YELTSIN PROMISES WAR ON CORRUPTION.
Yeltsin says he has the political will to make it "scary to steal
and take bribes." In an address broadcast today on national
radio, Yeltsin said a recent presidential decree ordering
competitive bidding for state contracts would reduce
corruption. He also promised to end some tax and customs
benefits, which, he said, create opportunities for bribery, and
to make leading officials and their families submit income and
property declarations. Yesterday, Yeltsin said civil servants
should follow the example set by him and First Deputy Prime
Minister Boris Nemtsov, Russian news agencies reported.
During a televised meeting, the president told Nemtsov, "You
and I have the same credo: Never take bribes." He also ordered
Nemtsov to oversee preparations for an auction of foreign-
made cars used by government officials. Yeltsin issued a
decree last month ordering officials to drive Russian-made
DUMA DELAYS DEBATE OVER START II.
The State Duma
has again postponed a debate on ratification of the START II
treaty, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. Duma
Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin of Our Home Is
Russia, who has expressed reservations about the treaty, said
the government should first advance proposals for
implementing the treaty. START II was signed by the Russian
and U.S. presidents in 1993 and ratified by the US Congress
in 1996. The Duma has repeatedly delayed consideration of
the treaty, and Communist deputies have said they will block
its ratification if NATO expands to the east.
GAZPROM HEAD ADDRESSES DUMA.
Rem Vyakhirev says
foreign gas companies and the IMF are trying to use the
Russian Finance Ministry to break up the natural gas
monopoly Gazprom, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported
yesterday. However, Vyakhirev told Duma deputies that First
Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, who is leading the
government's campaign to reform the natural monopolies, had
agreed not to split up Gazprom. Vyakhirev also said the
government could solve Russia's non-payments crisis if it
increased the money supply by 10%, adding that such a
measure would not be inflationary. After Vyakhirev's speech,
the Duma rejected a resolution proposed by Yabloko for the
State Audit Chamber to examine Gazprom's finances.
Vyakhirev said Gazprom itself should carry out the audit and
release the results.
GOVERNMENT PLEDGES TOUGH ACTION AGAINST
DEBTORS TO PENSION FUND.
Deputy Prime Minister Oleg
Sysuev says the government will restructure the debts of
companies that owe large sums to the Pension Fund, such as
oil refineries and the utility Unified Energy System (EES),
Russian news agencies reported yesterday. Sysuev also said
the government may sell off parts of companies--especially in
the oil industry--that do not pay their debts to the Pension
Fund. In addition, the volume of oil that private companies are
allowed to export through pipelines belonging to the state-
owned company Transneft will depend on the companies'
payments to the Pension Fund. The fund is owed more than 65
trillion rubles ($11 billion), and some of the largest debtors are
in the energy sector.
RYBKIN MEETS WITH CHECHEN LEADERS IN GROZNY.
Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and his
deputy, Boris Berezovskii, met with Chechen President Aslan
Maskhadov and First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov
in Grozny yesterday. No details of the talks were released, but
Nezavisimaya gazeta suggested today that they focused on
draft agreements on bilateral relations. Meanwhile,
Maskhadov has denied that he plans to attend a conference in
Pitsunda next month of presidents of unrecognized states,
including Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He denounced the
report as an attempt to undermine Chechen-Georgian
SPIRITUAL HERITAGE DISCUSSES OPPOSITION
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told
a congress of the Spiritual Heritage movement yesterday that
protests could lead to a "social explosion" if the opposition is
not sufficiently organized, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported.
He summed up the Russian national idea as "spirituality, great
statehood (derzhavnost), community, and justice." Aleksei
Podberezkin, leader of Spiritual Heritage and one of
Zyuganov's closest advisers, argued that the opposition must
create a new "state-patriotic ideology." He said recent cabinet
changes prove that the government has not drawn the right
conclusions from its mistakes. Nezavisimaya gazeta yesterday
published extracts of a document by Podberezkin describing
"radical protests" as ineffective and advocating a tactical
compromise with the government.
