Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - July 7, 1998


Relatives of former State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin say Rokhlin's wife, Tamara, was pressured to confess to murdering her husband (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1998). Rokhlin's daughter, Yelena, and her husband, Sergei Abakumov, told NTV on 5 July that when Tamara Rokhlina informed them about the murder, she said that other people killed her husband but that she would confess in order to save the lives of other family members. In an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 July, Yelena Rokhlina and Abakumov repeated those charges. They have not named those who allegedly threatened Tamara Rokhlina. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 July that investigators first questioned Tamara Rokhlina when she was in a state of shock and was not accompanied by a lawyer. LB


Yelena Rokhlina and Sergei Abakumov told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 July that in addition to the bullet that killed Rokhlin, another bullet was found embedded in a wall of another room at Rokhlin's dacha. The bodyguard who was at the dacha that night did not hear any shots fired, but no silencer was found at the dacha. Abakumov speculated that professionals killed Rokhlin and then forced his wife to fire a shot into a wall with his own pistol (Tamara Rokhlina's fingerprints were found on that gun). Yelena Rokhlina also denied reports suggesting that her father was drunk on the night of 2-3 July and had argued with his wife hours before the shooting. Aleksandr Morozov, deputy head of Rokhlin's Movement to Support the Army, on 6 July vowed to sue those who have publicly accused Tamara Rokhlina of the murder, ITAR-TASS reported. LB


State Tax Service head Boris Fedorov announced on 3 July that the tax authorities will put off steps to seize assets of the gas monopoly Gazprom until 1 August, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, he warned that the assets seizure and other punitive measures may be taken against the company if it does not pay its full taxes for June and July. He noted that Gazprom paid just 824 million rubles ($133 million) in June, even though the company owed 4.2 billion rubles for the month. Fedorov's predecessor, Aleksandr Pochinok, reached an agreement with Gazprom earlier this year to allow the company to pay just 2.45 billion rubles in cash for its tax bill each month. However, Fedorov refused to recognize that agreement after he was appointed in late May. LB


In a 5 July interview with NTV, Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko accused Gazprom of issuing a "challenge" to the government. He charged that Gazprom was unhappy with Fedorov's decision to cancel the agreement on the company's tax payments and decided to "teach the government a lesson" by paying just 800 million rubles ($129 million) in June. Kirienko said Russian legislation does not allow special tax deals with individual companies. He also disputed claims by Gazprom officials that budget- funded organizations owe the gas monopoly some 1 billion rubles more than Gazprom owes in back taxes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1998). He pointed out that Gazprom does not pay taxes on gas deliveries for which it has not been paid. If budget-funded organizations immediately cleared their debts to Gazprom, he added, the gas monopoly would immediately owe several billion rubles more in taxes. LB


The Duma on 3 July passed by 307 to zero a non-binding resolution "on measures to stabilize the situation at Gazprom and other natural monopolies," ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution asked the government to instruct the tax authorities not to seize Gazprom assets or freeze the company's bank accounts pending an agreement on settling the debts of budget-funded organizations to Gazprom as well as the company's tax arrears. It also asked the government not to restructure natural monopolies or sell its shares in them. The Duma also approved a separate statement denouncing the government's actions vis-a-vis Gazprom on 2 July. Speaking to NTV on 5 July, Kirienko criticized unidentified politicians who have repeatedly called for the state to play a greater role in the economy but who criticized the government's attempts to play a stronger management role in 40 percent state-owned Gazprom. LB


The multinational oil company Royal Dutch Shell on 3 July announced that it will not bid for a 75 percent stake in the Rosneft oil company later this month. Royal Dutch Shell, Gazprom, and the Russian oil company LUKoil agreed last year to submit a joint bid for Rosneft. Gazprom Vice President Sergei Zverev said the gas monopoly will be unable to purchase Rosneft without Shell's participation, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 July. Meanwhile, Oneksimbank announced on 6 July that it, too, has decided not to take part in the Rosneft auction, Interfax reported. The bank, which owns a controlling stake in the Sidanko oil company, announced plans last year to bid for Rosneft in conjunction with British Petroleum. That company on 7 July confirmed that it will not bid for Rosneft. The government's first attempt to sell a controlling stake in Rosneft failed when no investors submitted bids for the auction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1998). LB


