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Newsline - May 6, 1998


Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko on 5 May appointed an eight- member government presidium, Russian news agencies said. The presidium will consist of Kirienko, Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov, Viktor Khristenko and Oleg Sysuev, Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin, and Science and Technology Minister Vladimir Bulgak. Officials have not yet announced the precise functions of the presidium. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 5 May that Kirienko's government will have more authority than the government Yeltsin sacked in March, but also more responsibilities, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Draft government documents will no longer have to be cleared by the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1998). LB


Also on 5 May, President Boris Yeltsin appointed Ilya Yuzhanov head of the newly created Ministry of Land Policy, Construction and the Housing and Utilities Sector, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Since May 1997, Yuzhanov has headed the State Land Committee, which no longer exists. Before that, he chaired the St. Petersburg Committee on Land Resources for three years. His appointment suggests that there will be continued friction between the legislature and the executive over the adoption of a land code. Yuzhanov was a harsh critic of the code passed by the parliament last year, and he also opposed a protocol Yeltsin signed last December, which called for drafting a compromise version of that code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 25 September 1997 and 8 January 1998). Several cabinet posts remain unfilled, including the head of the newly created Trade and Industry Ministry and the head of the renamed Ministry for Regional and Nationalities Policy. LB


Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii announced on 6 May that Ivan Rybkin will stay in the government and will continue to be involved in CIS affairs, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that Rybkin's future status has not yet been determined. His most recent post, that of deputy prime minister for CIS affairs, no longer exists, and the Ministry for Cooperation with CIS States has been liquidated. Rybkin is rumored to be under consideration for the job of deputy foreign minister in charge of relations with the CIS. But ITAR-TASS quoted unnamed sources in the presidential administration as saying Rybkin is also a candidate for the post of presidential representative in the North Caucasus. Former Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov is reportedly being considered for that post as well. LB


Igor Shabdurasulov has resigned as the head of the government's Culture and Information Department, a post he has held since October 1996, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 May. Shabdurasulov declined to specify the reason for his resignation from the government apparatus, where he has worked since 1992. He is considered a close ally of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. He said he has not yet decided on a new job. Once he leaves public service, it is not clear whether Shabdurasulov will be able to remain on the board of directors of the 51 percent state-owned Russian Public Television network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 18 February 1998). LB


Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 5 May that Yeltsin has instructed the government to draft measures to ensure that exports of military and dual-purpose technology are more stringently monitored, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin termed such controls an important national security policy. LF


The Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministries exchanged notes on 3 May confirming the start of the hotline between the two countries' presidents, ITAR-TASS reported. It is the first hotline between the Chinese president and leader of another state. In other news, a senior official from Russia's airplane manufacturing company, Aviaprom, said Russia and China are ready to set up a joint corporation, Interfax reported on 5 May. Aleksandr Batkov said his company together with China will produce aircraft to compete on world markets in the 21st century including long-haul, short-haul and supersonic transport planes. BP


Uzbek President Islam Karimov on his first official visit to Russia, met with Boris Yeltsin at the Kremlin on 6 May. Prior to their meeting Yeltsin spoke of a need for the two countries to strengthen ties which have seriously deteriorated in recent years. Yeltsin later told Karimov, Russia is "aware of your influence on the countries that surround you." During their meeting the two presidents promised to sign a ten-year economic cooperation agreement when Yeltsin visits Uzbekistan in October. They also signed an agreement for cooperation in building Il-76 and Il-78 aircraft and an agreement guaranteeing the rights of each others journalists on the other's soil. In a surprise announcement following the meeting, Karimov said his country, Russia and Tajikistan will coordinate efforts to combat the spread of fundamentalism in Central Asia. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov gave his consent by phone. BP


Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin on 5 May said the U.S. Senate's recent vote in favor of NATO membership for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic is "unlikely to contribute to stabilization on the European continent," Russian news agencies reported. Nesterushkin repeated that Russia considers the policy of NATO enlargement to be "incorrect." But he expressed the hope that regular meetings at the ministerial and ambassadorial level between Russian and NATO officials will alleviate some of the "concerns" that will arise during the expansion of the western military alliance. Meanwhile, Anatolii Kvashnin, the head of the Russian General Staff, flew to Brussels on 5 May to attend a session of the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council the following day. LB


