RUSSIAN OFFICIALS ACTIVE IN IRAQI CRISIS
Leading Russian officials are attempting to find a peaceful solution to the standoff between Iraq and some western countries over the right to inspect possible weapons sites in Iraq. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Madrid on 30 and though Primakov said later that the talks were "useful," Albright still described the situation as "very grave" and said diplomatic solutions were "all but exhausted." Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Davos, Switzerland on 31 January and repeated that Moscow objects to the use of force in the Middle East. On 1 February, President Boris Yeltsin sent his special envoy to the Middle East, Viktor Posuvalyuk, to Iraq, his second trip there in a week, to continue attempts to mediate the crisis. BP
YELTSIN, KUCHMA HOLD INFORMAL TALKS
Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma found much to agree on during informal talks in Moscow on 30-31 January, RFE/RL correspondents in Moscow and Kyiv reported. Yeltsin announced that in the next Ukrainian presidential election, scheduled for 1999, he will back Kuchma. In a joint statement released on 31 January, the two presidents praised "the process of positive changes in Russian-Ukrainian relations" and confirmed that they will sign a program on economic cooperation during Kuchma's formal visit to Russia, planned for late February. (Russia and Ukraine have previously agreed to stop charging VAT on each other's imports as of 1 February.) However, the joint statement criticized "an unjustified delay" in settling some issues, such as the demarcation of the Russian-Ukrainian border and the implementation of agreements on dividing the Black Sea Fleet, Russian news agencies reported. LB
YELTSIN'S DENIAL OF RE-ELECTION PLANS RAISES DOUBTS
Russian commentators remain unconvinced that Yeltsin has ruled out running for re-election in 2000. Yeltsin announced on 30 January that he will not seek a third term as president because he "will not violate the constitution," which says a president can serve only two consecutive terms. However, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told NTV the same day that the Constitutional Court will give "a new word in the political life" of Russia when it decides whether Yeltsin may legally seek re-election. Some presidential advisers have argued that Yeltsin is entitled to do so, since the current constitution was not in effect when Yeltsin was first elected president in 1991. "Russkii telegraf" argued on 31 January that Yeltsin's recent statement leaves open the possibility that he will seek re- election if the court rules that he may do so. LB
CHERNOMYRDIN, CHUBAIS DOWNPLAY RUMORS OF RESHUFFLE...
Prime Minister Chernomyrdin announced on 30 January that First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Chubais and Boris Nemtsov will not resign from the government. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Chernomyrdin advised journalists to "wait and see" and declined to comment directly on Yeltsin's statement that "one or two" faces in the government may change (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 1998). Yeltsin's comment renewed speculation in the Russian media that Chubais or Nemtsov may soon be forced out of the cabinet. Speaking to reporters in Davos on 30 January and in Moscow the next day, Chubais said major changes in the Russian government are unlikely. LB
...EXPRESS OPTIMISM ABOUT RUSSIAN ECONOMY
Both Chernomyrdin and Chubais were upbeat about the state of the Russian economy in speeches delivered to the World Economic Forum, Russian news agencies reported. Chernomyrdin described as "realistic" Russia's goal to attract $20 billion in foreign investment annually by 2000. Chubais again said the financial crisis on Asian markets poses the greatest threat to the Russian economy and the stability of the ruble. However, he expressed confidence that the current financial crisis in Russia will last no longer than 10 days. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, who also attended the forum, dismissed the upbeat comments by Chernomyrdin and Chubais as "forced optimism" designed to attract foreign investment, RFE/RL's correspondent in Davos reported on 31 January. LB
REACTION TO INTEREST RATE HIKE
Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin confirmed on 30 January that the decision to raise the refinancing rate to 42 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 1998) was intended to "nip panic in the bud" and prevent a devaluation of the ruble, Russian news agencies reported. The pressure on the ruble is reflected in the continuing decline of Russia's gold and hard-currency reserves. Dubinin announced on 30 January that those reserves totaled some $16 billion at the end of January, down from $18 billion at the end of December. Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 31 January, Chubais praised the decision to raise the refinancing rate and denied that a ruble devaluation is imminent, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, Duma deputy Sergei Ivanenko of Yabloko told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 2 February that the interest rate hike and current high yields on Russian treasury bills will reduce investment in Russian industry and make it more difficult to fulfill the 1998 budget. LB
