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Newsline - July 15, 1997


Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov says NATO's arrests of accused war criminals in Bosnia are "counterproductive" and will complicate the situation in Bosnia, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 14 July. Speaking to journalists after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Primakov said, "I wouldn't want operations of this kind to be repeated." But Cook refused to rule out further arrests. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on 11 July condemned as a "cowboy raid" the recent operation in which one Bosnian Serb was arrested and another killed. Meanwhile, Primakov said he and Cook did not discuss the illegal export of British beef to Russia because the beef was shipped by a Belgian company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 1997). Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has vowed to raise the issue of the illegal exports in upcoming talks in Brussels.


Former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov on 15 July said he approved transfers of federal funds to commercial banks in full compliance with Russian law, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin recently charged that fraudulent deals approved by Vavilov had cost the federal budget $275 million and $237 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997). Vavilov left the Finance Ministry in April to head the International Financial Corporation (MFK), which was involved in one of the deals criticized by Dubinin. MFK was to purchase internal hard-currency Finance Ministry bonds with state funds and remit the bonds to a Unikombank account owned by MAPO, the company that manufacturers MiG fighter jets. Vavilov said high government officials knew about that arrangement and understood that the funds were being used to finance purchases of MiGs by India.


Unikombank, which is implicated in both alleged fraudulent deals cited by Dubinin, has released a statement denying all wrongdoing, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 July. Dubinin accused Unikombank of misusing $275 million worth of internal hard-currency bonds purchased with federal funds, which was intended to pay wages of state workers in Moscow Oblast. Dubinin also said Unikombank had not transferred funds intended to finance the purchase of MiGs to the MAPO company. But Unikombank says it can document that money was transferred to accounts belonging to the Moscow Oblast administration and MAPO under arrangements cleared by the Finance Ministry. The bank's statement also claims that the Central Bank has conducted six audits of Unikombank without finding any legal violations. At his 15 July press conference, Vavilov said that the Central Bank found no violations during a recent audit of MFK.


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 14 July hailed the election of Ivan Sklyarov as governor of Nizhnii Novgorod as a "victory for common sense," Russian news agencies reported. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said voters had chosen "real deeds" over "loud political slogans." Duma deputy Valentin Kuptsov, a leading member of the Communist Party, said the result was not a "great tragedy," since the new governor would be forced to take into account the opposition of nearly half of the oblast's voters, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 July. But the opposition paper "Sovetskaya Rossiya" charged the same day that the authorities "bought votes" and violated numerous laws to ensure Sklyarov's victory. RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported on 14 July that several concerts were held in Nizhnii on election day to deter locals from spending the weekend at their dachas instead of voting.


Appointed presidential representatives in Russian regions have been given substantially broader powers under a long-anticipated presidential decree issued on 9 July, the official newspaper "Rossiiskie vesti" reported on 15 July. The appointees will be responsible for supervising the personnel of regional branches of federal agencies so that officials in those branches will be less dependent on local politicians. Presidential representatives will also coordinate the activities of regional branches of all federal agencies and will monitor the use of federal funds in the regions. Previously Yeltsin had granted broad powers only to his representative in Primorskii Krai, Viktor Kondratov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1997). Kondratov told journalists on 14 July that the new decree expands his already considerable authority, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported.


Anton Fedorov, the head of the department on coordinating the activities of presidential representatives in the regions, argued in the 15 July "Rossiiskie vesti" that Yeltsin's 9 July decree would not put the president into conflict with elected governors. Rather, Fedorov said, the decree will "relieve part of the burden" on governors, "giving them the opportunity to focus on solving local problems." However, regional officials are sure to object to the decree. By taking powers away from elected governors, who cannot be fired by Yeltsin, and handing them to presidential appointees, Yeltsin's new decree represents an attempt by Moscow to reassert control over the regions. The Federation Council, which is made up of regional leaders, recently asked Yeltsin to revise his May decrees granting extensive powers to his representative in Primorskii Krai, saying those decrees were unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1997).


