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Newsline - September 22, 1998


ITAR-TASS on 22 September reported that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree laying out a new structure for the government. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov will have six deputy prime ministers, including two first deputy prime ministers. Yeltsin also called for the creation of five new ministries, five state committees, and two federal services. The same day, Russia's ambassador to Greece, Valentina Matvienko, accepted the post of deputy prime minister in charge of social issues, which Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov recently rejected. According to Interfax, Matvienko has been with the Foreign Ministry since 1991 and is close to Primakov. JAC


Acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov tried to soothe angry foreign investors on 21 September by suggesting a new scheme for restructuring Russian debt. Zadornov proposed redeeming short-term Treasury bills that matured between 19 August and 16 September. Under the government's previous plan, investors had the option of receiving only 5 percent of their holdings in cash and the remainder in longer-term ruble and dollar bonds. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Shokhin said that Zadornov's plan should not be considered "final." According to Interfax, he told reporters that "this is a decision involving an emission that should be made at the political level." Redeeming the securities, according to Zadornov, would require 10 billion to 12 billion rubles ($730 million). Zadornov's debt plan is included in a package of Finance Ministry proposals for the fourth quarter of 1998. Other proposals include introducing a single income tax of 20 percent, a lower profit tax, and mandatory sales of hard currency by exporters. JAC


"Kommersant-Daily" on 19 September reported that one of the Central Bank's more powerful departments, OPERU-2, has been abolished, giving the Moscow department of the Central Bank new authority and expanded influence. In an interview with the daily, the former chief of OPERU-2, Denis Kiselev, said that the Central Bank's Moscow department will now oversee the daily operations of banks in its region, deciding their fate and that of their clients. He also said that the largest banks of the country will find themselves under the influence of the Moscow mayor's office. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported that despite banks' claim to lack funds to pay to their depositors, MOST-Bank recently opened a new "expensive" branch in Ulyanovsk. JAC


"Izvestiya" on 22 September reported that many governors have banned food deliveries outside their region's borders, triggering a dangerous trend toward "food separatism." Among the regions cited were Stavropol, Krasnodar, Khabarovsk, and Samara. Earlier, "Izvestiya" reported that the Vologda administration had issued an order forbidding the export of staple goods and food products from the region. On 21 September, acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters that more than 60 regions have adopted their own austerity programs. On 15 September "Kommersant vlast" concluded that regional leaders' "separatist threats" are aimed only at "milking as much money from the federal center as possible." The newspaper cited the fact that Sverdlovsk governor Eduard Rossel's calls for a sovereign Urals republic ended when "the region was loaned several tons of precious metal." JAC


"Russkii telegraf" argued in its 19 September issue that Yevgenii Primakov's government "has shifted its political priorities in the direction of the regions" and in particular, its industrial elite. As evidence, the newspaper cited the rumored inclusion of four regional heads- Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Saratov governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev-- in the government presidium. It also reported that the original plan of inviting 12 leaders of interregional associations was scrapped because it was "too reminiscent of the old Politburo." The newspaper noted that the new government intends to focus its efforts on Russia's "industrial elite" since "no one has suggested that the Komi governor either submit an [economic] program of his own or join the government." Gustov told reporters on 21 September that the presidium will include "two first deputy prime ministers, four deputy prime ministers, and Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko." JAC


First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov, whose portfolio includes regional policy, told reporters on 21 September that he supports the idea of reducing the number of the Russian Federation's constituent members through mergers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 1998). As a first step, Gustov, a former governor of Leningrad Oblast, proposed unifying the city of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. On 19 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" characterized Gustov's views on various matters as "socialist," saying "he supports the ideology of the Communist Party." "Izvestiya" said Gustov was supported in gubernatorial elections by "left-wing forces" but enjoyed "a good relationship with young reformers in the cabinet." JAC


