REACTION TO RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD MIXED
Russian politicians are divided in their assessment of the NATO- Russia Founding Act. Speaking in Hawaii yesterday, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov cautiously noted that the accord has not eliminated all problems in Russia's relations with the alliance, Interfax reported. Duma Security Committee Chairman and Communist Viktor Ilyukhin denounced the agreement as "another example of the betrayal of Russia's interests." But Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev welcomed the accord, saying it showed NATO was taking Russia's concerns into account. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko praised it for something it does not contain: an absolute ban on the stationing of nuclear weapons on the territory of new members. Meanwhile, the U.S. government continued to play down President Boris Yeltsin's assertion that Moscow has gained a veto over NATO decisions. The White House press secretary said Yeltsin's comments were directed at the Russian people.
YELTSIN ISSUES ANOTHER ANTI-CORRUPTION DECREE
Vowing to "put an end to the situation in which civil service becomes a source of enrichment," Yeltsin has signed a decree to force cabinet members, parliamentary deputies, and other federal and regional officials to release income and property declarations. In a nationwide radio address today, Yeltsin promised that both the public and the media would have access to the financial declarations and said he would begin by releasing information on his own assets. The decree encourages, but does not require, family members of state officials to declare their incomes and assets. Russian media commentaries about the measure have been skeptical. Izvestiya noted yesterday that corrupt officials have had plenty of time to transfer their ill-gotten assets to family members or foreign bank accounts.
CABINET CONFIRMS LIMITS ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN GAZPROM
The government has confirmed that foreign investors will be allowed to purchase no more than 9% of the shares in the gas monopoly Gazprom, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported yesterday. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev presented a restructuring plan at the cabinet meeting. He said the company will save 2.2 trillion rubles ($380 million) by removing about 100,000 people from its payroll. It was unclear how many workers would be fired and how many would continue to work for enterprises that will no longer be run by Gazprom. Vyakhirev indicated that the gas monopoly will spin off some of the company's social infrastructure and branches that are involved in construction, research, and agriculture.
DUMA BUDGET COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS REJECTING SEQUESTER
The Duma Budget Committee has made a preliminary recommendation to reject the government's proposed sequester of 108 trillion rubles ($19 billion) from the 1997 budget, Interfax reported yesterday. The committee vote was nearly unanimous. Only Deputy Budget Committee Chairman Aleksei Golovkov of the pro- government Our Home Is Russia faction advocated supporting the budget cuts. However, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who attended the committee meeting, argued that the budget cuts could be ordered by the prime minister if the Duma did not approve the draft law on the sequester.
FEDERATION COUNCIL CONCERNED ABOUT FUNDING OF AGRICULTURE
The Federation Council has passed a resolution urging the government to improve financing of the agricultural sector, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. State spending on agriculture during the first quarter of 1997 was only 11% of budgeted targets, and the government's proposed sequester would reduce spending on agriculture to 45% of budgeted levels for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, Yeltsin yesterday vetoed amendments to the law on agricultural cooperatives, passed by parliament last month. In a statement, the president said the amendments would have deprived farmers wanting to leave a cooperative of the right to receive land and other property.
NEW CHIEF MILITARY PROCURATOR CONFIRMED
The Federation Council on 14 May confirmed Lt. Gen. Yurii Demin as Russia's new chief military procurator, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev had argued that appointing a civilian to the post would ensure the military procurator greater independence from the Defense Ministry. But Russia's Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov dismissed that argument. In an interview with RFE/RL, Skuratov noted that the military procurator reports to the procurator-general, not to the Defense Ministry. Today's Izvestiya quotes Demin as saying he will be "merciless" in fighting corrupt generals who "disgrace" the title of Russian officer. Meanwhile, today's edition of Trud reports that investigators from the Military Procurator's Office have searched the home of Deputy Defense Minister and Army Gen. Konstantin Kobets, whom press reports have beeen linked to corruption.
