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Newsline - June 2, 1998


President Boris Yeltsin on 2 June discussed the current crisis on Russian financial markets and various government policies with 10 influential Russian businessmen. Those who attended the Kremlin meeting were: Mikhail Khodorkovskii, head of the Rosprom-Yukos group; Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii; Interros head Vladimir Potanin (the founder of Oneksimbank); Alfa Group head Mikhail Fridman; SBS-Agro head Aleksandr Smolenskii, Rossiiskii Kredit head Vitalii Malkin; Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev; LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov; Unified Energy System chief executive Anatolii Chubais; and Vladimir Bogdanov, head of the Surgutneftegaz oil and gas company. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists that the participants agreed that while the current situation is "complicated," the government and Central Bank are taking the right steps to handle the crisis. Yeltsin also proposed holding similar discussions regularly and plans to sign several decrees as a result of the 2 June meeting, Yastrzhembskii said. LB


Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko on 1 June met with representatives of Western banks and investment firms, "Kommersant-Daily" and an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported. Few details about the meeting have been released, and it is unclear how many firms were present. Some Russian media have reported that the government is seeking loans from foreign banks in case international financial institutions do not provide special stabilization credits. "Kommersant- Daily" speculated that the IMF will not directly loan Russia more money but will agree to guarantee loans by Western banks to the Russian government. IMF officials have said Russia does not need an additional multi-billion dollar short-term loan. The main index of the Russian stock market rose 4 percent in early trading on 2 June after falling by 10 percent the previous day. The index has dropped more than 40 percent since the beginning of May. LB


In line with recent promises to plug the holes in the 1998 budget, Prime Minister Kirienko on 1 June signed an order reducing the government apparatus by 30 percent from 1,450 to 1,039 employees, Russian news agencies reported. The measure is a small part of a government plan to boost revenues and cut spending, which is aimed at reassuring the markets and the IMF. The plan calls for a total of 61 billion rubles ($9.9 billion) in spending reductions, "Vremya MN" reported on 1 June. LB


Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko on 1 June announced that Russia is unlikely to experience economic growth in 1998, Interfax reported. In January, President Boris Yeltsin demanded that the government provide for 2-4 percent economic growth this year, but even then ministers disagreed on whether that target was realistic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 22 January 1998). The current financial crisis is expected to hurt Russian industry, in part because interest rates--already high in real terms--have reached 18-20 month highs. The State Statistics Committee recently revised its calculation of 1997 GDP upward to 2.602 trillion old rubles ($422 billion), Interfax reported on 25 May. The committee also revised its estimate of 1997 economic growth from 0.4 percent to 0.8 percent. LB


The Media-Most holding company on 1 June issued a statement denying that company president Vladimir Gusinskii has sought to destabilize Russian financial markets. "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 30 May alleged that "during the oligarchs' battle against Kirienko," Gusinskii warned that "we will bring down the financial market" if Kirienko were to become prime minister, Anatolii Chubais became chief executive of Unified Energy System, and Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov gained the authority to supervise Russia's natural monopolies. Media-Most described the report as a "lie" that will be challenged in court. It also charged that the "once respected" "Komsomolskaya pravda" has become an "instrument of unscrupulous competition" for the Oneksimbank empire, which finances the newspaper. Oneksimbank countered with its own statement denying that the bank interferes in the editorial policy of publications in which the Interros group (composed of firms linked to Oneksimbank) owns a controlling stake. LB


Prime Minister Kirienko on 1 June signed a government resolution outlining new terms for the sale of a 75 percent plus one share in Rosneft, Russia's last major fully state-owned oil company, Russian news agencies reported. The new starting price will be 9.862 billion rubles ($1.6 billion), which is in line with an evaluation of the company by an international auditing firm but some $500 million lower than the minimum bid the government set for the Rosneft auction that recently fell through (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1998). First Deputy State Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman announced on 2 June that participants in the next auction, to be held in mid-July, must also agree to invest some $65.5 million in Rosneft, Interfax reported. The terms for the failed auction required a $400 million investment in the company. LB


Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 2 June declined to confirm that he plans to compete in a by- election for a State Duma seat this September in Yamal- Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Interfax reported. A source in the Our Home Is Russia movement told the news agency earlier the same day that Chernomyrdin has decided to compete in the Yamal-Nenets election, but the former premier remarked that "everything will be said in its own time." The gas monopoly Gazprom, which Chernomyrdin headed before he joined the government in December 1992, has vast influence in Yamal-Nenets, where most of Russia's gas reserves are located. Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov recently proposed that Chernomyrdin run for an open Duma seat in Saratov, but the former premier's prospects there would be less favorable. Ayatskov has in recent months criticized Our Home Is Russia and pledged to form his own movement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 1998). LB


The Constitutional Court on 29 May struck down an article in Komi Republic's law on state service, which allowed officials in the executive branch to simultaneously serve in the republican legislature, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 30 May. The court ordered the Komi authorities to revise the system "without delay." According to "Russkii telegraf," 19 out of the 50 deputies in the Komi legislature also hold executive posts at the local or republican level. The Komi authorities are unlikely to act swiftly on the court ruling. In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that local elections must be held in Komi, but the republic's president, Yurii Spiridonov, criticized that ruling, and the Komi legislature scheduled the local elections for February 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 31 March 1998). LB


A city court in Zheleznodorozhnyi (Moscow Oblast) has convicted Yevgenii Sheremet of dodging the draft and handed down a suspended six-month prison sentence, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 May. Sheremet will serve his prison term only if he commits a crime during the next year. His case highlights the contradiction between the law on military service (which foresees exemptions from the draft only for students attending schools with state accreditation) and the law on education (which guarantees equal rights for students, regardless of whether their schools are accredited). Sheremet plans to appeal to the Moscow Oblast Court. Two years ago, that court upheld the acquittal of a conscientious objector (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 27 June 1996). According to "Kommersant-Daily," a student at a private institute in Voronezh gained a draft exemption in 1996 after appealing to the Constitutional Court. LB


The Moscow City Court on 1 June overturned a lower court's conviction of the poet Alina Vitukhnovskaya on charges of drug possession with the intent to sell, Interfax reported. The court found that Vitukhnovskaya's apartment was illegally searched after her arrest in October 1994 and ruled that evidence found during that search could not be used as a basis for her conviction. Vitukhnovskaya was sentenced to 18 months in prison last month but released from custody because she had already spent some 18 months in pre-trial detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 1998). Writers' groups have charged that law enforcement authorities planted evidence against Vitukhnovskaya and pressured her to disclose her sources for a magazine article she wrote about drug use in 1994. LB


The All-Russian Automobile Alliance (AVVA), formed in 1993 by Boris Berezovskii, has agreed to compensate its investors with either cash or shares in the car manufacturer AvtoVAZ, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 June. The newspaper called the AVVA "one of the largest Russian financial pyramids," which attracted some $50 million, ostensibly for the construction of an AvtoVAZ factory that was never built (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). AVVA director-general Nikolai Kosov says the alliance is seeking to "bring [its] affairs in line with existing legislation." The newspaper said the compensation plan was approved because AvtoVAZ is to be audited in preparation for a joint venture with the German firm Adam Opel AG, the European subsidiary of General Motors. The Menatep bank is reportedly the largest single financial backer of "Kommersant-Daily." Menatep founder Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Berezovskii recently called off plans to merge the Yukos and Sibneft oil companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). LB


Igor Chernozatonskii, who founded a pyramid scheme that bilked tens of thousands of investors in Primorskii Krai out of tens of billions of old rubles (millions of U.S. dollars), has joined a religious procession to Moscow, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 2 June. Chernozatonskii was reported missing on 26 May but resurfaced several days later among Orthodox believers who recently set off from Vladivostok and hope to reach Moscow in time for Christmas celebrations in 2000. Chernozatonskii told journalists that a vision of the Virgin Mary told him that he must walk from Vladivostok to Moscow in order to "save the residents of Primore." Asked whether he is planning to pay back his investors, Chernozatonskii said he hopes all problems will be solved on the way to Moscow. Deputies in the Primorskii Krai Duma have demanded a criminal investigation into Chernozatonskii and his fund, Interfax reported on 30 May. LB


