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Newsline - June 20, 1997


Russian President Boris Yeltsin has been invited by his U.S, counterpart, Bill Clinton, to deliver the opening speech at the "Summit of Eight" in Denver, Colorado, on 20-22 June. Yeltsin is scheduled to attend all sessions of the summit, except those dealing with financial aid. Yeltsin is hoping to speed up the process of Russia's joining the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development during his weekend in Denver. The Russian press reports Moscow is participating as a full partner but other participating countries, particularly Japan, have indicated this is not the case. The German daily "Die Welt" on 19 June questioned Russia's inclusion among the leading industrial powers, noting that economically "Russia is not just trailing the others. For the tenth year in succession, the country's economy is set to decline, with industrial output decreasing still further."


Despite Yeltsin's statement that he is not prepared to resolve the Kuril Islands issue at the Denver Summit of Eight, Japan is already gathering support for its position on the disputed island chain. Tokyo has asked U.S. President Clinton to help solve the issue. Clinton's responded that it is a matter for the Russians and Japanese to discuss but noted that "obviously there will have to be some plan for resolving [it]." Russian Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said "if this issue is addressed, it will have to be in the framework of joint steps undertaken to develop natural resources." Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto has said he will seek support from other leaders at the summit. He reminded them that "the territorial issue is unresolved" and, as a result, Japanese-Russian relations remain the only "abnormal" ones among the Group of Eight.


Speaking to foreign journalists in Moscow on 19 June, Yeltsin confirmed he will not attend the July NATO summit in Madrid, Russian news agencies reported. He explained that "we decided that we needed to recover" after signing the Founding Act on relations between Russia and NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 May 1997). Yeltsin added that "Russians would be uncomfortable" if he went to the summit, where the Western alliance is expected to invite several new members. Russian officials continue to speak out against NATO expansion. A recent nationwide poll by the Russian Public Opinion and Market Research Institute found that only 29.7% of respondents said they were "concerned" about NATO's plans for eastward expansion, while 44.7% said they were not concerned by such plans, "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" reported on 7 June.


The State Duma on 19 June approved the tax code in the first reading by a vote of 244 to 84 with two abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov, the code would reduce the number of taxes from 75 to 28. Individuals would pay a 12% tax on earnings up to 60 million rubles ($10,400) per year. Income above that level would be taxed at a rate of 30%. Six of the seven Duma factions, including the vast majority of Communist deputies, supported passing the code. Only the Yabloko faction called for rejecting it. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii argued that the code will neither reduce the tax burden nor simplify the tax system, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Before departing for Denver, Yeltsin called the Duma's vote on the tax code "a great victory for us."


The conciliatory commission that had sought a compromise over proposed cuts in 1997 budget spending has decided no longer to convene, citing an unbridgeable impasse between government and parliamentary representatives, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 19 June. The government, which originally sought 108 trillion rubles ($19 billion) in spending cuts, was willing to reduce the figure to 88 trillion rubles. Meanwhile, Duma representatives led by Communist deputy and Economic Policy Committee Chairman Yurii Maslyukov insisted that cuts do not exceed 42 trillion rubles. Maslyukov's plan, which the Duma is to consider on 20 June, would reduce spending on all "unprotected" budget items by 20%. The government's compromise plan would leave some programs untouched while cutting others by 30% or 45%. (The government initially sought to cut spending on programs in the last category by 55%.)


The Duma on 19 June passed a law on the status of persons serving in the military, ITAR-TASS reported. The law would grant servicemen equal status, regardless of whether they serve in a branch of the armed forces or in troops subordinate to other federal agencies. It would allow soldiers to participate in meetings and demonstrations when off duty but would prohibit involvement in strike actions. In addition, religious organizations could not be created in military units, although soldiers would be allowed to attend religious services in their spare time. The Duma also approved a new version of the law on the subsistence minimum, which outlines procedures for calculating the subsistence level on a quarterly basis. An earlier version of the law was rejected by the Federation Council. Finally, the Duma overrode a presidential veto of a law on state regulation of the agro-industrial complex.


