Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - November 12, 1998


For the first time in 25 years, a Japanese leader is in Moscow for an official visit. On 12 November, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov. He will meet with Prime Minster Yevgenii Primakov on 13 November. A top item on the agenda of those talks will be Japanese proposals to resolve the Kuril Islands dispute. Some residents of the island recently collected signatures in favor of their land being leased to Japan. Meanwhile, Obuchi's press secretary told reporters that the next $800 million tranche of a $1.5 billion loan to Russia will be extended within a few weeks, not months. Earlier, however, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura had said the tranche will not be released until IMF conditions are met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1998). JAC


Yeltsin, whose health has been the source of much scrutiny, looked "puffy-faced," "smiled broadly," "sat down cautiously," and "spoke slowly but clearly" when greeting Obuchi, Reuters reported. Likely presidential contender and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov will visit Japan from 12-18 November, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 November. JAC


Addressing the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 November, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned that the use of force against Iraq will only complicate the situation both in the Gulf area and the Middle East as a whole, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov told journalists the same day that Iraq should resume full cooperation with the UN special disarmament commission. He said Russia will continue working with those countries that are members of the UN Security Council to resolve the impasse by political means. On 10 November, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin had condemned the U.S. Congress bill on the liberation of Iraq as "interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state," according to Interfax. Rakhmanin said any attempt to oust the present Iraqi leadership by force could exacerbate the already "difficult and explosive" situation in Iraq and the entire region. LF


Analysts and politicians are making dark predictions about events following the 17 November expiration of the Russian government's 90-day moratorium on the repayment of foreign debts by commercial banks. Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 10 November that expiration of the moratorium will not "mean the seizure of Russian bank assets, although such a threat exists." He added that "while we were negotiating the agreement on restructuring short- and medium-term treasury bills, we urged foreign partners to abstain from legal moves against Russian banks." The next day, Duma Deputy and leader of Our Home is Russia Aleksandr Shokhin said that it is possible that Russia's banking system will topple as Russian commercial banks cite "force majeure" and readdress the legal claims lodged against them by Western banks to the Central Bank and the Russian government. The "Moscow Times" quoted an MFK Renaissance report that forecast "an ugly era of negotiations and asset seizure." JAC


A new draft law on ratification of the START-II treaty will be finalized in 10 days and a vote may be put on the State Duma's agenda in late November or early December, according to Duma deputy Shokhin. Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that the new draft is "larger" and "spells out how to act, how to finance this program, and how to think about Russia's security," Interfax reported on 12 November. JAC


President Yeltsin has instructed Prime Minster Primakov to set aside budget funds for the destruction of chemical weapons in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998), ITAR-TASS reported. With the Primakov government promising a "supertough" budget next year, Russia may seek additional foreign assistance to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile safely. JAC


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, People's Power leader Nikolai Ryzhkov, and Agrarian Party leader Nikolai Kharitonov have sent a letter to Primakov demanding that the government step up its control over state- owned television channels. They repeated an earlier suggestion that public supervisory boards be established for every channel, Interfax reported on 11 November. The letter is not expected to unleash a new government policy, since both Yeltsin and Primakov have pledged to safeguard press freedoms. JAC


Meanwhile, Duma deputy Albert Makashov continued to make anti-Semitic remarks, accusing an NTV reporter of "acting worse than the worst of the yids" and suggesting in an interview with the Italian newspaper "La Stampa" that the Russian government impose quotas on hiring non-ethnic Russians. Duma chairman and Communist Party member Seleznev, who was the only member of his faction to censure Makashov in a vote last week, said Makashov's remarks have "nothing to do with the Communist Party or its parliamentary group." Zyuganov issued a statement to the press charging that the "haters of Russia are trying to force the so-called Jewish question on us," Reuters reported (see also "End Note" below). JAC


The inflation rate in October was 4.5 percent, compared with 38.4 percent in September and 3.7 percent in August, according to the State Committee for Statistics. Earlier, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported that the October rate was 3 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1998). Despite the slowdown in October, inflation for the first 10 months of the year was much higher than for the same period last year, 56.4 percent compared with 9.3 percent. The "Moscow Times" on 12 November quoted analysts as saying that the drop in inflation is an indication that Russia has become too poor to keep increasing consumer demand rather than evidence of the success of the Primakov government's economic policies. JAC


