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Newsline - August 11, 1998


According to Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, the government has prepared seven new anti-crisis laws for the State Duma's special mid-August session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1998). ITAR-TASS reported on 10 August that two of those laws, "On the Financial Rehabilitation of Insolvent Enterprises" and "On Changes to the Code for Administrative Offenses," will be reviewed by the cabinet on 13 August and immediately sent to the Duma. The other legislation included in the anti-crisis package is a draft law proposing changes to legislation regulating the Federal Tax Service, a law establishing a fund from 2.8 percent of increased tax collections to assist the activities of tax agencies, a law restructuring enterprises' debts to the federal budget, a law on changes in the taxation of companies providing mobile communications or paging services, and a law introducing a tax on private means of transportation. JAC


The government will also resubmit the draft law on the individual income tax . According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 August, the government is not seeking to revise the income tax scale but to broaden the tax base by levying a tax on the interest earned on bank deposits. The government will also propose that 40 percent of income tax revenues go to the federal budget and 60 percent to regional budgets. Under current legislation, 100 percent of income tax revenues flow to local budgets. Aleksandr Zhukov, Duma Budget Committee Chairman, told ITAR-TASS that the government will also submit draft laws on social spending and on changes in the fees paid to the social and extra-budgetary funds. JAC


"Nezavisimaya Gazeta" on 8 August reported that Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin and Minister of Finance Mikhail Zadornov plan to sue the newspaper for a report two days earlier alleging that the Central Bank had closed off the Finance Ministry's access to its own account so that it could misuse the funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 1998). The Central Bank and Finance Ministry have issued a joint statement charging "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" with trying to destabilize relations between the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance and in the country as a whole. The newspaper contends that the original article was correct in substance, if not in every detail. JAC


"Nezavisimaya Gazeta" argues that many prominent Russian politicians and businessmen consider Anatolii Chubais, presidential envoy to international financial institutions, an ideal candidate for president. "The elite's attitude toward Chubais has shifted from tender love to intense hatred and now back again," it argued. Only Chubais exhibits the qualities of leadership needed for a country in crisis, according to the newspaper. And it also wrote that the political experience of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is no longer relevant, while Chubais understands world financial markets and can manage fiscal federal relations. Boris Berezovskii's LOGOvaz group is a financial backer of "Nezavisimaya Gazeta." JAC


"Delovoi Vtornik" on 4 August charged that the U.S. company Lockheed Martin colluded with the U.S. National Security Agency to construct a satellite so powerful that its true purpose, the newspaper argued, must be surveillance. According to "Delovoi Vtornik," as soon as Russian specialists from the company Intersputnik voiced their suspicions about the company's true intentions, Lockheed Martin decided it no longer needed a Russian partner. Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" reported on 8 August that the U.S. State Department has ordered Boeing to suspend work on a project to develop commercial satellites with Russian and Ukrainian rocket manufacturers because sensitive U.S. space information had been passed along to Russian and Ukrainian engineers. JAC


Air Force commander Anatolii Kornukov told Interfax on 10 August that more than 90,000 officers and servicemen have been put on reserve because of a merger between the air force and air defense forces. He added that another 40,000 positions are likely to be cut during the second stage of the air force's reorganization. By redistributing equipment from the eliminated units, the air force has been able to increase the condition of its aircraft to almost 80 percent suitability, he noted. JAC


According to Interfax on 10 August, the heads of more than 30 Russian television companies, including Russian Public Television director-general Xeniya Ponomareva and NTV director- general Oleg Dobrodeyev, sent a written appeal to the government, protesting government ordinance No. 844 of 27 July 1998. The new law gives the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGRTK) the right to oversee other stations' use of regional television transmitters as well as significant tax and custom breaks. The other television companies claim that the new law gives VGRTK an unfair advantage and is inconsistent with Articles 8 and 27 of the constitution. JAC


