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Newsline - August 25, 1997


Yevgenii Ananev, appointed by President Boris Yeltsin on 21 August to head the arms export company Rosvooruzhenie, said the presidential decrees restructuring the organization are no more than a "routine personnel reshuffle," "Izvestiya" reported on 23 August. The same day, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" quoted Ananev as saying that all contracts concluded by Rosvooruzhenie to date will be honored. An RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow, however, quoted unnamed Rosvooruzhenie officials as expressing concern at the company's loss of its virtual monopoly on arms exports and the sacking of former director Aleksandr Kotelkin. They said those measures will increase pressure on the company's managers and may affect plans to double its exports this year.


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Finnish counterpart, Paavo Lipponen, on 23 August opened a new border crossing capable of processing 500 vehicles per day, ITAR-TASS reported. State Customs Committee Chairman Anatolii Kruglov told Interfax the same day that another new Russian-Finnish border crossing will be opened in the first half of 1998. During two days of talks in Russia's Republic of Karelia, Chernomyrdin and Lipponen also agreed to set up a commission to oversee logging in Karelian old-growth forests near the Finnish border, Interfax reported on 22 August. Chernomyrdin said such logging should be done "without inflicting damage on the environment but at the same time bearing in mind the reciprocal economic interest." Environmental groups seeking to block Finnish companies from logging in the ancient forests have been accused of harming the Karelian economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1997).


Andrei Kokoshin says the upcoming military reform is prompted by a new military doctrine based on the idea that Russia is threatened by potential localized armed conflicts rather than wars or large-scale aggression, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 August. Speaking to political leaders and defense industry managers from several Urals regions in Yekaterinburg, Kokoshin said that as military units are restructured to reflect the new conception of major threats to Russia, some units of the army and navy will be liquidated. Kokoshin, the highest-ranking civilian in the Defense Ministry, is believed to have had considerable influence over the drafting of the latest military reform plans. Those plans include merging some branches of the armed forces and reducing the number of serving soldiers and officers.


Communist State Duma deputy Vladimir Semago, who heads a Duma anti-corruption commission, has recommended that Russia establish an agency similar to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate corruption, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August. Semago argued that a Russian bureau of investigation should monitor civil servants for five to 10 years after they leave office. Those officials should be prosecuted if it transpires that they abused their posts while in office, he added. Semago also called for granting his Duma commission the right to check the accuracy of income declarations submitted by state officials and to question officials at parliamentary hearings if discrepancies are uncovered. Similar commissions should be created in regional legislatures, he argued. Semago has recently claimed top Duma officials have obstructed his committee's work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 August 1997).


Ten tax police officers were killed during the first half of 1997, 40 were injured, and two reported missing, according to Vyacheslav Soltaganov, head of the State Tax Service's Department of Internal Security, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 August. Soltaganov said that during the same period, 520 crimes against tax collecting agencies or their employees were registered, ranging from arson and death threats to theft of documents. Vasilii Cheremiskin, head of the legal department of the State Tax Service, recently announced that from January through June 1997, taxpayers won 54 percent of the 2,859 lawsuits filed against tax collectors, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 August. During the same period, the State Tax Service won 96 percent of its 54,905 court cases against delinquent taxpayers. The paper commented that courts tend to find in favor of taxpayers seeking small refunds from tax collecting agencies but tend to reject suits seeking larger amounts.


Gennadii Melikyan, deputy chairman of the board of Sberbank, says the bank has prepared recommendations on indexing savings accounts opened before 1992, "Segodnya" reported on 25 August. (Melikyan resigned as labor minister in April, after which he campaigned unsuccessfully for a State Duma seat in Rostov.) Melikyan said Sberbank is considering not removing three zeroes from the value of old deposits on 1 January 1998, when the ruble will be redenominated. If the redenomination is applied to the old Sberbank deposits, he said, another method of compensating holders of those deposits will be found. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev recently argued against applying the ruble redenomination to the old Sberbank deposits, which were rendered practically worthless by inflation beginning in 1992 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 1997). According to "Segodnya," Sberbank accounts opened before 1992 contain some 315 billion rubles ($54 million).


