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Newsline - November 18, 1998


In an interview with "Vremya MN" on 16 November, Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Nesterenko charged regional governors with failing to pass on federal monies transferred to them for wages and then blaming the federal government for mounting arrears. In "Literaturnaya gazeta" on 11 November, sociologist Olga Krishtanovskaya suggested the center no longer has a foolproof means of controlling regional elites because if they try to punish an "impertinent governor" by delaying federal allotments, then the governor can make speeches blaming Moscow for poor local living conditions. On the other hand, she noted that the federal government has managed to keep the nation's most economically powerful regions, such as Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrugs, "politically weak" by "doing everything in its power to promote mediocre regional politicians." She added that regional elections are fast becoming "a formality" since more and more governors win elections with 80-90 percent of the vote. JAC


President of the Republic of Kalmykia Kirsan Ilyumzhinov told Russian Public Television (ORT) on 17 November that because of the failure of Moscow to send money to Kalmykia, the republic's leadership is forced to consider itself "de facto, outside of the Russian federation." He added that "of course, we want to remain in Russia...but we have been put in such a position that we are ready to consider this question." He added that Kalmykia will no longer transfer taxes to the federal budget. The next day, Ilyumzhinov told Interfax that Russia is showing signs of a federative crisis" that may lead to its breakup. Russian President Boris Yeltsin instructed the Security Council to review whether Ilyumzhinov's latest statements are consistent with the Russian Constitution, Interfax reported. JAC


Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told reporters on 17 November that the government will need an additional 10 billion rubles ($600 million) in order to assist in restructuring Russia's commercial banking sector. He added that a ruble rate of 12 rubles to $1 would be ideal for the nation's exporters, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The official rate on 17 November was 16.80 rubles per dollar. The economic plan that the government released last weekend called for a floating exchange rate, according to ITAR-TASS. On 17 November, Avtobank announced that it has reached an agreement to restructure a $47 million loan that would have come due shortly after the 90-day moratorium on foreign debts was imposed on 17 August. JAC


A Finance Ministry delegation arrived in London on 17 November to begin a new round of talks with creditors holding defaulted short-term Treasury bonds. The government has already reached an agreement with the domestic holders of those bonds, "Vremya MN" reported. Meanwhile, both State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov and Duma deputy and Our Home is Russia faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin said in separate interviews that Russia will be able to meet only a fraction of its [longer term] foreign debt in 1999. Shokhin told reporters that Russia needs a three- to five-year break from its foreign debt payments. JAC


Vladimir Putin, Federal Security Service (FSB) director, tried to squash media reports that the FSB sought to arrange the murder of financial magnate Boris Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). He said on 17 November that the FSB will never promote the interests of any particular party or group and that both left- and right-wing groups in Russia have been unfairly accusing the service of either corruption or interference in the nation's political affairs. ORT carried extensive coverage of a news conference with the FSB agents who are alleging that a plot existed. Berezovskii reportedly exercises significant influence over ORT, although his companies hold only 8 percent of its shares. JAC


The START-II treaty has only a fifty-fifty chance of passage in the Duma when the vote takes place on 4 December, predicted military analyst Pavel Felgengauer in "Segodnya" on 17 November. Felgengauer cited Aleksei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee and member of the Yabloko faction, who said that 70 percent of the Duma's deputies are against the treaty but only 10 percent of these are "implacable foes." Arbatov said that "if the executive 'works' thoroughly on faction leaders," then the Communist faction may split during the vote. He also predicted that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will vote solidly in favor if Primakov reaches an agreement with LDP leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. On the other hand, Felgengauer notes that the Communists have "bad- mouthed the treaty for so long that the patriotic electorate may not understand a 'volte face.'" JAC


A draft law currently being revised by Primakov's cabinet envisions establishing civilian control over the armed forces, according to "Segodnya" on 16 November. The bill would "ensure constitutional use of the armed forces, protect servicemen's rights and interests, and provide control over financial matters" so that the "government will have to pay bills without delay and generals will have to account for every ruble." The Federation Council, the Duma, and legislative bodies of the Federation subjects would all have civilian control commissions. So far, the law in its current form has been opposed by Duma Defense Committee members Sergei Yushenkov (Democratic Choice) and Albert Makashov (Communist). The daily argued that a final draft of the law may not make it to the Duma for approval this session because the only member of the cabinet who strongly supports it is Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. JAC


