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Newsline - April 21, 1998


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 21 April that his party's faction in the State Duma is "not afraid" of new parliamentary elections and will vote against confirming acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, NTV reported. The Duma Council has scheduled the final vote on Kirienko for 24 April. If deputies reject his candidacy a third time, the constitution stipulates that the president is to dissolve the Duma and call new elections. Speaking in Krasnoyarsk, where he is supporting the gubernatorial bid of Duma deputy Petr Romanov, Zyuganov said new elections "could be useful for the country," since, in his view, 90 percent of the new Duma deputies would be opponents of the government. LB


Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin on 20 April accused Zyuganov of "imitating a fight" over the confirmation of Kirienko, ITAR-TASS reported. Baburin, a member of the Popular Power faction, has long criticized the Communists' tactics--in particular, their refusal to vote no confidence in the government last year and their tacit support of the 1998 budget. His stance nearly led to a formal split in Popular Power earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998). Nikolai Ryzhkov, the leader of the Popular Power faction, closely coordinates his strategy with the Communist leadership. LB


Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Our Home Is Russia faction says the Duma "is ready for dissolution," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 April. He told journalists that about half of the deputies are already "packing their bags" and preparing for new parliamentary elections. But Ryzhkov expressed the hope that the Duma will approve Kirienko on 24 April and said the acting premier's chances for confirmation will be good if the Duma decides to vote by secret ballot. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 April, former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Russia already has "a hole in the budget" and suggested that the country cannot afford to hold new parliamentary elections. LB


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued on 21 April that the appointment of Kirienko may be a "Pyrrhic victory" for President Boris Yeltsin if it provokes unnamed "oligarchs" to become the president's opponents. The newspaper claimed that events since Yeltsin sacked Chernomyrdin's government on 23 March have not realized the president's hope of obtaining an "apolitical government of technocrats" that would better manage the economy. Instead, the dismissal of Chernomyrdin has led to economic "stagnation." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said the president "will not forget the hidden opposition [to Kirienko] by the oligarchs" and suggested that such conflict could have been avoided if Yeltsin had agreed to the demands of big business that Boris Nemtsov not remain first deputy prime minister and that Anatolii Chubais not be appointed chief executive of the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System. Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group finances "Nezavisimaya gazeta." LB


President Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, said at a 20 April press conference on Sakhalin Island, that "the Hong Kong approach" is not an option for resolving the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan over the Kuril Islands, Interfax reported. Yastrzhembskii was responding to questions as to whether Russia is prepared to redraw the border to cede the four islands to Japan while continuing to administrate them until their handover. Such is reported to be the last-minute proposal Hashimoto made to Yeltsin before the Russian president returned to Moscow on 19 April. Yastrzhembskii traveled to one of the islands, Kunashir, on 21 April to evaluate the needs of the inhabitants there. He said some of the $600 million soon to be released by Japan as part of a $1.5 billion credit to build housing for Russian military personnel will benefit the people of the Kurils. BP


Acting Prime Minister Kirienko assured visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in Moscow on 20 April that the change of Russian government will not affect either Russian-U.S. relations or Russia's commitment to reform, Interfax reported. The two men discussed preparations for the meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents scheduled to take place in May within the framework of the G-8 summit. Talbott also met with Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to discuss the situation in Kosova. LF


Vladimir Potanin announced on 20 April that he is stepping down as president of Oneksimbank, which he founded five years ago, in order to become the head of the Interros holding company, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Interros will manage the assets acquired by Oneksimbank and its affiliate, including the investment bank MFK-Renaissance, several regional banks and insurance companies, the Sidanko oil company, the metals giant Norilsk Nickel, the Novolipetsk metallurgical factory, and Perm Motors. Interros will also include a holding company to manage media financed by Oneksimbank: the daily newspapers "Russkii telegraf," "Izvestiya" and "Komsomolskaya pravda," the business weekly "Ekspert," and several regional publications. Potanin is following an example set by several other leading Russian bankers. For example, Vladimir Gusinskii left the Most Bank to head the Media-Most company and Mikhail Khodorkovskii left the Menatep Bank to head the Rosprom group. LB


