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Newsline - June 25, 1997


During its last session before the two-month summer recess, the State Duma rejected all but one proposal of a government-backed package to reform Russia's social benefits system, Russian news agencies reported on 24 June. Deputies approved a bill to make child allowance payments means-tested rather than guaranteed to all families with children under age 16. However, the Duma rejected plans to cut benefits to veterans' families and law-enforcement officials, as well as to limit sick pay and maternity benefits. The Duma will consider the social reforms again in September. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev said the government may impose some of the benefits reductions without parliamentary approval. Also on 24 June, the Duma passed a law that would raise the minimum monthly pension by 20%, from 69,575 rubles ($12) to 83,490 rubles, beginning on 1 July.


The Duma on 24 June passed by 311 to nine a law on the privatization of state property, Russian news agencies reported. Under the law, the state would retain its veto power at shareholder meetings when "strategically important enterprises" are privatized. In addition, the law would allow the state to appropriate privatized property--without compensating new owners--if the new owners failed to meet either investment commitments they had made in order to acquire the state property, or obligations to employees. The law would also require the government to submit its privatization plans to the Duma annually for parliamentary approval. Duma deputies recently passed a non-binding resolution denouncing the government's privatization policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 12 June 1997).


First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais says the government is not satisfied with the Duma's failure to pass bills on budget cuts and social reforms, Interfax reported on 24 June. Asked whether the Duma might be dissolved, Chubais said such a decision was up to President Boris Yeltsin, adding that "extreme steps must be taken only in extreme cases." Meanwhile, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev criticized the government for trying to turn the Duma into a "scapegoat." Seleznev also said the Duma should not be addressed with "ultimatum-like rhetoric." Speaking to reporters in Strasbourg on 24 June, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said he has an official document outlining the Kremlin's plans to discredit and ultimately disband the Duma, AFP reported. Zyuganov was presumably referring to an alleged document published recently in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1997).


The Duma on 25 June adopted a statement calling for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Abkhazia in 1995, ITAR-TASS reported. The sanctions include restrictions on crossing the frontier between Abkhazia and Russia and mandatory customs and frontier inspections in the Georgian port of Poti for all vessels wishing to dock in the Abkhaz capital of Sukhumi. The Duma requested that speaker Gennadii Seleznev forward the statement to Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the heads of relevant government agencies.


The Duma on 24 June passed a law on protecting Siberia's Lake Baikal, ITAR-TASS reported. A spokesman for the environmental group Greenpeace called it an important step in the 40-year effort to safeguard the lake, which contains 20% of the fresh water on the earth's surface. The law would create ecological zones on and around the lake in which it would be prohibited to expand existing industry, construct new rail lines, store nuclear waste, and prospect for oil or minerals.


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov attended a meeting of the Russian-Chinese Intergovernmental Commission in Beijing on 24 June, Russian media reported. The two sides reached an agreement on gas exploration in Russia's Irkutsk Oblast and on construction of a gas pipeline to South Korea via Mongolia and China. On 25 June, Nemtsov met with the president of China's National Oil Company to continue cooperation discussions. He also met with Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng. Nemtsov noted that cooperation in energy related projects is a key component of Russian-Chinese relations. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin arrives in China on 26 June to discuss, among other things, boosting bilateral trade and the demarcation of the Russian-Chinese border. Viktor Ishaev, the governor of Khabarovsk Krai, has already said he is opposed to the proposed demarcation and will send the head of the Amur regional administration to represent the Far East's interests during Chernomyrdin's visit.


Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, a member of the pro-government faction Our Home Is Russia (NDR), has sent an appeal to Yeltsin calling for "extreme measures to improve the situation in the armed forces," Russian news agencies reported on 24 June. In his appeal, Rokhlin said Yeltsin has "not done anything for six years for the country's military security" and bears "personal responsibility" for starting the war in Chechnya, according to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 25 June. Rokhlin also charged that the IMF is controlling military reform by demanding that defense spending not exceed 3.5% of Russia's GDP. He called on soldiers to unite and demand their legal rights. Duma First Deputy Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin of NDR criticized Rokhlin's appeal as a "call for disobedience." Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov said the Defense Committee had neither discussed nor approved the appeal.


