Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - January 7, 1998


A presidential spokesman told Reuters on 7 January that Boris Yeltsin will have a "full schedule" when he returns to work on 19 January. The previous day, Interfax reported that the president will not hold any official meetings before 19 January. However, unnamed officials from the presidential press service issued several statements saying Yeltsin is keeping up an active schedule while vacationing in the resort town of Valdai. Officials on 6 January said the president sorted through his mail, held telephone conversations with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and went ice fishing and snow-mobiling. According to Reuters, a Kremlin spokesman could not confirm an Interfax report saying Yeltsin was planning to go swimming in an indoor pool on 6 January. No pictures of Yeltsin's outdoor activities in Valdai have been released. LB


An unnamed presidential spokesman said on 6 January that a meeting between Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin scheduled for this week will not take place. Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov, however, denied that any such meeting was scheduled, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the premier has not scheduled any trip to Valdai to meet with the president. Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin hold regular weekly meetings when both men are in Moscow. LB


Appearing on Ekho Moskvy on 5 January, presidential legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov said Yeltsin will decide whether to run for re-election in 2000 only after the Constitutional Court rules on whether he is legally entitled to seek a third term. Last fall, the State Duma asked the court to rule on the issue after several presidential aides hinted that Yeltsin may run again. Krasnov's comments may be aimed at quelling speculation about the president's health. Krasnov has previously criticized the Duma's court appeal, saying it reflects "unhealthy suspicion" on the part of the Duma and even "contempt" toward Yeltsin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 1997). Anna Malysheva, the head of the Constitutional Court's press service, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 6 January that the court has not set a date for considering the Duma's appeal. LB


Prime Minister Chernomyrdin says that regional leaders are responsible for ensuring that funds earmarked to pay wages to state employees are spent for that purpose, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a statement issued by the presidential press service, Chernomyrdin told Yeltsin during a 6 January telephone conversation that although the federal government transferred enough funds to pay back wages by 31 December, people are still waiting for wage payments in some localities. "Everything depends now on the efficiency of regional authorities," he added. Federal officials have frequently blamed regional leaders for persistent wage arrears, saying funds meant to settle wage debts are often misallocated after arriving in the regions. LB


"Novye izvestiya" charged on 6 January that triumphant reports about the payment of wage arrears to state employees are misleading because federal and regional authorities still owe other massive debts to citizens. By way of example, the newspaper cited non-payment of child allowances and wage arrears owed to workers at private enterprises that have not been paid for state orders. "Novye izvestiya" is reportedly partly financed by former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii. LB


Government spokesman Shabdurasulov on 6 January said that the government has allocated sufficient funds to pay wage arrears and financial benefits to military personnel, ITAR-TASS reported. However, he acknowledged that many soldiers are still owed various payments in kind, which, he added, they will receive sometime in 1998. Shabdurasulov argued that media reports on debts owed to the military often confuse monetary payments with payments in kind. He also noted that the Defense Ministry is responsible for making sure funds allocated toward paying debts to soldiers are not misused. Meanwhile, "Trud" reported on 6 January that most army personnel have not received their wages for December. The newspaper also said officers have only just received their year-end bonuses from 1996 and will not receive those for 1997 until summer 1998. "Trud" is financed by the gas monopoly Gazprom. LB


Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov on 6 January argued that the 22 December attack by Chechen militants on a Russian military base in neighboring Dagestan is justification for the Russian security forces to carry out "precautionary operations" against the hideouts of "gangsters" in Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov, however, told ITAR-TASS that Kulikov was expressing his personal opinion and that the possibility of such preemptive strikes has been neither discussed with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin nor suggested to President Yeltsin. In Grozny, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov condemned Kulikov's statement as a provocation aimed at undermining the peace process. Also on 6 January, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov proposed that Kulikov and himself be given emergency powers to take measures aimed at stabilizing the situation in the North Caucasus. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 6 January, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said the upcoming U.S.-Turkish-Israeli naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean "may aggravate mistrust" and undermine efforts to bring stability to the region, Russian agencies reported. Tarasov pointed out that the exercises have already been postponed several times because of Egyptian and Syrian protests that they constituted a move toward creating a military axis between Israel and Turkey. Such a configuration would threaten the security of Arab countries, he added. LF