At his 20 April press conference, Potanin confirmed that Interros and its subsidiaries are preparing for major privatization auctions, including sales of stakes in the oil company Rosneft and the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Potanin said Oneksimbank and Interros would consider cooperating on future investment projects with Boris Berezovskii (head of the LogoVAZ empire), the Most group (associated with Vladimir Gusinskii), and the SBS-Agro group (headed by Aleksandr Smolenskii). Berezovskii and Gusinskii have been bitter business rivals of Potanin since last summer, while Smolenskii is considered close to Berezovskii. No new spirit of cooperation is in evidence, judging by the 21 April editions of newspapers financed by Oneksimbank (see below). LB


The radio station Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 April that supporters of former First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais, including acting First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, are orchestrating a media campaign to help secure Chubais's appointment as chief executive of Unified Energy System, Russian news agencies reported. According to the radio station, Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar on 18 April took part in a meeting with representatives of media financed by Oneksimbank, at which it was decided to launch a campaign in support of Chubais and "to contrast the president with so-called oligarchs." Ekho Moskvy said journalists from "Moskovskii komsomolets" and "Kommersant-Daily" also attended that meeting. "Moskovskii komsomolets is considered close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and "Kommersant-Daily" has received financing from the bank SBS-Agro. Ekho Moskvy is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most company. LB


The media campaign reported by Ekho Moskvy swung into action on 21 April, when several newspapers published allegations that "oligarchs," and Berezovskii in particular, are putting pressure on Kirienko and Yeltsin in order to influence the new government and its policies. "Izvestiya," which is financed by Oneksimbank, said Berezovskii and others are displeased that Chubais and Nemtsov do not plan to allow oligarchs to control the financial flows of major Russian corporations. "Komsomolskaya pravda" (also financed by Oneksimbank) went further, claiming that Berezovskii tried to "force" his choice for prime minister on Yeltsin but that the president rebuffed the attempted "blackmail." "Moskovskii komsomolets" made similar claims and argued that now "everything depends" on whether Yeltsin will stand up to the pressure and wage a public war against the oligarchs. LB


Moscow Mayor Luzhkov's press secretary Sergei Tsoi says media outlets in the capital will be allowed to keep paying discounted rates for rent and municipal services, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 April. The discounts provided by the city government are thought to contribute to the generally favorable or neutral coverage of Luzhkov in Moscow-based media. Tsoi said "privileges [for the media] will be preserved, although it must be determined which media are genuinely 'Muscovite' and which are not." Media that have criticized the mayor in recent months include Russian Public Television and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" (partly financed by Boris Berezovskii) and "Russkii telegraf" (owned by Oneksimbank). LB


During his address to the Duma on 17 April, acting Prime Minister Kirienko announced that if the Tyumen Oil Company does not meet its obligations toward the Pension Fund, the government will demand the return of a major stake in the company, Russian news agencies reported. Last July, a firm linked to the Alfa group won an auction for a 40 percent stake in the Tyumen Oil Company. One condition of that auction was meeting a schedule for settling 600 billion old rubles ($98 million) in debts to the Pension Fund. Those debts were supposed to be paid in March and April 1998, but the company is now trying to reschedule payments over the next two to three years. Kirienko warned that the government will annul last year's auction if the company does not pay the Pension Fund by the end of this month. LB


Yeltsin congratulated Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 20 April, his 60th birthday, and praised his efforts "to improve the situation in the armed forces and develop military reform," Russian news agencies reported. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 21 April that when Sergeev was appointed last May, he was regarded by some as a transitional figure. However, he has forged good relations with Yeltsin by "not bothering the president with his problems," not acting like an independent politician, and not quarreling with the heads of the other "power ministries." He has been rewarded with the signing of the new law on military service, which raises the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 for officers with the rank of colonel-general, army general, or marshal. Yeltsin promoted Sergeev to marshal last November. LB


Mintimer Shaimiev told Interfax on 20 April that the law on citizenship, approved by the republic's parliament in the first reading on 15 April, "is in full accordance with international law" and has been submitted to the Council of Europe "to check that it is irreproachable." The law makes dual (Russian and Tatar) citizenship mandatory for all residents of Tatarstan. An earlier version of the draft law requiring citizens of Tatarstan to renounce Russian citizenship had sparked sharp criticism elsewhere in Russia. LF


Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin on 20 April said Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's appointment of ambassadors to several foreign countries is "a new provocation", ITAR-TASS reported. Nesterushkin said the appointments contribute to Chechnya's "self-isolation" within the Russian Federation. Spokesmen for Kuwait, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates all disclaimed any knowledge of a Chechen envoy's appointment to their countries. Maskhadov's press secretary, Mairbek Vachagaev, told Interfax that the appointments were made "in strict accordance with internationally recognized norms." LF


Shirvani Basaev had talks in Baku on 18 April with the state oil company, SOCAR, Turan reported on 20 April. The talks focused on possible Azerbaijani assistance to Chechnya in restoring its oil industry infrastructure and ensuring the safety of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk oil export pipeline. The Chechen leadership has also requested help from the Council of Europe in coping with widespread ecological damage caused by private oil refineries operated by former Chechen field commanders, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 April. LF


Members of the self-styled Sword of Islam organization blew up a gas pumping station in Dagestan's Novolakskii Raion during the night of 20-21 April, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. The group is demanding the return to Chechen jurisdiction of the Novolakskii and Aukh raions. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 21 April, Ruslan Aushev expressed concern that the 16 April assault on a Russian military convoy in North Ossetia is part of a deliberate attempt either to start a new wave of fighting in the North Caucasus or to coerce Russian President Boris Yeltsin to impose a state of emergency on Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and Chechnya. Aushev believes the attack may have been aimed against chief of General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin, who had originally planned to travel with the convoy, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. LF


Three servicemen from a tank unit in Buryatia were fired on and one taken hostage by two drunken police officers on 19 April, ITAR-TASS and the 21 April edition of "Izvestiya" reported. The unarmed servicemen were assessing the build-up of ice under a bridge when the police officers opened fire on them. The officers then took one of the servicemen and a local resident hostage, driving off in a stolen car and firing indiscriminately. When they pulled over another car, the Russian serviceman escaped and alerted his colleagues. Members of the tank division shot one of the police officers, who is now in a critical condition, while the other surrendered. BP


Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, currently in the U.S. on his first official visit to that country, gave a speech at an event sponsored by the Eurasia Group and the Council on Foreign Relations on 20 April, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Niyazov criticized the U.S. for attempting to pressure Turkmenistan into premature democratic reforms, saying his country has "its own way of political, social, and economic development." He added that "democratic and market reforms are a tremendous endeavor often accompanied by bloodshed." Responding to charges of human rights violations, Niyazov said there are no political prisoners in Turkmenistan. Asked about former Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev who was released from detention by Turkmen authorities on the evening of 20 April, Niyazov said no one has done anything to him. He added that Americans have "poor information" about "so-called prisoners of conscience" in Turkmenistan. BP


According to an article in the 17 April "Russkii Telegraf" Kazakhstan's oil and gas industry is off to a good start this year but forecasts are poor for year's end. In the first quarter of 1998, oil output was 6.67 million tons, up 10 percent on the same period in 1997, and gas condensate production was 1.86 billion cubic meters, a 62.9 percent increase. The newspaper says that the decision to halt privatization, first announced by President Nursultan Nazarbayev earlier this year and again by Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev last week, is partly due to falling world prices for both fuels. "Russkii Telegraf" estimates that as a result, Kazakhstan will lose a total of $10-12 billion by year's end. BP


Islam Karimov has again warned against the spread of "political Islam" in his country and Central Asia, Interfax reported on 18 April. Commenting on the Islamic Renaissance Party at a press conference, Karimov said such a development could put Uzbekistan back "dozens of years." He added that the training of religious radicals to destabilize the governments of the CIS Central Asian states is taking place in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. On two previous occasions this year, Karimov has said such training is under way in Pakistan. BP