By 137 to 119 votes with four abstentions, the Duma rejected a resolution to remove Yabloko member Vladimir Lukin as head of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Russian news agencies reported on 24 June. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky had proposed the resolution, saying Lukin has "betrayed Russia's national interests." The attempt to remove Lukin was sparked by his recent suggestion that Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev, an outspoken human rights activist, be nominated for deputy chairman of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.


Prime Minister Chernomyrdin ended a trip to the U.S. on 24 June with an appeal to Washington to change what he called discriminatory trade policies. In a speech to business executives in San Francisco, Chernomyrdin criticized the U.S. for imposing anti-dumping tariffs against some Russian goods and for restricting the sale of supercomputers to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin called on U.S. investors to set up regional mutual funds focusing on the Russian Far East and some sectors of the Russian economy. He noted that the U.S. accounts for more than one-third of direct foreign investment in Russia, but that the overall amount of money invested remains "very low." On 23 June, Chernomyrdin represented Russia at the UN Earth Summit in New York and met with U.S. Vice President Al Gore.


The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a message to its Ukrainian counterpart, saying that Kyiv violated the spirit of the recently-signed Russian-Ukrainian treaty by not allowing politician Konstantin Zatulin to enter Crimea, ITAR-TASS reported in 24 June. Black Sea Fleet Commander Viktor Kravchenko invited Zatulin to a 12 June flag-hoisting ceremony in Sevastopol, but Kyiv had barred Zatulin from entering Crimea two days earlier. As State Duma CIS Affairs Committee chairman in 1994 and 1995, Zatulin repeatedly criticized Ukrainian policy on Crimea. More recently, he co-authored an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 March, which urged Russia to sabotage alliances within the CIS--such that between Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Georgia--and to refuse to recognize its current borders with Ukraine unless Kyiv agrees to sign a federal treaty with Crimea.


The Constitutional Court ruled on 24 June that a residency requirement for office-seekers in the Republic of Khakassia violates the Russian Constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the Khakassian Constitution, candidates for the Supreme Soviet must have lived in the republic for at least five years, and candidates for head of the republic's government must have been resident there for at least seven years. Yeltsin filed the court appeal, saying such restrictions violate constitutional guarantees of equal rights for all Russian citizens. Last October, the Supreme Court ordered the Khakassian Electoral Commission to allow then-State Duma deputy Aleksei Lebed to run for Khakassia's top executive post, even though he did not meet the residency requirement. Lebed was easily elected in December. The constitutions of most of Russia's 21 republics contain residency or language requirements for office-seekers, although federal authorities say those restrictions are illegal.


Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Kovalev says the FSB's drive to recruit double-agents has been more successful than planned, Russian agencies reported on 24 June. On 3 June, Kovalev invited Russian citizens already collaborating with foreign intelligence services to call a special hotline and register as double agents. On 24 June, he told reporters in Moscow that the hotline had yielded several interesting calls, and he pledged to make more information public at an unspecified date. "You will be amazed by the results," Kovalev promised journalists.


Scientists at the nuclear research center in Sarov (formerly Arzamas-16), Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, have decontaminated the bunker where a nuclear experiment went awry last week, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 June, citing the center's director. Radiation levels at the center are reported to be back to acceptable levels. Meanwhile, an unidentified member of the government commission investigating the accident quoted Aleksandr Zakharov, the senior researcher killed in the mishap, as telling colleagues before his death that "slippery gloves" may have been to blame. Zakharov was buried on 24 June.


The recent fighting between Taliban forces and their opponents in Afghanistan caused some 3,000-4,000 refugees to flee to southern Turkmenistan, Interfax and AFP reported on 24 June. A worker from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said most of the refugees were women, children, and elderly people. Turkmen security and law-enforcement agencies "are currently taking measures to send the refugees back," according to Interfax.


