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Newsline - June 30, 1997


Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin concluded his visit to China on 28 June after signing several agreements, Russian media reported. Oil and gas fields in the Irkutsk and Far East areas will be opened up to China, while the two countries will standardize their railroad gauges in some border areas to allow for freer trade. Sales of military hardware were discussed, but the Russian side claims that China undervalues Russian products. "For destroyers of the Sovremenny class, the difference [between Russian and Chinese evaluations] amounts to nearly $100 million," Chernomyrdin said. The Russian Atomic Energy Ministry will help China convert its military nuclear technology to civilian use, and Russia has also offered to help destroy chemical weapons left over from the Japanese occupation of China during World War II. Chernomyrdin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Peng, also agreed that the two countries' prime ministers will meet at least once a year.


Following the restoration of the "Mir" space station's camera link on 29 June, the three astronauts aboard were able to show the damage caused when the station recently collided with a resupply ship. Equipment to repair that damage has already been assembled and is expected to arrive at the Baikonur launching site on 30 June. Another resupply ship is scheduled to lift off on 5 July to dock with "Mir" two days later. In the meantime, the two Russian cosmonauts will attempt to do temporary repairs on the battered Spektr module, which supplies a significant amount of the station's power. They will attempt to reconnect the module's solar panels in a hazardous operation that could vent the station's oxygen supply. The U.S. astronaut will be in the escape pod during the repair work. Full repairs cannot be carried out until a new crew arrives in August.


President Boris Yeltsin has appointed his younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, to be an official adviser working on the president's image, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 June, citing presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii. Dyachenko is considered to have played a major advisory role during Yeltsin's 1996 re-election campaign. Since last summer, the president's critics, including former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and former presidential bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, have accused Dyachenko of conspiring with First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais to keep some information from reaching Yeltsin.


After speaking to Yeltsin by telephone on 30 June, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin announced that the government will pay all its debts to the armed forces in July and August, ITAR-TASS reported. Persistent wage arrears have forced some officers to beg or to moonlight in order to feed and clothe their families. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters in Ryazan on 29 June that military reform plans to create a "smaller, combat-ready army" would be finalized by 25 July. Sergeev has argued in favor of trimming military personnel, improving training, and purchasing the most up-to-date technology.


Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin has said he stands by the appeal he recently sent Yeltsin about conditions in the armed forces, Interfax reported on 27 June. He also advocated creating a new Russian movement to support the army and defense industr. Speaking to Ekho Moskvy the next day, he accused Sergeev of backing down from plans to hold parliamentary hearings on the "alarming" situation in the strategic nuclear forces. (Sergeev responded on 29 June with more criticism of Rokhlin's appeal to Yeltsin, which he termed a "call for revolution.") Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed has praised Rokhlin's appeal, telling Interfax on 29 June that Rokhlin was "totally right" to describe Yeltsin as an "incompetent" commander-in-chief. However, Lebed did not agree with Rokhlin's criticism of Sergeev, whom Lebed called a "well-respected general" and "consummate professional."


At an annual shareholders meeting on 28 June, Rem Vyakhirev was re-elected as chief executive of the gas monopoly Gazprom and First Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Kazakov as chairman of the company's board of directors, Russian news agencies reported. Of the 11 board members, five represent the state, which owns a 40% stake in Gazprom: Vyakhirev, Kazakov, State Property Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Belousov, Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Anatolii Kozyrev, and First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin. Shareholders voted down two candidates for the board, including International Finance Corporation (MFK) President and former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov. MFK, which is affiliated with Oneksimbank, is said to be attempting to extend its pool of Gazprom shares from 3% to 10%. Under a new company charter approved at the meeting, a Russian investor will be allowed to own more than 3% of the company stock only with the written permission of the Gazprom board.


