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Newsline - December 8, 1997


Rescue workers in Irkutsk have confirmed that at least 62 people were killed when an An-124 military cargo plane crashed into several apartment buildings shortly after takeoff on 6 December, an RFE/RL correspondent in Irkutsk reported on 8 December. Some 28 people are still missing. The plane was carrying 100 tons of fuel and two fighter jets intended for delivery to Vietnam. President Boris Yeltsin has appointed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to head a government commission investigating the cause of the crash. Chernomyrdin flew to Irkutsk on 7 December to chair the first meeting of that commission. Several scenarios will be investigated, including whether the plane was loaded with contaminated fuel, which could cause engine failure, and whether the wings were properly de-iced before takeoff. In Irkutsk, as in many Russian cities, the airport is near a residential area. LB


The State Duma on 5 December approved the 1998 budget in the first reading by 231 to 136 with six abstentions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Just before the vote, President Boris Yeltsin paid a surprise visit to the Duma and appealed to deputies to pass the budget, promising the document will be revised before later readings. The Our Home Is Russia, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Russian Regions factions unanimously supported the budget, as did most Agrarian deputies, Interfax reported. All Yabloko deputies and most members of the Communist and Popular Power factions opposed it. The 1998 budget calls for 367.5 billion new rubles ($61 billion) in revenues, 499.9 billion rubles in spending, a deficit of 132.4 billion rubles (4.7 percent of GDP, which is estimated at 2.84 trillion rubles), and an annual inflation rate of 5.7 percent. LB


Some 29 Communist Duma deputies, about one-fifth of the Communist faction, voted to pass the budget in the first reading, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Without their support, the budget would have fallen short of the 226 votes needed for a Duma majority. The budget vote is expected to undermine the credibility of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who announced on 4 December that his faction had unanimously agreed to vote against the budget. Zyuganov claimed on 5 December that he and the rest of the "Communist leadership" voted to reject the budget. However, those who supported passage in the first reading included several prominent members of the Communist faction, such as Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, faction coordinator Sergei Reshulskii, and Zyuganov adviser Aleksei Podberezkin. LB


Speaking to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 5 December, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii predicted that the government will be unable to abide by the 1998 budget, just as it was unable to fulfill revenue and spending plans for 1997. Yavlinskii charged that a trilateral commission of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives, which revised the budget after the Duma rejected an earlier draft in October, had only made the budget worse. He argued that the trilateral commission agreed to add more than 27 trillion rubles ($4.5 billion) in expenditures but did not provide realistic plans to increase revenues accordingly. Yavlinskii also criticized the government for trying to boost 1998 revenues by raising various taxes rather than by taking strong measures to improve tax collection. LB


While in the Duma on 5 December, Yeltsin pledged to sign the law on the government, Russian news agencies reported. The president vetoed that law earlier this year and then refused to sign it even after both houses of the parliament overrode his veto, prompting the Federation Council to appeal to the Constitutional Court. In October, Yeltsin indicated he would sign the law only if certain passages are amended. However, his remarks on 5 December did not appear to make signing the law conditional on any amendments. The law on the government would increase parliamentary influence over the composition of the cabinet. In particular, it would require the whole government to step down if the prime minister resigned or were dismissed. The Duma would then have to confirm a new prime minister before other cabinet members could be named. LB


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov met with Chilean President Eduardo Frei and high- ranking economic officials during a visit to Santiago, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Chilean capital reported on 6 December. Among other things, Nemtsov is studying Chile's experience with non-governmental pension funds. Such funds exist in Russia, but a law regulating their activities has not yet been passed. Nemtsov, who flew to Mexico on 8 December, is likely to miss an upcoming report by the government on its activities to Yeltsin. Some Russian commentators have argued that by sending Nemtsov abroad at this time, Yeltsin signaled that he does not plan to sack the first deputy premier. LB


While in Chile, Nemtsov did not meet with General Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean leader from 1973 to 1990 and currently commander of the armed forces, RFE/RL's correspondent in Santiago reported. But in an interview with RFE/RL, Nemtsov said Pinochet had played a major role in leading Chile to economic growth. Nemtsov noted that some Russian generals aspire to become political leaders, but he argued that no "second Pinochet" will be found in Russia. He added that "I simply do not know of any general" who would conduct the correct economic policies for Russia. Nemtsov's comments were presumably directed at former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, who has founded a movement to support the armed forces and defense industry. LB


Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said on 5 December that neither Yeltsin nor the Defense Ministry has proposed unilateral cuts in the Russian nuclear arsenal, Reuters and Interfax reported on 5 December. Speaking to reporters after closed Duma hearings on arms control and military reform plans, Sergeev said the Defense and Foreign Ministries worked jointly on the disarmament initiatives announced by Yeltsin in Stockholm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 December 1997). He stressed that further reductions in Russia's nuclear warheads will be "in parity" with U.S. cuts. The defense minister also called on the Duma to ratify the START-2 arms control treaty. LB


Former Security Council Secretary Lebed on 5 December slammed Yeltsin's recent proposals on troop reductions in the Russian northwest and further cuts in Russia's nuclear arsenal, Interfax reported. Lebed said president should resign, and he predicted that Yeltsin's planned trip to Chechnya in January will achieve nothing. He charged that Russia has not held Chechen officials to the August 1996 Khasavyurt accords, which called for postponing a decision on Chechnya's status for five years. (Lebed negotiated the Khasavyurt accords.) Lebed also told Interfax that he is willing to form an alliance with Yabloko leader Yavlinskii and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov in the next presidential election, scheduled for 2000. LB


Moscow Mayor Luzhkov has again denied that he plans to contest the next presidential election, Interfax reported on 6 December. In particular, he ruled out running for president in an alliance with Lebed. The same day, Luzhkov attended the second congress of the Russian Movement for New Socialism and told reporters that Russians increasingly support socialism--not as a step toward communism, but as a system to benefit the "absolute majority." LB


Meanwhile, Luzhkov met with and praised Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka during a 5 December visit to Minsk, ITAR-TASS reported. The mayor reached agreement with a Minsk factory on annual imports of 20,000 engines for Moscow trucks and buses. Luzhkov also charged that although Yeltsin has taken steps toward unification with Belarus, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, and former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii are against the Russian-Belarusian union. LB


U.S.businessman Richard Bliss was released by the Federal Security Service on 6 December but must remain in Rostov Oblast while his case is investigated. The previous day, Bliss was charged with espionage. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Foley said there is "no credible reason" for the case against Bliss, Reuters reported. Foley said Vice President Al Gore telephoned with Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to discuss the Bliss case. Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich, who coordinates U.S. policy toward Russia, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also discussed the case with Russian officials in Washington. ITAR-TASS on 5 December quoted unnamed FSB officials as claiming that Bliss had admitted to illegally importing satellite equipment to Russia. However, Qualcomm, Bliss's employer, said it had licenses for all equipment used in connection with a cellular telephone project in Rostov. LB


A government commission believes that a crushed oxygen tank caused the recent explosion that killed 67 coal miners at the Zyryanovskaya mine in Novokuznetsk (Kemerovo Oblast), ITAR-TASS reported on 7 December. According to the preliminary conclusions of the commission investigating the disaster, an oxygen tank intended for use in emergencies fell between mining machinery, where it was depressurized. A spark subsequently set the oxygen tank on fire, which, in turn. ignited coal particles and methane gases in the mine. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin arrived in Novokuznetsk on 8 December for a meeting of the government commission on the mining disaster. LB


Russian Security Council Ivan Rybkin held further talks in Grozny on 6 December with the Chechen leadership on preparations for Yeltsin's planned January visit, Russian agencies reported. Agreement was reached on installing a telephone hot-line between Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakayev told Interfax that no new Russian-Chechen agreements will be signed until existing accords have been implemented. On 7 December, Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told the same news agency that Chechnya will guarantee Yeltsin's security during the visit only if Yeltsin is officially invited by Maskhadov. Arsanov further claimed that some leading Russian politicians, including Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, and Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, are "making every effort" to prevent Yeltsin visiting Grozny. LF


