the border region that day. LF

...AS FIGHTING CONTINUES ON GEORGIAN-CHECHEN BORDER...
Fighting continued on 29 July in Chechnya's southern Itum-Kale Raion between Russian federal forces and 100-200 Chechen fighters who are reported to have entered Chechnya from Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia deployed strike aircraft and combat helicopters on 29 July against the Chechens, whose number was previously given at around 60, and who are said to be surrounded and pinned down in the Kerigo Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). Seven Russian border guards have been killed and five injured since the fighting began on 27 July; the Chechen death toll is given at nine. Between two and five Chechens have been taken prisoner; they claim that a further 2,000 Chechens are amassed in Georgia preparing to cross into Chechnya. LF

...AND RUSSIAN OFFICIAL SLAMS GEORGIAN 'INCONSISTENCY AND INSINCERITY'
Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Interfax on 29 July that the Russian leadership is tired of hearing "elementary lies" from Georgia concerning the situation in the Pankisi Gorge. He pointed out that Georgian statements are "inconsistent and insincere," conceding that Chechen fighters are in the gorge one day and denying their presence there the next. Such insincerity, Yastrzhembskii added, does not contribute to "constructive and friendly" relations between the two countries. Speaking in Kaliningrad on 29 July, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov argued, as he has done before, that the only way to eliminate the Chechen militant presence on Georgian territory is through a military operation in which Russian servicemen participate, Interfax reported. Georgia has consistently ruled out a joint military operation with Russia in Pankisi. LF

UN SUSPENDS MOST OPERATIONS IN CHECHNYA AFTER AID WORKER ABDUCTED
The UN announced on 29 July the indefinite suspension of almost all its humanitarian operations in Chechnya after Russian aid worker Nina Davydovich was abducted there on 23 July, Reuters and "The Guardian" reported on 29 and 30 July, respectively. A spokeswoman for the UN office in Moscow said the organization will nonetheless continue distributing drinking water in Grozny, as those supplies are "indispensable for the survival of the local population." Chechen administration head Akhmed Kadyrov criticized the UN decision, Interfax reported on 29 July. He said a search has been launched for Davydovich, but that it is made more difficult by her failure to inform the Chechen authorities of her planned movements. LF

CHECHEN VICE PREMIER SURVIVES ASSASSINATION BID
Ali Alavdinov escaped injury on 29 July when unidentified persons opened fire on his armored Volga automobile in his native village of Mesker-Yurt and detonated two landmines, Interfax reported. It was the third attempt on Alavdinov's life. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PARLIAMENT ENDORSES REFERENDUM
Meeting in emergency session on 29 July, deputies approved by a vote of 94 to five a statement calling on the country's voters to participate in the 24 July referendum on proposed constitutional changes, Turan reported. The statement describes the proposed changes as necessitated by Azerbaijan's commitments to the Council of Europe and other international organizations, and appealed to voters to endorse them. Opening the debate, speaker Murtuz Alesqerov urged the handful of opposition deputies not to call for either a postponement of the referendum or changes in the amendments which, according to Alesqerov, is the exclusive prerogative of the president. He also said that the CIS and NATO Inter-Parliamentary Assemblies and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have agreed to send observers to monitor the referendum. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT EVADES COMMENT ON ARMY HEATSTROKE DEATHS
Speaking at a 27 July graduation ceremony for officers of Azerbaijan's Higher Military Academy, Heidar Aliev declined to allocate blame for the deaths of several servicemen from heatstroke, Turan reported on 29 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 29 July 2002). But he remarked that, in general, "commanders and officers do not take proper care of new draftees." At the 29 July parliament session, Yurddash party Chairman Mais Safarli demanded that Aliev, who is commander in chief of Azerbaijan's armed forces, and parliament speaker Alesqerov provide an explanation for the numerous noncombat deaths among the military, Turan reported. LF

VILLAGE UNION DENIES PLOTTING TO OVERTHROW AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP
The Union of Baku and Baku Villages issued a statement on 29 July rejecting as "falsehood and defamation" accusations leveled against it three days earlier by the National Security Ministry, Turan reported. In a 26 July statement, the ministry named the union among several organizations and political parties that it claimed were involved in a bid by former President Ayaz Mutalibov to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership last October and return Mutalibov to power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). The Vahdat Party, which was similarly implicated, issued a statement on 30 July accusing the National Security Ministry of libel and of trying to undermine its "growing authority," Turan reported. LF