BEREZOVSKII ON NEED TO PREPARE FOR NEXT ELECTIONS
Former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii told ITAR-TASS on 1 February that Russia's major businessmen are already discussing the next parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for 1999 and 2000, respectively. He said Russian business cannot afford a repeat of the last election cycle, during which financial interests began preparing for the 1996 presidential election only five months before the vote. Berezovskii and several other powerful businessmen agreed to back Yeltsin's re-election effort at the Davos forum in February 1996. However, since mid-1997 fierce rivalries among those businessmen have emerged over privatization. Financial and industrial groups now appear unlikely to agree on a common candidate in the next presidential race. LB
YELTSIN HOPES COURT WILL SUPPORT HIM ON ELECTORAL LAW
Yeltsin told journalists on 30 January that he hopes the Constitutional Court will support his stand on the electoral law, Russian news agencies reported. The president is seeking to abolish the current proportional representation system, under which half of the seats in the State Duma are distributed among electoral blocs that receive more than five percent of the vote. In November 1995 and again last November, the court has refused to consider appeals claiming that the law is unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1997). Yeltsin introduced the proportional representation system in a 1993 decree outlining rules for elections to the Duma that year. However, groups that supported him and his government fared poorly in both the 1993 and the 1995 Duma elections. The Supreme Court upheld the legality of the current electoral system last April. LB
CHERNOMYRDIN BEGINS VACATION
Chernomyrdin began a two-week vacation on 2 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The premier plans to stay near Moscow and will continue to sign government documents during his vacation. Chernomyrdin said on 31 January that he will undergo routine medical tests at the Barvikha sanitorium during his vacation, Reuters reported. Chernomyrdin and government spokesman have denied recent speculation that the prime minister may have health problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 1998). LB
COMMISSION RECOMMENDS BURYING LAST TSAR IN ST. PETERSBURG
First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov announced on 30 January that most members of a commission studying the remains of Nicholas II and his family have recommended that Russia's last tsar be buried in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul fortress, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Nemtsov said exhaustive scientific tests have confirmed the authenticity of the remains. He added that living relatives of Nicholas II, who were questioned by the commission, unanimously favor burying the tsar in St. Petersburg, where all Russian monarchs since Peter the Great were buried. The commission has also recommended that the burial take place on 17 July, which will be the 80th anniversary of the murder of the tsar's family. Yeltsin is to make the final decision on where and when the burial will take place. LB
ROSSEL LOBBYING FOR YEKATERINBURG BURIAL.
Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel has continued to press his case for burying Nicholas II and his family in Yekaterinburg, where they were killed in 1918. Rossel argued for a Yekaterinburg burial during a 29 January meeting with Yeltsin, who is a native of the oblast. Appearing on NTV the same day, Rossel claimed that a scholar in Yekaterinburg knows where to find the remains of Nicholas's son Aleksei and one of the tsar's daughters, whose remains were not found with the bones of the rest of the family. However, Rossel said, the scholar will not reveal the location of the remains of the two children unless the tsar's family is buried in Yekaterinburg. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 1 February, Viktor Aksyuchits, an adviser to Nemtsov, characterized Rossel's statements as attempted "blackmail." LB
PROSECUTOR GIVES GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS ON CRIME STATISTICS
Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov announced on 30 January that the number of registered crimes in Russia was nearly 9 percent lower in 1997 than in 1996, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Juvenile crimes were officially down by nearly 10 percent, he added. However, Skuratov acknowledged that the real crime rate in Russia is probably three to four times higher than official statistics indicate, ITAR- TASS reported. He noted that while the Interior Ministry registered 2,387,000 crimes in 1997, experts believe nearly 10 million crimes were committed. He attributed the discrepancy both to the refusal of police to register crimes (in order to keep statistics low) and the reluctance of victims to report them. LB
CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST BASAEV STILL OPEN
Also on 30 January, Skuratov said he sees no grounds for closing the criminal case against acting Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Basaev is wanted in Russia on terrorism charges for leading a raid on Budennovsk (in Stavropol Krai) in June 1995. Skuratov said the case against Basaev will remain open until either the State Duma approves an amnesty for him or Yeltsin pardons him. LB
AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATING MANAGEMENT OF ELECTRICITY GIANT
Skuratov announced on 30 January that a criminal investigation into the management of the state-controlled electricity giant Unified Energy System (EES) is ongoing, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Following an unsuccessful attempt by the EES board of directors to remove top executive Boris Brevnov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998), Brevnov and Anatolii Dyakov, the chairman of the EES board, accused each other of financial improprieties. Skuratov said Brevnov is to return 130 million old rubles ($22,000) to the EES budget for using a company plane for his family's personal travel. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov, who brought Brevnov in as EES head, on 30 January described the conflict as a clash between "the old semi-party and semi-planned economy approach" to managing and a "new approach," Russian agencies reported. LB
VISIT TO GERMANY DOESN'T PUT SERGEEV AT EASE
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev was in Germany on 28-29 January, Russian media reported. Sergeev met with his German counterpart Volker Ruehe and Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel in Bonn to discuss a range of issues. Sergeev agreed that the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia should continue after the SFOR mandate expires this summer. Sergeev expressed his country's displeasure at NATO expansion, however, as it "doesn't threaten anybody except Russia." He also objected to NATO plans for a German-Danish-Polish corps in Szczecin, Poland. Ruehe said Germany will stop financing a retraining program for retired Russian officers. More than 30,000 have already been retrained for civilian jobs. BP
HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS DEMAND OUSTER OF KULIKOV
Representatives of several human rights groups, including the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial, the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, and the Glasnost Defense Foundation, have called for the dismissal of Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 30 January. In particular, the human rights activists criticized Kulikov's recent call for preventive strikes in Chechnya. They also charged that Kulikov has overseen extensive corruption and should be held responsible for the "lawless" behavior of the police and the Interior Ministry troops. LB
RUSSIAN GARRISON ATTACKED IN DAGESTAN
An unidentified man threw a grenade at the barracks of a Russian garrison in Buinaksk on 1 February, Interfax reported. No one was injured. But Col. Valentin Astafyev, the spokesman for the North Caucasian Military District, said that the question "why do armed bandits feel safe in Buinaksk" remains open. PG
ARMENIAN RALLY DEMANDS 'RETURN TO COMMUNISM'
More than 10,000 people on 31 January participated in a communist-led rally calling for the restoration of the communist system and the resignation of the current government, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Sergei Badalian, the first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party, said that President Levon Ter-Petrosyan and his government must resign and be replaced by one that will end privatization and restore social security benefits. In another indication of the problems facing Armenia, Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradegyan has resigned, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 February. Because Siradegyan is also the head of the ruling Armenian National Movement party, his departure will further complicate Ter- Petrosyan's political standing. PG
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT: IMPROVED U.S.-IRANIAN TIES KEY TO PEACE
Heidar Aliyev told visiting RFE/RL President Thomas Dine on 31 January that he believes an improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations can contribute to peace and stability in the Caucasus, RFE/RL reported. In other remarks, he reaffirmed Baku's willingness to accept the OSCE Minsk Group plan for the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, and he urged the U.S. to lift its restrictions on aid to his country. The Azerbaijani leader indicated that he expects to win reelection in October, Interfax reported. PG
UN EXTENDS MANDATE FOR OBSERVER MISSION IN GEORGIA