Also on 6 January, Tarasov said the Russian-Japanese agreement on fishing rights around the Kuril Islands is evidence of a growing partnership, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. He said "the positive experience gained from the talks" will help boost cooperation, particularly "joint economic activities." Since the early November meeting between Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Japanese investment in Russian projects has grown rapidly, particularly in the off- shore oil fields near Sakhalin Island. BP


Hashimoto, for his part, told the Japanese cabinet on 6 January that one of the country's priorities in 1998 is developing relations with Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. In his New Year's address, he also said Russia's participation in the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group would further strengthen economic and political relations among member countries, Japan's NHK television reported. At the same time, Hashimoto said a peace treaty with Russia could not be signed until territorial disputes are resolved. ITAR-TASS on 7 January dismissed that statement as "designed to appease Japanese public opinion." Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Minoru Tamba is to visit Moscow later this month to discuss concluding a treaty formally ending Second World War hostilities. BP


Deputy Military Prosecutor-General Yurii Yakovlev announced on 6 January that the amnesty recently approved by the Duma will apply to about half of the 30 generals and admirals who have been charged with corruption, Interfax reported. The amnesty covers veterans of the Chechen war and other combat operations. It also applies to those who served in the Russian armed forces in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, and the Baltic States after 1 December 1991 . However, Yakovlev said the amnesty will not apply to former Deputy Defense Minister Konstantin Kobets, who was arrested last May. Kobets faces charges on bribery, abuse of office, and illegal possession of firearms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 1997). LB


State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin announced on 6 January that auctions will be held in January for stakes in the Tyumen, Eastern, and Slavneft oil companies, Russian news agencies reported. An auction for a 19.68 percent stake in Slavneft was canceled in December, as no bids were offered, Interfax reported on 25 December. The previous month, officials called off a tender for a 34 percent stake in the Eastern Oil Company because only one bid was submitted for that tender. They also postponed the sale of a 48.68 percent stake in the Tyumen company pending a court challenge to the auction. Gazizullin said that before the end of January, a resolution will be approved on the sale of a 50 percent plus one share in the Rosneft oil company during the first quarter of 1998. A 46.15 percent stake in Rosneft will be sold in a special cash auction later, and the remaining shares are to be distributed to Rosneft employees. LB


In an address broadcast on Russian Television on 6 January, Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve, Yeltsin said the celebration of Christmas "marks the restoration of our lost cultural values and traditions, a return to our roots." While noting that Russia is a secular state, Yeltsin remarked that more and more churches are being restored or built, which reflects how "people are striving to find lost moral values." In a year-end radio address broadcast on 26 December, Yeltsin had said "spiritual values and civic responsibilities" have been neglected in Russian society. He noted that while concentrating on economic reform in recent years, the authorities "overlooked certain things" and "forgot [about] the ethics of entrepreneurship." It is unclear whether the president recorded his Christmas address before leaving for a two-week vacation on 4 January. LB


In his Christmas message, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said unity within the Orthodox Church is "the most important concern" and called for increasing the Church's social, educational, and missionary activities, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian Orthodox Church has come into conflict with other Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine, and Estonia. Aleksii strongly supported a religion law adopted in September 1997, which puts restrictions on religious groups that cannot prove they have existed in Russia for at least 15 years. Critics of that law say it discriminates against denominations and faiths that were banned or repressed during the Soviet period. In a Christmas message to Aleksii, Yeltsin praised the historical role of the Russian Orthodox Church and expressed hope that the Church will help promote morality, civic peace, and accord in Russian society. LB


"Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 6 January argued that the redenomination of the ruble, which took effect on 1 January, will inevitably increase inflation and thereby hurt most Russian citizens. The newspaper said that the money supply will increase as old and new ruble bank notes are circulated simultaneously. Government officials have denied that the redenomination will be accompanied by an increase in the money supply (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 1998). "Sovetskaya Rossiya" questioned the need to remove three zeroes from the ruble, noting that countries such as Italy and Japan have never carried out a redenomination. It also charged that issuing new ruble notes will facilitate swindling, money laundering, and counterfeiting. It went on to quote an article in the "Financial Times" that argued that issuing new bank notes will not in itself make the ruble a stable currency, since Russia's most pressing economic problems remain. LB