The elected mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod, Andrei Klimentev, lost his appeal in the Russian Supreme Court on 10 August, ruling out the possibility that he will compete in new elections scheduled for September. In May, Klimentev was convicted for forging documents and embezzling part of a government loan to a local shipyard plant. He was sentenced to six years in prison. JAC


Writing in "Segodnya" on 7 August, Pavel Felgengauer argues that Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's victory in arranging within the UN that Iraq be allowed to double its oil exports was actually a defeat for Russian economic interests. The real cause of Russia's current economic difficulties is not the Asian financial crisis but the dip in oil prices caused by new Iraqi volumes on the world oil market, he argued. "If just one bomb fell on Baghdad, oil prices would double by the beginning of heating season in the northern hemisphere," he wrote, adding "that would be good for everyone." Rosneft might be sold for a handsome price and the extra money could be given to the miners and servicemen, he concluded. JAC


The Chechen Supreme Shariat Court on 10 August sentenced a man and a woman to five years' imprisonment for collaborating with the Russian Federal Security Service, ITAR-TASS reported. Both are residents of Chechnya and were detained in February on the border between Chechnya and Stavropol Krai in possession of files on Chechen police officers and Russian police identity cards. LF


UN High Commission for Refugees representative in Uzbekistan Taslimar Rahman on 10 August said the Uzbek government is prepared to provide temporary shelter and help to transport any Afghan refugees across its territory, Interfax reported. The UN refugees office was moved to Termez, Uzbekistan, on the border with Afghanistan, after the Taliban overran Mazar-i-Sharif on 8 August. Formerly, the office had been located in the Afghan city. Rahman said no fugitives have crossed CIS borders so far. Meanwhile, there are numerous reports that people have fled northern cities as the Taliban troops advance northward. BP


Kasymjomart Tokayev on 10 August said that the situation in Afghanistan should be discussed "immediately" by the foreign ministers of those countries that are concerned about the conflict, Interfax reported. Tokayev referred to a statement adopted by Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in October 1996, after Kabul fell to the Taliban. That statement urged an end to the bloodshed. Tokayev noted that action will be taken in accordance with the CIS collective security treaty if the CIS's southern borders are threatened. BP


UN special envoy to Tajikistan Jan Kubis told ITAR-TASS on 11 August that the Tajik government finished its investigation into the murders of four UN employees on 20 July. Kubis said "the identities of those responsible for the heinous crime have been established without doubt." He did not give any names but said he is now waiting for the quick arrest of the killers and an explanation of their motives. The results of the investigation have not yet been made public. BP


The Turkish company STFA has been granted exclusive rights by the Turkmen Energy and Industry Ministry to sell Turkmen energy to third countries, Interfax reported on 7 August and ITAR-TASS on 10 August. A condition of the agreement is that STFA use profits to finance projects to develop Turkmenistan's energy infrastructure and to increase the country's potential for exporting energy. STFA will build an electric substation to transport power to Turkey via Iran and will lay a 500-kilowatt power line to Pakistan via Afghanistan. The combined cost of those two projects is estimated at more than $300 million. BP


Vahram Nercissiantz, former head of the World Bank mission to Armenia, was appointed adviser to President Robert Kocharian on 10 August, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. His area of responsibility was not specified, but he is expected to focus on economic issues. Nercissiantz, who is a U.S. citizen, said on completing his tour of duty in Yerevan in June that Armenia needs a special presidential body to oversee the use of international loans. LF


Speaking on Karabakh state television at the weekend, Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev took a "very serious step" in inviting his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, to attend an international conference in Baku, an RFE/RL correspondent in Stepanakert reported on 10 August. Ghukasian welcomed the possibility of direct talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan but warned that Stepanakert should not be excluded from the Karabakh peace process. He praised Armenia's "clear approach" to resolving the conflict, saying that "we have a considerable capacity to jointly defend our positions on the international stage." Ghukasian described the economic situation in Karabakh as "unsatisfactory" but expressed the hope that privatization will bring improvement. He pledged to ensure fairness in privatizing agricultural land and to ensure that the local elections scheduled for September are democratic. LF


Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar has sent a written response to President Aliev's appeal to five prominent opposition politicians to abandon their proposed boycott of the 11 October presidential elections, Turan reported on 10 August. While describing the abolition of censorship as a positive development, Gambar said progress toward democratization in Azerbaijan is insufficient. He expressed doubt that the existing Central Electoral Commission will be enable to ensure free and democratic elections. The majority of the commission's members were nominated either by Aliyev or by the parliament. Aliyev had told journalists on 9 August that charges made by Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey in his response to Aliev's appeal are groundless. Aliyev added that the opposition "does not have the right to put forward conditions," claiming that it was involved in earlier attempts on his life. LF


Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov has confirmed media reports that a group of ethnic Kurdish Turkish citizens who entered Azerbaijan illegally has been expelled from the country, Caucasus Press reported on 11 August, citing ANS-Press. But Usubov added that his ministry cannot confirm that those persons were members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In early July, the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry denied reports in opposition publications that the PKK has established an official presence in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1998). LF


In his weekly radio broadcast on 10 August, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said corruption and shortcomings within the tax system are to blame for frequent delays in paying pensions and wages, Caucasus Press reported. Meeting with tax department officials on 6 August, Shevardnadze had called for "serious structural changes" within the tax service. He said corruption was the sole reason for the failure to collect all budget revenues in 1997, noting that only 79 percent of planned tax revenues were collected during the first six months of this year. Also on 6 August, the government approved a proposal to raise state-sector wages by an average of 10 percent beginning on 1 September. It also announced that pensions and unemployment benefits will be increased beginning 1 November, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


The World Bank will consider financing two projects in Ukraine worth $300 million each as soon as the IMF approves its $2.2 billion loan to Kyiv, Reuters reported on 10 August. The World Bank's Kyiv mission chief said the projects will support Ukraine's financial sector and business development. The World Bank suspended its financial assistance to Ukraine earlier this year, following a similar decision by the IMF. The IMF board of directors is expected to discuss its $2.2 billion three- year loan program to Ukraine in late August. JM


Owing to recent government pressure to pay tax and pension fund arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 10 August 1998), Ukrainian sugar refineries have been forced to pledge sugar at 500 hryvni ($240) a ton as security against the payment of their debts to the pension fund. The average price of sugar is currently 1,110 hryvni a ton, but the Aval Bank, which manages the Pension Fund, refuses to accept sugar as security at higher prices. According to Ukrainian News, this could result in a sharp drop in sugar prices once the sugar-refining season begins. Sugar refineries currently owe the Pension Fund some 3 million hryvni. JM


Visiting Kyiv on 10 August to attend President Leonid Kuchma's birthday celebrations, Mintimer Shaimiev held informal talks on expanding economic cooperation with his Moldovan and Latvian counterparts, Petru Lucinschi and Guntis Ulmanis, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Shaimiev told journalists that Tatarstan will continue to supply Ukraine with oil and oil products. He added that Russian Premier Sergei Kirienko is expected to visit Kazan later this week. LF


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 10 August inspected government residences in Minsk and its suburbs with a view to finding housing for foreign diplomats, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. He came up with 20 possible residences for the ambassadors who left Belarus in June to protest their eviction from the Drazdy compound near Minsk. Lukashenka ordered the Foreign Ministry to pass on this information to the relevant embassies. The presidential press service said that if the embassies refuse Lukashenka's housing proposals, they will have to go house-hunting on their own. JM


Estonian Ambassador to Russia Mart Helme told the Estonian radio station Kuku on 9 August that Moscow is waiting to see what decisions are made at the NATO summit next year before it formulates its policy toward the Baltics, BNS reported the next day. "Based on what is decided at that meeting, the next moves will be made [by Russia]," Helme said. For this reason, he argued, the "process of regulating" Estonian-Russian relations has come to a halt. He added that although ties between Estonia and Russia are currently much better than a few years ago, it is "too early to speak of warm [bilateral] relations." JC


