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Newsline - August 4, 1998


Interfax reported on 3 August that foreign investors will be able to participate in the government's upcoming sale of 5.87 percent of Gazprom's shares and that the shares will be sold in a single lot. First Deputy State Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman told Bloomberg the same day that the full terms of the sale will be announced soon. JAC


"Kommersant-Daily" on 4 August reported that Gazprom chairman Rem Vyakhirev wants the government to sell its 5 percent stake to Royal Dutch Shell, its "strategic partner," which already owns shares in the company. Vyakhirev wants to prevent in particular the sale of any part of the company to Oneximbank, which already holds a 4 percent stake and wants a seat on the board of directors, for which it needs a larger stake. Three months ago, Vyakhirev suggested that the government sell 3 percent of Gazprom for $1 billion. JAC


The Finance Ministry on 3 August announced that it will sell no more than $2 billion in Eurobonds this year. The following day, it announced that it is canceling its regular auction of Treasury bonds because borrowing costs are too high. Bloomberg notes that with only $22.6 billion in loans from the IMF and other international lenders, it remains a puzzle how Russia will finance its budget deficit and the $24 billion in debt payments due later this year. If President Boris Yeltsin tries to live up to his pledge to pay soldiers' back wages, then the financing crunch will only worsen. JAC


Determined to make the state's next attempt at selling off Rosneft a success, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov named the Alliance Group, a management firm headed by a former president of SIDANCO, as the company's management consultant. He also named the Brunswick Warburg Financial Group to be the oil company's financial consultant. Alliance will oversee the company's current assets, ensure the financial transparency of its cash flows, and restructure its debts, Interfax reported on 3 August. Brunswick Warburg will prepare the company for sale and manage the auction. JAC


In an additional measure to heighten its attractiveness to investors, Rosneft plans to announce its participation in an international consortium to develop an oil field off the eastern island of Sakhalin together with the U.S. companies Mobil and Texaco. Yelena Telegina, deputy fuel and energy minister and chairman of Rosneft's board of directors, told Bloomberg that Rosneft will sign an agreement with the two companies later this week for a 30 percent stake. JAC


Rosenergoatom director Yevgenii Ignatenko told a press conference at Interfax head office on 3 August that Russia will build 15 new nuclear reactors, including two floating off Russia's Pacific coast, by 2010, AP reported. He added that the VVER-1000 1000-megawatt reactor, which has been granted a clean bill of health by experts as conforming to world safety standards, will become the mainstay of Russia's nuclear program. Greenpeace activist Igor Forofontov criticized the proposed expansion of nuclear power as "absurd" and "catastrophically unprofitable" under present economic conditions. LF


President Yeltsin on 3 August ended a four-year debate over the future of the Russian military by signing a new military policy. "Kommersant-Daily" on 4 August credited Defense Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin with having forming a coalition of disparate government parties opposed to the bloated, inefficient army. The military policy document, which was drafted and debated for more than a year, streamlines the command structure, shrinks and professionalizes the ranks of soldiers, and calls for the development of newer, less expensive weapons. JAC


During their 1 August meeting in Nazran, Russian Premier Kirienko tried to persuade Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to give a concrete pledge to ensure the unrestricted export via Chechnya of Caspian oil, according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 3 August. The daily added that Maskhadov is to discuss the oil issue with Turkish officials during his visit to Istanbul, which the Turkish government has insisted is strictly private, and during his upcoming visit to the U.S. Maskhadov has nominated Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev as acting prime minister during his absence, ITAR-TASS reported. North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov unintentionally corroborated the Turkish report when he told ITAR-TASS on 3 August that "Moscow and Grozny are determined that oil should be transported through the Caucasus only." Dzasokhov lauded the Maskhadov-Kirienko talks as being "of great importance" to Russia and the entire Caucasus region. LF