Uzbekistan will soon receive more than $60 million in credits from the International Finance Corporation, ITAR- TASS reported on 21 April. The organization, which has close ties with the World Bank, will make the credit available for purchasing cotton and grain harvesters from the U.S.'s Case Corp. According to the Russian news agency, agricultural production accounts for 30 percent of Uzbekistan's GDP and 60 percent of the country's export profits. The sector also provides work for some 40 percent of the force. BP


Introducing newly appointed Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to his staff on 20 April, Armenian President Robert Kocharian said "a powerful department" for relations with the Armenian Diaspora will be created within the ministry, Noyan Tapan reported. Its head will have the status of deputy minister. Oskanian also met on 20 April with visiting Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi, saying the expansion of bilateral relations is an Armenian foreign policy priority, according to IRAN. Oskanian also called for a further exchange of views on a just and peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. Oskanian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that policy on Karabakh will undergo "definite changes" and that "the principles we will maintain are that the settlement be comprehensive and without preconditions." LF


Belarusian authorities have rejected a request by Pavel Sevyarynets, the 21-year-old leader of the Belarusian Popular Front's youth branch, to be released from jail pending his trial, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Sevyarynets was arrested for participating in a rally protesting the Russian-Belarusian union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 16 April) and was released on 18 April for three days to attend the funeral of a relative. He told journalists he will return to prison, although he "absolutely feels no guilt on his part." He added that his case is politically motivated and that a decision on it will be made "at the top political level." JM


Foodstuffs are again being rationed in various regions of the country, Belapan reported on 20 April. A directive issued by the Minsk Oblast Executive Committee says the decision was made "to stop the unorganized and unauthorized export of goods outside the borders of the republic." Individuals are allowed to buy no more than 2 kg of meat and poultry, 0.4 kg of cheese, and 2 kg of bread at any one given time. In Mahilyou Oblast the purchase of potatoes, a traditional food, is also restricted. JM


The Energy Ministry on 20 April announced that electricity tariffs will increase by 22.5 percent as of 1 May, Ukrainian Radio-1 reported. "Low tariffs are in no way good for the population," Energy Minister Oleksiy Shebestov told journalists. In his opinion, low electricity tariffs lead in the long run to price increases and make domestic production uncompetitive, Ukrainian Radio-1 reported. JM


Nataliya Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialists, has been deprived of her parliamentary mandate by a court in Konotop, Sumy Oblast, where she ran for the Supreme Council in the 29 March elections, Ukrainian Television-2 reported on 20 April. According to the court, Vitrenko gave information about the private life of her rivals and insulted state officials during the election campaign. The court also nullified the votes cast for the Progressive Socialists party list in Konotop, thus pushing the party's support below the 4 percent threshold for parliamentary representation. Vitrenko has called the court ruling a "revenge on the political leader and the opposition party," Ukrainian Television-2 reported. JM


The Coalition Party and the People's Party have signed a cooperation agreement, ETA and BNS reported on 20 April. The accord is aimed at securing the stability of the government until the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 1999. The two sides have agreed to hold regular consultations on important issues and to refrain from making hostile attacks on one another in the parliament. Prime Minister Mart Siimann, who is also chairman of the Coalition Party, said that the ruling alliance is counting on the support of the People's Party during voting in the legislature. Under the agreement, People's Party leader Toomas Hendrik Ilves retains his post as foreign minister. JC


Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has said his country will not act as mediator to resolve the crisis in Latvian-Russian relations. Adamkus was speaking after a meeting with Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis in the northern Lithuanian town of Panevezys on 20 April. The two leaders called the meeting to discuss current relations between Latvia and Russia. Adamkus stressed that Latvia is capable of solving its own problems, while Ulmanis admitted that Riga has been slow to ease citizenship requirements for non-Latvians. The two presidents also discussed bilateral relations and their shared goals of joining the EU and NATO. JC


The Latvian daily "Diena" reports on 21 April that Russian border officials are refusing entry to Latvian drivers who cannot produce a notarized Russian translation of their drivers' license. Russian officials say that a law that went into effect at the beginning of this year stipulates this requirement. "Diena" says that such demands are not made on Estonian and Lithuanian drivers. The previous day, BNS reported that the Russian Transportation Ministry is threatening to limit the number of entry permits to Latvian truckers. According to the news agency, Latvian Transportation Minister Vilis Kristopans has received a letter from the Russian ministry threatening the cut-off in response to difficulties faced by Russian truckers in entering Latvia. JC


Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek is seeking to persuade President Aleksander Kwasniewski to postpone the June local elections until the fall, "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 21 April. The Solidarity-led government sees the elections as a part of a plan to reform the state administration system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1998) and wants to hold them simultaneously with polls on the introduction of a middle tier of administration. Kwasniewski said such a postponement would violate the constitution, thus indicating he will veto the government's bill delaying the elections, Reuters reported. JM


The Polish Industry Ministry wants to close 24 of Poland's more than 50 coal pits within the next three years, Reuters reported on 20 April, quoting the ministry's spokesman. Deputy Industry Minister Jan Szlazak told PAP that by 2002, the number of jobs in the coal mining sector will be reduced to 126,000 from the current 237,000. The government's goal is to decrease the losses in the industry (more than $500 million in 1997) and reduce output to 114 million tons from last year's 137 million tons. The plan is firmly opposed by the country's trade unions, despite promised social security cushions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1998). JM


President Vaclav Havel underwent another operation at the University Clinic in Innsbruck late on 20 April. Doctors at the clinic say they removed a "small abscess" from his abdominal wall, CTK reported. They also said the president's life "is not in acute danger." Since he underwent a second operation on 19 April to clean his bronchial tube, Havel has been kept in artificially-induced curative sleep at the clinic's intensive care unit. Last week, he underwent an emergency operation for a perforation of the large intestine. MS


An opinion poll released on 20 April by the independent STEM institute shows that while the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is leading the field ahead of the early elections scheduled for June, the party has suffered a sharp drop in its popularity, Reuters reported. The CSSD is now backed by 23.7 percent of the respondents, down from 29.5 percent in March. Support for Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODA), on the other hand, increased from 11 percent to 16 percent during the same period. The poll puts the backing of the Freedom Union, which was formed by dissenters from the ODA, at 13 percent, down from 18 percent in March. MS


Fifteen political parties have registered regional lists in all 20 electoral district, Hungarian media reported. The deadline for registering was 20 April. 176 parliamentary deputies are elected in single-seat constituencies and 152 on regional lists, where representation is based on a proportional system. Regional list votes that are insufficient for a mandate are taken into account for the national lists, on which an additional 58 deputies are elected. The Socialist Party and the Free Democrats (which make up the outgoing coalition) fielded lists in all the districts, as did the opposition Young Democrats, the Smallholders' Party, the Christian Democrats, and the far right Justice and Life Party. In order to run regional lists, parties must compete in one quarter of the constituencies, and in order to gain eligibility for the national lists, they have to run at least seven regional lists. MS


The cabinet is working on an amendment to the existing legislation that would make possible paying pension increases retroactively, Prime Minister Gyula Horn announced on 20 April in Ferencvaros. He said the increase is expected to be 2 percent but did not mention how far back it will apply, Hungarian media reported. In another development, government spokesman Elemer Kiss on 20 April denied opposition accusations that the Socialists are unlawfully using the premises of the Prime Minister's office as the headquarters of their election campaign. The previous day, the press reported that Horn told Socialist Party members they can obtain help from his staff during the campaign. Kiss said a 10-member staff group has been set up, but it deals only with monitoring the press and is not involved in the election campaign. MS


The Kosova Democratic League, the leading ethnic Albanian party in the province, said on 20 April that an apparent build-up of forces in the western Decani region has made the situation there "dramatic," AFP reported. The party said in a statement that there are "indications" that Serbian forces in Decani are preparing for a "massive-scale attack." It said local residents have been "organizing themselves" because of the "absence of concrete measures to prevent a new massacre." There is no independent confirmation of those reports. Kosova Serb sources said the same day that gunmen shot and threw grenades at a Serbian refugee camp in Babaloc. The Serbian Information Center in Prishtina said armed ethnic Albanians are grouping in the region, particularly in the town of Glodjane, near the Albanian border. PB