Sources in the Health Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 6 January that 573 people contracted dysentery in Murmansk Oblast between 23 and 31 December. More than 400 people were hospitalized in the worst outbreak of dysentery in Russia since the Second World War. Investigators from the Health Ministry concluded that contaminated dairy products from a local collective farm were the source of the outbreak. The farm's factory continued to produce goods in unsanitary conditions after equipment failures deprived the factory of hot and cold running water. The outbreak was contained several days after dairy products from the farm were recalled from local shops. LB


Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov on 6 January rejected the "constructive use of coercion" to resolve the Abkhaz conflict. Tarasov argued that it would be "dangerous" if options that have proved justifiable in one conflict region would be systematically applied in another. The use of violence in Abkhazia would lead to new bloodshed, he argued. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had said on 1 January that he plans to raise the possibility of a Bosnian-style operation in Abkhazia at the next NATO Euro-Atlantic Council summit, which is scheduled for May. Meanwhile, Abkhaz Presidential Representative Anri Djergenia told Interfax on 6 January that the "potential of the Abkhaz-Georgian peace process has been exhausted." Djergenia said Abkhazia will continue to insist on equal status with Georgia. LF


Azerbaijani government sources have given contradictory explanations for the ongoing visit to Israel of Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Guluzade. Turan on 5 January cited an unnamed diplomat as claiming that Guluzade is on a "working visit" at the invitation of Israeli State Adviser for Foreign Policy Uzi Arad. The diplomat stressed the trip is not intended as preparation for President Heidar Aliev's planned visit to Israel. However, Interfax the next day quoted an unnamed Azerbaijani government source as saying the primary purpose of Guluzade's trip is to prepare for Aliev' s visit. LF


Reporters sans Frontieres on 6 January wrote to President Aliyev to express concern at Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov's criticism of the independent news agency Turan. Hasanov had claimed on 22 December that Turan's coverage of Armenian Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian's speech to the 18-19 December Copenhagen meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe constituted "anti- government activities." Hasanov subsequently accused Turan of disseminating false information about the meeting. On 23 December, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov threatened to bar Turan employees from entering the ministry building. LF


Equality, a political party representing the estimated 780,000 Azerbaijanis forced to flee their homes during the war for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, will hold its founding congress in late January at a camp for displaced persons, Turan reported on 5 January. The party currently claims some 4,000 members. It aims to protect the political and economic rights of displaced persons and to fight worsening corruption and the stratification of Azerbaijani society. LF


In a statement released on 6 January following the end of the Ashgabat summit, the leaders of the five Central Asian countries that belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States said that the CIS is an "acceptable model for cooperation at the transitional stage" but stressed that each individual country must decide for itself what level of participation best suits its needs. The five said they will improve relations among themselves "based on long-term partnership." Turkmenistan, citing its neutral status, declined an invitation to join the Central Asian Union, formed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan; but Tajikistan's bid to join found support among the member countries and Turkmenistan did not rule out an observer role later. The five presidents again said they favored negotiations to end the Afghan conflict. Help was also offered to Tajikistan to establish a "democratic, secular regime." BP


Burhanuddin Rabbani has met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Abdullo Nuri, the chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, in an attempt to enlist their support in mediating the Afghan conflict, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January. Rabbani proposed that an international conference under the aegis of the UN be held and that all parties involved in the conflict send representatives. He noted that all major groups in Afghanistan support such a conference, except the Taliban movement, which currently controls the majority of the country. Rakhmonov and Nuri said they are in favor of such a conference. BP


Kazakh Television on 6 January broadcast a statement by the Chinese Embassy in Kazakhstan complaining about the treatment of Chinese citizens in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. The embassy expressed concern about the increasing number of crimes committed against Chinese traders at markets in the Kazakh capital. Those crimes include thefts and beatings. The statement added that Kazakh border guards and militia have on occasion taken part in such crimes. BP