Leaders of parties representing Estonia's Russian- speakers have expressed support for Orthodox Archbishop Kornelius, who earlier this month criticized the Estonian government's stance in a row over Church property, BNS reported on 10 August. The branch of the Russian Orthodox Church led by Kornelius wishes to retain its subordination to the Moscow Patriarchate. But under Estonia's restitution law, Church property can be returned only to the successor of the pre-war Estonian Orthodox Church, namely the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which is subordinated to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Kornelius accuses the Estonian authorities of wishing to abolish the branch he heads and of seeking to strip it of its rightful property. He also opposes the restitution of property to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church as "groundless," arguing that 80 percent of Orthodox believers in Estonia belong to the pro-Moscow Church. JC


The cabinet has appealed to the Constitutional Court to rule on amendments to the law on maternity and sickness allowances, which it claims are unconstitutional, BNS reported on 10 August. The amendments, which were passed by the parliament in June, will allow more people to claim such benefits. But the government argues that the legislature has failed to determine how those benefits will be financed. The Welfare Ministry says that implementing the amendments will lead to a deficit in this year's special budget. JC


More than 73,000 workers from 31 enterprises in the armaments industry are to stage an hour-long warning strike on 24 August, PAP reported on 10 August. Trade unions representing workers in the industry want the government to urgently draft and implement a program for restructuring the sector. They also are demanding negotiations on a welfare package for workers who lose their jobs owing to restructuring. The trade unions threaten to occupy public administration offices and to stage a general strike if their demands are not met. According to Stanislaw Glowacki, leader of the Solidarity trade union representing arms workers, some 20 enterprises will shut down by the end of this year unless they are privatized soon. JM


Farmers' unions have called off their nationwide protest planned for 11 August over what they regard as excessive grain imports, PAP reported on 10 August. The move followed talks between the government and Poland's three main farmers' unions: the rightist Solidarity Private Farmers' Union, the leftist National Union of Farmers and Farmers' Circles and Organizations, and the extremist Self-Defense Farmers' Union. Meanwhile, according to the 11 August "Gazeta Wyborcza," Self-Defense Farmers' Union leader Andrzej Lepper was jailed on 10 August for 41 days after failing to pay a fine for "insulting state institutions and high officials." JM


Marek Siwiec, head of the National Security Bureau, which is subordinated to President Aleksander Kwasniewski, has urged the Polish government and the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church "to adopt an unambiguous position" in the Polish-Jewish dispute over crosses erected near the former Auschwitz death camp, Polonia Television reported on 10 August. Siwiec said the president is ready to help by using "methods of persuasion or legal methods" to return to the "situation that preceded the conflict." According to PAP, Marek Nowakowski, an adviser to Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, said that "slight chances for a compromise solution" have appeared in the dispute. He strongly criticized Kwasniewski's aide by saying that Siwiec "is simply recalling the good old days when you could send out the police to dismantle any cross you wanted," Reuters reported. JM


Nearly three out of four Czechs (72.5 percent) want their country to join the EU as soon as possible, while the remaining 27.5 percent are opposed to EU membership, CTK reported on 10 August, citing a poll conducted by the independent STEM institute. Support for EU membership stands at nearly the same as in June 1996 (74.1 percent). Last year, it dropped to 70 percent. MS


Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 10 August appealed to the Supreme Court against the registration of the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) by the Central Electoral Commission three days earlier. The HZDS says the SDK is not a political party but a coalition of parties, as its name suggests. The Communist Party of Slovakia supports the HZDS in its objections, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Meanwhile, the leaderships of the SDK and the Party of Democratic Left began negotiations on an initiative to reconvene the parliament for an extraordinary session to discuss irregularities in the privatization of Slovenska poistovna, the country's largest insurance company. MS