UN URGES ABKHAZIA, GEORGIA TO MAKE CONCESSIONS
The UN Security Council on 29 July renewed for a further six months, until 31 January 2003, the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, Reuters reported. It also unanimously adopted a resolution expressing regret at the Abkhaz authorities' consistent refusal to accept as a basis for resolving the conflict the draft "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi" authored by former UN special representative for the Abkhaz conflict Dieter Boden. The resolution appealed to both Georgia and Abkhazia to disassociate themselves from "militant rhetoric," and to Georgia "to uphold its responsibilities to put an end" to the activities of illegal Georgian guerrilla groups operating in western Georgia and southern Abkhazia. The resolution called on both sides to work for a durable political solution to the conflict based on concessions and mutual understanding, and which would define Abkhazia's status within Georgia, according to Caucasus Press. LF

GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTION SAGA CONTINUES
Eight weeks after the 2 June local elections, on 30 July the Central Election Committee is to begin the process of recounting the votes cast in Tbilisi in compliance with a ruling by a Tbilisi district court last month, Caucasus Press reported on 30 July. A Tbilisi district court ordered the recount last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2002), but the process was delayed until the Finance Ministry provided the Central Election Commission with at least part of the necessary funds. The recount will take an estimated 35-40 days, assuming that the remaining funds are released. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW ON FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
Askar Akaev signed six new laws on 25 July, the most significant of which is that on the rights of citizens to assemble peacefully, without weapons, akipress.org reported on 26 July. The law, passed one month ago in response to the clashes in Aksy in March between protesters and police in which five people died, enumerates the procedures for conducting mass rallies and demonstrations. Prior official permission is no longer required to hold such rallies, except in the vicinity of schools and hospitals, according to Interfax on 29 July. LF

TEN FORMER TAJIK POLICE OFFICERS SENTENCED
A court in Khujand in northern Tajikistan's Sughd Oblast has sentenced 10 former senior police officers to jail terms ranging from three to seven years, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 30 July. The officers detained six men on suspicion of the murder in May 2001 of a local district official, and extracted confessions from them by using physical force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). The six later retracted their admissions of guilt. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA
Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 29 July with Umed Babakhanov, head of the news agency Asia Plus-Blitz, to discuss the failure of the Tajik government's Television and Radio Committee to grant the agency a license for an independent radio station, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 30 July. The agency submitted its application in August 1998. Rakhmonov described that delay as "abnormal" and ordered the committee to issue the license without further delay. He reaffirmed his commitment to building a democratic state which, he continued, is "impossible without strong professional media." LF

TWO TURKMEN OFFICIALS FIRED IN UNIVERSITY-ADMISSION SCANDAL
At a government session on 29 July President Saparmurat Niyazov dismissed the chairman of the Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting, Kakadjan Ashirov, and the rector of the Institute of Culture, Yazmurat Chopanov, turkmenistan.ru reported the following day. Ashirov had reportedly presented Chopanov with a list of "privileged" applicants who were be admitted to the institute. Culture Minister Orazgeldy Aygordyev, who reportedly knew of but failed to intervene in the attempt to circumvent normal admission procedures, was fined three monthly salaries. Niyazov proposed that the upcoming session of the People's Council propose new procedures for selecting reliable and uncorrupt officials. LF

BELARUSIAN YOUTH LEADER DETAINED TO SERVE HIS JAIL SENTENCE
Police on 29 July arrested Tsimafey Dranchuk, the leader of the unregistered opposition youth movement Zubr (Bison), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Dranchuk is reportedly to serve the 10-day jail sentence he was given on 2 April for his participation in the Freedom Day rally in Minsk on 24 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). JM

RUSSIA APPOINTS NEW AMBASSADOR TO BELARUS
Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed Aleksandr Blokhin Russia's ambassador to Belarus, Belapan reported on 29 July, quoting Russian media. Blokhin, 51, was Russia's ambassador to Azerbaijan from 1995-99 and was minister for federation affairs, nationalities, and migration policies until that ministry was abolished in October 2001 and he was dismissed. JM

ISRAEL TO CLOSE EMBASSY IN MINSK
Israel will soon close its embassy in Minsk, Belapan reported on 29 July, quoting Israeli Foreign Ministry official David Peleg, who took part in Israeli-Belarusian consultations at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry the same day. Peleg said the closure is linked to budget cuts in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. JM

MORE THAN 40 PERCENT OF BELARUSIAN FIRMS ARE LOSS-MAKING
The Ministry of Statistics and Analysis has revealed that 40.9 percent of Belarusian state-run enterprises are loss-making, the Charter-97 website reported on 29 July. The total losses of these enterprises in January-June 2002 amounted to 262 billion Belarusian rubles ($143 million). JM

