Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - October 30, 1998


Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 30 October briefed President Boris Yeltsin on his discussions with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov the previous day, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin then departed for the southern resort city of Sochi for recuperation at the state-owned Bocharov Ruchei guest house. PG


Primakov told journalists on 29 October that he and Maskhadov achieved "a breakthrough" during their talks in Vladikavkaz, but he added that progress toward a political rapprochement between Moscow and Grozny will depend on the implementation of previously signed economic agreements. In a joint statement, Primakov and Maskhadov stressed their desire for stabilization of the entire North Caucasus and of Chechnya in particular and agreed to cooperate on the reconstruction of several unnamed Chechen enterprises as well as on joint investment projects. In addition, Moscow pledged, not for the first time, to supply funds for unpaid wages and pensions. The declaration made no mention of the proposal that Primakov's predecessor as premier, Sergei Kirienko, floated at his meeting with Maskhadov in August. According that proposal, Chechnya was to be declared a free economic zone. LF


At a meeting in Grozny on 29 October, field commanders Shamil Basaev, Salman Raduev and Khunkar-pasha Israpilov criticized Maskhadov's agreement to meet with Primakov and again called on the Shariat Supreme Court to launch impeachment proceedings against him, Interfax reported. Also on 29 October, a bomb was discovered and successfully defused near the Shariat Security Ministry building in Grozny. Deputy Minister Nasrudin Bazhiev told Interfax that the device was similar to those used in the recent killing of anti-abduction squad chief Shadid Bargishev and the attack on Chechen mufti Ahmad Haji Kadyrov. "Trud-7" on 30 October cited unnamed experts as saying that those two attacks, as well as the earlier killings of Russian envoy to Chechnya Oleg Lobov and Dagestani Mufti Said Muhammad Haji Abubakarov, were all masterminded by the notorious Jordanian field commander Khottab. LF


A poll of 1,500 urban and rural residents found that 75 percent would approve Yeltsin's impeachment, Interfax reported on 29 October. Only 16 percent were against such a step. Seventy percent said Yeltsin deserved impeachment for his dissolution of the Supreme Soviet in September 1993 and his actions related to the Chechen war. Rural residents were significantly more in favor of impeachment-- 85 percent for, 8 percent against--than residents of Moscow, where 38 percent said they opposed such an action. Politically, supporters of Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii were the most supportive of Yeltsin--only 56 percent of them were for Yeltsin's ouster--while among backers of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, 91 percent backed such a step. PG


Foreign trade turnover in the first nine months reportedly fell 7.3 percent, compared with the same period in 1997, Russian agencies reported on 29 October. Russians spent 6.5 percent of their September incomes to buy dollars, and Russian savings declined by 18.4 percent in August and September. It is projected that GDP will decline 5-5.5 percent for 1998 as a whole. Industrial production was down 14.5 percent from a year ago. Meanwhile, the Central Bank pulled the license of Inkombank because that institution had taken excessive risks and did not have adequate reserves. Nonetheless, some officials tried to suggest that there were some bright spots. Aides to Premier Primakov told Interfax that printing 15-20 billion rubles during the next two months would "not significantly" change the ruble- dollar exchange rate. Other officials reported that state revenues rose 1.75 billion rubles from August to September. And Interfax reported that Deputy Finance Minister Viktor Khristenko will draft the 1999 budget. PG


Russian officials involved in negotiations with the IMF this week in Moscow told Interfax on 29 October that the international financial body is unlikely to release the $4.3 billion second tranche of the bailout loan before the end of 1998. Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin said that the recent rounds of talks have not improved the chances that the IMF will act quickly. But a World Bank official indicated that that body may loan Russian another $500 million to develop its agro-industrial sector, Interfax reported on 29 October. PG