Gyula Gansperger, head of the State Privatization and Holding Company, told Kossuth Radio on 10 August that he is ready to face an inquiry. He said there are "business and political interests" behind allegations that he and the ruling Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ) are involved in a privatization scandal. "Nepszabadsag" the same day wrote that the assets of two companies set up by Gansperger and Lajos Simicska, now head of the Tax Office, were transferred to their wives following the May elections. Erika Bakos, sister-in-law of minister without portfolio Laszlo Kover, is also a partner in those companies. Josip Tot, an electrician, was named as the companies' chief executive and part owner. But Tot says this was done without his knowledge and that the passport used to register the companies under his name was stolen from him in 1996. MS


Fighting continued in western Kosova on 10 August between Serbian forces and the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). In Prishtina the next day, the guerrillas issued a statement pledging to fight on despite their recent losses. The text noted that the battlefield setbacks have "only strengthened our resolve to bravely continue on the road to freedom." It also called on Kosovars to "unite with the UCK and help us in our just fight for freedom," AP reported. The statement warned NATO not to station troops along the Albanian-Kosovar border, across which the guerrillas' supplies pass, "because we would consider this the second offensive against our freedom and our national pride." PM


The Foreign Ministry in Tirana on 10 August issued a strongly worded protest to the Yugoslav authorities over three alleged violations of its airspace by Serbian helicopters near Tropoja and Kukes over the previous two days. The statement said that "such incidents carry the risk of escalating the conflict [in Kosova].... If Belgrade wants to apply such a confrontational policy with regional implications, then it will have to fully bear the responsibilities and the consequences of this conflict." The ministry also denied Serbian charges that UCK fighters have training facilities on Albanian territory. The statement stressed that Belgrade seeks "to justify its own military actions of ethnic cleansing in Kosova [by spreading] disinformation" and by blaming Albania for certain problems. The statement conceded that the UCK has arms supply routes on Albanian territory but stressed that Tirana is trying to halt the flow of those supplies. FS


A spokesman for the Albanian Foreign Ministry said in Tirana on 11 August that some 70 Kosovars crossed into Albania during the previous 24 hours. In Prishtina on 10 August, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the number of displaced persons within Kosova stands at 167,000. An additional 64,000 persons from Kosova are refugees in Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, or elsewhere, he added. Meanwhile, a Slovenian ship left the port of Koper with humanitarian relief worth $100,000 for Kosovar refugees in Albania. In Tirana, State Secretary Franko Juri of the Slovenian Foreign Ministry said that the conflict in Kosova is not an ethnic one but rather a political issue involving the democratization of Yugoslav society and the establishment of human and ethnic rights. PM


Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan," who is the Serbian nationalist leader of the paramilitary "Tigers," appealed on 10 August in a letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton for Washington's help in fighting "terrorism" on Serbian territory. Arkan, whom many in Croatia and Bosnia regard as a war criminal, told Clinton that the U.S. should not allow bombings similar to those that took place in Kenya and Tanzania on 7 August to happen anywhere else in the world, AP reported from Belgrade. "Mr. President, don't let...terrorism in this part of the Balkans continue, in the Serbian state that for centuries has been a friend to your state," Arkan wrote. PM


Slobodan Ivanovic, a Serbian medical doctor who regularly visits the indicted war criminals held by the Hague-based tribunal, said that inmates, regardless of nationality, are enraged by the recent death from a heart attack of Milan Kovacevic, who was also a physician, "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 11 August. Ivanovic added that the inmates may be planning a revolt as a result. The inmates told Ivanovic that Kovacevic "died a slow and painful death as a result of a ruptured aorta despite repeated calls for help to jailers over a period of five hours." A hospital is only five minutes drive from the prison, where Croatian inmate General Tihomir Blaskic tried to revive Kovacevic. Dutch officials denied the charges of neglect and argued that the inmates receive better care than they would in prisons in the former Yugoslavia. PM


Bosnian refugees living outside Bosnia, Croatia, and federal Yugoslavia have begun casting their ballots in the 12-13 September general elections, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo on 10 August. The Election Commission had earlier processed 148,000 requests for absentee ballots, which voters must complete and send by mail to the OSCE in Vienna. Most Bosnian refugees live in Croatia and federal Yugoslavia and will be able to vote there at special polling stations. PM