According to the "IEWS Russian Regional Report" of 17 September, Yekaterinburg, in Sverdlovsk Oblast, has witnessed a dramatic decline in the number of newspapers available, as publishers have chosen to reduce their print runs rather than raise prices in response to climbing costs. Major national newspapers, such as "Izvestiya" and "Rossiiskaya gazeta," and local papers such as "Oblastnaya gazeta" and "Uralskii rabochii" are impossible to find or are being printed less frequently. Pro-communist newspapers, such as "Iskra uralskaya" are reportedly doing better and can be found in many locations free of charge. JAC


"Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 22 September reported that Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov announced he has already unearthed some information about the Central Bank's misuse of IMF funds. Earlier, former Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin said that nothing untoward has been done with the fund's monies. He told Ekho Moskvy that the first $4.8 billion tranche of the IMF stabilization loan has been used to replenish the bank's foreign exchange reserves. "Parlamentskaya gazeta" quoted Central Bank Joint Economic department director Nadezhda Ivanova as telling the State Duma that $1 billion of the IMF funds were transferred to the Finance Ministry and the remaining $3.8 billion spent on long-term U.S. treasury bonds." JAC


ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September that cases of measles and mumps have increased in Volgograd owing to a lack of funds to purchase vaccines. "Izvestiya" reported on 19 September that deliveries of foreign medicines will be suspended from 26 September because the State Customs Committee discovered that not a single importer has a valid foreign trade license. The newspaper quoted the director of one of the largest drug distributors as saying that even medicines manufactured domestically require imported materials. "Kommersant-Daily" reported that medicines are in short supply in some regions because of hoarding. In Altai Republic, local diabetic have bought up a year's worth of insulin supplies, while pharmacies in Volgograd have enough to last only for eight to 20 days. JAC


Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has decided against running for a Duma seat in the Yamal-Nenets region, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1998). Chernomyrdin declared that he is still planning to run for president in 2000. JAC


At the beginning of a three-day official visit to Tehran, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev met with Iranian parliamentary chairman Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri on 21 September, Russian agencies reported. Seleznev underscored the importance of establishing closer bilateral ties to create a Moscow-Tehran axis. The two men agreed that ties between the two countries' parliaments are of paramount importance at present, given Iran's "international isolation," Interfax reported. The two officials also discussed bilateral trade (which last year totaled $550 million), the possibility of Russian involvement in oil and gas extraction in the Persian Gulf, and the situation in Afghanistan. LF


Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii suffered a heart attack on 18 September. Yavlinskii, who is 46, is said to be in normal condition at the hospital in which he is staying. According to a recent poll, Yavlinskii's approval rating increased after the recent political crisis. It was Yavlinskii who first suggested Primakov as a compromise candidate for the premiership. JAC


Six years after his death, ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was rehabilitated posthumously on 21 September. ITAR-TASS reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office said that it has studied Nureyev's case thoroughly and can find no evidence to support a 1962 charge of high treason. JAC


Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Grozny on 21 September that he was assured by the Malaysian prime minister during his recent visit to that country that Chechnya will be granted membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Interfax reported. But later the same day, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed skepticism at Maskhadov's claim. The Malaysian embassy in Moscow told the news agency that it cannot confirm that Maskhadov had met with the prime minister, adding that the Chechen president's visit to Malaysia was a private one. LF


Maverick Chechen field commander Salman Raduev told journalists in Grozny on 21 September that negotiations on the release of Russian presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov are almost complete and that he may be released within the next week, Russian agencies reported. Vlasov was abducted on 1 May on the Chechen-Ingush border. Raduev accused Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin of hindering the negotiation process. He denied that any ransom would be paid (although Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Magomed Magomadov had said in June that Vlasov's kidnappers were demanding $2 million for his release). Raduev also claimed to have helped mediate the release of two British aide workers released on 20 September. At the same time, he conceded that Russian mogul Boris Berezovskii had also played a key role in that process. LF


A Russian presidential commission for prisoners of war has published a list of 794 people missing in action since the Chechen war. Of those missing, 490 are members of the armed forces, 199 members of the Interior Ministry troops, 22 members of other security forces, and 83 civilians. The commission spokesman said that 10 Russian servicemen captured during the 1994-1996 war are believed to be held hostage in Chechnya, together with some 200 servicemen and civilians abducted over the past two years. LF