UKRAINE'S CHIEF PROSECUTOR SAYS AIR-SHOW TRAGEDY CAUSED BY 'MILITARY NEGLIGENCE'...
Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun told journalists on 29 July that, according to preliminary investigation results, the tragic air-show crash in Lviv on 27 July occurred due to "military negligence," UNIAN reported (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 30 July 2002). Piskun added that the two pilots of the Su-27 fighter jet that crashed into a crowd can also be blamed for "criminal actions" and "incorrect use of the aircraft under those circumstances." JM

...CLAIMS TO KNOW WHO CONTRACTED MURDER OF JOURNALIST
Piskun also said the Prosecutor-General's Office knows the names and has photographs of the persons who ordered the killing of journalist Ihor Aleksandrov in July 2001. Piskun added that police are searching for these persons. Last week the Supreme Court called for a new investigation into the slaying of Aleksandrov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002). JM

ESTONIA'S RULING COALITION BACKS DOWN ON ELECTION-ALLIANCES BAN
Representatives of the Reform and Center parties, which make up the ruling coalition, decided on 29 July to abandon their plans to propose that election alliances be allowed only for elections to the smaller local councils, ETA reported. The parties decided to advocate the prohibition of such alliances beginning with the 2005 elections. The ruling parties issued a joint statement declaring that their new position was "a goodwill compromise" since they wanted to make sure that the elections would not delayed by any further legal disputes. The Estonian Supreme Court ruled earlier in the month that the prohibition of election alliances for the local-council elections on 20 October is unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002), and a special parliament session is being called on 30 July to resolve the situation. The opposition Pro Patria Union and Moderates, as well as the People's Union, have expressed their opposition to any prohibitions of election alliances for the upcoming elections. SG

FORMER LATVIAN PREMIER RETURNS TO POLITICS
Vilis Kristopans announced on 29 July that he has accepted the invitation of the union of the Green Party and Latvia's Farmers Union to run on their list of candidates in the October parliamentary elections, LETA reported. He, however, declared that he had no intention to join officially either one of the two parties. Kristopans was one of the founders of Latvia's Way and served as transportation minister in three different cabinets before heading Latvia's government from November 1998 to July 1999. Earlier this month, he resigned from Latvia's Way, saying that he was unable to influence the party's policies. Kristopans said that he has examined the programs of the political parties and found that the union's priorities largely corresponded with his own. SG

WORLD BANK GRANTS LOAN TO LITHUANIA FOR SCHOOL RENOVATION
World Bank Director for the Baltic Countries and Poland Michael Carter and Lithuanian Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite signed a loan agreement in Vilnius on 29 July to finance a program for the restructuring and renewal of Lithuania's educational institutions, ELTA reported. The loan is for 29 million euros ($28.6 million) to be repaid in 17 years, with repayment postponed for the first five years. The Lithuanian state budget will also provide 11.76 million euros and local governments 8.46 million euros for the program. Since 1992, the World Bank has granted Lithuania a total of $490.8 million in loans for 19 projects. SG

SELF-DEFENSE LAWMAKER CONVICTED FOR FORGING PRISON PASS
A regional court in Elblag (northern Poland) on 29 July sentenced Danuta Hojarska, a lawmaker of the radical farmers union Self-Defense, to one year in prison, suspended for three years, for forging a pass to visit her son in prison in 1999, Polish media reported. Hojarska said she will appeal the verdict. JM

POLAND'S SZCZECIN SHIPYARD DECLARED BANKRUPT
A district court in Szczecin on 29 July declared the Szczecin Shipyard bankrupt, Polish media reported. The court said in its verdict that the shipyard met the two requirements for declaring bankruptcy: it has consistently failed to repay its debts, and the value of its property is worth less than its debt. The shipyard's property has been evaluated at some 130 million zlotys ($42.5 million). Vessels started by the Szczecin Shipyard are to be completed by a new government-owned company, the New Szczecin Shipyard. Officials say the new company could employ up to 5,500 workers out of the 6,000-strong workforce of the bankrupt enterprise. JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER REJECTS COMPENSATION FOR SUDETEN GERMANS...
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has ruled out any compensation for Sudeten Germans expelled following World War II, dpa reported on 29 July, citing the weekly "Respekt." The weekly quoted Svoboda as saying the issue is a non-negotiable "closed chapter." Svoboda emphasized that in January 1990 President Vaclav Havel apologized for the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia and that the Czech Republic's 1997 reconciliation agreement with Germany stipulates that relations between the two countries will not be affected by issues of the past. "Demands for financial compensation are issues of the past," Svoboda said. MS