The Duma has sent a letter to US Vice President Al Gore suggesting a comprehensive accord providing Russian metal producers with stable access to the U.S. market if they observe the rules of fair competition, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 November. Last month, four Russian steel producers floated a similar proposal in an open letter to Gore and Prime Minister Primakov. The Russian producers are reacting to their counterparts in the U.S. who have accused them of "dumping" their products on the U.S. market. Duma members also suggested a meeting with their counterparts in Congress who represent metal- producing regions to look for a compromise. Meanwhile, in another of a series of mildly anti-American articles from "Noviye izvestiya," the newspaper argued that Russian businessmen operating in the U.S. encounter a variety of obstacles, ranging from shady local businessmen to unnecessary legal restrictions. JAC


A Moscow arbitration court has canceled the sale of 9.5 percent of Purneftegaz to PAKK Invest, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 November. Purneftegaz is the main production unit of the oil company Rosneft, which was forced to sell 38 percent of Purneftegaz in September as repayment for an unpaid debt. At the end of October, President Yeltsin ordered the return of Purneftegaz to Rosneft, but analysts at the time were uncertain that legal grounds could be found to overturn the sale (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Court hearings regarding the remaining 28.5 percent, which is held by other buyers, are scheduled for 16 and 19 November. "Kommersant- Daily" noted that Purneftegaz may be declared bankrupt as soon as this set of court hearings are finalized because the company itself owes creditors $160 million. JAC


Teachers from 39 schools in Kemerovo Oblast did not return to work after a fall vacation to protest unpaid wages, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 November. A teachers' union representative did not rule out the possibility that all teachers in the region will join the protest. Teachers in Leningrad Oblast staged a similar action this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1998). JAC


Speaking on a private Chechen television channel on 11 November, Vakha Arsanov argued that he and many of the country's leaders--including President Aslan Maskhadov, former acting Premier Shamil Basaev, field commander Ruslan Gilaev, parliamentary chairman Ruslan Alikhadjiev, and mufti Akhmad-haji Kadyrov--should submit to the judgment of the Shariah Supreme Court for engaging in protracted political disputes, AP and Interfax reported. Arsanov added that "only the guillotine, the gallows, and unprecedented cruelty" can defeat the present crime wave in Chechnya. He also suggested that holding preterm presidential elections might avert a civil war, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." LF


Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov told journalists in Moscow on 11 November that the Russian government has drafted a resolution on financial and economic aid to Chechnya, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Abdulatipov said that the program includes plans to rebuild an oil refinery, a cement plant, and several other major industrial enterprises. He added that his ministry will propose the inclusion of the relevant funds for that program as a separate item in the 1999 draft Russian budget. LF


ITAR-TASS reported on 11 November that CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii and Deputy Interior Minister Major-General Vladimir Rushailo have secured the release of a further 11 Russian servicemen who were being held hostage in Chechnya. Earlier this month, Maskhadov had accused Berezovskii of encouraging abductions in Chechnya by paying huge ransoms to secure the release of hostages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1998). Berezovskii denied those allegations, claiming that he never paid a single kopeck to kidnappers. LF


Speaking by telephone from Moscow, former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin told journalists in Almaty on 11 November that Kazakhstan's opposition parties may shortly announce the creation of a coalition against President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Reuters and Interfax reported. Kazhegeldin said opposition leaders have already held exploratory talks on uniting forces and that they may unite and publish a joint political program by the end of the week. Kazhegeldin also predicted that the 10 January presidential elections will be falsified and deplored the lack of a law on elections. Kazhegeldin's participation in the presidential poll is in doubt since he may take part only if a higher court overturns a verdict handed down to him last month by a district court for participation in a meeting of an unregistered political organization. LF