Otakhon Latifi, head of the National Reconciliation Commission sub-committee on legal issues, was shot dead by unidentified attackers leaving his home in Dushanbe on the morning of 22 September. A former "Pravda" correspondent, Latifi returned to Tajikistan last year after five years of exile in Iran. Both the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition have condemned the killing, according to dpa. LF


Presidential administration head Omar Sultanov addressed the nation on state television on 20 September to explain and seek support for the proposed constitutional changes that will legalize the private ownership of land, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Those changes, which also include restrictions on the powers of the parliament and guarantees of media freedom, are to be put to a nationwide referendum next month. Sultanov assured his audience that the current five-year moratorium on the sale of land will remain in effect and that 700,000 Kyrgyz citizens who have already received plots of land free of charge will not be required to pay for them. In addition, the country's main natural resources will remain state property, he said. LF


The Bishkek city administration announced on 21 September that the City Assembly has appealed to the parliament to include a question on the status of the Russian language in next month's nationwide referendum, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. According to the 1989 law on the state language and the 1993 constitution, Kyrgyz is the sole state language in Kyrgyzstan. Some public organizations and politicians (including President Akayev) have suggested giving Russian the status of either second state language or a language of interethnic communication. The parliament, however, has rejected those proposals. Ethnic Russians account for some 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population. LF


Armenia on 21 September marked the anniversary of the 1991 referendum in which participants voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession from the USSR, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The celebrations included the official opening of a Victory Arch at the entry of the main military cemetery, located in a Yerevan suburb where most victims of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia are laid to rest. In a departure from previous years, there was no military parade. LF


Armen Darpinian returned to Yerevan on 18 September following a three-day official visit to Beirut, Armenian agencies reported. Darpinian held meetings with President Elias Hrawi, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and his Lebanese counterpart, Rafik Hariri, who had visited Yerevan in May. Both sides noted that cordial bilateral relations are not paralleled by similarly strong trade and economic ties. As a first step toward improving those ties, the two premiers signed an agreement on avoiding dual taxation. Darpinian also attended the opening of a business forum attended by entrepreneurs from both Armenia and Lebanon. Hrawi extended an invitation to Armenian President Robert Kocharian to visit Lebanon. LF


Former deputy parliamentary speaker Karapet Rubinian called on 18 September for the resignation of Vano Siradeghian as chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Rubinian argued that under Siradeghian's chairmanship, the party has committed "mistake after mistake" in recent months. He charged that Siradeghian is an obstacle to the HHSh's regaining its leading position in domestic politics. The HHSh's ruling board voted on 18 September to accept Rubinian's resignation from the party. It also voted to expel a second former deputy parliament speaker, Ara Sahakian, who had criticized Siradeghian in an interview with the daily newspaper "Aravot." Another prominent HHSh member, former parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsian has been refusing to attend the board's meetings, reportedly because of differences with the party leadership. LF


Ukrainian National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko said at a cabinet meeting on 21 September that the bank has no plans to use its hard-currency reserves to support the hryvnya, Ukrainian Television reported. "Support for the hryvnya is provided through limiting hard-currency operations on the market and closing the interbank market," the station quoted him as saying. Citing Russia's futile attempts to support the ruble, Yushchenko added that the government has not ruled out "administrative methods" to stave off the financial crisis. He also announced that Ukrainian banks will soon be ordered to make payments to a special compensation fund for victims of possible bank bankruptcies. Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko told the same cabinet meeting that the government "should preserve the banking system, not individual banks." JM


The Ukrainian premier has said his government will crack down on enterprises that delay paying off state credits, despite having money on their accounts, Ukrainian Television reported on 21 September. According to Pustovoytenko, some $150 million in state credits is due to be paid back by the end of this year. He instructed the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Interior Ministry "to work out measures oriented toward repaying credits by enterprises." JM