Agriculture Minister Viktor Semenov told Interfax on 29 October that Russia has produced only 47.3 million tons of grain this year, down from 88.5 million tons in 1997. While he said that Russians will have enough to eat this winter, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 29 October that the Russian government has been forced to turn to the U.S. for emergency food aid. The newspaper said that unofficial sources in the Russian government have asked for emergency supplies of 2-2.5 million tons of grain and 100,000 tons of meat. And "Izvestiya" reported that Moscow plans to purchase up to another 10 million tons of grain. But even as Moscow was taking these steps, the agriculture minister warned that any humanitarian aid must not be allowed to damage the country's domestic food manufacturers and producers, Russian agencies said. PG


A Japanese delegation is scheduled to visit the Kuril Islands during the next few days to provide some humanitarian aid to the Russian population there, ITAR-TASS reported. on 29 October. But the authorities in Russia's Sakhalin region have denounced a petition drive by the residents of one of the Kuril Islands to lease their land to the Japanese for 99 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1998), Interfax reported. One Russian official described the campaign as "irresponsible." PG


Even as production in defense ministry plants as a whole continues to decline, the output of purely military goods in Russia has increased by 15.4 percent between September 1997 and September 1998, Interfax reported. The news agency also reported that Moscow will demonstrate its new TU-22 medium-range supersonic bomber at a November airshow in China and that the authorities fully expect that they will be able to field new Topol-M strategic missile system by the end of 1998. PG


President Yeltsin released a statement on 29 October to mark the 80th anniversary of the Communist youth league, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said that "for several generations of Russians, the Komsomol was their youth and first test of strength." But he added that its history is "both complex and contradictory, being a blend of victories and tragedies." The Moscow leader of the Komsomol told journalists that he expects perhaps 12,000 former Komsomol members to mark the occasion. Communist leader Zyuganov said that he believes that "this jubilee is not the last one in the glorious annals of the Komsomol." PG


The judge hearing the treason and espionage charges against Aleksandr Nikitin for publicizing pollution by the Soviet military returned the case for further investigation by the prosecution on 29 October, according to a Bellona Foundation press release. Judge Golets indicated that the indictment against Nikitin was too unclear and that the court could not accept any of the conclusions drawn by the government experts. Nikitin's lawyer said that the judge's decision represented "a major victory for us and a total defeat" for the Federal Security Service (FSB), even though the charges against Nikitin remain in force subject to a new trial. PG


While visiting Barcelona on 29 October with a delegation of Russian regional officials, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev said that Spain's approach to regional issues could serve as a model for the Russian Federation, ITAR-TASS reported. Noting that Madrid has not been afraid to give a great deal of room for its provinces to act, Stroev praised the Spanish government for insisting that the regional governments act in conformity with the constitution. PG


A joint effort by the FSB's economic counter-intelligence department and the Interior Ministry's anti-mafia department has "put an end" to a criminal gang that has been engaged in stealing ammunition and explosives from military warehouses near Moscow and then selling them to Moscow criminals, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 October. When they were caught, the gang had 58 TNT cartridges, nine kilograms of plastic explosives, and three mines, the FSB press service said. PG


In a letter to Prime Minister Primakov, the Kamchatka regional authorities said they will have no choice but to turn off electric power supplies to all users, including military bases, one week from now, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 October. The regional officials said that the energy sector there is in "a disastrous condition" and that the shut-off could exacerbate "growing social tension." PG


One week after local bakeries stopped supplying Kaliningrad Oblast's 20,000 soldiers with bread, the army has stepped into the breach and assembled a special field bakery designed for war conditions to feed the men, ITAR-TASS said on 29 October. It will go into operation on 31 October. For the past few days, soldiers have had to make do with dried crusts. PG


Tatarstan's Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov on 29 October said that his recent visit to Canada's Francophone province of Quebec was extraordinarily successful, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Minnikhanov said that Quebec and Tatarstan will be able to increase their bilateral trade. And he noted that during his visit, the Quebec authorities named a mountain in the province after the Tatarstan capital of Kazan. PG