Leni Fischer, the president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said on 20 April that Yugoslavia does not meet the standards needed for membership, an RFE/RL correspondent in Strasbourg reported. Fischer said the Yugoslav government must first seek a peaceful solution to the crisis in Kosova and stop rejecting demands calling for the protection of human rights of Kosovars as outside interference in its internal affairs. The assembly is meeting this week with a four- member delegation from Belgrade to discuss the Kosova conflict. Yugoslavia applied last month to join the Council of Europe. PB


Some 50 international forensic experts working for the UN found bones, clothing, and bullet casings after beginning exhumations at a mass grave in Bosnia- Herzegovina on 20 April, Reuters reported. A UN statement said the forensic experts, working near a dam at Brnice in eastern Bosnia, expected to find "significant evidence" to support current or potential indictments by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The former Muslim enclave of Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in summer 1995. Some 7,000 people from the area are still missing and are thought to have been executed. PB


Zoran Zigic told a court at the war crimes tribunal on 20 April that he is innocent of 69 charges of crimes against humanity, an RFE/RL correspondent at The Hague reported. He is accused of beating, torturing, and murdering civilians at a Bosnian Serb camp near Prijedor in summer 1992. The prosecution claims that Zigic was not a commander or guard at the camp but that he volunteered to "beat, murder, and abuse" people. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said in Sarajevo the same day that NATO forces will remain in Bosnia until all indicted war crimes suspects go on trial at The Hague. Twenty-six are in custody there. Solana met with Alija Izetbegovic and Kresimir Zubak, the Muslim and Croatian members of the joint Bosnian presidency, but Serbian member Momcilo Krajisnik sent a substitute. PB


Davor Butkovic, the former editor in chief of the independent weekly "Globus," was acquitted of libel charges by a Zagreb court on 20 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Butkovic said he is happy with the verdict but said that the dire situation of independent media in Croatia is basically unchanged. All 23 members of the Croatian cabinet filed libel charges against Butkovic for a "Globus" article on government corruption. They were seeking 4.6 million kuna (about $733,000) in damages. Meanwhile, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced that Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic will be the new head of the country's intelligence service, replacing the president's son, Miroslav Tudjman, who had tendered his resignation. PB


The Croatian state attorney's office indicted former Jasenovac camp commander Dinko Sakic for war crimes and repeated a call for his extradition from Argentina, AFP reported. Sakic is wanted for his part in the deaths of many tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Muslims, and Roma at Jasenovac during World War II. On 19 April, some 2,000 people attended a ceremony at the concentration camp to mourn those who were killed there. Jewish, Romani, Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian representatives took part in the ceremony. PB


Rexhep Meidani has approved two more ministers in Prime Minister Fatos Nano's coalition government, Reuters reported on 20 April. A government statement said Meidani appointed Bashkim Fino as deputy prime minister and local government minister and Ermelinda Meksi as economic cooperation and trade minister. The same day, Nano withdrew a statement he made on 18 April accusing Meidani of causing a political crisis in Albania. Meidani has now approved five of Nano's nine new cabinet members, who were announced in a government reshuffle made last week. Meanwhile, a NATO delegation arrived in Tirana on 20 April to instruct officials on how to manage internal and external crises, Albanian Television reported. NATO and Albanian officials said they are worried about Albania's ability to control its border with Yugoslavia's restive Kosova province. PB


In a speech to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 20 April, Radu Vasile said his new government's program offers a "one-way road to democracy and a market economy." He said his cabinet intends to pursue two main objectives: Romania's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and a "profound reform of society" leading to the "full assimilation of moral, democratic, and human values." Until his appointment as premier earlier this month, Vasile was the chief of Romania's parliamentary delegation to the assembly; his speech marked his departure from that position. MS


At a press conference in Strasbourg on 20 April, Vasile rejected accusations in an Amnesty International report published the same day saying that homosexuals continue to be imprisoned in Romania and the country's Roma are still subject to discrimination. The report also claimed that detainees are ill-treated and even tortured and that there of prisoners of conscience in Romania. In response, Vasile said that the penal code has been liberalized on homosexual offenses but Romanian society is "not yet ready for the change." The Parliamentary Assembly is to discuss at its present session whether Romania is meeting the obligations it undertook when it was taken off the assembly's special monitoring list last year. MS


by Robert Lyle

The man who was the architect and driving force of Poland's radical shift to a market economy--Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz-- says his biggest surprise during that process has been the pace of growth and the dynamism of the private sector.