Yeltsin issued a decree on 19 June ordering the gas monopoly Gazprom to reduce the rates it charges some domestic industrial consumers by 40%, Russian news agencies reported. The reduced rates will be offered only to enterprises that pay in cash and in advance for gas deliveries and also make a formal pledge to pay their debts for past gas deliveries by the end of 1997. Gazprom executives say the company is owed some $12 billion by domestic customers. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told Interfax that in accordance with the decree, enterprises seeking to buy gas at the reduced rate would also have to promise to pay their debts to the federal budget by the end of this year. However, the text of the decree was not immediately available to confirm Nemtsov's statement.


Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has said he supports the proposal by some journalists to impose a media boycott of Chechnya in protest at the latest series of kidnappings of some of their colleagues in the breakaway republic, Interfax reported on 19 June. Kulikov termed the kidnappings a "dangerous and infectious disease typical of that region," adding that he was against paying ransoms to the kidnappers. Kulikov also said Russian construction workers and some 400 servicemen are still being kept prisoner in Chechnya and that their release was a "priority" for Moscow. According to Kulikov, Chechnya is full of gangs outside the control of President Aslan Maskhadov, who, he said, is unwilling to accept help from the Russian law-enforcement bodies. Kulikov expressed readiness to help Chechen authorities in combating crime.


A spokesman for the Central Bank told ITAR-TASS on 19 June that Chechnya has refused to open an account at the bank, thereby contravening the 12 May agreement. That accord granted the Chechen National Bank an independent status and stated that it must have an account at the Russian Central Bank in order to allow transfers from and to commercial banks in Russia. The spokesman said the Chechens are insisting on establishing direct ties with Russian commercial banks and on having direct access to Russia's currency and equity markets. The spokesman added that the "unconstructive position" of the Chechen side hinders the transfer of Russian public funds for social purposes in the breakaway republic.


Mayors from 29 of the world's largest cities attended a conference hosted by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 18-19 June. Yeltsin attended a reception for the mayors following the conference, at which he and Luzhkov traded compliments, Russian news agencies reported on 19 June. During the conference, Luzhkov signed a cooperation agreement with the mayor of Bangkok, Thailand. During the last year, Luzhkov has traveled abroad several times and established contacts with high-level officials. During a recent visit to Baku, he and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev signed several cooperation agreements between Moscow and Azerbaijan, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 June.


Yeltsin issued a decree appointing Col.-Gen. Anatolii Kvashnin first deputy defense minister and head of the General Staff of the armed forces, Russian news agencies reported on 19 June. Kvashnin was appointed provisionally to those posts on 23 May, the day after his predecessor, Viktor Samsonov, and former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov were fired. Kvashnin had previously served as commander of the North Caucasus military district.


Vladimir Yakovlev is to sue former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak for slander, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent reported on 19 June. In an interview recently published in "Sovershenno sekretno," Sobchak alleged that members of St. Petersburg's so-called Tambov criminal group work in a company run by Yakovlev's wife and boast that the governor is "their man." Sobchak told RFE/RL that he was only repeating allegations made public by Anatolii Ponedelko, who heads the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast branch of the Interior Ministry. However, speaking to RFE/RL, Ponedelko confirmed only that the Procurator-General's Office is investigating the case. Yakovlev defeated Sobchak in a June 1996 election. Also on 19 June, Interior Minister Kulikov told an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow that Sobchak is himself under criminal investigation by the Procurator-General's Office, but Kulikov did not specify the nature of the investigation.


State Duma deputy and Communist-backed gubernatorial candidate Gennadii Khodyrev has charged that the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow center is financing the gubernatorial campaign of Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Ivan Sklyarov, an RFE/RL correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported on 19 June. Sklyarov, the favorite to win the race, and is supported by former governor Boris Nemtsov. Anatolii Nekrasov, the chairman of the oblast electoral commission, denied Khodyrev's claims. Nekrasov gave RFE/RL copies of all five candidates' financial declarations, which show no foreign contributors to Sklyarov's campaign. Sklyarov has reported collecting about 1.5 billion rubles ($260,000) so far, while Khodyrev has declared only about one-third of that amount in campaign contributions.