Researchers in Komi Republic told a regional conference on 28 October that life expectancy there has dropped by five years over the last two or three years, ITAR-TASS reported. This decline, even steeper than in the Russian Federation as a whole, reflects Moscow's reduction in the amount of assistance it provides to the region, the scholars said. They labeled it "a national calamity" for the Komi and a "tragedy for Russia." PG


Igor Ivanov on 29 October conveyed to Turkish President Suleyman Demirel congratulations from Russian President Yeltsin on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Russian agencies reported. Ivanov held talks in Ankara the same day with his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, and with Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz on European security, the situation in the Balkans, Cyprus, and the transportation to western markets of Caspian hydrocarbons. Yilmaz and Cem both expressed concern at the Russian State Duma's sympathies for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 29 October, the head of the Kurdistan National Liberation Front, Makhir Valat, suggested that Russia should extend an official invitation to PKK chairman Abdullah Ocalan, whom Russian officials deny is currently in Russia. Valat also denied Turkish press reports that Ocalan has left Russia for Armenia, according to Interfax. LF


Meeting in Ankara on 29 October on the sidelines of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the presidents of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan signed a declaration affirming their support for routing the so-called Main Export Pipeline for Caspian oil from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. The document notes the possible risks entailed in transporting oil via the Turkish straits, which is one of several alternative export routes. It also affirms that the Baku-Ceyhan route is commercially viable, which many experts dispute. U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson also signed the document, but Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov did not. The U.S. is hoping that the oil companies currently engaged in oil extraction in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan will opt for the Baku- Ceyhan route for the MEP. Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan dispute ownership of several offshore Caspian oil fields. LF


In a clear allusion to the U.S.'s aggressive lobbying for the Baku-Ceyhan route, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 29 October warning against the "excessive politicizing" of the choice of route for the MEP, Interfax reported. The ministry argued that the choice of route should depend on "economic expediency and diversity." It denied that Russia is seeking "a monopoly" on the transportation of Caspian oil via its territory, while affirming that Turkish threats to bar an increase in tanker traffic through the Turkish straits are a violation of international norms. At present, the only functioning pipeline through which Azerbaijan's Caspian oil is being exported is that from Baku via Chechnya to the Russian Black Sea terminal at Novorossiisk. LF


In an interview with "Obshchaya gazeta" on 29 October, Igor Giorgadze claimed that Georgian President Shevardnadze staged the 19 October mutiny in western Georgia to deflect attention from waning domestic support for his leadership, Interfax reported. Giorgadze added that Shevardnadze was also behind the August 1992 invasion of Abkhazia and the August 1995 car bomb attack, in which Shevardnadze sustained minor injuries. Giorgadze fled Georgia days after that attack, which Shevardnadze accuses him of organizing. Affirming that Georgia is ruled "by the Komsomol and Communist mafia," Giorgadze predicted that Shevardnadze will never resign voluntarily but "will be carried out." LF


The Iranian embassy in Baku issued a statement on 29 October denying that Iranian intelligence services had provided $14 million to the opposition Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform, Turan reported. Four Azerbaijani newspapers recently published those claims, quoting one of the leaders of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (IPA) chairman Mir Mekhti Huseinov. Haji Mekhti Shamilli, chairman of the Supreme Council of the IPA, told Turan that the articles were malicious slander intended to compromise his party. Many of the IPA's leaders were arrested in 1996 and sentenced to lengthy jail sentences on charges of espionage for Iran. The party renewed its activities in 1997 and concluded a cooperation agreement with the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, whose leader, Lala Shovket Gadjieva, was one of those political figures who boycotted the 11 October presidential election. LF


Meeting in Yerevan on 28 October, Armenian Prime Minister Armen Darpinian and Iranian Deputy Transport Minister Massoud Khansari reaffirmed their respective governments' support for plans to build a major new highway linking Iran with Georgia's Black Sea ports via Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They also agreed to create a joint working group to implement construction of a transport terminal in Armenia, according to Noyan Tapan. Meanwhile, outgoing Iranian Ambassador Hamidreza Nikkar Esfahani met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, parliamentary speaker Khosrow Harutunian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, all of whom positively assessed the state of bilateral relations but proposed expanding both interparliamentary ties and economic cooperation, according to Noyan Tapan. LF