The United Nations Security Council on 30 January extended the mandate of the UN observer mission in Georgia for another six months, ITAR-TASS reported 31 January. The mission monitors the situation in and around Abkhazia. In extending this mandate, the council called on all the parties of the conflict to redouble their efforts to find a peaceful solution. PG
GERMAN PRESIDENT VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
German President Roman Herzog arrived in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on 1 February for a three-day visit, RFE/RL correspondents and dpa reported. Herzog and Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev were present at the signing of a cooperation agreement in the fight against drug trafficking. The German president will also meet members of the German community in Kyrgyzstan, whose numbers have fallen from 120,000 in 1989 to some 20,000. According to dpa, Herzog is the first head of state from a western country to visit Kyrgyzstan since it gained independence. BP
BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS DECRY STATE'S WAR ON MEDIA
Belarusian opposition leaders meeting in Warsaw said on 1 February that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is waging a war on the independent media, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. At a meeting with Polish politicians, Ihar Hermanchuk, editor in chief of "Naviny," which replaced the banned "Svaboda," said that any publication in Belarus can be suspended for three months if it includes an item that is considered to be "an insult to the president or state authorities." The opposition leaders met in the Polish city Bialystok on 31 January to discuss the human rights situation in Belarus. Former Solidarity officials Zbigniew Bujak and Jacek Kuron attended the meeting, which was organized by Poland's Center of Civic Education. PB
CHORNOBYL LINK SEEN IN POPULATION DROP
The Ukrainian government said on 30 January that the Chornobyl nuclear accident was one of the main factors that has caused the country's population to decrease, AFP reported. The State Public Statistics Committee reported that the population shrank by a total of some 375,000 people in the first 11 months of last year. Medical officials said that male fertility problems, linked to the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, had contributed to a 3 percent drop in Ukraine's population since 1991. Another main contributor to the decline is the difficult economic situation, which has lowered life expectancy rates. PB
BALTIC STATES AGREEMENTS WITH EU ENTER INTO FORCE
A wide-ranging basket of political and economic agreements linking Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with the European Union took effect on 1 February, Estonian media reported. Signed in 1995, the accords lay the groundwork for eventual Baltic membership in the EU. Meanwhile, the United Nations European Economic Commission predicted that Estonia will become the first East European country to get into the EU, BNS reported on 30 January. In another sign of expanding cooperation, the foreign ministers of Estonia and Latvia agreed to accelerate cooperation in expediting passage across their common border, BNS said. PG
U.S., FINLAND EXPAND MILITARY ASSISTANCE TO BALTIC STATES
Soldiers of the U.S. Army's Special Forces Group are currently in Latvia to serve as army instructors, BNS reported on 30 January. The Green Berets, as these soldiers are popularly known, will remain in Latvia for about one month. In a related development, Finnish Defense Minister Anneli Taina announced the same day that Helsinki was stepping up its efforts to train Estonian officers and to provide the Estonian defense forces with additional military hardware, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January. Meanwhile, Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves told a NATO meeting in Brussels that Tallinn expects to be invited to join the Western alliance in 1999, the Russian news service said. PG
LATVIA'S PRIME MINISTER SOFTENS POSITION ON NATURALIZATION
Guntars Krasts said in Riga that he did not exclude the possibility that the government would call for the naturalization of all children born in Latvia since 1991 regardless of their parents' citizenship, BNS reported on 30 January. But Krasts refused to say exactly when the government would do so or whether the current parliament could approve it. OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Max van der Stoel has recommended such a step. PG
LITHUANIANS OPPOSE SCRAPPING DEATH PENALTY
Andrius Kubilius, the Lithuanian parliament's deputy chairman, said that Lithuanians oppose eliminating the death penalty for serious crimes even though the Council of Europe and other European institutions have called on Vilnius to do so, BNS reported on 30 January. Earlier public opinion polls show that more than half of all Lithuanians back the use of the death penalty. PG
PROSECUTORS PROBE ACTIONS OF SOVIET ARMY IN LITHUANIA