...AS NEW DOCUMENTS EMERGE ON THE EXPULSIONS
The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 29 July quoted a police spokesman as saying that a recently discovered document shows that in 1947 then-Czechoslovak Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald requested that a commission investigating the 1945 massacre of several hundred Sudeten Germans in the Bohemian town of Postoloprty refrain from carrying out its tasks "in the interests of the state." The spokesman said photos of the massacre were subsequently removed from the local museum in Zatec, Bohemia, and were "lost without trace." MS

CZECH EU NEGOTIATOR SPEAKS ABOUT THE UNSPEAKABLE
Czech chief negotiator with the European Union Pavel Telicka said on 29 July that he will not hesitate to recommend to the government that the Czech Republic not complete EU-accession negotiations by end of 2002 if the union's conditions are not acceptable, CTK reported. Telicka said he can "theoretically envisage such a situation" and that the decision would then be up to the cabinet. However, he said he is optimistic that the negotiations will be successfully concluded by the end of 2002, as the two sides have always found ways to reach agreement on even the most contentious issues. MS

CZECH OFFICIAL SAYS AUTHORITIES MUST 'PREPARE FOR THE WORST' SCENARIOS AT NATO SUMMIT
Alexander Vondra, the government commissioner in charge of preparations for the November NATO summit in Prague, said on 29 July that the Czech Republic must be prepared for the possibility of a terrorist attack during the summit, Reuters reported. Vondra said this possibility worries him a lot more than expected demonstrations against the summit. MS

KDU-CSL, US-DEU AGREE ON DIVISION OF CONSTITUENCIES FOR CZECH SENATE ELECTIONS
The leaderships of the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) on 29 July reached agreement on the division of constituencies in which the two formations will run candidates in the November elections for the Senate, CTK reported. The KDU-CSL is to run in the six constituencies it currently represents in the Senate as well as six additional constituencies. The US-DEU is to run in 15 constituencies. A total of 27 constituencies will be contested in the Senate elections and the two formations, which ran jointly in the June Chamber of Deputies' elections, had earlier agreed to run separately but not against each other in the ballot for the upper chamber. MS

CZECH POLICE SET UP SPECIAL DEPARTMENT ON VIP CRIME
Police chief Jiri Kolar set up in 2001 a special department tasked with investigating possible crimes committed by influential Czech public personalities, CTK reported on 30 July, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." "Department 15," as it is called, is investigating possible illegal conduct by cabinet members, parliamentary deputies, judges, and members of the Czech National Bank board. MS

MECIAR CONFIDENT OF BEING NEXT SLOVAK PREMIER
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar said on 29 July that he is confident that his party will win the 20-21 September elections, and that President Rudolf Schuster will not be able to avoid nominating him as premier, CTK reported. He said Schuster could appoint some other politician as premier, but within 30 days any new cabinet must pass a vote of confidence, which requires at least 76 votes in the 150-seat parliament. Meciar also said that neither the departure from the HZDS of former parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic nor the detention of former Slovak Information Service chief Ivan Lexa will affect the outcome of the election. Meciar said Lexa "will be freed" and that he is now "being demonized on fabricated evidence for crimes he did not commit." The real target of the anti-Lexa campaign is the HZDS, Meciar claimed. He also reiterated his promise to make public the name of the anonymous creditor who lent him 41 million crowns (some $913,000) for the reconstruction of his villa in Trencianske Teplice. MS

SLOVAKIA CLOSES ANOTHER CHAPTER IN EU NEGOTIATIONS
On 29 July, Slovakia closed the regional policy chapter in its negotiations with the European Union and has thus far closed 27 out of the 31 chapters in the acquis communautaire, CTK reported from Brussels. Slovak chief negotiator with the EU Jan Figel told journalists he is convinced that the parliamentary elections in September will not affect the speed of his country's negotiations with the EU. MS

MOST SLOVAKS BACK EU, NATO MEMBERSHIP
A poll conducted by the Polis agency and published by CTK on 29 July shows that 77.5 percent of Slovaks back joining the European Union and 60.9 percent are in favor of joining NATO. Opposition to EU membership is 16.3 percent and 34.5 percent oppose NATO membership. The HZDS is viewed by 51.3 percent of respondents as the biggest obstacle, followed by the Slovak National Party and the Real Slovak National Party, to integration in the two organizations. MS

HUNGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER EXPLAINS FAILURE TO LOCATE MEDGYESSY DOCUMENTS
Interior Minister Monika Lamperth on 29 July told the parliamentary commission investigating Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy's role in the secret services that the ministry initially failed to find any documents pertaining to Medgyessy's past because they looked for documents that referred to him by name rather than his codename "D-209," Hungarian media reported. Lamperth said the documents that surfaced last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002) were filed under the codename. She also said that former Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and former secret services Minister Ervin Demeter visited the records office of the Interior Ministry together in the summer of 2000. FIDESZ deputy Istvan Simicsko replied that "nothing specific follows from that," as the interior and secret service ministers often cooperated in fighting organized crime. MSZ

HUNGARIAN TELEVISION ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR COMPANY PRESIDENT
The board of trustees of Hungarian Television (MTV) is accepting bids for the post of MTV president following the resignation of Karoly Mendreczky, who left the position earlier this month because he said he was accused by Socialists of being biased in favor of the previous government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2002), "Nepszabadsag" reported on 30 July. The successful candidate will be chosen on 30 September, and must receive the support of at least two-thirds of the board of trustees. The board currently includes three FIDESZ delegates, two Socialists, two Free Democrats, and one delegate each from the Democratic Forum and the Smallholders. MSZ

BUDAPEST PARTIES APPROVE ELECTORAL CODE FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
On the initiative of Tamas Deutsch, Chairman of FIDESZ's Budapest chapter, the leaders of the Budapest chapters of the Democratic Forum, the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), the Centrum Party, the Free Democrats, and FIDESZ on 29 July signed a 16-point code of ethics for the October local elections, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Deutsch said the party executives committed themselves to engage in a clean, sportsmanlike, and fair election contest in Budapest. The Socialists did not sign the code, saying they abide by a six-point code of ethics recently approved by Erzsebet Nemeth, the Socialists' candidate for mayor of Budapest, as well as right-wing candidate for mayor Pal Schmitt and Workers Party candidate Lajosne Karacs. MSZ

BUDAPEST'S RIGHT-WING MAYORAL CANDIDATE VISITS JEWISH LEADERS
Pal Schmitt, the right-wing candidate for mayor of Budapest, met on 29 July with Gusztav Zoltai, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz), and Sandor Streit, head of the Budapest Jewish Religious Community, Budapest dailies reported. Zoltai later told reporters that Mazsihisz does not intend to interfere in political struggles and is only asking its members to vote in the local elections this fall. The religious leaders and Schmitt also discussed ways of ending the sale of far-right publications at bookstores in subway-station underpasses. The Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" reported the same day that Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and other anti-Semitic writings, the distribution of which is strictly banned in much of Europe, are available on the streets in Hungary. The newspaper refers to Pannon Radio, the radio station of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, as "the most evil forum in Eastern Europe today." MSZ

KOSTUNICA'S PARTY OUSTED FROM SERBIAN PARLIAMENT
Following a decision by the presidency of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition to expel Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) from the DOS, the Serbian parliament's administrative committee voted on 29 July to strip all DSS deputies of their seats, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). This is the latest chapter in a power struggle between Kostunica and his chief rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, in the run-up to the 29 September Serbian presidential election. The DOS takes the position that the DSS won its original 45 seats by virtue of its inclusion on the coalition's slate in the 2000 general elections, and that it is not entitled to the mandates if it is not part of the DOS. The DSS charges that its rivals are using cheap political tactics to deprive it of its rightful place in the legislature and has vowed to use political means and the courts to get its seats back. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY DEFENDS ITS CONDUCT IN BORDER INCIDENT
Colonel Radomir Milosavljevic of the border guards said in Backa Palanka on 29 July that his troops conducted themselves according to their rules and regulations in a recent incident in which they fired five machine-gun rounds as four boats of Croatian officials approached an island on the Danube River, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). Milosavljevic added that the Croats ignored three calls for them to turn away from the island before the troops fired their warning shots. PM

INTERNATIONAL REPRESENTATIVES HAIL LOCAL VOTE IN PRESEVO
Nikolai Vulchanov, who heads an OSCE observer mission to the recent elections in the Presevo valley area of southern Serbia, said in Bujanovac on 29 July that "the elections were generally in line with international standards," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). Stefano Sannino, who heads the OSCE mission in the Serbian capital, called the vote a "fresh start on the road to multiethnicity" and called on officials to exercise "wise political leadership." In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in a statement that the election constitutes "an important milestone in the consolidation of the peace process, democracy, and reconciliation in southern Serbia." The turnout was about 55 percent, which observers said was lower than expected. Preliminary unofficial returns suggest that ethnic Albanians have won mayoral races in Presevo and Bujanovac, while a Serbian candidate finished first in Medvedja in a vote that took place largely along ethnic lines. PM

