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Newsline - December 29, 1997


The State Duma approved the draft budget for 1998 in the second reading on 25 December by a vote of 231 to 155 with three abstentions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The previous day, deputies approved the document provisionally, but then on two successive votes the budget fell just short of the 226 votes needed for approval. The Duma again failed by a small margin to pass the budget in the second reading on the morning of 25 December, but later in the day, after some lobbying in the corridors, the budget was finally approved. The budget, which faces another two readings in the Duma, calls for 367.5 billion new rubles ($62 billion) in revenues and 499.9 billion rubles in spending. The planned budget deficit of 132 billion rubles totals 4.7 percent of estimated 1998 GDP. LB


Although Communist deputy leader Valentin Kuptsov announced on 23 December that his party would vote against the budget, 35 Communist Duma deputies supported the budget in the final, successful attempt to approve the document in the second reading, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 25 December. As on 5 December, when the Duma approved the budget in the first reading with some Communist support, Communist Party leaders including Gennadii Zyuganov voted against the budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1997). The Our Home Is Russia, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Russian Regions factions voted nearly unanimously for the budget on 25 December, as did most Agrarian deputies and some members of the Popular Power faction. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction voted unanimously against the budget. LB


Top officials in the executive and legislative branches agreed on 26 December that the government and parliament will revise the Land Code and submit it to the president within three months, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In his speech to open the roundtable talks in the Kremlin, Yeltsin argued that the current version of the land code, which he vetoed in July, must be amended. While not explicitly prohibiting private land ownership, he said, the code bans citizens from selling, giving away, or mortgaging farmland. "What kind of private property is that?" he asked. A protocol adopted by the roundtable participants and signed by Yeltsin calls for strict state regulation of farmland transactions, which, among other things, would ban foreigners from buying farmland and would restrict new owners from quickly re-selling such land or converting it from agricultural use. LB


The Duma on 25 December voted by 404 to zero with one abstention to approve amendments to the law on the government, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. Before the vote, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin urged deputies to pass the amendments. Among other things, the amendments stipulate that the president directs the work of the so-called "power ministries" (defense, interior, and security services), as well as ministries and agencies dealing with questions of security, foreign affairs, and emergency situations. Yeltsin recently signed the law on the government after Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev promised that the Duma would approve the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1997). The Federation Council also passed the amendments on 25 December, but the legislation was put to a vote three times before the necessary three-fourths majority was achieved, according to ITAR-TASS. LB


While meeting with Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Mikhail Komissar on 25 December, Yeltsin said, "As long as I am president, I will not allow any changes to the constitution," Russian news agencies reported. Duma Speaker Seleznev recently sent the president several proposals on constitutional amendments, but Yeltsin argued that "attempts to change [the constitution] can only lead to the destabilization of the situation" in Russia. The Communist Party, of which Seleznev is a member, has long advocated constitutional amendments to reduce the power of the presidency and increase the power of the legislative branch. LB


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 25 December denied rumors that Yeltsin is seriously ill, saying the president "is in better shape than I am," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. On 24 December, exactly two weeks after he was brought to the Barvikha clinic with a respiratory infection, Yeltsin checked out of the clinic and held a partly-televised meeting with Nemtsov at the Kremlin. He also made trips to the Kremlin on 26 and 29 December. He has spent the rest of his time at his residence at Gorky-9, outside Moscow. Aides have not said when the president will return to work full-time. LB


The Duma on 26 December passed a resolution calling for Yeltsin to fire Nemtsov for making "irresponsible" comments during a visit to Sweden earlier this month, Russian news agencies reported. The resolution accused Nemtsov of trying to scare potential foreign investors away from regions with "red governors," who were elected with the backing of the Communist opposition. Meanwhile, the Federation Council, which is made up of regional executive and legislative leaders, voted on 24 December to summon Nemtsov to explain his comments in Sweden and his more recent remarks on the drive to pay wage arrears to state employees. Nemtsov has charged that regional governors--not the federal government--will be to blame if the wage debts are not cleared by the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997). LB