Interfax reported on 24 June, that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed an order on 19 June suspending the activities of the Turkmen-Russian company Turkmenrosgaz. The company delivered gas to Ukraine after purchasing it through the ITERA International Energy firm. Turkmenistan, however, canceled the deal with ITERA in April and agreed to provide direct gas supplies to Ukraine.


The People's Assembly (lower house) of the Kyrgyz parliament on 24 June, failed to pass a resolution on granting Russian "official" language status in the country, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. President Askar Akayev spoke in favor of amending the constitution to include Russian as an official, rather than state, language. However, only 40 of the 58 deputies present voted in favor of the resolution. A vote of two-thirds (47) of the total 70 deputies would have been needed for it to pass. Several deputies have called for a second reading. The resolution would also require the approval of the parliament's Legislative Assembly (upper house). The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS had reported the same day that the amendment was passed "unanimously" and was likely to be approved by the Legislative Assembly soon.


Two Georgian Interior Ministry troops on 24 June shot dead seven people, including fellow servicemen, in a village close to the Georgian-Azerbaijani frontier, Western agencies reported. The two men fled in a hijacked car but were later apprehended by police. The motive for the killings is unclear.


The Belarusian parliament on 24 June confirmed the sweeping powers won by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a controversial referendum in November 1996. Vladimir Karavai, the head of the parliamentary legislation and state-building committee, told journalists that lawmakers had "consolidated the decisions taken by a majority of Belarusian citizens last fall." Critics said the referendum was illegitimate and ignored the old constitution. The constitutional changes approved by the referendum extended Lukashenka's term by more than two years to 2002 and tightened his grip on state institutions, including parliament. Following the referendum, Lukashenka re-formed both houses of the parliament, which now give him overwhelming support.


Christopher Willoughby, the World Bank's representative in Minsk, told journalists on 24 June that Belarus continues to back away from reforms and is increasing state interference in the economy. The bank's Minsk office opened three years ago but is now moving to Kyiv, Ukraine, as part of a bank reorganization. Willoughby said the main obstacle to reform is at the political level. He said economic restructuring has been "in reverse" since late 1995 and that, since then, the bank and the IMF have suspended their lending activities in Belarus. Willoughby is preparing a new memorandum of understanding between Belarus and the bank, which spells out the reforms the bank would require the country to undertake to resume lending. He told reporters, however, that the situation in Belarus is worse than it was two years ago. RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reports that officials in the U.S. capital say no new loans are being considered.


A storm with high winds that struck western Ukraine and parts of Belarus on 24 June killed 12 people and injured scores of others. A spokeswoman for Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry told journalists in Kyiv that eight people died and some 30 others were injured in Ukraine's Volyn region. Most were killed by falling trees or were electrocuted by downed powerlines. Winds reportedly reaching 115 km an hour left three people dead and more than 40 injured in neighboring Belarus. The Minsk and Brest regions were hardest hit by the storm. Authorities say 620 homes were destroyed in Belarus and 140 farming installations were damaged.


Leonid Kuchma told the UN General Assembly on 24 June that Ukraine will honor its commitment to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant by the year 2000, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Addressing a special General Assembly session on world environmental issues, the so-called Earth Summit, Kuchma said "it is not economically profitable to pollute the environment." Later in the day, Kuchma met Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin and Argentine President Carlos Menem.


Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko, speaking at a press conference in Kyiv on 24 June, suggested that Ukraine will eventually consider applying for membership in NATO. "We have already integrated into one trans-Atlantic structure, the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. Another target is NATO." He added that the charter on special cooperation between NATO and Ukraine, which is scheduled to be signed in Madrid on 9 July, will create a legislative base for the practical integration of Ukraine into NATO."