Addressing Gazprom shareholders on 28 June, Vyakhirev estimated that less than 2% of the company's stock is currently circulating in the world market, mostly in the form of American Depository Receipts (ADRs), Interfax reported. He said another 7% of shares in the company will be sold in the next few years. (No more than 9% of Gazprom stock can legally be sold to foreign investors.) Vyakhirev also said that 66% of the gas extracted by the company is currently consumed in Russia, while 14% is exported to the Baltic States and the CIS and 20% to other European countries. He added that Gazprom is developing a new strategy to increase gas exports in the future, especially to Asian countries. The plan will involve developing gas reserves in Irkutsk and Sakhalin Oblasts, as well as the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).


Yeltsin has ordered the presidential administration to establish a hot line from 1 to 15 July so that citizens can report problems with pension payments, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 June. Federal officials have said that the government paid all pension arrears and that regional leaders will be to blame if pensioners do not receive the money by 1 July. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais announced on 27 June that the government will not ask Yeltsin to reduce payments to some working pensioners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 9 June 1997). Chubais also said Yeltsin may remove leaders of regions where collection of Pension Fund payments is especially poor. He singled out Kemerovo Oblast as having severe problems in clearing pension arrears. Since Kemerovo has not yet held a gubernatorial election, Yeltsin has the authority to fire Governor Mikhail Kislyuk.


A statement released by the presidential press service blasted Yeltsin's former top bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov for violating "written and unwritten rules of state ethics" and lacking a sense of "manly honor," Russian news agencies reported on 27 June. Referring to an interview with Korzhakov published in the British newspaper "The Guardian" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 1997), the statement said "it is senseless to argue with a person blinded by resentment and motivated in his relationship to the president solely by the desire for revenge." In particular, the press service criticized Korzhakov for saying Yeltsin has trouble understanding foreign policy matters. The statement did not specifically refute other claims Korzhakov made in the interview, such as his assertion that Yeltsin attempted suicide several times before 1995.


Chechen militants opened fire on a group of Russian police officers near the border between Chechnya and Stavropol Krai on 28 June, wounding two of them, ITAR-TASS reported. Three others were abducted and their whereabouts remain unknown. Chechen security chief Lecha Khultygov identified the kidnappers as special police loyal to Doku Zavgaev, the former pro-Moscow Chechen president. Two days earlier, two people were killed and eight wounded in a clash in Gudermes between Chechen army and police units. On 27 June, Jordanian field commander Khottab escaped unhurt when his jeep hit a land mine south of Grozny, Interfax reported. Addressing a rally in the Chechen capital on 28 June, President Aslan Maskhadov rejected as "wishful thinking" rumors of a split among his supporters.


Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Ivan Sklyarov and Communist State Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev will face each other in a 13 July runoff gubernatorial election in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Preliminary returns show that in the first round of the election on 29 June, Sklyarov gained 41% of the vote and Khodyrev 38%, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 June. Sklyarov is supported by former governor and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and other federal officials. However, according to RFE/RL, Sklyarov has modeled his campaign image on Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov rather than on Nemtsov, who has recently been associated with controversial government proposals. Analysts say there are few differences between the campaign programs and rhetoric used by Sklyarov and Khodyrev.


A runoff election will also be held on 13 July in Samara to choose a successor to former mayor and current Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev. In the first round on 29 June, the city's deputy mayor Anatolii Afanasev gained 28.4%, while deputy head of the Samara Oblast legislature Georgii Limanskii finished second with 20.3%. Afanasev is backed by Sysuev and Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov. Limanskii is supported by former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, who visited Samara recently to campaign for Limanskii. Meanwhile, the 29 June by-elections for two State Duma seats in Chelyabinsk Oblast were declared invalid because turnout was below 25%. New elections will be held this fall to choose replacements for Petr Sumin, who was elected governor of Chelyabinsk last December, and Vladimir Utkin, who vacated his Duma seat to become one of Sumin's deputy governors.


Five people were killed and at least 11 injured in a 27 June explosion on an express train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russian news agencies reported. Law enforcement officials have not yet determined the cause of the explosion, but ITAR-TASS on 28 June quoted an official from the Interior Ministry's branch in northwestern Russia as saying the blast was unlikely to have been a terrorist attack.