Kadzua Natsukawa, the head of the Japanese Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with the leader of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin on 1 June, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Kvashnin accepted an invitation to visit Japan this fall. He said later that the issue of the Kuril Islands was not discussed at their meeting but noted that Russia has no plans as yet to demilitarize the islands. He added, however, forces on the islands are being scaled down, in keeping with Russia's stated policy of reducing its armed forces, and that the Russian security system is being adapted to the new geo-political realities. It was also announced after the meeting that a joint naval exercise--a mock rescue operation--will be conducted in July in the Sea of Japan. BP


Chechen Prime Minister Shamil Basaev told Interfax on 1 June that some points of the cooperation agreement between the Chechen and Russian law- enforcement agencies are unrealistic. He expressed doubts whether the agreement could be implemented, adding that it is "more political than practical" and intended to demonstrate to Moscow that the Chechen side is ready to cooperate. Also on 1 June, Chechen presidential press secretary Mairbek Vachagev denied that Russian and Chechen security forces intend to launch a joint operation to locate and liberate abducted Russian presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov. Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin had told journalists in Moscow the previous day that such an operation is imminent. LF


In his weekly radio address on 1 June, Eduard Shevardnadze deplored the CIS's failure to implement the document on resolving the Abkhaz conflict endorsed at its April summit. Shevardnadze also criticized the CIS peacekeeping force for failing to prevent additional Abkhaz forces infiltrating into the conflict zone. But he said the Abkhaz leadership takes part of the credit for ensuring that the fighting in Gali did not escalate into a broader conflict. Shevardnadze said that Georgia's top priority is now to expedite the repatriation to Gali Raion of the estimated 30,000-40,000 ethnic Georgians forced to flee during the fighting. He termed this process the "touchstone" for the future development of Georgia's relations with both Abkhazia and Russia. LF


Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze told journalists in Moscow on 1 June that the repatriation of the ethnic Georgian fugitives to Gali is a precondition for the proposed meeting between the presidents of Georgia and Abkhazia, Interfax reported. Lortkipanidze estimated the number of civilians killed during the fighting last month at "several hundred." He also suggested that the repatriation of those fugitives must be completed before Tbilisi agrees to discuss with the Abkhaz leadership the region's future political status vis- a-vis the central government. He again rejected Sukhumi's demand for equal status for Abkhazia within a confederation as the "only thing we cannot concede." LF


Meanwhile, Ardzinba's personal envoy, Anri Djergenia, has claimed that Abkhazia is already an independent country and cannot accept "deferred political status" within Georgia, Interfax reported. Djergenia also criticized the CIS peacekeeping force in Gali, which he claimed failed to intervene to preclude Georgian guerrilla activities. At the same time, he stressed that Abkhazia "has never supported and does not support" their withdrawal from Gali. (The Abkhaz parliament adopted a resolution on 14 May calling on Ardzinba to raise that issue with Moscow.) Djergenia said Abkhazia has "special relations" with Russia and is "firmly oriented toward cooperation with the Russian Federation." Speaking on Abkhaz television, he noted that the Abkhaz leadership will try to persuade international organizations to extract guarantees from Tbilisi that it will not resort to force against Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Djergenia is to meet with Lortkipanidze in Moscow on 2 June to discuss the prospects for a meeting between the two presidents later this month. LF


In an appeal summarized by Caucasus Press on 2 June, leaders of the guerrilla movement warn that "our motherland is again in danger" and call on the Georgian people not to "yield to attempts by provocateurs" to sow discord between the people and the government, on the one hand, and the guerrillas and the "refugees" on the other. The statement said "there is no force today that could make us stop while we can still breathe. Georgians must not lay down their weapons.... Our strength is in our unity. We are right, and we will win. The Lord help us!" LF


The Supreme Court on 1 June handed down sentences ranging from four to 14 years in prison to 20 people found guilty of planning a coup in December, 1996, Interfax and Turan reported. Those sentenced include several associates of former President Ayaz Mutalibov and former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, including their press secretaries, Rasim Agaev and Anvar Gafarli. The Supreme Court also opened criminal proceedings against Yakub Mamedov, who was acting president of Azerbaijan from March-May 1992, on charges of failing to notify the authorities of preparations to stage a coup. LF