MONTENEGRIN CAT-AND-MOUSE GAME CONTINUES
In the run-up to the 6 October general elections, the parliament again approved three controversial laws on 29 July aimed at undermining the power of President Milo Djukanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 18, and 22 July 2002). In Podgorica, Djukanovic's office released a statement saying that the Council of Europe has offered the services of its experts to bring proposed media legislation into line with European standards. The new media law, which Djukanovic has already sent back to parliament once, was written without regard to drafts proposed by European experts and local NGOs. Djukanovic recently lost his legislative majority to a new alliance of the pro-Belgrade Together for Yugoslavia coalition and the pro-independence Liberal Alliance (LSCG), which seems bent on doing all it can to spite and weaken the president. PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT APPROVES NEW CABINET
Alfred Moisiu endorsed the cabinet list of Prime Minister-designate Fatos Nano on 29 July, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). The legislature is scheduled to approve the government on 31 July. Nano pledged a reform of the judiciary and an end to chronic electric power shortages. He also promised to fight all forms of corruption: "The 12 years of Albania's transition have proved that it has only lost from the illegal trafficking in drugs and prostitution. We should save the generations of today from the risks of tomorrow." Opposition leader Sali Berisha has called for a secret ballot on 31 July, hoping that some anti-Nano members of the governing Socialist Party (PS) will join him in opposing the proposed cabinet. The PS has 73 out of 140 seats. PM

MACEDONIA TO RECEIVE FINANCIAL AID FROM GREECE
Macedonia will receive a grant of $73.6 million under the Greek Plan for Reconstruction and Development of Southeastern Europe, "Dnevnik" reported on 30 July. Economy Minister Besnik Fetai and Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos are to sign an agreement on the grant later in the day. The Greek government has set aside some $245 million for this development plan, the largest share of which will go to Belgrade for the construction of a highway between Nis and the Macedonian border. The plan also includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, and Romania. On 29 July, Loverdos signed a five-year aid agreement in Sarajevo with his Bosnian counterpart Ivica Misic, AP reported. UB/PM

NO END TO BORDER SPAT BETWEEN CROATIA AND BOSNIA
On 29 July in Kostajnica, Bosnian police prevented Croatian border police from entering a disputed area -- where a joint frontier post will be built -- pending the signing of a final agreement on the matter, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002). The Croatian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it considers the Bosnian stance unacceptable. The Bosnian presidency called for dealing with the Kostajnica issue as part of a larger package aimed at clearing up several outstanding border questions. PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR SUPPORT FOR NEW GOVERNMENT
Ivica Racan presented his new cabinet to the parliament on 30 July, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). The legislature is expected to approve the 23-member body later in the day. Only six members of the new cabinet are different from those of the previous government. Ante Simonic of the Peasant Party (HSS) is Racan's new deputy, replacing Drazen Budisa of the Social Liberals (HSLS) who broke with Racan recently after more than two years of tensions between the two. In presenting his new cabinet to the parliament, Racan said he regrets not having been able to introduce more reforms in his first 2 1/2 years in office but vowed to push ahead with changes. "The reforms are hard and painful, but they are long-term and, therefore, crucial for Croatia's future," he added. The prime minister repeated his commitment to joining the European Union and NATO. PM

ROMANIANS STAGE VILLAGE HAPPENING FOR WIESEL, ILIESCU...
Thousands of Romanians dressed up in folk costumes clapped and cheered as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, accompanied by President Ion Iliescu, arrived in Sighet on 29 July for the inauguration of a museum in the house where Wiesel was born, AFP reported. In his speech, Wiesel thanked Iliescu for returning his childhood home, which, he said, "I, in turn, now present to you," Romanian radio reported. Wiesel urged the crowd to remember what happened during World War II by asking their parents questions about the region's past. "Asked them what happened when Sighet, which had a vibrant Jewish community, was suddenly emptied of Jews. Ask them if they shed a tear, if they cried, if they could sleep well on the night after the deportation," he said. MS