The commission investigating the 17 June fatal accident at the Arzamas-16 nuclear research center has concluded that human error and poor research procedures caused the accident, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 June. Physicist Aleksandr Zakharov received a lethal dose of radiation while conducting an experiment. A source on the commission had previously told ITAR-TASS that Zakharov indicated "slippery gloves" were to blame for the accident. All research at the center, located in a closed city in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, has been halted pending safety improvements. Heads of the center's divisions have been ordered to submit new safety proposals by September. Officials say radiation levels at the bunker where the accident took place have been reduced to safe levels.


State Duma deputy and Democratic Russia co-leader Galina Starovoitova says the law on religious organizations recently passed by the Duma violates the Russian Constitution and international law, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 June. In particular, Starovoitova criticized a provision that would grant certain rights only to religious groups that can prove they have existed in Russia for at least 15 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1997). Vyacheslav Polosin, an Orthodox priest who advised the Duma committee that drafted the law, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 25 June that this provision would not punish all religious groups that were banned during the Soviet period. By way of example, he argued that Hare Krishnas could meet the 15-year test because official documents dating to 1980 show that some Soviet citizens were sentenced to prison for belonging to the sect.


The parliament on 27 June handed over evidence against Security Minister Shota Kviraya to the procurator-general, Russian and Western agencies reported. The evidence includes a video tape, made in November 1993 in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi, in which Kviraya is seen shooting six members of the paramilitary formation Mkhedrioni who had been accused of looting. Further evidence consists of a written statement by an Interior Ministry official that Kviraya ordered the tapping of opposition journalists' telephones. Opposition parliamentary deputy Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia has charged that Kviraya was recruited by Russian intelligence after killing a woman in Moscow several years ago in a traffic accident. She also claims that he controls the nationwide black-market trade in cigarettes. In a statement published recently in the Georgian press, Kviraya rejected the accusations against him as groundless.


A Georgian delegation headed by deputy parliamentary speaker Vakhtang Kolbaya held talks in Yerevan on 25-27 June with Armenian parliamentary chairman Babken Ararktsyan, Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan, Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, and President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, the news agencies Snark and Noyan Tapan reported. Topics discussed included economic cooperation, regional conflicts, and the Georgian proposal to create a Transcaucasian interparliamentary assembly. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 25 June attended the inauguration in an Armenian-populated village in southern Georgia of a new mains water supply. Shevardnadze's presidential fund will finance further reconstruction projects in the region, whose predominantly Armenian population is reportedly lobbying for autonomous status within Georgia.


Police on 29 June broke up a congress of Azerbaijan's banned Communist Party in Baku, Interfax reported. Party leader Ramiz Akhmedov and the director of the building in which the congress was taking place were detained. The party, which claims 100,000 members, was banned by the Ministry of Justice in September 1995.


More than 4,000 people celebrated in the streets of Dushanbe on 28 June, one day after the signing of the Tajik Peace and National Reconciliation Accord in Moscow. President Imomali Rakhmonov addressed one of the rallies saying "peace has come to Tajikistan and enmity has ended." Said Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the United Tajik Opposition, said in Moscow that both sides need to make more sacrifice and effort." He also warned that "no political or regional group should use arms to take power." Preparations are under way to allow more than 22,000 refugees to return from neighboring Afghanistan. UN refugee workers are currently helping with preparations at the two border check points where refugees will enter Tajikistan from Afghanistan. The UN workers will also help rebuild 4,000 homes.


Nursultan Nazarbayev has published an article in the 22-29 June issue of the Russian weekly "Moskovskie novosti" defending his country's reforms and criticizing nostalgia for the Soviet past. Nazarbayev write that the Soviet epoch was "a long and continuous line. A line to concentration camps, to emigrate, for food and housing." While conceding that education and health care were free and jobs and pensions guaranteed, he pointed out that in the Kazak capital in 1988, a supply of cooking salt intended for six months was bought up in three days by a public that was aware of and feared shortages. Nazarbayev added that reforms now need to be carried out quickly because "during the time that other countries used to find ways to [establish] a normal life, we missed out on everything owing to totalitarianism."