Federation Council chairman Fedor Stroev told journalists in St. Petersburg on 7 December that the new alliance between Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova does not constitute a threat either to Russia's national interests or to those of the CIS, according to Interfax. But Prime Minister Chernomyrdin expressed his disapproval of the "dispersal to different corners" of CIS member states, Turan reported on 5 December. Chernomyrdin said that Russia has embarked on "serious work" to expedite integration within the CIS. He also predicted that the 23 January CIS summit will constitute a "landmark" in that body's development. The possibility of creating a free trade zone within the CIS is currently under discussion, Chernomyrdin commented. LF


Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze sent a letter to Russian President Yeltsin on 5 December protesting the unilateral decision to move a Russian frontier post 1 kilometer into Georgian territory, Russian agencies reported. Shevardnadze called for the immediate resumption of bilateral talks on the demarcation of the border, but the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement the same day arguing that the border demarcation commission should not resume its work until the post is moved back to its original position. On 6 December, Russian border guards used force against some 50 young Georgian demonstrators who had begun a protest demonstration at the frontier two days earlier. The same day, the Russian Foreign Minister issued a statement condemning allegedly biased pronouncements by Georgian officials that reflect "an openly nihilistic view" of bilateral relations, according to ITAR-TASS. LF


Following talks on 3-4 December in Stepanakert with the leadership of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, the three co-chairmen of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group returned to Yerevan to meet with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, ArmenPress reported. They evaluated the current stage of the peace process prior to the 18-19 December OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Copenhagen. LF


On 5 December, the co-chairmen met in Baku with Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov and President Heidar Aliev,. who expressed his regret that it appears unlikely a settlement of the Karabakh conflict will be reached before year's end, Interfax reported. Aliyev said the most recent OSCE peace plan, which calls for a phased solution to the conflict, should be approved by all parties to the conflict. Nagorno-Karabakh has rejected that plan and continues to insist on a "package" solution. Arriving in Paris on 7 December for an official visit, Armenian Prime Minister and former Nagorno-Karabakh President Robert Kocharyan similarly said he supports a "package" solution rather than the "phased" approach, AFP reported. LF


Following discussions that lasted three days, the National Assembly on 5 December voted to postpone a vote on the 1998 draft budget until after 20 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Most factions have expressed reservations about the draft, including the majority Hanrapetutytun faction, which objects in particular to a provision enabling the government to spend an unspecified sum at its discretion on "emergency situations." Finance and Economy Minister Armen Darbinian rejected the argument that Armenia needs a budget that functions "like clockwork," arguing that the country's economy does not yet do so, ArmenPress reported. Darbinian also warned that by the end of 1998, Armenia's foreign debt will reach the maximum limit of 50 per cent of GDP. In 1996, that debt amounted to 34.9 percent and is estimated to total 46.3 percent in 1997. LF


Kocharyan met in Yerevan on 4 December with editors and other media representatives to discuss demands made during the one-day media strike on 3 December, Armenian agencies reported. Kocharyan reasoned that it is not feasible to exempt the press from payment of taxes since that could lead to "intractable violations." But he did say he will propose that the parliament include in the 1998 budget a provision on financial aid for the media, to which the editors agreed. Kocharyan said he had been informed that media outlets were already exempt from paying rent for the premises they occupy in addition to maintenance charges. That exemption was one of the strikers' demands. LF


During his one-day visit to Ashgabat on 5 December, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, signed a cooperation agreement and reaffirmed their interest in "mutual partnership" with the aim of "overcoming economic difficulties", ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides failed, however, to negotiate the resumption of Turkmen gas supplies to Georgia. Those supplies were suspended in March 1997 because of Georgia's inability to pay outstanding debts totaling $465.2 million for gas imported since 1993. Although Georgia has agreed to begin repayments, the resumption of gas imports from Turkmenistan is precluded by Gazprom's refusal to allow Ashgabat to use its pipeline network. LF


The World Bank is preparing to lend Tajikistan $20 million over the next two months, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 December. The bank's board of directors will meet on 16 December to approve the first $10 million credit, which the government will use to pay off wage and pension arrears. The board will convene again in late January to approve another $10 million credit to help restore and maintain the communications and social infrastructure in the Karagetinskaya region. BP


The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation are to issue loans worth $450 million to the Ispat-Karmet steel company in Karaganda to go toward upgrading equipment, Interfax reported. Representatives of the two financial organizations signed the relevant documents in Almaty on 5 December. The EBRD is loaning $285 million and the IFC the remainder, Ispat-Karmet will put up $300 million. BP