Prime Minister Kirienko told NTV on 5 July that the government may privatize other companies if no investors bid for Rosneft later this month. The state is asking at least $1.6 billion for the controlling stake in Rosneft. Kirienko did not name any specific additional sales that could help the state meet its revenue targets. NTV correspondents, along with other media owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most holding, have charged that the government's measures against Gazprom have undermined the prospects for the Rosneft sale and sapped investors' confidence in Russia generally. Speaking to NTV, Kirienko argued that Shell's decision to sit out the Rosneft auction could have been influenced by the conflict between the government and Gazprom only if Shell initially expected the gas monopoly to have a "special relationship" with the government. Gazprom owns a 30 percent stake in NTV. LB


The Duma on 3 July passed by 315 to 16 the "general section" of a new tax code in the second reading. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov described the document as a "tax constitution," ITAR-TASS reported. The general part of the code outlines the rights and obligations of taxpayers and the tax authorities. It also determines the procedure for imposing new taxes and amending or rescinding existing taxes. It does not include specific tax laws. Also on 3 July, the Duma approved in the third reading two more parts of the government's anti-crisis program: a law on taxation of gambling businesses and a new budget code. That code outlines the procedures for adopting the budget and regulating budget relations between federal and regional governments. It also specifies the powers of various government agencies in the budget process. LB


The Duma on 3 July rejected a draft law that would allow regional authorities to introduce a sales tax of up to 5 percent on most purchases, excluding bread, milk, children's products, and payments for municipal services and public transportation, Russian news agencies reported. Finance Minister Zadornov had estimated the law would yield additional revenues of 40 billion rubles ($6.4 billion). It would have allocated 80 percent of those revenues to local authorities and the rest to regional authorities. The government envisioned the sales tax as compensation for the plan to allocate 40 percent of income tax revenues to the federal budget. The Duma has postponed consideration of the law calling for such a redistribution of income tax revenues until mid- July, when the lower house will consider several other key government proposals, including a plan to charge a single rate of value-added tax on nearly all goods. LB


Miners in five cities of Kemerovo Oblast are blocking the Trans-Siberian Railroad for the fifth consecutive day, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 July. Deputy Railroad Minister Oleg Moshenko told ITAR- TASS that the ministry will file suit for losses sustained during the blockade, which he put at 7 million rubles ($1.1 million). On 4 July, Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov told Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev that the government has fulfilled all its obligations to the miners, having allocated 196.7 million rubles, transferred 221 million rubles, and extended a 39 million ruble loan to Kemerovo Oblast since the 10-day blockade of the Trans- Siberian in May, ITAR-TASS reported. Representatives from the coal industry, however, claim that a separate protocol signed by Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev provides for 1.6 billion rubles of state aid, which has been only 13 percent fulfilled. BT


In response to the protesters' demand that Sysuev come to Kemerovo to review the implementation of protocols signed on 24 May, Sysuev sent a letter to Tuleev refusing to meet with the miners until the blockade is lifted and demands for the resignation of Boris Yeltsin dropped, Interfax reported on 6 July. A government delegation including Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Igor Kozhukovskii has been sent to Kemerovo to meet with regional authorities. Anatolii Chekis, a trade union leader in Kemerovo, warned that Sysuev is "making a mistake" by refusing to meet with the miners. He also claimed that the government commission in Kemerovo is unable to dampen the protest in the area, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 July. Meanwhile, the Kemerovo Oblast Prosecutor's Office told Interfax on 6 July that it is preparing three criminal cases against the instigators of the blockade. BT