The Communist Party of Kazakhstan convened a special session in Almaty on 11 November, RFE/RL's local bureau reported. At a press conference after that meeting, party leaders negatively assessed the Kazakh authorities' preparations for the presidential poll. They also criticized the constitutional amendments proposed by President Nazarbaev last month. LF


Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko and his deputy, Anatoliy Golubchenko, headed a delegation to a session of the Kazakh-Ukrainian Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation in Astana on 10 November, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. The next day, the delegation met with Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbayev. Their talks focused on the prospects for processing Kazakh crude oil at Ukrainian refineries, the participation of Ukrainian workers in construction projects in the new Kazakh capital, and the possible use of Ukrainian Black Sea ports to export Kazakh wheat and metals. Kazakhstan expressed an interest in purchasing the controlling interest in the Lisichansk oil refinery, which is slated for privatization, according to Interfax. LF


Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov told journalists in Tashkent on 11 November that his country has not given permission to the leaders of last week's failed revolt in northern Tajikistan either to enter or to settle in Uzbekistan, Reuters reported. But Kamilov admitted that the border between the two countries is porous, despite controls on the Uzbek side having been intensified following the rebellion. Kamilov added that he has information suggesting that former Tajik Premier Abdumalik Abdullojonov, identified as one of the organizers of the revolt along with Colonel Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, is currently in Switzerland. Earlier, Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov said the ringleaders may have crossed the frontier into Uzbekistan. LF


The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group traveled from Yerevan to Stepanakert on 11 November to unveil their new proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The co-chairs met with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian, and Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. In a later statement, Ghukasian said later that the proposals will be carefully studied, but he did not disclose either their content or when an official response will be forthcoming. Addressing the Armenian parliament on 11 November, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said the new proposals are "a much more realistic" assessment of the present situation. Those proposals would entail Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh forming a common state. The precise relationship between the two would be specified in a separate agreement to be negotiated later. LF


Lawmakers adopted a resolution on 11 November calling on the country's law enforcement agencies to take measures against political parties whose activities fuel tensions in society and damage the country's international image, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 11 November, President Heidar Aliyev convened an emergency session of the Azerbaijani National Security Council, according to Turan. The agenda of that meeting was not disclosed. In violation of the country's election law, the protocols on the 11 October presidential election that are provided by the district and regional election commissions have not yet been published in the national press. Those statistics should have been made public within one month of the election. LF


Djaba Ioseliani, leader of the paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni, is to appeal his 11- year sentence on charges of treason, robbery, and attempting to assassinate Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in the Georgian Supreme Court, Interfax reported on 11 November, quoting Ioseliani's lawyer Gogmar Gabunia. Gabunia alleged that the trial of Ioseliani and 14 of his associates was marred by "unprecedented" legal irregularities (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 29, 15 September 1998). He added that if Georgia is admitted to full membership of the Council of Europe, Ioseliani will also appeal his sentence in the European Court in Strasbourg as he believes the Georgian court failed to demonstrate his involvement in the attempt to kill Shevardnadze. LF


Oleksander Kuzmuk urged the parliament on 11 November to increase military spending to 2.6 billion hryvni ($760 million) from the 1.7 billion hryvni planned in the 1999 draft budget, Reuters reported. Addressing the parliament's Security and Defense Committee, Kuzmuk said the planned sum will not be enough even to cover wages, provisions, and uniforms. He added that the armed forces need a minimum of 3.14 billion hryvni to fulfill their role of defending the country. JM


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has approved a cooperation program with NATO until 2001, Ukrainian Television reported on 10 November. According to the station, the "large-scale and integrated" document is unmatched in any other country taking part in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. The document defines cooperation not only in the political and military spheres but also in science and technology, emergency situations, nuclear non-proliferation, information exchange, environmental protection, and combating terrorism, organized crime, and drug-trafficking. JM


The Supreme Council on 10 November adopted a resolution warning the government against increasing Ukraine's debt, Ukrainian Television reported. The resolution stresses that a further increase in the country's debt threatens Ukraine's economic independence. The warning came after Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov told deputies that Ukraine's debt is nearing $15 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). The resolution also tasks the prosecutor-general with investigating violations of the law related to the servicing of the country's debt. JM