...AS ROMANIAN TOWN COUNCIL TOLD TO CHANGE ANTONESCU STREET NAME
The Public Administration Ministry said in a press release on 29 July that the local council in the Moldavian town of Botosani must implement the orders of the government and change the name of a street honoring the memory of the country's wartime leader and Hitler ally Marshal Ion Antonescu, Mediafax reported. The ministry press release said Public Affairs Minister Octavian Cozmanca "categorically" disapproves of the town council's decision not to change the name of Ion Antonescu Street, in line with the provisions set earlier this year by Government Ordinance 31. The local council recently voted against changing the name of the street. A similar incident took place in Calarasi in early July. Cozmanca said the provisions of the ordinance, which forbid the naming of streets and other public space places after persons sentenced for "crimes against humanity and peace," are obligatory for all central and local authorities. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UKRAINE, MEETS ETHNIC ROMANIANS
Using the opportunity of his visit to Sighet, which is near the border with Ukraine, President Iliescu on 29 July crossed a bridge still under construction over the Tisa River and met with ethnic Romanians who live on the Ukrainian side, Mediafax reported. He told them it is necessary to open many other border-crossing points between the two countries to facilitate communication between ethnic Romanians on both sides of the border. MS

ROMANIA, FRANCE AGREE ON COOPERATION TO FIGHT BEGGING, SEX TRAFFICKING, ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
Visiting Romanian Interior Minister Ioan Rus and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy met in Paris on 29 July and agreed -- in Sarkozy's words -- to take "extremely tough joint action" to fight "clandestine immigration and criminal networks that are exploiting children," AFP reported. Sarkozy said that as part of the campaign a Romanian police unit will arrive in France next week for consultations and French experts will travel to Romania at an undisclosed date. In a reference to reports in the French and Romanian media that Romanian Roma are smuggling handicapped people into France and forcing them into begging, Rus said his country is determined not to accept that "a few hundred people [are] affecting the prestige of more than 20 million Romanians." Sarkozy said thousands of Romanian citizens are involved in "the prostitution of minors, aggressive begging, and illegal immigration in France." MS

ROMANIA SAYS 'NO' TO COMMUNIST PARTY REVIVAL
A Romanian court on 29 July rejected the request of the Romanian Workers' Party (PMR) to change its name to the "Communist Party of Romania," Reuters and Romanian media reported. As grounds for its decision, the court cited the stipulations of a 1991 law on national security that prohibits activities of fascist, communist, racist, anti-Semitic, or separatist organizations that can "endanger in whatever way the unity and territorial integrity" of Romania. The extraparliamentary PMR had failed in the past to receive the tribunal's approval of its name change, but a PMR congress last March again voted in favor of changing the party's name. MS

MOLDOVAN ELECTION COMMISSION VALIDATES SIGNATURES SUPPORTING REFERENDUM
Central Elections Commission Deputy Chairman Nicolae Televco announced on 29 July that the commission has validated 213,250 signatures in support of holding a referendum on changing the country's electoral system, Infotag reported. In line with the provisions of the law, 200,000 signatures are necessary for a debate on the referendum to be held in parliament. The legislature now has six months to either debate the issue or call a plebiscite on the text of the referendum, which was proposed by the Braghis Alliance. The alliance envisages changing the country's proportional election system into a mixed one in which half of the seats in parliament would be allocated to representatives of single-mandate constituencies. MS

IMF RELEASES MORE FUNDS FOR MOLDOVA
The International Monetary Fund has transferred $12 million to the Moldovan National Bank, the third tranche of a $142 million loan for the eradication of poverty in the country agreed on in 2000, Infotag reported on 29 July. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said that the release of the third tranche is proof of the effectiveness of measures implemented by the government and aimed at reviving relations with international financing institutions. Observers say that following the IMF decision, the World Bank is also likely to disburse the first $10 million installment of a loan approved by its Executive Board. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI DEPUTIES APPOINT NEW INTERIM GOVERNOR
The Gagauz Yeri Popular Assembly on 29 July annulled its earlier decision to appoint its chairman, Ivan Kristigolo, as interim governor following the resignation of Dumitru Croitor and appointed Gheorghi Mollo instead, Flux reported. Mollo is head of the autonomous region's Directorate for Information and Security. The decision came after the region's Prosecutor-General Gheorghi Leiciu sent a letter to the assembly saying the 10 July appointment of Kristigolo was illegal and breached the provisions of Gagauz-Yeri and Moldovan legislation by infringing on the principle of the separation of powers. MS

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT TO GERMANY AND AUSTRIA
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 29 July continued his working visit to Germany and Austria, BTA reported. Saxecoburggotski visited the German towns of Coburg and Gotha, where he met with EU Enlargement Commission Guenter Verheugen as well as with German businessmen. In Salzburg, Saxecoburggotski attended a meeting of leaders from Southeastern Europe that was organized by the EU Stability Pact. Saxecoburggotski was to return to Bulgaria on 30 July and will visit Lebanon and Jordan from 5-9 August. UB

DESIGNER-DRUG LABORATORY BUSTED NEAR SOFIA
The National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) on 29 July busted a clandestine laboratory for synthetic narcotics in a village near Sofia, BTA reported. Police arrested four people -- two Bulgarians and two foreigners -- and seized some 60 kilograms of amphetamines and two kilograms of the stimulant Captagon. The lab reportedly smuggled the drugs to the Middle East and Western Europe. UB

DO MORE RURAL STUDENTS AT BELARUSIAN UNIVERSITIES MEAN LESS URBAN TROUBLE?
University admissions procedures in Belarus have been altered this year to ensure an unprecedented intake from rural areas. The changes, which with one exception have gone unchallenged by senior academics, would appear to have a political subtext.