The government on 5 December announced that unemployment has soared by 70 percent since the start of 1997 and now stands at 590,000, ITAR-TASS reported. The authorities also said the country's shadow economy has exported up to $20 billion out of Ukraine in the last few years and that up to $12 billion are circulating illegally inside the country. Some 150 members of the parliament signed a joint appeal to six countries asking that they help repatriate such funds to Ukraine. PG


President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 5 December said all lawyers in the country will have to join the Bar Union and be subject to its rules, Belarusian media reported. This ban will hit foreign firms particularly hard. At present, there are only some 50 private attorneys in Belarus. PG


"Svaboda," the opposition newspaper that Minsk recently shut down, is now available on the Internet, Poland's "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 5 December. Excerpts from the newspaper are also being broadcast regularly by RFE/RL's Belarusian service. PG


Representatives from 24 countries met in Minsk from 5-7 December to discuss developing better ties among the countries in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, ITAR-TASS reported. The meeting, organized by the Belarusian Helsinki Commission and the International Helsinki Federation, featured speeches sharply critical of Lukashenka's regime. PG


In an article published in the daily "Eesti Paevaleht" on 5 December, Vahur Kraft stressed there is a neither a crisis in the Estonian economy nor any obstacles to continued rapid economic growth, BNS reported. Kraft suggested that after the recent domestic turmoil triggered by the meltdown on foreign stock exchanges, the situation has now stabilized. David Blitzer, chief analyst of the international rating agency Standard & Poor's, shared Kraft's optimism about Estonia's economic prospects. He told the "Postimees" daily of 5 December that he does not consider a current account deficit of some 10 percent to pose a "very big danger" for a growing economy like Estonia's. According to the Bank of Estonia, the country's current account deficit now stands at 9.7 percent of GDP. JC


Prime Minister Guntars Krasts on 5 December announced he may dismiss two ministers from the Democratic Party Saimnieks who pressed for an increased Central Bank contribution to the budget, BNS and Reuters reported. Krasts said Interior Minister Ziedonis Cevers and Education Minister Juris Celmins violated the coalition agreement by proposing that Central Bank revenues totaling $3.4 million be added to the budget. Central Bank President Einars Repse had warned such a move would result in a hidden budget deficit if the bank were unable to make that contribution. The parliament nonetheless supported the proposal and passed the budget in the early hours of 5 December. Krasts is due to meet with representatives of the coalition parties on 8 December to discuss the ministers' fate, RFE/RL's Latvian service reported, citing "Dienas Bizness." JC


Defense Minister Talvas Jundzis has warned that armed forces personnel will have to be cut by 20-25 percent next year owing to the "meager" defense budget, BNS reported on 6 December. The 1998 budgetary allocation for the armed forces remains at last year's level of 0.67 percent of GDP and is the lowest in Europe. Jundzis also warned that Baltic military cooperation may be threatened by the low level of funding for the Latvian defense forces. According to the news agency, Lithuania and Estonia have allocated funds equal to some 1.5 percent of GDP for their defense needs next year. JC


At a meeting in Warsaw on 5 December, German Defense Minister Volker Ruhe and his Polish counterpart, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, announced plans to form a German-Polish-Danish corps as part of the process of NATO integration, PAP reported. PG


In a televised address to the nation, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said 1998 will be a tough year for Poles because of the austerity budget he has proposed. He explained that the budget is necessary to put Poland on the path toward a better future. PG


At their first congress since losing the parliamentary elections, the Polish Social Democratic Party on 7 December elected its parliamentary leader, Leszek Miller, as new party chief, PAP reported. Miller replaces defeated former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, who decided not to run for re-election. Miller, who was a member of the Politburo at the end of the communist era and who has a reputation as a hardliner, said the Social Democrats and their allies must transform themselves in order to challenge the current center-right government. PG


Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek has said President Vaclav Havel will ask Josef Lux, leader of the Christian Democratic Party, to head preliminary talks on forming a new government, CTK reported on 7 December. Spacek noted this does not necessarily mean that Lux will become the next prime minister. Lux commented that the "next [few] days will be a test for all politicians to put aside differences and get the Czech Republic out of its political limbo." Havel, in his weekly radio address on 7 December, said he would like a new premier to propose the cabinet line-up "in eight days" but added he is a "realist" and realizes the country may be headed for early elections." MS


After meeting with Lux and Civic Democratic Alliance leader Jiri Skalicky on 5 December, Premier Vaclav Klaus said the party leaders have agreed to try to form a new coalition government. Klaus said it is "unclear" whether such a government would stay in office until 2000, when new elections are due, or for a shorter period. The agreement must be approved at the emergency congress of his Civic Democratic Party (ODS) scheduled for 13 December. Skalicky said that if the ODS congress fails to endorse the idea, a shorter-term solution will have to be found, resulting in early elections. MS


Former Czech Interior Minister Jan Ruml, who was instrumental in forcing Klaus's resignation, told CTK on 7 December that he will run against Klaus at the upcoming ODS congress. Ruml said it is necessary to "create an alternative" to Klaus. On 6 December, a bomb exploded outside the home of Finance Minister Ivan Pilip, one of Klaus's rivals within the ODS. Interior Minister Jindrich Vodicka told Czech Television that the bomb was of "military origin" and "professionally set." Klaus reacted by saying he "strongly protested the introduction of such methods in Czech political life" and called on his opponents not to use the incident "to further destabilize the country." Havel said he was "shocked, alarmed, and disgusted" by the incident. MS


The government press office on 5 December announced that spokeswomen Ludmila Bulakova and Magda Pospisilova are "no longer working" at the office. It was not specified whether they resigned or were forced to leave. Anonymous sources in the government cited by the daily "Praca" on 6 December said the firings were triggered by a recent government press conference at which journalists repeatedly asked about the role played by Blazena Martinkova as an adviser to Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 1997). Pospisilova had replied that Martinkova is an "adviser, we can say, for everything." MS


Meciar refused to apologize for vulgar references to Czech President Havel and his wife, Dagmar, that he had made during a rally of his supporters in Bratislava on 4 December. The remarks prompted a diplomatic note of protest by the Czech Foreign Ministry. Meciar said the "Czechs have slandered him, too," and that he does not see any reason why he cannot do the same. In other news, the daily "Sme" on 5 December wrote that Meciar and Slovak Intelligence Service chief Ivan Lexa on 28 November "really went to Moscow." Meciar had declined to answer a question in the parliament about the alleged trip (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 1997). "Sme" said that Meciar and Lexa stayed in Moscow just three hours in what is described as a "secret trip." MS


Spokesmen for the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the 22-23 November Bosnian Serb legislative elections, said in Sarajevo on 7 December that the hard-line Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) won 24 out of 83 seats, down from the 45 it held previously. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS), the SDS's main ally, raised its share from six seats to 15, but the SRS and the SDS have lost their joint legislative majority. Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic's newly formed Serbian People's League (SNS) will have 15 seats in that parliament and a small party allied to the SNS will have two. Muslim and Croatian parties won 18 mandates. Observers are speculating that a possible coalition is likely to include Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists, who hold nine seats and could hold the balance of power in the new legislature. PM


The Muslim-dominated Mostar town council elected Safet Orucevic as mayor on 5 December. Outgoing Mayor Ivica Prskalo, a Croat, became his deputy. Orucevic said his main task is to reunite the isolated, Muslim-held east Mostar and the Croat-held western half of the city. Muslims charge that local Croatian power structures treat Mostar as the capital of western Herzegovina, which is economically and politically dependent on Croatia. The Croats, in turn, accuse the Muslims of trying to drive Croats out of communities in central Bosnia that date back to the Middle Ages. PM


Preliminary returns give Milan Milutinovic of the Milosevic- led coalition 1,573,392 votes in the 7 December Serbian presidential elections. The Radical Party's Vojislav Seselj has 1,182,171 votes, and the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic 575,773. If election officials conclude that at least 50 percent of the electorate voted and that consequently the poll was valid, Milutinovic and Seselj will face each other in a runoff on 21 December. The 7 December vote marked the third time in as many months that Serbs went to the polls to select a president. The campaign for that ballot was characterized by voter apathy and an opposition boycott. Real power in Belgrade remains in Milosevic's hands. PM