Heavy rains on 30 and 31 May have left areas in northern, southern and western Tajikistan flooded, ITAR-TASS reported. The southern area of Kulyab was especially hard hit, with damage reported to hundreds of homes and other buildings and with at least 2,000 hectares of cultivated land under water. President Imomali Rakhmonov has visited the site to assess damage. Meanwhile, the Kulyab airport is being used for refueling by aircraft carrying humanitarian aid to areas in Afghanistan struck by the recent earthquakes. BP


The Uzbek prosecutor-general on 1 June demanded that the seven men found guilty of involvement in the violence in the eastern of Namangan last December receive between 13- 20 years in jail, Reuters reported. He said all seven were Wahhabis and that police had found pistol cartridges and marijuana in their homes. He also suggested they had been in contact with Islamists in Tajikistan and Pakistan. One of the convicted declared his innocence and said he had been beaten and kept in a straight-jacket while awaiting trial. Another eight men are due to appear in court this week on similar charges. Their trial follows the sentencing of 12 men in Namangan last month on charges of crimes connected with the events last December. BP


The U.S. Export-Import Bank on 1 June reached an agreement with the Uzbek National Bank whereby Uzbekistan will receive credits without government guarantees to develop small and medium-size businesses, ITAR-TASS reported. Eximbank chairman James Harmon, who is on a three-day visit to Uzbekistan, said the Central Asian state has promptly repaid its loans and that the agreement provides the "possibility to expand activities in this dynamic and stable country." ITAR-TASS estimated that the U.S. bank has lent Uzbekistan $800 million since 1995. BP


Reporting to the parliament on budget expenditures and revenues, Accounts Chamber Chairman Valentyn Symonenko said "Ukraine is nearing a budget catastrophe," ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. "The country has no money whatsoever," he said, noting that budget revenues in the first four months of this year totaled 4.1 billion hryvni (just over $2 billion) while the domestic and foreign debts amounted to 4.7 billion hryvni. The cost of servicing and repaying the state debt is now equal to total budget revenues, according to Symonenko. JM


The Warsaw Voivodship Court on 1 June refused to extradite Belarusian businessman Alyaksandr Pupeyka following a request from the Belarusian Interior Ministry, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The Belarusian authorities claim Pupeyka fraudulently obtained loans from a Belarusian bank to finance his automobile import business, causing losses to the state totaling $4.2 million. The Polish court deemed there was insufficient evidence to support those claims and ruled that the businessman's extradition is inadmissible since Pupeyka was granted political asylum in Poland on 25 March. Pupeyka told a RFE/RL correspondent that he considers himself a member of the Belarusian opposition and that his harassment by the Belarusian authorities was politically motivated. JM


Andrey Klimau, a former deputy of the Belarusian Supreme Soviet who is currently in jail, has been on a hunger strike for several days, RFE/RL Belarusian Service reported on 1 June. He is protesting severe conditions in the prison. Klimau is being kept in a one-man cell with three other prisoners and is allowed to sleep only during the day. He is also forbidden to see his children. Klimau was arrested on charges of grand larceny but maintains his arrest was politically motivated owing to his participation in a commission formed by the former Supreme Soviet to investigate President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's activities. JM


Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs on 1 June urged the parliament to comply with the OSCE's recommendations on amendments to the citizenship law, BNS reported. Otherwise, the foreign minister argued, Riga risks losing not only allies in Europe and the U.S. but also the chance to improve relations with Russia. Speaking on state radio, Birkavs said "everything will depend on 4 June," when the parliament is scheduled to hold the final reading of amendments to the citizenship law. Earlier on 1 June, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, speaking in Helsinki, said Latvia must fully comply with the OSCE recommendations on its ethnic Russian minority. Compliance would open a "new era" in Russian-Latvian relations, Primakov commented. The OSCE has urged Latvia to speed up the process of granting citizenship to its ethnic Russians. JC


Some 3,000 farmers held a rally in Warsaw on 1 June demanding that the government stop "the destruction of Polish agriculture," "Zycie Warszawy" reported. The same day, representatives of the Farmers' Solidarity Trade Union met with Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and Agriculture Minister Jacek Janiszewski, demanding that grain imports be halted and duties on imported agricultural products significantly increased. Roman Wierzbicki, chairman of the Farmers' Solidarity Trade Union, said the situation in agriculture is "tragic." Another trade unionist warned that unless the government meets the farmers' demands, protest actions may escalate. JM