The Russian Foreign Ministry called the ambassadors of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan for separate consultations on 3 August, Interfax and ITAR- TASS reported. Ministry officials expressed Moscow's "serious concern" over the current fighting in northern Afghanistan and over reports that Pakistani troops are involved. The ministry called for an immediate stop to the bloodshed. It also condemned foreign interference in Afghanistan and urged the resumption of dialogue between the opposing factions there. Taliban troops appear to have captured the capital of Jawzjan Province, Sheberghan. According to some reports, an advance has begun on one of the last major pockets of resistance to the Taliban, Mazar- i-Sharif. BP


The two-day joint conference of the National Republican Party and the Honor and Motherland movement ended on 31 July with a partial victory for Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, according to "Kommersant-Daily." Lebed remains leader and his close associate and former war pilot, Yurii Shevtsov, was selected chairman of both groups. However, one-third of the expected 300 delegates failed to show up, and those that came expressed dissatisfaction with their leader and the lack of improvement in the economic situation in Krasnoyarsk. JAC


Although the miners' strike in Sakhalin continues, government officials have managed to achieve some concessions, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 August. Miners who are blockading the main power plant on Sakhalin have agreed to allow 25 rail cars carrying about 1,500 tons of coal to make daily deliveries to the plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1998). Local officials had warned of a possible breakdown of the island's power grid, and they had cautioned that it might be necessary to turn off light signals and remote-control devices on railroads, according to Interfax. Sakhalin's 650,000 or so residents will continue receiving only five to six hours of electricity a day. JAC


Russian farmers may harvest only 65 million tons of grain this year--a 27 percent decrease from last year's level, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences Anatolii Shutkov predicted on 3 August. According to Interfax, he explained that the continuing sharp drop in the number of livestock will be insufficient to offset the damage caused to the crop by drought in the Volga region, Siberia, and the Urals. Some 40.2 million hectares of land have been affected. The Ministry of Agriculture reported that the pace of harvesting has been slowed by a shortage of machinery and irregular supplies of fuel and lubricants. Only 40 percent of available combine-harvesters are functional. JAC


The Armenian Foreign Ministry announced on 3 August that President Robert Kocharian has received an invitation from Heidar Aliyev to attend an international conference in Baku, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The conference, scheduled for 7-8 September, is organized by the EU to discuss implementation of its TRACECA program to create an east-west road, rail, and ferry network linking Central Asia with Europe via the Caucasus. Armenia and Azerbaijan were among the eight states that first launched that program in 1993. A spokeswoman for Kocharian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 4 August that "Armenia will by all means participate" in the conference and that a decision on the level of that participation will be made soon. Prominent Dashnak party member Vahan Hovannisian, who is one of Kocharian's aides, told journalists the same day that he thinks Kocharian should treat Aliev's invitation with "caution" and send a lower-level representative to the conference. LF


Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Vladimir Lukin, currently on an unofficial visit to Baku, met with President Aliyev and with Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov on 3 August, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Lukin told Aliyev that occasional criticism in Moscow of Azerbaijani policy does not reflect the thinking of the Russian leadership. He added that both the Duma and the Russian government favor the so-called "Lisbon principles" as a basis for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Those principles are preserving Azerbaijan's territorial integrity while bestowing on Karabakh "a broad measure of autonomy" and security guarantees for its population. In this context, Lukin advocated a "carrot-and-stick" policy that would "stimulate Armenia to make concessions." LF


Representatives of Azerbaijani opposition parties and of the Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral reform met for two hours on 3 August with presidential administration head Ramiz Mehtiev to discuss the conditions for five prominent opposition leaders to abandon their announced boycott of the 11 October presidential elections, Turan reported. Those conditions include the right to nominate half the members of the Central Electoral Commission and the "democratization of the political climate" in Azerbaijan. Mehtiev declined to respond to those demands, but he proposed resuming talks behind closed doors the following day. Following that meeting, opposition leaders told journalists that Mehtiev had informed them that President Aliyev has rejected all their demands, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported on 4 July. LF


Exiled former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, one of the five Azerbaijani opposition leaders who intend to boycott the presidential poll, told Turan on 3 August that claims he held talks with U.S. Armenians, including billionnaire Kirk Kirkorian, are false. The independent Azerbaijani television station ANS- TV reported last week that Guliev had discussed with Kirkorian the possible sabotage of the presidential elections by a new Armenian offensive against Azerbaijani forces. LF