Presidential press spokesman Yastrzhembskii said on 5 May that Yeltsin has appointed Vasilii Likhachev as Moscow's permanent representative to the European Union. Likhachev was born in Gorky in 1952 and graduated from Kazan State University, after which he taught for several years in Africa before embarking on a career as a party functionary in Kazan. He was named parliament speaker in 1995 and has been deputy speaker of the Federation Council since January, 1996. "Vechernii Kazan" on 6 May quoted Likhachev as saying that representing the interests of Russia's regions, including Tatarstan, is an important aspect of his new job. LF


Yeltsin on 5 May sent the government a message on budgetary policy for 1999, Russian news agencies reported. The president instructed the government to enact "budget reform," which involves the adoption of a new tax code and a budget code. Yeltsin said the budget code should impose strict deadlines for adopting the document. He added that the government's draft budget should take effect if the parliament failed to meet those deadlines or included budget expenditures not covered by realistic revenue projections, Interfax reported. (The constitutionality of such a provision is questionable, since the constitution states that both houses of parliament are required to approve the federal budget.) The president also instructed the government this year to prepare a realistic budget for 1999, reduce state expenditures, and complete the transition away from using authorized commercial banks to handle budget funds. LB


Yeltsin has signed a decree outlining additional measures to improve state finances and ensure that salaries are paid to state employees, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 5 May. According to presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii, the decree instructs the government and regional authorities to sign agreements within two months on new conditions for federal transfer payments. For instance, regions seeking the payments will be required to collect all taxes in "real money" and prohibit the common practice of cancelling tax debts against debts owed to enterprises. Regional authorities will also have to implement policies to reduce subsidies for rent and municipal services, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition, the decree stipulates that companies that owe taxes to federal or regional budgets will be ineligible for financial aid from regional budgets. LB


The Moscow Prosecutor's Office has charged former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh with embezzlement in connection with an alleged scheme to distribute prime apartments to officials, Russian news agencies reported on 5 May. Two other former officials have already been charged in connection with the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1998). Moscow Deputy Prosecutor Yurii Semin told Interfax that charges will also be filed against others allegedly linked to the scheme. He mentioned former State Property Committee Chairman Sergei Belyaev (now a deputy in the State Duma) and former Federal Bankruptcy Administration chief Petr Mostovoi (now first vice president of the diamond monopoly Almazy Rossiya-Sakha). Kokh is not currently in Russia, but Moscow Prosecutor Sergei Gerasimov told ITAR-TASS on 6 May that "Kokh's whereabouts are known, and he has gone abroad with the permission of the Moscow Prosecutor's Office." LB


Oil companies that have no tax debts to the federal or regional budgets will be allowed more access to state-owned pipelines as of 1 July, according to a new government directive, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 May. Since pipeline capacity is limited, the greater access for companies that pay their taxes will come at the expense of firms that are tax debtors. In addition, oil companies that owe taxes will have to set up special bank accounts so that the State Tax Service will be able to collect taxes directly out of the proceeds earned through oil exports. In March, the government reduced some taxes and transport charges for oil companies in response to the slump in oil prices on world markets. But the government is also under pressure to take steps to improve tax collection. LB


Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii says Yeltsin favors creating a state commission on restructuring the armed forces, to be chaired by Prime Minister Kirienko, Interfax reported on 5 May. The last Russian government had two commissions on military reform: one headed by then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the other headed by then First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. LB


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 5 May that "working with the masses" is now his party's top priority, Interfax reported. He called for a "direct dialogue with the masses at plants, factories, [and] military settlements," since, in his view, dialogue with Yeltsin has not yielded any results. Commenting on meetings of the "big four" (president, prime minister, speakers of both houses of parliament) and roundtable talks, Zyuganov said they were merely a cover used by Yeltsin in order to continue his "barbarous, destructive, absolutely anti-popular and anti-humane" policies. In a concession to the Communist-led opposition, Yeltsin agreed last year to hold occasional "big four" meetings and roundtable talks, but the talks do not appear to have affected government policies. LB