More than 1,000 people demonstrated outside the government building on 30 June to protest the housing situation in the Kyrgyz capital, according to RFE/RL correspondents there. Members of the Yntymak movement began to gather in the late morning, claiming city officials are not keeping promises made by Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov. In early June, Jumagulov had told the homeless demonstrators, all ethnic Kyrgyz, would receive plots of land on the outskirts of Bishkek. But the demonstrators say that of the 1,800 people who have filed for such plots, only 20 have received anything. Police are trying to break up the unsanctioned demonstration by asking people to return home. No violence has been reported.


At the end of talks with the leaders of the 12 countries seeking EU membership, the EU on 27 June promised those countries that the union's recent failure to agree on institutional reforms will not affect it eastward expansion. Ten of the countries are from CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, and the other two are Cyprus and Turkey. Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok told journalists in Amsterdam that the EU's enlargement to nearly twice its present size will not be slowed down by internal reform questions. RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent reported Central and East European participants as saying that the issue of internal EU reform was barely discussed during their meeting with top EU officials. Kok confirmed that all 12 participating nations gave a positive assessment of the EU treaty agreed upon at the union's recent Amsterdam summit.


The parliament on 28 June approved the much-delayed budget for 1997 by a vote of 229 to 71 with 11 abstentions. The budget deficit was set at 5.7 billion hryvnas ($3.1 billion) or 5.7% of gross domestic product. Total revenues were estimated at 22.4 billion hryvnas ($12.3 billion). The IMF representative in Kyiv welcomed the passage of the budget but noted that said the government must still cut income taxes and improve tax collection before the fund will release a $3 billion loan necessary for market reforms.


Leonid Kuchma on 28 June again proposed postponing parliamentary elections for one year. Speaking to reporters on the occasion of the first anniversary of the passage of the constitution, Kuchma said elections would be costly and might cause a "final split in society." Kuchma said he was considering extending the parliament's term by one year so that deputies can approve much-needed economic legislation. But he said he had no plans to postpone presidential elections due in October 1999. The parliamentary ballot is scheduled for March 1998.


Also on 28 June, some 5,000 people marched through the Ukrainian capital to protest worsening living standards. Many of the protesters were pensioners. Parliamentary Speaker Olexander Moroz, a Socialist, urged the crowd to vote for the Left at the next parliamentary elections.


Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 27 June accused the U.S. of failing to pay for dismantling nuclear weapons silos, Interfax reported. The U.S. had agreed to provide Belarus with $40 million at the beginning of 1997 in accordance with the Nunn-Lugar program, Lukashenka told journalists. He argued that Belarus has strictly abided by the agreements and that it moved all its nuclear weapons to Russia in 1996. The U.S has recently expressed its displeasure over infringements of human rights practiced in Belarus under Lukashenka. Meanwhile, Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich starts a three-day visit to Cuba on 30 June to discuss economic cooperation and the opening of Belarusian embassy in Havana.


The Chinese ambassador to Tallinn has warned Estonia against inviting the Dalai Lama to visit the country, ETA reported on 29 June, citing the daily "Postimees." Sun Dadong said that such an invitation would be an infringement of China's internal affairs. Estonia's Organization of Unrepresented Nations has invited the Tibetan spiritual leader to attend a conference in July. The Estonian Foreign Ministry noted that the Dalai Lama would need valid travel documents to enter Estonia. A Chechen delegation traveling on old Soviet passports, which are no longer recognized by Estonia, was recently refused entry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 1997).


Eight children were killed in an accident at a 28 June celebration in Talsi, 100 km northwest of Riga, marking Firefighters' Day in Latvia, BNS and RFE/RL's Latvian service reported. Some 30 children were allowed to climb into a basket attached to a lifting device operated by the firefighters. After the basket had been raised about 20 m, the hoist collapsed and the basket plunged to the ground. At least 21 other children were injured, three of them critically. An Interior Ministry spokesman said that criminal negligence was involved, since far too many people had been allowed into the basket. He said a criminal investigation would be launched. Meanwhile, 30 June has been declared an official day of mourning in Latvia.