In his Monday radio broadcast, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 3 August that the CIS peacekeepers currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia should not be withdrawn until arrangements have been made to replace them with an alternative force, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. The peacekeepers' mandate expired on 31 July. Londer Tsaava, who succeeded Zurab Erkvania as chairman of the Abkhaz government in exile in July, also reasoned that the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force will create "a vacuum" conducive to the resumption of hostilities, Caucasus Press reported on 4 August. But Tsaava, like Shevardnadze, criticized the peacekeepers for failing to protect ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia's Gali Raion. LF


Some of the Georgians constrained to flee Abkhazia during the May fighting have formally announced their lack of confidence in the Abkhaz leadership in exile and demanded a meeting with Georgian government representatives, Caucasus Press reported on 31 July. The fugitives announced that if the Russian peacekeeping force is not withdrawn immediately they will appeal to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba to take measures to protect them from Abkhaz militants. One Abkhaz police officer was killed and two injured in Gali on 2 August when grenades were fired at their patrol car, Interfax reported. LF


Communications Minister Pridon Indjia, speaking to journalists in Tbilisi on 3 August, denied charges by the parliamentary anti-corruption committee that he misappropriated millions of dollars during the illegal privatization of the country's telecommunications system, Caucasus Press reported. He said he will take parliamentary State and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Mikhail Saakashvili to court for spreading false information about him. Indjia is the only government minister who has not complied with former Minister of State Niko Lekishvili's call to resign. He argues that to do so would be a tacit admission of guilt. Shevardnadze on 3 August declined to comment on Indjia's case, saying law enforcement bodies should "thoroughly investigate" the charges against him, Interfax reported. LF


Adjar Supreme Soviet chairman Aslan Abashidze told journalists at his weekly press conference in Batumi on 3 August that Eduard Shevardnadze offered him the post of minister of state, Caucasus Press reported. The agency, however, did not clarify whether that offer was made following the 26 July resignation of Niko Lekishvili or when the position was first created, in late 1995. Abashidze said he rejected the offer as it was intended solely to weaken the position of Adjaria vis-a-vis the central Georgian government. LF


Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov signed a decree on 3 August confirming another four members of the United Tajik Opposition for government posts, ITAR- TASS and Reuters reported. Shodi Kabirov is minister of agriculture, Salamshah Muhabbatov chairman of the State Committee for Oil and Gas, Muhammadjon Davlatov is chairman of the State Committee for Precious Stones and Metals and Muhammadruzi Iskandarov chairman of the State Committee for Emergency Situations and Civil Defense. UTO member Dovudkhoja Islomov, who was expected to receive the chairmanship of the State Committee for Milk and Meat, failed to show up for talks with Rakhmonov. The UTO now has 10 positions in the government. Under the terms of the 1997 Tajik peace accord, they are to receive 14. BP


UN special envoy to Tajikistan Jan Kubis told RFE/RL's Tajik service on 3 August that he wants to know the results of the investigation into the killing of UN personnel as soon as possible. A special commission was formed by the Tajik government to investigate the 20 July murders of three UN observers and their driver-translator in central Tajikistan. Although the commission was supposed to make available its findings to Kubis by 1 August, the UN envoy has still received no information. Meanwhile, all UN observers have been recalled to Dushanbe, and Kubis said some or all may be pulled out of the country if the murders are not solved soon. Kubis added that the observers cannot fulfill their mandate by staying in the capital, nor can they return to areas throughout the country while the killers are still at large. BP


An Uzbek appeals court on 3 August upheld a ruling against journalist Shodi Mardiev sentencing him to 11 years in jail, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Mardiev was found guilty of defamation for his satirical radio broadcast about the Samarkand deputy prosecutor-general in June 1997. He was arrested in November of that year and found guilty by a Syr-Darya regional court on 11 June. The Committee to Protect Journalists sent an appeal to Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 16 July asking for clemency for the 62-year-old Mardiev, who is said to be in poor health. BP