Unidentified Greek Cypriot government sources told Interfax on 3 July that delivery of the Russian S-300 anti- missile systems to Cyprus will "almost certainly" be postponed from August 1998 until November. Those sources, however, declined to give a reason for the postponement. Outgoing Russian Ambassador to Ankara Vadim Kuznetsov recently said that delivery of the missiles will be delayed at the request of the Nicosia government, but Interfax on 4 July quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin as saying that Kuznetsov's prediction is "his own personal subjective opinion." Interfax quoted unidentified sources in Moscow as suggesting that the Cypriot government fears that if the missiles are deployed during the summer, Turkey may register its displeasure by staging military flights over the island, which, they added, might adversely affect the tourist industry. LF


Shamil Basaev on 3 July announced that he has tendered his resignation to President Aslan Maskhadov as the six-month term for which he accepted the post has expired, Russian agencies reported. Basaev argued that his cabinet succeeded in reducing government staff and creating thousands of new jobs, despite falling oil prices and increased oil thefts. He ruled out any reversal of his decision to step down, saying he plans to focus on the work of the Congress of Peoples of Chechnya and Dagestan, according to RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent. The aim of that body is to merge the two republics. Maskhadov has not yet accepted Basaev's resignation, but "Kommersant-daily" predicted on 4 July that the Chechen parliament will insist not only that the president does so but that Basaev's entire cabinet step down. LF


Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin told journalists in Stavropol on 4 July that he has "complete confidence" that Russian Presidential Envoy to Chechnya Valentin Vlasov will soon be released, Russian agencies reported. Vlasov was abducted on 1 May near the Chechen-Ingush border. According to Stepashin, he is being held by "Chechen extremists." Stepashin said that he has reached agreement with the Chechen authorities on coordinating activities to secure Vlasov's release, which Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kazbek Makhashev also considers could be imminent. LF


A 5 July referendum on land reform in the Republic of Buryatia has been deemed invalid because of low turnout, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 July. Some 83 percent of those who voted supported the proposal to impose a 10-year moratorium on unrestricted buying and selling of farmland in the republic. However, according to the Buryatian electoral commission, just 38.65 percent of eligible voters took part, well below the 50 percent required for a valid referendum. Some federal officials had in any case cast doubt on the legality of the Buryatian referendum. LB


Meeting in Moscow on 6 July, Russian President Yeltsin and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, signed a declaration of eternal friendship and alliance, Russian media reported. That accord, similar to the Russian-Armenian treaty of August 1997, provides for mutual military assistance in the event of aggression by a third party. The two presidents also finally signed an agreement concluded in April on the division of the northern sector of the Caspian Sea bed, but not of its waters. Nazarbayev told journalists later that the agreement will benefit future generations and exclude "the Balkanization of the North Caspian," arguing that political stability in the region is a precondition for the exploitation of Caspian hydrocarbon reserves. Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov told Interfax that the Russian-Kazakh agreement on the Caspian is "a significant step" toward the division of the entire sea into national sectors, as advocated by the U.S. LF


Nazarbayev and visiting Chinese President Jiang Zemin signed an agreement in Astana on 4 July. According to Nazarbayev, the accord "finally and irrevocably" resolves the outstanding disputes over their 1,700 km frontier, Interfax reported. The two presidents also instructed their respective governments to draw up an economic cooperation program for the next 15 years. That program will focus primarily on the oil and gas sectors, telecommunications, Kazakh deliveries of electricity to China, and Chinese investment in Kazakhstan's new capital. China reaffirmed its commitment to the agreement concluded last summer on constructing an oil pipeline from Kazakhstan to China. Feasibility studies on that project are already under way. Nazarbayev said that a gas pipeline will be built to run parallel to the oil export pipeline. LF