The Polish government and President Aleksander Kwasniewski are arguing over who is to have control over the armed forces, "Zycie Warszawy" reported on 2 June. The controversy began after the government proposed an amendment to a law on the armed forces that liquidates the National Defense Committee, headed by the president, and transfers all its prerogatives to the government. If the amendment becomes law, the president will lose his powers to formulate defense doctrine and determine the development of the armed forces. "We do not need any new powers, but we will not allow [anyone] to deprive us of the current ones," presidential aide Marek Siwiec commented. JM


Federation of Young Democrats- Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP) chairman Viktor Orban said on national television on 31 May that "those who delay the formation of the government are causing damage [totaling] several billions of forints to the country." FIDESZ-MPP is ready to govern the country, Orban said, adding that the formation of the new cabinet is being held up by President Arpad Goncz, who "has not yet asked" the leader of party that won the elections to form the government. Imre Mecs, a deputy who represented the Free Democrats in the outgoing parliament and was chairman of the Defense Committee, told MTI that Orban should refrain from statements that "offend the president" and are "inconceivable in European political life." MSZ


Albanian government spokesmen on 1 June said that more than 2,000 refugees arrived in Tropoja that day. The office of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Tirana announced that it will send 20 tons of food, clothes, and kitchen utensils to northeastern Albania to help the refugees and to prepare for a further influx. That region, which borders Kosova, is the poorest and least accessible of the country. FS


The Albanian government issued a statement on 1 June saying the arrival of refugees is the result of Belgrade's "consistent policy aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Kosova." The text added that Serbia's policy of attacking villages, burning houses, and killing people is likely to result in a "massive massacre." Consequently, "the Albanian government appeals to the governments of the U.S., EU, the Contact Group countries, and to all international bodies involved in resolving the Kosova crisis to forcefully and immediately intervene to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosova, because this ethnic cleansing [will likely lead to] a bloody war." A government spokesman told an RFE/RL correspondent in Tirana on 2 June that by referring to "intervention," the government means diplomatic pressure on Belgrade and the stationing of NATO troops along Albania's border with Serbia. The spokesman added that Tirana has not requested international military intervention in Kosova. PM


Serbian forces shelled the region of Kosova along the Albanian border on 1 June, and fighting continued in the Decan area, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Prishtina. The fighting and destruction since 29 May appear to be the worst since the Serbian paramilitary police began their crackdown at the end of February. At least 37 persons, including two Serbian policemen, have been killed in various parts of Kosova since 29 May. The Serbian forces have subjected entire ethnic Albanian villages to "systematic expulsions of the population and destruction," the BBC reported. Kosovar sources reported the massacre of five men in the village of Poklek i Ri, near Gllogovc. In Prishtina, several thousand children joined students and older people in the daily march for independence and an end to the crackdown. PM


A spokesman for Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Ratko Markovic said in Belgrade on 30 May that the next talks between the Serbian and Kosovar authorities will take place in Prishtina on 5 June, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. The Kosovars postponed the session that had been slated for 29 May, ostensibly because of Rugova's visit to Washington (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1998). PM


The Montenegrin Election Commission reported on 1 June that the For A Better Life coalition led by reformist President Milo Djukanovic won 49.5 percent of the vote in the 31 May parliamentary elections (see "End Note" below). The Socialist People's Party of Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, who supports President Slobodan Milosevic, took 36 percent and the Liberal Alliance 6 percent. Djukanovic's backers will have an outright majority of seats in the parliament. A spokesman for OSCE monitors said that the fairness of the election was a "significant improvement" over previous polls. In Washington, a State Department spokesman praised the vote "as a positive step forward in building democracy in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro. The elections appear to have proceeded peacefully and in accordance with international standards." PM


Vesna Pesic, who is president of the Citizens' League of Serbia, said in Belgrade on 1 June that Djukanovic's victory "marks the first step toward freeing Yugoslavia from an undemocratic regime. This is the first time that forces that offer a real way out of the 10-year crisis [of Milosevic's rule] and destruction of the country have won in free elections," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


A court in Skopje on 1 June sentenced Sonja Nikolovska, the owner of the failed Bitola-based TAT pyramid scheme company, to eight years in prison. Prison terms also went to four government finance officials and three TAT employees. Siljan Micevski, the former mayor of Bitola, received a one-year suspended sentence, and his wife was fined. Some 23,000 Macedonians in 1996 lost a combined total of $65 million in pyramid schemes, of which TAT was the largest. PM