Ukrainian Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov said on 3 August that the cabinet has drawn up a draft presidential decree on reducing government spending in 1998 , Interfax reported. The minister added that the decree, which has been sent to President Leonid Kuchma for signing, will address only expenditures and will leave revenues for discussion in the parliament. He refused to provide figures. The spending cuts are seen as a move to adopt a more frugal budget following Ukraine's agreement with the IMF on a $2.2 billion loan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 1998). JM


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's harvest inspection itinerary on 4 August is being kept "top secret" by the presidential administration, ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka decided to visit some kolkhozes in Minsk Oblast "to personally inspect and analyze" the progress of the harvest. He has forbidden revealing the inspection route in order to avoid "window dressing" by agricultural managers, the presidential press service told the news agency. The Belarusian president last week announced a "special operation mode" for the August harvest period (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1998). JM


The unofficial exchange rate for the Belarusian ruble plunged from 76,000 to 86,000 to $1 in less than 24 hours, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 3 August. The plunge was caused by currency transactions between non-resident banks, which are not regulated by the Belarusian National Bank. Independent financial analysts attribute the sudden drop to Lukashenka's declaration of a "special operation mode" connected with this year's harvest. They predict that it will also affect the official exchange rate, which is currently at some 40,000 rubles to $1. And they also argue that the National Bank has failed to achieve the currency stabilization pledged by National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich earlier this year. JM


Estonia's GDP grew 9.3 percent from January to March of this year, compared with the same period in 1997, the State Statistics Department told ETA on 3 August. The largest growth was registered in goods and non-financial services. The department noted that the only decrease in GDP was in the financial sector. The government has estimated that GDP growth in 1998 as a whole will total 8 percent. JC


Russian Foreign Ministry representative Vladimir Rakhmanin told BNS on 3 August that Russia is urging Latvia to abandon plans to unilaterally demarcate their joint border. Rakhmanin said that talks on signing the border agreement will continue, but he added that first Latvia should give up its plans for unilateral demarcation and resolve issues related to its Russian- speaking population. He said the accord has not yet been signed because of Latvia's insistence that a reference to the 1920 Riga Peace Treaty be included in the document. Under that treaty, the Pitalovo district of Pskov Oblast belongs to Latvia. While Riga has said that such a mention would have no bearing on the demarcation of the border, Rakhmanin argued that "the situation remains ambiguous, making the conclusion of the agreement counterproductive." JC


Guntis Ulmanis and Martti Ahtisaari, at an unofficial meeting at Mazirbe, northwestern Latvia, on 1 August, expressed support for Russia's involvement in regional cooperation among the Baltic Sea countries and in "European processes," the Latvian presidential press service told BNS on 3 August. The two leaders stressed that involving Russia would promote stability, economic cooperation, and reform in the region. Ulmanis also commented that Latvia is ready for a "comprehensive, open, and equal dialogue with Russia." JC


Javier Solana said in Warsaw on 3 July that Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic will become full NATO members in April 1999, at a NATO summit in Washington. He assured Polish Minister Bronislaw Geremek that Poland will participate in all NATO discussions before that date in order to "land softly" in the alliance. Solana added that "the door to NATO will remain open" after the three new members are admitted "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 4 August. But he hinted that the "real discussion" about admitting other states to the alliance has not yet started. JM


Members of the Solidarity of Private Farmers organization blocked railroad traffic at the Polish-Slovak border on 3 August by spilling 650 tons of Hungarian and Slovak grain to protest grain imports, Polish media reported. The protesters demand that the government halt all grain imports and punish those responsible for the decision to import grains. They threatened that if the government does not respond to their demands, they will block 250 roads and eight border crossings throughout Poland on 4 August. An Agricultural Ministry official told PAP that a total ban on grain imports is impossible, since it would require renegotiating Poland's international trade agreements, including with the World Trade Organization. He added that the government plans to introduce additional customs duties on grain beginning 6 August in a bid to discourage grain imports. JM


