COMMUNIST PARTY, OUR HOME IS RUSSIA HOLD CONGRESSES.
Both the Communist Party (KPRF) and the pro-government movement Our Home Is Russia (NDR) held congresses this weekend in Moscow. KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov pledged that his party will become a "responsible and irreconcilable opposition" force, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told NDR delegates that his government plans to improve its economic policies, Russian news agencies reported on 19 April. He said closing tax loopholes and establishing "order" in the alcohol trade would help raise future revenues. Chernomyrdin also said the government plans to alter "arbitrary policies on monopoly prices and imperfections in the managing of state property," while not breaking up the natural monopolies in the energy and transportation sectors (see also today's "End Note").
YELTSIN ON VACATION, PRIMAKOV IN HOSPITAL.
Kremlin doctor Sergei Mironov says President Boris Yeltsin's holiday in Sochi is "not linked to medical necessity," Russian news agencies reported on 18 April. Yeltsin flew to the Black Sea resort shortly after his summit at the end of last week with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. His vacation is expected to last 10-12 days, although he is scheduled to return to Moscow briefly on 22 April to meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Also on 18 April, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov checked into hospital for gallstone surgery. Doctors said the operation was successful and that Primakov will be discharged from the hospital within two weeks. He is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana early next month for a fifth round of negotiations on a Russia-NATO charter.
FORMER YELTSIN ADVISER ARRESTED IN POLAND.
Sergei Stankevich, former adviser to President Yeltsin, has been arrested in Warsaw after a joint search operation by Russian and Polish police, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Stankevich will be detained for 30 days while a Polish court decides whether to extradite him to Russia to face bribery charges. Stankevich went into hiding last year after the Moscow prosecutor ordered his arrest on charges of taking bribes several years earlier. Stankevich is a former deputy mayor of Moscow and a former deputy in the State Duma. Meanwhile, Polish prosecutors have dropped charges against Interior Minister Leszek Miller for failing to register a handgun (see RFE/RL Newsline, 11 April 1997). A spokesman for the state prosecutor's office said on 18 April that no offense had been committed but gave no further details.
CHUBAIS ON FINANCE MINISTRY REORGANIZATION.
First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minster Anatolii Chubais has announced that there will be three first deputy finance ministers, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 April. Aleksei Kudrin, who was appointed last month, will manage the state debt and supervise questions on the reform of the housing and housing utilities system as well as on the gold and precious metals market. Sergei Ignatev, appointed this month, will be in charge of tax reform and budget revenues. Vladimir Petrov, the only top-ranking official in the ministry to survive the reshuffle, will supervise the budget process. Chubais said First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov will leave the ministry by 1 May but did not announce a future post for him. Until now, Vavilov has overseen the ministry's dealings with the "authorized banks," which manage state funds.
LEBED SAYS CHUBAIS CONTROLS MEDIA.
Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed says a narrow group of bankers and businessmen "loyal personally to Chubais" control the Russian media, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 18 April. Lebed claimed that Chubais keeps a black-list of journalists who have written on "forbidden" topics, such as privatization profits or last summer's campaign scandal in which two Chubais associates were caught carrying some $500,000 out of government headquarters. He argued that violations of those taboos are behind rumored attempts by LUKoil and Oneksimbank to force out the chief editors of Izvestiya and Komsomolskaya pravda. Media coverage of Lebed was sympathetic during last year's presidential campaign but has been generally hostile since September, shortly before he was ousted from the government.
DUMA RATIFIES BORDER ACCORD WITH CHINA...
By a vote of 346 to 0, the State Duma on 18 April ratified a multilateral agreement on "confidence-building measures" along the Russian border with China, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement, which provides for information exchanges on troop movement and military exercises along the Chinese border, was signed in Shanghai in April 1996 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
...AND AGREEMENTS WITH ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN.
Also on 18 April, the Duma ratified the March 1995 agreement signed by Yeltsin and Armenian President Levon Ter- Petrossyan permitting Russia to maintain a military base in Armenia for 25 years, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov termed the agreement an "important step toward securing stability on the southern borders of the Russian Federation," according to Turan. The Duma also ratified a May 1996 intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan on cooperation in preventing arms and drug smuggling and the infiltration of terrorists across the Azerbaijani-Russian border. Azerbaijan opposes the deployment of Russian border troops on its territory. All three agreements still have to be ratified by the Federation Council.