Fehmi Agani, the deputy chairman of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the main Kosovar political organization, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Pristina on 7 December that the Albanians did not take part in the vote because they do not recognize Serbia as their country. Agani added that the only elections as far as the Kosovars are concerned are the upcoming ones organized by their shadow state for the Kosovar presidency and parliament, which the Serbian authorities consider illegal. BETA news agency reported that many polling stations in predominantly Albanian areas of Kosovo did not open for the 7 December Serbian vote. PM


Adem Demaci, who heads the Kosovo Democratic Forum, which is second to the LDK in popular support, called for a three-month moratorium on violence following a series of shootings by the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 1997). Demaci also appealed to the Serbian authorities to suspend repressive measures in Kosovo for the same amount of time to help create an atmosphere conducive to dialogue. PM


Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Miodrag Vukovic told the Slovenian daily "Vecer" of 7 December that Slovenian tourists have recently returned to Montenegro, despite what he called attempts by Serbian customs officials to delay their arrival. Vukovic added that the Montenegrin government will not allow Belgrade to interfere with Podgorica's desire to promote contacts with the outside world. And at a meeting of the Podgorica city council, supporters of outgoing President Momir Bulatovic voted to replace Mayor Mihailo Buric, who supports President-elect Milo Djukanovic, with Bulatovic loyalist Dragisa Prsic. PM


Vlado Gotovac, who was defeated on 30 November in his bid to keep the chairmanship of the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS), announced in Zagreb on 5 December that he will found a new party on 24 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). On 6 December, Gotovac and his leading backers resigned from the HSLS, and the next day he apologized to voters for the months of public feuding between him and his rival Drazen Budisa, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. PM


Croatian UN Ambassador Ivan Simonovic said in New York on 6 December that his government welcomes UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan's recent decision to end the UN's mandate in eastern Slavonia on 15 January. A UN police contingent will stay on for an additional six months at the request of both the Croatian government and the local Serbian authorities. Meanwhile in Zagreb, President Franjo Tudjman met with leading representatives of Croatia's Serbian minority, including Vojislav Stanimirovic from Vukovar and Milorad Pupovac from Zagreb. Tudjman promised to ensure what he called a normal life for all citizens in eastern Slavonia. Upon returning to Vukovar, Stanimirovic called his talks with Tudjman most encouraging. PM


Agim Tirana, a criminal investigator for the Albanian government, told "Gazeta Shqiptare" of 6 December that illegal business dealings have become so widespread because mafia groups have penetrated state institutions. Tirana added that the mafia has close links with organized crime abroad. He argued that the only way to break the power of the mafia is to hire thoroughly professional people to work for the police, the state prosecutor's office, and key ministries. Tirana also pleaded for more modern crime-fighting equipment and noted that the mafia can afford the best technology. PM


Victor Ciorbea on 5 December was appointed deputy chairman of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD). The measure is aimed at strengthening Ciorbea's authority in the government and over the PNTCD's parliamentary faction. According to the PNTCD's statutes, the decision must be endorsed by the party's Permanent Delegation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see also "End Note" below). In other news, the Alliance for Romania party, which in June split from the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, has elected former Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu as its chairman at the party's first National Convention in Bucharest on 6-7 December. MS


A 10-day military exercise called Phiblex-97 began in the Black Sea port of Constanta on 5 December, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Some 1,600 U.S. and 150 Romanian sailors are participating.


Petru Lucinschi on 6 December promulgated the electoral law passed by the parliament in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1997) but also expressed misgivings about that legislation, BASA-press reported. Lucinschi said that the system of proportional representation in a single, nationwide constituency is "undemocratic" because the party lists are drawn up by the political parties themselves and the electorate is thus deprived of choosing from among "real candidates." He said this system has brought about "a deep and dangerous rift between the electorate and the deputies representing it in the legislature." Lucinschi added that the majority of voters would consider a change to a majoritarian system to be "proof of a real democracy." MS