At the same press conference, Zyuganov urged residents of Krasnoyarsk Krai not to vote for former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed in the 17 May runoff gubernatorial election, Russian news agencies reported. Zyuganov warned that a Lebed victory "would mean misfortune beyond your worst dreams. Think of your children and grandchildren." Alluding to the circumstances under which Adolf Hitler rose to power, Zyuganov said the current situation in Krasnoyarsk reminds him of Germany from 1931 to 1933. However, he stopped short of endorsing the current governor of Krasnoyarsk, Valerii Zubov. Meanwhile, Zubov has promised to form a "government of popular trust" in Krasnoyarsk if he is re-elected, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 May. The pledge is aimed at winning over the 13 percent of the electorate who backed Communist candidate Petr Romanov in the first round of the election. LB


Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii on 5 May castigated Zubov, saying it is "inadmissible" to play "games with the fire of [regional] separatism," Reuters and Interfax reported. During a recent televised address, Zubov warned Yeltsin that if the federal government does not settle its debts to Krasnoyarsk Krai, the krai will stop transferring taxes collected in the krai to the federal budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1998). LB


Despite protests from the local Buddhist community in Buryatia, a 19th century copy of a 17th century "Atlas of Tibetan Medicine" was put on a flight to the United States where it will be on exhibit until the end of 1999 (See "RFE/RL Newsline 5 May, 1998), ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. An investigation has been launched into police treatment of the protesting Buddhists. There are reports that riot police struck monks who were attempting to prevent the book from being taken away from a museum where it was housed. BP


Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Ivanchenko confirmed on 6 May that former Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zaveryukha's election to the State Duma is valid, ITAR-TASS reported. Zaveryukha won a recent by-election for a vacant seat in Kamchatka Oblast, but his narrow victory was contested by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, which nominated the candidate who came in second (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1998). The Kamchatka Oblast Electoral Commission recently informed Zhirinovsky that it uncovered no evidence that the election results were falsified, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 April. LB


Speaking to journalists on 5 May before meeting with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Yeltsin said said the "hotheads" who abducted his Chechen envoy Valentin Vlasov on 1 May should understand that "we will not forgive" that action. Russian Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilev told journalists in Moscow on 5 May that the search for Vlasov is focusing on three possible alternative reasons for his abduction: to torpedo the peace talks between Moscow and Grozny, to demand a ransom, or to exchange him for Chechens detained in Russia. Chechen National Security Chief Lecha Khultygov told Interfax that he believes Vlasov was abducted by the Russian Federal Security Service, and that he will be exchanged within days for former Grozny mayor Beslan Gantemirov, who is under investigation in Moscow on charges of embezzling federal funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 1998). LF


Security measures in Tbilisi have been intensified to counter a possible third attempt to assassinate Eduard Shevardnadze, Interfax reported on 5 May, quoting security service head Vakhtang Kutateladze. Mamuka Areshidze, chairman of the Georgian parliament commission for relations with Caucasian peoples, said last month that the Georgian Ministry of National Security is aware that preparations are being made in the North Caucasus for a further attempt on Shevardnadze's life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April, 1998). Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Demuri Mikadze and several other senior ministry officials were fired on 5 May for alleged incompetence in reacting to and investigating the 9 February mortarbomb attack on Shevardnadze's motorcade, Caucasus Press reported. LF


In a statement addressed to the Georgian and Russian leaderships and to international organizations, the Ministry for Foreign Relations of Georgia's unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia complains that the central Georgian government is not complying with agreements it signed in 1993 and 1997 on providing funding for the reconstruction of buildings devastated during the 1990-1992 war, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 May. The ministry statement argues that the delay in reconstruction is holding up the repatriation of tens of thousands of displaced persons who fled during the fighting, and consequently undermines the entire peace process. The ministry calls on Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to accelerate that process, which it denies is Georgia's exclusive prerogative. The Georgian government has suspended free bread supplies to some displaced persons from South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 6 May. LF


The 13 Azerbaijani opposition parties that make up the Round Table union are demanding that parliament debate an alternative draft law on presidential elections prepared by the Azerbaijan Popular Front, Turan reported. In a statement, the Round Table charged that the official draft law, which has been widely criticized by opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4-5 May 1998), "is aimed against the state system, territorial integrity and political stability of Azerbaijan." That version was adopted on first reading last week. On 5 May, the parliament briefly debated the law but failed to adopt it on second reading. LF