Five leading Azerbaijani opposition politicians have repeated their intention not to contend the 11 October presidential elections, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported on 4 July. The previous day, Gerald Stoudmann, director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told an RFE/RL correspondent that he has appealed to the opposition to abandon their proposed boycott and submit nominations to the Central Electoral Commission in order to expedite the process of democracy in Azerbaijan. Stoudmann expressed satisfaction that some of his office's proposals have been incorporated into the final version of the election law, but he recommended that the Azerbaijani authorities adopt additional measures to enable non-partisan domestic observers to monitor the poll and to prevent interference in the voting by security forces. The 1995 parliamentary elections were marred by massive procedural violations. LF


The Military Collegium of the Azerbaijani Supreme Court on 2 July sentenced Party of National Independence of Azerbaijan branch chairman Tahmasib Novruzov and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan members Gurban Mamedov and Jamaleddin Ahmedov on charges of falsely testifying that Security Minister Namig Abbasov was preparing a coup against President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported the following day. They received three, five, and nine years in jail, respectively The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan issued a statement on 2 July protesting the sentences as being politically motivated rather than based on hard evidence. It expresses concern that juridical power in Azerbaijan is being used as an instrument of repression against the opposition. LF


Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and Giorgi Baramidze, leader of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) parliamentary group, have told journalists that the SMK is already conducting talks with other political parties on the possibility of forming a coalition government, Caucasus Press reported on 4 and 7 July. Opposition politicians, in particular Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, have in recent months accused the SMK of corruption and falsification of the results of a recent by-election to ensure the victory of the SMK candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1998). Baramidze rejected the charges as fabricated and suggested that Rcheulishvili is mentally unbalanced. LF


Abkhaz presidential press spokesman Astamur Tania has said that Abkhazia began naval patrols of its Black Sea coast on 1 July, Interfax reported on 6 July. That move coincides with preparations for the implementation of the bilateral agreement whereby Georgia takes over from Russia responsibility for patrolling its sea borders. Echoing a warning issued last week by Abkhaz Defense Minister Vladimir Mikanba (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 1998), Tania said that if Georgian border guards attempt to assume control over Abkhazia's sea borders, hostilities are inevitable. LF


During his official visit to Armenia on 3-4 July, Emil Constantinescu held talks with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, on strengthening bilateral relations and on regional cooperation, Armenian agencies reported. Constantinescu expressed support for Armenian participation in the Silk Road transportation project, which Kocharian argued can succeed only if it is not directed against the interests of any state in the region. Constantinescu also suggested that regional organizations could contribute to mediating a solution to the Karabakh conflict. The two presidents signed a joint statement on partnership and cooperation. LF


Visiting Yerevan with a French Senate delegation, a representative of Gaz de France told journalists on 3 July that his company is interested in participating in the Hayrusgazart joint venture, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That company, which was established last December, is to manage Russian gas exports to Armenia and their re-export to third countries. LF


The U.S. on 6 July protested the removal of a fence around the residence of the U.S. ambassador at Drazdy, near Minsk, as well as the presence of a Belarusian official on the property. The official was reportedly seen walking in the grounds of the residence. State Department spokesman James Rubin called those acts an "assault" on the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and demanded that the Belarusian authorities put back the fence and remove its representatives from the property. "If that doesn't happen, we'll obviously consider next steps," Reuters quoted Rubin as saying. JM


Richard Haas, IMF resident representative in Belarus, left Minsk on 5 July after failing during his 18-month stay in Belarus to persuade the government to introduce market reforms. "When the Belarus government changes its policy, the IMF will return to Minsk to support it," he told Reuters. Belarus will now come under the jurisdiction of the IMF's office in Lithuania. JM


The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, meeting in Copenhagen on 7 July, reconfirmed that the 13th Belarusian Supreme Soviet is the legislature officially recognized by the OSCE, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The Supreme Soviet was dissolved by President Lukashenka following the controversial November 1996 referendum but is still recognized by most international organizations as Belarus's legitimate parliament. The Copenhagen meeting is being attended by two Belarusian delegations: one from the Supreme Soviet and the other from the National Assembly, created by Lukashenka after the 1996 referendum. JM