In a letter sent to the Duma and Federation Council on 25 December, Nemtsov claimed the comments he made in Sweden have been misinterpreted, Russian news agencies reported. He denied having implied that "red governors" would "liquidate" invested foreign capital. Rather, in reply to a question about which regions were most promising for foreign investors, he merely noted that regions in Russia's "red belt" have seen less foreign investment than other regions, such as Moscow and Moscow Oblast, St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, the republics of Karelia and Tatarstan, Novgorod, Samara, Tyumen, Nizhnii Novgorod and Sakhalin Oblasts. Nemtsov told the Duma and Federation Council that such information is "confirmed by statistical data" and that he hopes more regions will create an attractive environment for both foreign and domestic investors. LB


The Federation Council on 24 December approved six out of nine draft laws aimed at increasing 1998 budget revenues, ITAR-TASS reported. The legislation approved includes a law outlining a new income tax scale, a law raising the tax on foreign-currency purchases from 0.5 to 1 percent, and laws establishing an excise duty on oil transports and fees for alcohol production licenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). Also on 24 December, the Council rejected proposed changes to the law on excise duties, on the grounds that the high duties that law would set on alcohol production would unintentionally encourage the black market in alcoholic beverages. LB


Yeltsin on 26 December signed a law amending the 1997 budget, ITAR-TASS reported. The changes, which were approved by the Federation Council on 24 December, will allow the government to borrow $1.1 billion less on the domestic market this year and $1.1 billion more abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). LB


The private network NTV will appeal to the Moscow Arbitration Court against a decision to charge it higher fees for using state-owned transmission facilities, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 23 December. Under an agreement with the Communications Ministry, NTV has paid government rates for its transmissions since January 1996. However, the State Anti-Monopoly Committee recently ordered that NTV be charged the commercial rates paid by other private electronic media. Igor Malashenko, the president of NTV-holding, thinks the order violates Article 8 of the constitution, which guarantees equal conditions for all enterprises, whether they are state-owned or private. Some observers believe First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, who oversees the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, is behind the decision to charge NTV higher rates. Since this summer, the network's news coverage has frequently portrayed Nemtsov and especially First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais in an unfavorable light. LB


The Duma on 26 December approved a resolution calling for the government to take legal action against NTV and other Russian television companies that allegedly broadcast "the propaganda of vice, sadism, blasphemy, permissiveness and crime," Interfax reported. Such legal action could include revoking the broadcast licenses of some companies, the resolution said. It specifically condemned NTV for broadcasting the film "The Last Temptation of Christ" and declared the Duma's "complete solidarity" on this issue with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Duma recently passed a separate resolution calling for more regulation of NTV and other private electronic media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). LB


The gas monopoly Gazprom has formed a subsidiary, Gazprom-Media, to manage its media assets, Russian news agencies reported on 27 December. Viktor Ilyushin, up to now Gazprom's vice president in charge of public relations, was elected chairman of the board of Gazprom- Media. Ilyushin, a longtime aide to Yeltsin dating from Yeltsin's time as secretary of the Communist Party committee in Sverdlovsk Oblast, served as first presidential adviser from 1992 until August 1996, when he was appointed first deputy prime minister. He joined Gazprom soon after losing his government job in a March 1997 cabinet reshuffle. Gazprom owns shares in Russian Public Television, NTV, the Prometei network of regional radio and television stations, and the newspapers "Trud" and "Rabochaya tribuna." LB


U.S. citizen Richard Bliss, who is being investigated on spy charges, arrived in San Diego, California, on 25 December after Russian authorities allowed him to go home for Christmas. Bliss was arrested on 25 November while carrying out a land survey using satellite technology for a cellular telephone project involving his U.S. employer, Qualcomm. He was released from custody on 6 December after promising not to leave Rostov-na-Donu. Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told Interfax that the authorities may summon Bliss back to Russia in January, depending on the outcome of the investigation. U.S. officials including Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have called on Russian authorities to drop the charges against Bliss. LB