The Baltic States again made their case for admission into NATO at the alliance's security forum in Prague, CTK reported on 24 June. Estonian Defense Minister Andrus Oovel said the Baltic States' admission into the alliance would enhance security on the continent and also compensate for past injustices toward the Balts. In an interview with RFE/RL's Estonian service, Oovel did not mention any possible date for Estonia's entry into NATO, saying a lot still needed to be done in the country to achieve that goal. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said NATO should express "clear political will" toward countries that are not invited to join the alliance in the first wave of enlargement. Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs hailed the expected admission of some former communist-bloc countries into NATO and said he expected those new members to be the Baltic States "natural allies."


Gennady Konoplyov, the former manager of the Tauras bank who was found dead with a gunshot wound in the head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1997), committed suicide, Interfax reported, citing the Lithuanian Prosecutor's Office. The 52-year-old banker left behind a letter explaining he had taken his life because of the "artificially caused collapse" of the bank. He also claimed that he and his family had been "terrorized by the KGB [and] various rogues wanting to become 'politicians,' recently the ruling majority." Tauras ran into financial difficulties in March, and the Central Bank recently stripped the bank's board of decision-making powers and barred the bank from all banking operations.


The lower chamber of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, approved a resolution on 24 June demanding compensation from Moscow for Poles who were deported to Siberia by the Soviet Union during World War II, dpa reported. The resolution calls on the Polish government to open talks with Russia on the issue. After the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in September 1939, as many as 1.5 million Poles were deported to work in forced labor camps in Siberia. Hundreds of thousands are believed to have died in the camps. An association representing camp survivors says it now has more than 100,000 members.


Polish government members are divided over whether the death penalty in Poland should be restored. Calls among the public to reintroduce the death penalty have intensified in the wake of a series of recent murders. Interior Minister Leszek Miller told a news conference in Warsaw on 24 June that potential murderers could be deterred by the death penalty. However, Justice Minister Leszek Kubicki argued against restoring capital punishment, telling the same conference that the best deterrent is to ensure criminals were caught and the law enforced. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told Polish Radio that he is opposed to restoring the death sentence, which was suspended shortly before the 1989 fall of communism and abolished in a new criminal code recently approved by the parliament. On 23 June, thousands had marched through Warsaw to protest the recent killing of a 19-year-old student by a gang whose members were angry he had attended a picnic in woods they regarded as their turf.


Vaclav Havel on 24 June decorated U.S. Gen. George Joulwan, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, with the Order of the White Lion. Joulwan received the honor, the country's highest, in acknowledgment of his "considerable services" to the Czech Republic, Czech TV reported. The general praised the Czech Republic and its soldiers for the role they played in the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. Joulwan, who is retiring next month, is in Prague as the chief organizer of a security forum on NATO.


The European Commission admitted on 25 June that EU aid to Slovakia was used to fund a children's history book that seeks to justify the mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps during World War II. A commission spokeswoman told journalists in Brussels that the book, intended for use in every primary school in Slovakia, was published using funds intended to help the country prepare for admission to the EU. The commission has written to the Slovak authorities demanding they withdraw the book and ensure there is no repeat of the incident. The book, written by Milan Durica, a Roman Catholic priest, has been severely criticized by leaders of Slovakia's Jewish and Protestant communities. A nominally independent Slovak state was established under the control of Nazi Germany during the war.


A government spokesman told journalists on 25 June that Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar will invite opposition party representatives to talks in early July. Following their 23 June talks with President Michal Kovac, leaders of two government parties and eight opposition parties said they are ready to attend round-table talks between the opposition and the coalition parties chaired by the premier. Meanwhile, on 24 June, the coalition deputies rejected most proposals made by the opposition. But the parliament did approve the opposition bill on direct presidential elections in its first reading. Two more readings are required for the bill to pass.