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 11 November threatened to reshuffle the cabinet "in a serious manner" unless the government improves the supply of foodstuffs and consumer products by 1 December, Belarusian Television reported. "It is abnormal when ministers are not able to organize normal commodity flows and to provide people with what they need most," he commented. Lukashenka expressed indignation over the government's attempt to normalize the situation by increasing prices and allowing the national currency rate to float. "Why are our people becoming poorer and poorer every month...while we are so dynamically developing industry and agriculture?" he asked at a cabinet meeting. JM


Also on 11 November, Lukashenka set up a "nationwide headquarters," headed by presidential administration chief Mikhail Myasnikovich, to oversee the task of stabilizing the economic situation and coordinate the activity of state central and local agencies. The headquarters is to deal with the situation in industry, agriculture, and trade as well as with prices, wages, social security, and monetary policies. Lukashenka has also made top state officials responsible for stabilizing the situation in the regions. Prime Minister Syarhey Linh has assumed responsibility for Minsk Oblast. Meanwhile, Interfax suggests that Lukashenka has, in fact, put Myasnikovich in charge of the government in preparation for the threatened cabinet reshuffle. JM


Belarusian Defense Minister Alyaksandr Chumakou and his Turkish counterpart, Ismet Sezgin, signed in Minsk on 11 November an agreement on cooperation in the defense industry Belarusian Television reported. The agreement provides for the exchange of experiences and the participation of Belarusian and Turkish companies in tenders organized by the two countries' Defense Ministries. Sezgin told journalists that for the time being, Turkey does not intend to buy military equipment from Belarus. JM


Reform Party chairman Siim Kallas told ETA on 11 November that Mart Siimann has promised representatives of the opposition parties that next year's draft budget will be cut. Kallas said that 700 million kroons ($52 million) may be slashed from the 18.5 billion kroons draft budget. Toivo Jargenson, a leader of the opposition Fatherland Union, said Siimann has promised the government will base its revised budget draft on estimated GDP growth of 4 percent. Last month, the parliament rejected the bill, saying its forecast of 6 percent GDP growth is unrealistic given the economic woes in global markets and neighboring Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1998). JC


Government spokesman Daniel Vaarik has corrected press reports claiming that the cabinet has approved introducing customs tariffs as of 1 January 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998), ETA reported The government, he explained, has discussed only a bill related to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which Estonia approved in February, adding that the government decided that the policy could not be implemented beginning 1 January. The bill, he noted, dealt with a proposal to "discuss the issue in the parliament, nothing else." JC


Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told Estonian Premier Siimann by telephone on 11 November that the Russian government will soon propose measures to solve the problem of Ivangorod's debt to the Narva water company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998), ETA and BNS reported. She added that Moscow will allocate Leningrad Oblast 500,000 rubles ($33,000) immediately and then 400,000 rubles a week until the Estonian-Russian intergovernmental commission convenes. Matvienko and Siimann are co-chairs of that body. JC


Parliamentary chairmen from 11 countries aspiring for EU membership called for an "open and transparent enlargement" process after meeting with European Parliament chairman Jose Maris Gil-Robles in Vilnius, dpa reported on 11 November. "The process of preparing for accession and negotiating the terms of accession should take place with the maximum of parliamentary control at the national level and at the European level," the 11 chairmen said in a statement. They also urged closer cooperation among the standing committees of the European Parliament and the parliaments of the candidate countries." Turkey was the only candidate country not to take part in the meeting. JC


Speaking at Independence Day ceremonies in Warsaw on 11 November, President Aleksander Kwasniewski said Poland is "a stable country, friendly toward its neighbors, surrounded by close and well-wishing partners, open and broad-minded toward the world." He emphasized the Roman Catholic Church's role in Poland's history and Pope John Paul II's contribution toward "renewing the face" of the country. And he praised the Solidarity movement born in August 1980 and its leader, Lech Walesa. "Now we have an exceptional build a Third Republic to match the hopes of our citizens," PAP quoted Kwasniewski as saying. JM