DUMA FAILS TO OVERRIDE VETO OF LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS.
The Duma on 18 April failed to override a presidential veto of a law outlining the constitutional amendment procedure, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the constitution, amendments must be approved by two-thirds of Duma deputies, three-quarters of Federation Council deputies, and legislatures in at least two-thirds of Russia's 89 regions. However, a law specifying procedural details is needed before amendments can be adopted. Yeltsin vetoed an earlier version of the law last November and the latest version in March. Communist leaders in the Duma say they are drafting 12 constitutional amendments that would limit presidential power and increase parliamentary oversight of the executive branch.
Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii and Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basaev met in the Ingush capital of Nazran on 19 April for what Berezovskii later termed "constructive" talks, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The two men discussed bilateral relations and the continued detention of four journalists from Radio Rossii and ITAR-TASS who were abducted in Chechnya in early March. On 17 April, Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Tolboev handed over to ITAR-TASS video footage of his meeting with the journalists. Nikolai Zagnoiko, the captive ITAR-TASS correspondent, is seen on the video asking Tolboev "to influence the Russian leadership" and help free them. The Russian Interior Ministry has expressed its support for Tolboev's efforts to secure the journalists' release. It has also proposed that the journalists be exchanged for Chechens detained by the Interior Ministry in Dagestan, ITAR-TASS reports today.
CONTROVERSY OVER ROMANOV JEWELS.
Priceless jewels from the Romanov dynasty have been locked up in a vault at an unspecified location in the U.S. following Russian officials' demands that they be returned immediately for celebrations marking Moscow's 850th anniversary, AFP reported yesterday. Under an agreement signed last year by Russia's Culture Ministry, about 250 exhibits--including jewels, clothing, icons and portraits--have been shown in Washington and are scheduled to be exhibited in three other American cities. But now Russian officials are demanding the immediate return of the exhibits, which are to be kept under lock and key pending a court decision. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov met with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington yesterday to discuss foreign investment in Russia, but he made no comment on the controversy over the Romanov treasures.
Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said 591,000 crimes were registered during the first quarter of 1997, down 12% compared with the same period last year, Interfax reported on 18 April. Addressing the Duma, Kulikov said the number of premeditated murders dropped by 5.4%, assaults by 16%, robberies by 10.2% and thefts by 13.6%. However, he admitted that 7,500 murders committed in 1996 remain unsolved.
FIGHTING INTENSIFIES ON ARMENIAN-AZERBAIJANI FRONTIER.
Up to 50 troops are reported killed in recent fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in two locations, Russian agencies reported. During the night from 18 to 19 April, Karabakh Armenian forces opened artillery fire on a village in Azerbaijan's Aghdjabed Raion, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry. Armenian and Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesmen each accused the other side of launching an artillery bombardment on the northern section of the border between Armenia's Tavush Raion and Azerbaijan's Kazakh Raion early on 19 April. Interfax yesterday quoted a source in Baku as saying that fighting was continuing, but the Armenian Defense Ministry denied this was the case, according to Reuters. In a 18 April telephone conversation, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents had agreed to order their respective military commands to abide strictly by the 1994 cease fire agreement, Interfax and Turan reported.
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION IN YEREVAN.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 people took part in a rally organised by the Union for National Accord in Yerevan on 18 April, Western agencies reported. This was the second in a planned series of fortnightly demonstrations organised by the recently formed opposition party. Addressing the rally, defeated former presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan again called for pre-term parliamentary elections. Also on 18 April, the Armenian Central Electoral Commission rejected imprisoned Dashnak leader Vahan Oganesian's application to contest an upcoming parliamentary by-election, according to AP.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT BLOCKS CRIMEAN PARLIAMENT MOVE.
Leonid Kuchma on 18 April vetoed the Crimean parliament's ouster earlier this month of Crimean Premier Arkadiy Demydenko (see RFE/RL Newsline, 10 April 1997), RFE/RL's Kyiv correspondent reported. Kuchma said the dismissal contravened the Ukrainian Constitution because the Ukrainian president had not been consulted. Meanwhile, several pro-Russian parties and organizations in Crimea have said they will support anti-NATO protests on the peninsula. Raisa Teliatnikova, chairwoman of the Russian Community organization in Sevastopol, was quoted by dpa on 18 April as saying the Ukrainian-NATO military maneuvers planned for August are an "unfriendly gesture" aimed at "scaring" pro- Russian Crimeans.