A delegation of the State Duma's Defense Committee has renewed the drive to convince Budapest to purchase Russian-made aircraft, Hungarian media reported. Committee chairman Lev Rohlin argued at a meeting with members of the Hungarian parliamentary Defense Committee in Budapest on 24 June that the overhaul of 30 MiG-21 aircraft would cost some $150-180 million, while the price of the same number of Western-made planes would be at least $2 billion. He added that Russia is ready to sell Hungary MiG-29 jets as well as SZ-300 missiles and noted that the deal could help clear Russia's state debt to Hungary. A similar offer was made in late May by Russian Deputy Premier Vladimir Bulgak during a visit to Budapest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1997).


Sali Berisha has signed a decree providing for strict controls on investment companies and aimed ultimately shutting them down, ATA reported on 24 June. The IMF and the World Bank demanded the appointment of independent administrators to control and then close the pyramid firms. Both institutions sent a joint letter to Berisha on 22 June warning him that future international financial help will depend on complying with their demands as soon as possible. Some of the schemes still continue to operate, such as VEFA, which also runs passenger ferries and its own TV station. VEFA is repaying investors' original deposits in increments but will no longer pay interest, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana.


President Berisha said on 24 June that he cannot legally change the closing times of the polling stations from 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., as the Central Election Commission had requested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1997). The commission responded by asking the Constitutional Court to decide, "Indipendent" reported. The majority of the commission, including its secretary from Berisha's own Democratic Party, supported the earlier closing time, but two other Democrats were strongly opposed. The OSCE has asked for the polling stations to close at 6:00 p.m. The parliament has been dissolved, and Berisha is currently the only person who can deal with such matters. He changed the opening hours of the polling stations for the May 1996 parliamentary elections on voting day itself.


Four unidentified persons injured three policemen in a shoot-out outside the Tirana home of police chief and Deputy Interior Minister Agim Shehu, "Indipendent" reported on 25 June. It remains unclear whether the incident was politically motivated. Meanwhile, four smugglers were shot and injured in two separate incidents on the northern border with Kosovo in the region of Tropoja and Kukes, "Gazeta Shqiptare" wrote. In the mountainous region between Shkoder and the Montenegrin border, Red Cross officials have begun investigating reports of famine. And in Tirana, additional election monitors are arriving, bringing the total number of OSCE observers to 450, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Albanian capital.


Zoran Lilic, who is barred by the constitution from seeking reelection, completed his four-year mandate on 25 June. Upper house speaker Srdja Bozovic is interim president until the parliament elects a new chief executive, which it must do by 25 July. The only declared candidate is Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who has the endorsement of his own Socialist Party of Serbia and its Montenegrin allies. His election is a foregone conclusion, since he has a comfortable majority in the legislature. The Belgrade press has centered its attention on who will succeed Milosevic in the Serbian presidency. Also in Belgrade, Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party said on 24 June that the Zajedno coalition has ceased to exist. He added that the most serious opposition to Milosevic now comes from Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and his allies.


All opposition parties have criticized the governing Democratic Socialist Party's (DPS) decision to endorse Milosevic for the federal presidency, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Podgorica on 24 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1997). An opposition spokesman accused the government of postponing a session of the parliament in order to avoid criticism of the DPS's endorsement of the Serbian leader. Meanwhile in Pristina, Milosevic arrived on 25 June for his first visit to Kosovo in two years. And in Belgrade the previous day, Refugee Minister Bratislava Morina received representatives of Kosovo Serbs who have been staging a hunger strike to force the government to deliver on its promises of housing and other assistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 1997).


Croatian Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa said in Dubrovnik on 25 June that the U.S. decision to veto a $30 million loan to his country from the World Bank is "wrong." A State Department spokesman commented in Washington the previous day that the U.S. is disappointed with Zagreb's failure to implement key provisions of the Dayton agreement, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the U.S. capital. The spokesman singled out Croatia's poor record on the return of Serbian refugees and on cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Meanwhile at that court, Croatian Gen. Tihomir Blaskic has denied the charges against him, which are related to atrocities against Muslims in the Lasva valley in 1993 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1997). He said he had been under fire in his bunker at the time of the alleged incidents and did not know what his ill-disciplined peasant recruits were doing in the field.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in New York on 24 June that some peacekeepers should remain in eastern Slavonia in mid-July, when that Serb-held region is slated to return to Croatian control. Annan suggested that some troops stay at least until mid-October and then leave only if Croatia has kept its promises regarding treatment of the Serbs. Ivan Simonovic, Croatia's ambassador to the UN, criticized Annan's call for UN peacekeepers to supervise the Croatian police and for the UN's Jacques Klein to have a veto over the work of the local Croatian civilian authorities, BETA reported.