The three most expensive cities in Russia in terms of basic food are all in the Far East, Interfax reported on 22 August. The average monthly price of a basket of 25 basic food items in Russia was 250,700 rubles ($43) in July. But in Anadyr, the capital of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the same basket cost 811,100 rubles. Yakutsk, the capital of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), was the second most expensive city for food, with a monthly basket costing 526,600 rubles. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, the capital of Kamchatka Oblast, came third (515,400 rubles). Food is traditionally more expensive in the Far East because of transportation costs and distance from agricultural areas.


Meeting in Kazan, Muslim leaders from Moscow, Kazan, Ufa (Republic of Bashkortostan), and other cities agreed on 20 August to establish a special Islamic University in the Tatarstan capital during the next year, Tatar-Inform reported on 22 August. The Muslim leaders also agreed to establish a Council of Rectors of Muslim educational facilities in the Russian Federation.


Some 500 people -- including representatives of Islamic political parties in Dagestan, the North Caucasus, and Transcaucasus -- attended the founding congress of the Islamic Order Union, which took place in Grozny on 24 August , Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The union merges the Islamic parties of Dagestan and Chechnya. Its aims are to prevent "anti-Islamic expansion in the Caucasus" and to promote the consolidation of Islamic political forces as well as the unification of the peoples of the Caucasus. The union is headed by Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov, leader of the Chechen Islamic Order coalition, which was created in late July and unites some 20 Chechen political parties.


Russian cosmonauts Anatolii Solovev and Pavel Vinogradov have repaired the damaged "spektr" modules of the "Mir" space station, according to Russian media on 22 August. The two cosmonauts reconnected cables to the station's solar panels and were expecting full power to be restored to the station by 25 August. However, when the repairs took two hours longer than expected, Russia's mission control ordered the cosmonauts back into the station before they could complete a search for possible rips in the station's hull. Solovev and U.S. astronaut Michael Foale are scheduled to make a space walk on 3 September, when a further examination of the hull will be carried out.


The three Russian servicemen recently kidnapped by members of the Georgia's White Legion guerrilla organization were released on 22 August after agreement was reached on returning to Georgia the bodies of two Georgian guerrillas killed in Abkhazia on 13 August. Interfax reported that Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov mediated between the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships to secure the servicemen's release. Maj.-Gen. Dolya Babenkov, the commander of the CIS peacekeeping force, vowed to act "more decisively" against terrorist acts committed by the White Legion against his men. In Tbilisi, some 500 fugitives from Abkhazia staged a demonstration on 23 August to protest the Georgian leadership's policy of rapprochement with the Abkhaz government, Interfax reported.


Djaba Ioseliani on 22 August ended a 16-day hunger strike in his prison cell after his demand to meet with a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was agreed to, Russian media reported. The 71-year-old former Mkhedrioni leader is now demanding that the Georgian authorities acknowledge his arrest in November 1995 was violated immunity as a parliament deputy. Ioseliani faces charges of treason, terrorism, and murder.


Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan's recent decision to dismiss 24 deputy ministers and directors of state enterprises was based on those officials' lack of professionalism rather than political considerations, a government spokeswoman told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 23 August. Andranik Hovakimyan, the deputy chairman of the ruling board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), to which most of the dismissed officials belong, likewise denied that the dismissals signaled an alleged rift between his party and Kocharyan. Hovakimyan said the sackings were in line with the cabinet's efforts to restructure the public sector. He argued that Kocharyan, like any other "serious politician," understands that he needs a political "support base" if his steps are to be implemented. The HHSh constitutes such a base, Havakimyan added.


Reza Veziri -- the president of RV Investment Group Services, which recently signed a $500 million contract with Azerbaijan to mine gold, silver, and copper -- said on 22 August that his company will appeal to the United Nations International Economic Court if it obtains proof that Armenia is mining gold in Azerbaijan's Kelbajar Raion, according to Interfax. Kelbajar has been controlled by Karabakh Armenian forces since spring 1993. Also on 22 August, Armenian presidential press secretary Levon Zurabian said Azerbaijani protests would not deter Armenia from continuing to work the disputed Zod lode, which it claims lies on Armenian territory. The Armenian government daily "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 23 August described the U.S.-Azerbaijani contract "not serious," given that most of the mines in question lie on occupied territory.