PRIMAKOV SUGGESTS NATO CHARTER COULD BE
SIGNED NEXT MONTH.
Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov
has said Yeltsin may go to Paris to sign a charter between
Russia and NATO on 27 May, provided that an agreement is
reached by then, Reuters and AFP reported yesterday. French
President Jacques Chirac extended the invitation to Yeltsin
during a meeting with Primakov in Paris. However, there are
major outstanding differences over the terms of the charter,
particularly whether NATO will pledge not to build military
facilities on the territory of new member countries. Russian
Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasevskii, who is
negotiating with NATO officials in Brussels, yesterday rejected
confidence-building measures proposed by the alliance as
YELTSIN APPOINTS NEW FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER.
Yeltsin has appointed career diplomat Sergei Prikhodko as his
new foreign policy adviser, Russian news agencies reported
yesterday. Yeltsin sacked Dmitrii Ryurikov last weekend,
reportedly because he was dissatisfied with documents on
Russian-Belarusian integration that Ryurikov helped prepare.
Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii will continue to
coordinate foreign policy for the administration.
ST. PETERSBURG COMMUNISTS ATTEMPT TO OUST
The St. Petersburg electoral commission has
registered a Communist-sponsored group seeking to oust the
city's governor, Vladimir Yakovlev, by a referendum, RFE/RL's
correspondent in St. Petersburg reported yesterday. Local
Communists object to the February decision to double the cost
of city housing and municipal services. If the group can collect
the required 140,000 signatures within 40 days, St.
Petersburg residents will be asked whether they think the
city's social and economic policies have lowered their standard
of living and whether they believe Yakovlev should step down.
DUMA TO APPEAL TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVER
BASHKORTOSTAN'S ELECTORAL LAW.
The Duma has voted
to ask the Constitutional Court to examine the law on
presidential elections in the Republic of Bashkortostan, ITAR-
TASS reported yesterday. Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova
said a provision restricting presidential candidates to those
who speak both Russian and Bashkir discriminates against
Russian-speakers and violates the federal constitutional
guarantee of equal rights for all citizens.
RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN ACCORD AS CORNERSTONE OF
NAZARBAEV'S EURASIAN UNION?
Nursultan Nazarbaev has rejected suggestions that the Treaty
on Eternal Friendship, which he and Kyrgyz President Askar
Akaev signed earlier this week, is an alternative to the
Russian-Belarus union agreement, Nezavisimaya gazeta
reports today. Nazarbaev said that "if the CIS states unite in
Europe, then the countries of Central Asia could join them and
we would have a Eurasian Union." He first floated the idea of a
Eurasian union strengthening integration within the CIS in
1994. Akaev endorsed that idea in Almaty earlier this week.
GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER IN YEREVAN.
Pangalos has called for expanding Armenian-Greek economic
relations and for closer cooperation between Greece, Armenia,
Georgia, and Iran in unspecified "areas of mutual concern,"
Asbarez and Armenpress reported. Pangalos was in Yerevan
yesterday to meet with his Armenian counterpart, Alexander
Arzoumanian, President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, and Prime
Minister Robert Kocharyan. He told journalists later that
Greece supports the right of nations to self-determination,
"whether [in the form of] cultural autonomy or fully-fledged
independence." He said he believes the Karabakh conflict
should be resolved in accordance with this principle. Pangalos
also said Turkey's position vis-a-vis Karabakh was
destabilizing and that Ankara should realize that the Ottoman
Empire is dead and cannot be revived.
Aliyev CALLS ON GEORGIA TO CONDEMN RUSSIAN ARMS
SUPPLIES TO ARMENIA.