Rafik Hariri paid a one-day visit to Yerevan on 5 May to present his congratulations to newly elected President Robert Kocharian and meet with the new government, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hariri denied that his visit had been prompted by criticism from the Lebanese Armenian community of his February visit to Baku. Hariri's talks with Kocharian and Prime Minister Armen Darpinian focused on expanding economic cooperation; the two sides reached agreement on creating a joint commission on banking, energy and telecommunications. During a previous visit to Armenia in October, 1997, Hariri and then Prime Minister Kocharian signed a friendship and cooperation agreement and an agreement on creating an Armenian-Lebanese bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1997). LF


A tuberculosis clinic in the northern Kazakh region of Kustanai has temporarily discharged 300 patients due to lack of funding, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 May. Another 200 patients are receiving only part-time care. The clinic's management said it has received only 10 percent of the money it was promised. In the country of 16 million, 53,000 people are registered as suffering from tuberculosis and the death rate among them has reached 50 percent. BP


Imomali Rakhmonov paid a visit to neighboring Kyrgyzstan on 6 May, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Rakhmonov met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev. Akayev and Rakhmonov signed documents on deepening bilateral relations and cooperation in law enforcement. An additional 15 agreements were signed on such matters as refugees, customs, and mining. Rakhmonov's delegation includes Deputy Prime Minister Khoja Akbar Turajonzoda and two other members of the United Tajik Opposition. BP


The independent trade union of coal miners says that a strike launched by coal miners on 4 May has expanded to 39 sites, Ukrainian Television reported on 5 May. The miners demand to be paid back wages, and also reinstatement of wages and pensions to the level of 1990, when the coal mining was the second best-paid industry in Ukraine. Coal mining since has dropped to 17th place. JM


The Ukrainian president said on 5 May that the Chornobyl power plant will not be closed in 2000 unless Ukraine finds funds for completing two reactors currently under construction at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants to compensate for the power supply loss, AFP reported. Ukraine committed itself in 1995 to shut down the Chornobyl plant in 2000 in return for financial aid promised by the G-7, but recently has accused the group of failing to honor the pledge. JM


Gennadii Seleznev, speaker of the Russian State Duma and chairman of the Russian- Belarusian Union Parliamentary Assembly, has said he is satisfied with the assembly's session held in Homel on 4-5 March, Belapan and ITAR-TASS reported. Seleznev called the Parliamentary Assembly a "driving engine" of the union. The session adopted a law on drafting the union's budget and a document recommending the transformation of the Parliamentary Assembly into a legislative body elected directly by citizens of the Russian-Belarusian Union. JM


A group of some 150 members of the Youth Front opposition organization staged an authorized march in Minsk on 5 May in protest against the detention of two young opposition activists, Belapan reported. The marchers demanded freedom for their leader, Pavel Sevyarynets, arrested for his participation in a rally against the Belarusian-Russian Union, and Alyaksey Shydlouski, sentenced to 1.5 years in prison for anti- Lukashenka graffiti. Reuters reported that the police arrested over 10 protesters after the march. JM


The Belarusian president told a forum of CIS journalists gathered in Minsk on 5 May that the state "has never set the task of trimming the media," Belapan reported. He added that he likes diversity of opinions in the media. Touching upon the government's directive forbidding state officials to pass information to independent media and buy advertizing space in them, Lukashenka said the instruction should have been passed orally instead of in writing. "It was done grossly: correctly in content, but grossly in form," Belapan quoted the president as saying. JM


The principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Frederick C. Smith, told Estonian officials in Tallinn on 5 May that it was the American view that NATO expansion should continue beyond the first round, BNS reported. But in comments to reporters, Smith acknowledged that Washington is not in a position to determine by itself when or even if this will take place. Meanwhile, Estonian officials announced that their country will participate in three NATO exercises later this year. PG


Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz said on 5 May that the government wants to reduce compulsory military service from 18 to 12 months to comply with NATO requirements, "Zycie Warszawy" reported. The shorter term is to be introduced with the1999 spring draft. Onyszkiewicz said it may take 10 years for the Polish Armed Forces to reach NATO's other standards, AFP reported. A modernization program for the army envisions reducing its personnel from 242,000 to 180,000. JM


