IMF CHIEF RECOMMENDS FURTHER LOAN DISBURSEMENTS, WITH CONDITIONS.
IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus says he will recommend that the fund release the next $340 million tranche of its $10 billion loan to Russia soon, provided that the government submits a new tax code to the parliament, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reports. Following a friendly meeting with President Boris Yeltsin, Camdessus praised the Russian government's commitment to economic reforms. He signed a joint statement with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin saying that 1997 "could see the beginning of sustainable economic growth" if the government sticks to its reform program, AFP reported. However, Camdessus warned that further IMF support will depend on the government's ability to improve tax collection and crack down on corruption. Camdessus also met with leading State Duma deputies. Opposition representatives denounced the IMF's recommendations, which they said would harm living standards in Russia.
AMNESTY CONDEMNS WIDESPREAD "TORTURE" IN RUSSIA.
Amnesty International charges that Russian law enforcement agencies and security services systematically violate human rights and subject thousands of prisoners, especially members of ethnic minorities, to torture. Mariana Katzarova, one of authors of a new Amnesty report, told RFE/RL's Washington correspondent yesterday that prison conditions in contemporary Russia are worse than in the Soviet period, primarily because of severe overcrowding. Beatings and diseases have killed thousands of prisoners, especially in pre-trial detention cells. Amnesty charged that several anti-crime decrees issued by Yeltsin since 1993 violate international human rights standards. Katzarova also denounced the widespread hazing that continues to claim the lives of many young Russian soldiers. Interfax ignored the Amnesty report entirely, while the official ITAR-TASS agency reported only on Amnesty's condemnation of the abduction of journalists in Chechnya.
PROCURATOR-GENERAL SAYS CHUBAIS PAID TAXES.
Yurii Skuratov has informed parliamentary officials that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais paid 517 million rubles ($95,000) in taxes on his 1996 income, which totaled $278,000, Interfax reported. The State Duma asked Skuratov to investigate whether Chubais broke the law after Novaya gazeta alleged in January that Chubais evaded his taxes. Chubais paid his taxes soon after the story broke, saying he earned the money through "lectures and consultations" before he was appointed presidential chief of staff last July. However, Skuratov said Chubais earned most of his 1996 income on the stock market. Meanwhile, Chubais has been appointed to head the government's Interdepartmental Commission on the Socioeconomic Problems of Mining Regions, ITAR-TASS reported. He replaces Vladimir Potanin, who was sacked during last month's cabinet reshuffle.
LABOR MINISTER RESIGNS.
Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan, a survivor of the March cabinet reshuffle, has resigned, citing "different tactics" from the new first deputy prime ministers, Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. He told ITAR-TASS that he decided to step down after last week's nationwide demonstrations against wage arrears, which involved an estimated 1 million people across Russia. Melikyan is expected to contest a by-election for a State Duma seat in Rostov Oblast, which Sergei Shakhrai left when he was appointed presidential representative to the Constitutional Court. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev, who joined the government last month, is likely to replace Melikyan as labor minister.
An OSCE spokesman announced yesterday that Tim Guldimann, head of its mission in Chechnya since January 1996, has resigned. Danish diplomat Rudolf Thorning-Petersen has been appointed to replace him. The Russian Foreign Ministry said today there is no need for further OSCE mediation in Chechnya because the Russian and Chechen leaderships are now engaged in direct talks. Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Duma Security Committee chairman Viktor Ilyukhin have criticized Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's appointment of field commander Shamil Basaev as first deputy premier. Seleznev said Basaev was not a capable administrator, while Ilyukhin called him "odious."
REPORT SAYS RUSSIA HAS NEW ANTHRAX TOXIN, NERVE GAS.
The latest issue of Jane's Land Based Air Defence 1997- 98 claims that Russia has developed a new form of the anthrax bacteria and three new types of nerve gas. The report cites both Russian defectors and Western intelligence agents, who say the new anthrax toxin is resistant to all known antibiotics. Jane's said the lethal nerve gases could be manufactured without using any of the chemicals that are banned by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
NON-PAYMENTS LEAD TO MASSIVE POWER CUTS IN PRIMORE.
The largest power plant in Primorskii Krai has run out of fuel, causing power cuts across the region and blackouts for up to 12 hours a day in the city of Vladivostok. The city was already experiencing power cuts for a few hours each day. The power plant cannot buy more coal because Primore's coal mines, which are unable to pay for fuel, have suspended production. Maintenance workers at Vladivostok's State Automobile Inspectorate warned the mayor's office that they will switch off all traffic lights in the city if they are not paid back wages for the past six months by 9 April, RFE/RL reported.