Mikulas Dzurinda on 11 November told reporters after a cabinet meeting that "the state of the economy is critical" and that ministers had discussed "how this country will survive until the end of 1998," AP reported. Dzurinda said there are "serious shortages" of funds for health, education, and agriculture, adding that it is not certain there will be sufficient heating for the winter. He said the main reason for this situation is the overspending and financial mismanagement of the previous cabinet, headed by Vladimir Meciar. Dzurinda said the country needs 4. 266 billion crowns ($122 million) to meet basic needs this year. The cabinet has amended the 1998 budget, more than doubling the deficit, to 19.2 billion crowns ($549 million). MS


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told his visiting Bulgarian counterpart, Ivan Kostov, on 11 November that the Hungarian government has learned a lot from the "firm and clear" lines of Bulgaria's present leadership. Kostov thanked Budapest for supporting Bulgaria's bid for CEFTA membership. Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and his Bulgarian counterpart, Bogomil Bonev, signed agreements on extradition and cooperation against organized crime. MSZ


Bardhyl Mahmuti, who is a spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said in The Hague on 11 November that the guerrillas demand that the international community "be as energetic" in its handling of the crisis in Kosova as it has been in its dealings with Iraq. He added that by failing to intervene militarily against Serbian military targets, the international community tacitly encourages Belgrade to maintain a tough policy in the region. Mahmuti added that the UCK "will not harm a hair on the heads" of the OSCE civilian monitors in Kosova. PM


Unnamed NATO officers told the "International Herald Tribune" of 12 November in Malisheva that the UCK has improved its organization and structure in recent weeks. One officer added that it remains unclear what tactics the UCK intends to pursue in the immediate future. A Western diplomat described the UCK as "leaner and meaner. They are far from defeated [and] their morale is high," he added. Naim Maloku, who is a former Yugoslav army captain and now a strategist for the UCK, stressed that his fighters "made tactical, organizational and propaganda mistakes. But now we are trying to institutionalize the forces and give them a reasonable political leadership." He did not elaborate. Also in Malisheva, a Serbian police commander said that his men "are ready for attacks against us. There are groups of people [in Kosova] out of everyone's control," the "Financial Times" quoted him as saying. PM


Rexhep Meidani told the North Atlantic Assembly meeting in Edinburgh on 11 November that "the Belgrade regime forms an explosive island of ethnic hatred, distrust, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in the very heart of Europe." He added that the international community should put pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to allow the Hague-based war crimes tribunal "to conduct a detailed investigation of atrocities in Kosova." Meidani stressed that "the tragedy of Kosova is caused by the [Serbs'] failure to meet the legitimate demands of the Albanian people in Kosova." He added that the Kosovar shadow state structures are "not a Muslim religious movement, nor a nationalist one, but a movement for freedom." OSCE Secretary- General Giancarlo Aragona told the assembly that Russia is having "full and constructive" discussions with NATO on Moscow's participation in peace-keeping in Kosova. FS


U.S. diplomat William Walker, who will head the OSCE's "verification mission" in the Serbian province, said in Prishtina on 11 November that the mission offers perhaps the last chance "to avert an irrational spiral of more violence" there. He added that "it is obvious that we have a long way to go from this battlefield to the negotiating table," AP reported. Walker stressed that the mission will do its best to help the parties concerned reach a political settlement on Kosova's future but added that the mission will not serve as a de facto government of the province. PM


Local residents near Prizren told "The Daily Telegraph" of 12 November that they hope the British members of the OSCE verification mission will soon find Muslim community leader Sheh Sali Mujaj, whom Serbian police took into custody on 10 November. Serbian forces barred the monitors from entering the region while the police conducted what they said was a search for weapons. OSCE officials in Prishtina confirmed the incident. Villagers suggested that "the police want [Mujaj] because he has so much influence in our community." PM


The OSCE issued a report in Vienna on 11 November calling on the next Macedonian government to improve relations between the Macedonian majority and the ethnic Albanians, who form the largest of the country's many ethnic minorities, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Austrian capital. The report stressed that "meeting the wishes of a minority within the constitutional framework of a unitary state might even strengthen the state...[because it will help] strengthen the willingness of a minority to identify with the state." The study specifically mentioned the need to increase the number of ethnic Albanians in state institutions, including the police. Ljubco Georgievski, who is most likely to be the next prime minister, told "RFE/RL Newsline" recently that the key to improving everyone's lot in Macedonia is to concentrate energies on economic development and not on ethnic issues. PM