Lithuanian prosecutors are investigating actions by Soviet troops on the territory of Russia's Kaliningrad and Lithuania's Klaipeda region between 1944 and 1955 to determine whether Vilnius should charge them with genocide, BNS reported on 30 January. The prosecutors are doing so at the request of Lithuanian parliament deputy Stanislovas Buskevicius. Because the probe concerns Soviet actions in a Russian region that some Lithuanians believe should be part of their country, it is likely to provoke a strong Russian reaction. PG
CENTRAL EUROPEAN DEFENSE MINISTERS FORM JOINT GROUP
The Polish, Czech, and Hungarian defense ministers agreed on 30 January after two-days of talks in Warsaw to form a joint consultative group to coordinate military infrastructures along NATO lines and cooperate in the upgrading of equipment, an RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw reported on 30 January. Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz said that he and his Czech and Hungarian counterparts, Michal Lobkowicz and Goergy Keleti, "were not losing interest in our partners who are in the East." Keleti said the three NATO invitees do not want new dividing lines to form as NATO expands. PB
CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY NAMES CANDIDATE FOR PREMIERSHIP
Milos Zeman, the chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD), said on 31 January that he was "surprised" by the decision of the party's presidium to nominate him as the CSSD candidate for prime minister if the party wins the elections due this summer, CTK reported. He said he had offered to resign as CSSD chairman because he did not want his party to become a "one-man party;" an allusion to political rival Vaclav Klaus, head of the Civic Democratic Party. CSSD Deputy Chairman Vladimir Spidla said the presidium recommended that the ratification of the accord on the Czech Republic's adherence to NATO be coordinated with Poland and Hungary. He repeated his party's position that if the CSSD won the elections, it would call a referendum on NATO membership. The Chamber of Deputies starts debating NATO accession on 3 February. MS
HAVEL PLANS TO BE 'MORE ENERGETIC'
Czech President Vaclav Havel said on 1 February that he wanted to be "more energetic and more radical" in his second term as the country's president. Havel spoke in the last of his weekly radio addresses. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek announced on 30 January that in the future Havel will intervene and make known his positions without waiting for a weekly radio address. Havel said he would like to be a president who is "less visible ... less omnipresent," but one who has "the appropriate strength to move the country forward." He said the speech in parliament during which he criticized the performance of the Klaus government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998) should be viewed as "a program of presidential preferences." MS
NEW SCANDAL THREATENS CZECH POLITICS
The chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), Jiri Skalicky, told CTK on 30 January that he wants the party to sue businessman Kamil Kolek for libel. Kolek recently said in an interview with CTK that the ODA used blackmail to force him to make a donation of two million crowns (some $57,000) in 1994. In related news, Jan Ruml, head of the newly-formed Freedom Union, told journalists on 30 January that his party would consider a partnership with the ODA only if that party "deals with its financial problems" soon. MS
HUNGARY'S SOCIALIST PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZES COALITION PARTNER
Gyula Horn told a 1 February session of the Socialist Party's National Board and parliamentary faction that some in the junior coalition party do not respect the December 1997 agreement of the coalition's Consultative Council, according to which the two parties will not campaign against each other. He criticized the Free Democrats for making public the recent disputes between the two partners on state-church relations, the resolution of the Danube dam dispute with Slovakia, the parliamentary representation of national minorities, and the Roma situation. Free Democratic party chairman Gabor Kuncze responded by dismissing the Socialists' position as "unacceptable." According to Kuncze, they take credit for the coalition's success while making the Free Democrats responsible for its fiascoes. The Socialists called a meeting of the coalition's Consultative Council to discuss recent disputes. MSZ
NEW BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT TAKES OFFICE
Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's government was sworn in on 31 January in Banja Luka at the third session of the new parliament. Serbian hard-liners belonging to Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) left the hall at the start of the ceremony. Muslim and Croatian deputies walked out when the Serbian Orthodox religious part of the inauguration began. The legislature later voted to annul 33 laws passed by the SDS-dominated former parliament after Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic dissolved that body last summer. Dodik, for his part, pledged to reorganize Bosnian Serb Radio and Television "in accordance with the requirements of the Office of High Representative [Carlos Westendorp]... to develop into a professional, independent and responsible network, open to everybody." PM