ARMS SUPPLIES TO ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN.
Vechernyaya Moskva yesterday cited a November 1993 letter allegedly sent by then Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisyan to his Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev, requesting assistance in acquiring spare parts for hardware supplied by Russia and guaranteeing payment. This follows Lev Rokhlin's revelations at a 2 April closed session of the State Duma on the extent of clandestine Russian arms shipments to Armenia. Moskovskii komsomolets quoted Rokhlin as saying shipments continued after Grachev's dismissal last summer but without the knowledge of his successor, Igor Rodionov. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev has called on Yeltsin to launch a new investigation into Rokhlin's disclosures, ITAR- TASS reports. Nezavisimaya gazeta's Armenian correspondent claimed yesterday that in 1994, Turkey purchased arms from Russia worth over $3 billion and passed them on to Azerbaijan.
DE CHARETTE ON KARABAKH TALKS.
French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette told Armenian President Levon Ter- Petrossyan in Yerevan earlier this week that he favors direct talks between Baku and Yerevan and possibly between Baku and Stepanakert in order to expedite a solution to the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL reported. De Charette also disclosed that Iran, which is not an OSCE member and is therefore excluded from the mediation process, is pleased France has become one of the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group. Gasparyan praised Russia's role as "an honest and impartial" co-mediator, but he complained that Azerbaijan is trying to undermine Russia's role in the mediation process.
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH OPPOSITION REPRESENTATIVES.
Levon Ter-Petrossyan says his talks earlier this week with representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsyutyun were "very positive and constructive," Armenpress reported. Ter- Petrossyan suspended the activities of the opposition ARFD in 1994 on the grounds that the party was implicated in terrorist activities. Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan also met with ARFD members earlier this week. He affirmed his readiness to cooperate with all Armenian political parties, according to Asbarez on Line.
GEORGIA ADOPTS NEW SECURITY CONCEPT.
The Georgian parliament has adopted new foreign-policy guidelines aimed at expediting the country's integration into European structures, Russian new agencies reported yesterday. Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania said the new concept reflects the current state of Georgia's relations with Russia, which he termed the main threat to Georgian security. Zhvania said that if Russia fails to assist Georgia in restoring control over the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, Georgia will revise its present policy of military cooperation with Russia.
NEW PLANS FOR KAZAK OIL.
Kazakoil, the new national oil company, says it plans to export more than 1 million tons of oil to Iran this year, AFP and Interfax reported. This is in keeping with a 1996 deal providing for 2-6 million tons to be shipped to Iran annually over a 10-year period. Kazakstan has already sent 70,000 tons of oil to Iran so far this year. Kazakstan also intends to start sending oil to China beginning in the second half of 1997. Shipments will initially go by rail but eventually through planned pipelines.
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON ECO.
Askar Akayev says Kyrgyzstan considers relations with the 10-country Economic Cooperation Organization extremely important. Akayev was speaking after his meeting with the organization's Secretary-General Ondar Ozal earlier this week. He noted that 45% of Kyrgyzstan' s foreign trade is with ECO member states but that the potential for trade "was far from being exhausted." The construction of the Karakorum highway is one of Kyrgyzstan's top priorities because it would create a trade route stretching from China to the Indian Ocean, Akayev said. Besides Kyrgyzstan, the ECO member states are the other four former Soviet Central Asian republics, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
TURKMEN CHIEF PROSECUTOR FIRED.
President Saparmurat Niyazov has sacked the country' s chief prosecutor, Bayrammurat Ashyrliyev, RFE/RL reported. Niyazov criticized the country's prosecutors in general, saying they too often failed to sentence real criminals and instead prosecuted " innocent people." He said failures among law enforcement officials were to be blamed for the level of crime and corruption in Turkmenistan. Prosecutors were all too susceptible to bribery, Niyazov commented.
FOREIGN JOURNALISTS DEMONSTRATE IN MINSK.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich today advised correspondents not to attend unsanctioned rallies. Otherwise, he said, Belarusian authorities could not guarantee their safety. He said the new rules could outlaw Belarusian citizens from working as correspondents for foreign news agencies. His comments come after several dozen foreign journalists demonstrated yesterday outside the Foreign Ministry in Minsk calling for the government to honor press freedom. ITAR-TASS says that the demonstration followed reports that police had beaten and detained journalists covering an anti-government rally yesterday in Minsk. More than 100 protesters were beaten by police in what was called the worst violence in the past six months.