U.S. ECONOMIST URGES UKRAINE TO PASS REFORMS.
Jeffrey Sachs says Ukraine must adopt a 1997 budget and an economic reform plan within weeks or risk deepening its economic troubles and alienating foreign investors. Sachs, whose Harvard-based Institute for International Development advises the Ukrainian government, was speaking to journalists in Kyiv on 19 April. He said that more foreign firms appear to be leaving Ukraine's market than entering it, and he blamed that trend on current tax and regulation systems as well as widespread corruption. Ukraine's government and parliament have been deadlocked over budget and reform plans since last November. The IMF has conditioned a loan worth at least $2.5 billion on the passage of the budget.
UKRAINE, UZBEKISTAN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON TATARS.
Meeting in Kyiv on 18 April, Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Lazarenko, failed to reach an agreement on the return of Crimean Tatars deported to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin during World War II. Refat Chubarov, leader of the 250,000-strong Crimean Tatar community, told Reuters after the meeting that some "difficulties" remained on how to finance the Tatars' return. Uzbekistan wants only those who were actually deported to be given deportee status, while Crimean Tatars and Ukraine insist that all their relatives and descendants be included. Under Stalin, some 190,000 Crimean Tatars accused of collaborating with the Nazis were deported to Central Asia. While many have since returned to Ukraine, there is still a sizable Tatar population in Central Asia.
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT IN ASIA.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka left for an eight-day tour of Asia yesterday. He will visit South Korea, Vietnam, and China in a bid to expand trade relations, attract foreign investment, and strengthen political bonds with those countries. ITAR-TASS quoted a member of Lukashenka's staff as saying the president will meet with both political and business leaders. Lukashenka is expected to make a brief stopover in Novosibirsk for trade talks with regional leaders.
THIRTY-EIGHT DEATH SENTENCES IN BELARUS LAST YEAR.
Vladimir Samusev, head of the Justice Ministry department dealing with applications for a stay of execution, says 38 people were sentenced to death in Belarus last year, Interfax reported yesterday. He said appeals were lodged in 32 cases and that President Lukashenka rejected all of them because of the "seriousness of the offenses" and because of the "increased danger" the perpetrators posed for society. He said that seven of those sentenced last year were aged between 21 and 25.
INVESTIGATOR'S LETTER RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT ESTONIA FERRY PROBE.
The Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet has published excerpts from a letter by an investigator of the Estonia ferry disaster that raises questions about the work of the Swedish-Finnish-Estonian commission looking into the incident, RFE/RL reported on 19 April. The Estonia sunk in 1994 en route to Stockholm from Tallinn when heavy seas tore off its bow door, killing 852 people. A key question in the investigation is why the locks of the door failed. Boerje Stenstroem, the commission's Swedish technical expert who died last month, wrote to the ferry's German builder in 1995 saying that in an interim report, he mentions "by necessity" that the locks were of insufficient strength but has "endeavored to dress this in general wording rather than clear figures." Olof Forssberg, head of the Swedish commission team, denies that the commission intended to tone down information about the locks in the interim report. The commission's final report is expected to be published soon.
LITHUANIAN LEADER URGES SECURITY FOR SMALL EUROPEAN STATES.
Parliamentary Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis says the key to peace in Europe is the security of small states "because there are no threats to the security of large countries." Speaking at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters on 18 April, Landsbergis said that while he had received assurances from Western leaders about safeguarding Lithuanian security, there was a "lack of logic" in increasing the security of European states that are less "endangered" than others. He also pointed to what he called "childish contradictions" made by Western leaders who insist that Russia will not be given veto rights over new NATO members but who say it is hoped Moscow will not oppose expansion.
RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER IN CZECH REPUBLIC.
Viktor Chernomyrdin says the Czech Republic must decide for itself whether NATO membership is worthwhile. The Russian premier, who concludes a two-day visit to the Czech Republic today, told Czech TV on 19 April that Russia does not have the right of veto in this matter but is explaining the possible negative consequences of NATO expansion. Chernomyrdin met with Czech officials, including Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, to discuss economic cooperation, international issues, and Russia's $3 billion debt to the Czech Republic.