Oleksandr Moroz, leader of the Ukrainian Socialist Party and former speaker of the Ukrainian Supreme Council, has announced that he will run in the 1999 presidential elections, Ukrainian Television reported on 21 September. The Socialist Party Political Council has appealed to the left-wing, left-of-center, and democratic forces to support Moroz as the "only realistic alternative" to President Leonid Kuchma. UNIAN reported that Moroz may be nominated by the Socialist Party as its official presidential candidate at a party congress in October. JM


According to the Belarusian Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, foreign trade in the first seven months of this year increased by 11 percent, compared with the same period last year, Belapan reported on 21 September. The foreign trade deficit stood at $988.8 million. Belarus's main trade partners are Russia (60.4 percent of total foreign trade), Ukraine (7.4 percent), Germany (5.5 percent), and Poland (2.9 percent). JM


Justice Minister Paul Varul told journalists on 18 September that setting up the institution of ombudsman cannot be justified economically because those functions can be performed by the Office of the Chancellor of Justice. Varul said that the chancellor of justice will perform those functions after the government submits the relevant bill to the parliament expanding the chancellor's powers. He added that the bill has already been drawn up and will be presented to legislators in the near future, ETA reported. JC


Vladimirs Makarovs has said he is prepared to continue his work as welfare minister in order to ensure that the recently adopted amendments to the pension law cause "minimum damage to the Latvian public," BNS reported on 21 September. But he noted that his decision whether to remain in office will depend on what happens to the amendments, which if implemented, he estimated, will result in a 31.5 million lats ($63 million) deficit in the social insurance budget. Makarovs tendered his resignation last week, saying the amendments are "unfeasible" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1998). Meanwhile, President Guntis Ulmanis has returned the amendments to the parliament for further debate. JC


Talks between the Lithuanian government and the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom on constructing a natural gas pipeline have been postponed until 6 October, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 September, quoting an official at the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow. Those discussions had been scheduled for the start of this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 1998). The news agency did not state the reason for the delay. The proposed pipeline is to run from Minsk to Kaliningrad Oblast via Lithuania. JC


In a 21 September television and radio address summing up the first year of the Solidarity-led government, Jerzy Buzek said his cabinet has built "the foundations of an efficient, modern state." The Polish premier underscored that his government has kept its election promises by undertaking reforms in health care, pensions, education, and local government. According to Buzek, nearly half of taxpayers' money will remain in the hands of local governments after the introduction of a new administrative system in 1999. He added that the government wants to keep society informed about the reform process through the media and leaflets. But he noted that the government's television campaign promoting the reform process is to be suspended until after the 11 October local elections. "We do not want to sink [the government's campaign] in the flood of political and party electoral campaigning," he commented. JM


Agricultural Minister Jacek Janiszewski has urged a "massive reduction" in the rural work force in order to integrate its agricultural sector into that of the EU, PAP reported on 21 September. He added that the people's mentality is the main obstacle toward European integration and that changing this mentality must involve journalists and politicians who write and speak about agriculture. According to Janiszewski, the introduction of a modern farming sector in Poland requires cutting the rural work force from 27 percent to 5-7 percent of the total number of employees nationwide. JM


During his first visit abroad as premier, Milos Zeman, met with Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima in Vienna on 21 September, AP reported. Klima expressed his support for the Czech Republic's membership in EU, adding that the issue of the Sudeten Germans should not be linked to EU membership but rather should be resolved by bilateral negotiations. The two premiers agreed to set up a joint historical commission to examine issues of the past, including the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans and compensation for Czech forced laborers who worked for German companies in Austria during World War II. Klima welcomed the Czech initiative to set up an international commission to examine the Czech nuclear power plant at Temelin, near the Austrian border. Zeman also met with President Thomas Klestil and National Assembly chairman Heinz Fischer. MS


Interior Minister Gustav Krajci told CTK on 21 August that the government has taken measures to prevent provocations by the opposition, adding that those measures include beefing up police patrols with soldiers. Krajci said that he does "not rule out that provocative actions could be launched by the opposition, either at polling stations or in a different way," AP reported. Opposition leaders say that the authorities may launch a phony coup attempt or even an assassination attempt against Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and then blame it on the opposition in order to justify calling off the 25-26 September ballot, the agency said. The opposition daily "Sme" wrote on 21 September that officials from the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia are pondering "whether to proceed with regular elections or foil the polls under a fabricated excuse" in view of the likelihood of an opposition victory. MS