The Croatian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 11 November that it can solve the questions of the Prevlaka peninsula and of opening border crossings to Montenegro only with the federal authorities in Belgrade and not with the republican leadership in Podgorica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1998). Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic had earlier suggested to a Zagreb daily that Croatia and Montenegro could solve problems regarding their common frontier between themselves and without Belgrade, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Meanwhile, the Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" noted on 12 November that outstanding disputes between Croatia and Slovenia will pass to international arbitration on 25 November if Ljubljana and Zagreb do not find a solution by that date. Questions involving the common border, Croatian bank accounts in a Slovenian bank, and the joint nuclear facility at Krsko have dogged bilateral relations since the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. PM


Unknown persons bombed and badly damaged the downtown Tirana apartment of Constitutional Court chief judge Fehmi Abdiu on 11 November. The judge was at home with his family at the time of the blast, which also shattered windows of neighboring houses. He suffered slight injuries but his family members were not hurt. Reuters suggested that the blast is linked to the 22 November referendum on a new constitution. Abdiu has defended the referendum, which the opposition Democratic Party has denounced as "anti-Albanian" and "anti-democratic." Prime Minister Pandeli Majko on 12 November said that incidents such as the bombing "aim to discourage our efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Albania." Meanwhile in Shkodra, the situation was calm after unrest the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 11 November 1998). FS


The Society for Democratic Culture (SHKD) on 10 November issued the results of a survey showing that two-thirds of the population are quite familiar with the contents of the draft constitution. The survey, conducted among 400 residents throughout the country, also indicates that constitutional provisions on human rights and capital punishment are considered the most important among the population, according to the "Albanian Daily News." Some 93 percent favor keeping the death penalty in the penal code, despite calls from the Council of Europe to explicitly ban the death penalty in the constitution. Some 20 percent said they know nothing about the new constitution, and 9 percent said they do not want to know anything about it. The SHKD will monitor the referendum with 1,400 Albanian observers, in addition to international observers. FS


Romanian Information Service (SRI) director Costin Georgescu on 12 November told the parliamentary commission supervising the SRI's activities that the service is still examining documents from a container that arrived in the Black Sea port of Constanta on 16 October and was not claimed by anyone. He added that the documents "may affect national security." According to Romanian state television, the documents are related to the 1989 revolution that toppled communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Georgescu says the SRI was informed about the unclaimed container by the customs service, but Mediafax reports that customs service director Nini Sapunaru says the SRI alerted the customs about the container's likely arrival. The container was dispatched from California by the Megapower company. MS


Prime Minister Radu Vasile is to meet student leaders on 12 November following the spread of demonstrations from several Romanian cities to the capital on 11 November. The students are protesting high examination fees, outdated equipment, low-quality accommodation, and too few grants. Education Minister Andrei Marga has already met with the students and told them he supports their demands. Also on 12 November, miners in Balan, Harghita County, went on strike to protest the decision to cut power at the local loss- making mine, while workers in Hunedoara blocked a road in protest against unpaid wages and the decision to cut power from the Deva region copper mines. MS


The Party of Moldovan Communists on 11 November failed to garner enough support in the parliament to bring down the Ion Ciubuc's cabinet, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Although a majority of 38 out of 58 deputies present in the chamber supported the no-confidence motion, the vote was short of the 51 majority needed in the 101- seat legislature. MS


Mark Horton, head of the IMF mission that ended a two-week visit to Moldova, on 11 November, said in a statement that provisional agreement has been reached on a economic policy memorandum for the remainder of this year and the first half of 1999. Approval of the memorandum by the IMF Executive Board and its implementation in the coming weeks will lead to the disbursement of a $35 million tranche in late December or early January under the three-year agreement approved by the IMF in May 1996, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Infotag added that the IMF is still opposed to the agreement reached with Russia whereby Moldova will repay part of its debt to Gazprom with $90 million in treasury bonds. Gazprom is threatening to cut supplies if Moldova violates the agreement and to stop supplies altogether in 1999. MS