DUMA PASSES LAW ON WITNESS PROTECTION
The Duma on 14 May passed the first witness protection law in Russian history, Kommersant-Daily reported the next day. If the law is approved by the Federation Council and the president, crime victims, eyewitnesses, and experts who testify against criminals could apply for protected status. Protected individuals could be provided with bodyguards or firearms and, in extreme cases, moved to another part of the country and given new documents, financial aid, and housing. If protected individuals were killed, their families would receive special compensation benefits. Interior Ministry officials quoted by Kommersant-Daily welcomed the law. They pointed out it would end the practice of releasing the names and addresses of all court witnesses in criminal cases, which is said to have hindered criminal investigations in the past.
IZVESTIYA ATTACKS LUKOIL FOR ALLEGED CRIMINAL TIES, TAX EVASION
Izvestiya has again sharply attacked its largest shareholder, the oil company LUKoil. Yesterday's edition included an article, signed by the newspaper's "analytic center," saying some influential officials in the company have criminal ties. The article also claimed that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's personal patronage has allowed LUKoil and its subsidiaries to escape punishment for owing at least 1.2 trillion rubles ($208 million) to the federal budget. Confusion continues over how large a stake LUKoil has in Izvestiya . Its journalists deny the company's claims to hold 51% of the shares. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported earlier this week that the Sidanko oil company, in cooperation with Oneksimbank, has purchased a 20% stake in Izvestiya.
SOLDIERS' MOTHERS GROUP DENOUNCES WIDESPREAD HAZING
The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers has received some 6,000 complaints from soldiers or their families about brutal hazing in the armed forces and another 1,900 requests for help, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Committee representatives Lyubov Kuznetsova and Valentina Melnikova said it is difficult to bring the perpetrators to justice, in part because Russian criminal law has no definition of torture. In addition, hazing victims are reluctant to press charges, fearing reprisals. Instead, they often desert the army. Partly as a result of the hazing problem, various soldiers' mothers groups frequently hold public meetings across Russia giving advice on how to evade the draft or secure exemptions.
COURT REJECTS CHORNOBYL WORKERS' COMPENSATION CLAIMS
The Moscow City Court has rejected in part a lawsuit against the Finance Ministry filed by 80 workers who helped clean up after the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 May. The workers claim that the ministry is not paying compensation for damage to their health, as stipulated by a 1995 amendment to a law on benefits for Chornobyl survivors. However, the court ruled that since the Finance Ministry was not the workers' employer when they were involved in the Chornobyl clean-up, it cannot be sued for compensation. The workers have vowed to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. At the same time, the Moscow City Court upheld the Chornobyl workers' demand for pension payments. The Finance Ministry says it lacks the funds to pay the clean-up workers' pensions.
ARMENIAN PREMIER RAISES POSSIBILITY OF ANNEXING NAGORNO-KARABAKH
Robert Kocharyan, former president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, told the Armenian parliament yesterday that "serious discussion" could be given to the possibility of the enclave's incorporation into Armenia if the government of the NKR made a formal request to that effect, according to Interfax. Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzoumanian, however, told the parliament that the question of Nagorno-Karabakh's future status should be resolved by the OSCE Minsk Group. Representatives of the group met in Washington yesterday, RFE/RL reported.
NEW DEAL SIGNED ON CASPIAN PIPELINE CONSORTIUM
Members of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium met in Moscow today to sign a new agreement on dividing shares in the project, Interfax reported. Representatives of the governments of Russia, Kazakstan, and Oman as well the oil companies involved in the project took part in the signing ceremony. Russia owns 24% of the shares, Kazakstan 19%, Oman 7%, Chevron Oil 15%, Mobil Oil 7.5%, Oryx 1.75%, the LukArco joint venture 12.5%, Russian-British company Rosneft-Shell 7.5%, British Gas and Agip 2% each, and Kazakstan Pipeline 1.75%.