President Vaclav Havel on 3 August underwent another tracheotomy, amid fears he was developing pneumonia eight days after abdominal surgery, AP and Reuters reported. But despite this precautionary measure, doctors announced on 4 August that Havel has contracted pneumonia and is suffering from an irregular heart beat. A spokesman for the presidential office did not describe Havel's immediate condition but said the "situation is being worked on intensively." The tracheotomy that Havel underwent on 3 August is the fourth since he was operated on for lung cancer in December 1996. MS


Hundreds of people, mostly Roma, attended an all-night vigil outside the parliament building in Budapest in memory of the victims of the Romani Holocaust, Hungarian media reported on 3 August. During the night from 2-3 August 1944, some 4,500 Hungarian Gypsies were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps in Poland. The vigil, which was organized by the Roma Civil Rights Foundation, included a message from President Arpad Goncz, an ecumenical religious service, and a speech by Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky. MSZ


Serbian paramilitary police and Yugoslav army forces continued their assault on regions inhabited by ethnic Albanians in central and western Kosova on 3 August. The "New York Times" the following day quoted an unidentified foreign monitor as saying: "It is a vicious tactic. First [Serbian forces] are shelling civilian villages and towns to make the people run, then they seem to be going in to blow up or burn the buildings to ensure civilians cannot return." A foreign diplomat added that "at best, we have to assume this is a case of widespread 'ethnic cleansing.' But the fact that we are not allowed in to see for ourselves makes me wonder seriously about what kind of atrocities are being committed." The Prishtina daily "Bujku" wrote that the Serbian forces are conducting a "scorched-earth" policy. The official Serbian news agency Tanjug reported that police "neutralized" a group of "terrorists" west of Prishtina during the morning of 4 August. PM


U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin on 3 August said that Kosova faces "a humanitarian catastrophe" in a matter of weeks if aid does not reach the tens of thousands of displaced persons in the province. In Prishtina, the main organization of Kosovar students called for the establishment of humanitarian relief corridors to enable aid "convoys to break through and enter the surrounded regions in order to rescue thousands of lives." Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the EU chair, told Austrian Radio that "there are 150,000 refugees in the region and above all I fear a humanitarian catastrophe this winter because the Serbian army is burning fields...and killing cattle. Soon there won't be anything for these people to eat." A specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the "International Herald Tribune" that "there will be no food reserves" when winter comes. PM


NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana told the German daily "Die Welt" on 3 August that the Kosova problem "has only one name: [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic." Schuessel said to the BBC the next day: "You cannot trust [Milosevic]. He is a sort of reverse King Midas--all that he touches falls apart." In Vienna, representatives of the EU called on the Yugoslav president to stop the violence by his armed forces. For his part, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said that "both sides are not showing necessary readiness to discuss broad autonomy for the province." He added that "pressure must be kept up on both sides," dpa reported from Bonn. PM


U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill said in Prishtina on 3 August that "more and more the situation is calling for an international presence on the ground," AFP reported. He nonetheless added that there is no military solution to the problem. Schuessel said in his BBC interview the next day that there is no majority in the UN Security Council to endorse any NATO military intervention in the province. In Washington, Rubin said on 3 August that the Atlantic alliance has approved plans to use air power against Serbian forces, but he did not indicate what action on the Serbs' part would trigger a NATO response. NATO spokesmen in Brussels told AP that the alliance is fine- tuning its contingency plans but that it is unlikely there will be intervention at any time soon. PM


Laszlo Jozsa, who is deputy chairman of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, said in Backa Topola on 3 August that young ethnic Hungarian males should not answer their draft notices from the Yugoslav authorities, "Nasa Borba" wrote. Jozsa added that "several hundred" young men in the Subotica area received call up notices for the army reserves on 2 August. He said that 60 members of the police reserves--about half of whom are ethnic Hungarians--in Backa Topola received notices at the same time and were sent immediately to Kosova. PM


Defense Minister Lazar Kitanovski said in Ohrid on 3 August that Macedonia may seek "outside assistance" to help patrol its border with Albania if illegal crossings of that frontier by smugglers and gun-runners increase. He did not elaborate, Tanjug reported. PM


