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Newsline - October 9, 1998


After returning from talks in Washington with the IMF and World Bank, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told Interfax on 9 October that an "agreement in principle" has been reached with "Western banks and lending institutions" for loans worth several hundred million dollars to restructure the Russian banking system. According to RFE/RL's Washington bureau, Michael Carter, the World Bank's country director for Russia acknowledged that the Russian delegation seemed unduly optimistic about what Moscow can achieve in the near future. While the World Bank would reportedly provide technical assistance, Interfax did not reveal what--if any--role the IMF would play. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 October, Andrei Kozlov, first deputy chairman of the Central Bank, said that the bank was working on a program to restructure the banking system. He also disclosed that the bank had recently reduced the interest rates on Central Bank loans to commercial banks participating in interbank transactions. The "Moscow Times" quoted analysts on 9 October as saying that with this action, the bank is essentially injecting liquidity into the banking system "under the guise of cheap loans." JAC


As Russian citizens prepare to set back their clocks one hour for the official start of winter on 25 October, the perennial question of whether Russia is prepared for another winter looms. In Russia's northern regions, some inhabitants may have to be evacuated, according to "Kommersant- Daily" on 6 October. Residents there have an insufficient supply of foodstuffs, while only a limited number of days remain until sea navigation becomes impossible owing to icy conditions. As of 30 September, stocks of coal and fuel in Sakhalin, Chukotka, Dalenergo, Khabarovsk, Magadan, Arkhangelsk, Ivanovo, Altai, and Kamchatka were alarmingly low, according to "Rossiiskaya gazeta." At the beginning of September, the government had allocated only about 70 percent of the funds required to purchase food and fuel supplies, AP reported. Meteorologists are predicting that the winter of 1998-1999 will be more severe than the previous one. JAC


Russian policymakers continue to condemn possible NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told Russian Television on 8 October that NATO bombing raids would throw the world back to "the times of the Cold War," when "there was a balance of power between two blocs facing each other." Also speaking on television, State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and Yabloko member Vladimir Lukin said a NATO strike would constitute a "very serious blow to [Russia's] national interests" and set a "very negative precedent." He continued that if a regional organization such as NATO can deliver an air strike against a country that it believes is incorrectly tackling its ethnic problems, then that means for Russia that "next time, such a thing may happen when someone is not happy with how we deal with Dagestan or Tatarstan." JAC


Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev called for a referendum on 8 October on whether Russian President Yeltsin should resign. Other deputies immediately questioned the legality of such a move. An October 1995 law on referenda seems to forbid referenda on the early termination or extension of the term of either the president or a member of the legislature. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushin told Russian Public Television that Yeltsin had reacted calmly to Seleznev's suggestion. Yakushin also pointed out that the timing of request for a referendum coincided with the announcement of Seleznev's intention to run for president in 2000. Seleznev not only declared his intention to run for president but also suggested that he would make a more appropriate leader of a center-left coalition than Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who, Seleznev argued, would be better suited for a right-center bloc. Seleznev told reporters that "Yurii Mikhailovich [Luzhkov] is as distant from the left-center as I am from the post of the pope in Rome." JAC


Duma Security Committee Chairman and member of the Communist Party Viktor Ilyukhin told Interfax that Seleznev's remarks are "alarming" for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and suggested that Zyuganov's "authority is eroding and his retinue is aware of his inability to win the presidential elections." Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky agreed, saying Seleznev's declaration is evidence that "the leftist bloc is in tatters." He added that Ilyukhin, Duma deputy Valentin Kuptsov, and "now also Seleznev" are "openly or covertly challenging Zyuganov's leadership." Zyuganov told Interfax that Seleznev's declaration of his presidential ambitions is evidence of his "high assessment of the possibilities of the People's Patriotic Union and the left centrist coalition." He added that "Seleznev is a first rank leader who manages the affairs of the Duma successfully and works well in a team." JAC


After meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on 8 October, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov said that Russia supports Palestinian demands for a just peace that will create an environment of peaceful coexistence for the peoples in the region. After concluding his meeting with Arafat, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev condemned Israel for stubbornly refusing to abide by its commitments to the Middle East peace settlement. For his part, Arafat repeated an earlier request that Russia take part in peace talks in the Middle East. Palestinian and Russian officials also signed a trade agreement which they described as more politically than economically significant since bilateral trade is almost non- existent. ITAR-TASS reported on 9 October that Russian President Boris Yeltsin sent a message to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, expressing Russian concerns about Libya's current situation and the prospects for bilateral relations. The previous day, a Yeltsin aide announced that Russia will appoint a new envoy to the Middle East. JAC


Government agencies and trade union organizations have released widely different estimates of crowd turn-out at the 7 October national day of protest. According to ITAR-TASS, Federation of Independent Trade Unions leader Mikhail Shmakov told reporters on 8 October that some 17 million people participated, while the Ministry of Justice reported that the figure was 6 million, including those who participated in events organized at work in addition to those on the streets. An earlier figure of 615,000 people released by the Interior Ministry, according to ITAR-TASS, did not include people who participated in workplace protests and stoppages. Earlier, Shmakov had predicted that 25 million people would protest on the streets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1998). JAC


Colonel-General Vladislav Putilin, head of the operation and mobilization department of the Armed Forces' Chief of Staff, announced that for the first time in recent history, Russia will need only a small percentage--7 percent--of the young men drafted to serve, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 7 October. Putilin commented that this surplus will allow the armed forces to select only the best recruits and that the new, smaller size of the army and navy will allow it to have units that are fully staffed and equipped for combat readiness. "Krasnaya zvezda" reported on 6 October that the number of combat training maneuvers and exercises for the army and navy has been reduced more than once this year. The newspaper also noted that some navy ships have fulfilled only 50 percent of their required quota for time at sea, while navy aviation pilots have flown only 18 percent of their flight-time requirements. JAC


Speaking to a Congress of the Chechen Nation in Grozny on 8 October, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said that he will never yield to the demands of field commander Salman Raduev and others to resign, ITAR-TASS reported. Such demands, Maskhadov said, are "unconstitutional" and destabilizing. Moreover, the Chechen president said, he will never negotiate with Raduev, whom he described as a criminal. The opposition, led by field commanders like Raduev and Shamil Basaev, argued at the meeting that Maskhadov should be removed from office by the Supreme Shariah Court for violating more than 10 items in the Chechen Constitution. Meanwhile, the Chechen Security Ministry told ITAR- TASS that the four employees of a British telecommunications company who were kidnapped on 3 October are "alive and well." But the Chechen sources provided no additional details. PG


Zokir Vazirov of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) has been appointed deputy prime minister, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 8 October. The 50-year-old Vazirov was minister of education in the 1992 coalition government. The same day, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri. Presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov told journalists the talks were "fruitful" in speeding up the peace process. However, there was no indication that a UTO member will soon be appointed as defense minister, as provided by last year's peace accord. Influential UTO field commander Mirzo Zizoyev, from central Tajikistan, has been proposed by the UTO leadership, but the government is reluctant to agree to that proposal. BP


At a 9 October news conference, leaders of Kazakhstan's opposition movement Azamat argued that the parliament does not have the right to countermand the results of the 1995 referendum, which extended President Nursultan Nazarbayev's term in office until 2000, Interfax and RFE/RL correspondents reported. The previous day, the parliament amended the constitution to reschedule presidential elections to early January 1999. Galym Abelseitov said the amendments are "an unconstitutional deal between the president and parliament to extend their terms in office." Petr Svoik said Azamat will likely boycott the January election. Abelseitov added that former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin has emerged as possible contender in the elections, but he noted that Azamat "cannot trust him." BP


Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev has sent a bill to the parliament that would lift value-added tax from the sale and purchase of media products and the production of printed goods, Interfax reported on 8 October. The deputy director of the Turan news agency, Shakhin Gadzhiyev, suggested that Aliyev has timed this step to coincide with the elections. At the same time, Gadzhiyev acknowledged that it would significantly improve the financial situation of the media in Azerbaijan. PG


Speaking at a rally in Baku on 8 October, Etibar Mamedov, the top challenger to Aliyev in the presidential elections, sharply criticized the president's policies and stewardship in office, Reuters reported. "A thief could run the country better than this," the former dissident said, adding that "we must use only legal means to remove these bloodsuckers." Mamedov said that he will concentrate on rebuilding the country's military, which in effect was destroyed during the Karabakh fighting. PG


Robert Kocharian released a statement on 8 October saying he is pleased that the parliament has repelled an opposition effort to force a revision of the country's privatization program, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian said he believes that in the future, parliamentary deputies should "refrain from such discussions after the signing of privatization deals." PG


Karen Demirchian, the Soviet-era leader of Armenia, said on 8 October that a flood of new members wishing to join his People's Party of Armenia has forced him to delay its founding congress, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. His aides said that they expect the party to win a majority of seats in the next parliament. PG


The presidents of Georgia and Azerbaijan, Eduard Shevardnadze and Aliev, have opened a new highway bridge between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. The238-meter-long bridge over the Khrami River was built with EU financial assistance and completed in only 14 months. Meanwhile, Georgian and Azerbaijani officials continued discussions on the construction of pipelines to carry Caspian oil to the West, Interfax reported. PG


At a meeting with raion administration leaders in Kyiv on 8 October, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma criticized Russia for failing to meet halfway Ukraine's proposals to implement the bilateral free trade agreement, Interfax reported. Kuchma said the Russian State Duma, unlike the Ukrainian parliament, has not ratified the agreement. He also recalled that Russia introduced value-added tax on Ukrainian goods in 1996 and "cut its market of Ukrainian sugar." JM


Commenting at the same forum on the current crisis in Ukraine, Kuchma admitted for the first time that not only the Russian crisis but also the Ukrainian leadership should be blamed. He explained that those leaders have made "a lot of mistakes," Ukrainian Television reported. The primary reason for the crisis, he argued, is the National Bank's attempt to artificially maintain the hryvnya exchange rate. "Boasting of the fact that the hryvnya is more stable than the dollar, the mark, or the yen is a pleasant thing. But artificially curbing inflation is not protecting" the country from inflationary trends, he commented. JM


Kuchma also announced that he will not sign an "unrealistic budget" for 1999. He admitted, however, that under the current forces in the parliament, the chances of adopting a realistic budget are "scarce." He warned against pinning hopes on foreign credits, saying they are primarily used for "consumption" (meaning covering the budget deficit). According to Kuchma, the country's foreign debt amounted to $10.243 billion on 1 September. JM


Kuchma said at a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk on 8 October that Ukraine is ready to mediate in the Kosova crisis, Interfax reported. "The only way to defuse the crisis is to start peace talks immediately and resolve all issues by political means," Kuchma's press service quoted him as saying. He added that Ukraine supports the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and broad autonomy for Kosova. JM


The Belarusian Defense Ministry has denied rumors that an S-300PM anti-aircraft system was sent to Yugoslavia in anticipation of possible NATO air strikes, Interfax reported on 8 October. The agency cited an unnamed ministry official as saying on 8 October that "no system of this kind has been taken out of Belarus." The same day, Syarhey Kastyan, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Representatives, told Interfax that Belarus is prepared "to send humanitarian aid and defense hardware to Belgrade." JM


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 8 October that "there is no economic crisis in Russia, no reasons for a crisis," Belarusian Television reported. "Rather a large group of rogues prevents the new government and the president from working" in Russia, Lukashenka commented, adding "Let us throw off all that scum and start working." He also remarked that Russia should consider introducing a "common economy" and a "single strong ruble" in the post-Soviet area. If Yevgenii Primakov's government used the experience accumulated by Belarus in managing its economy, "people would forget about what now happened in Russia [as soon as] by the beginning of the next year," Lukashenka argued. JM