Deputy Procurator-General Yurii Semin has accused Petr Karpov, deputy head of the Federal Bankruptcy Administration, of evading taxes by not declaring income totaling $150,000, Interfax reported on 19 June. Semin said the Procurator-General's Office has informed the tax police about the case. Karpov was recently released from custody pending trial for allegedly taking a 5 million ruble ($870) bribe in 1994. Some observers have argued that the case against him is politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May and 4 June 1997). Responding to the latest accusation, Karpov said law-enforcement officials in Saratov Oblast confiscated the $150,000 when he was first arrested on the bribery charges in July 1996. He said he had already explained that he acquired the money by selling a family apartment and receiving a bank loan to buy a house.


The Federal Security Service is to investigate whether Russian officials abused their authority to make money out of the 11 October 1994 crash of the ruble, Interfax reported on 19 June, citing an unnamed law enforcement official. The ruble lost about a quarter of its value on "Black Tuesday," prompting calls for the resignation of the government and an eventual cabinet reshuffle, although the Duma failed to pass a vote of no confidence in the government.


The Russian government and the French charity Medicins sans Frontiers have launched a television and billboard advertising campaign in Moscow to help combat the spread of AIDS, Reuters reported on 19 June. The advertisements, which feature the slogan "Safe Sex, My Choice," are aimed at young people and may eventually be brought to other Russian cities. The rate of HIV infection in Russia has increased dramatically in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 1997).


Islam Karimov on 19 June said at a joint news conference with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev that there cannot be "two Armenian states in the Caucasus," Interfax reported. Karimov described Baku's position on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as correct and fair. Azerbaijan is demanding restoration of its sovereignty over the disputed enclave. Aliev, who was wrapping up an official visit to Tashkent, said Azerbaijani-Uzbek relationships have reached "new heights" and that the two presidents share views on "numerous" international issues. A total of 19 bilateral agreements were singed during his visit.


The State Statistics Committee has released data showing that in the first five months of 1997, industrial production dropped by 32.7% compared with the same period last year, according to the Russian daily "Delovoi Mir" on 19 June. While the gas and gas refining industries registered an increase of 1.8% and 100%, respectively, this was insufficient to offset declines in output in the electricity sector (19.6%) , the chemical and petrochemical industries (25.1%), and cotton (25%). Reduction in supplies of natural gas to several CIS states that have not yet paid their debts account for a 44% decrease in natural gas output. Gasoline and diesel fuel production also dropped 29.7% and 12.4%, respectively.


The Office of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma announced on 19 June that Kuchma has decided to temporarily remove Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko and replace him with First Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Dudinets. Presidential spokesmen told journalists in Kyiv that Lazarenko was being removed from his post for the duration of an unspecified illness. Lazarenko has made no comment. Observers cast doubt on Lazarenko's alleged health problems. Rumors of his dismissal have been circulating in Kyiv for weeks amid allegations of high-level government corruption. Under Ukraine's constitution, Lazarenko's dismissal would mean the resignation of the cabinet.


Kuchma met with IMF Deputy Director Stanley Fischer on 19 June to discuss a new loan to Ukraine, UNIAN reported. A final decision on the loan has been delayed since late 1996 because Ukraine has failed to meet a number of fundamental IMF conditions, including approval of the 1997 State Budget within certain guidelines, reform of the pension system, and liberalization of trade. Media reports suggest that Fischer is to hand over to Kuchma a letter from IMF Executive Director Michel Camdessus expressing concern about Ukraine's continued failure to those conditions. An IMF special mission is to arrive in Ukraine at the end of June. In other news, Defense Minister Olexander Kuzmuk and his visiting Polish counterpart, Stanislaw Dobrzanski, praised improved bilateral military ties. They said at a 19 June press conference in Kyiv that close cooperation between their militaries was important for European security.