BANJA LUKA TO BE BOSNIAN SERB CAPITAL
Some 56 out of 83 deputies voted in Banja Luka on 31 January to move the Republika Srpska's capital from Pale, the headquarters of Radovan Karadzic and his hard-line allies, to Banja Luka, the power base of Plavsic and Dodik. The new capital is one of Bosnia's major towns with a population of about 200,000, while Pale is a ski resort of about 20,000 inhabitants. The move is one more sign of the decline of the influence of Karadzic and his allies. It also marks the end of Karadzic's hope that the Serbs might some day have part of Sarajevo as their capital. PM
CROATIA OPTIMISTIC ON REPUBLIKA SRPSKA, NATO
Foreign Minister Mate Granic announced in Zagreb on 29 January that Croatia hopes to open a consulate in Banja Luka and is waiting for the approval of the Bosnian joint presidency to do so. The next day, Defense Minister Gojko Susak said after returning from Washington that Croatia may be able to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program by the end of 1998. Susak said he is now more confident of U.S. support for Croatia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. U.S. officials have repeatedly made such integration contingent on Croatia's implementation of the Dayton agreement and on its fair treatment of its Serbian minority. PM
HOME OF MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT'S BACKER BOMBED
A bomb severely damaged the house of Djoko Klikovac, a supporter of President Milo Djukanovic, in Bijelo Polje near Podgorica during the night of 31 January-1 February. Klikovac is a leader of the local branch of the Democratic Socialist Party and a wealthy businessman who made his money in the fuel trade during the 1991-1995 war. This is the third explosion in 10 days involving property of close supporters of Djukanovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1998). PM
RUGOVA CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL PROTECTORATE
Kosovo shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova has again urged that the troubled Serbian province be made an international protectorate in order to defuse tensions and help clarify its future status. Rugova stated in Pristina on 30 January that the majority ethnic "Albanians would accept a transitional period of two years under an international protectorate during which a referendum on its status will be organized." Belgrade maintains that Kosovo is an internal Serbian affair and has firmly rejected outside attempts at mediation, including Rugova's long-standing campaign to "internationalize" the issue. PM
ALBANIAN, SERBIAN BORDER POLICE CELEBRATE BAJRAM
A delegation of five Serbian border police joined Albanian officials in Kukes to celebrate Bajram, the day that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 31 January. The Serbs, who are from Prizren, also appeared on Albanian Television to wish viewers a happy holiday. The Tirana daily added that "it is the first time that such a thing has happened in the history of the relations between the two peoples." The Serbs invited their hosts to pay a return visit to celebrate Serbian Orthodox Easter in April. PM
ALBANIAN JUDGES END HUNGER STRIKE
Following mediation by OSCE special envoy Daan Everts, eight judges ended their hunger strike in Tirana on 30 January, "Shekulli" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 30 January 1998). The judges and Justice Minister Thimio Kondi agreed that the Council of Europe's Venice Commission will look into claims by the hunger strikers that a recent Socialist-backed law was designed to oust judges trained in accelerated six-month courses in 1993 under the previous Democratic Party government. Meanwhile, a group of hunger-striking ex-political prisoners has also asked for OSCE mediation. They object to a recent softening of the country's lustration law. FS
ALBANIAN PYRAMID OWNER ATTEMPTS SUICIDE
Maksude Kadena, founder of the Sudja pyramid company, was hospitalized after trying to poison herself with an overdose of various medicines in prison on 31 January, "Bulevard" reported. Meanwhile, government-appointed pyramid administrator Farudin Arapi said that a preliminary report by the auditing firm Deloitte & Touche showed that over 80 percent of the businesses of five pyramid companies are now defunct and that "the companies' mismanaged the creditors' capital." FS
REPORTS: PSYCHIATRIC PATIENTS STARVED TO DEATH IN ALBANIA
Some 55 people starved to death in the psychiatric hospital of Elbasan in 1997, as have two so far this year, "Koha Jone" and "Shekulli" reported on 31 January. Local doctors told journalists that there has been a chronic lack of food and heating and added that, despite international aid given since last summer, malnutrition remains the most serious problem. The hospital houses 230 patients. FS
DEMOCRATS BOYCOTT ROMANIAN COALITION TALKS...