A plane carrying 21 members of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia landed in Baghdad on 25 December with a consignment of five tons of medical supplies. The plane had been detained in Iran on 22 December as it lacked authorization from the U.N. Security Council's Sanctions Commission to enter Iraqi air space, but allowed to proceed after the Russian Foreign Ministry requested permission from the U.N. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov on 24 December denied media reports that the ministry had been informed in advance about the LDPR's planned mission. LF


Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz completed his three-day visit to Turkmenistan on 28 December by overseeing the signing of several agreements between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. The most significant document was a memorandum of understanding for a gas pipeline across the bed of Caspian sea and via Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey and further to Europe. Prior to Yilmaz' departure to Baku on 28 December, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami arrived in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, and discussed with Yilmaz and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov the Turkmen-Iran- Turkey-Europe pipeline. Khatami and Niyazov attended the opening ceremony of the first stage of this route, the 200-kilometer Korpedzhe-Kurdkui pipeline, on 29 December. BP


Tajikistan will hold a national referendum on amendments to the constitution in the first half of 1998, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Possible amendments are being discussed by the National Reconciliation Commission but some members of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) favor waiting to name a date for the referendum until its members have officially taken up positions in the Tajik government. The announcement of which positions the UTO representatives will receive is already overdue. The last 650 fighters of the UTO still in Afghanistan awaiting transportation back to Tajikistan also have been delayed by weather, logistics and lack of finances, and may not return before mid-January. BP


Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov told Interfax on 22 December that he was satisfied with the outcome of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe Foreign Ministers' meeting in Copenhagen, Interfax reported. Hasanov said the meeting laid the foundation for resolving the conflict via negotiations. In an interview with the independent Armenian newspaper "Azg" on 23 December, Hasanov termed Armenia the instigator of the conflict and called on Yerevan to "withdraw its forces from Azerbaijani territory" and negotiate Karabakh's status. But the Prime Minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Leonard Petrossian, and the enclave's Foreign Minister, Naira Melkumian, both complained that "nothing was done" in Copenhagen to expedite the resumption of negotiations, Interfax and Noyan Tapan reported. Melkumian noted that the meeting also rejected Karabakh's request to be recognized as a "conflict party" for the entire duration of the negotiating process. LF


The National Assembly on 27 December voted overwhelmingly to pass the 1998 draft budget, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputies agreed to the government's proposed increase in excise tax on gasoline in return for a wage hike for government employees and other provisions that had figured in the1995 election program of the ruling Hanrapetutyun coalition. The budget forecasts a 5.2 percent increase in GDP and an annual inflation rate of 13 percent, which will reduce the budget deficit to 5.5 percent from its current level of 6.7 per cent. LF


Talks in Moscow under joint Russian and OSCE auspices between Georgian and South Ossetian representatives on an interim agreement on the breakaway region's political status within Georgia have been cancelled because of the Ossetian side's maximalist approach, Interfax reported on 23 December quoting Georgian presidential representative for resolving conflicts, Irakli Machavariani. Machavariani said that the South Ossetian leadership had reverted to its original demand, modified three years ago, of independence from Georgia and unification with North Ossetia within the Russian Federation. Both Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his South Ossetian counterpart Lyudvig Chibirov had expressed confidence that their meeting in mid-November had given fresh impetus to the search for a compromise settlement of the conflict. LF


Visiting Georgia on 26-27 December, Artur Rasi-Zade and the President of the Azerbaijani state oil company, Natik Aliev, assessed progress in reconstruction of the Baku-Supsa oil export pipeline, which is scheduled for completion in late 1998. Aliyev subsequently told journalists that the choice between Russia and Georgia as the main export route for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil will depend on how those countries meet the obligations they have signed to date. An agreement signed in September between Russian, Chechen and Azerbaijani officials on the transit of Azerbaijani oil via Chechnya is valid only until 31 December. Following a brief meeting in Baku on 28 December with Turkish Prime Minister Yilmaz, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev again endorsed the western export route via Turkey, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