INTERNATIONAL CONCERN OVER SITUATION IN BELARUS.
The EU says it plans to urge all 15 EU ambassadors in Minsk to meet with Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich to express concern about what the EU calls the deteriorating situation there, RFE/RL's West European correspondent reported. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says he achieved more than he had hoped for in his 2 April meeting with Russian President Yeltsin in which the union agreement was signed.
BAN ON RUSSIAN MILITARY FLIGHTS IN UKRAINE.
A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman says the prohibition on Russian military planes from entering Ukrainian air space, which came into effect, on 2 April is indefinite, pending a reply to Ukrainian inquiries from the Russian Defense Ministry. RFE/RL's correspondent in Kyiv quotes the official as saying today that if a Russian military plane entered Ukrainian airspace while the ban is in effect, Ukrainian aircraft and surface-to-air missiles have the right "to use force" to compel such aircraft to change course. Groups of Russian military aircraft entered Ukrainian air space without prior warning on three occasions last week. The Russian Air Force today denied that it had violated Ukrainian flight rules in a series of flights over the Black Sea. An unnamed spokesman for Russia's Air Force General Staff told Interfax today that the flights were over neutral waters and were part of an exercise plan. The spokesman said the Russian Defense Ministry will send an official message to Ukraine over the ban.
INFLATION IN UKRAINE.
Economics Minister Yuri Yekhanurov says monthly inflation rate for March was 0.1%-- the lowest since July and beneath the projected figure. Yekhanurov told journalists in Kyiv yesterday that the government aims to keep annual inflation at 25%. Inflation has dropped from more than 10,000% in 1993 to just under 40% last year.
BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS AGREE ON DEFENSE PROJECTS.
The defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have issued a communique dividing jurisdiction over Baltic defense projects in the West, BNS reported. The ministers met in Vilnius yesterday. Latvia will preside over the formation of the joint Baltic peacekeeping battalion BALTBAT. Estonia will be home to the staff headquarters of the BALTRON mine-sweeper squadron, and Lithuania's air control center in Karmelava will become the major air control headquarters of the Baltic States.
EU COMMISSIONER SUPPORTS LATVIA'S EUROPEAN INTEGRATION.
Hans van den Broek, EU foreign affairs commissioner for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, has expressed his support for Latvia's EU integration efforts. Van den Broek was speaking at a meeting with Latvian Minister for European Affairs Aleksandrs Kirsteins, BNS reported. The commissioner cautioned, however, that each country is responsible for harmonizing its legislation with European laws. He said Latvia should speed up adopting legislation on the abolition of foreign trade barriers, customs, free competition, and money laundering.
LITHUANIA TO IMPLEMENT SAFETY MEASURES AT IGNALINA.
Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas says Lithuania will follow the recommendations of an international panel and implement required safety measures at its Ignalina nuclear plant. The plant, which supplies up to 90% of Lithuania's electricity, has reactors similar to those at Chornobyl, where the world's worst civilian nuclear accident occurred in 1986. Ignalina's number two reactor is currently shut down for maintenance. Saudargas said the unit will not go back on line until safety measures are implemented.
POLAND CAUTIOUS ABOUT RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN AGREEMENT.
Poland's Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski says the scaled-down union agreement between Russian and Belarus poses no immediate threat to Poland. He told journalists yesterday in Warsaw, however, that it is in Poland's interest that Belarus maintain its independence and sovereignty. Bronislaw Geremek, head of the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee, is quoted by PAP as saying he is wary about the long-term implications of the agreement since it might mean a Russian military presence on the Polish- Belarusian border.
POLISH MASS PRIVATIZATION ENTERS LAST PHASE.
The Stock Market Commission is to allow shares issued by the National Investment Funds to be traded publicly, RFE/RL's correspondent in Warsaw reports. All NFI shares will be traded on the stock-exchange beginning in June. The NFIs have shares in 512 former state-owned enterprises. One third of the shares in a given company are owned by one NFI, and the remainder equally distributed among the other funds.
CZECH JEWS TO SEARCH FOR VALUABLES STOLEN BY NAZIS.