The representatives of the Democratic Party did not participate in the 1 February talks with other coalition partners to find a solution to the stalled government crisis. The boycott follows protests by the Democrats against a press conference organized by the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 31 January, with the participation of the chairman of the Christian Democratic European Union, Wim van Velzen. Van Velzen said that Premier Victor Ciorbea is "not responsible" for the problems in the coalition and that these were "probably a reflection of internal conflicts in the Democratic Party." MS
...WHILE INTERNAL CONFLICTS SURFACE IN THE PARTY
Upon his return from Lisbon on 31 January, Democratic Party chairman Petre Roman alluded that his party may support a no-confidence vote against the cabinet, saying that he could not see why "a government that is not capable of making the reform, should survive." Democratic Party vice- chairman Victor Babiuc said on 31 January that after van Velzen's declarations the Democrats wonder if they could still support the cabinet, and Traian Basescu, also a vice-chairman of the party, said it was "deplorable" that the PNTCD had "appealed for foreign help." In an interview with the daily "Azi" on 30 January, former Foreign Minister Adrian Severin criticized Roman, saying that he should have made a "personal sacrifice" and negotiated the Democrats' continued participation in the coalition despite the party's National Council opposition to that participation. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ON COALITION CRISIS
In an interview with Pro TV from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Emil Constantinescu on 1 February said he was "disgusted" with the way Romanian politicians have handled the crisis. Upon his return to Romania the same evening he said he regretted having made that declaration but added that while in Davos he succeeded in convincing political leaders and potential investors that the crisis was not "political" but "governmental," and that the situation is "seriously affecting and threatening Romania's interests." Constantinescu said that he will meet on 2 February with leaders of the coalition and the opposition. In an interview with RFE/RL on 31 January, Constantinescu claimed that the coalition dispute had actually accelerated the reform, allowing parliamentary passage of key reform legislation. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS 'TIME TO THINK IN ECONOMIC TERMS'
Petru Lucinschi on 30 January told a meeting of the Moldovan government that it was "high time to start employing the language of finances, speaking in terms of lei [the Moldovan national currency] rather than tons," Infotag reported. He reproached the government for presenting an optimistic picture of the economy, one showing that "production volumes" were being met "as planned" while financial figures showed a different situation. Lucinschi said both the central government and the local authorities must deal with economic problems rather than involve themselves in politics. He said the signs of "economic stabilization" are encouraging but warned that this year will be more difficult than 1997. Finance Minister Valeriu Chitan told the government that the country's external debt grew by $60.2 million in 1997, reaching a total of $709 million. MS
BULGARIAN DEPUTY MINISTER RESIGNS IN BANKING SCANDAL
Deputy Transportation Minister Kaltcho Hinov resigned on 31 January after his name appeared on a recently published list of about 3,000 persons and companies that owe large debts to banks. Hinov admitted he obtained credits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars as the owner of a private company. He said he had intended to return the money but could not do so because of the sanctions imposed by the UN on Iraq, to which his company planned to export goods, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. Hinov is the only senior official in the present government whose name appeared on the list. MS
BULGARIA, RUSSIA TO NEGOTIATE GAS DELIVERIES
President Petar Stoyanov told reporters on his return from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 1 February that his talks at the forum with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had "removed most of the obstacles" to signing a new agreement for Russian gas deliveries to Bulgaria and the transit of Russian gas through Bulgarian pipelines to third countries, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Bulgarian Deputy Premier Evgeni Bakardzhiev will travel to Moscow for talks on the new agreement this week. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said that he was prepared to go to Moscow himself for talks with Chernomyrdin. MS
STOYANOV PREDICTS ECONOMIC GROWTH FOR BULGARIA
President Petar Stoyanov on 30 January told the World Economic Forum in Davos that the pace of economic reforms in his country will increase and that the reforms are backed by the population, who realizes that the reforms were stopped by the Socialists for four years. Stoyanov predicted that Bulgaria's GDP will grow by 4 percent in 1988. Deputy Premier Alexander Bozhkov told the forum on 29 January that Bulgaria plans to privatize 70 percent of the state assets by the end of 2000. MS
POST-COMMUNIST STATES DIVERGE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
by Paul Goble
During 1997, some post-communist governments made significant progress in improving the protection of the human rights in their countries. Others failed to do so or even retreated from earlier gains. But all continue to face challenges in bringing their domestic performance up to their international commitments.