The parliament of Ukraine's autonomous region of Crimea on 19 June approved the cabinet of newly appointed Premier Anatoliy Franchuk, RFE/RL's Kyiv office reported. There are five holdovers from the previous government of Arkadiy Demydenko and a larger number of members of the Russia faction, which was the driving force behind Demydenko's ouster. No members of Demydenko's newly formed Crimea Our Home faction are included in the new cabinet. Franchuk, a close ally of President Kuchma, was Crimean premier in 1994-1995. He has pledged rapid and comprehensive economic liberalization.


The Minsk office of U.S. philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute will appeal against a huge fine imposed by the Belarusian authorities, Soros told Ekho Moskvy on 19 June. Tax officials in Belarus imposed the S2.9 million fine in May, accusing Soros's foundation of violating its tax-exempt status by becoming involved in politics. The Belarusian government expelled the foundation's director in March. Soros said he does not intend to close the Minsk office, even though the foundation's bank accounts there have been frozen. He accused the Belarusian authorities of harassment and of trying to squelch democracy.


Opposition deputies used procedural tactics on 18-19 June to obstruct the second reading of the controversial bill on customs tariffs, ETA and BNS reported. In a session that lasted almost 28 hours--the longest in post-war Estonia--deputies requested 10-minute breaks after discussion of each amendment and repeatedly introduced proposals on other bills scheduled for discussion before the summer recess began on 20 June. A compromise was finally reached whereby discussion of the bill was postponed until the fall and the parliament passed a supplementary budget law crucial to the government's ability to continue to function. The opposition argues that imposing tariffs will force prices to rise and that if they nonetheless are introduced, the parliament, rather than the government, should draw up a tariffs bill. Under an EU association agreement, Estonia will forfeit its right to introduce the tariffs if the necessary legislation is not passed by year's end.


Vytautas Landsbergis has expressed concern that in the post-Boris Yeltsin era, Russia might try to "Finlandize" the Baltic States, AFP reported. In a speech at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Landsbergis said Lithuania wants to resist any such tendency. He argued for the Baltic countries to be allowed to join NATO, warning there could be "mutiny after Yeltsin" and citing the "unpredictability of Russia."


Vaclav Havel told journalists on 19 June, following a meeting with the leaders of both chambers of the parliament, that if the present government falls, he will ask the current government coalition to propose a candidate for the premiership. Havel said that because the current government was directly elected, it would seem morally right to give it a chance to form a new cabinet. He stressed that he did not want to see the government fall. In his words, at the two chambers' meeting he merely discussed the options and paths to be followed if the government fell.


Gustav Krajci on 19 June survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote. It was the second opposition bid in two weeks to oust Krajci, whom they accuse of sabotaging the May referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections. The referendum was declared invalid owing to low voter turnout after Krajci defied the Constitutional Court and the Referendum Commission by refusing include the question on presidential elections on the ballot. Also on 19 June, Culture Ministry State Secretary Pavol Panis said Slovakia treats all minorities equally, and will continue to support minority schools, newspapers and ethnic TV broadcasts. Speaking at a Bratislava conference on national minorities, Panis said the government "is interested in maintaining the diversity of Slovakia." The meeting was co-sponsored by the government and the Council of Europe.


Greek troops killed an armed Albanian drug dealer in Elbasan on 18 June. It was the first time that foreign troops fatally wounded a local civilian. A total of about 1,600 Albanians have died in violent incidents since the country slid into anarchy early this year. In Gjirokaster, Romanian soldiers rescued 11 foreign election monitors from a restaurant where they were trapped by rival gangs. It was the first serious incident involving OSCE workers. Also on 18 June, armed workers of an oil refinery in Mallakaster barred director Afrim Jupi from entering the company premises. They also blocked fuel-trucks from transporting fuel away, even though the drivers had an order from Jupi. The employees argued that Jupi failed to explain the whereabouts of 5,000 tons of oil that were previously transported away but are now unaccounted for, "Republika" reported.