The outgoing parliament has indefinitely suspended voting on the language law in the third and final reading, BNS reported on 8 October. That decision was taken after deputies inserted several measures that contradicted the recommendations of the legislature's Education Committee. Among other things, those measures stipulated that the state language be used at public meetings and demonstrations and that the only language of instruction at state schools be Latvian. Education Committee Chairman Dzintars Abikis refused to continue the parliamentary debate, saying that the bill was no longer viable because of the proposed measures. JC


Valdas Adamkus on 8 October signed a law on the reorganization of the Butinges Nafta, Mazeikiu Nafta, and Naftotiekis companies, BNS reported. The new law paves the way for investments in the country's oil sector by the U.S. company Williams International. Williams' plans to acquire a one-third stake in the oil complex triggered heated debates in the parliament and the press. A statement issued by Adamkus's office said the president "will closely follow the implementation of this law to ensure Lithuania's state interests are not violated." JC


Polish scientists have appealed to Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek to increase spending on science, AP reported on 8 October. The scientists say state spending on science has fallen dramatically in the 1990s, causing many major research programs to be abandoned. They also claim that low pay discourages young people from choosing scientific careers. According to the scientists, the government plans to spend 2.5 billion zlotys (some $700 million) on science in 1999, which they say is much less than in Western nations. "When we join the EU, Polish scientists will go to Western countries where researchers are considered and treated as elite," the agency quoted one Polish scientist as saying. JM


Milos Zeman met on 7 October in Brussels with the secretary general of the Western European Union, Jose Cutileiro, CTK reported. Zeman said after the meeting that the two discussed cooperation between Western and Eastern arms manufacturers. Zeman said the Czech Republic had resolved the problem of upgrading its military hardware by saying "we shall not buy anything because we have no money." PB


The International Finance Corporation (IFC) said it has a commitment from Czech Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda that the government will begin the privatization of the state-owned Ceskoslovenska Obchodni Bank in November, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The guarantee was necessary for the IFC, the branch of the World Bank that deals with the private sector, to invest $75 million in the bank. PB


Mikulas Dzurinda, the chairman of the Slovak Democratic Coalition, said on 8 October that the four leading Slovak opposition parties are united in their will to form a government, AP reported. Dzurinda, speaking after round table discussions with other opposition leaders, said there were still some serious differences to be resolved before a coalition could be formed. He did not elaborate. The parties established two committees designed to lay the groundwork for the forming of the new government. The new parliament is due to convene on 29 October. Dzurinda said he hoped a new government could be formed before the municipal elections on 13-14 November. PB


Former Slovak President Michal Kovac said in Prague on 8 October that he is ready to run for reelection provided that the next presidential vote is an election by the people, CTK reported. Under current law, the president is elected by the parliament. Two of the likely coalition parties in the next Slovak government are said to favor the parliament electing the president for the sake of expediency, though they favor direct elections thereafter. Kovac was in Prague for talks with Czech President Vaclav Havel. PB


All ruling party members of the parliament's National Security Committee failed to attend a meeting convened by the committee's Socialist chairman, Gyorgy Keleti, Hungarian media reported on 8 October. Keleti convened the meeting to discuss Prime Minister Viktor Orban's letter refusing to appear before the committee so that he could be questioned about the alleged illegal collection of data on leaders of Orban's Federation of Young Democrats-- Hungarian Civic Party. Keleti described Orban's letter as an attack against parliamentary democracy, saying the prime minister and the governing coalition consider the function of the committee "a comedy." MSZ