Meeting in Baku yesterday with
visiting Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili,
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev expressed the hope that the
Georgian leadership will condemn Russian arms shipments to
Armenia, Interfax reported. Aliyev intimated that Armenia
could use this hardware against Georgia. Meanwhile in
Yerevan, Armenian Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan said on
national TV that the reports on the arms shipments are aimed
at weakening the Armenian army and depriving the country of
aid. Last month, Sarkisyan had implicitly confirmed the
TAJIK TALKS BREAK DOWN ON FIRST DAY.
round of Tajik peace talks broke down in Tehran yesterday
when the Tajik opposition representatives demanded the
release of 11 of their colleagues who, they say, were arrested in
Moscow. Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, head of the opposition
delegation to the talks, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau
yesterday that the men had been arrested immediately before
the talks were scheduled to begin and charged with the
murders of Russian soldiers serving in Tajikistan. He
described the arrests as typical Moscow tactics to discredit the
opposition and as pointless in view of an amnesty signed
earlier this year for Tajik opposition fighters. Maxim Peshkov,
head of the Russian observer delegation to the talks, said one
of the detained Tajiks, Abdurahmon Nazarov, was a "Russian
citizen. "He denied any knowledge of the other ten detainees.
TURKMENISTAN DENIES HELPING TALIBAN.
Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry has denied any role in aiding
Afghanistan's Taliban movement, ITAR-TASS reported today.
The denial followed an 8 April interview with Afghan warlord
Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum in Komsomolskaya Pravda in
which Dostum said the Taliban are selling narcotics and
receiving weapons via Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has
consistently said that, as a neutral country, it neither
supports nor gives aid to any of the warring factions in
KAZAKSTAN TO INCREASE OIL PRODUCTION, EXPORTS.
Nurlan Balgimbaev, head of the new Kazak national oil and
gas company, hopes that oil production in 1997 will reach its
previous peak of 26.5 million metric tons, Nezavisimaya
gazeta reported yesterday. Balgimbaev said that Kazakstan
plans to export 7 million tons of oil this year via Russia--1
million by tanker across the Caspian Sea and then by rail from
Baku to Georgia and 1 million via Iran by means of a "swap."
The oil swap with Iran is problematic, however, as Kazak oil
contains such a high level of impurities that it cannot be
refined at the Tehran oil refinery, Delovoi mir reported
yesterday. Balgimbaev was ambivalent about Kazakstan
joining the OPEC and expressed doubts that projected
pipelines either through Afghanistan and Pakistan or through
China would materialize in the foreseeable future.
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIAN TV STAGED
"SAVAGERY" AT UNAUTHORIZED RALLY.
Lukashenka has accused the opposition Belarusian Popular
Front of staging unauthorized marches in Minsk to enable
opposition and Russian media to report negatively on Belarus.
Speaking at a rally in Kobrin in the south of the country
yesterday, he said, "We do not need lessons in democracy.
Marches are allowed where they are authorized." He claimed
that rally participants are being recruited by the opposition.
Later, Lukashenka told collective farm officials in western
Belarus that Russian TV staged clashes between protesters
and riot police. Referring to the suppression of an
unauthorized rally last week, he told the farmers that the
"savagery" they saw on Russian TV channels "never
happened." The opposition says some 300 were injured at the
rally and another 300 detained.
ANOTHER DEMONSTRATION IN MINSK.
workers held an authorized rally near the tractor stadium in
Minsk yesterday to protest what they say is government
indifference toward their demands for higher wages, new jobs,
and the stable functioning of factories, Belapan reports. The
Association of Independent Industrial Trade Unions organized
the rally. Calls for militia officers' wages to be given to workers
instead and for police to stop beating people in the streets
were greeted with a storm of applause. Participants pledged to
continue their protests until the government and president
meet their demands.