About 2000 unpaid medical workers picketed the Vladivostok city administration on 15 July and vowed to stage protests across Primorskii Krai, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported. Wage arrears to Primore's doctors alone total 160 billion rubles ($28 million), and hospitals lack the funds to buy medicine or pay salaries. Viktor Kondratov, presidential representative in Primore, has promised that a presidential decree will soon authorize special financial aid for Primore's health sector. Meanwhile, Kondratov announced on 14 July that the federal government has transferred 20 billion rubles to Primore to pay some back wages to workers at the Zvezda submarine repair plant, as well as 56 billion rubles to pay wage arrears to teachers, RFE/RL's correspondent reported. But the Zvezda workers, who only recently received their wages from November 1996, have not called off their strike, according to ITAR-TASS on 15 July.


Cholera bacteria have been detected in the Moskva and Medvedka rivers in several areas of Moscow Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 July. Swimming has been prohibited downstream from the contaminated areas. Olga Gavrilenko of the Moscow Oblast State Sanitary and Epidemiological Center told Interfax on 14 July that the contamination was caused by recent sewage leaks into the river. Gavrilenko added that the leaks occurred downstream from the city of Moscow and that the enterprise that runs the sewage facility has been fined. The last death from cholera registered in Moscow was in the summer of 1995, when a man was infected after drinking from the Moskva river.


Oleg Rudnov, the chairman of St. Petersburg's Channel 5 television, has resigned in protest at plans to move the network's broadcasting center to Moscow, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 July. During a recent visit to St. Petersburg, Yeltsin suggested turning Channel 5, which now broadcasts mainly to European Russia, into a nationwide cultural and educational network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 1997). Rudnov's resignation letter alleged that under a presidential decree to be issued soon, the new cultural network will broadcast out of Moscow. In exchange, St. Petersburg will be given a channel with a broadcasting radius of just 70 kilometers, which is insufficient to reach all of surrounding Leningrad Oblast, according to Rudnov. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev announced on 12 July that he, too, opposes transferring Channel 5 to Moscow and will appeal to Yeltsin to prevent such a move.


Ruslan Aushev sent a telegram to Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 14 July warning of "unpredictable consequences" if measures are not taken immediately to defuse growing tensions between Ingush and North Ossetians, Russian media reported. The previous day, Ingush refugees who fled North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi Raion during the fighting in November 1992, in which 500-600 people died, staged a demonstration in the Ingush capital, Nazran, to demand the more systematic implementation of Yeltsin's program of measures intended to stabilize the situation and enable the refugees to return to their homes. Those measures include imposing direct federal rule in the disputed Prigorodnyi Raion. Russian media reports suggest Aushev, a former Russian army general, intends to resign as president and may be offered a military post in Moscow.


Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin flew to Nazran on 14 July for talks with Aslan Maskhadov and Aushev at the latter's residence, ITAR-TASS reported. Rybkin and Maskhadov discussed restoration of Chechnya's oil industry, the funding of economic and social programs, and measures to implement the 11 July trilateral agreement on exporting Caspian oil via Chechnya. It is unclear whether Aushev held separate talks with Rybkin.


Akhsarbek Galazov has issued a special decree on the repatriation to Georgia of ethnic Ossetians who fled during the fighting in South Ossetia in 1991-1992, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 July. Galazov considers that the present situation in South Ossetia is conducive to the refugees' return and that the Georgian government should assume responsibility for its own citizens. South Ossetia's autonomous status within Georgia was abolished by President Zviad Gamsakhurdia in late 1990. Several rounds of talks between Georgian and South Ossetian representatives have failed to yield an agreement on the region's future status.


Oneksimbank president Vladimir Potanin met in Kazan on 11 July with Tatar President Minimer Shaimiev and Prime Minister Farid Mukhametshin to discuss proposed investment opportunities, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Kazan. Potanin told Tatarstan television that he is interested in the KamAZ truck-producing plant, the oil company Tatneft, and participating in the planned issue of Tatarstan's eurobonds. The government of Tatarstan recently acquired a 43 percent stake in KamAZ (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 1997). The opening of a branch or affiliate of Oneksimbank in Tatarstan was also discussed.