A military parade to celebrate Independence Day took place in Minsk on 3 July. Belarusian Television reported that more than 4,000 troops participated in the parade, along with missile launchers and anti-aircraft systems. They were followed by a column of athletes and rows of tractors and trucks. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka addressed the crowd, saying that in the international arena, Belarus is currently experiencing the "practice of double standards, the striving for 'diktat,' muscle-flexing, and the strategy of unjustified economic sanctions and blockades." He stressed that "nobody has been allowed to speak with us from a position of strength, in the language of blackmail and threats." JM


The Ukrainian National Bank on 6 July announced that it will raise its key interest rate from 51 percent to 82 percent beginning from 7 July, ITAR-TASS reported. The hike is widely seen as a measure to support the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnya, the exchange rate for which has been recently falling owing to growing mistrust among foreign investors of Ukraine's financial markets. JM


Following a week's visit to the People's Republic of China, Andrus Oovel told reporters in Tallinn on 6 July that Estonia may buy Chinese-made air and anti-tank defense systems, ETA reported. Oovel met with Chinese defense officials to discuss, among others, security issues, NATO, and military cooperation between the U.S. and China. No agreements were signed during his visit. JC


Guntis Ulmanis told national radio on 6 July that the results of the campaign to collect signatures supporting a referendum on the citizenship law amendments will depend on how well those amendments are explained to the population, BNS reported. Asked if such a referendum were necessary, Ulmanis answered that democracy is a "good thing" that allows a dialogue between state structures and the people. He urged politicians to talk more about the "essence" of the issue, including "the Latvian language and opportunities for studying it," rather than trading swipes among themselves. He added that he believes it is time for Latvians to make a "decision on our own as to how we should move forward." Also on 6 July, the Central Electoral Committee announced that signatures in support of the referendum will also be collected among the 32,000 or so Latvian citizens living abroad. JC


The ruling coalition on 3 July failed to override the presidential veto of the government-proposed bill to reduce the number of provinces from 49 to 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1998). The ruling coalition was 16 votes short of the three- fifths majority necessary to push through the vetoed legislation. The plan intended to consolidate Poland's administrative system, bringing it into line with EU territorial division standards. Coalition politicians are now urgently negotiating a compromise plan with the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) in order to pass a new administrative division bill before the summer recess. According to the 7 July "Zycie Warszawy," the coalition has proposed either 10 or 12 new provinces, while the SLD supports its former proposal of 17. JM


The Sejm on 3 July passed a resolution strongly criticizing the German parliament's call in late May to grant German post-war expellees the right to resettle in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Sejm resolution says the Bundestag's call "does not help the nicely developing cooperation between Poland and Germany," dpa reported. Referring to demands by Germany's expellees to get back their homes and farms confiscated by the communist authorities, the Sejm resolution says that "our participation in the [European] Union must require the inviolability of Poland's borders, confirmed by all our neighbors, and of Polish property rights." JM


The leaders of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Civic Democratic Part (ODS), Milos Zeman and Vaclav Klaus, on 3 July agreed to begin negotiations on a CSSD minority government that would be tolerated by the ODS. Zeman told journalists that the agreement could lead to a change in the electoral system by either raising the electoral threshold or by changing the voting system from a proportional to either a majority or a proportional- majority system. Klaus said that "under no circumstances" would the OSD agree to participate in a CSSD-led coalition. MS


Also on 3 July, Klaus said his party is not "closing the door" on a coalition with the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Freedom Union, but KDU-CSL leader Josef Lux called the ODS conditions for such a coalition (including Klaus as premier and a majority of seats for the ODS in the cabinet) a "dictate." Freedom Union chairman Jan Ruml said both his party and the KDU- CSL are ready to discuss supporting a Klaus-led minority government. Presidential adviser Jiri Pehe said President Vaclav Havel is "not enthusiastic" about the prospect of a "grand coalition," even "an indirect one." But Pehe added that if Zeman is able to "submit sufficient guarantees" of stability for the cabinet, Havel "will not hamper the coalition." MS


The Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) merged to form a party on 4 July and elected Mikulas Dzurinda of the former Christian Democratic Movement as its chairman, CTK reported. The move was prompted by the amendment to the electoral law, passed by the parliament last month, that requires each member of an electoral alliance to obtain at least 5 percent of the votes. The other parties that belong the new formation, also called the SDK, are the Democratic Union, the Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, and the Slovak Green Party. Also on 4 July, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar accused U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Ralph Johnson of "gross interference" in Slovak internal affairs for having criticized the amendment to the electoral law, Reuters reported. MS


Austrian Consumer Protection Minister Barbara Prammer on 5 July criticized Slovakia's decision to start up the controversial Mochovce nuclear plant. The previous day, the plant was connected to the national electricity grid and began running at 20 percent of its capacity, supplying about 30 megawatts of electrical power to the network, Reuters, reported citing TASR. MS


By a vote of 222 to 119 with eight abstentions, the parliament on 6 July approved the new coalition cabinet's program and elected Viktor Orban, chairman of the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party, as prime minister. Orban acknowledged that the implementation of the government's program may require more time than initially planned. MSZ


A spokesman for the Albanian Interior Ministry said on 6 July that between 20 and 40 armed Yugoslav soldiers penetrated 100 meters into Albanian territory in the mountainous Has district earlier that day, "Koha Jone" reported. He called the incident the most serious border violation since Belgrade launched its crackdown in Kosova in February. The spokesman added that the Foreign Ministry has lodged a formal complaint with the Yugoslav authorities and demanded a meeting to discuss the "provocative" incident. FS


Ten diplomats accredited in Belgrade visited Serbian-controlled areas in the Drenica region on 6 July. Their trip is the beginning of an international monitoring mission whose members will also visit regions controlled by the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Forty foreign military experts and 25 EU monitors will arrive in Kosova soon, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 7 July. The EU representatives will be based in Prishtina, Peja, Mitrovica, and Prizren. All monitors will travel in pairs and have orders not to take unnecessary risks or to undertake missions without the approval of both the Serbian and Kosovar authorities. The observers will be able to report on what they see but have no authority to intervene. PM


U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasevskii shuttled together between Belgrade and Prishtina from 4 to 6 July to discuss the situation in Kosova with the Yugoslav and Kosovar leaderships, respectively. In Prishtina on 5 July, Holbrooke said the two diplomats made little progress in persuading the Kosovar factions "to get their act together" and speak with one voice. The next day, Afanasevskii noted in Belgrade that the failure of the Kosovars to adopt a unified position among themselves on the future of the province is hindering progress toward a negotiated settlement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Holbrooke added that diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the crisis will continue as part of what he called an ongoing process. PM


U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill said in Ohrid on 6 July that there is no way that Kosova "can shoot its way out of Serbia, but Belgrade cannot maintain...the status quo" either. Hill stressed that the crisis must be ended within the next 14 days, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He did not specify what will happen if it does not. Hill added that the UCK enjoys widespread support from the population of Kosova and cannot be considered "a group of extremists." In Skopje, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry said two smugglers were wounded the previous day in separate attempts to bring in arms and ammunition from Albania, which were destined for Kosova. In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report on 6 July that Kosova has become "a key issue for the overall stability of the Balkan region." He warned that the fighting could spill over the province's frontiers if it does not stop soon. PM