SLOVAKIA WILL CONTINUE TO IMPORT GAS FROM EAST.
Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar says that Slovakia will continue to receive gas supplies from the East. He was speaking on Slovak Radio yesterday in the context of the dispute over the planned joint venture between the Russian company Gazprom and the SPP Slovak gasworks. Meciar said that Slovakia has received offers from other companies but has to carefully "weigh the technical questions and the costs." He added that Slovakia is prepared to take part in the proposed venture with Gazprom as long as Russia can guarantee gas deliveries and as long as agreement can be reached on "a certain price level."
SLOVAK NATIONAL PARTY URGES SLOVAKS TO HONOR WARTIME FASCIST LEADER.
The Slovak National Party (SNS), one of the three government coalition parties, has appealed to all Slovaks to "honor the memory" of the country's wartime pro-fascist leader Jozef Tiso, who was executed in Bratislava on 18 April 1947 after being found guilty of war crimes. The SNS statement describes Tiso as a "great son of the church and the nation." It also said he was a "martyr to the defense of the nation and Christianity in the face of Bolshevism and liberalism." victory of the principle "for God, for the nation." Cardinal Jan Korec, primate of Slovakia, held a mass for Tiso on 18 April.
CENTRAL EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC FORUM ESTABLISHED IN HUNGARY.
Thirty-five Christian Democratic and national-liberal parties from Central Europe have set up a new international body called the Central European Democratic Forum (CEDF), Hungarian media reported yesterday. Meeting in the southern Hungarian city of Lakitelek, the parties pledged to work together to overcome left-wing forces in the region and elected former Polish President Lech Walesa as honorary chairman. Walesa said the forum has "to make society understand that the right is far more capable of solving the problems of society than forces which formerly were enemies of NATO, capitalism and democracy."
CENTER-RIGHT ALLIANCE WINS BULGARIAN ELECTIONS.
With almost all ballots counted in the 19 April parliamentary elections, the center-right United Democratic Forces (ODS) has won 52% of the vote and is likely to have 137 seats in the 240- seat parliament. The outgoing ruling Socialist Party won 22% or 57 seats, followed by the Union for National Salvation (7.8% or 20 seats), the Euro-Left (5.5% or 14 seats), and the Bulgarian Business Bloc (5.% or 12-13 seats). At 58%, turnout was the lowest since the end of one-party rule in 1989. Final results are due later today or tomorrow. ODS adviser Ivan Krastev told RFE/RL's Sofia correspondent today that ODS leader Ivan Kostov will be the new prime minister. Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev and Economic Affairs Minister Alexander Bozhkov will retain their posts, while other appointments will be made later today.
REACTIONS TO BULGARIAN ELECTION RESULTS.
ODS leader Ivan Kostov says his alliance hopes to form a broad government whose main task will be to solve the country's economic problems, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Socialist leader Georgi Parvanov said his party will act as a "constructive opposition," according to Reuters. Dominique Colomberg, head of the team of Council of Europe observers monitoring the elections, said in Sofia that the elections were "free and fair" and had set the stage for badly needed economic reforms.
MORE FOREIGN TROOPS ARRIVE IN ALBANIA.
Some 150 Italian marines landed in the troubled southern port of Vlora this morning. The number of soldiers taking part in the Italian-led multinational force reached 4,000 yesterday as French and Italian troops continued to arrive, mainly via the port of Durres. On 19 April, the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered aid to hospitals and orphanages in Vlora. The UN World Food Program distributed aid for 20 orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the elderly across the country. Also on 19 April, Franz Vranitzky, the OSCE's chief envoy for Albania, called for "dialogue" between the various political forces, including the rebel committees that control much of the south.
BERISHA OPPOSES SACKING OF ALBANIAN POLICE CHIEF.
President Sali Berisha yesterday rejected a government decision to fire Gen. Agim Shehu, the country's police chief. A presidential spokesman said that only Berisha, not the government, has the legal right to sack high-ranking officers. The spokesman said the incident could seriously hurt relations between the president and Prime Minister Bashkim Fino. Fino's national conciliation government voted on 19 April to fire Shehu, who is also deputy interior minister. Shehu is accused of suppressing opposition to Berisha when anarchy erupted earlier this year.