FRANCHUK MAKES COMEBACK AS CRIMEAN PRIME
Anatoly Franchuk has been installed as caretaker
Crimean premier, after the peninsula's parliament voted to
oust Arkady Demidenko as head of the government, Interfax
reported yesterday. Parliamentary speaker Anatoly Gritsenko
said the move had been discussed beforehand with Ukrainian
President Leonid Kuchma. Previous attempts to remove
Demidenko had been declared invalid by Kuchma. According
to the constitution, the Ukrainian head of state must approve
cabinet changes in Crimea. Franchuk goes to Kyiv today and
then to Moscow to seek assistance.
ELECTRICITY PRICE HIKE IN ESTONIA.
government is to increase electricity prices by one-third
starting next month, BNS reported yesterday Heido Vitsur,
economics adviser to the prime minister, said the move was
recommended by an independent price commission. The hike
is the largest since Estonia regained independence in 1991.
The average electricity price will total 0.49 kroons (3 cents) per
one kilowatt-hour from May until the end of this year.
LATVIAN OFFICIALS RESPOND TO OSCE CRITICISM OF
Eizenija Aldermane, director of the
Latvian Naturalization Office, told RFE/RL's Latvian Service
yesterday that the country's citizenship test is not too
"complicated." She was responding to criticism by OSCE High
Commissioner on Ethnic Minorities Max van der Stoel earlier
this week (see RFE/RL Newsline, 8 April 1997). Aldermane
said there are many reasons why non-Latvians are reluctant to
apply for citizenship, including the desire to avoid military
service. She added that only some 10% of the 124,000 non-
citizens eligible to apply have shown any interest in doing so.
But in a separate interview with RFE/RL, Janis Jurkans,
leader of the leftist Harmony Party, agreed with Van der Stoel
that the test is too stringent. He argued that the current
citizenship law is impeding the integration of non-citizens.
POLISH PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS TOBACCO
The Polish parliament is to vote this week on
an amendment to the 1995 law on tobacco advertising,
RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent reports. Under the law,
cigarette packs sold after the end of this year will have to carry
a health warning covering at least 30% of the front and the
back of each pack. The proposed amendment would overturn
that requirement before it takes effect. Polish anti-smoking
campaigners yesterday launched a campaign against the
amendment. Last year, some 90 billion cigarettes were sold in
CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES CHURCH RESTITUTION
The Czech government yesterday approved a
Culture Ministry proposal to return 232 state-owned buildings
to the Roman Catholic Church and other religious
communities, Czech media reported. But it ruled out the
restitution of 228 other buildings and decided that the return
of another 112 is "problematic" and will be subject to further
examination. Among the real estate regarded as
"unproblematic" are the medieval Bouzov castle in Moravia,
the spa of Karlova Studanka, the Gothic church in Most, and
buildings currently used as schools, museums, galleries, and
offices throughout the country.
CZECH PRESIDENT CLARIFIES LEADERSHIP HIERARCHY.
Havel has resolved a dispute between the leaders of the two
houses of parliament and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus over the
constitutional ranking of senior officials, according to a press
release by the President's Office yesterday. The dispute caused
protocol problems during recent official visits. Havel's
spokesman says that, following discussions between the
president and several state agencies, it has been decided that
Havel is followed in rank by Senate speaker Petr Pithart,
Chamber of Deputies Speaker Milos Zeman, and Prime
Minister Klaus, respectively. Havel's office says the reasons for
the decision were that elected officials have priority over
appointees and the Senate is the upper house.
UPDATE ON SLOVAK RESPONSE TO HAVEL STATEMENT.
Vladimir Meciar has denied that recalling the Slovak
ambassador to the Czech Republic for consultations will
worsen relations between Bratislava and Prague. Speaking on
Slovak TV last night, he said the recall is a "normal democratic
step." The move came one day after the Slovak government
demanded an apology from Czech President Vaclav Havel for
saying in an interview with Le Figaro last month that Meciar is
paranoid about Slovakia's being excluded from NATO
expansion. Meciar hinted he might retaliate by making public
the five-year-old transcripts of talks with Havel on dissolving
the Czechoslovak federation. Meanwhile, Sme quotes former
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan of the opposition Democratic
Party as saying that recalling the ambassador can "only harm"
Slovakia. Slovakia's Hungarian Christian Democratic
Movement says the current dispute between Prague and
Bratislava is "far from sufficient cause to react in such a
NATO OFFICIAL IN BUDAPEST.