NAZARBAYEV WANTS RUSSIAN PRESS TO PROMOTE RELATIONS WITH KAZAKSTAN
Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev today told visiting Russian journalists they should promote broadening cooperation between Kazakstan and Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. He said he wanted Russian media to help create a "mutually advantageous atmosphere" for the development of bilateral relations. He added they also should help "break the resistance" of certain forces in Russia who oppose Kazak-Russian cooperation on a new "equal" level. The delegation of Russian journalists is led by Russian presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii.
KYRGYZSTAN ADOPTS ANTI-INFLATION MEASURES
The government has approved measures designed to cut inflation to 17% this year, according to Interfax. The prices of goods and services are to be controlled and value- added tax on utilities slashed. The government will "tightly regulate" the money supply and float the rate of the national currency. It also plans to ask Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia not to increase the price of energy supplies. In April, the EBRD predicted inflation in Kyrgyzstan would exceed 20% by year's end.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WELCOMES RUSSIA-NATO ACCORD
Leonid Kuchma says the Russia-NATO pact "corresponds with the interests of Ukraine because Russia supports the necessity of signing an analogous agreement...between Ukraine and NATO." Kuchma was speaking to journalists yesterday in Washington. Ukraine is currently negotiating its own charter with NATO, which U.S. officials expect to be completed soon. RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported that Kuchma and U.S. President Bill Clinton will meet at the White House in Washington today for broad discussions on economic and security issues.
ECONOMIC NEWS FROM UKRAINE
Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov told journalists in the U.S. capital yesterday that even without the large, long-term loan Ukraine expects to get from the IMF soon, the country is doing better than the fund's targets, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported. Mityukov said the targets agreed with the IMF for 1997 are inflation no higher than 25% a year and a budget deficit of 4.2% of GDP. Mityukov said inflation was only 4.1% in the first four months, which, he added, means the economy can absorb the expected 3-4% hike in inflation that will be caused by the raising of tariffs on municipal services. Mityukov further said Ukraine is in the final stages of preparing to seek funds on the Japanese and European capital markets. Meanwhile, State Minister Anatoly Minchenko told a press conference in Kyiv yesterday that Ukraine plans to cut its purchases of Russian natural gas by more than half in the next few years.
UKRAINE'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT MAKES FIRST RULING
The recently established Constitutional Court made its first decision yesterday, ruling that parliamentary deputies cannot simultaneously hold government posts or most private sector jobs, Ukrainian media reported. The ruling confirms a clause in the constitution, which was adopted last year. The tribunal ordered lower courts to review earlier decisions allowing legislators to government posts. Many officials may be forced to choose between parliament and their other occupations. However, that will not apply to Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko and a number of other senior figures, because the court ruling says those who were elected to the parliament before June 1995 and have held government posts continuously since then can keep both jobs.
BELARUSIAN OFFICIAL REJECTS MERGER WITH RUSSIA
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov says he sees no possibility to merge Russia and Belarus. Khvostov told journalists in Minsk yesterday that the plan, which was outlined by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a television interview a day earlier, will be studied by Minsk but that "under no circumstances will the statehood of Belarus be placed in doubt." Yeltsin said he favored the "ultimate" merger of the two Slavic neighbors into a single state. The initiative for union between the two states came from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Last month, Yeltsin and Lukashenka signed an agreement to tie the two countries more closely together. The accompanying charter was put to six weeks of public discussion, which ends today. Yeltsin said yesterday that he and Lukashenka will sign the charter on 23 May.
SOROS FOUNDATION SUSPENDS ACTIVITIES IN BELARUS
The Soros Foundation yesterday suspended its activities in Belarus after tax officials emptied its bank account to pay fines totaling almost $3 million. Foundation spokeswoman Veronika Begun told journalists in Minsk that the Belarus government ordered the bank to transfer all the money on the Soros account to pay the tax fines. She said the foundation now cannot even pay its office costs and that it has appealed the tax officials' decision but has received no answer yet. The Soros foundation was initially granted a tax-exemption status by the Belarus government. However, tax inspectors began an audit of the foundation in March, when the government accused its U.S. director of backing the nationalist opposition and barred him from returning to Belarus from a trip abroad. The audit led to claims that the foundation was violating the status of a charitable organization.