U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard, speaking in Banja Luka on 6 July, urged Bosnian Serbs not to become involved in the fighting in Kosova. He expressed concern about unspecified reports that some Bosnian Serbs are preparing to volunteer to fight on the Yugoslav side. In Geneva on 3 July, a UN spokesman charged that Serbian paramilitaries have been systematically destroying Kosovar villages recently according to a pattern established during the Bosnian war of 1992-1995. The spokesman said that paramilitaries plunder a village, transport away any valuables that can be moved, kill the livestock, and set fire to the houses. He added that the existence of the pattern has been confirmed by the accounts of numerous refugees and foreign journalists, the Prague daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported. PM


Outspoken Serbian Family Affairs Minister Rada Trajkovic said in Belgrade on 6 July that the Kosovar birth rate, which is the highest in Europe, is a "demographic bomb" for Serbia. She added that Kosovar men often practice bigamy and have up to three wives. Kosovar women, she continued, are "child-bearing machines" who have no rights and cannot speak without their husbands' permission. Trajkovic argued that the women have so many children that they cannot keep track of the children's illnesses or even of their names, Tanjug reported. She said that her views are the result of her experience working as a doctor in Prishtina. PM


The trial of Milan Kovacevic, a Bosnian Serb, opened at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 6 July. Kovacevic is charged with genocide in connection with his activities at the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje concentration camps in the Prijedor area in 1992. It is the first trial for genocide to begin at the tribunal. Meanwhile in Zagreb, Ephraim Zuroff of the Vienna-based Simon Wiesenthal Center gave Foreign Minister Mate Granic and Deputy Justice Minister Snjezana Bagic documents related to the cases of Dinko Sakic and his wife, alleged to have committed crimes against humanity during World War II, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 1998). PM


A young Muslim woman in Mostar was killed by a stray bullet fired during celebrations following Croatia's World Cup quarter- final victory in Lyon on 4 July. An elderly Muslim man was injured when he was hit in the head by a bullet, and some 200 people in nearby Stolac attacked the home of a recently returned Muslim refugee. Martin Garrod, who is the international community's local representative in Mostar, condemned what he called "criminal behavior" and demanded an end to the frequent use of firearms in Herzegovina. PM


Prosecutor-General Farudin Arapi on 6 July launched an investigation into some 60 cases of alleged customs evasion, "Koha Jone" reported. Among the 90 people under investigation is Director-General of Customs Gezim Bleta, Arapi's spokesman said. The probe follows a recent report by President Rexhep Meidani's office saying that the government has already lost some $80 million in customs revenues in 1998 alone owing to evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1998). FS


Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 6 July said all ministers have submitted written declarations saying that they had no links with the former Securitate. The only exception is Finance Minister Daniel Daianu, who admitted a few years ago to have worked for the Securitate's Foreign Intelligence Directorate, from which he resigned. President Emil Constantinescu on the same day said the investigation requested by the Supreme Defense Council shows none of its members worked for the former secret police. In other news, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania on 3 July elected Senator Hajdu Gabor to replace Francis Baranyi as health minister. Premier Vasile has approved Gabor's appointment. Baranyi resigned after admitting he was forced to sign a pledge to act as a Securitate informer. He stressed, however, that he never informed on anyone. MS


The National Council of the governing National Liberal Party (PNL) on 4 July approved the formation's merger with the Liberal Party. Liberal Party leaders Dinu Patriciu and Horia Rusu are to be PNL deputy chairmen. The Liberal Party recently split, and the wing led by Nicolae Cerveni has set up the Liberal Federation, together with other fringe liberal formations. The PNL council also recommended that the constitution be amended to replace the present proportional electoral system with a majority system. It also wants to raise the electoral threshold from 3 percent to 5 percent, establish different functions for the Senate from those of the Chamber of Deputies, and allow for parliamentary immunity to be lifted by a vote of 51 percent instead of 66 percent at present. MS


Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov told BTA on 4 July that Bulgaria is concerned about the fate of Stamen Genov, an ethnic Bulgarian from Bosilegrad who was taken hostage, along with three Serbs, by the Kosova Liberation Army on 2 July. Vlaikov said that Genov is a military doctor at a hospital in Djakovica in Kosova. He added that Bulgaria has contacted the International Red Cross, the OSCE, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ask for help in tracing Genov. In other news, representatives of CEFTA countries attending a conference in Prague on 3 July announced those states will sign an agreement on Bulgaria's accession "as soon as possible," Hungary's MTI agency reported. MS


by Paul Goble

Expanded international trade brings many benefits to everyone involved, but its impact on national cultures is more complicated, benefiting some and undermining others.