In an interview with RFE/RL on 24 June, President Emil Constantinescu said that "in a paradoxical way," the failure of Romania to be nominated for membership in NATO in the first wave has worked to the country's advantage. Constantinescu said Romania is now the focus of attention of international diplomacy and the international media. He added that nobody doubted that Romania will eventually be admitted into the organization. The question, he said, is only "when and how." In a separate interview with RFE/RL, Defense Minister Victor Babiuc said it will be "illogical" to extend NATO without Romania, which is "the missing link" in NATO's southern flank. Foreign Minister Adrian Severin, on a two-day visit to Belgium to promote NATO membership, met with Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, Foreign Minister Derycke Erik, and other officials on 24 June.


An eight-day visit to the US by Victor Ciorbea ended on 24 June with his "unexpected return" to Washington from New York for talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, an RFE/RL Washington correspondent reported. A State Department official who did not want to be identified said the meeting did not mean the U.S. has changed its mind about which countries should be invited to join NATO in the first wave. After the meeting, Ciorbea declined to comment on speculations in the Romanian and international media that President Bill Clinton is planning a visit to Romania in the near future. However, Ciorbea noted that a "surprising move" confirming the "strategic alliance" between Bucharest and Washington can be expected. The premier had made a similar comment to the RFE/RL Romanian service after his meeting with Vice President Al Gore on 18 June.


Veterans of the Fascist League of the Archangel Michael (also known as the Iron Guard) gathered in Iasi, in northeast Romania, on 24 June to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the movement. The Private television channel "Antena 1" reported that the ceremony was attended by participants from Bucharest, Cluj, Timisoara, Ploiesti, and Sibiu. Representatives of organizations of young people supporting the revival of Iron Guard ideology were also present.


Hailstorms on 24 June hit several counties in Romania, causing extensive damage. Two persons were hospitalized "in serious condition" in the southern Olt County. The hailstorms also affected the northwestern Maramures region , severely damaging houses in several villages. On 21-22 June, seven people were killed and more than 80 had to be hospitalized following hailstorms in the southern counties.


Ivan Tatarchev on 24 June told an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent that former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov's family should not have been paid $7,000 in compensation for his arrest and detention before it returned to the state "a significant amount of money" the assassinated politician spent on travel and medical bills in Austria before 1989. The compensation was paid in line with the ruling of a Council of Europe Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. Lukanov was killed in front of his Sofia home in October 1996. In 1992, he was stripped of parliamentary immunity and jailed for six months on charges of misappropriating funds in the 1980s. The court ruled that the detention had violated the European Human Rights Convention.


An Interior Ministry official announced on 24 June that Bulgaria plans to establish a national gendarmerie to guard strategic sites and help fight crime, Reuters reported. The official said troops currently used to guard embassies and consulates will be transformed into a force modeled on the French gendarmerie. The units will also guard industrial sites and oil pipelines--among them the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, the Maritsa East coal mining and thermal power complex, and the Neftochim oil refinery. In other news, the government on 24 June dismissed the manager of the Bobovdol mine, where a tragic accident occurred the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1997). BTA cited Deputy Prime Minister Evgeni Bakardizhev as saying that more than 20 miners have been killed at the Bobovdol mine in the past eight years, noting this was an "unacceptable" safety record.


by Michael Shafir

The split that marked the end of the 20-21 June National Conference of Romania's main opposition party, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), came as no surprise. Tensions within the party had surfaced well ahead of the conference, the first major PDSR gathering since the party was roundly defeated in the November 1996 elections. In most democracies, such debacles call for those responsible to be replaced--witness the recent resignations of John Major as leader of Britain's Conservative Party and of Alain Juppe as leader of the French central-right alliance.