"Kommersant-Daily" on 28 October commented that President Nursultan Nazarbayev's election team has shown "it is prepared to do all so that he will be the only candidate in the elections." A Medeu court recently made a ruling against former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 29 October 1998), which may bar his participation in the elections, and Kazhegeldin's public relations officer and press secretary have both been beaten. Moreover, the editor's office of the pro- Kazhegeldin newspaper "21st Century" was firebombed. Meanwhile, "Noviye izvestiya" on 29 October also reported that the opposition figures Petr Svoik and Dos Koshim were beaten "by members of law enforcement agencies" when they were imprisoned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). BP


Switzerland has announced it will recall its four citizens from UN operations in Tajikistan owing to "problems that have arisen not only with security but also with discipline," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 October. None of the Swiss workers has been in Tajikistan since the UN decided to withdraw most of its personnel there following the murders of four UN employees in late July. BP


Turkmenistan and Turkey signed an agreement on 29 October whereby Turkmenistan will deliver 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Turkey annually, ITAR-TASS reported. The 30-year agreement foresees an increase in supplies to 30 billion cubic meters a year in the near future. The gas will be transported via a pipeline that is to be constructed across the bed of the Caspian Sea and then via Azerbaijan and Georgia. Shipments from Turkey to Europe are also foreseen. BP


Islam Karimov has issued a decree banning lavish celebrations, Interfax reported on 29 October. The decree says "excessive pomposity" in celebrations is "at odds with national traditions" and that "false ostentation has a negative effect on the upbringing of our youth." The decree comes one week after two tax officials were sacked for the misuse of funds for festivities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 1998). BP


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 29 October said a clear-cut program on cooperation with Russia will be prepared soon, Interfax reported. Kuchma stressed that Ukraine is very dependent on Russia and "has a stake in Russia's stability." He criticized Moscow for not taking reciprocal steps to strengthen economic ties and recalled that Russia has not yet ratified the 1995 treaty on free trade with Ukraine. Kuchma repeated his proposal to create a free trade zone within the CIS, saying that the Customs Union (whose members are Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan) is "fictitious and does not work." JM


Kuchma also criticized the parliament for its lack of cooperation with the executive, saying lawmakers take "months and years" to make economic decisions, while the current situation "calls for immediate intervention." Kuchma noted that "everybody wants a strong hand" at present and that he is "ready to take responsibility" for Ukraine. At the same time, he said he prefers the "European way" to "the Belarusian way, where all structures are puppet bodies and unanimously vote for all decisions." Kuchma also proposed to abolish the immunity and privileges of parliamentary deputies and to put the issue to a referendum. JM


Ukraine and Poland have signed a cooperation program that, with U.S. assistance, will help Ukraine use Poland's experience in implementing market reforms, Western agencies reported. Stephen Sestanovich, adviser to the U.S. secretary of state on the "newly independent states," said at the signing ceremony in Kyiv on 29 October that the program will focus on macroeconomic and local government reforms, with special emphasis on the development of small businesses. The U.S. Agency for International Development is to provide the bulk of the funding for the program, which includes training for local government officials. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tyhypko commented that Poland's thriving economy is proof that Ukraine must pursue radical reforms, despite domestic calls to reconsider its economic policies. JM.


Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich told journalists in Minsk on 29 October that the conflict over diplomatic residences at the Drazdy residential compound is "closed," Western agencies reported. Antanovich said all ambassadors who left Drazdy in June may return to their residences except for the envoys of the U.S., France, and Germany, whose residences have been "absorbed" by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's. He added that the three diplomats will be given options, including other residences at Drazdy located "a little bit further away" from the presidential house. Antanovich added that an EU official is in Minsk to discuss accommodation for evicted EU diplomats. JM


Deputy Prime Minister Leanid Kozik said on 29 October that Belarus's foreign trade deficit from January-September 1998 totaled $1.2 billion, of which $967 million was with countries outside the former Soviet Union, Interfax reported. According to Kozik, the main reason for the growing foreign trade deficit is the decrease in exports to countries outside the former USSR. He also noted that Belarusian exports to Russia in September decreased by $170 million compared with August, resulting in a trade deficit with Russia for the first time this year. In Kozik's opinion, Belarus's close contacts with Russian regions provide a solid foundation for reversing the negative trend in trade with Russia. JM


The government on 29 October returned its 1999 draft budget to the parliament, one day after lawmakers had rejected the document as "overly optimistic" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1998), ETA and BNS reported. The government made no changes to the draft, but Prime Minister Mart Siimann said the cabinet is prepared to amend it if necessary. He noted that the forecast of 6 percent economic growth may be altered once statistics for the first 10 months of this year are available, adding that a decision will be made on 17 November. Siimann also noted that following the 28 October vote in the parliament, in which some ruling coalition deputies defected to the opposition, some important decisions are expected to be made soon about the situation within the coalition, according to ETA. JC


Members of the outgoing parliament have voted by 64 to 4 in favor of a law calling for Latvian to become the sole language of instruction in public schools, AP reported on 29 October, citing BNS. The measures are to be phased in over the next decade, and some class levels will switch to Latvian-only instruction as early as 2004. Russian will be allowed as the language of instruction in private schools and some special-education institutions. JC


Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius said on 29 October that the Ignalina nuclear power station is not an obstacle to starting EU membership talks, BNS reported. Vagnorius was commenting on a remark by Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas to Lithuanian Television that if Vilnius were not invited in December to start fast-track EU entry talks, Ignalina would be to blame. The premier stressed that the government will make a final decision on whether to shut down Ignalina based on the recommendation of a team of international experts. "We are not rich enough to make such a decision on purely political motives, but if experts say that it is not safe, we will follow their recommendations," Reuters quoted him as saying. JC


New German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer assured Poland on 29 October that Bonn remains an advocate of the EU's eastward expansion, AP reported. "The creation of a unified Europe is in the interests of Germany," Fischer told journalists after talks with his Polish counterpart, Bronislaw Geremek, in Warsaw. Fischer declined to speculate on when Poland will join the EU, saying that EU entry negotiations should be based on both "political vision" and "realism." Fischer added that he and Geremek discussed the freedom of labor within the EU and land purchases by foreigners in Poland. Some Polish politicians believe that Germany's new government is afraid of an inflow of cheap Polish labor after the country's EU entry, while many Poles fear that rich Western investors may buy up real estate in Poland. JM


State Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz, who formally acts as the owner of Polish Television, wants to reform its supervisory board, PAP reported on 29 October. Wasacz has urged the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council to reduce the board's members from five to four, each of whom would represent one of the four main parties. The current board was constituted under the previous left-wing government and is dominated by leftists. Solidarity has unsuccessfully fought for equal representation on Polish Television's supervisory board since it won elections in October 1997. JM


The newly elected Slovak parliament on 30 October voted to appoint Slovak Democratic Coalition leader Mikulas Dzurinda as the country's new premier, Reuters reported. The previous day, the new legislature convened for the first time and elected Party of the Democratic Left leader Jozef Migas as its new chairman. In an open letter to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on 29 October, the leaders of the coalition parties pledged to "introduce significant political and economic changes" and to set up a government "firmly devoted to the democratic principles, with full respect for the rule of law," AP reported. MS


As was expected, outgoing Premier Vladimir Meciar has resigned as parliamentary deputy in favor of Ivan Lexa, the former head of the Slovak Intelligence Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1998), TASR reported. Lexa will now enjoy parliamentary immunity, making it impossible for the new government to seek to prosecute him for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995. MS