ALBANIA'S ROYAL CLAIMANT ON THE STUMP.
King Leka Zogu made an emotional trip yesterday to his father's home village in the central mountains. Leka, who has spent less than two weeks of his life in Albania, traveled for the first time to Burgajet, where about 5,000 cheering people greeted him. Leka said he will travel across Albania "to spread a message of peace and unity." Berisha has promised Leka that a referendum will be held on restoring the monarchy. All political parties have agreed on such a vote. Monarchist parties have not done well in previous elections, but in the current volatile political environment, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the referendum.
CROATIAN PARTIES HOLD LEAD IN SLAVONIAN VOTE.
Unofficial early returns from the 13-15 April elections continue to show ethnic Croatian parties ahead of the Serbian Democratic Independent Party (SDSS). The Croats lead in the cities of Vukovar and Ilok as well as in 15 districts, an RFE/RL correspondent in Zagreb reported yesterday. The SDSS will likely control Beli Manastir and 10 districts and will be the largest single party in the Vukovar town council. The Croatian vote there is split between President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community and the Independent List of local kingpin Tomislav Mercep. Most Serbs regard Mercep as a war criminal and may seek a ruling from the Hague-based tribunal on whether he can hold public office, the Belgrade daily Novosti reports today.
DRASKOVIC TO RUN FOR SERBIAN PRESIDENCY.
The governing board of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has nominated party leader Vuk Draskovic as its presidential candidate, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade on 19 April. At the same meeting, Ilija Ra dulovic resigned as party vice president following his recent public criticism of Draskovic and Draskovic's wife. Draskovic expects to head a united opposition slate in the elections due later this year. But fellow opposition leader Zoran Djindjic has been publicly calling Draskovic a "loose cannon" and questioning his suitability for the presidency. Divisions within the opposition have helped Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic keep his hold on power.
MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER SCORES ANOTHER VICTORY OVER PRESIDENT.
Mile Djukanovic emerged the winner over President Momir Bulatovic at an 18 April meeting of the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS), an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Podgorica. The DPS voted that decisions on the reorganization of the cabinet and the security service be left to the next regular session of the parliament, thereby rejecting Bulatovic's demand for urgent measures. Bulatovic is close to Milosevic, while Djukanovic is a leading critic of the Serbian president.
ROUNDUP FROM FORMER YUGOSLAVIA.
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman presided over ceremonies yesterday to mark the 52nd anniversary of the liberation of the Jasenovac concentration camp, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. In Ljubljana, Foreign Minister Zoran Thaler says time has come to normalize relations with Belgrade, provided the authorities there stop claiming that their state is the sole legal successor to the former Yugoslavia. In Sarajevo, residents are now able to make direct-dial telephone calls abroad for the first time since early in the recent conflict. In Washington on 18 April, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said that the U.S. may be willing to keep 500 troops in Macedonia as part of UN forces there. Finally, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic arrived in Athens on 18 April for an unpublicized visit, Nasa Borba reports today.
ROMANIAN CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES APPROVES BANK PRIVATIZATION LAW.
The Chamber of Deputies on 18 April voted in favor of the law on bank privatization, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Several days earlier, the Senate had approved the bill (see RFE/RL Newsline, 15 April 1997). Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said Romania has now fulfilled all conditions for a new IMF loan. Also on 18 April, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns praised the Romanian leadership's "intensified commitment to democracy, economic reform and integration with the West," an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Adrian Severin arrived in the U.S. yesterday. He is due to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today.
FORMER ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR FRAUD.
Gen. Victor Athanasie Stanculescu is to be questioned today by the military section of the Prosecutor-General's office, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 18 April. Stanculescu, who was defense minister in 1990-1991 and is considered one of the richest persons in the country, is under investigation on suspicion of fraud. Recent press reports that he had fled the country proved false when he returned to Bucharest from a business trip to Switzerland. During his term as defense minister, Stanculescu is suspected of involvement in the illegal purchase abroad of mobile phones, which resulted in Treasury losses of some $8 million in 1990. Stanculescu played a key role in the toppling and the trial of Nicolae Ceausescu.
FORMER MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ON RESOLVING TRANSDNIESTER PROBLEM.