But such democratic practice is rare in formations that remain prisoners of their communist legacy. Ion Iliescu, the former president of Romania and the current PDSR chairman, became party leader only after losing the presidential contest to Emil Constantinescu. But it was generally acknowledged that before November 1996, the party was headed in all but name by Iliescu, who, as president, was constitutionally barred from belonging to a party. Rather than assuming responsibility for the PDSR's loss of its parliamentary majority, Iliescu assumed the formal leadership of the PDSR.

At the same time, other PDSR leaders could still have been called to account for the party's failure in the 1996 elections. Of these, Adrian Nastase, executive chairman of the PDSR from 1992 to 1996 and first deputy chairman after Iliescu assumed the party leadership, was by far the most prominent. Perhaps nothing contributed more to the PDSR's poor performance in 1996 than Nastase's image--whether justified or unjustified--of a politician embodying corruption.

On the eve of the PDSR National Conference, a manifesto was published by a reformist group within the party, which called itself the Opinion Group for the Transformation of the PDSR. The group includes several "newcomers," whom, ironically, Iliescu had promoted to leading positions shortly before the last elections in a bid to improve the party's image: former Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, the head of the group; former Deputy Prime Minister Mircea Cosea; Iosif Boda, a former ambassador to Switzerland; Marian Enache, a former ambassador to Moldova; and the economist Viorel Salagean. The group demanded that the PDSR rid itself of corrupt members and force those responsible for the party's electoral defeat to assume responsibility. It also urged the party to move ideologically from the Left to the Center-Left.

But precisely the opposite happened at the National Conference. Colored by his lengthy experience of communist infighting, Iliescu was able to consider the demands of the reformists from only one perspective: namely, that his own position as PDSR leader might ultimately be affected. This explains his unrestrained attack on Boda in early June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 1997), which even Iliescu himself described as "Bolshevik-like" a few days later. It also explains his statement that newcomers to the PDSR would be better advised to "work at the grass-root level" than criticize the leadership that co-opted them (conveniently forgetting that he, too, was a "newcomer" to the party). His "democratic centralist" attack on "party factionalism" and his declaration that the party should move to the Left may also be traced back to this single, communist-influenced perspective.

In the event, the pro-reform group was not allowed even to present its platform at the National Conference. Iliescu rejected Melescanu's last-minute "compromise proposal" that neither the pro-reform group nor Nastase and his cronies run for leadership positions.

Melescanu was thus left with no choice than to announce he was leaving the PDSR, which both he and Cosea proceeded to do on 21 June. Two other members of the group, Boda and Salagean, had been expelled from the party the previous day, while Enache had submitted his resignation on 19 June. Mugurel Vintila, an advocate of radical reform, also quit the party, even though he is not a member of Melescanu's group. Several days later, on 24 June, Ioan Pintea followed suit.

Those resignations leave the PDSR faction in the legislature weakened, since all but Salagean are parliamentary deputies. The group is unlikely to heed the call by Iliescu, who was re-elected PDSR chairman by an overwhelming majority, that its members resign from the parliament. In fact, Melescanu has already rejected that option, saying he will not join other formations but hopes to set up a new political entity.

What happened at the PDSR National Conference is almost a carbon-copy of the developments that led to the "divorce" of Iliescu's conservative group from the reformist group headed by Petre Roman in 1992. An alliance between Melescanu and Roman's Democratic Party cannot be ruled out.

As for Iliescu, he still has Nastase as first deputy chairman and also Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, as his new-old political ally following a period in which the two were avowed enemies. Attending the PDSR gathering, Tudor expressed regret for having earlier attacked Iliescu. The delegate applauded enthusiastically. But it is debatable whether the "born-again, red-brown alliance" will find the same approval among voters in election-year 2000.