At the beginning of June, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka warned the heads of universities and other institutions of higher education that they should be prepared for "surprises" during their forthcoming entrance examinations, and that for the purpose of "order and discipline," the entrance examinations -- for both state and private institutions -- were to be monitored by a special government commission, aided by the KGB. The tone of his statement -- and the involvement of the KGB -- suggested that the order and discipline would be primarily political, with the exclusion of applicants who had any record of opposition activities. In fact, the surprises go further. Changes in the admission rules have been introduced, which suggests a preemptive strike directed at a whole cohort of young people who are perceived as likely future "oppositionists" -- the city dwellers.

Lukashenka had already tampered with the higher-education process in a number of ways. In particular, he reinstated for a number of disciplines the old -- and much hated -- Soviet process of "distribution" by which new graduates had to work for a number of years in posts allotted them by the state. In Soviet times, the rationale was that they thus repaid the state for their notionally free higher education. Lukashenka's reintroduction of the practice was justified as being necessary to ensure a sufficient supply of teachers, medical professionals, and other essential personnel for the areas of Belarus still suffering from the effects of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. (The Chornobyl nuclear-power station lies a few kilometers south of the Belarus-Ukraine frontier, and it is estimated that 70 percent of the fallout came down on Belarusian territory.) Certainly, such posts in the "zone" need to be filled, but it is typical of Lukashenka's regime that this should be done by direction from above, rather than by, say, offering financial or social incentives. At the same time, pedagogical faculties and colleges use a targeted admissions process, with a place in higher education tied to one's future job -- in effect, a means of ensuring that young people from rural areas return there to work, rather than taking more attractive city posts.

Until now, the two schemes have operated separately. This year, however, according to professor Uladzimir Pletsyukou, rector of Brest State University, they have been effectively combined, so that 50 percent of places will be targeted and the remaining 50 percent will be divided equally between applicants from rural areas and applicants from cities. The net result, he told the newspaper "Belorusskaya gazeta," will be that up to 75 percent of places will go to rural applicants, which "could lead to collisions over individual specializations."

The newspaper spells out, albeit in guarded terms, the probable political motivation for the change: "Students are a most active social group that has not experienced feelings of profound gratitude for modest stipends and obligatory 'distribution.' And the scandalous voting histories of urban students during the presidential elections, and their participation in opposition meetings, possibly put it into someone's head that the problem could be solved by 'changing' the students as far as social groups are concerned." The newspaper then goes on to remind its readers -- perhaps as its own political insurance -- that the bases for targeted and distributed places is "to service the shortage of specialists in the Chornobyl zone and the rural economy."

The new rules apply to all state universities and institutions of higher education in Belarus. Only one rector, Pletsyukou, has raised any objection. The silence of the rest is not surprising. Lukashenka has already ensured that the rectors of all major academic institutions are his own nominees. Under the circumstances, it is surprising that anyone spoke out at all. But Pletsyukou, although he was appointed only recently, seems prepared on occasion to step out of line. A few weeks ago, he allowed his university premises to be the venue of a three-day training seminar for the Belarusian chapter of the European Youth Parliament (EYP) -- a pro-democracy organization with headquarters in the United Kingdom that originally operated in Western Europe only, but which in the last decade has expanded and flourished in virtually all postcommunist countries. In Belarus, however, in spite of the efforts of would-be EYP members and the urgings of various Western diplomats, the Belarusian authorities have consistently refused to register the Belarusian chapter of the EYP, often offering the most trivial excuses for their refusal.

As for the new university admission rules, if, as "Belorusskaya gazeta" suggests, "someone or other" devised them in order to reduce the presence of the opposition-minded urban youth in the universities, then he may simply have shifted the problem elsewhere. For the young urbanites who cannot get into higher education will, if male, become liable for military service. Hence, as the paper points out, while this year's university intake includes a record number of rural entrants, the draft will contain an unprecedented number from the cities.

Vera Rich is London-based free-lance researcher.

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