In his Orthodox Christmas message read on Ukrainian state television on 6 January, President Leonid Kuchma urged the country's Orthodox Churches to try to cooperate with one another. Kuchma suggested that "unity in Orthodoxy is a reliable guarantee of the spiritual unity of the nation." Ukraine currently has three Orthodox hierarchies --the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, and the smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which itself is divided into two subgroups. The three frequently fight among themselves over property, doctrine, and ecclesiastical subordination. PG


Valentin Koupnyi, the deputy director of the Chornobyl nuclear power station, says the sarcophagus around the part of the station damaged by the 1986 accident is "in danger of crumbling," Interfax-Ukraine reported on 6 January. Koupnyi complained that there have been no repairs to the containment wall because the international community has not yet provided sufficient funds. PG


The Polish government has granted asylum to Belarusian journalist and Belarusian Popular Front activist Yan Churilovich, according to the Belapan news agency and RFE/RL's Belarusian service. Churilovich has been in Warsaw for more than a year, working for a local newspaper, studying at the university, and campaigning against the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. PG


The cabinet on 6 January approved in principle the 1998 privatization program, ETA reported. The program includes Estonian Oil Shale, the power utility Eesti Energia, Estonian Railroads, and the telecommunications company Eesti Telekom. Economy Minister Jaak Leimann told reporters that of those companies, only Eesti Telekom will be fully privatized this year. The state will also sell the remaining 30 percent in the Estonian Shipping Company and 10 percent in the gas company Eesti Gaas. A majority stake will be sold in the state distillery Liviko. JC


Also on 6 January, the cabinet rejected a proposal by ethnic Russian deputies that the requirements for receiving Estonian citizenship be eased, ETA reported. Under that proposal, non-Estonian pensioners, invalids, and children as well as the spouses of Estonian citizens would not have been required to pass a language exam to gain citizenship. Russian deputy Sergei Ivanov told the news agency that Russians have practically ceased to apply for Estonian citizenship because all those capable of passing the language exam have done so. Last month, the government proposed amendments to the citizenship law whereby all children born in Estonia would automatically become citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1997). JC


President-elect Valdas Adamkus has chosen his long-time friend Raimundas Miezelis to head the administration of the President's Office. Adamkus told BNS that he selected Miezelis because of his "organizational and administrative skills." The two men have been friends since attending college together. Miezelis, who is 67 and chairman of the Valdas Adamkus Fund, returned to Lithuania last year after pursuing a career in the U.S. and South America. Meanwhile, ELTA reports that Adamkus will take his oath of office on 25 February. JC


The Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) parliamentary faction on 6 January voted by 32 to 26 to support the ODS Executive Council's position that ministers Stanislav Volak, Ivan Pilip, Michal Lobkowicz, and Jan Cerny do not represent the party in Josef Tosovsky's cabinet, CTK reported. At the same time, the faction declared its readiness to support the new cabinet provided that its program reflects that of the ODS. Former Interior Minister Ivan Ruml told CTK that the members of the ODS wing who oppose former Premier and ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus may set up a "firmer organizational structure" within the next two weeks. Meanwhile, several ODS senators have expressed reservations about President Vaclav Havel's candidacy for a second term. Most ODS senators asked by CTK said they "have yet to make up their mind." MS


The Czech crown on 6 January fell to a record low of 36.05 to the U.S. dollar and 19.72 to the German mark, AFP reported. The Central Bank intervened "to prevent unjustified changes," according to a bank spokesman who did not detail the extent of the intervention. In other news, an opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research in December 1997 shows that 51 percent of Czechs believe their income dropped last year, compared with 1996. Only 14 percent said their income rose, while 64 percent claimed their income was lower than under the communist regime. MS


Miroslav Sladek, the chairman of the extreme-right Republican Party, was arrested on 6 January in front of the Chamber of Deputies' building in Prague, a party spokesman told CTK. Interior Ministry spokesman Jan Subert said Sladek was arrested for repeatedly refusing to show up for his trial on charges of incitement to hatred. His parliamentary immunity was lifted in February 1997 for remarks made during a visit by Chancellor Helmut Kohl one month earlier that the Czechs "did not kill enough Germans during World War II." MS