NATO Deputy Secretary-
General Norman Ray says new members of the alliance from
Central Europe will be free to buy Russian military equipment,
Reuters reported. Ray told journalists that NATO has no
centralized control over armaments planning, budgeting, or
procurement. He said the main criterion for prospective
members will be their ability to work within the alliance,
regardless of the source of their military equipment. Ray was
in Budapest for discussions with Defense Minister Gyorgy
ITALY APPROVES ALBANIAN MISSION.
parliament agreed last night to send troops to lead a European
force to Albania. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi made a
last-minute deal with the center-right opposition to clinch a
majority vote. Prodi said that the more than 5,000 troops will
start deploying on 14 April. France, Romania, Spain, Turkey,
and Greece also plan to send troops. The peacekeepers' goal is
to restore order and protect the delivery of humanitarian aid.
ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS AGAIN FOR
Bashkim Fino said in Tirana yesterday that
the international force is badly needed so that his government
can concentrate on battling organized crime. Fino told Reuters
that conditions throughout the country remain dangerous
because so many people are armed. Rebel leaders say that
they will give up their weapons only after new elections and
only to international peacekeepers. But the international
force's mandate does not include confiscating arms.
Meanwhile, President Sali Berisha says that the June elections
may not go ahead after all, the Vienna daily Die Presse reports.
"We have set the election date for June. But at the moment
there is no real progress because the [rebel] committees are
still functioning," Berisha told the newspaper.
ALBANIA LIFTS PRESS CURBS.
The Albanian parliament
voted yesterday to end press restrictions. The emergency all-
party government imposed the press curbs on 2 March at the
height of the armed anarchy. The restrictions require
government-appointed committees to censor articles before
publication. The dailies of three main political parties are the
only papers still publishing, after fire destroyed the offices of
the main independent daily, Koha Jone.
UN NOT TO CUT MACEDONIAN FORCE.
Council voted unanimously in New York yesterday to suspend
the planned reduction in its peacekeeping force in Macedonia.
The decision comes in response to unrest in neighboring
Albania. The council acted on Secretary-General Kofi Annan's
recommendation that it revoke last November's decision to
reduce the size of the UN Preventive Deployment Force in
Macedonia (UNPREDEP) while extending the force's mandate
until 31 May. The 1,050 peacekeepers include some 500 U.S.
troops. UNPREDEP's main mission is to prevent conflicts
elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia from spilling over into
KOSOVO TALKS END IN NEW YORK.
in New York aimed at easing tensions in Kosovo ended
yesterday without significant agreement. But participants
described the discussions as a solid first step toward resolving
the decade-old crisis. They also agreed to meet regularly,
although they did not set a date for the next round of talks. In
a final statement, Serbs and ethnic Albanians said any future
agreement must be based on principles of democratization,
mutual respect, respect for human rights, and promotion of
regional stability. Albanians, who make up 90% of Kosovo's
population, seek independence for the region, while Serbs
insist it must remain part of Serbia.
SLAVONIAN SERBS URGED TO VOTE.
Serbian leaders in
eastern Slavonia said in Vukovar yesterday that local Serbs
should go to the polls on 13 April to elect representatives, an
RFE/RL's correspondent in Osijek reported. Earlier, the
Serbian leaders met with UN administrator Jacques Klein, who
once again urged them to take part in the elections. Eastern
Slavonia is the last Serb-held part of Croatia. The 13 April
ballot is seen as a key step in the UN-administered region's
return to Croatia. The local Serbian leadership had delayed a
final decision on participating in the polls in the hope of
winning more concessions from the UN and the Croatian
SCANDINAVIA ENCOURAGES BOSNIANS TO GO HOME.