"Pravo" reported on 5 May that President Vaclav Havel and former Interior Minister Jan Ruml conspired to bring down the government of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. Havel spokesman Ladislav Spacek called the report "utter nonsense" and said Havel had never conspired against anyone. The left-wing daily said it has the minutes of a meeting between Havel and Ruml last September in which they agreed to discredit Klaus in an effort to force his resignation. Social Democratic Party leader Milos Zeman said on 4 May that he also has documents that prove Ruml was involved in a plot to force out Klaus. Ruml left Klaus's Civic Democratic Party last year and formed the rival party Freedom Union. Ruml denied the accusations and called Zeman a "paranoiac." PB


A poll published on 5 May shows an increase in public support for Slovakia's entry into the European Union and NATO, Reuters reported. The survey, done by the Public Affairs Institute, showed 79 percent of respondents favored joining the EU, up from 74 percent in a similar poll taken in October. Some 58 percent supported joining NATO, an increase of 7 percent. The poll showed that support for joining Western organizations was highest among people who backed opposition political parties. In Bonn, Augustin Marian Huska, vice president of the parliament in Bratislava, said Slovakia was pursuing a "shadow strategy" but would meet all terms needed for accession to the EU. He predicted Slovakia would join between 2004 and 2006. The right-wing Slovak National Party, a member of the governing coalition, recently began a petition drive aimed at declaring Slovakia a neutral state. PB


Hungary's National Elections Committee accused a polling organization on 5 May of violating the country's electoral law. Gallup Hungary published the results of an opinion poll for the 10 May elections on its World Wide Web home page ( on 4 May. Electoral law prohibits the publication of opinion surveys eight days before an election. Robert Manchin, the director of Gallup Hungary, said his company is aware of the law and doesn't believe it was violated. The committee has vowed to prosecute Gallup Hungary if the poll remains on the Internet site. PB


Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Belgrade on 5 May that international mediation will be needed to launch a dialogue between Belgrade and the Kosova leadership because there is no trust between the two sides. Ivanov told Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of President Boris Yeltsin's wish that Serbian-Kosova talks begin as soon as possible, Reuters reported. The news agency quoted Ivanov as saying that a foreign mediator would not be interfering in Serbia's affairs but simply providing "a helping hand." Euro News reported the next day that Ivanov's visit may lead to Milosevic's accepting former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez as international mediator for Kosova. Milosevic has opposed foreign mediation, but he may now be seeking a face-saving way to accept Gonzalez in hopes of avoiding new sanctions. Milosevic accepted and then ignored numerous international mediators during the Croatian and Bosnian wars. PM


Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said in Strasbourg on 5 May that "home rule, autonomy of Kosova must come about but in the framework of Serbia, otherwise a great war will start, and we want no part in pushing the events towards this. Even making Kosova a [distinct federal] entity within Yugoslavia, which would then consist of three republics, would lead to war, but we will never agree to this," Interfax reported. Primakov chided "certain Western countries" for dividing terrorists in Kosova "into goodies and baddies," by which he presumably meant that some Westerners are more critical of the Serbian paramilitary police than they are of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Primakov praised German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel for taking a tough line against "Albanian terrorism." PM


President Milo Djukanovic told reporters in Podgorica on 5 May that "if there is no dialogue in Kosova, the situation will get more complicated, and the alternative to such dialogue is war, which does not suit anyone intelligent in the country and abroad." He stressed that Montenegro "will do all it can to prevent conflicts and find a peaceful solution." Djukanovic warned that if the Yugoslav army becomes "involved in the conflict in any way, Montenegro will demand that soldiers from Montenegro not be sent to the province." PM


The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 5 May that "even in the past few days, Serbian police forces backed by the army and, what is worse, by radical ultra- nationalist paramilitary troops, are continuing their military operations of ethnic cleansing in Kosova. The violence by police and the military is accompanied by massive bombings and destruction of population centers, applying in Kosova the Serbian scorched-earth strategy" that Milosevic's forces used in the Croatian and Bosnian wars. Tirana also condemned the Yugoslav military buildup along the Serbian border with Albania, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Graham Blewitt, who is a deputy prosecutor at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said on 5 May that the court is "continuing to monitor what is happening" in Kosova. British Attorney General John Morris added that London is "of course impressed and grateful for the prosecutor's ready acceptance of the new challenge of investigating the recent events in Kosova. The U.K. hopes to be able to provide at least one member of the new investigating team that you are setting up to meet that challenge." Tribunal officials formally opened that body's second courtroom, which was constructed with U.S. assistance. PM