In a 21 August note to its Turkmen counterpart, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry has again affirmed Azerbaijani ownership of the Azeri, Chirag, and Kyapaz oil fields. It also rejected Turkmenistan's claims to partial or complete ownership of those fields as groundless, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijan expressed support for the Turkmen proposal to divide the Caspian into national sectors and proposed creating a joint commission to formalize the border between the Azerbaijan and Turkmen sectors.


Gunes Taner, Turkish minister of state with responsibility for economic affairs, will shortly lobby in Moscow for the transportation of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil from Novorossiisk to the Turkish Black Sea port of Samsun, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 August. The first oil from the Chirag field is to be exported from Baku via Grozny to Novorossiisk in October,1997. The Turkish government opposes an increase in tanker traffic through the Turkish Straits, which constitute the only other currently existing outlet to world markets. Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem is scheduled to visit Baku in early September to discuss the proposed Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 August suggests that Japan may provide the lion's share of funding for the project. Japanese companies are represented in two of the five international consortia set up to date to exploit Azerbaijan's Caspian oil.


A helicopter carrying UN military observers and representatives of the Tajik government and United Tajikistan Opposition (UTO) came under fire on 23 August in the Tavil-Dara area, 20 kilometers east of Dushanbe, according to RFE/RL correspondents. No one on board was aware of the incident until the helicopter landed at Komsomolabad, 135 kilometers from Dushanbe, because of what the crew thought was a malfunction. An examination of the helicopter revealed two bullet holes. The next day, a Tajik government helicopter came under fire 15 kilometers east of Dushanbe. The UN observer mission in Tajikistan has responded by suspending its operations in the eastern part of Tajikistan.


The World Bank on 21 August approved funds for water treatment facilities and distribution systems in the Khorezm and Karakalpakistan regions, near the Aral Sea, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. The bank will extend a $75 million loan for the projects. Germany, Kuwait, and Uzbekistan will also make contributions toward the $117 million project. The water of the Aral Sea has decreased by more than half since the 1960s, leading to the buildup of alkaline soil. Moreover, fertilizers and chemicals used on crops wash down into the two areas, causing a variety of health problems for local residents.


Three Russian Public Television (ORT) journalists detained in Belarus on 15 August on charges of illegally crossing the Belarusian-Lithuanian border were handed over to the Russian ambassador in Minsk on 22 August and later flown to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. They were part of the second ORT crew to be detained in Belarus within the past month. A fourth member of the crew--a Belarusian citizen--is still in detention. The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed satisfaction over the journalists' release, but Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who was on a visit to Minsk, described the actions of the ORT journalists as a "provocation." Two other ORT journalists who were detained in July and are both Belarusian citizens remain in detention.


Although a 22 August statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed satisfaction with the handover of the three Russian journalists, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii has kept up the pressure on Minsk. Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 22 August, "I do not retract one word" of a 21 August statement harshly criticizing the Belarusian authorities, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. (That statement was denounced by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.) Appearing on nationwide Russian television on 24 August, Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin expects the ORT journalists who are Belarusian citizens to be released before Lukashenka travels to Moscow in early September. Speaking in Moscow the same day, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin described the arrests of Russian journalists in Belarus as "unacceptable" but noted that "Russia needs the union with Belarus and will do everything to reinforce it," according to Interfax and Reuters.


The "Sea Breeze 97" maneuvers began on 23 August at Ukraine's Black Sea port of Donuzlav. Warships from the U.S. and Turkey, along with ships from Bulgaria, Georgia, and Romania, are participating in the week-long exercises. The Russian government has expressed opposition to the NATO-backed maneuvers and refused an invitation to participate. Meanwhile, Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze arrived in Ukraine on 23 August for a three-day official visit. On his arrival, Nadibaidze told journalists that military cooperation already established between the two countries could serve as a model for other nations. He also said that the formation of Georgia's military would have been impossible without Ukraine's help. Nadibaidze met with Ukrainian defense officials to discuss boosting military cooperation.