Norway is offering two-year residency permits to its 12,000
Bosnian refugees if they now agree to go home, an RFE/RL
correspondent in Copenhagen reported yesterday. Denmark
will give its 16,000 Bosnians $2,500 each if they leave and,
beginning 1 May, Sweden will raise departure payments to its
60,000 Bosnians from $300 per individual to $3,000 per adult
and $2,000 per minor. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung yesterday
quotes Swedish Development Minister Pierre Schori as saying
his government is not trying to encourage the Bosnians to
leave but rather make things easier for them if they want to go.
Most Bosnians in Denmark and Sweden have permanent
residency status and show little interest in going home.
ROMANIA, IMF SIGN LETTER OF INTENT.
Mircea Ciumara, National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu, and
chief IMF negotiator for Romania Poul Thomsen yesterday
signed a letter of intent for an IMF loan. RFE/RL's Bucharest
bureau reported that the agreement, which provides for a $400
million loan to support reforms, is to be approved by the IMF's
board later this month. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said the
World Bank is also expected to approve a $600 million loan on
22 April. He added that Bucharest anticipates funds this year
from the EU and donor countries totaling some $1 billion.
Most of those funds will be channeled to the social welfare
system, restructuring industry and agriculture, road
construction and repairs, and environmental protection.
Meanwhile, Citibank has announced it will grant credits worth
$157 million to help the state-owned RAIF agricultural
company purchase U.S.-made agricultural machines.
ROMANIAN EXTREMIST PARTIES CONCLUDE POLITICAL
The Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the
extraparliamentary Socialist Labor Party (PSM) have formed a
political alliance, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported
yesterday. The PRM will represent PSM standpoints in the
parliament. The agreement also provides for joint candidates
in local by-elections scheduled for next month. PRM chairman
Corneliu Vadim Tudor said that given the current political
situation, the alliance's doctrine "is neither of the left nor of
the right, but Romanian." The PSM failed to win representation
in the legislature last autumn.
IMF DISSATISFIED WITH MOLDOVA'S ECONOMIC
The IMF says that Moldova's economic
performance is "unsatisfactory" and that it will not release the
remaining installments of a May 1996 loan worth a total of
$195 million, the Romanian independent news agency
Mediafax reported yesterday. Only two installments worth
$16.25 million each have so far been released. An IMF
delegation is to visit Chisinau later this month to discuss
measures needed to improve the Moldovan economy. A recent
IMF statement says the Moldovan government has not yet
implemented measures agreed on early last year.
OSCE MISSION IN TRANSDNIESTER STILL FACES
Infotag reported yesterday that another car
transporting OSCE mission members was stopped by Tiraspol
law enforcement officials on the outskirts of Bendery-Tighina.
This was the third such incident in three weeks preventing the
OSCE from participating in a meeting of the Joint Control
Commission, which is overseeing the truce in Moldova's
Transdniester breakaway region. Tiraspol began last month
voicing objections to the OSCE's participation in the
commission meetings, claiming the agreement on the
commission, which expired in early February, must be
renewed. Besides the OSCE officials, the members of the
commission are representatives of Moldova, Russia, and
G-24 ENDORSES BULGARIAN STABILIZATION PROGRAM.
The G-24 group of donor nations and organizations has agreed
to grant loans and credits to cover Bulgaria's external
financing obligations for 1997-98. RFE/RL's Washington
bureau that the group said in Brussels yesterday that
Bulgaria's caretaker government has shown "strong
commitment to implementing a bold macroeconomic
stabilization and structural reform despite exceptionally
difficult circumstances." The IMF is expected to approve
tomorrow a new stand-by loan of some $659 million. In
addition, Bulgaria will be allowed to draw about $29 million
from a special facility the fund maintains for countries
experiencing a temporary export shortfall or a sudden increase
in cereal imports.