Secret Services Minister Laszlo Kover on 7 October told National Security Office director Tibor Vidus, Intelligence Office head Jozsef Szasz, and Technical Service head Ferenc Hevesi-Toth that he has launched proceedings for their dismissal, the daily "Nepszabadsag" reported. Kover did not explain the move, although the law stipulates that the dismissal of executives must be explained. The dismissals of the three service heads constitute the biggest change of secret services' personnel in Hungary since the fall of the communist regime. MSZ


U.S. President Bill Clinton said in Washington on 8 October that "we would far prefer to secure [Yugoslav] President [Slobodan] Milosevic's compliance with the will of the international community in a peaceful manner. But NATO must be prepared to act militarily to protect our interests and to prevent another humanitarian catastrophe in the Balkans." In a letter to several leading senators, Clinton added that "there will be no 'pinprick' strikes...[initial strikes] will send a very clear signal, and follow-on phases will progressively expand in their scale and scope." He denied, however, that NATO has any concrete plans to deploy ground troops in the region: "I can assure you the United States would not support these options and there currently is no sentiment in NATO for such a mission." PM


Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told a parliamentary commission that NATO plans "exclude resorting to immediate huge attacks which would be incompatible with a political solution. Eventual military action will be progressive and interrupted by periods where [diplomatic] activity will be resumed," Reuters reported on 9 October. PM


Foreign ministers of the six international Contact Group countries agreed in London on 8 October to demand Milosevic's "full compliance" with a UN resolution that calls on him to withdraw his forces, allow refugees to go home, and launch talks with the Kosovars. The ministers did not, however, agree on what they might do if he fails to comply. After the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that "if it is necessary to use force, [then] those [Contact Group governments] that do not agree would not have a veto over the action." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook added that although the ministers took no decision on air strikes, "I can assure you we have no intention of offering Russia a veto on what we may decide is appropriate for NATO." Albright said that an unspecified "attempt to divide us...has failed." Cook noted that if Milosevic "was looking for rescue from any member of the Contact Group, he did not get it." PM


U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke returned to Belgrade for further talks with Milosevic on 9 October, saying that the situation "remains extremely serious." In response to reporters' questions in London the previous day, Albright refused to describe Holbrooke's latest mission as a "last chance" for Milosevic to reach a negotiated settlement. She added: "the goal of our policy is not to use force if it's not necessary. The goal of our policy is to achieve compliance with the requirements of the international community. By ratcheting the pressure up in the coming days by moving into the next stage of NATO decision-making, perhaps Milosevic will get the message he has not yet gotten. And Ambassador Holbrooke can work on specific ways to ensure a verifiable and durable compliance with the requirements of the international community." PM


Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 8 October that "NATO soldiers may possibly enter our country as combatants but they will leave it in coffins." He warned other countries in the region not to provide any help to NATO or "they will also be considered our enemy and will have to face the consequences." He did not elaborate. Seselj recently threatened to take reprisals against U.S. forces outside Serbia, presumably in Bosnia, and against members of the Serbian opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1998). Meanwhile in Prishtina, the Kosova Liberation Army said in a statement on 8 October that it will "refrain from all military activity" as of the next day. PM


Serbian police held Enver Malloku, who is the director of the Kosova Information Center (KIC) news agency, for three hours in Prishtina on 8 October. They kept his journalist's identity papers, mobile phone, and some tapes. One plainclothes policeman "openly threatened Malloku's family," KIC added. Unidentified gunmen shot at Malloku's home in July. The Serbian authorities have repeatedly threatened the independent media in recent days and have banned rebroadcasting of foreign radio broadcasts, including those of RFE/RL (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1998). PM


David Burke, the chairman of the Washington-based Broadcasting Board of Governors, United States of America, said on 8 October: "The decision [to ban rebroadcasting] dramatizes the Serbian government's determination to restrict the Serbian public's access to uncensored news, analysis, and responsible discussion of the current crisis in Kosovo. My colleagues and I believe this ban is an intolerable form of press censorship. As we did during a similar situation in Serbia in late 1996, VOA and RFE/RL have expanded their Serbian language programming. We will also pursue additional creative ways of providing the truth to the people of Serbia." PM