The IMF has approved further loans to Azerbaijan totalling approximately $64 million, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 23 December. The loans are intended to support the country's ongoing transition to a market economy and to prepare for the anticipated influx of revenues from offshore oil production. The IMF is apprehensive that while increased oil revenues will relieve constraints on growth, they may also drive up the value of the manat and crowd out development in the non-oil sector. LF


Ukrainian prosecutors announced on 24 December that they plan to charge former Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko with embezzling some $ 2.5 million and spending it on his dacha, ITAR- TASS reported. Lazarenko, who was prime minister from May 1996 to July 1997, is the leader of the Hromada Party, one of the largest opposition parties in Ukraine. PG


In a letter to the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that he and his government have done all they could to end the death penalty in Ukraine as they had promised, but that the country's parliament had refused to act, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 December. PACE has said that it will suspend Ukraine's participation in that body unless it abolishes the death penalty, something the Verkhovna Rada has refused to do. PG


Central Election Commission chief Mykaylo Ryabets told Ukrainian television on 24 December that Kyiv might have to delay parliamentary elections scheduled for March, 1998, because the country lacks the physical capacity to print what would be three- meter-long ballots. The ballots are so lengthy because the parliament has required a large amount of personal data to be listed under each name. PG


When the Belarus court resumed his trial on 23 December, ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet announced he would not give testimony at a trial he and many others have assumed is rigged, ITAR-TASS reported. Sheremet and his cameraman Dmitriy Zavadskiy are formally accused of illegally crossing the Belarus-Lithuania border; Sheremet and many observers assume he was charged because of his critical reporting on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. PG


By a 64 to 0 vote, the Lithuanian parliament on 23 December amended the country's criminal code to allow prosecutors to try those accused of genocide regardless of the condition of their health, BNS reported. This action opens the way for the trial of Alesandras Lileikas, 90, who is accused of participating in Nazi atrocities but whose trial has been put off in the past because of his declining health. PG


The Lithuanian Central Election commission on 27 December released official results for the 21 December presidential vote. Some 71.77 percent of eligible voters took part. Arturas Paulauskas received 44.73 percent; Valdas Adamkus drew 27.56 percent; and Vytautas Landsbergis got 15.73 percent. Because none of the candidates received a majority, the top two -- Paulauskas and Adamkus -- will face each other in a runoff on 4 January. The second round of the campaign is to last from 27 December to 2 January. PG


Arvils Sautins, the head of the Central Statistical Department, told BNS on 22 December that a strong fourth quarter meant that the Latvian economy should record six percent growth for 1997, up from 2.8 percent in 1996. PG


In a letter delivered to Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann on 23 December, his Russian counterpart Viktor Chernomyrdin expressed the hope that a border agreement between the two countries might be signed soon, BNS reported. But as Siimann noted at a press conference, Chernomyrdin did not indicate when that might happen. Moreover, the Russian leader said nothing about ratification, without which the agreement would lack legal force. PG


Aleksander Kwasniewski on 23 December vetoed a bill curbing faster pension growth for the military and other public sector services and bringing it in line with the overall population. The average military pension is now more than twice the national average. The law was designed to cut public spending by $110.7 million in 1998. Kwasniewski argued that the government had failed to consult those affected by the law and that it appears unconnected with an upcoming reform of the social security system. The government intends to reduce the budget deficit to 1.5 percent of GDP in 1998 from this year's expected 1.8 percent. FS


Kwasniewski on 26 December sent back to parliament for review another amendment that would remove compulsory sex education from school curricula. The amendment was passed by parliament on 11 December. Kwasniewski's top advisor, Danuta Huebner, said that "the president cannot agree to this because Polish youths would thus be deprived of their basic rights ... to information on their own development and ... to knowledge about various aspects of health." The center-right government of Jerzy Buzek is short of a three-fifths majority to overrule Kwasniewski's veto. FS


A restrictive abortion law from 1993 returned to force on 23 December, six months after the constitutional court declared a more liberal law invalid. In 1996 parliament had liberalized the law that allowed abortion only if giving birth would endanger the woman's health, the fetus is irreparably damaged or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. The more liberal rules allowed women to seek abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for financial or emotional reasons. Kwasniewski has campaigned for abortion freedoms but said that another initiative to liberalize the law would have to come from Parliament. FS