Imomali Rakhmonov on 14 July signed the Mutual Forgiveness Act drawn up by the National Reconciliation Commission at their recent meeting in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 1997), according to RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe. The act calls for "all those who during the civil war and political confrontation took up arms and fought against one another" to forget about their recent enmities. Anyone who takes up arms again "will be brought to justice in line with the laws of Tajikistan, " the act states. The document goes into force with Rakhmonov's signature.


President Nursultan Nazarbayev has appointed Umirzak Shukeyev deputy minister of economics and trade, according to Interfax on 14 July. Nazarbayev said Shukeyev's appointment is aimed at helping develop small and medium-sized businesses, which, he said, account for only 6-7 percent of industrial output and employ only some 500,000 out of a work force totaling 9.2 million people. Shukeyev is a 33-year-old graduate of the Moscow Economics and Statistics Institute.


First Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Jurabekov said on 14 July said that Uzbekistan is now in a position to export petroleum products to other CIS countries, Interfax reported. Jurabekov, speaking at the opening of a compressor station at the Kokdumalak oil and gas field in the Kashkadarya region, noted that Uzbekistan ceased importing petroleum products in the second half of 1995. He also said the station, which was built with U.S. and Japanese assistance, will allow Uzbekistan to increase oil production in the area from 2 million tons to 4.5 million tons annually. Gas condensate extraction will nearly triple, headded. The Kokdumalak field is estimated to contain 98.7 million tons of oil and 96.3 million tons of gas condensate.


Giancarlo Aragona, the secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), concluded his four-day visit to Uzbekistan on 14 July, according to ITAR-TASS. Aragona met with top ranking Uzbek officials, including President Islam Karimov. Aragona highly assessed Uzbekistan's cooperation with the OSCE and praised Karimov for efforts toward creating a nuclear free zone in Central Asia.


Suleyman Demirel arrived in Tbilisi on 14 July for a two-day official visit accompanied by several state ministers, including Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, and military and economic officials, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 15 July. Demirel and his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, signed a declaration on boosting cooperation as well as agreements delineating the joint sea border, on training Georgian military personnel in Turkey, and on other issues, Russian media reported. The two presidents discussed the construction of a railway from Kars to the south Georgian town of Akhalkalaki. Demirel told journalists that a third frontier crossing will be opened between the two countries. He said that Georgia is the "guarantor of peace and stability in the Caucasus" and underscored the "complete mutual understanding and mutual respect" between the two countries, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 July.


Following the conclusion of the ninth congress of the Armenian Pan-National Movement on 13 July, the movement's 40-strong board elected Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghyan as its new chairman to succeed Ter-Husik Lazaryan, Noyan Tapan reported. Siradeghyan, whose candidacy was endorsed by President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, had proposed delaying the election of a new board chairman.


"RFE/RL Newsline" incorrectly reported on 14 July that Siradeghyan's rival candidate, parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Eduard Yegoryan, had not been elected to the new board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement. According to Noyan Tapan on 14 July, he was elected a board member.


Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists on 14 July during a tour of the Vitebsk region that he assesses "positively the changes which have taken place in Belarus in the last three years." He said he has pursued the right course and is not going to change it. After visiting several enterprises, Lukashenka ordered that a Decree on Strengthening Responsibility and Discipline in the Republic be prepared as soon as possible. "Iron discipline and order first and foremost," Lukashenka commented to journalists. The presidential administration has begun drafting the decree, which will be aimed at improving discipline at work and increasing the personal responsibility of individuals


Valery Pustovoitenko, the chief campaigner for President Leonid Kuchma in the presidential elections, is the sole candidate for the post of prime minister, recently vacated by Pavlo Lazarenko, Interfax reported on 14 July. Lazarenko stepped down ostensibly for health reasons. All parliamentary caucuses have supported the nomination of Pustovoitenko, who moved to Kyiv in 1994 from Dnepropetrovsk, where he was mayor. He is president of the Ukrainian Soccer Federation. The parliament will discuss his nomination on 16 July. According to sources close to Kuchma, a presidential decree on Pustovoitenko's appointment has been drafted.