At bilateral negotiations in Vilnius on 26 June, Latvia and Lithuania agreed to draft two separate treaties in a bid to resolve the ongoing dispute over their common sea border, BNS and dpa reported. One treaty is to deal with the maritime frontier, and the other with economic interests related to potential offshore oil deposits. An intergovernmental working group is to be formed to hammer out the details of the economic treaty. The sea border dispute intensified in fall 1996, when the Latvian parliament ratified agreements with the U.S. company AMOCO and Sweden's OPAB on oil exploration and exploitation in the Baltic Sea. Lithuania protested that move by delaying the negotiations. The agreements are not due to go into force until the Latvian-Lithuanian sea border dispute has been resolved.


The two main political alliances have launched their campaigns for the September parliamentary elections, PAP reported on 29 June. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz is heading the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance's (SLD) campaign. The opposition Solidarity Election Action began its campaign with a mass in the town of Radom. In recent opinion polls, the two alliances have each won about 25% of the vote. Both are promising measures to curb inflation, cut unemployment, speed up privatization, and continue efforts to gain admission into the EU and NATO. But while the SLD says it will advocate a secular state and the right of women to have abortions, Solidarity is stressing pro-family and traditionalist values.


Nova Hut, one of the Czech Republic's largest steel producers, is to undertake a $650 million renovation and modernization of its facilities, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported on 27 June. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank's affiliate for dealing with the private sector, says it has arranged a financing package worth $250 million to help finance the project: a $175 million syndicated loan from 17 major banks worldwide and a $75 million loan from the IFC. Nova Hut is currently undergoing privatization. According to the IFC, the 40-year-old facility must modernize, make major environmental upgrades, and increase its competitiveness on global markets.


Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told EU officials on 27 June that his government has withdrawn a widely criticized history textbook from the country's schools, Reuters reported. Two days earlier, the EU had demanded the withdrawal of Milan Durica's "The History of Slovakia and the Slovak," which critics say attempts to justify the deportation of almost 70,000 Slovak Jews to Nazi death camps by the nominally independent wartime Slovak government. The book was published by the Ministry of Education using EU funds. Meciar acknowledged that some parts of the text are "historically incorrect." But he added that now is "not the time for burning books."


Meciar on 27 June categorically denied having written to Romanian former President Ion Iliescu calling for Iliescu's return to power and for their close cooperation with Moscow on security issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 1997). Meciar told an RFE/RL corespondent at the EU meeting in Amsterdam that the letter is a "fake" and a "provocation" intended to embarrass him and Iliescu. The letter appeared in the Romanian newspaper "Romania Libera" and was written in English on stationery from Meciar's party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Also on 27 June, a spokesperson for Iliescu's party denied that the former president has received such a letter. But in an interview with RFE/RL's Slovak Service, Basil Stefan, the foreign-political editor of "Romania Libera," claimed the letter was "no forgery."


The Open Society Archives (OSA) have moved to the Central European University in Budapest. OSA's holdings include publications of RFE/RL's former Research Institute as well as its Russian, Polish, and Hungarian samizdat collections. The OSA Library, which is being integrated into the library of Central European University, includes RFE/RL's book and periodical collections. The library was established in 1995 by Hungarian-born U.S. philanthropist George Soros. The archives were opened to the general public in March 1996.


Election officials in Tirana say that the Socialists appear to have won the 29 June parliamentary vote. Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano told a press conference on election day that his party won 60 out of the 115 directly elected seats and 24 out of the 40 mandates chosen on the basis of proportional representation. Those results have not yet been officially confirmed. The Democratic Party did not offer its own estimate of the results, but a spokesman called the Socialists' claims "premature," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. The first tallies by the Organization for Security and Cooperation monitoring mission will be presented to the public on 30 June by European Parliament representative Catherine la Lumiere.