Momcilo Krajisnik, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and an ally of nationalist leader Radovan Karadzic, said that Bosnian Serbs fall into two political camps, the Belgrade daily "Danas" wrote on 11 August. One group consists of "steadfast Serbs," who remain true to the ideals for which they fought in the 1992-1995 war, and the other is made up of "servile Serbs," who have since signed political alliances with the Muslims. By the "servile" group, he was presumably referring to the Republika Srpska's leadership based in Banja Luka. Krajisnik denied that he accumulated a private fortune during the war and added that he has lived in one room in Pale for the past six years. He added that he is building a home on Serbian-held territory outside his native Sarajevo and that he has a small flat in Belgrade, but he denied rumors that he owns villas. PM


Greek maritime police began joint patrols with their Albanian colleagues in the Ionian Sea on 10 August. The Greek police officers are based in the Albanian port of Saranda near Corfu and work as part of an Albanian Coast Guard unit. The joint patrols will continue for six months, ATSH news agency reported. Meanwhile near Vlora the previous day, patrol boats of the Italian financial police intercepted two speed boats bound for Italy carrying some 50 illegal immigrants . Most of the refugees were Kurdish women and children. During the past four weeks or so, Italian patrols have intercepted 52 speed-boats carrying a total of some 1,500 refugees, mostly from Kosova and Turkey. FS


Spokesmen for the Society for Democratic Culture announced the results of their five month-long monitoring of state television (TVSH) on 10 August in Tirana. They concluded that TVSH gives too much coverage to events involving the capital's political elite and neglects the interests of the broader public, with only few reports about local, economic, and social issues. The observers noted that several independent newspapers provide more balanced coverage and deal with a wider range of issues than TVSH. FS


Janos Szabo on 10 August met with his Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, in the spa of Baile Felix. The two ministers discussed Romania's bid to join Euro-Atlantic organizations, the setting up of a Romanian-Hungarian peace-keeping battalion, and the conflict in Kosova, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Szabo said the battalion will have some 1,000 members but that there are financial difficulties in setting it up. He noted that if Romania "wishes to head to Europe," it must also pay attention to "all aspects of democracy," including "human rights and respect for minority rights." In this context, he mentioned the controversy over the Hungarian state university but did not link Hungarian support for Romania's NATO bid to a resolution to this controversy. MS


Dozens of farmers used tractors and other equipment on 10 August to block the Nadlac and Varasani border crossing points with Hungary to protest imports and the government's agricultural policies, Reuters and AP reported. The Curtici railroad crossing point was also blocked. The protest was organized by the Agrostar trade union. Hungarian agricultural products are cheaper on Romanian markets than are local produce. Hungarian wheat production is subsidized, and Agrostar is demanding subsidies for Romanian producers. Last month, Bucharest increased custom duties on Hungarian wheat and flour imports, but Agrostar says that the measures have not yet been implemented and that it will continue protests until they are in force. Hungary, however, is threatening to take retaliatory action against the higher customs duties. Officials from the Romanian and Hungarian Agricultural Ministries are due to meet this week to discuss the issue. MS


The head of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, Bishop Petru, said on 10 August that the neo- Protestant Churches are guilty of "proselytism" and of trying to "lure" believers to a "misleading faith" that contradicts the "teaching of the Holy Scriptures." The neo- Protestant Churches are currently organizing in Chisinau the "Jesus Christ--Moldova's Hope" event. Petru accused the Churches of using "heavy funding that comes from abroad" in order to "attract those weak in their faith," the independent news agency Flux reported. Also on 10 August, a group of Moldovan historians appealed to President Petru Lucinschi to revoke a 2 July decree that sets national celebration days for the years 1998-2000. They argued that the constitution prohibits any "state official ideology" and that the official calendar promotes "Moldovanism" as such an ideology. MS


Finance Minister Muravei Radev on 10 August said that next year, Bulgaria is planning to reduce value-added tax by two percent, to 20 percent. Radev said that income tax will also be reduced, but did not say by how much, AP reported. He noted that the 1999 budget will be based on the assumption that the country's GDP will grow 4 percent. And he added that GDP growth is predicted at 4.8 percent for 2000 and at 5.1 percent for 2001. Also on 10 August, the government decided that beginning next year, it will phase out a 2 percent import tax currently levied on all imports in addition to other tariffs. That tax was reduced in July from 4 percent to 2 percent owing to an improved balance of payments. MS


by Paul Goble

The new free press in many post-communist countries may be contributing to social and political problems there rather than helping resolve them.