As was to be expected, the Slovak press has taken a mixed stand on the involvement of movie stars Gerard Depardieu and Claudia Cardinale in the Slovak electoral campaign. The pro- government "Slovenska Republika" on 21 September published a photograph of Meciar and Depardieu waving to a crowd of Meciar supporters at a rally in Kosice on 20 September. Another photo showed Meciar laughing with Cardinale on a Slovak television show the same day. The opposition daily "Sme," meanwhile, carried several stories on the two actors' visit, one of which was head-lined "Immorality and Wasted Money for Stars." The tabloid "Novy Cas" slammed Cardinale under the headline "Supposedly She Did Not Come for Political Reasons," Reuters reported. The two stars' weekend visit follows the controversial appearance with Meciar of German photo model Claudia Schiffer on 10 September. MS


The defense ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary met in 21 September in Budapest and agreed to submit their NATO membership ratification documents in Washington at the same time, Hungarian media report. Vladimir Vetchy, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, and Janos Szabo said their countries want to join NATO ahead of next April's expected entry, pointing to the "smooth progress of the ratification of NATO protocols." They added that they want to see Kosova granted autonomy and called for increasing international pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. MSZ


Ahmet Krasniqi, a top official in the self-styled Kosovar government in exile, was murdered on 21 September, Reuters reported. Interior Ministry spokesman Artan Bizhga said he was killed by unidentified gunmen outside his home. Krasniqi was a top military official in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosova, the paramilitary organization loyal to "government-in-exile premier" Bujar Bukoshi. PB


The Albanian Prosecutor-General's Office blamed opposition leader Sali Berisha for a 21 September grenade attack at the Tirana home of the prosecutor investigating last week's violence in the capital, Reuters reported. In a statement, the office said "chief terrorist Sali Berisha dare not think that we prosecutors...will withdraw from the path of justice in Albania." No one was injured in the attack. Also on 21 September, Albanian Television reported that an explosion rocked the home of Vasil Melo, the chairman of the Albanian Human Rights Protection Party, which serves the ethnic Greek minority in Albania. There were no injuries in the blast. PB


Fatos Nano said on 21 September that he will make changes in his government after order is reestablished in the country in the wake of what he called last week's "coup d'etat," AFP reported. Nano, speaking on Albanian Television, failed to give details of the changes to come but said they are "necessary." He added that the authorities are working on restoring stability, fighting crime, and improving the economy. PB


A planned rally against the government of Fatos Nano was called off on 21 September when only a few hundred people showed up, Reuters reported. Former President Berisha had promised to stage peaceful rallies every day until Nano resigned. Berisha began talks the same day with right-wing parties in an effort to get them to boycott the parliament, as Berisha's Democratic Party has done for the past three months. Fourteen parties announced they have joined the "front against dictatorship." Teodor Laco, head of the Social Democrat Union, said the only way to force a change in government is to boycott parliamentary sessions. The Albanian news agency ATA reported that Alfons Zeneli, director of Radio Kontakt, and Ilir Zhilla, former director of ATA, have been arrested on charges of aiding the "armed uprising of 14 September." PB


Jiri Dienstbier, UN special envoy for human rights, said in Belgrade on 21 September that he saw tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Albanians during a 10-day tour of Kosova, AFP reported. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, however, said after meeting with U.S. envoy Christopher Hill the same day that the "humanitarian catastrophe that we have been hearing about is not based on reality." He insisted that Serbian officials are providing tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Albanians with food and shelter. Dienstbier said he witnessed a "disproportional use of force" and that Belgrade's goal appeared "not only to get the fighters of the [Kosova Liberation Army] but to prevent the return of the population to these areas." Dienstbier called for Belgrade to declare an amnesty for ethnic Albanians not suspected of committing war crimes. PB