Spartak Ngjela said on 29 June that more than half of the Albanian electorate voted for the re-introduction of the monarchy. Ngjela, who is a member of the monarchist Legality Party, estimated that up to 60% of the population nationwide approved the referendum. In the northern town of Shkoder, 75% of the population reportedly voted for that option. Prime Minister Bashkim Fino confirmed that the election returns indicate that a majority of the voters were in favor of a monarchy, but he cited the figure of only 53%. The referendum is non-binding, and it remains unclear how the new legislature will address the issue, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana.


Voting day throughout the country was quiet with a few exceptions, the new local private Radio Koha Jone and state TV reported on 29 June. The most serious politically motivated incident took place in a polling station near Fier, where a Socialist Party supporter shot dead the head of the polling station commission, who was a Democrat. Also in Fier, armed gangs killed two other people and wounded four more. In Gjirokaster, one person died when shots were fired at the Greek consulate, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. In Lushnja, in central Albania, a locally known criminal interfered in the polling process by stuffing additional voting papers into the ballot box. In the Malesia e Madhe in the mountainous far north, a local election commission experienced difficulties distributing voting materials and have decided to repeat the ballot one week later.


In a carefully prepared, secret action, UN peacekeepers arrested indicted war criminal Slavko Dokmanovic on 27 June in eastern Slavonia and sent him to The Hague. Federal Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic blasted the peacekeepers' move, saying it is "serious [and could] endanger the whole peace process." The federal Yugoslav government issued a statement criticizing UN administrator Jacques Klein and saying that the arrest throws the peacekeepers' role into question. Belgrade also demanded Dokmanovic's release, "Nasa Borba" wrote on 30 June. The war crimes tribunal wants him in conjunction with the killing of 261 Croatian hospital patients in Vukovar in 1991. The arrest marks the first time that the court has directly intervened to arrest an indicted war criminal and the first time that peacekeepers have worked so closely with The Hague.


Serbian police interrogated Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic after she returned to Belgrade from a visit to Britain on 29 June. They then took her to the Bosnian Serb border, from where Bosnian Serb police picked her up for questioning in Bijeljina, BETA reported. On 28 June, Plavsic had suspended Republika Srpska Interior Minister Dragan Kijac. The next day, parliamentary speaker Dragan Kalinic criticized Plavsic and charged that the international community is using local politicians to destabilize the Bosnian Serbs. Plavsic, with her power base in Banja Luka, is seeking to consolidate her authority over Kijac and others based in Pale who, in effect, control the economic life of the Republika Srpska.


Three unidentified men attacked and robbed Mohamed Javad Asayesh Zarci, the Iranian ambassador to Bosnia, near Brcko on Bosnian Serb territory on 29 June. In Zagreb, presidential spokesmen said that the meeting between President Franjo Tudjman and his Bosnian counterpart, Alija Izetbegovic, slated for 30 June in Split has again been postponed, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Each side accused the other of not being serious about implementing the Dayton agreement. In Belgrade, representatives of the Kosovo Serbs from Istok told BETA they will continue their nearly month-old protest until the government delivers the housing and other benefits it promised.


Victor Ciorbea has demanded an explanation for criticism against him by the press officer of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, RFE/RL's correspondent in Bucharest reported on 30 June. The Romanian daily "Ziva" last week quoted ministry spokeswoman Gilda Lazar as suggesting that Ciorbea had been begging for NATO membership and financial assistance during his recent visit to Washington. Ciorbea has asked Foreign Affairs Minister Adrian Severin to clarify the circumstances surrounding Lazar's interview with "Ziva," which was conducted over the telephone by two Romanian journalists in Washington.


The parliament on 28 June approved the budget for 1997, which was proposed by Prime Minister Ivan Kostov after consultations with international financial experts. The budget calls for a deficit of some $550 million or 6.2% of GDP. Projected revenues are about $1.56 billion, and expenditures are expected to be about $2.11 billion. The budget's target for annual inflation is 556%. Between January and April, prices rose by some 450%.