Only a "small number" of Kosovars have returned to their homes in recent days, AP reported from Prishtina on 30 October. Refugees trying to go home said that they found many Serbian police or soldiers still in the area and that the Kosovars' former homes are no longer inhabitable. Spokesmen for shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) said that "there are so many Serbian troops, military and police, as well as combat hardware, that [such a] partial withdrawal cannot create the necessary confidence for the Albanian refugees and displaced persons to return back to their homes." The LDK's KIC news agency noted that some 25,000 Serbian security forces are allowed to remain in Kosova under a recent agreement between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and NATO generals and that only 4,100 troops were required to leave. KIC argued that a force of 2,500 would be sufficient to maintain order in Kosova. PM


Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 29 October that "all armed terrorists will be disarmed and brought to justice. The withdrawal of police [from Kosova] does not mean the end of the fight against terrorism," by which he meant the fight against the Kosova Liberation Army. In Prishtina, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije and ethnic Serbian political leader Momcilo Trajkovic issued a declaration accusing Milosevic of surrendering Serbian sovereignty over Kosova through his recent agreements with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke and NATO generals. Artemije and Trajkovic added that Milosevic's policies serve to take Kosova "out of the state of Serbia, abolish state sovereignty and jeopardize the territorial integrity of Serbia in [the province] because they withhold the right of republican and [Yugoslav] federal bodies" to carry out security functions in Kosova. PM


General Ratomir Ristic said that the General Staff will take legal measures against young men who do not respond to their induction notices, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 29 October. He added that the current amnesty law affects only those who disregarded their call-up notices up to the end of 1995. The general did not say how many young men have avoided their draft notices since then. Ristic noted that the army will accept Bosnian and Croatian Serb refugees as recruits and that it has asked the Interior Ministry for information to help the army update its information on potential draftees. PM


Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in Bonn on 29 October that Germany will provide an unspecified number of unmanned surveillance aircraft to monitor Serbian compliance with UN demands in Kosova. Some 350 German soldiers will operate the aircraft from bases in Macedonia, dpa reported. Germany has already pledged to contribute 200 persons to the 2,000-strong OSCE civilian verification mission. The government has not yet said what it will contribute to NATO's planned rapid-reaction force, which will rescue the "verifiers" should they find themselves in danger. PM


The authorities will open the border crossing at Debeli Brijeg on 1-2 November for the Roman Catholic All Saints' holiday, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica. Montenegro's nearby town of Kotor has a Roman Catholic minority. Both Podgorica and Zagreb have been urging the Belgrade authorities for some time to consent to permanently opening the crossing. Belgrade refuses to do so, however. PM


Ivica Racan, who heads the leading opposition party, said in Zagreb on 30 October that Croatia needs parliamentary elections well before the scheduled date of January 2000 in order to "stop the rot" that has come to characterize the rule of President Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). "We want to have a democratic life and not an autocratic president and authorities. We don't want the whole country to depend on the intentions and sometimes even moods of one man.... Tudjman's concept of rule is used up.... The HDZ has run its historic course and used its options. The only thing they can do is generate a crisis and endanger...democracy," Racan added. The ruling establishment has recently been discredited by a series of scandals involving a split in its own ranks, the hidden wealth of Tudjman and his wife, dubious privatization practices, and the parliament's decision to approve high salaries for top government officials. PM


The opening session of the newly elected 83-member Republika Srpska legislature broke up in the early hours of 30 October after deputies failed to agree on a speaker and two deputy speakers. At the start of the session, some 19 Muslim and Croatian deputies walked out to protest the Serbian Orthodox elements in the swearing-in ceremony. The parliament will reconvene on 4 November to try to elect its own officials. Only after those three persons are elected can the president take office and appoint a prime minister. The moderate faction of outgoing President Biljana Plavsic and the more hard- line one of President-elect Nikola Poplasen have 32 seats each. PM


Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told "Albanian Daily News" on 29 October that he expects foreign participants at an international donors' conference on 30 October in Tirana to criticize Albania for not meeting all the goals set at previous conferences one year ago. Milo said he nonetheless expects that the conference will approve a six-month emergency program to give Albania's new government time to fulfill those earlier promises. The participants at conferences in Rome and Brussels in 1997 pledged to give up to $600 million to help Albania recover from the anarchy that swept the country early that same year. Only about $200 million of that sum actually was paid to Albania, however, because the Albanian authorities failed to convince donors that the Albanians had a sufficient number of sound programs for which the money could be put to good use. FS/PM


Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko's economic adviser Gramoz Pashko also told "Albanian Daily News" on 29 October that the governing coalition has not still succeeded in creating an administration able to make use of the promised funds. He added that the administration is plagued by corruption and unable to restore security. Albanians have yet "to understand the principles of civil society," he added. Observers note political polarization remains a major problem. In other news, Albanian and EU representatives on 28 October signed an agreement granting Tirana some $34 million to modernize agricultural production, infrastructure, and administration. FS


The Democratic Party leadership on 29 October called for a boycott of the 22 November referendum on a new constitution. Party leader Sali Berisha announced the decision at a rally in central Tirana the same day, "Albanian Daily News" reported. He added, however, that Democratic Party members will be present, however, in the polling commissions to observe that the vote is free and fair (see "End Note" below). FS


Nicolae Manolescu, chairman of the National Liberal Party's National Council, has harshly criticized the Democratic Party, saying the Democrats "wish to reform provided that nothing is changed." Manolescu's criticism was prompted by the Democrats' opposition to urgently debate in the Chamber of Deputies a new law on the restitution of nationalized houses and one on the protection of tenants, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 29 October. Tensions are also reported over the envisaged restructuring of the government. While the Democrats say they do not oppose a plan for reducing the number of cabinet members, they do oppose a law that would increase the size of restituted agricultural plots from 10 hectares to 50 hectares. They also want a state company for the management of state-owned land to be set up before further land restitution is approved. MS


Several opposition parties in Bucharest announced this week that they are withdrawing their candidates from the race in favor of Sorin Oprescu, the candidate of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania. The mayoral race ballot is to be repeated on 1 November and will be considered valid regardless of turnout. The Party of Romanian National Unity, the Greater Romania Party, and the Alliance for Romania will all back Oprescu. The candidate of the Social Democratic Party has withdrawn from the race in favor of Democratic Party candidate Alexandru Sassu. On 24 October, acting Mayor Viorel Lis of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic won 41.6 percent of the vote, but the ballot was invalidated because of low turnout ( 34.3 percent). MS


Joint Control Commission co-chairman George Carlan told journalists in Chisinau on 28 October that the commission has failed to reach a compromise with the Tiraspol delegation over how to reduce forces in the security zone, Infotag reported. Carlan said Tiraspol rejected a Moldovan proposal to reduce both personnel and military equipment. A Tiraspol representative said Moldova has more equipment in the zone and that it cannot agree to reduce personnel unless it can increase its military equipment. The March 1998 Odessa accords provide for 500 Moldovan, Russian, and Tiraspol troops each. Chisinau says it has 800 troops in the zone, while the separatists have 1,000 regular soldiers and another 2,000 serving in forces not controlled by the commission. Russia has 500 soldiers in the zone. MS


Viktor Garbuzov, deputy head of the Transdniester delegation to talks with Chisinau on the separatist region's envisaged "special status," said on 29 October that "all proposals" submitted by the Moldovan government are "negative." The two teams also submitted proposals on setting up a "joint economic space," the independent FLUX agency reported. The same day, Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc arrived in Moscow for talks on restoring rapidly deteriorating bilateral trade and economic ties and the situation in the Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported. MS