Leonid Kuchma on 22 August presented the new government that he recently appointed to implement economic reforms, UNIAN reported. In a ceremony at his residence, Kuchma said the guiding principle in forming the cabinet was professionalism and not personal links, and he promised that the government will be open to scrutiny. The new cabinet, headed by Valery Pustovoitenko, has 21 ministers and is Ukraine's sixth since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. On 24 August, in a speech marking the sixth anniversary of his country's independence, Kuchma said intensive work must be carried out to solve Ukraine's internal problems. He acknowledged that the country has experienced difficult times and is still in a period of transition.


Following their meeting in Tukums, Latvia, on 22 August, the foreign ministers of the three Baltic States said they hope the EU will start negotiations with all of them in 1998 at the latest, BNS and ETA reported. Latvia's Valdis Birkavs and Lithuania's Algirdas Saudargas expressed their dissatisfaction with the European Commission's recent decision to recommend that only Estonia start accession negotiations. Estonia's Toomas Hendrik Ilves stressed that Tallinn supports the admission of all three Baltic States into the EU and that it will continue to support that goal in the future. During their meeting, the three leaders discussed EU enlargement and Baltic cooperation.


Following repeated delays, the government on 22 August passed a memorandum urging the EU to start entry talks with all associate members, which it describes as the "only politically correct solution," BNS reported. The government pledged to deal with some of the deficiencies noted by the European Commission and to pay greater attention to domestic reforms required for entry into the EU. A 46-point action program is currently being prepared to supplement the memorandum. Also on 22 August, Foreign Minster Valdis Birkavs told RFE/RL's Latvian Service that government allocations for foreign affairs are insufficient and that Estonian diplomats are advertising their country's success more "aggressively" than their Latvian counterparts.


The government on 22 August released a statement denying that it has procrastinated over the prosecution of suspected Nazi collaborator Aleksandras Lileikis, BNS reported. The statement came in response to recent accusations by the Wiesenthal Center, an Israeli-based Nazi-hunting organization. It stressed that the only obstacle to the 89-year-old Lileikis's trial are legal provisions that prohibit a defendant from undergoing interrogation if such a process would endanger his or her life. It added that the government is drafting amendments that would allow prosecution of suspected war criminals regardless of their state of health. The government also rejected the Wiesenthal Center's accusations that Vilnius is staging a September meeting to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of the Jewish sage Gaon Elijah of Vilnius in order to "compensate" for lack of progress in the Lileikis case.


Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz of Poland, Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, and Gyula Horn of Hungary held talks on NATO enlargement in the Polish city of Krakow on 22 August. RFE/RL's correspondent in Krakow reported that the three prime ministers exchanged information regarding their future negotiations on NATO membership. Representatives from other countries' involved in negotiations with Brussels joined the prime ministers at the talks. The meeting came six weeks after NATO's invitation to begin membership negotiations.


Yukihito Ikeda arrived in Warsaw on 22 August for a three-day visit, AFP reported. During talks with his Polish counterpart, Dariusz Rosati, the following day, Ikeda criticized what he called Poland's "discriminatory practices" on importing cars from countries outside the EU. Cars imported into Poland are currently subject to a 35 percent tax. But under a 1992 agreement, EU countries can export to Poland some 39,000 cars and 150 trucks without paying the import tax. That quota is increased by 5 percent each year. Ikeda said during his meeting with Finance Minister Marek Belka on 23 August that Japanese enterprises are showing increasing interest in investment in Poland. He cited plans by Japanese car manufacturer Isuzu to build a diesel engine plant in Poland's southeastern region of Silesia.


The U.S. congressional Committee for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent a letter to Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus asking him to strive to abolish those provisions of the Czech citizenship law that adversely affect the country's Romani minority, Czech media reported on 25 August. The letter, signed by Senator Alfonse D'Amato and representative Christopher H. Smith, said that as long as the citizenship law remains valid, the declared wish of the Czech government to integrate Roma will sound false. Meanwhile, Canada's Immigration Office, faced with an influx of Czech Roma seeking political refuge, have begun extensive background checks on all new arrivals, AFP reported. Immigration officials say that there has been a steady increase in Roma seeking asylum who claim that they are victimized in the Czech Republic by skinheads and police and banned from some professions and even from entering shops and restaurants.


Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus on 23 August rejected a call from the opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) that a report on the government's plans for bank privatization should include information on the sale of the state's stake in the Investicni a postovni banka (IPB), CTK reported. CSSD chairman Milos Zeman, who is also chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, had said the previous day that if the government were to keep its promise to deputies, it would have to include in its report details of the sale of the IPB to the Japanese banking house Nomura. The decision to sell the IPB to Nomura has been criticized as "nontransparent" by both the opposition and by the co-ruling Christian Democrats The CSSD has threatened to call a vote of no-confidence in the government if the parliament is not consulted about the sale of the IPB.


Vladimir Meciar, in his weekly radio address on 22 August, has likened the country's ethnic Hungarian politicians to a Trojan horse. Meciar was responding to Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn's request during recent bilateral talks in Gyoer, Hungary, for Hungarian minority representation on various Slovak government committees. Meciar said Hungary should stop talking about minority representatives and instead openly admit that it wants representatives of Hungarian minority parties on those committees. Meciar said that he is not going "to put a Trojan horse on a government committee." He added that ethnic Hungarian politicians want to be on Slovak government committees but at the same time refuse to talk to the Slovak government.


A meeting between Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and the Bosnian Serb army (VRS) general staff slated for 25 August has been postponed for one day, the BETA news agency reported. No reason was given for the delay. The VRS has issued contradictory political statements in recent days, which has led some observers to suggest that the VRS may follow other Bosnian Serb institutions in openly splitting between supporters of Plavsic and those loyal to Radovan Karadzic. The general staff appears to be under the influence of Pale, whereas troops based in Banja Luka seem to be loyal to Plavsic. The police and not the VRS, however, are the most effective security force in the Republika Srpska.


Banja Luka radio and television employees loyal to Plavsic severed all links to the hard-liners' Radio and TV Pale on 22 August. The journalists said they were tired of broadcasting what they called "primitive propaganda." Plavsic said on 24 August that the Bosnian Serb people are "fed up with the lies" broadcast by Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the joint Bosnian presidency. On 25 August, Karadzic supporters in Pale accused Plavsic loyalists of treason for broadcasting programs critical of Karadzic. In related news, Plavsic on 22 August named Mark Pavic as interior minister to replace Dragan Kijac, whom she sacked in June. The next day, the Pale-based government called the appointment of Pavic "illegal" and said that Pale will no longer recognize Plavsic's decisions as binding.


British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook proposed in London on 24 August that at least some Bosnian war criminals be tried in Bosnia instead of in The Hague. Some Bosnian officials told the British media, however, that Serbian hard-liners in particular will see Cook's offer as a sign of weakness and will prod the international community for even more concessions on the issue of war criminals. In Sarajevo, Hague court officials said they are interested in examining tapes confiscated by the international police the previous week from Bosnian Serb police headquarters in Banja Luka. And in Zagreb, local court officials said on 22 August that they will launch proceedings against Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic, whom the authorities arrested in February on charges of criminal dealings in Mostar. The Bosnian government regards him as a war criminal for atrocities he allegedly committed against Muslims.


Representatives of several opposition parties ended a three-day meeting in Porec on 23 August with a call for an end to strong presidential government, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from that Istrian town. The opposition leaders said they want a parliamentary democracy and changes in the electoral law. They insist that popular referendums be mandatory on all key issues. The regional Istrian Democratic Party called the meeting, which was attended by leading centrist and center-right parties. The main opposition party, the Social Democrats, did not take part. The disunity of the opposition has been a major factor in enabling the governing Croatian Democratic Community to stay in power.


Unidentified gunmen killed Sadik Morina, an ethnic Albanian loyal to the Serbian authorities, in Srbice, northwest of Pristina, on 23 August. The Kosovo Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for killing eight other pro-Belgrade Albanians this year. In Tirana, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told Vice President Fehmi Agani of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) that the new Albanian government is willing to help solve the Kosovo question but that the Kosovars themselves must take ultimate responsibility for their own destiny. Milo added that he nonetheless supports calling a conference of Albanians from all countries to formulate a common program on Kosovo. In Pristina, LDK President Ibrahim Rugova said on 22 August that he expects Washington will soon become more involved in solving the Kosovo problem. He downplayed differences between the LDK and the State Department over the issue of independence for Kosovo, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina.