ESTONIAN BANS SOVIET-ERA PASSPORTS
The government yesterday banned the use of Soviet-era passports by Estonia's non-citizens. Unidentified government officials were quoted as saying that the non- citizens, most of whom are ethnic Russians, can receive alien passports that are valid for travel abroad. Many of the 300,000 ethnic Russians who live in Estonia have not acquired citizenship and until now have used old Soviet-era passports as their main form of identification. They complain the alien passports confer second-class status. Also yesterday, the parliament began considering amendments to the law on aliens that would give permanent residence permits in July 1998 to all non- citizens who applied for such permits before July 1995, Interfax reported. Non-citizens currently have renewable five-year permits.
LATVIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
The Latvian government survived a no-confidence vote by the parliament yesterday, BNS reported. The move was rejected by a vote of 50 to 16 with two abstentions. The no-confidence move was launched by opposition deputies in response to the government's alleged failure to abide by the provision in the law on agriculture stipulating that farm subsidies should amount to 3% of the state budget. According to the government, subsidies to the agricultural sector make up 1.84% of the total budget.
PROGRESS IN LITHUANIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER TALKS
Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Albinas Januska told BNS yesterday that progress has been made in border delimitation talks with Russia. Januska and chief Lithuanian border negotiator Rimantas Sidlauskas discussed yesterday in Moscow possibilities for speeding up the delimitation of state borders with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev and chief Russian negotiator Alexei Obukhov. The two sides agreed to begin to prepare maps delimiting the joint frontier.
CZECH CROWN UNDER PRESSURE
The Czech National Bank intervened on foreign exchange markets yesterday in an effort to support the Czech currency, the crown. National Bank spokesman Martin Svehla says the bank is ready to intervene again if necessary. The bank spent between $150-200 million to support the crown. Financial analysts see the move as a sign of continued troubles for the Czech economy. Last month, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's government made budget cuts and imposed import restrictions to try to revive the economy. The crown has lost more than 15% of its value against the U.S. dollar since early this year.
CZECH PREMIER NOT READY TO RESIGN
Vaclav Klaus told journalists in Prague yesterday that he will not resign as prime minister, despite economic troubles and the fact that recent opinion polls indicate a sharp drop in the popularity of his Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Milos Zeman told journalists his party will not call for early elections but agreed with Deputy Prime Minister Josef Lux that an early ballot can be expected if the package of economic measures recently adopted by the government fails. Lux's Christian Democrats are seen as a potential CSSD coalition partner. Analysts agree that the decline in the ODS's popularity could result in replacing Klaus as ODS chairman.
SLOVAK PREMIER IN NETHERLANDS
Vladimir Meciar, on a one-day working visit to The Netherlands, said yesterday that Slovakia should be in the first group of the Central European countries to enter the EU, Slovak media reported. Meciar met his Dutch counterpart, Wim Kok, whose country currently chairs the EU . Meciar also met with OSCE High Commissioner Max van der Stoel to discuss problems related to the Hungarian ethnic minority in Slovakia. Earlier this week, opposition Christian Democratic Movement chairman Jan Carnogursky revealed that EU officials had warned Slovakia it may not be invited to talks on EU membership owing to unsolved domestic problems. Carnogursky and Meciar agreed that Slovakia's political parties will meet soon to discuss domestic problems.
REFERENDUM IN SLOVAKIA IN DOUBT
Slovakia's Central Referendum Committee has urged the Ministry of Internal Affairs to print and distribute one ballot with four questions to be posed in the 23-24 May referendum. Slovak voters are to be asked to decide whether Slovakia should be a NATO member, whether there should be nuclear weapons or foreign bases on Slovak territory, and whether the president should be elected directly. The Slovak government has opposed including a fourth question on direct presidential elections and has asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the constitution can be changed by a referendum. The court on 14 May decided the government was not entitled to lodge such a query. Despite the ruling, Slovak Interior Minister Krajci yesterday refused to order printing ballots with the fourth question included. He argued he has to abide by the government's decision.
HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES AGREEMENT WITH HOLY SEE
A government spokesman says the agreement with the Vatican on property restitution and financing of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary is of "historical importance," Hungarian media report. The agreement was approved yesterday by the government. Under the agreement, the state is return to the Catholic Church assets totaling 100 billion forints ($550 million) and the church will renounce any further claims. Real estate worth some $320 million confiscated by the Communists will be returned gradually by the year 2011. The remainder of the claims will be met as annual payments to the Church. The agreement still has to be approved by the parliament.
ALBANIA FACES RENEWED POLITICAL DEADLOCK...
A spokesman for the Socialist Party said in Tirana today that his party is meeting with other opposition groups to discuss a possible boycott of the 29 June elections. The parliament, which President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party controls, passed an election law yesterday that seems to be the same as the one it adopted earlier this week. The Democrats promised OSCE envoy Franz Vranitzky to change the law to make it more acceptable to the opposition. Vranitzky had threatened to cut off international aid to Albania unless the elections go ahead.
...AND AN EARTHQUAKE
A quake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale hit 25 miles east of Tirana this morning, West European seismic institutes reported. The epicenter was near the Albanian-Macedonian border, and the jolt affected northwestern Greece as well. In other news, an explosion at an ammunition dump killed at least three near Gjirokaster yesterday. Unconfirmed reports said the Albanian army was attempting to transfer ammunition when the blast occurred.
ALBRIGHT BLASTS CROATIA OVER SERBIAN REFUGEES
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sharply criticized Croatia's policies toward returning Serb refugees at her meeting in Washington yesterday with Foreign Minister Mate Granic. She stressed that Croatia will not be accepted into Western political and other institutions unless it fulfills its obligations under the Dayton accord. Her spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said he could not remember a "tougher meeting" between Albright and a visiting foreign minister. U.S. officials described the Croats' remarks as defensive and added that Albright did not receive a satisfactory answer to her questions about mob violence against Serbs and about why the Serbs cannot go home. Jacques Klein, the UN chief administrator for eastern Slavonia, presented the Croats with concrete examples of discrimination against Serbs.
CROATIAN SERBS EXPELLED FROM HOMES
The Croatian Helsinki Committee said in Zagreb yesterday that more than 100 Serbs were recently thrown out of their homes and that crowds attacked several Serbs this week. The incidents took place around Hrvatska Kostajnica in the Banija region of central Croatia and involved returning Serb refugees and some of the 1,500 Bosnian Croats who had moved into the area. Local Croatian officials denied that there is systematic violence against the Serbs, who had allegedly returned in an unorganized fashion and evicted Bosnian Croats living in the Serbs' homes. Croatian Serb legislator Milorad Pupovac said in Zagreb, however, that the matter is serious and that he will raise it in parliament. Pupovac added that the incidents do not bode well for the smooth reintegration of eastern Slavonia.
NEWS FROM SERBIA
Some 3,000 health workers demonstrated in Belgrade yesterday to demand payment of their March wages, an RFE/RL correspondent there reported. Elsewhere in the capital, opposition leader Vuk Draskovic promised to lead Bosnian and Croatian Serbs back to their homes if he becomes Serbian president. After meeting with Krajina Serbs, Draskovic said that "the Serbian banner will flutter in Knin again," Nasa Borba reported today. Still in Belgrade, federal customs director Mihalj Kertes charged yesterday that domestic cigarette companies are heavily involved in the black market trading of their products. In Pristina, army commander Gen. Momcilo Perisic stated that extra security measures along the Albanian border have proven effective and that there are fewer incidents now than there were before anarchy erupted in Albania.