Outgoing Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus accused his successor Josef Tosofsky on 23 December of snubbing him by holding coalition talks with rivals in his own Civic Democratic Party (ODS). The previous day Tosovsky had started coalition negotiations with ODS member and Klaus' critic Ivan Pilip and other former coalition allies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997). Klaus said on 27 December that Pilip is not on a list of 20 ODS candidates for ministerial positions. He also characterized as "scandalous" suggestions by Civic Democratic Alliance chairman Jiri Skalicky, who had said that Pilip's parliamentary grouping of the ODS was a better partner for coalition negotiations than the party's executive. FS


Hungarian Border guards arrested 21 federal Yugoslav citizens near the border to Slovakia on 27 December. The migrants were waiting for frontier runners to guide them when police discovered them. The immigrants told police that they had paid $ 300 each to get smuggled all the way into Germany. FS


Legislators representing Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and its ally, Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS), prevented the opening session of the new Bosnian Serb parliament from doing anything more than confirming the legislators' mandates. At the session that met in Bijeljina on 27 December, Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic wanted legislators to elect Mladen Ivanic prime minister. She also wanted parliament's top offices to be divided among the main Serbian parties. The hard-liners, however, demanded all key positions for themselves. The next session is slated for 12 January. PM


The deadlock is likely to continue at the January session because none of the main factions has a clear majority. The SDS and SRS together hold 39 seats, which is three short of a majority in the 83-seat body. Plavsic's Serbian People's League (SNS) has 15 seats, and her potential allies among Serbian parties control 11. A further 18 seats are held by Muslims, Croats, and other deputies from the mainly Muslim-Croat federation, who were elected by refugees. An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Bijeljina on 27 December that the deputies from the federation walked out before the end of the session. PM


President Plavsic told parliament in Bijeljina on 27 December that it must develop a program to combat the Republika Srpska's main problems, which she identified as unemployment, poverty, and difficulties in making ends meet. Plavsic also stressed that representatives of the Republika Srpska will take part in joint Bosnian institutions as equal participants. She called the Republika Srpska "a state of the Serb people," but added that "there is room in it for all others who are ready to accept our values and defend it as we do." PM


Hanns- Heinrich Schumacher, a deputy to High Representative Carlos Westendorp, told the Bosnian Serb parliament in Bijeljina on 27 December that the Republika Srpska risks becoming the "North Korea of Europe, where a corrupt few enjoy their lives to the detriment of the whole society and lock their territory to the outside world." He called on deputies to open transportation links to the rest of Bosnia, to take part in joint institutions, to allow refugees to return home, and to help in the work of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM


Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian joint presidency, said in Sarajevo on 26 December that his Party of Democratic Action (SDA) contains some extremists but that it is basically a bastion of what he called "tolerant Islam" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 1997). He argued that the SDA fights all forms of extremism, whether it be that of Serbs, Croats, or Muslims. Izetbegovic stated that the poor state of Croatian-Bosnian relations is due to the Croatian leadership's lack of respect for Bosnian sovereignty. He suggested that the Croatian leadership might not have given up on its earlier plans to join the Serbian leadership in a partition of Bosnia. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, for his part, recently told Italian media that he continues to believe that Islam presents a threat to Europe. PM


Bosnian Interior Minister Mehmed Zilic told Croatian TV on 26 December that his police have arrested two Arabs and are looking for a third in connection with a bomb blast in Mostar in September that injured 50. Zilic added that "the method by which the terrorist attack was carried out led us to believe that we were dealing with professional terrorists from Islamic countries." Croatian officials and journalists have long blamed what they call Islamic extremists for continued tensions between Croats and Muslims, who are nominal allies. PM


Swedish police are investigating the recent theft of documents about war crimes committed by Serbian paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan, "Nasa Borba" reported on 27 December. The documents were allegedly stolen from the car of a Swedish diplomat working at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, who was en route from Stockholm to The Hague. Swedish police protested to the court about what they called the "unprofessional conduct" of the driver. The police said that they fear that the anonymity of some witnesses mentioned in the documents might be compromised. PM