William Montgomery, who is U.S. ambassador to Croatia, announced in Zagreb on 1 June that the State Department has invited the representatives of several opposition parties to Washington in July. He added that the governments of many countries invite opposition leaders to visit and that officials of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) went to Washington in 1990, when Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger invited leaders of 15 Yugoslav opposition parties to the U.S. Spokesmen for the HDZ protested the decision to invite the opposition leaders when news of the invitation appeared in the press last month. PM


Kresimir Zubak and other prominent Bosnian Croats have decided to break with the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which recently elected hard-line Herzegovinian Croat Ante Jelavic as chairman, "Slobodna Dalmacija" wrote on 2 June. Zubak will shortly announce the formation of a new party, which, he said, will adhere to the founding principles of the HDZ and pledge loyalty to Franjo Tudjman. The Croatian president had favored another candidate over Jelavic. Bosnian Croats live in scattered, often centuries-old settlements together with Serbs and Muslims. Bosnian Croats tend to be politically more moderate than the Herzegovinians, who live in compact areas contiguous to Croatia. PM


Minister of Education Andrei Marga on 1 June rejected the Hungarian Democratic Federation in Romania's (UDMR) demand for a Hungarian- language university in Cluj, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Marga said universities "established on ethnic criteria" are likely to provoke an increase in ethnic tensions. Democratic Convention of Romania chairman Ion Diaconescu said he is "surprised" by the demand of the UDMR because coalition members have agreed that a Hungarian-language university will be set up in another Transylvanian town. He pointed out that a Hungarian section is already functioning at the Babes-Bolyai university in Cluj. Democratic Party leader Petre Roman also rejected the demand, saying he supports "multicultural" universities instead. The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania called on the government to reject the "UDMR ultimatum." MS


National Liberal Party (PNL) chairman Mircea Ionescu-Quintus on 1 June denied that his party intends to leave the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR). Deputy chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said at a congress of the PNL's youth organization last weekend that the PNL must "forge its own separate identity" and "follow the example of the Democratic Party," whose popularity grew after the most recent coalition crisis. Popescu- Tariceanu denied that he intended to signal the party's departure from the CDR, saying he had only "a long-term process" in mind. Diaconescu said he was "surprised" by Popescu-Tariceanu's statement but added that "if they want to leave, I cannot stop them." MS


Addressing a plenum of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) on 30 May, chairman Vladimir Voronin called for the unification of leftist political forces "in the face of the threat posed by national radicals and [pro-Romanian] unionist forces" in order to defend the "sovereignty of Moldova," Infotag reported on 1 June. The gathering was attended by delegates from the Agrarian Democratic Party (PDAM), the Socialist Unity Bloc, and the Socialist Party, none of which gained parliamentary representation at the March elections. Voronin said that by allying itself with the Democratic Convention of Romania, the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc has "signed its own death warrant." Citing PCM sources, BASA-press reported that negotiations for a merger of the PCM , the PDAM, and the two socialist formations are now under way. MS


A "referendum" on joining the Russia-Belarus union has ended in the separatist region, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 1 June. The initiative was, in fact, a campaign to collect signatures supporting the union, whose conclusion was twice postponed reportedly because of low participation. Official results are to be announced at the end of the week. According to the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, 64.8 percent of the 150,000 eligible voters supported the union. But the official "Pridniestrovie" daily reported on 1 June that some 70-80 percent were in favor. The results of the "referendum," spearheaded by deputy leader of the separatist region, Aleksandr Karaman, are to be sent to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union. MS