Prime Minister Bashkim Fino walked out of a meeting of the multi-party round-table on 19 June in Tirana after a row over some aspects of the upcoming elections. The Republican Party demanded that Fino ensure freedom of movement during the campaign and provide better security at rallies. Some round-table participants accused the Central Election Commission of numerous mistakes and irregularities, "Koha Jone" reports. The CEC was appointed in late May and lacks even the most basic equipment. It has missed various deadlines in the runup to the election, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. Its biggest shortcoming is its failure to resolve disputes over proportional representation and over the closing time of polling stations.


OSCE Election Observation Coordinator Anthony Welch said on 19 June that only 67 of 115 candidates' lists have arrived at the OSCE and that the elections may have to be postponed, "Koha Jone" reported on 20 June. No ballot papers can be printed before the lists are complete, and there are only nine days left for both printing and distribution. Welch, however, said that the election preparations are going ahead, even though the security situation also remains uncertain. In Gjirokaster, the Democrats held their first rally in the southern rebel stronghold. Only local candidates took part, and there were no incidents. The Democrats and President Sali Berisha have their power base in the north and have been threatened by southern rebels. Meanwhile in New York, the Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the Italian-led Operation Alba by 45 days into mid-August.


Momir Bulatovic addressed the parliament in Podgorica on 19 June in the latest stage of the ongoing crisis gripping both the government and the ruling Democratic Socialist Party. Bulatovic denied that the tensions between him and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic are the cause of the difficulties, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. He said that the feud is rather an outgrowth of basic political differences between the two men. Bulatovic accused the government of favoring the south at the expense of the north. He also charged that the security services behave as a law unto themselves and are engaged in massive corruption.


Federal Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic met in Rome on 19 June with his Italian counterpart, Lamberto Dini, for a briefing on the EU's recent Amsterdam summit. Dini told Milutinovic that the EU expects Yugoslavia to live up to its obligations under the Dayton agreement and to respect the recommendations on democratization made last year by Spain's former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales. In Novi Sad, Dusan Mijic, the owner of the independent daily "Nasa Borba," says that his paper will not pay the massive fines for alleged back taxes that the government is trying to impose. In Belgrade, war veterans resumed their hunger strike to demand a clarification of their status and benefits after talks with the authorities broke down. And federal President Zoran Lilic has formally endorsed Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to succeed him in the federal job.


Unidentified men fired an automatic weapon at a car carrying persons from the Serbian Interior Ministry on the road between Pristina and Podujevo on 19 June. No one was injured or claimed responsibility for the incident. In Belgrade, Refugee Minister Bratislava Morina refused to meet with women from a delegation of Serbs from Istok in Kosovo. The Serbs, whom the authorities resettled in the mainly Albanian-populated province, are demonstrating in central Belgrade for housing and other benefits they say were originally promised to them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 1997).


Czech SFOR soldiers found and confiscated a tank, two armored personnel carriers, and two artillery pieces that the Bosnian Serbs were holding in contravention of the Dayton agreement. The incident took place on 19 June near Omarska, which was the site of one of the most notorious concentration camps in the Bosnian war. And in Sarajevo, an RFE/RL correspondent reports that two frequently-postponed meetings have been put off again. One is a gathering of international aid donors to Bosnia, which is now slated for mid-July. The other is a meeting of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and his Bosnian counterpart Alija Izetbegovic, which could take place in late June at the earliest if a dispute over Mostar is solved.


President Emil Constantinescu on 19 June met with members of the coalition government and called on them to make public "in the shortest possible time" the government's program for restructuring the mining industries and the "social rehabilitation" of the Jiu valley region. Constantinescu is due to meet with representatives of the largest trade unions and of the opposition parliamentary parties on 20 June, Radio Bucharest reports. Meanwhile, the government has announced it will send a delegation to Hunedoara for negotiations with the striking miners. The miners yesterday gave a 24-hour ultimatum to the executive to restart negotiations. Most of the mining industries unions have expressed solidarity with the strikers. In Bucharest, some 7,000 workers in the lumber industry protested against the government's economic policies.