OPPOSITION STAGES BIG RALLY IN SKOPJE
Some 30,000 people attended a protest rally in Skopje yesterday organized by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). The party sent a letter to President Kiro Gligorov demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, a caretaker government of "technocrats," and new elections in three months. The VMRO-DPMNE wants to use popular anger over a collapsed pyramid scheme to force new parliamentary elections. The party boycotted the last ballot and thereby shut itself out of much of public life. Elsewhere in Skopje, the authorities said they are closing the border with Albania to stop an influx of refugees. In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a six-month extension (until 30 November) of the mandate for UN peacekeepers in Macedonia.
LABOR PROTESTS IN BUCHAREST
Thousands of workers converged on the Romanian capital yesterday to protest government policies that are forcing living standards to plummet. The demonstrators marched past government headquarters calling Victor Ciorbea's cabinet a group of "liars" and "thieves." The Fratia trade union, which organized the march, says the demonstrations will continue daily until the government issues what it deems "a reasonable welfare program," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Labor unrest was also reported elsewhere in the country.
FORMER ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER OFFICIALLY CHARGED
Gen. Victor Athanasie Stanculescu, who was minister of defense in 1990-1991, has been formally charged with abusing public office, conspiring to commit fraud, and damaging the country's economy. The military section of the Prosecutor-General's Office says Stanculescu and seven other persons, one of whom is also a general, were responsible for the illegal acquisition of mobile phones for the Defense Ministry at a loss to the state of some $8 million. They are suspected of having shared among themselves the difference between the producer's price and the price paid for the phones to intermediaries. If found guilty, Stanculescu faces between five and 15 years in prison, Radio Bucharest reported yesterday.
MOLDOVAN PREMIER IN ROMANIA
Ion Ciubuc, on his first visit abroad as premier, met with his Romanian counterpart, Victor Ciorbea, in Bucharest yesterday, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. Ciorbea said Romania should be Moldova's gateway to the EU and Moldova Romania's gateway to the CIS. Ciubic noted that Moldova placed much hope on the future Romanian-Moldovan- Ukrainian "Euroregions" (see RFE/RL Newsline, 29 April 1997). The two sides signed treaties on cooperation between their ministries of justice and culture and a number of commercial agreements. Ciubuc is scheduled to visit today the Cernavoda nuclear plant and the Constanta port. Romania has proposed that Moldova invest in the construction of a second reactor at Cernavoda in exchange for electricity supplies.
BULGARIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE WANTS TO PEG LEV TO GERMAN MARK
Ivan Kostov says the Bulgarian national currency should be pegged to the German mark. He was speaking yesterday upon his return from a visit to Germany, where he met with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Last week, Kostov had been quoted as saying it would be better for the Bulgarian lev to be linked to the U.S. dollar rather than the German mark. Caretaker Premier Stefan Sofiyanski, who traveled with Kostov, said officials from the Deutsche Bank indicated that Kostov's announcement would greatly encourage German investments in Bulgaria, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Bulgarian Radio reported that Kohl praised Bulgarian efforts to push ahead with reform.
BULGARIAN CARETAKER INTERIOR MINISTER WANTS FORMER PREMIER TRIED
Bogomil Bonev says former Premier Zhan Videnov should be put on trial and sentenced for his role in the country's grain crisis. An RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported yesterday that Videnov was questioned by a prosecutor about the export of state grain reserves by several private firms in 1995 and 1996. The firms, which were closely linked to Videnov, made large profits because the Socialist government allowed them to make the exports. This resulted in the depletion of state grain reserves, and the country has since suffered severe bread shortages. Vasil Chichibaba, a former agriculture minister under Videnov, and three of his deputies, were charged in March with economic crime. Bonev, who is expected to retain his portfolio in the new government, said there is evidence that Videnov was "categorically responsible" for Bulgaria's grain shortages.