A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in Tirana on 3 August that Albanian and Italian Coast Guard patrol boats operating under a bilateral agreement off the Albanian coast turned back a group of 17 dinghies carrying some 600 Kosovar refugees and Albanian citizens attempting to cross the Adriatic. The illegal migrants paid up to $450 for the passage from Vlora to Italy, where thousands of Albanians live and work as legal or illegal immigrants. Police spokesmen said that the joint Coast Guard patrols have intercepted and turned back some 52 dinghies carrying 1,500 people in the past three weeks. PM


Farmers blocked a road in Slavonia's wheat-growing region on 4 August to protest a ruling by government officials that producers must pay the 22 percent value-added tax on wheat they sell to the state at guaranteed prices. The previous day, "Jutarnji list" wrote that Croatia had a trade deficit in the first six months of 1998 with virtually the entire world, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Slovenia, and federal Yugoslavia, as well as with most of the developed countries. Imports from France and Ireland rose significantly. Croatia's trade balance with the OPEC countries was $40 million in the red, and its trade deficit with developing countries as a group totaled $200 million. PM


The state-run Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" on 4 August hailed the third anniversary of Operation Storm, which was the Croatian military's lightning campaign that defeated the Krajina Serb armies and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing. The newspaper said that the offensive ended Serbian dreams of a Greater Serbia to be built on the ruins of the former Yugoslavia and put a stop to plans by the international community to set up a de facto Serbian state within Croatia's borders. Amnesty International, however, said in a statement issued in London that many "extrajudicial executions" of Serbs by Croatian forces and other "human rights violations" continue to go unpunished. The text added that in many cases "relatives of the victims are still being denied the dignity of a proper burial for their loved ones, and hundreds of crimes remain unacknowledged, uninvestigated, and the perpetrators unpunished." PM


Radu Vasile and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, on 3 August signed accords on agricultural cooperation and the mutual protection of investments, saying they will step up efforts to conclude a free trade agreement, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tel Aviv reported. Vasile said the problem of the restitution of Jewish properties confiscated by the fascist and communist regimes will be resolved next month, when a bill providing for the restitution of all confiscated properties will be submitted to the parliament. Responding to protests that the bill will apply only to Romanian citizens, Vasile said a "just solution" will be sought. Naftali Lavi, deputy chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, said that Jews were "singled out for the confiscation" of their properties and must therefore be "singled out for restitution as well." MS


Ion Diaconescu, chairman of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, has ruled out the dismissal of Education Minister Andrei Marga in connection with Marga's opposition to establishing a Hungarian- language state university. He said on 2 August that views within the governing coalition over the university are "different" and a solution is still being sought. Last week, Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, said Marga's continued presence in the government is an infringement of the protocol signed by the coalition partners (see also "End Note" below). MS


Parliament deputy chairman Iurie Rosca, who is also co- chairman of the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM), said in an interview with Radio Chisinau on 3 August that the CDM will appeal to the Constitutional Court over the decision of the parliament to allow the transit of nuclear waste from Bulgaria to Russia, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca also said that "such deals always involve huge sums of dirty money." The same accusation was leveled by spokesmen of Moldovan ecological organizations, who said Moldova has the highest rate of cancer in all former Soviet bloc countries. The ecological organizations called on their counterparts in Bulgaria, Russia, and Romania to protest the decision, saying they will also appeal to international ecological organizations for help. MS


Responding to an article published in "The New York Times" on 3 August, Bulgaria denied it is selling weapons to terrorist organizations. A spokesman for the Ministry of Trade and Tourism said on 3 August that "Bulgaria strictly observes all restrictions imposed by the UN Security Council, including the embargo on arms sales to Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, Liberia, Angola, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Yugoslavia, and Kosova." The spokesman said Bulgaria "cannot be held responsible" for instances where "arms legally sold to other countries are then re-sold to terrorist groups," BTA reported. MS


by Michael Shafir

The dispute over establishing a Hungarian-language state university in Romania is laden with "irrational rationality." An outsider will have difficulty in comprehending what drives the two opposing sides to take positions that apparently defy the rationality of their own interests. By insisting on the setting up of the university, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) is--in the eyes of most members of the ethnic Romanian majority--betraying first and foremost the interests of the electorate it represents.