Trade can benefit national cultures in three ways. It can give a country the resources necessary to defend its own cultural traditions. It can extend the cultural influence of the exporting country across the world. And it can open the culture of the importer to new possibilities.

But trade can also threaten national cultures as well. It can promote an international culture that may overwhelm national ones. It can undermine efforts by national elites to promote national loyalty. And it can exacerbate tensions in culturally divided countries.

Not surprisingly, those who feel their cultures threatened often look for ways to limit the impact of international trade on their traditions, while those who benefit from such commerce tend to view any discussion of culture as an unwarranted effort to limit free trade.

This debate broke out again last week at a meeting of 19 countries in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Cultural officials from the Americas and Europe explored ways to limit the cultural impact of trade on their societies. They suggested that countries must have some ability to limit trade in those areas, such as film and television, that directly threaten their national cultures by holding up powerful alternative models from abroad.

No representative from the U.S. was initially invited to the meeting, however. The Canadian organizers said they did not do so because the U.S. does not have a cultural minister. But under pressure from U.S. officials, they later backed down and allowed the U.S. embassy to send observers.

The real reason for the initial decision, one that not all participants supported, appears to be long-standing Canadian concern that U.S. culture is overwhelming its Canadian counterpart through television broadcasts, book publishing, and Canadian imports of many U.S. products.

In the past, Canadians have adopted measures to increase Canadian content in the media and thus to restrict U.S. content. The U.S., for its part, has denounced those measures as violating international agreements on free trade.

Most of the media coverage of the Ottawa meeting implied that the dispute between Canada and the U.S. was either unique or simply part of a more generalized concern in many countries about the "Americanization" of their popular cultures.. And it suggested that Canada was engaging in a somewhat silly and inevitably hopeless defense against the inevitable.

But the Ottawa meeting, which is scheduled to be followed by sessions in Mexico City and Athens, draws attention to a much more widespread problem, one familiar to many smaller countries living next to a larger one.

One region where this problem threatens to break out in an even more dramatic fashion is in the countries of the former Soviet space, between the Russian Federation and its much smaller neighbors. And because of three specific features of this region, the conflict there could be even more intense than the one highlighted at the Ottawa meeting.

First, by virtue of its size and economic possibilities, the Russian Federation is likely to loom even larger in the lives of the peoples of the former Soviet republics than does the U.S. in the lives of Canadians.

Second, because of their past experience with Moscow's rule and because of their desire to strengthen their own national identities, the non-Russians are likely to be even more sensitive to the impact of Russian culture on their own national cultures.

And third, because of the unique pattern of language knowledge in the non-Russian countries, they are likely to see the impact of trade on culture as particularly threatening.

Many observers describe the non-Russian countries as bilingual, but that is simply not true, at least in the sense that is usually meant. In most of those states, the non- Russians speak their own language as well as Russian, while most ethnic Russians there speak only Russian.

As a result, expanded trade with its attendant cultural influence may tend to solidify the cultural and political divisions in these societies rather than help overcome them. And that in turn is likely to have a profound impact on the policies of the non-Russian governments.

To the extent that they seek to restrict the cultural impact of trade with Russia, these countries may have to give up some economic advantages and some political support from other large countries that are suspicious of any cultural arguments.

But to the extent that they do not seek to take such measures, they may find themselves in a position like the Canadians and others where their national cultures will be transformed beyond recognition and beyond their control.