Balcerowicz, a former university professor, came to prominence in 1989 to push Poland into what was the fastest shift from central planning to a market-based economy among all countries in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE and Central Asia. The road has not been easy, and Balcerowicz was out of government for a period when the pain of the radical reform process made him a less than popular figure in Poland.

Now back in public life as both finance and deputy prime minister, Balcerowicz has lost none of his zeal for free markets, admitting that even he was not prepared for how dynamic the private sector proved in Poland and how well it has grown. "That was the most positive surprise of the whole thing," he recently told a few international financial journalists over breakfast at the Polish Embassy in Washington.

Balcerowicz was in Washington for the regular spring leadership meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as well as to participate in a conference on redesigning and strengthening the architecture of the international financial system. Finance ministers and central bank governors from the 22 countries--including Poland and Russia-- took part in that conference, which tackled, among other things, improving the transparency and accountability of national financial systems and strengthening the ability of global institutions like the IMF to deal with crises such as the most recent one in Asia.

Balcerowicz has clear ideas about what is wrong and how the global system can reduce the risk of future crises. First, there must be full information about what is actually going on in national economies and people must be willing to look at that information, he said. One question arising from the Asian crisis, he says, is whether bankers, lenders, and investors ignored much of the information they did have, preferring to look the other way while grabbing bigger profits.

Second, once assuring that as much information is available as possible, there must be incentives to act on what is known--and that, said Balcerowicz, means "punishment for bad decisions." If major international banks keep pouring short-term loans into potentially dangerous situations as they did in Asia, he says, they ought to suffer the subsequent losses. All parties--borrowers and lenders alike--must "share in the consequences, both good and bad," he commented.

Balcerowicz says that while he strongly supports liberal and open global trade in goods-- that is "beneficial to all sides"--he is willing to consider measures to have some controls available on the flow of short-term capital. Short-term capital refers to loans or investments for less than one year, often for as little as three months. Balcerowicz says the "size and speed" of the movement of this kind of money has become unbelievable in the growing global market place, a new problem for which he said he is open to "new ideas."

Reforms for the global system will find Poland in the midst of its own continuing reform, Balcerowicz commented. Warsaw is preparing to speed up large-scale privatization, especially focusing on transportation, railroads, coal mining, and insurance as well as wrapping up the privatization of banks. The release last week of $415 million from the multi-national Polish Bank Privatization fund will spur that effort.

But Poland needs to continue to expand all its reforms as it moves toward EU membership. "We must bring inflation down much further--it's currently around 11 percent annually--and we must reduce the budget and push ahead on privatization," he said. Experience has shown everywhere--but especially in Poland--that "private owners are stronger" than public owners and work harder to produce economic growth.

Poland's border with Belarus, which Balcerowicz noted will eventually become the eastern frontier of the EU, is of some concern to Warsaw. Balcerowicz said that Poland is considering ways to further open the border. New Polish consular offices are to be opened in Belarus to make visas far more readily available and Warsaw wants to work with Minsk on easing current restrictions. "We don't want to turn our backs on anyone," he noted.

Balcerowicz sees an independent, market-oriented Ukraine as "absolutely strategic" to the success of the new relationship among East European countries. But at the same time, he is "concerned" about Kyiv's extremely slow pace of reforms and faltering economy.

As for Poland's membership in NATO, Balcerowicz says everyone in the region knows it is not an "aggressive" alliance and that once Poland joins, the issue will be forgotten. "Russian officials tell me privately they don't really care about Poland joining NATO but can't say that publicly for fear of being attacked" by the nationalists. And polls of average Russian citizens show it is not of any concern to most people, he added.

The cost of joining NATO is not prohibitive for Poland, Balcerowicz said. "We needed to modernize and revamp our military anyway," he commented. In the beginning, NATO is demanding only compatibility of systems, not massive upgrades. The author is RFE/RL's Washington-based economics correspondent.