Victor Ciorbea on 19 June had an "unscheduled meeting" with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Radio Bucharest reported. He also met with World Bank president James Wolfensohn and discussed the bank's possible increased support for Romania's social protection programs and the development of the Jiu valley. Meanwhile, State Department spokesman John Dinger said that at the first meeting with Ciorbea on 18 June, Albright had emphasized the importance to the U.S .of its relations with Romania and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott had expressed "full support" for Romania's goal of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Dinger stressed, however, that this did not mean that the U.S. has already decided to back Romania in a second round of NATO expansion.


Mugurel Vintila and Marian Enache, members of the reformist group in the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, resigned from the party on the eve of its annual congress, scheduled for 21-22 June. They say Chairman Ion Iliescu is oblivious to calls for the restructuring of the party. In a letter to the former Romanian president on 19 June, the leader of the group, Teodor Melescanu, said he will not run for any position in the party leadership at the congress. Melescanu says he made the decision after learning that the incumbent leadership has already fixed the results of the contest for the leading party positions. Another reason for the decision, he said, is to refute the claim that the struggle for reforming the party is in fact only a struggle for power, as Iliescu had claimed.


The Russian-language daily "Nezavisimaya Moldova" reported on 19 June that under a decree drafted by the Moldovan government, the requirement for public office-holders to pass a Romanian-language test would not go into effect until 2005. The decision to introduce such a test was adopted in 1989, when Moldova was still part of the former Soviet Union. Its implementation was postponed until 1 January 1997 by a decision of the parliament and of the former government headed by Andrei Sangheli, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported.


The Party of Revival and Accord of Moldova and the Popular Christian Democratic Front on 19 June announced they have set up an alliance of right-wing political parties. The leaders of the two formations, former President Mircea Snegur and Iurie Rosca, said in a joint declaration, that the alliance will be called the Democratic Convention of Moldova and will be open to other formations with a similar political outlook, Radio Bucharest reported.


The authorities in Moldova's Gagauz autonomous region are "enraged" by the showing in Tiraspol movie theaters of a documentary criticizing the situation in the region, BASA-Press reported on 19 June. They say the documentary, "The Gagauz Deadlock," was produced on the order of "destructive political forces in Tiraspol" and aims at discrediting autonomy as a form of government at a time when Tiraspol and Chisinau are about to resume talks on a final status for the breakaway region. Chisinau offers Tiraspol an autonomous status similar to that enjoyed by the Gagauz region. The Gagauz authorities say the documentary "distorts the real situation in the region" and is "tendentious." Earlier, Gagauz region governor Georgii Tabunshchik complained that "certain forces in Transdniester are trying to destabilize the situation" in the autonomous region.


During a three-day visit to Kuwait that ended on 18 June, Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov secured support for normalizing Sofia's strained relations with Muslim and Arab countries, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 19 June. Stoyanov will ask Turkey to withdraw complaints filed with the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in the 1980s, during communist leader Todor Zhivkov's anti-Turkish minority campaign. In return, Stoyanov has agreed to allow OIC observers to monitor the conditions of Muslims and ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. On his return to Sofia, he said Bulgaria and Kuwait agreed to start regular consultation at Foreign Ministry expert level. Agreements were signed to encourage mutual investments and to avoid double taxation. In addition, a state-owned Kuwaiti company has agreed to loan $40 million to help develop Sofia international airport.


Col. Gen. Miho Mihov, the new army chief of staff, told reporters on 19 June that Bulgaria will replace its conscript army with a professional one and reduce its personnel by 10 %. Mihov said the army will start offering three-year contracts for professional soldiers beginning 1 September. For the time being, the army will remain a mix of professional soldiers and conscripts serving for 12 to 18 months, BTA reported.