Milan Milutinovic, a supporter of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, took the oath of office as president of Serbia in Belgrade on 29 December. The previous day, legislators belonging to Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party announced that they will boycott parliament if it does not set up a commission to investigate the 21 December election, in which Milutinovic defeated Seselj. PM


Representatives of eight political parties and other organizations agreed in Novi Sad on 27 December to form the Vojvodina movement, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from that city. Their goal is to restore the province's autonomy, which was abolished in 1988 following street demonstrations organized by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. PM


Student representatives in Pristina urged Kosovars on 27 December to stage a peaceful protest on 30 December to demand the reopening of the Albanian-language section of Pristina University. Several thousand Kosovars held peaceful marches in several cities and towns on 24 and 25 December on behalf of the university, but student leaders suspended the demonstrations following what they called attacks and provocations by the Serbian police. Serbian media reported on 25 December that unknown assailants shot at a police car near Podujevo and tossed grenades at a police building in that same town, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pristina. PM


An explosion damaged at least four cars and surrounding buildings in Tetovo on 24 December. Another explosion one week earlier had damaged a court building in Gostivar. Both cities have a majority Albanian population. Police have arrested two suspects with Macedonian names in connection with the Tetovo blast, according to Reuters. There were no casualties in the explosions and nobody claimed responsibility for the attack. FS


William Cohen said that he discussed with President Kiro Gligorov "ways which would be helpful for tracking some sort of security arrangements" after the mandate of the United Nation Preventive Deployment Force in Macedonia (UNPREDEP) runs out in August 1998. Cohen met with Gligorov in Skopje on 24 December during a Christmas visit to the 300 US troops in the 700 strong peacekeeping contingent. He pointed out that the US was "looking for creative ways in which we can be helpful," after the withdrawal. Macedonian Defense Minister Lazar Kitanovski said that both sides discussed setting up a joint training center, MIC reported. FS


Roman Catholic Archbishop Rrok Mirdita persuaded 22 Albanian judges on 26 December to give up their hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997). They had moved their protest against possible dismissals to the Heart of Christ Church during a Christmas mass on 23 December. The previous day police had evicted them from the Tirana court building. Mirdita promised to arrange a meeting with President Rexhep Meidani. The judges protest against a law requiring a university law degree as a precondition for employment, which they say favors communist-era degrees. Up to 400 judges and prosecutors trained in six months courses in 1993 may be disqualified by the law. Meanwhile, the High Council of Justice dismissed one judge and took disciplinary measures against two others on 26 December in connection with the protests. FS


The EU has given 10 tons of emergency food aid to 7,500 people affected by floods in northern Albania. It also is preparing to ship additional food, blankets, winter clothing and shelter materials. The heaviest rains since 1985 have inundated about 8,000 hectars of land around Lezha, much of which lies below sea level (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). FS


Foreign Minister Adrian Severin announced his resignation on 23 December after an investigation failed to substantiate his allegations that local politicians and journalists were working as spies for foreign governments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997). The following day President Emil Constantinescu said he would swear in Andrei Plesu as Severin's successor on 29 December, after consultations with the government coalition. He did not comment on Severin's move. Plesu, 49, was a leading anti-communist dissident and the first post-communist culture minister. FS


Plain- clothes policemen kicked and punched Orthodox nuns in the face at a Christmas mass on 25 December in Bucharest. The nuns had disrupted the service by shouting slogans criticizing Patriarch Teoctist for collaborating with the regime of communist-era dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. They were then violently evicted and assaulted outside the cathedral. Many inside and outside the clergy have called for the patriarch's resignation for "passively" standing by while Ceausescu demolished 90 churches between 1978 and 1989. Teoctist is also controversial for planning to build a $150 million super- cathedral in Bucharest rather than spending the money to rebuild the destroyed churches. Meanwhile, former King Michael, who was present during the service with his family, said he would permanently move to Romania from his Swiss exile. FS