Interior Ministry spokesman Oldrich Sladek says his ministry will help the Czech Jewish community find valuables stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust. He cautioned, however, that the ministry has no information on the treasures' whereabouts. Tomas Kraus, a leader of the Czech Jewish Community, said last week that Czechs Jews are joining Jewish communities in neighboring countries to discover what happened to paintings and other valuables that went missing during World War II. He said there is now information suggesting where some of the objects may be located. But he refused to offer details, saying only that the trail leads abroad.
NATO OFFICIAL ON SLOVAKIA.
In comments to journalists in Bratislava on 3 April, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Anthony Cragg said the U.S. and Russia have made no secret agreement on excluding Slovakia from NATO enlargement, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Cragg was talking to journalists in the Slovak capital yesterday. His statement follows Premier Vladimir Meciar's recent allegation that the admission of Slovakia into NATO has been rejected by both the U.S. and Russia. Meciar' s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) repeated its chairman's claim yesterday. The U.S. and Russia apply different standards to various East European countries, HZDS Deputy Chairman Marian Huska told journalists yesterday.
SLOVAK GOVERNMENT VOWS TO IMPROVE PRISON CONDITIONS.
Government spokeswoman Ludmila Bulakova says Slovakia will ensure proper conditions for prisoners, including stopping all forms of torture. According to Bulakova the government has ordered the Minister of Justice to monitor prison conditions and keep the government informed whether police are abiding by the rules. The Council of Europe yesterday issued a report critical of prisoner treatment in the country. The report says a 1995 investigation found several instances in which prisoners were tortured in police cells.
COMPENSATION FOR HUNGARIAN JEWISH HOLOCAUST VICTIMS.
The Hungarian government has launched a program to compensate Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It has instructed the Finance Ministry to transfer money to a fund for this purpose. Last month, the parliament voted to establish the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Fund, which will pay out lifetime annuities worth a total of 4 billion forints ($23.5 million) to Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust. The government also gave the fund real estate and 10 paintings worth 1.5 billion forints ($8.8 million) as well as 30 million forints to cover operating costs. Additional sums will be allocated in each year's budget.
ALBANIAN INTERVENTION FORCE TAKES SHAPE.
Franz Vranitzky, the OSCE's special envoy for the Albanian crisis, said in Athens yesterday that 12 April is the target date for the multinational force to be operational. In Austria, Defense Minister Werner Fasslabend said the mission will take place in three stages. The first starts now and will secure Tirana airport as well as the ports of Durres and Vlora; the second begins in May to protect aid deliveries in the rest of the country; and the third runs through June and July to ensure the safety of the elections. A series of high-level multilateral meetings is taking place in Rome this week to spell out the strategy and mandate for the mission.
MAYHEM REIGNS IN ALBANIA.
Prime Minister Bashkim Fino says he will step up contacts to southern insurgents. His job is made difficult by the fact that armed criminal gangs have intensified attacks throughout the south in the past two days. Meanwhile in Tirana, unidentified persons fired at the U.S. ambassador's home yesterday. Marine guards helped Albanian police find the source of the shots but did not return fire. The police arrested 10 people in nearby buildings and confiscated dozens of automatic weapons. In Gjirokaster, near the Greek border, people attacked the Greek consulate and demanded visas.
MILOSEVIC'S PARTY TO BOYCOTT CONFERENCE ON KOSOVO.
The ruling Socialist Party of Serbia says it will not take part in an American-sponsored roundtable of Serbs and Albanians slated for 7-9 April in New York, RFE/RL reported yesterday. The party argues that any Serbs who go are "selling out vital state interests" and playing into the hands of those who want to cut Serbia down to the size of the tiny Ottoman "Pashaluk of Belgrade." Nasa Borba adds that Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, who is on a visit to Washington, will also stay away from the talks.
UN TROOPS ON ALERT FOR CROATIAN ELECTIONS.
UN forces stationed in eastern Slavonia will be on full alert for the 13 April balloting, RFE/RL reported yesterday. This is the first time since the breakup of Yugoslavia that the region's 120,000 Serbs will vote in Croatian elections. The Croatian Electoral Commission said in Zagreb that the Independent Serbian Democratic Party (SSDS) is fielding candidates for local and county assemblies but not for the upper house in Zagreb. The SSDS is a broad coalition aimed at concentrating the Serbian vote. SSDS leader Vojislav Stanimirovic launched the party's campaign yesterday by saying it will fight for Serbian interests by political means only. Vjesnik writes that 53% of the 125,000 registered voters in eastern Slavonia are Croats and 30% Serbs.