Mircea Snegur, former president and current leader of the Moldovan Party of Revival and Accord, says the problem of the breakaway region of the Transdniester should not be solved "at any price," Info-tag reported. Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov agreed in Tiraspol on 10 April on the text of the memorandum on the normalization of bilateral ties between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Snegur told journalists in Chisinau last week that if the memorandum is signed in its current form, it would mean that the Transdniester leadership has "achieved during five hours of negotiations what it could not achieve in five years of struggle." Meanwhile, Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi and Smirnov met in Tiraspol on the weekend and agreed to sign the memorandum in Moscow on 8 May.
Strategy Disagreements Trouble Russia's Communists And 'Party Of Power'
by Laura Belin
Both the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and Our Home Is Russia (NDR) unanimously re- elected their leaders at congresses in Moscow this weekend. But the apparent unity within Russia's largest opposition party and the pro-government movement masks internal divisions in each organization over how to broaden popular support.
A major fault line running through the KPRF stems from Communist strategy toward the government. Together with like-minded groups, the Communists have a near-majority in the State Duma. But since last summer's presidential election, the party's Duma faction has drawn criticism from some activists and pro-communist journalists who demand a more assertive parliamentary opposition. Communist deputies have passed non-binding resolutions attacking the government, but many also voted to confirm Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Most Communists also voted for the 1997 budget after laying down 11 conditions for their continued support of the government. Although virtually none of those conditions has been met, the KPRF Duma faction has refrained from putting a no-confidence vote on the agenda.
The KPRF's reluctance to challenge the government is understandable: the constitution gives the president the right to dissolve the Duma if deputies pass two votes of no confidence within three months. The Communists would probably lose seats if new Duma elections were held. Consequently, party leaders are advocating less risky, "non-parliamentary methods of struggle," such as mass protests.
At this weekend's congress, several delegates called for KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov to take a harder line. In response, Zyuganov sought to project an image of implacable opposition to the regime, saying the KPRF must become a "responsible and irreconcilable" opposition force. He called for large-scale protests on 1 and 9 May to counter the new government's "murderous" policies, as well as a nationwide signature campaign for referenda demanding constitutional amendments and Yeltsin's resignation. At the end of the first day, Zyuganov led a procession of party leaders to the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square. Resolutions adopted the next day endorsed a strategy of primarily non-parliamentary protest, although one resolution proposed--but did not demand--that the KPRF Duma faction consider holding a no-confidence vote. Whether the Communist rank and file will respond to the call for massive demonstrations will be seen next month. Turnout for the 27 March nationwide protest action fell far below Communist expectations.
Meanwhile, the NDR is divided over how to build an image as a movement that is concerned about the welfare of ordinary citizens. Founded two years ago as the government's standard-bearer in parliamentary elections, the NDR recruited many regional and business elites but won fewer Duma seats than its founders expected. Even NDR leaders admit that the movement has failed to attract a broad social base, as it is still considered a mere proxy for the highly unpopular government.
Chernomyrdin told delegates to this weekend's congress that he was "dissatisfied" with Russia's current economic situation. He vowed that his government would solve the budget crisis, close tax loopholes, and establish "order" in the alcohol trade. And in an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the NDR is more than his personal vehicle, Chernomyrdin suggested it was too early to decide who would represent the bloc in the next presidential election. However, Chernomyrdin's promises failed to impress Sergei Belyaev, leader of the NDR's parliamentary faction, which for several months has quietly complained that government officials take its support for granted. Belyaev argued that his Duma faction has been a "hostage" to government policy and should be consulted more on policy matters. He warned that if the NDR does not change its current strategy before the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 1999, it will attract popular support on the level of the humble Beer Lovers' Party.
Belyaev also said the NDR leadership should listen more to the movement's regional branches and better defend regional interests in the parliament. His comments reflect a threat to what has been considered the NDR's main strength: its support among the regional elite.
Other politicians with presidential ambitions are actively courting regional leaders. Last week, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov signed an agreement pledging that the capital city will provide up to 20 billion rubles ($3.5 million) to develop industry in Kaluga Oblast. Former Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko has recruited several governors to join his Reforms--New Course movement. And the growing prominence of First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov shows that regional leaders may compete with Chernomyrdin in a future presidential race.
Although both Zyuganov and Chernomyrdin were upbeat about their prospects, this weekend's congresses did little more than paper over discord troubling both the KPRF and the "party of power."