Adem Demaci, the political spokesman of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said on 21 September that he is withdrawing from politics for health reasons, Reuters reported. A statement said Demaci's health has deteriorated, and doctors recommend that he "disengage from all political activities for as long as possible." Demaci, 68, spent 28 years in Yugoslav prisons as a political prisoner. He has repeatedly voiced his opposition to a negotiated settlement with Belgrade over the status of Kosova. He is also the main political opponent of Kosovar "shadow state" President Ibrahim Rugova. PB


Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic has acknowledged losing her bid for reelection to ultranationalist Nikola Poplasen, AP reported on 21 September. Although final results of the 12-13 September vote are to be released later this week, many Western officials involved in the election have indicated that Poplasen is far ahead. Poplasen, leader of the chauvinist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and an ally of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, said he will follow the Dayton agreement "to the letter, nothing more and nothing less." The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo warned Americans not to travel through Serbian-controlled parts of Bosnia because the "emotional tone of the political rhetoric" may "heighten tensions in the area." The OSCE's Election Appeals Subcommission issued a warning to Poplasen and Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik for violating a pre-election media blackout. The subcommission also disqualified nine SRS candidates standing for the parliament. PB


Emil Erjavec, a member of the Slovenian EU negotiating team who is charge of agriculture, said on 21 September that Slovenian farmers will have a hard time competing as members of the EU, Reuters reported. Slovenia began negotiations on joining the EU in March and hopes to join by 2003. The Agriculture Ministry said it will cost some $120-150 million in just the next two years to bring Slovenian agriculture up to EU standards. Erjavec said the parliament is expected to appropriate money by the end of the year to finance improvements in the agriculture sector. PB


Three Croats alleged to have committed atrocities against Serbs in 1991 declined to enter a plea at their trial in Zagreb on 21 September, AP reported. It is the first time that Croats are being tried in Croatia for atrocities against Serbs. The three are charged--along with six others being tried in absentia--with the abduction, extortion, and murder of hundreds of ethnic Serbs in the Pakracka Poljana region, southeast of Zagreb. PB


Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is on a two-day visit to Romania, met with President Emil Constantinescu, Prime Minister Radu Vasile and other officials on 21 September, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They discussed the TRACECA transport corridor and the possibility of transporting Caspian oil to Europe via the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta. Last month, Kazakhstan granted concessions to Romania for the exploitation of two oil fields. Constantinescu and Nazarbayev signed an accord on avoiding double taxation, a consular agreement, as well as agreements on cultural collaboration and on consultation between the two countries' Foreign Ministries. Nazarbayev said that the two countries can learn from each other's experience on reform. He emphasized that his country is "neither part of the Soviet Union nor of Russia" and has not been affected by the current Russian crisis. MS


Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), told the Senate on 21 September that a report prepared by "one of [Romania's] secret services" demonstrates that the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) will soon declare Transylvania's territorial autonomy. He said similar reports in the past were ignored by the presidential office and by the government, according to Mediafax. The media recently carried reports on a document signed by an ethnic Romanian from Cluj, who called for Transylvania's autonomy and said he is "fed up with Romania." He said he was making that call on behalf of the Pro Transylvania foundation, but it later transpired that the foundation has not been registered. Opposition parties, including the PRM, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, and the Party of Romanian National Unity accused the government of condoning plans aimed at the country's "federalization." MS


In an address carried by BTA, former King Simeon II urged Bulgarians to drop political and ethnic differences and work together to establish democracy and a market economy as well as to fight corruption and crime, AP reported. The address was delivered on the occasion of the anniversary marking 90 years of Bulgarian independence from Turkey, which had been declared by Simeon's grandfather, Ferdinand. The anniversary was recently restored as a public holiday by Bulgaria's government, having been banned after the communist take over in 1944. MS


by Liz Fuller

For almost 40 years, the Meskhetians (an ethnically mixed group comprising mostly Muslim Georgians and some Kurds and Muslim Armenians, whose common identity was largely forged in the course of deportation) have been lobbying for permission to return to their ancestral villages in southwestern Georgia, from where they were deported in 1944.