Yeltsin and Parliament Continue to Battle over Trophy Art
by Jan Cleave
The duel between President Boris Yeltsin and the parliament over trophy art peaked again earlier this week. Overwhelmingly rejecting a presidential veto, the Federation Council voted on 14 May to declare that cultural valuables seized by Soviet troops from Germany at the end of World War II are Russian property and "just compensation" for the losses and injustices inflicted by the Nazis. Yeltsin claims the trophy art law contravenes both the constitution and international legislation. He will now appeal to the Constitutional Court to quash the controversial bill.
The trophy art law has long been a thorn in the president's flesh. An initial version was passed by the Duma at its very first session following Yeltsin's re-election as president last summer. Negotiations between post-Soviet Russia and unified Germany on the return of the artworks had deadlocked, and the communist-dominated Duma seemed intent on forcing the hand of the newly re-elected president, who, from time to time, had resorted to nationalist patriotic rhetoric during his election campaign.
But the Duma's bid was foiled by the Federation Council, which rejected the bill and thereby saved Yeltsin from having to impose a veto and face the inevitable accusations of false patriotism. By the time the Duma passed a mildly revised form of the law, gubernatorial elections had increased the independence of the Council. The legislation was approved by the upper house in March and then swiftly vetoed by an unyielding Yelstin.
Last month, the Federation Council spared Yeltsin another potential embarrassment -- this time abroad and on German soil, to boot. On the eve of the 17 April meeting between the Russian president and Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Baden-Baden, the upper house opted for a postal ballot on whether to override the presidential veto, thereby postponing a final decision for several weeks. Yeltsin departed for Germany secure in the knowledge that German newspapers the next morning would not run angry headlines about Russia's laying claim to the disputed treasures.
It was also fortunate for Yeltsin that the official results of the mail vote were released on the same day that Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana agreed on the Russia- NATO Founding Act. International media thus focused on post-Cold War detente rather than on Russian squabbling over war booty. And later that day, German media turned its attention to a trophy art issue on home turf, as reports began to emerge that a mosaic fragment from the legendary Amber Room -- dismantled and hauled away from Tsarskoe Selo by the Nazis during World War II -- had been found in northern Germany.
In opposing the trophy art law, Yelstin has repeatedly raised legalistic objections echoing those of Germany, which is Russia's largest lender and perceived by many as its closest ally in the West. When he vetoed the law in mid- March, he argued that the unilateral declaration of the trophy art as Russian property breached international legislation, a position frequently stressed by German officials (who also point to the provision for the return of all war booty in the 1992 friendship treaty between Moscow and Bonn).
Yeltsin also stressed the law's potential negative impact on relations not only with Germany but also with countries such as Holland and Italy, which claim some of the trophy art was removed from their territory before the Soviets carted it off to Moscow. And, in an apparent bid to somewhat appease the nationalists -- without unduly upsetting the Germans -- the Russian president noted that the law would hinder efforts to retrieve artworks seized from the Soviet Union during the war.
But legalistic arguments and warnings about foreign- policy blunders have had little impact in the face of nationalist outpourings in the parliament. The law's proponents have struck a chord among Russians by frequently reminding them of the 27 million Soviet citizens claimed to have perished in the Great Patriotic War. They say that the 200,000 works of art, 2 million books, and 3 kilometers of archival material that Germany wants returned are minimal compensation for Russian loss of life and the widespread destruction of artworks and monuments. Museum curators in Moscow and St. Petersburg have reinforced this emotive pressure by organizing exhibitions of trophy art with such seemingly benign titles as "Twice Saved" (once from the Nazis and then from Soviet neglect).
Yeltsin's representative at the Constitutional Court has said that the president will appeal to the court to reject the law. The same day the Federation Council overruled his veto, Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted the constitutional provision stating that in cases where international law and Russian federal law are at odds, international law will be applied. If Yeltsin wins on this and other points, he will have gained time before the parliament makes another legislative bid to secure ownership of the trophy art. He is likely to use that time to seek a solution with Germany that, in both his and Kohl's words, is fair to each side.