Industry and Trade Minister Karel Kuhnl on 6 January said the government is still set on completing the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, despite delays and rising costs. Neighboring Austria strongly objects to the plant, which it claims poses a risk to the environment. The facility was originally scheduled to be completed by 1995. The earliest completion date is now late 1999, and it is estimated costs could exceed $2 billion. MS


The board of trustees overseeing Hungarian State Television dismissed HTV president Istvan Petak on 6 January, saying he had continuously breached the media law and mishandled funds, Hungarian media reported. The board has named vice president Lorant Horvath as acting president and asked the prosecutor-general to launch an investigation into Petak's mishandling of funds. Petak and opposition officials claim that the decision was politically motivated and that "certain [government] circles" want to gain an information monopoly on television. MSZ


Security Services Minister Istvan Nikolits has rejected allegations by "The New York Times" in its 5 January issue that former communist countries invited to join NATO pose security problems because their intelligence officers previously worked for the KGB, Hungarian media reported the next day. Nikolits said the report gives a false impression of Hungary's national security staff, stressing that the secret service has been "considerably renewed" since the end of communism. He did not deny, however, that officers from the previous regime still work for the services, explaining that security interests do not allow all personnel to be changed. MSZ


A spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 6 January that the Bosnian Serbs must quickly agree on a government or else Westendorp will take "appropriate measures." Another spokesman for the international community gave the same message in person to Momcilo Krajisnik, the Bosnian Serb member of the joint presidency, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. Krajisnik and other hard-liners are blocking attempts by Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic to form a government of technocrats (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 7 January 1998). At a conference in Bonn on 9-10 December, representatives of the international community gave Westendorp increased powers to take decisions should Bosnian politicians prove unable or unwilling to do so themselves. PM


President Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 6 January that the Dayton agreement will be dead if the international community does not grant the contested strategic town of Brcko to the Republika Srpska. She added that the Serbs would not accept the cutting of their republic into two, which, she stressed, would result were the Serbs to lose Brcko. The town's future was the only question left open when the Dayton agreement was concluded at the end of 1995. International mediators have repeatedly delayed making a decision about Brcko, which had a Muslim majority before the war but has linked the two halves of Bosnian Serb territory since 1992. PM


Indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic drew up a plan in November to outline Bosnian Serb hard-line strategy to sabotage the Dayton accords, Western news agencies reported from Sarajevo on 6 January. Bosnian officials showed the document to U.S. President Bill Clinton during his visit on 22 December. Observers said the plan contains nothing new but is highly detailed and indicates that Karadzic is still in charge among the Pale-based hard- liners. Mirza Hajric, an aide to Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the joint presidency, commented that "again we have undeniable proof that Karadzic is controlling developments in the Republika Srpska. There can be no reconciliation [in Bosnia] until all war criminals are arrested." Meanwhile in Bonn, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said that Bosnian peacekeepers should have a broader mandate to enable them to go after Karadzic and arrest him. PM


Westendorp's spokesman said in Sarajevo on 6 January that the international community will appoint someone to supervise the work of Bosnian Serb Television (SRT) in Plavsic's stronghold of Banja Luka. The decision was prompted by SRT's airing of a strongly anti-Croatian program during Roman Catholic Christmas in December. The Dayton agreement forbids the propagation of ethnic hatred. The spokesman also said the international community has rejected a request from hard-line TV Pale for the return of transmitters seized by peacekeepers last summer. PM


The trial of the Croat Zlatko Aleksovski began at the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 6 January. Aleksovski is charged with abusing Muslim prisoners and using Muslim civilians as human shields during the Croatian-Muslim conflict in 1993. PM


Officials of the Dutch government and of the Mostar city administration announced in Herzegovina's main city on 6 January that The Netherlands will help restore 450 buildings and other objects in that area, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. In Washington the previous day, a spokesman for the State Department said the U.S. will provide $29 million to help resettle refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina. PM