Vilis Kristopans has told journalists he will not submit his resignation, BNS reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office recently found that the minister violated the anti-corruption law by not resigning several posts outside the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997). Kristopans said that if he were to resign, he would be "confessing to wrongdoing that I am not responsible for." His lawyer stressed that before the anti-corruption law went into effect in August 1996, Kristopans had already ceased all activities at the companies in which held posts. Kristopans has yet to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Andris Skele.


More than 60 detainees who fled a refugee center in Pabrade, eastern Lithuania, on 11 July have been arrested, BNS and dpa reported. The detainees escaped during a riot that broke out when illegal Chinese migrants clashed with security guards. Refugees of other nationalities joined forces with the Chinese migrants, and a total of 98 inmates were able to flee the center in the chaos. Eleven escapees were caught trying to enter Belarus, while 52 were arrested in Lithuania. Camp guards have been reinforced by Interior Ministry troops, and talks are under way between center officials and the refugees in a bid to ease tensions. Pabrade was originally intend to accommodate 400 people or 600 in case of emergency. Currently, more than 800 illegal migrants are being detained at the makeshift camp.


Polish authorities on 14 July issued more flood warnings for towns in the southwestern part of the country, as flood waters continued to move downstream along the Oder River. More than 300 Polish cities and villages remain fully or partially submerged. At least 36 people are reported dead. National Labor Office head Andrzej Pilat has been given wide powers to oversee long-term reconstruction. The parliament will return from its recess on 16 July to amend this year's budget to allow increased borrowing for flood repair damage. A day of national mourning has been declared in Poland for 18 July. Meanwhile in the Czech Republic, flood waters have begun to recede. Authorities report at least 37 deaths and tens of thousands of people homeless. Thousands of army troops and rescue personnel continue to deliver emergency supplies to the hardest-hit areas. The Czech government on 14 July discussed appointing a temporary minister to administer flood relief and reconstruction. The total cost of the cleanup and reconstruction is now estimated at up to $3.3 billion.


Aleksander Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Wlodzmierz Cimoszewicz visited Bonn on 14 July for meetings with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Germany says it wants to make summits with Polish officials a regular event. At a news conference with Kwasniewski and Cimoszewicz, Kohl said he expects the European Executive Commission to announce soon that Poland is ready for EU membership. Kohl said Germany will continue to support Poland's efforts to join the EU as quickly as possible and noted that ties between the two countries are at their highest point this century. Germany is making available emergency aid to help Poland cope with flooding.


In a televised speech on 14 July, Madeleine Albright told a gathering of Czech politicians, cultural figures, diplomats, and other guests in Prague that NATO's decision to admit the Czech Republic will help bring it "fully, finally, and forever" into the European community of nations. But she said that the Czech Republic will have to make a "first-class commitment" to the alliance. She said this included continuing its peacekeeping commitment in Bosnia-Herzegovina, completing its efforts to modernize and streamline its military to meet NATO standards, and following through on economic reform. Albright said the NATO decision was proof of "unjustice undone." Earlier Albright met with leading Czech politicians and held a joint press conference with President Vaclav Havel.


Following her meeting with Havel on 14 July, Albright told journalists in Prague that "Slovakia must realize that to be a NATO member requires to democratize life in the country, to have a functioning market economic system, and to be active." At the same time, she said it is important for NATO member countries and applicants that Slovakia be not isolated. She added that she had recently discussed this with Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar in Madrid. The two politicians had agreed on a "program of confidence," which, if Slovakia fulfills it, should help overcome objections to Slovakia's NATO admission. Albright said that she assured Meciar during their meeting that the U.S. wanted Slovakia to join NATO.