Petar Stoyanov on 25 December praised what he called the effort of all Bulgarians to cope in difficult times. Speaking to young people, he added that he is "sure that young Bulgarians will be playing a decisive role tomorrow, not only in the fate of their own country but also in that of a united Europe." Stoyanov, who is a practicing Christian, urged "all non-Christian Bulgarians luck, joy and happy days." His predecessor, Zhelyu Zhelev, is an atheist who delivered his main address at New Year's. PM


By Paul Goble

Six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the communist party has largely disappeared in most of the successor states. But one of its most unfortunate creations -- the nomenklatura -- continues to exist in most of them, albeit in a somewhat modified form.

In Soviet times, the communist party used a variety of institutions to control society -- the army, the secret police, and so on. But one of its most effective levers was a system of control over personnel appointments in virtually all aspects of public life.

Party committees at various levels had the final word over who could be appointed to this or that post and over who would be pushed up the career ladder or be cast aside.

Known as the nomenklatura, this group of people selected by the party formed the real elite of the Soviet Union. At each level, they tended to interact only with each other. And they formed a ruling class every bit as tightly defined as any other in history.

Some of the members of this group were committed to communist ideology, but by the end of Soviet times, most were driven by careerist motives. And not surprisingly, many of its members were largely indifferent to the fate of communism at the end of the Soviet Union.

Indeed, in their pursuit of individual and collective self- interest, some of them viewed the demise of the Soviet system as a golden opportunity to enrich themselves, to own what they used to merely control. Or as one shrewd Estonian observer of this situation once put it, "1991 was less about democracy and freedom than about giving the nomenklatura the retirement plan."

The continuation of the nomenklatura class, if not the nomenklatura system of appointments, has taken a variety of forms which cast a shadow over the life of these countries. The first and most important is simply the continuity of individuals in office, people used to working together and working together in the peculiar style of the Soviet past.

Ten of the 12 presidents of the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States were senior members of the nomenklatura. And even one of the three Baltic presidents -- Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania -- is as well. On the one hand, that should come as no surprise: these were the most politically active members of Soviet society, and after only six years, these are the people one might expect to be in power.

But on the other hand, whatever they choose to call themselves -- democrats, reformers, or something else -- their experiences of the hard school of the Soviet nomenklatura are likely to dominate much of their behaviour with each other and with the rest of society.

Indeed, many things that are otherwise inexplicable about the ways in which senior officials in these countries interact with each other -- the kinds and extent of corruption, the secrecy, the power of shadowy figures occupying no clear post -- become clear considering the positions these same people occupied in Soviet times.

The continuing role of the nomenklatura even has an impact on the way in which the governments of CIS states deal with each other. Armenian officials have pointed out that Russian President Boris Yeltsin, himself a senior nomenklatura member, deals very differently with the presidents of Georgia and Azerbaijan, both of whom share that tie, than with the president of Armenia who does not.

And this lack of nomenklatura ties, these officials suggest, limits rather than enhances the special relationship that exists between the Russian Federation and Armenia. At the very least, they say, it colors the way in which the Russian president receives the Armenian president when the latter comes to Moscow.

And yet a third example of the way in which the nomenklatura works is its efforts to find and promote politicians who can function in the more open democratic marketplace but who are committed to defending the interests of the nomenklatura class defined now, as often as not, as the "new" Russians or the "new" generation of leaders elsewhere.

One case of this very much on public view this month is in Lithuania. There, Arturas Paulauskas, who led the first round of voting for a new president, appears to be someone the old nomenklatura hopes to use to defend or even advance its privileges. The son of a KGB colonel with close ties with many of the former communist elite, Paulauskas, 44, presented himself as a man of a new generation -- even as an appointee of Vytautas Landsbergis, the man who led Lithuania's march to the recovery of its independence.

Like some other former members of the nomenklatura, Paulauskas may be able to emancipate himself from its claims and its habits. But his candidacy and the support the old nomenklatura is giving it are yet another reminder that communism may in fact be gone but one of communism's most unfortunate creations is going to be around for a long time to come.