Why, ask Romanians, should an ethnic Hungarian complete his or her education without being capable of integrating himself or herself into the Romanian labor market and into Romanian society as a whole owing to language comprehension difficulties? And why, they add, does the country's large ethnic Hungarian minority (1.6 million) not accept the solution advocated by Education Minister Andrei Marga? That solution is namely one of "multi-culturalism," such as has been pursued over the past years at the Babes-Bolyai Cluj University. In this context, "multi-culturalism" refers to teaching in several languages, with Romanian, Hungarian, and German being the main ones on offer.

At first glance, the argument is a sound one, the more so as all parties involved are well aware of the high costs of setting up a separate institution of higher education. Such costs involve not only buildings but also the training of qualified faculty.

"Rationality," however, is in the eyes of the beholder. What may look "irrational" to one group is perfectly "rational" to the other. The bulk of the ethnic Romanian majority, including many of the UDMR's coalition partners, view the ethnic Hungarians' demand with suspicion, regarding it as proof of Hungarian "segregationism" and, moreover, "separatism." Marga said that in so many words when responding to the recent announcement by Zsolt Nemeth, state secretary at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, that Budapest is willing to finance the establishment of the Hungarian university in Transylvania.

At this point, one is forced to ask: "Who is actually more "irrational?" Nemeth's statement had at least invalidated some of the "rational" Romanian arguments against Hungarian "irrationality."

Some, but not all, one should hasten to add. In his announcement (released to the press as a "personal declaration" rather than an official government statement), Marga himself said that the establishment of a Hungarian- language university was an issue that is "mainly symbolic" in essence. Symbols, however, cannot carry the same meaning for all people. They are "irrational" to those for whom the symbols are meaningless and highly important to those for whom the symbols have significance. For Romania's ethnic Hungarians, a separate university symbolizes the restitution of their cultural rights, which they considered to have been abolished in the late 1950s, when the communist regime merged the two universities in Cluj into one. It is precisely for this reason that many in the UDMR believe the university must be set up in Cluj and only in Cluj.

In addition, a separate university is considered by some members of the Hungarian elites as a symbol of ensured "cultural reproduction." Cultural reproduction is at the core of ethnicity, for it goes beyond individual rights (indeed, it may even contradict them) to convey a collective sense of ensured trans-generational communion of values as well as inter-generational communication. And the latter is also trans-border communication.

However, such a separate university may question (openly or otherwise) the concept of the "nation-state". It is no accident that in only one European country, namely Finland, do minorities (in this case the Swedish minority) benefit from such extended cultural rights. Owing to the suspicion that the Hungarian-language university is laying the groundwork for demands that would go well beyond those of cultural or even territorial autonomy, most ethnic Romanians (consciously or otherwise) tend to reject the university.

Viewed from this perspective, statements made by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during his private visit to Romania last week have probably exacerbated, rather than alleviated, such suspicions. His comment that "if the [separate] university is not set up, there is nothing to talk about" was obviously taken out of context by his Romanian critics. He made that comment in connection with rejecting "multi-culturalism" as an alternative to the proposed university.

But Orban is certainly not unaware of the mutual historical suspicion and of the fact that the nationalist- inclined press in Bucharest would read it as "blackmail" and as a threat to relations between the two countries precisely at a time when Hungary is about to join NATO and Romania is being left out. The same applies to Nemeth's earlier statement while attending the traditional "summer university" at Balvanyos, in Transylvania. According to Nemeth, the "nation-state" is a thing of the past and the "Hungarian nation's borders do not coincide with Hungary's borders."

Orban and Nemeth, of course, are remaining faithful to their election promise to promote more forcefully the interests of Hungarians abroad than did Gyula Horn's cabinet. The question is whether this "rationality" is "rational" in the post-electoral context. In turn, the UDMR's partners in Romania's ruling coalition may wonder now whether they were not the unwitting midwives of "irrational rationality" when they procrastinated over satisfying the "rational" and less radical demands of the UDMR in education and local administration.