Nowhere is that danger greater than in countries where the reading public is split along linguistic lines, where individual publications both reflect these divisions and may even deepen them. That is the disturbing conclusion of a detailed study of how newspapers in Latvia, both Latvian-language and Russian-language, covered issues of citizenship and naturalization in that Baltic country during 1997.

Prepared by two local scholars and summarized in the current issue of the Riga weekly "Diena-Dosug," one of the few publications issued in both Latvian and Russian in Latvia, this study found that the post-Soviet press as a whole is marked by sensationalism, tendentiousness, and an uncritical handling of sources. It concluded not only that the press as a whole has failed to serve as the "watchdog of democracy," as many had hoped, but that it is now "one of the problems of post-communist society rather than one of the solutions."

Its authors, Ilza Shuman and Sergei Kruk, devoted most of their attention to the specific problems arising from the simultaneous existence of a Latvian-language and a Russian-language media in one country. They suggest that the differences between the newspapers in these two languages are now so great that in Latvia "there now exist two weakly connected information spaces." The effect is a further division of the two communities who read them.

During the struggle for the recovery of Latvian independence, the authors note, newspapers typically discussed the same issues in the same way. Because of that, the two communities were drawn together by newspapers that engaged in an active dialogue across language lines.

But now there is little or no dialogue across language lines. Instead, the study found, newspapers in the Latvian language focus on one set of issues while Russian-language newspapers focus on a very different one.

A content analysis of 879 articles in 10 different newspapers showed just how deep this divide has become.

On questions of citizenship and naturalization examined in the study, Latvian newspapers focused on passports and the rights citizenship provides, while Russian papers focused far more on questions about the status of non-citizenship and the impact of citizenship on links with Russia.

At one level, this difference in coverage reflects differences in interest of the readers of the newspapers in each language. But at another level, and as polling data the authors supply show, the story is much more complicated and problematic.

On the one hand, the Latvian-language press tends to respond to the interests of ethnic Latvians who are Latvian citizens while the Russian-language press tends to reflect the interests of ethnic Russians who are not Latvian citizens. That leaves the many ethnic Russians who are citizens in Latvia without an obvious place to obtain the kind of news that is of greatest interest to them.

On the other hand, the study's authors concluded, the dramatic difference in focus often means that newspapers published in one language seldom enter into an active dialogue with newspapers published in another, a situation that promotes both isolation and suspicion. Moreover, the Latvian-language newspapers and the Russian-language newspapers divide according to what the authors suggest are specific national styles of journalism.

This is partly inevitable: as the authors point out, "the expression of one and the same thought in different languages will come out differently." But the existing differences are both more fundamental and more a matter of choice.

As Shuman and Kruk wrote, the Russian-language press has traditionally defined itself as a medium for the expression of the opinions of individuals rather than the communication of hard news. It also sees itself as more critical, when possible, than supportive of the existing political order.

The Latvian-language press focuses more on information than on opinion, a trend that can help produce what the authors call a "quality" medium. But it also sometimes means it is significantly less critical in its use of sources than the Russian-language media.

Shuman and Kruk end their study on a pessimistic note. They suggest that there is no easy way out of the current situation and that the closing of one or another newspaper will not allow the press to assume its proper function in a free society. But if the authors are pessimistic, the publication of their study gives grounds for optimism: only a press fully aware of its problems will be able to overcome them and only a press fully conscious of its enormous responsibilities will try to do so.