LEADING BULGARIAN BANKERS ARRESTED.
Ministry yesterday announced the arrest of three top bankers
for allegedly granting bad loans totaling some 100,000 million
leva ($65 million). An RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported
that three more bankers have been put under police
surveillance and made to post bail. One of those under
surveillance is former deputy director of the National Bank
Emil Harsev, who is known to oppose IMF involvement in the
country. Harsev told RFE/RL's Bulgarian service that the
prosecutor's decision was a politically motivated move before
the 19 April elections. He rejected any accusations of
mismanagement. All six bankers were on the board of
directors of Mineral Bank, which declared bankruptcy last
POLAND TO VOTE ON NEW CONSTITUTION
by Jan B. de Weydenthal
Poland, the first Central European country to end
communist domination in 1989, is the last to adopt a charter
institutionalizing the political and economic changes since
then. On 25 May, Poles are to cast their votes in a national
referendum on the long-awaited new constitution. Until now,
the country has used as its constitution a communist-era
document enacted at the height of Stalinist rule in 1952,
although that document has been frequently amended in
Early efforts to prepare a new constitution repeatedly
failed owing to recurrent political crises. Finally, after more
than three years of protracted debates in the parliament and
animated public discussions in the media, Poland's National
Assembl--composed of both parliamentary chamber--last
month overwhelmingly approved a draft of the basic law. The
vote was 461 to 31, with five abstentions.
Before becoming law, the constitution has to be signed by
the president, who has the right to suggest modifications. The
assembly then discusses his suggestions, and the final
document is put to a national referendum.
The debate on President Aleksander Kwasniewski's
suggested changes was brief. His proposals were largely minor,
merely confirming his right to several appointments in the
military and the judiciary. Following the debate, the date for
the referendum was set by Kwasniewski.
The draft is a compromise between the individual
parliamentary groups. But it also includes the views of parties
and organizations not represented in the parliament, most
notably the Catholic Church. The draft's preamble invokes
God as the "source of truth, justice, goodness, and beauty,"
but it also says that non-believers can draw those universal
values from other sources. The demand, made by the Church
and right-wing politicians, that the charter recognize God-
given or "natural" law as higher than any man-made law was
The draft protects human life, but not from conception to
natural death, as was demanded by the Church. Rather, it
leaves the issue open to interpretation. At the same time,
accepting the Church's views, the draft outlaws homosexual
marriages and provides guarantees for religious instruction in
schools. The Church itself is granted autonomy from the state.
The draft says that democracy returned to Poland in
1989, after a long period in which the former communist
regime violated "fundamental freedoms and human rights."
It also enshrines market economy as the basis of the country's
political and economic systems but emphasizes the need to
respect social needs through cooperation and dialogue
between individual groups. It clearly defines relations between
the parliament, the president, and the government, eliminating
ambiguities that have repeatedly caused political conflicts
within the institutional establishment. It also provides for the
independent judicial review of laws.
The draft was approved by the ruling coalition of post-
communist and left-wing peasants but also by the opposition
democratic left and centrist groups. It was opposed by some
right-wing opposition deputies.
Commenting on the draft, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a former
centrist prime minister and one of the principal authors of the
preamble, said the proposed charter is "perhaps not ideal, but
not bad." He also said that the intention of the draft was "to
unite rather than divide" Poles. Poland's Catholic Primate
Jozef Cardinal Glemp said that "many people accept this
compromise constitution, regarding it as historically
The draft has been strongly criticized by several right-
wing politicians. Piotr Zak, spokesman for the Solidarity-led
coalition of rightist groups, said that the proposed charter was
"imposed on the nation by left-wing parties." Solidarity has
drafted its own version of the basic law, which is rooted in
religious principles and replete with anti-communist
arguments. It demanded that its version be put to the
referendum as well but failed to win parliamentary and