Several thousand ethnic Albanians staged a protest in the Macedonian capital on 5 May to demand the release from prison of Rufi Osmani, the mayor of Gostivar, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He is serving a sentence for failing to obey a court order to take down an Albanian flag during the riots on 9 July and also for inciting national, racial, and religious hatred (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1998). PM


A spokesman for the UN police said in Mostar on 5 May that violent ethnically-motivated incidents have been on the rise recently in the Croatian-held Herzegovinian town of Capljina, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The spokesman added that, in the past week alone, three Muslim homes have been damaged by explosions and fires, and that Croatian crowds stoned a bus carrying Muslims returning to their former homes. In Sarajevo, a UN spokesman said on 5 May that a Muslim home was torched in the Croatian-controlled Herzegovinian town of Stolac, where there has been much ethnic violence against Muslims in recent months. PM


A spokesman for the OSCE, which is supervising the September general elections, said in Sarajevo that only the new parliament will be able to change the rules for the election of the three-member joint presidency, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Several NGOs and representatives of non-nationalist parties have suggested that the OSCE change the rules now so that each of the three is elected at large and not just by one ethnic constituency. Recent polls suggest that such a change would sweep the current three members of the presidency from office and replace them with three non-nationalists. PM


Senior Socialist Party (PS) leader Servet Pellumbi said on 6 May in Tirana that he aims to collect 100,000 signatures for a referendum of PS members against what he called the "rightist line" of Prime Minister Fatos Nano. Pellumbi is a former PS deputy chairman and represents the party's hard-line wing. He told "Koha Jone" that a recent statement by Pandeli Majko, who is the head of the PS parliamentarian group, sparked his campaign. Majko proposed to compensate pre-communist- era large land owners for property that the Communists redistributed. Pellumbi pointed out that such a policy, which Nano has endorsed, contradicts the most basic principles of the party. He warned that "Nano is pushing the PS towards becoming a liberal democratic party." FS


Education Minister Ethem Ruka said on 5 May in Tirana that the World Bank will give a grant of $200,000 for the university training of future lawyers, judges and state prosecutors, ATSH news agency reported. Ruka's deputy, Vaso Qano, said the ministry will also request advice from the World Bank on preventing corruption from playing a role in law school admissions. The Albanian judicial system has serious problems because it is highly politicized and often of low professional quality. Many of its members are either communist-era holdovers or loyalists of the conservative Democratic Party. FS


Eight Romanian army officers were fired on 5 May for allowing a cigarette smuggling ring to operate out of the Bucharest airport, Reuters reported. The Defense Ministry said the officers were dismissed for failing to prevent illicit activities. It was also announced that a six-person committee will investigate the cause of the scandal: shipment of 30 million cigarettes from Greece to Bucharest aboard an Air Sofia plane on 16 April. The scandal has led to numerous arrests, resignations, and dismissals. Air Sofia rejected charges made by Romanian Transport Minister Traian Basescu that it was obstructing an inquiry into the airline's role in the scandal. PB


Radu Vasile said on 5 May that he backs native-language education for the ethnic Hungarian population in Romania, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Vasile said in an interview that while he supported cultural autonomy, he strictly ruled out territorial autonomy for ethnic Hungarians. Vasile said the fact that 100,000 Hungarians had left Romania in the last five years was unacceptable for a minority that strives to preserve its identity. Vasile also said he supports the founding of an autonomous university for ethnic Hungarians. PB


Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said on 5 May that the center-right coalition has decided to nominate Ion Ciubuc as prime minister, Reuters reported. Ciubuc, who served for a year as the previous prime minister, is now acting premier. Lucinschi, speaking on television, said that, upon official approval of his candidacy and his proposed cabinet by the parliament, "we must give him the ability to strengthen the reforms he began last year." The Communist Party said it would vote for Ciubuc if Lucinschi supported him. Moldova's gross domestic product grew last year under Ciubuc, the first time it had done so in seven years. PB


by Victor Gomez

Czech President Vaclav Havel may be on the road to recovery from his colostomy operation in Innsbruck, but questions about his future in office remain. The questions are related to two basic issues concerning Havel's health and the Czech political transition -- one of them short- term and the other long-term.