The most recent attempt to secure such permission failed. On 17 September, Georgian special police detachments surrounded a hostel in Tbilisi, rounded up some 40 Meskhetian men, loaded them on to buses, and deported them to the Russian Federation. The men belonged to an 83-person delegation that had traveled to the Georgian capital the previous day to plead with the Georgian leadership for permission to settle permanently in Georgia. The women members of the delegation were left behind in Tbilisi. Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze told journalists that he had ordered the expulsion of the Meskhetians because, he claimed, they are aligned with opposition supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

The deportation recalls the mass expulsion of the Meskhetians from Georgia in November 1944 on Stalin's orders. The rationale for that action was the need to clear a strategically located region on the Soviet-Turkish frontier of elements suspected of pro- Turkish sympathies so that Soviet military operations could be extended into northeastern Turkey. On 15 November 1944, the entire Meskhetian population of several districts in southwestern Georgia, totaling between 150,000 and 200,000 people, were loaded into rail cars and transported to Central Asia. Thousands died en route, and thousands more in the harsh conditions in which they were forced to live in exile.

Following Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" to the 20th CPSU congress in 1956, which disclosed some, but by no means all the evils committed during the Stalin era, the restrictions imposed on most of the deported ethnic groups were lifted. But unlike the Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, and others whose exile Khrushchev had explicitly condemned, the Meskhetians were not permitted to return to Georgia. Their efforts to do so were hindered by the fact that in many cases, their nationality had been arbitrarily changed to "Turkish" in their internal passports. Consequently, some were offered the chance to settle in Azerbaijan and accepted on the assumption that it would prove easier to resettle in Georgia from that neighboring republic. That assumption quickly proved to be false.

By the late 1960s, the Meskhetians had split into two factions. One faction continued to push for the right to return to Georgia, while the other launched a campaign for the right to emigrate to Turkey. In the mid-1970s, the first of those two factions enlisted the help and support of the tiny Georgian dissident movement headed by Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who at the time was a faculty member of Tbilisi State University. Now represented by an informal association called "Salvation," the faction eventually registered a modest success in the early 1980s, when small-scale repatriation to Georgia got under way, presumably thanks to the efforts of then Georgian Communist Party Central Committee First Secretary Eduard Shevardnadze. That influx petered out, however, in the late 1980s.

A further catastrophe hit the Meskhetians in the summer of 1989, when approximately 100 were killed in ethnic clashes in Uzbekistan's Fergana valley. Some 4,500 Meskhetians were swiftly evacuated from Uzbekistan to the Russian Federation, rather than Georgia. Since the collapse of the USSR, Meskhetians in several cities in southern Russia, especially Krasnodar, have been subjected to systematic harassment by the local authorities, who refuse either to acknowledge them as Russian citizens or to grant them residence permits.

Following his return to Georgia from Moscow in 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze at first argued against allowing the Meskhetians to return to Georgia on the grounds that social and economic collapse precluded creating adequate conditions for their repatriation. But in December 1996, Shevardnadze signed into law a state program whereby some 5,000 Meskhetians would be gradually repatriated to Georgia by the year 2000. Some Georgian political figures objected to the proposed repatriation on the grounds that the Meskhetians considered themselves Turks, and would thus constitute a "fifth column" and potential separatist movement. The Georgians and Armenians who for the past 50 years have inhabited the villages from which the Meskhetians were originally deported in 1944 threatened to take up arms to prevent their return.

In the event, whether for political or financial reasons, the1996 program was not systematically implemented. One Georgian observer suggested that Shevardnadze would have been committing political suicide if he had made provision for the deported Meskhetians to return to Georgia before reaching a settlement to the Abkhaz conflict that would create secure conditions for those ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war to return to their homes.

The Meskhetians therefore renewed their lobbying campaign, seeking support from, among others, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel and the Turkish government. Ankara has apparently agreed to allow some of those Meskhetians who wished to settle in Turkey to do so, on condition that the Georgian government expedite the repatriation of those who prefer to settle in Georgia.