Bosnian government officials told an RFE/RL correspondent in Sarajevo on 6 January that Croatian officials have said a reference to a Muslim minority was dropped from recent amendments to the Croatian Constitution because Muslims are not "native" to Croatia but have migrated there in recent times. The amendments also dropped any reference to a Slovenian minority, presumably on the same grounds (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1997). Representatives of Croatia's large Muslim and Slovenian minorities argue that those populations have long lived in Croatia. They fear that the constitutional change means the minorities will lose cultural and other rights. PM


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may make outgoing Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic, his staunch supporter, Yugoslav foreign minister in order to remove him from an increasingly difficult political position at home, "Nasa Borba" wrote on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 5 January 1997). On 6 January, a Belgrade court called into question the validity of the 19 October election, which Bulatovic lost to President-elect Milo Djukanovic, an opponent of Milosevic. Meanwhile in Podgorica, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Miodrag Vukovic said he will propose a referendum for Montenegrin independence from Yugoslavia if Milosevic ends Montenegro's equal status with Serbia within the federation, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 7 January. PM


Masked gunmen killed six people near the northern city of Tropoja on 5 January, according to "Gazeta Shqiptare." The Democratic Party said three of those killed were members of its local branch. A party statement published in "Rilindja Demokratike" on 7 January blamed the killings on the government, which it called a "criminal clique." The other victims were two policemen and a secret service agent. The Interior Ministry has sent special police to the city to investigate. Meanwhile, the State Prosecutor's Office has accused four policemen of killing a murder suspect in the Fier hospital on 5 January in an apparent act of lynch justice. FS


State prosecutors have charged 15 police chiefs with involvement in smuggling, "Koha Jone" reported on 7 January. The prosecutors said all the accused were employed under the previous Democratic government and have left the country since the June 1997 elections. Meanwhile, a group of judges who are protesting allegedly political sackings resumed their hunger strike on 6 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997). They interrupted their protest on 26 December after Catholic Archbishop Rrok Mirdita offered to mediate a meeting between them and President Rexhep Meidani. That meeting never took place, however. FS


Minister of Telecommunications Sorin Pantis and Charles Frank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development representative in Romania, have signed an agreement on a $100 million loan to Romania's Telecom company, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The seven-year loan is to support the privatization plan for Telecom, which is to be completed by the end of 1998. That plan provides for the installation of new phone lines and improved operations before the sale of the company. It also calls for an international tender. At least 30 percent of the company's stock is to be sold on the Bucharest stock exchange. MS


The Parliamentary Assembly of the autonomous Gagauz-Yeri region on 6 January unanimously passed a resolution suspending the validity of the Moldovan electoral law in the region, BASA-press reported. The assembly objects to the stipulation in the law whereby all Moldovan territory is one single electoral district. Assembly speaker Piotr Pasali told BASA-press that the measure is legal because under the existing legislation providing for a special status for Gagauz-Yeri, the assembly may suspend legislation passed by the parliament in Chisinau until the Constitutional Court has ruled on the assembly's objections. MS


Russian gas deliveries to five Bulgarian towns have been halted since 1 January because of the dispute between the state-owned Bulgargas, on the one hand, and Topenergy (controlled by Russia's Gazprom) and the private Bulgarian Multigroup conglomerate, believed to be in the hands of former Communists, on the other. Topenergy signed a contract with Gazprom in 1997 to deliver gas to Bulgarian consumers, but the pipelines are controlled by Bulgargas, which refuses to allow Topenergy to act as intermediary between itself and Gazprom. As a result, Bulgargas has cut deliveries to Stara Zagora, Pazardjik, Lovich, Pervomai, and Yambol, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. An agreement between Sofia and Gazprom to have Bulgargas buy a controlling stake in Topenergy folded when Multigroup refused to sell its holding. MS


Petar Stoyanov has said the two rival heads of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarchs Maxim and Pymen, should both resign in order to resolve the split within the Church, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported on 6 January. Stoyanov said it is "scandalous" that the Church has been "suffering from this split for seven years." The Synod headed by Patriarch Pymen has accused Patriarch Maxim of collaboration with the communist regime. Speaking at a ceremony commemorating Bulgarian national hero Hristo Botev, a poet who died in 1875 fighting against the Turks, Stoyanov said that "under [the Turkish] yoke, the Bulgarian clergy chose prison and [even] death." Today, he added, "we are asking for a smaller sacrifice from our prelates--to give up their positions." MS


by Jolyon Naegele

"Three Kings' Day" in the Roman Catholic calendar (6 January) was supposed to have been the day on which the three leaders of the Czech coalition parties were to have met to sort out their differences. But in the months since that meeting was agreed upon, the tripartite coalition collapsed. Its leaders are now barely on speaking terms with one another.