CROATIAN OPPOSITION LEADER THREATENS TO SUE TUDJMAN.
Croatian Peasant Party leader Zlatko Tomcic says he may sue President Franjo Tudjman for claiming in an interview that Tomcic met with Serbian and Bosnian Muslim political figures to discuss setting up a new Yugoslavia, Novi list reports. Speaking in Rijeka yesterday, Tudjman slammed his local opponents as neo-Communists working for a new Yugoslavia. Croatia's northwest is home to a strong autonomist movement, but Tudjman routinely calls such groups "anti-Croatian." Also in Rijeka, a roundtable on press freedom blasted Tudjman's party for manipulating election coverage in the state-run media. Participants also criticized the opposition for letting Tudjman set the rules.
MACEDONIAN PYRAMID SCHEME HAS $80 MILLION DEBT.
The head of the Macedonian National Bank has given all the bank's documents on the TAT pyramid collapse to the state prosecutor, Nasa Borba reported today. TAT's obligations total $80 million, but the bank director says sales of the personal property of TAT's bosses should cover much of the debt.
NEW SLOVENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER OUTLINES PLANS.
Tit Turnsek says that the Slovenian military will become smaller, more cost-effective, and completely geared toward acting in cooperation with other armies, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on 2 April. This means Slovenia will not expand its tiny air force or navy but will concentrate on transforming its army for specialized tasks of international peacemaking and peacekeeping. The military will not train to "defend us from our neighbors but rather to work together with those neighbors" on international projects. He stressed that both the public and the parliament are strongly in favor of NATO membership, and that Slovenia sets no conditions on stationing NATO troops on its territory.
VAN DER STOEL ON ROMA MINORITY IN ROMANIA.
Max van der Stoel, the OSCE high commissioner for national minorities, says ethnic tensions still prevail in relations between the Romanian majority and the Roma minority. At the end of his two-day visit to Romania, he proposed that a department be set up to deal with the integration of the Roma community. Senate Chairman Petre Roman told Van der Stoel that Romania is concerned about the fate of Romanian minorities in other countries. He singled out Ukraine where, he said, ethnic Romanians have been subjected to " 50 years of harsh Russification." Van der Stoel told presidential counselor Zoe Petre that it is " desirable" for the pending treaty with Ukraine to be concluded as soon as possible. He added that no NATO member has so far opposed Romania' s inclusion in the first wave of new members, RFE/RL reported.
ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY REORGANIZED.
The government is to restructure the Ministry of Defense to bring it into line with NATO standards, RFE/RL reported on 3 April. In a significant departure from past practice, the ministry' s structure will no longer be considered a state secret. It will include a Directorate for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, subordinated to its Political and Defense Department. The Directorates for Human Resources, Information and Public Relations, and Medical Corps will be directly subordinated to the Minister of Defense. Other ministerial structures dealing with the military as a whole will also come directly under the minister's jurisdiction.
MORE MOLDOVAN REACTIONS TO RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN UNION.
Moldovan Foreign Minister Mihai Popov says the Russian-Belarusian union will help improve Moldovan trade with the Baltic States and North European countries because of the lifting of customs and other trade barriers, Radio Bucharest reported. Vladimir Atamaniuc, deputy chairman of the Transdniester Supreme Soviet, told Infotag that " common sense" was now " winning over political ambitions." He said that the " Transdniestrian republic" is extremely interested in such integration because "80% of our economy is closely inter- related with that of the Russian Federation." Alexander Caraman, vice president of the breakaway region, says the union will serve the interests of state-formations within the CIS that have not yet been recognized and are more favorable to the integration process.
SMIRNOV ON RUSSIAN MILITARY ASSETS IN TRANSDNIESTER.
Igor Smirnov, leader of Moldova's Transdniester breakaway region, says he has demanded that Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov " follow the orders" of Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin and set up a commission to determine the future of the assets of the " former 14th Army." As " head of state," Smirnov said, " I must think how to defend my people" when the Russian military contingent in the region is being reduced. Smirnov wants the commission to determine how the assets of the departing Russian forces will be shared with his own forces, BASA-press reported.
BULGARIA' S SOCIALISTS OPPOSE JOINING NATO.