The parliament on 29 October approved a law allowing for alternative military service for conscripts who object to using weapons. They will be able to choose between serving in non-combatant units or working in public health and social care centers. The law goes into effect on 1 January, AP reported. Alternative service will be allowed only in times of peace and will be twice as long as the standard service (36 months instead of 18). In other news, the government on 29 October announced Bulgaria is ready to participate in the implementation of the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement with one Antonov-30 reconnaissance aircraft. MS


by Fabian Schmidt

Albania's Socialist-led coalition government is preparing to hold a referendum on the long-awaited new constitution next month. Observers hope that the document will strengthen the rule of law, increase the powers of local government, and improve the efficiency of the administration by clearly defining the responsibilities of the various agencies. But less than a week after the parliament approved the constitution and announced the referendum, the constitution had become the object of a familiar political power game between the two largest parties.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha said at a press conference earlier this week that his party will not approve the document. Repeating calls for new elections, he made it clear that the Democrats will draft their own constitution, which they intend to adopt once they have a majority in the parliament. Berisha said that "the majority of Albanians [was excluded] from the constitution drafting process" since the Socialists had not agreed to a roundtable of all political parties to discuss the document when his party was boycotting the legislature. He also criticized the current law whereby a simple majority of votes is sufficient to approve the constitution. The Democrats argue that a majority of all registered voters should be required to approve the draft.

The Socialists reject the opposition charges and stress that it is the Democrats' own fault since they boycotted the parliament for most of this year, thus excluding themselves from the drafting process. They also claim that they repeatedly urged the opposition to participate in that process but the Democrats were unwilling to make their opinion heard.

The conflict between the Socialists and the Democrats is one of form rather than of content. Some constitutional experts from the Democratic Party have told journalists in Tirana that the party does not have any substantial complaints about the draft. Furthermore, the Democrats have failed to come forward with concrete suggestions. So what are the main reasons for the dispute?

On one hand, the Democrats remain unwilling to take part in the regular parliamentary drafting process because such participation would make it more difficult to continue to question the legitimacy of the legislature. On the other hand, the Socialists, who have a two-thirds majority in the parliament, refuse to subject the issue of the constitution to a multi-party roundtable because acceptance of such a parallel institution to the parliament would imply that the legislature indeed lacks legitimacy. Moreover, agreeing to a roundtable, similar to the one that mediated the creation of a multi-party interim government in spring 1997, would be only the first step toward new elections. The government knows that if it tries to base its policy on too broad a consensus and surrenders power to an all- party roundtable, it would risk becoming paralyzed and unable to tackle the country's urgent problems.

A roundtable of sorts, nonetheless, took place on 25 October. But because the content of the constitution was not up for debate, the Democrats declined to attend. Instead, the governing coalition partners and representatives from the smaller center-right Republican Party agreed not to campaign on behalf of the constitution in order to avoid further political polarization of that document. The parties also said they hope that the referendum, which is to be held on 22 November, will not develop into a political battle between parties, agreeing that the parliamentary drafting commission will explain the content of the draft to the electorate through the media. And they suggested that non-governmental organizations, rather than political parties, should be involved in organizing the referendum.

But these parties are unlikely to succeed in keeping party politics out of the referendum. The Democrats have made it clear that they will use the run-up to the referendum to acquire leverage against the government and to eventually force new elections. The electorate is therefore more likely to view the plebiscite as a referendum on the current government rather than on the basic law. This is a situation similar to the 1994 referendum, when Berisha, in his capacity at the time as president, proposed a constitution that the electorate turned down. That result was viewed by many as a vote of no confidence in Berisha rather than in the document.

The latest draft constitution has already become politicized, and even if it is approved by a popular referendum, it will likely remain a political football among rival politicians. How much this slows down the building of democratic institutions will depend on the electorate. If the voter turnout is high and a clear majority of voters cast their ballot in favor, the document is likely to remain in force for years to come. In such a case, it would be more difficult for subsequent governments to change the constitution whenever they please than if turnout were low and the majority slim.