The U.S. embassy in Bulgaria on 1 June said in a written statement that the remarks made last week by special envoy Richard Holbrooke were "his opinions as a private citizen" and did not reflect "the official view of the U.S. government," Reuters reported. In an interview with Reuters on 27 May, Holbrooke warned that the Kosova conflict might escalate internationally and said that Bulgaria might in this situation "grab off" a "piece of Macedonia." The remarks triggered official Bulgarian protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 1998). MS


by Patrick Moore

The For a Better Life coalition, which is loyal to reformist President Milo Djukanovic, won an outright majority of seats in the 31 May election to the Montenegrin parliament and to local assemblies. Djukanovic supporters in the Montenegrin parliament will now be able to change the composition of the Montenegrin delegation to the upper house of the federal parliament in Belgrade and thereby affect the balance of power there between supporters and opponents of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The purpose in calling an early legislative vote was to clarify the respective strengths of Djukanovic and his rival, former President Momir Bulatovic, who is a staunch supporter of Milosevic. Both sides agreed to the vote in the wake of the October 1997 presidential election, which Djukanovic won by a small margin and after which Bulatovic charged fraud. The police, who are loyal mainly to Djukanovic, thwarted attempts by Bulatovic supporters in January to launch a campaign of violence. Bulatovic hoped that the violence would prompt federal Prime Minister Radoje Kontic to declare a state of emergency and thereby prevent Djukanovic's inauguration.

On 18 May, pro-Milosevic deputies in the federal parliament ousted the independent-minded Kontic and replaced him with Bulatovic two days later. Milosevic most likely staged a "coup" at that particular time in order to help Bulatovic and his Socialist People's Party (SNP) in the parliamentary vote. Neither Djukanovic nor his Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) recognized Kontic's ouster or Bulatovic's election.

Djukanovic and Bulatovic have not always been bitter enemies, however. The two began their political careers in the late 1980s as allies and as proteges of Milosevic, whose wars in Croatia and Bosnia they loyally supported. Djukanovic and many of those around him are widely believed to have profited greatly from smuggling fuel, cigarettes, and alcohol in violation of the wartime sanctions.

With time, however, Djukanovic seems to have concluded that Milosevic's policies meant Yugoslavia's continued isolation. This, he argued, would be a disaster for Montenegro, whose long-term economic health depends on reviving the key shipping and tourism sectors. In 1997, Djukanovic openly adopted a domestic program of democracy, reform, and a free market, as well as policy of openness. He convinced the majority of the governing DPS of the soundness of his views, and the pro-Bulatovic faction was forced to leave in August 1997 and went on to found the SNP.

Milosevic and Bulatovic frequently accused Djukanovic of seeking to take Montenegro out of the Yugoslav federation. Djukanovic repeatedly denied the charges and told students in Podgorica shortly before the October elections that "Yugoslavia is not a Gypsy camp" to be pulled up and put down at will. He has stressed that his goal is to reform Yugoslavia so that it can survive and to end what he calls Milosevic's isolationist and dictatorial policies.

To be sure, some old Montenegrin traditions lurk beneath the surface of this debate on the issues of 1998. One is the dispute between the "Greens"--who stress a distinct Montenegrin identity vis-a-vis Serbia or who even advocate independence--and the "Whites," who believe that the Montenegrins are a special group within the Serbian nation. Another tradition in Montenegrin political culture involves rivalries among clans in regions, which certainly played a part in determining who sided with Djukanovic and who with Bulatovic.

But Djukanovic seems to have convinced the voters of the merits of his arguments. The Green-White dispute and clan issues alone are insufficient to account for Montenegro's switch from staunch support for Milosevic at the beginning of the decade to being his main source of problems within the federal government.

The first point of confrontation is likely to be over the upper house of the federal parliament. Serbia and Montenegro each have 20 seats in that body, even though Serbia's population is about 10 times that of Montenegro. The new parliament in Podgorica may soon recall some Bulatovic supporters from among the 20 deputies and replace them with Djukanovic's people. The Montenegrin delegation would then be in a position to combine forces with Milosevic's other enemies in Belgrade and perhaps help force him from office.

But not if Bulatovic and Milosevic act first, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service notes. Having failed to weaken Djukanovic in the parliamentary elections, their next move is likely to be to force a bill through both houses of the federal parliament to end the reformers' control over the Montenegrin police. The police in Yugoslavia are currently subordinate to the governments of Serbia or Montenegro. Milosevic and Bulatovic are likely to try to push through legislation that would make both the Serbian and Montenegrin police part of a Yugoslav force subordinate to--and controlled by--Milosevic's supporters.

Milosevic is likely to try to win his political battle with Djukanovic quickly so as to concentrate his energies on the armed conflict in Kosova. Both problems, it should be noted, are of his own making.