Former Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski of the Socialist Party has opposed the interim government' s decision to apply for NATO membership, RFE/RL's correspondent in Sofia reported. Pirinski was taking part yesterday in a televised debate on national security. But all the participants supported efforts to join the EU. Meanwhile, the interim government has approved " in principle" Bulgaria' s participation in the international mission for Albania. The Defense and Interior Ministries have yet to work out detailed plans. After the general elections scheduled for later this month, the parliament will have to approve the plans.
DRASTIC CUTS IN PUBLIC JOBS IN BULGARIA.
Caretaker Labor Minister Ivan Neikov says 160,000 state sectors jobs will be eliminated by the end of the year in a bid to reduce budget spending on loss-making firms, RFE/RL's correspondent in Sofia reported yesterday. He said 100,000 industrial, and 60,000 administrative jobs will have to go. Those who lose their jobs will have the choice of a one-time payment totaling $250 or regular unemployment benefits over three months equivalent to their wages. It was also announced yesterday that 24 state-owned firms will be privatized, most of which are export-oriented.
Chirac Fails to Improve Franco-Czech Relations
by Joel Blocker
During his official visit to the Czech Republic this week, French President Jacques Chirac clearly had one major objective in mind: to improve the long-time parlous state of Franco-Czech relations. My assessment of his trip gives Chirac a nine--on a scale of 10--for effort, but only a meager three for achievement. Here are the reasons why.
During his 24 hours in Prague, Chirac failed to do much more than paper over the basic differences between the French and the Czech governments in foreign-policy attitudes and outlooks. Those differences have more to do with post-Cold War happenings than with the historic events of 1938 (Munich accord), 1948 (Czech Communist coup d'etat) and 1968 (Soviet invasion) that Chirac twice publicly admitted had opened wide gaps between the two nations. For all the credit he deserves for his candor about previous problems, Chirac's admissions served to conceal the core reasons for today's Franco-Czech coolness.
The coolness was created, above all, by the conservative Chirac's late predecessor, Socialist Francois Mitterrand. In 1991, Mitterrand began a running political--but not personal-- quarrel with President Vaclav Havel. The dispute became public when, during a visit to Prague the same year, Mitterrand told reporters it would take "decades and decades" for Central and East European former Communist nations to qualify for entry into the European Community, the predecessor of the European Union. The quarrel continued through the end of Mitterrand's presidency in 1995, despite Havel and Mitterrand's additional visits to each other's capitals.
As a result of the bad publicity, Mitterrand lost the good odor he had earned in Prague--and elsewhere in Central Europe--after having invited Havel, and several other Czech anti-Communist dissidents, to breakfast with him at the French Embassy in late 1988. That was 10 months before the Velvet Revolution, and Havel famously came to breakfast with his usual bag containing a toothbrush, in case he was detained by Czech police after leaving the embassy. He was not, but the event helped create Havel's excellent reputation among the French, which he has never lost.
More important, Mitterrand's skeptical attitude about integrating Central and East European nations into the West was not only an echo of an aging politician's deep cynicism about the possibility of changing classic European divisions. It also reflected long-held views about those divisions by high French Foreign Ministry officials. Czechoslovakia--and later the Czech Republic--was seen by them, and manifestly by Mitterrand as well, as being in "the American camp." As such, Prague was considered not nearly as friendly to French interests and French ideas of European independence than Bucharest and Warsaw. What's more, the Romanians and Poles also were--and remain--far more francophone than the Czechs.
Such considerations continue to count for a great deal for those who work at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris as implementers, and sometimes constructors, of French foreign policy. An inquiring reporter who spoke with some of them just before Chirac's arrival in Prague was told that the Czech government was more interested in the EU's single market than in its continued integration. That may be true of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, but it certainly does not reflect Havel's stated views. The reporter was also told by high officials at the Quai that Prague was more interested in U.S. protection than in France's vision of the Union as the European pillar of NATO or, as Chirac put it in Prague, "Europe's defense identity."
With all those old ideas in his baggage, Chirac was doomed to failure in Prague. He did manage to renew what both sides agree is a warm personal relationship with Havel. But nothing Chirac said in Prague could quite erase the impression among informed Czechs that France's president was a victim of the Quai's, and his own, old thinking. Many of them have in the past seven years become as cynical about French motives as the Quai has been of Czech motives for decades. That's why Franco-Czech relations still have a long way to go before they become warm, not to mention close.