Former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) is in disarray, with nearly half its deputies in the lower house forming a faction opposed to Klaus and with the party leadership demanding that the dissenters either terminate the faction's activities or leave the ODS.

Last month, Klaus had unsuccessfully demanded that a political agreement be reached with his designated successor , Josef Tosovsky, before discussing ODS nominations to the new cabinet. Tosovsky insisted that each of the three coalition parties first submit names and hold discussions later. He then circumvented Klaus and offered posts to four ODS members, including the ODS whip in the lower house of the parliament, Jan Cerny, and Finance Minister Ivan Pilip, who had called for Klaus's resignation in November.

The four new ministers--Pilip, Defense Minister Michal Lobkowicz, Minister for Labor and Social Affairs Stanislav Volak, and Minister for Local Development Cerny--now face demands from Klaus and his aides to either give up their cabinet posts or leave the party.

President Vaclav Havel, despite his recuperative vacation in the Canary Islands, has taken an active role in forming the new government, appointing Tosovsky and making clear which cabinet members from Klaus's government could stay on and which had to leave. Havel briefly interrupted his vacation and flew back to Prague to swear in the new government on 2 January.

In a brief speech at the appointment ceremony, Tosovsky said that the main issues in his not yet elaborated government program will be actively continuing negotiations on joining NATO and the EU, resuming the pace of economic reform (including privatization), fighting crime and corruption, and improving access to information about the cabinet's work by "making all decisions maximally transparent.".

After the 20 January presidential elections, the parliament is due to hold a vote of confidence in the new government. Klaus said recently that the four dissenting ministers should "freely" choose either to stay in the government and remove the party's initials after their names or resign from the government.

On 5 January, however, the ODS leadership decided that it will neither block Tosovsky's cabinet nor bind its deputies in the confidence vote. This would appear to ensure the government's survival. Moreover, the Social Democrats said one day later that they will vote confidence in the government, provided its mandate does not go beyond June.

All these developments have exposed a variety of shortcomings in how politics function in the Czech Republic.

Not only is the country still far from being a civil society, where government ministers concede that the rule of law is still a distant goal, but old Bolshevik habits are alive and well in the ruling parties' structures. Stalin's "democratic centralism" is Klaus's preferred way of dealing with dissenting members. According to that doctrine, discussion within the Party was permitted only until a decision was reached; thereafter, no dissenting views were tolerated,

Czech journalism has once again proven that its greatest strength is political commentary and its most glaring weakness investigative reporting. Stories about shady party financing were poorly researched. Rumors of Klaus's building a villa near Lake Constance in Switzerland have been circulating among journalists for two years. But it was not until late last year that a few Czech reporters trooped off to Switzerland to try to find out the truth.

Klaus's blaming journalists for what he called the "media assassination" of the ODS is further evidence of his own lack of comprehension about the role of the news media in a free society.

"Lidove noviny" warned on 6 January that "if the ODS leadership does not ease up its confrontational tone, then it is likely that it will lose not only the next elections but all subsequent ones as well." The newspaper added that the ODS is sending very ominous signals abroad about the domestic situation, which, it stressed, is far from being as unstable as is being claimed. Moreover, the newspaper continued, the alleged chaos could harm the Czech Republic's admission into Western structures.

Similarly, in an apparent bid not to jeopardize Tosovsky's confidence vote, the Czech news media has been silent about the new prime minister's party affiliations in the past. Tosovsky is not currently affiliated with any party. But as a banker, he was sent to London to work at Zivnostenska banka in 1984-1985 and again in 1989. A former Czechoslovak diplomat who worked with Tosovsky during his first posting in London told RFE/RL that Tosovsky could not have been posted to London without having been a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. The author is an RFE/RL senior news editor.