A spokesman for the international community's Carlos Westendorp said in Sarajevo on 8 October that Westendorp has invalidated the mandate of Dragan Cavic, who was elected in September to the Republika Srpska parliament for Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party. Cavic lost his seat because of his recent statements to the effect that NATO air strikes against Serbia would be an attack on Serbs everywhere and that Serbs should react accordingly. Westendorp interpreted Cavic's statements as an "incitement to violence and a deliberate threat to the security of the international community and the Dayton peace process." The U.S. embassy in the Bosnian capital said in a statement that NATO intervention "would not be directed against the Serbian people or the Republika Srpska. It would be against those whose operations have led to the death of over 1,500 people and the creation of some 400,000 refugees and displaced persons." PM


Hrvoje Sarinic said in Zagreb on 8 October that he has resigned as President Franjo Tudjman's chief of staff. He suggested that Tudjman does not support his charges that hard-liners in the governing Croatian Democratic Community and in some intelligence services are waging a campaign against Sarinic and other moderates. The hard-liners are led by Ivic Pasalic and include many Herzegovinians. Sarinic belongs to a faction close to Foreign Minister Mate Granic, which seeks to reorganize Croatian public life according to Western European standards. The parliament is investigating the charges and counter-charges between the two factions. On 8 October, Defense Minister Andrija Hebrang completed his investigation and handed over his findings to the Bureau for National Security, which is headed by Interior Minister Ivan Jarnjak, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM


Prime Minister Pandeli Majko's Socialist-led government coalition won formal parliamentary approval on 8 October. All 104 deputies present voted in favor of approving the new cabinet. Opposition Democratic Party legislators boycotted the session and repeated their demand for early elections. The Democratic Party's "Rilindja Demokratike" ran an editorial the following day saying that "the communist majority voted by 100 percent for a program of national enmity...[and] wiped out any hope...for a possible change." FS


Albanian police blocked off the street in front of the U.S. embassy in Tirana on 4 October, an Interior Ministry spokesman told Reuters three days later. He added that police took this latest security measure after a request from the embassy. He did not elaborate, however. After the two U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in August, the embassy in Tirana suspended most operations and flew all non-essential personnel out of the country.


Jacques Santer told Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov on 8 October that Sofia has made "considerable" progress towards meeting the requirements needed to join the European Union, AP reported. Santer, speaking in Brussels, said amid the progress, "there are still some problems." The EU has called on Bulgaria to reform its administrative, judicial, and police systems, among other things. Bulgaria is in the second group of prospective EU members. Kostov noted that inflation has not gone above 1 percent a month since the beginning of this year, compared with an overall rate of 670 percent in 1997. Kostov also met with Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene and visited NATO headquarters during his visit. PB


The cabinet agreed on 8 October to submit legislation to the parliament that would return buildings seized by the Communist government to the former owners, AP reported. The draft legislation would apply to companies, religious organizations, and private owners, regardless of their nationality. The parliament will vote on the draft in an emergency session. PB


The OSCE said on 8 October that it welcomes the Romanian government's decision to create a German- and Hungarian-language university, an RFE/RL correspondent in Vienna reported. Max van der Stoel, the OSCE's special commissioner for national minorities, said it was an examplary "effort to find a compromise solution for a difficult problem." The decision was criticized by many Romanian officials. The some 2 million ethnic Hungarians in Romania have been calling for the establishment of such a university for many years. PB


The Romanian government submitted legislation to the parliament on 8 October that calls for the formation of a 1,000-member military unit with Hungary, AP reported. The proposed force would be equally manned by Romanians and Hungarians and would take part in peacekeeping missions. The legislation says the force could be used by NATO and the EU. PB


by Fabian Schmidt

Following the parliament's approval of his cabinet on 8 October, Albania's new prime minister, Pandeli Majko, faces many domestic challenges, including the passage of a new constitution, improving public order, and fighting corruption. In the foreign- policy sphere, Majko will try to maintain Albania's moderate Kosova policy. And he will also seek to withstand pressure from the opposition, which frequently uses nationalist rhetoric to embarrass the governing coalition.