In an interview with the weekly "168 chasa," European Commissioner Hans van den Broek said Bulgaria and Romania still have to make progress on the road to reform before they can begin negotiations for EU membership, Mediafax reported on 5 December, citing AFP. He noted that reforms in Bulgaria and Romania were launched only after their present governments came to power, adding that citizens in the two countries should not blame the EU for their "own political and economic past." He concluded by saying that the problem is not "if" the two countries will join the EU but "when." MS


by Michael Shafir

Victor Ciorbea's 2 December reshuffle of his cabinet was hardly unexpected. In fact, a reorganization of the government had been in the offing for nearly two months. The postponement was symptomatic of what had made the reshuffle necessary in the first place: a decision-making paralysis induced by the incapability to heed the primary rule for a functioning coalition--namely, bargaining and compromise recognized as a legitimate endeavor.

In the case of Romania, the difficulty of democratic apprenticeship is exacerbated by the absence of a political tradition of compromise. Romania had had no coalition government before communism was imposed on the country. Nor did it have the experience of political bargaining that emerged in other former communist countries ( Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland) as an outcome of the "round-table" negotiations that either preceded or shortly followed the fall of the communist regime. Instead of collaborating in the implementation of a much-needed reform program to which they had agreed, the coalition partners have tried to impose their views on the others. This has often meant attempting to impose their own people at the head of the structures tasked with carrying out reform.

To complicate matters, Ciorbea's team is not merely a coalition; rather, it is a "coalition of coalitions" since each of its three main components--the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), the Social Democratic Union (USD), and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania--is an alliance of different political persuasions. This makes bargaining and compromise even more difficult, since both must take place at three levels: the party, the parliamentary faction, and the government itself.

Hence, the constant public bickering among coalition members, leading to paralysis. Microstabilization of the economy has not followed the macrostabilization achieved by the government at the outset of its term as a result of the liberalization of prices and the exchange rate. Restructuring and privatization began encountering serious difficulties owing to an inability to compromise on legislation. One of the outcomes was insecurity among potential foreign investors. Hopes of quickly closing the gap between Romania and other countries that had earlier embarked on reform began to fade. The reshuffle is an attempt to deal with that problem.

If it is to achieve its purpose, the new government must, above all, instill discipline among its members and give coherence to the cabinet as a whole. Ministers will have to stop playing to different tunes and the factions that make up the parliamentary majority will have to ensure discipline among their own members. Finally, the authority of the premier himself will have to be increased, since until now Ciorbea has been more of a mediator than a leader.

There are indications that some lessons have been learned. To enhance his authority within the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), Ciorbea was made a party deputy chairman on 5 December. Several days earlier, he had told journalists that in the future, ministers will have to stop playing "infantile games" with the press and adhere to the rules of collective government responsibility. If they failed to do so, either they would "find themselves out of the cabinet" or he would resign, Ciorbea threatened.

Whether such warnings are sufficient remains to be seen. The newly established Ministry of Privatization is meant to overcome some of the dysfunctions. The portfolio is held by former presidential counselor Valentin Ionescu, a PNTCD member. But the Democratic Party, the main component of the USD, made no secret of the fact that it would have liked that ministry. More bickering ahead, perhaps?

The CDR paid the heaviest toll in the reshuffle. Minister of Reform Ulm Spineanu, Education Minister Virgil Petrescu, and Health Minister Stefan Dragulescu--all of whom are members of the PNTCD, one of the main components of the CDR--were replaced by ministers with no party affiliation (Ilie Serbanescu, Andrei Marga, and Ion Victor Bruckner, respectively). Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara of the PNTCD took over the industry and commerce portfolio, making room for yet another independent, Daniel Daianu, at the Finance Ministry. This speaks volumes for the managerial capabilities of a party that boasted it had 15,000 members ready to assume responsibility of all governmental structures.

Is the PNTCD caucus likely to gracefully accept the humiliation or will there be revolt in its ranks? The other main component of the CDR, the National Liberal Party (PNL), came out of the reshuffle only slightly better off than the PNTCD. It saw the departure of the influential Calin Popescu-Tariceanu from Industry and Commerce Ministry while several of its ministers were replaced by other PNL members. There are already indications that the PNL is dissatisfied with the reshuffle. If the new government is unable to instill discipline among its ministers and its supporters within the parliament, the future of not only the cabinet but also the country's reform process will be at stake.