U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Ralph Johnson said at a public lecture in Bratislava on 14 July that the U.S. cannot support Slovak admission into NATO because of anti-democratic developments in some areas. He pointed to the growing centralization of power and to the intolerant and unjust treatment of people whose opinions differ from those of the government. Johnson said that the U.S. has repeatedly told Slovakia about its reservations with regard to developments in the country. He noted that omitting Slovakia from the first wave of NATO expansion was not the result of some secret anti-Slovak conspiracy but "of political decisions made in Bratislava, not in Washington or Brussels."


The international aviation exercises Cooperative Key 97 began in Slovakia on 14 July, Slovak radio reported. The five-day exercises involve NATO troops and some Partnership for Peace countries, including the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia. The aim of the exercises is to practice peace operations, the evacuation of civilians, and cooperation between troops. The exercises, which are taking place at the Piestany and Sliac airports, involve 630 soldiers. Meanwhile, Polish President Kwasniewski has postponed his official visit to Slovakia from 16-17 July due to the floods in southern Poland, Slovak Radio reported, citing diplomatic sources in Warsaw.


The Hungarian Christian Democratic Party (KDNP) has been ousted from the European Union of Christian Democrats (EUCD) because of its "unacceptable links" with the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party. In a letter to KDNP chairman Gyoergy Giczy, published on 15 July in the daily "Magyar Hirlap," EUCD president W. G. van Velzen says the KDNP "expelled itself" from the organization by failing to fulfill the pledge made earlier this year to break off ties with Istvan Csurka's party. The KDNP has been besieged by conflicts in recent months. The so-called Barankovics Platform Group opposes the leadership of Giczy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997), who is viewed as being largely responsible for the policies of cooperation with the extreme nationalists.. The party has 23 representatives in the 386-seat parliament, of whom a large number are opposed to Giczy.


Hungarian media reported on 15 July that opposition to NATO membership in Hungary is largely concentrated around extremist extra-parliamentary parties. Gyula Thurmer, the chairman of the far-left Workers' Party, said his formation will take "numerous steps" in the next months to impede Hungary's accession to NATO, including demonstrations outside U.S. military installations in Hungary. Thurmer said the Workers' Party will also initiate talks with other leftist parties in Western Europe on how to prevent the ratification of the Madrid summit decisions by parliaments in the West. The far-right Hungarian Life and Justice Party is also opposed to membership in NATO.


The Central Election Commission announced in Tirana on 14 July that 66.7 percent of the voters in the 29 June referendum opposed the restoration of the monarchy. Supporters of Leka Zogu, the claimant to the throne, said the earliest returns showed a victory for the king. They added that the Socialists manipulated subsequent results and stole the vote from the monarch. They have produced little evidence to support their findings. Leka returned home to South Africa following a rally at which he and some of his supporters were armed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997). The royalist party won only two seats in the parliament. The relatively high vote for the monarchy in the referendum probably reflects popular disgust toward the established politicians rather than enthusiasm for Leka.


Two parliamentary committees meeting in Belgrade on 14 July ruled that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is the only approved candidate for the federal Yugoslav presidency. The committees said that "five politically unknown persons" who announced their respective candidacies had not legally registered as candidates, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. The parliament must elect a new president by 25 July, which will be one month after former President Zoran Lilic's term expired. Milosevic is constitutionally barred from another term as Serbian president. Also in Belgrade, BETA reported that the first round of the Serbian presidential elections will take place on 14 September and the second round two weeks later. Parliamentary elections will also be held on 28 September.


The steering committee of the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) met in Podgorica on 14 July and overturned recent decisions by the Podgorica and Pljevlja party branches to expel reformists from their ranks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997). The steering committee reaffirmed its support for the reformist DPS leadership opposed to Milosevic, but it turned down motions to expel pro-Milosevic President Momir Bulatovic from the party, BETA reported on 15 July. Bulatovic has called a party congress for August, at which he expects to rout his opponents, who control the steering committee. DPS President Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic charged that Bulatovic wants to purge the DPS at the congress. She added, however, that the congress will not be held by the DPS but by a "new party of Momir Bulatovic," the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported on 15 July.