A spokesman for the Bulgarian Holy Synod told Reuters on 11 November that Patriarch Maxim will not resign. A recent meeting of clergymen ended with a unanimous vote to replace Maxim by the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1998). The spokesman said that the "call for dethronement is unreasonable..., not canonical..., and not in line with the Church spirit." In other news, AP reported that Bulgaria's first full-fledged Jewish school opened on 11 November. The Jewish School of Sofia is the 12th such institution to open in a post-communist country with the help of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation for the revival of Jewish education in Eastern Europe. MS


Ivan Popoiordanov, director-general of Bulgarian National Television, resigned earlier this week, saying the station needs new people to manage it, AP reported on 12 November. One of the television's two channels is up for sale. BTA on 9 November said the reason for Popoiordanov's resignation was the refusal by the television's Administrative Council to accept his programming proposal. MS


by Paul Goble

The failure of the Russian State Duma to condemn the anti- Semitic statements of one of its members not only makes a new wave of anti-Semitism in that country more likely but may also threaten both Russian democracy and the territorial integrity of that country.

Last week, the Duma failed to pass a resolution censuring anti-Semitic remarks by hard-line communist deputy Albert Makashov during anti-government protests in October. The measure attracted only 107 votes, far fewer than the 226 votes needed for passage. Moreover, that measure was opposed by 121 deputies.

On 6 November, a group of Russian artists denounced the failure of the Duma to act, saying that the vote demonstrated "the moral and intellectual level" of Duma deputies, "disgraced Russia in the eyes of the civilized world," and opened the door to the worst excesses of the past.

Unless people speak out, the signatories to the open letter said, the Russian people will deserve whatever happens to them-- even if it means a repetition of the events of October 1993, when President Boris Yeltsin used force to disperse the old parliament, or even October 1917, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks came to power.

Two days later, Boris Berezovskii, the executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, suggested that the consequences of the Duma vote could prove even more dramatic. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy, Berezovskii said the vote shows that the Russian Communist Party, which opposed the condemnation of Makashov's anti-Semitic remarks, must be banned if Russia is to have a future.

"The Communists now represent a danger to the integrity of the Russian state," Berezovskii said. On the one hand, they have converted themselves into "national patriots and nationalists," which could easily lead to new clashes between the parliament and the government. On the other hand, Berezovskii added, by failing to condemn anti-Semitism the Communists are "stirring up inter- ethnic discord" and ethnicizing politics, two developments that threaten both the prospects for democracy and the territorial integrity of the multinational Russian Federation.

The policy implicit in the Communists' approach, Berezovskii argued, guarantees heightened conflicts among the country's various ethnic groups. Moreover, it demonstrates that the Communists have learned nothing from the experience of the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and thus have nothing new to offer.

"The Soviet Union disintegrated on the national formula," Berezovskii said. "And the same problem exists for Russia." Consequently, if the Communists tried to take the country backward to the Soviet past, they would almost certainly promote the breakup of the Russian Federation.

In the short term, Berezovskii argued, the communist approach would lead to the disintegration of the country, starting with non-Russian regions in the North Caucasus rather than with increasingly independent-minded but nonetheless ethnic Russian regions of the Far East.

At one level, Berezovskii's apocalyptic vision is likely to be dismissed by many in both Russia and the West simply as a rhetorical device to mobilize support against the Communists for their failure to denounce anti-Semitism.

But at another and more important level, his conclusions, like those of the open letter's signatories, reflect their understanding of a fundamental political reality: when a state seeks to exploit ethnic animosities to build its authority, not only does it violate the human rights of the targeted groups but it also threatens democracy and stability.

For that reason, many in both Russia and the West are likely to take Berezovskii's words more seriously than they would have in the past. They will also likely agree with the letter's signatories that "if you care for peace in Russia, if you care for freedom--including your own--then you must act!"