Fifty-two members of the Democratic Party have signed a petition calling for the resignation of Sali Berisha as party leader, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 24 August. The group, which includes former parliamentary deputies, said that a "reform with Berisha [in place] is a farce," and called on the local organizations of the Democratic Party to distance themselves from the central party leadership. The signatories argued that "Berisha alienates people and [his presence] makes it difficult for the [Democrats] to get back into government." Signatory Arben Mece told "Dita Informacion" that "this is a fight about ideas, not people." Democratic Party spokesman Alban Bala reacted sharply, saying that the signatories should leave the party. He charged that they have not been active day-to-day party workers and that they did not bother complaining before.


"Dita Informacion" reported that police arrested four more members of the "Zani" Caushi gang on 23 August, bringing the total number arrested to 20. Caushi himself has so far eluded arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 1997). In other news, former parliamentary speaker Pjeter Arbnori from the Democratic Party has begun the sixth day of a hunger strike inside the parliament building, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. Arbnori is protesting what he calls biased reporting by state television. "Rilindja Demokratike" said on 24 August that state television director Eduard Mazi has issued an order banning any reporting on the hunger strike.


Interior Minister Neritan Ceka has revoked the appointments of a number of new police commissioners in three southern police departments after protests by the local branch of the Socialist Party in Gjirokaster, "Dita Informacion" reported on 24 August. The Socialist Party also objects to the appointment of a Social Democrat as the new prefect. The local Socialists are angry that they do not hold any of the key positions in the city. The mayor is a Democrat, and the district council is headed by a member of the ethnic Greek Human Rights Party.


Victor Ciorbea on 23 August denied that the IMF is considering postponing the approval of the second $86 million installment of Romania's $450 million standby agreement because it is unsatisfied with the pace of the reforms. Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara had announced the possible postponement of the approval one day earlier. After meeting with leaders of the government coalition, Ciorbea said that the state bodies in charge of implementing reforms might undergo restructuring in the near future to avoid duplication and possible obstruction of reforms by their staff. The leaders of the coalition agreed that legislation on reform implementation must be simplified in order to speed up the process. They also pledged to improve consultation and collaboration among the coalition members, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported.


Victor Babiuc on 22 August said the recent cuts in defense spending may endanger Romania's future integration into NATO, Radio Bucharest reported. Babiuc said the ministry's budget for 1997 has been cut to 2.36 percent of GDP from 2.68 percent, the figure agreed in an earlier version of the budget. He said that as a result of the cuts, Romania will have to delay the setting up of a planned Rapid Reaction Force, reduce participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace Program, cut flight hours for pilot instruction, and slow down the pace of the modernization of military communication systems. The army will also be unable to honor some contracts to purchase new equipment.


Former King Michael on 23 August participated in a colloquium of historians in the Transylvanian town of Bistrita on the significance of the coup that he led against former dictator Ion Antonescu 53 years earlier. All participants agreed there had been "no alternative" to the coup, whose original intent was to save Romania from Soviet occupation. They also agreed that the communist regime, which later distorted the role of the former monarch and "hijacked" the event, had falsified history. Until 1989, Romania's national day was marked on 23 August . The former monarch is on a private visit to western Romania.


Low levels of water stopped navigation on the Bulgarian stretch of Danube River on 24 August, BTA reported. Water near the Island of Belene was only 1.6 meters deep and just above 2 meters near the town of Ruse. Normally, the water at both locations is about 6 meters deep. Bulgaria has recently suffered from a lack of rain. In other news a businessman suspected of links to organized crime was shot dead in Radomir, southwest of Sofia. Yulian Vitanov was the director of an insurance company run by former athletes who himself had a record for assault and other crimes. His killer managed to escape.