The UN Security Council voted in New York on 14 July to extend the mandate for the United Nations Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) for six months. The mandate was slated to end on 15 July, when full Croatian control was to have been restored. Some 2,000 UNTAES troops will leave soon, and the remaining 3,000 will depart by 15 January. The UN wants to be sure that all refugees who want to return to their homes in the area are able to do so, and that the rights of local ethnic Serbs will be respected. Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said in response to the resolution: "Croatia does not have a problem with its minorities. It has difficulties with reintegrating one segment of one minority group that chose to take up arms." In Vukovar, UNTAES officials welcomed the resolution and said that much work now needs to be done to resettle refugees.


Officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in Pale on 15 July that an explosion took place outside an apartment building housing OSCE workers in Banja Luka. Many windows were broken, but no injuries were reported. OSCE spokesmen said there seems to be an orchestrated anti-foreign campaign within the Republika Srpska following NATO's recent direct intervention against indicted war criminals. Bosnian Serb state-run media have raised the level of their xenophobic rhetoric in recent days following NATO's move against the war criminals and the sentencing of Dusan Tadic in The Hague for wartime atrocities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 1997).


Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 14 July that Momcilo Krajisnik, the ethnic Serb member of the Bosnian state presidency, is an "employee of the country. He has no competence to [involve himself] in matters of the constitution of the Republika Srpska." Krajisnik and other backers of Radovan Karadzic are working to overturn Plavsic's recent decision to dissolve the parliament and hold new elections in September. Plavsic seems determined not to give any ground to her opponents, even though she fears that the ongoing confrontation with NATO will attract popular support to Karadzic and his allies.


The parliament voted on 14 July to amend the constitution to permit foreigners to own property. The amendment removes the last major obstacle in the way of Slovenia's ratifying its association agreement with the EU. Ratification is expected on 15 July, and Slovenia hopes to become a full member of the union within ten years. The property issue is politically sensitive because many Slovenes fear that lifting the ban will lead to a massive buy-up of property by Italians, whose families left Slovenia in the wake of World War II.


Emil Constantinescu, who is currently on a five-day visit to Japan, met with Premier Ryutaru Hashimoto on 14 July and discussed several possible Japanese investment projects in Romania. Constantinescu called on Tokyo to establish a "special economic partnership" with Bucharest. Hashimoto said Japan viewed Romania as a "pillar" in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE on which Tokyo is now focusing its interest. Foreign Minister Adrian Severin and his Japanese counterpart, Yuchihiko Ikeda, signed several agreements, including one that provides for a $194 million loan to develop port facilities and road construction. This is the first government-guaranteed loan that Japan has signed with a former communist country, according to Radio Bucharest. Also on 14 July, Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara and the Japanese director of EXIMBANK signed an agreement for a $50 million loan for the restructuring of the finance and banking sector.


In a press release on 14 July, the Foreign Ministry says it is confident the EU summit scheduled for December in Luxembourg will find "non-discriminating solutions" to the enlargement of the union. It adds that if reports saying the EU Commission recommends beginning membership talks with only six countries are confirmed, this would signify a "departure" from the agreement to open negotiations with all candidates on the basis of full equality. In other news, the State Property Fund (FPS) on 14 July announced that 940 state enterprises have been privatized since the beginning of 1997, which is 300 more than the number registered for the same period last year. Of the enterprises privatized so far this year, 821 were defined as "small," 105 as "medium," and 14 as "large." Since December 1992, more than 4,000 state enterprises have been privatized, the FPS said.


Petru Lucinschi on 14 July proposed an amendment to the land law to allow the distribution of plots to teachers, doctors, and other public-sector employees in rural settlements, BASA-press reported. The agency says that because of low wages and salary arrears, many qualified specialists are leaving the countryside to seek jobs elsewhere. In other news, ITAR-TASS reported that the first private Slavic university was opened in Chisinau. Its founders are the Slavic Languages and Culture Foundation; Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Polish, and Belarusian ethnic minority organizations; and several left-wing organizations and parties. University president Oleg Babenko told journalists that teaching will be in Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Polish, and "partly in Romanian."