Majko's government is the third to take office since the Socialist Party won a two-thirds majority in the legislature in the 1997 general elections, which followed the widespread unrest earlier that year. Against the background of these frequent changes of government, the Socialist Party realizes that it must maintain a broad support base in order to lead the country out of the turmoil that has engulfed it. Majko knows full well that he will be able to withstand calls from opposition Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha for early elections only if he enjoys support that extends far beyond his own party.

The litmus test for Majko and his coalition will be a popular referendum next month on a new constitution. The drafting of the basic law has been a major issue for Albanian governments for years. In 1994, President Berisha failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority in the parliament for the passage of his own draft constitution. When he tried to have the document approved by popular referendum, the electorate voted against the document in what many observers saw as a negative turning point in his political career.

The Democrats have attempted to frustrate the Socialists' attempts to draft a new constitution by boycotting the parliament, questioning the legitimacy of the government, and demanding new elections. But Majko's prospects of receiving the backing of the electorate in the referendum may be better than were Berisha's. The parliamentary commission working on the draft not only includes members of the governing coalition but is headed by the center-right opposition Republican Party legislator Sabri Godo. Godo has repeatedly complained about the Democrats' boycott of the drafting process.

Furthermore, the Democrat-led unrest that broke out in early September following the murder of Democratic legislator Azem Hajdari backfired for the Democrats and showed that the government's political position is strong. The opposition failed to gather sufficient popular support to overthrow the government, and the armed revolt in Tirana was over within less than two days. Prosecutors investigating the events now claim to have gathered evidence that unspecified Democratic Party members planned the riots well in advance and that some individuals even tapped the Interior Ministry's telephone lines during the revolt.

Majko, nonetheless, will have to promote reconciliation with the opposition while not giving into their demand for new elections. He is in a strong position to do so. The 30-year-old leader of the student revolt that ended communist rule in Albania, Majko is Europe's youngest prime minister and was never a member of the communist Party of Labor of Albania. He became a member of the Socialists after the party's internal reform in1991 and has since developed the profile of a reformer promoting a Social Democratic image for the party.

For this reason, he commands more respect from the opposition than did his predecessor Fatos Nano, a former communist and bitter rival of Berisha. But if Berisha is charged with staging a coup in connection with the September riots, Majko would find it difficult to end the polarization that has characterized Albanian politics for some years. He will also need to convince critics that his government, which is almost identical in composition to Nano's, signifies a break with the Nano administration.

Besides reaching a modus vivendi with the opposition, Majko's toughest challenges remain a thorough reform of the administration, the implementation of institutionalized anti- corruption measures, improving the living standards of the population, developing the country's infrastructure, and strengthening the rule of law. Most media and the opposition have repeatedly accused Nano's previous Socialist government of corruption and inefficiency. Majko has drawn up an ambitious reform program that would create 85,000 new jobs and would promote the reform of the country's police and judiciary. It will be a tough order to carry out such reform.

Finally, the new government is under pressure from the international community to maintain its moderate Kosova policy, which aims at promoting a peaceful solution within the existing borders of federal Yugoslavia. Achieving that goal may be thwarted by the opposition's constant attempts to exploit the Kosova conflict for its own political ends. The Democrats demand the recognition of the Serbian province as an independent state and Albanian assistance for the Kosova Liberation Army. Majko will therefore need to prove that his Kosova policy is working. Moreover, the success or failure of the international community in forcing Belgrade to cease military operations and take part in internationally mediated talks will directly affect the credibility of Albania's government and its ability to move ahead with its domestic agenda.

The author is a Berlin-based analyst of Balkan affairs.