That is the conclusion of the U.S. State Department in its annual survey of human rights around the world, a document explicitly used to guide American policy and carefully read by many as an indication of both conditions on the ground and American concerns about particular countries.
As has been the case since its inception 20 years ago, this year's report generally avoids any classification of countries according to their political pasts. An exception is the survey's discussion of countries included in a section called "Countries in Transition." But a reading of its chapters on the post-communist countries suggests that the U.S. has reached three more general conclusions about them.
First, the report notes a growing divergence in the performance of post-communist states, an acknowledgment by Washington that these countries are moving in this area -- as in so many others -- along very different tracks and at very different speeds.
Second, the report explicitly delinks progress toward democracy and progress toward free market reforms, and it notes that many of the problems in these countries stem from the weakness of state structures rather than ill-will on the part of leaders.
And third, the report calls attention to the growing fear and suspicion of minority groups in many parts of Europe -- both in the traditional democracies and in former communist countries -- a development that the report suggests is of particular concern.
More specifically, the State Department report draws the following conclusions about the countries monitored by "RFE/RL Newsline":
RUSSIA. Noting that Russia "continues to be a state in transition," the report says that its democratization is slow, its judiciary weak, and its leaders unable to implement their own laws and commitments. The report sharply criticizes conditions in Russian prisons, targeting by the police of darker-skinned people in general and citizens from the Caucasus in particular, and restrictions on freedom of the press. But it is especially critical of the new Russian law on religion, a law already being used by some officials to harass certain religious groups.
TRANSCAUCASUS and CENTRAL ASIA. The report suggests that the three Transcaucasian countries are moving in very different directions, while the five Central Asian states are generally doing more poorly. It says that Azerbaijan has made significant progress toward economic reform but taken few steps toward democracy. It also criticizes conditions in both Armenia and Georgia but notes that in Georgia, an increasingly assertive parliament and population have restrained law enforcement agencies.
Across Central Asia, the report suggests that basic freedoms are curtailed by legislatures and judiciaries still subordinate to powerful presidents. But it indicates that conditions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are not as bad as elsewhere.
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. The status of human rights also varied widely among the countries in this region, according to the report. It suggested that Belarus, under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has moved backwards in virtually all areas. The report gives a mixed picture of Ukraine, identifying it as a country in transition with problems arising from the inheritances of Soviet times and flowing from the weaknesses of the country's political structures. It praised the three Baltic countries for progress on most issues but noted their continuing difficulties with prisons and, in the case of Latvia and Estonia, with those ethnic Russians who lack citizenship. The report gave generally high marks to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, while decrying growing popular hostility toward the Roma and other minorities in the latter. It was more critical of conditions in Slovakia.
SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE. The State Department report found that the status of human rights in Albania had declined sharply during the country's general breakdown last year and had made only a modest recovery since then. It suggested that Romania generally respects human rights but criticized the government's lack of effective control over the actions of police, poor prison conditions, and ill treatment of women and Roma. It criticized Bulgaria for its inability to control its own officials. Both of these countries, the report said, have passed laws that tend to restrict religious freedoms.
Concerning the successor states to Yugoslavia, the report praised Bosnia-Herzegovina for significant progress on human rights. It also gave high marks to Slovenia and Montenegro. But the report said that the record remained mixed in Croatia and Macedonia. And it concluded that the situation in Serbia was extremely bad with serious human rights abuses on virtually every front.
As in the past, those governments that received high marks are likely to tout them as a mark of their standing internationally, while those leaders that did not will criticize the report as biased or incomplete. But as this year's report makes very clear, there are no easy answers or final victories in the cause of human rights.