Tudor Botnaru told the daily "Moldova suverana" on 12 July that some 30 percent of officers at the Ministry of Security were hired before 1990. He said staff levels have been reduced by "30-50 percent" because many employees have quit. With regard to public access to the files of the former KGB in Moldova, Botnaru said they are "top secret" and that the time for making them public "has not yet come." Only close relatives of people who were deported from Moldova are permitted access to the files, provided they contain no other names, he said.


By Fabian Schmidt

Almost a week has passed since massive riots broke out in Gostivar, western Macedonia. So far, three people have died, more than 50 have been injured, and some 320 arrested. The conflict began after the Macedonian parliament passed legislation on 8 July stipulating that the Albanian flag can be hoisted from public buildings only on national holidays and next to the Macedonian flag. But local officials in Gostivar had hoisted the Albanian flag from the municipal building during the six months before the law went into effect. Just one day after the passage of the law, police forces went to Gostivar to take down the flag, thereby sparking the riots.

Interior Minister Tomislav Cokrevski told the parliament on 10 July that the police had been preparing to intervene immediately after the legislation was passed. Since then, shops and offices have remained closed; and there is a strong police presence in the streets as well as a curfew in force. According to some reports, inhabitants have begun stockpiling food reserves in anticipation of a worsening of the situation.

But the flag issue was only a catalyst that brought long-simmering tensions to the surface. At the root of the dispute is a strong mutual distrust between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians. The decision to send in the police and the level of violence that followed indicate that both sides may be willing to go far in defending what they regard as their respective interests. The motivation on both sides is strong.

On the one hand, Macedonians fear the separatist aspirations of Albanians and see Albanian irredentism as an existential danger to their young and volatile state. The symbolism of the flag is so strong that the Interior Ministry apparently considered it had no option but to send in the police to enforce the law against the will of ethnic Albanian local officials. But on the other hand, such tough conduct in dealing with political conflicts serves to alienate many Albanians even further from the Macedonian government. Most of them, especially the large number of unemployed youth, feel discriminated against by the Slavic-speaking majority and have become increasingly desperate. The Albanians' repeated failure to achieve their most basic aim of political and social equality through Macedonia's political institutions reinforces that frustration and feeds nationalism.

For example, the Albanians' long-standing demand for university education in the Albanian language has met with only limited positive response. The authorities have granted the Albanians a few concessions, including the use of Albanian language at the pedagogic faculty at Skopje University. Before the collapse of Yugoslavia, young Macedonian Albanians at least had the possibility to study in their mother tongue in Kosovo. After losing that opportunity when Pristina University closed in 1989, they demanded the opening of an Albanian-language university in Tetovo. But many Macedonians fear that such a university would become a stronghold of separatist and nationalist ideology, as in the case of the Albanian Studies Department of Kosovo's Pristina University.

Tensions in Macedonia, however, continue to smolder. In 1995, Skopje decided to crack down against the illegally founded Tetovo University by using police force rather than trying to find a political solution. Instead of isolating the ethnic Albanian nationalists by opening negotiations with moderate academics, the government turned the nationalist leaders into martyrs by imprisoning them for a couple of months and then bulldozing their university building. But that policy not only stoked nationalist sentiments among Albanians: in early 1997; it also encouraged some nationalist Macedonian students to protest the only real concession given to the Albanians, namely the Albanian-language pedagogic faculty.

In this increasingly nationalist climate, it will be difficult for politicians on either side to break the vicious circle of mutual mistrust. The governing Social Democratic-led coalition government is faced with a growing Macedonian nationalistic opposition and seemingly feels the need to show the electorate that it can be tough in the face of alleged Albanian separatism. But the apparent toughness over the flag issue may, in fact, be seen as a sign of the government's weakness. In any event, the tough policy is likely to further alienate the Albanians and increase the danger of separatism. The only way out of this cycle would be for each side to show good will and to take each other's concerns seriously. But that seems unlikely in view of the latest developments.

The author is a Balkan specialist focusing on Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo. He recently spent two months in Albania as a media regulation adviser with the OSCE.