The Ministry of Interior on 19 June said a search is under way for Penko Dimitrov, the deputy executive director of the country's state gas monopoly company Bulgargas, Reuters reported. The statement said Dimitrov had not been seen since earlier in the day, when guards at the company's headquarters in Sofia. informed him they had seen a strange car parked nearby. They had offered to accompany him, but he declined their offer. Recently, the ministry had announced that special steps had been taken to protect Bulgargas executive director Vassil Filipov after he had received threats.


by Jan de Weydenthal

Speaking on nationwide television on 18 June, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski announced that parliamentary elections will take place on 21 September. He also said he had signed a law requiring all candidates for elective public office and senior positions in the government, judiciary, or state-run media to reveal whether they worked for or cooperated with intelligence services during communist era.

Kwasniewski said the elections will provide the public with an opportunity to express their view on Poland's efforts to join European institutions. "The next elections must bring a clear answer," Kwasniewski said, "not only about what each politician [does] but also about what each of us expects from Europe [as well as] about what and when one wants to give to this Europe."

Kwasniewski's speech marked the formal opening of the election campaign, although Poland's diverse political groups had already started widespread preparations for the contest.

Most public opinion polls have consistently found that the former Communists--currently reorganized into the Social-Democratic Party, which is a senior partner in the coalition government--are running neck-and-neck with a host of right-wing groups clustered around the Solidarity labor union. Each side has consistently attracted about 25% of support from nationwide samples. They are followed by the centrist Freedom Union, the leftist Labor Union, and the Peasant Party, which is a junior member of the current coalition government. Support for each of those groups hovers around 10%.

The ruling Social Democrats launched their campaign on 16 June with a press conference featuring Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who set the tone by claiming credit for Poland's economic successes during the last four years. "Changes took place for the better in all spheres of social life," Cimoszewicz said, adding that "one has to be blind not to see them." The party is well organized and disciplined. It is backed by numerous labor and youth groups and enjoys a relatively strong standing in the country's business community. Its slogan -- "We have kept our word" -- is designed to focus on specific issues, such as economic progress, unemployment, and inflation, that demonstrate success and to divert attention from the more general, still-unresolved problems of historical and moral justice.

It is precisely those general problems that provide the foundation for the right-wing political campaign. That campaign uses patriotic slogans and religious appeals, but its main thrust is removing all vestiges of communist past. In the opinion of many right-wing politicians and activists, involvement in communist institutions and operations before 1989 disqualifies the Social Democrats and their supporters from politics.

The Solidarity-led Electoral Action (AWS) consists of some 45 separate groups that have very different political programs and policy interests. It has been held together until now by the simple realization that none would be able to enter parliament and/or participate in government on its own.

But signs of potential internal conflict within AWS have recently emerged, with several groups vocally complaining about the centrally drafted lists of candidates. Some have complained that Solidarity is taking a disproportionate share of positions on the ballots. The union has denied this but says that since it is the strongest component of the AWS, it is entitled to a major share.

Several prominent centrist politicians, such as the popular former foreign and finance minister Andrzej Olechowski, have recently announced their departure from the AWS, openly disagreeing about its program and the style of its political campaign. Olechowski said described the umbrella organization as excessively populist and nationalistic.

Others complain about the AWS's close identification with, and uncritical support for, the Catholic Church. The AWS has championed the ban on abortion, for example, and its leader, Marian Krzaklewski, recently declared his support for a complete and unconditional ban on abortions.

The election campaign is certain to intensify in the coming weeks. But there are already serious concerns that it may focus too much on infighting between those considered to have lingering links to the communist regime and those advocating a final break with the past. There are also fears that this type of campaign may merely exacerbate Poland's current social and economic problems by deepening, rather than narrowing, the long-existing cleavages.

Kwasniewski's reminder about the need to concentrate on political choices for Poland's future appears intended to put stress on other, more pertinent issues. But it is far from certain whether this advice will be heeded by the public, not to mention the politicians.