Western financial experts say Bulgaria is on schedule to establish a currency board by 1 July, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 29 June. The parliament has provided the necessary groundwork recently by passing new laws on banking and privatization as well as the1997 budget. The 35-year-old economist Martin Zaimov has been named as head of the board. The 1 July deadline is seen as a key test of Prime Minister Kostov's ability to implement free market reforms. The IMF stipulated the establishment of the board as a condition for releasing further credits to Sofia. The board will limit the ability of the National Bank to manipulate foreign exchange rates by tying the value of the lev to its hard-currency reserves. The National Bank also will be barred from refinancing troubled commercial banks.


by Daniel Butora

The Slovak parliament on 26 June passed a law prohibiting the privatization of Slovak Television's (STV) second channel. The opposition parties, which voted for the law, were supported by deputies from the two junior coalition partners of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS)--the Slovak National Party and the Union of Workers.

While the opposition was not opposed in general to the privatization of STV's second channel, it rejected the project last week because the Slovak Board for Television and Radio Broadcasting had already granted a license for the channel to TV Dovina, which has links to the HZDS. Culture Minister Ivan Hudec had recently said that a television station close to the HZDS would soon appear. Meciar had also supported granting the license to TV Dovina.

Besides STV's two channels, there are two private television stations in Slovakia: Vasa Televizia (VTV), which has only a small audience and broadcasts to only one-third of Slovak territory; and TV Markiza, which started broadcasting in September and is partly U.S.-owned. Initially, TV Markiza took care to avoid sensitive political topics and dared only occasionally to criticize the ruling parties. It did broadcast footage of the police attack on striking actors in the Ministry of Culture building earlier this year. But when Meciar screamed at one of its reporters that he would "smash his face," TV Markiza did not report the story, saying it was "uninteresting."

More recently, TV Markiza has grown increasingly independent, particularly in its news coverage. By contrast, STV remains rigidly unprofessional, unbalanced, and partisan, clearly favoring the government. Significantly, TV Markiza's audience is three time larger than STV's, including for newscasts.

That was one reason for the HZDS's decision to establish its own mouthpiece by privatizing STV's second channel, which has the best network of transmitters in the country. Several groups close to the HZDS competed for the license, but the Slovak Board for Television and Radio Broadcasting chose TV Dovina--a project of the so-called PRO-TV group. Under Slovak law, the board's choice was subject to the parliament's approval.

The leadership of PRO-TV is very close to the HZDS. Partik Luther is head of the HZDS's youth organization, while Milos Mistrik, who until recently was an adviser to the director of STV, often writes pro-government articles for "Slovenska Republika," the HZDS's daily. Vladimir Ondrus is co-owner of Studio Koliba, which was privatized by people with links to the HZDS. And Rudolf Trella is a lawyer for the Second Trade Stock Company, which recently bought Nafta Gbely, a small Slovak oil producer, for less than $17 million. The market price of the oil company was estimated to exceed $106 million, and leading members of the HZDS are said to have been involved in that project.

With such people involved, there was little doubt about the political leanings of the new television station. Also, the privatization projects with which various PRO-TV officials are associated would have allowed TV Dovina to buy foreign programs. That, in itself, would have helped the new station lure viewers away from TV Markiza.

The opposition was quick to draw up a law prohibiting the privatization of the second channel. The HZDS coalition partners also had reasons to block the creation of a television station serving only the HZSD. When a government crisis erupted in June 1996, the HZSD-controlled "Slovenska Republika" did not hesitate to attack both of the junior parties. An HZDS-controlled TV station was thus seen by the two parties as a potential threat.

The opposition's arguments against the PRO-TV project were not always direct. For example, Milan Ftacnik of the postcommunist Party of the Democratic Left argued that there was not a big enough market for another private television station. The opposition also claimed that TV Markiza was already reaping in large advertisement revenues and that another nationwide private television station would further reduce STV's revenues from commercials.

Following its defeat in the parliament, the HZDS must come up with a new strategy if it is to have its own, private television station before the next elections, scheduled for October 1998. It may try to win more viewers for STV, or it may give its junior partners more of the "television privatization cake." But in the meantime, TV Markiza will be seeking to secure its position and to increase its independent news coverage ahead of next year's ballot. The author is an editor for RFE/RL's Slovak Service