While the president seems to be over the worst of the problems associated with his operation, things did not look as rosy a few weeks ago. In April, the Czech president's vacation in Austria was abruptly interrupted when he had to undergo an emergency operation due to a perforated colon -- an operation that carries a 30 percent death rate.

The operation marks the second time in less than a year and a half that Havel has undergone surgery during which his life has hung in the balance. In December 1996, Havel had part of his right lung removed due to cancer. His lung condition also served as a dangerous complication during his recent colon surgery.

Havel's second brush with death caused many people in the Czech Republic to publicly ask questions which were previously considered to be taboo. While it is still widely considered bad taste to publicly speculate as to who might succeed the president, some observers have started to wonder out loud whether Havel should not step down. The deputy chairman of the lower house of the Czech parliament, Jaroslav Zverina, caused a stir when he said the president should consider resigning in the interests of his own health. While Zverina's own party, the formerly governing Civic Democratic Party (ODS), distanced itself from his remarks, his comments reflected a question that is gathering urgency in many Czechs' minds: What would happen if Havel were too ill to complete his second term in office as Czech president?

First off, there are important short-term considerations associated with Havel's recovery. While doctors in Innsbruck seem optimistic about his recovery, some say there is still the possibility that he may not be in good enough health carry out his constitutional role and name a prime minister to form a government after the elections scheduled for 19-20 June. The president will have to undergo another operation during which doctors will close his large intestine. That operation is supposed to come in May, but according to some doctors it could be put off until later due to complications associated with Havel's lungs.

With the current Czech political scene as fragmented and divisive as it is, Havel will be required to play a much- needed balancing role during the post-election negotiations to form a new government. Public opinion polls indicate that no potential governing coalition of parties is likely to secure a majority in the lower house of the Czech parliament. Havel already has proven capable of urging quick and effective solutions on political party leaders. He did this after the 1996 elections which ended in a political stalemate and after the collapse of Vaclav Klaus's government last fall.

However, if Havel were unable to perform his constitutional role for health reasons, the post-election period of instability could drag on longer and be perceived as more threatening by both domestic and foreign observers. Furthermore, if a minority government is formed after the elections -- which is the most likely scenario -- the possibility of more crises and instability in the near future cannot be discounted. During such problems, Havel could act as an important guarantor of political, and therefore economic, stability in the Czech Republic -- providing he is fit.

The long-term considerations related to Havel's role as president have less to do with short-term political considerations and more to do with the manner in which his own person has become intertwined with the presidency, and by extension, with democracy in this country. While the Czech presidency is a relatively weak position on paper, it bears significant symbolic and moral authority in this country both for historical reasons and for reasons associated with Havel himself.

Czechs tend to associate the office of the presidency with the person of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935 and a towering figure in Czech history. A professor, philosopher, and the man most credited with achieving Czechoslovak independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Masaryk has become the ideal against which all subsequent presidents have been measured. Havel is widely perceived as having come closer than any other Czechoslovak head of state to that ideal.

Many Czechs still find it impossible to imagine anyone other than Havel in the Prague Castle. In fact, many observers consider Havel's presence to be a virtual necessity in the current climate of political and economic uncertainty. Such observers argue that the task of entrenching democracy and the rule of law in the Czech Republic is not completely finished, and that the country still needs Havel to play an important role in that regard. They worry that parliament will elect a successor who will be either too weak to act as the moral arbiter Czechs still seem to think they need or, even worse, who will be a tool of one or another of the political forces in the country.

Obviously, both scenarios are realistic, especially considering the currently fragmented state of the Czech political scene. Certainly it would be better if Havel manages to stay fit until his current term in office ends in 2003. By that time, perhaps the political scene will be calm enough to permit a smooth succession at the castle. Then again, perhaps it will not.

In any event, the manner in which many Czechs have associated Havel's person with democracy in this country poses problems. No one need be reminded that he would not be the first "irreplaceable" political leader to be replaced. There is no reason why a changing of the guard in the Czech Republic, either presidential or governmental, should fare any worse than the relatively smooth changes that have already taken place in neighboring Poland or Hungary, or, for that matter, in Bulgaria, where veteran dissident Zhelyu Zhelev was unceremoniously unseated by his own former supporters. In that sense, this country will have taken another important step in the development of its political culture the day a standard succession takes place and a new president steps into the Prague Castle. Victor Gomez is the managing editor of the Prague-based monthly journal "New Presence."