A spokesman for the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry on 22 August said Sofia will not permit the transit through its territory of a train chartered by supporters of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. He said the transit was denied for "technical reasons," which he did not specify, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. The train is scheduled to leave Brussels on 26 August and to reach the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir on 1 September, which is World Peace Day. The event has been organized by a German group called Hannover Appeal. Also on 22 August, Turkish Premier Mesut Yilmaz said in Ankara that the train will not be allowed to cross the Turkish border. Romania and rump Yugoslavia also announced they will not permit the train to transit their territories, Romanian media reported.


by Heiki Ahonen

On 23 August, Tiit Madisson staged a 24-hour hunger strike in his prison cell to protest what he says is his unconstitutional conviction on charges of planning a coup d'etat. His protest took place on the 58th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had sealed the fate of the Baltic States for more than a half-century. It also coincided with the 10th anniversary of the first political demonstration in postwar, Soviet-occupied Estonia, which Madisson had helped organize.

The 1987 demonstration occurred at a time when changes were in the air but when few would have publicly predicted the approaching dissolution of the Soviet Union. Four years before the Soviet empire crumbled, Moscow was still officially denying the existence of the secret protocols of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had divided Eastern Europe into the so-called zones of influence between Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union.

When the dissident group led by Madisson called for the 23 August 1987 demonstration, it wanted to put pressure on Moscow to acknowledge the existence of and to publish those protocols. This was more than simply a demand for historical truth, however. It was a direct challenge to the existing system and an open expression of doubt in the legality of Soviet rule in Estonia and in the other Baltic States, where similar meetings took place the same day.

Both the authorities and the organizers of the 1987 Estonian meeting were surprised by the number of participants, with an estimated 2,000-3,000 people gathering in Hirvepark, in downtown Tallinn. Speakers focused on demanding that Moscow acknowledge the existence of the 1939 protocols, but there were also calls for the reinstatement of the Baltic States' independence. The militia presence was too small to permit intervention, and the demonstration thus proceeded peacefully. But in the wake of official Tallinn's angry reaction, Madisson was forced to emigrate.

The Hirvepark meeting was the catalyst for the demonstrations that followed and involved up to hundreds of thousands of people. Those meetings, affectionately dubbed the "singing revolution," culminated on 20 August 1991 -- during the coup attempt in Moscow -- with the decision by the Estonian Supreme Soviet to reestablish Estonian independence.

Ten years after the first Hirvepark meeting, the main organizer of the event is behind bars after being found guilty last year of planning to overthrow the government. In a letter to the prime minister, Madisson -- who returned to Estonia from Swedish exile after the country regained independence -- had drawn attention to the plight of the members of paramilitary organizations in post-Soviet Estonia. He had threatened to use armed force if they did not receive social justice. That threat was considered sufficient proof that Madisson was planning a coup, although the defendant clearly did not have the means with which to carry out such a "plan." Since Madisson had earlier received a suspended sentence on charges of embezzlement, the court had no choice but to hand down a prison sentence following his second conviction. Madisson was sent to jail for two years and two months.

Madisson's case has received extensive publicity in Estonia, not least because of his hero-like status of a dissident who played an active role in paving the way for the 1991 radical changes. Ironically, his memoirs about his experiences as both a dissident and a prisoner in Soviet labor camps arrived in Estonian bookstores only after his arrest last year. The cover of that book was illustrated with a letter Madisson had written from his post-Soviet prison cell.

Public opinion seems to be in favor or releasing Madisson. While it is recognized that the court abided by the letter of the law, questions have been raised about a system that allows yesterday's dissident to become today's political prisoner -- moreover the first in independent Estonia -- without taking into account the emotional factor. Also, the fairness of the conviction has been queried in view of the fact that there have been no convictions in Estonia of communist-era mass murderers and torturers.

Revolutions are said to devour their children. In the case of Estonia, this has proved particularly true. However, revolutions are not evaluated by the fate of those who helped bring them about. Rather, they are assessed by the degree of stability and the nature of change they are able to introduce.

On 23 August 1997, while Madisson was staging his hunger strike, Tallinn Mayor Ivi Eenmaa unveiled a plaque in Hirvepark commemorating the 1987 demonstration. Several organizers of that meeting attended the unveiling, but, as the Estonian press has pointed out, none of the original members of the group is actively involved in politics today. It could be argued that, by virtue of his current status and the publicity surrounding him, Madisson is the exception.

The author is director of RFE/RL's Estonian Service. He was one of the organizers of the 1987 Hirvepark meeting.