First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov harshly criticized the leadership of Russia's arms export giant Rosvooruzhenie on 18 November, ITAR-TASS reported. Maslyukov said that the company's economic indicators for the first 10 months of 1998 are 40 percent below those planned. He advocated sacking Rosvooruzhenie Director-General Yevgenii Ananev and appointing "an aggressive and business-like man" in his place. Since his appointment in August 1997, Ananev has been repeatedly criticized for Russia's shrinking share in world arms sales. "Vremya MN" on 18 November identified Ananev's deputy, Vladimir Ryabikhin, who worked under Prime Minister Primakov when the latter headed the foreign intelligence service, as Ananev's probable successor. LF


Two members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were hospitalized in Moscow on 17 November after setting fire to themselves outside the Duma building to protest Turkey's alleged policy of genocide against its Kurdish population and to demand that the Duma and the Russian government offer asylum to PKK chairman Abdullah Ocalan. One of the men died of his injuries on 18 November. Speaking at a Moscow press conference the previous day, the head of the Kurdish National Liberation Front in the CIS, Mahir Valat, warned that more Kurds may attempt self- immolation to protest their lack of statehood, according to Interfax. Valat also said that Ocalan was in Russia without the knowledge of the Russian authorities from 9 October, when he left Syria, until 12 November, when he departed for Italy. He was detained on arrival at Rome airport. LF


German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder wound up his official visit to Moscow on 17 November after meeting with Russian President Yeltsin. Schroeder told reporters that he found Yeltsin "active" and "well-informed" and that Yeltsin would participate in a G-7 meeting next June. Deputy chief of the presidential staff Sergei Prikhodko told reporters that the two leaders discussed bilateral trade, which has declined this year, but not the issue of German loans. The previous day, Schroeder met one-on- one with likely presidential race contenders such as former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed. Schroeder stressed that he wants close cooperation between Russia and Germany to continue. He noted that if Russia wants more foreign investment, it must protect those monies. JAC


Krasnoyarsk Oblast officials are refusing to store waste from Ukraine's Zaporozhskaya nuclear power plant, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. Aleksandra Kulenkova, a deputy of Governor Lebed, said that the oblast is paid only $275 per kilogram of radioactive waste, compared with world market price of $800-1,000, and that it receives payments irregularly. She added that since the federal government manage the nuclear waste shipments, the regional administration has no means to change the situation, short of a ban. Meanwhile, in Altai Republic, doctors have concluded that residents in areas where parts of booster rockets from the Baikonur space complex, in neighboring Kazakhstan, have landed are suffering ill health effects, adding that healthy men are dying of cardiac arrest and infants of cirrhosis, according to "Obshchaya gazeta" on 12 November. "Space waste" litters the landscape of more than 24,000 square meters, or one-quarter of the republic, according to "Trud" on 3 November. JAC


Teachers at dozens of secondary schools in the Republic of Udmurtia have staged a work stoppage to protest five months of unpaid wages, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 November. Classes have stopped at two-thirds of the schools of the capital of Izhevsk. Teachers in Leningrad and Kemerovo Oblast have launched similar protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 12 November 1998). JAC


Ahmad-haji Kadyrov, who narrowly escaped assassination in Grozny last month, said on Chechen television on 17 November that it is premature and unjustifiable to condemn President Aslan Maskhadov's policies before the Supreme Shariah Court has completed its investigation of the accusations against him by three rival field commanders, ITAR-TASS reported. Kadyrov also said that one of those field commanders, Salman Raduev, should submit to the four-year prison sentence that the Shariah court handed down to him on 4 November. Also on 17 November, Security Minister Aslanbek Arsaev told journalists that Maskhadov will personally oversee yet another campaign to neutralize criminal gangs specializing in abductions. A headquarters for coordinating the activities of the forces deployed in that campaign has been formed in Grozny. LF


Robert Kocharian named four new ministers on 17 November and merged two ministerial posts, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian named Hayk Gevorgian, chief manager of a big state enterprise and reportedly an ally of influential Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, as minister of trade and industry. Gevorgian replaces Garnik Nanagulian, whose initial request to step down five months ago had been refused by Kocharian, according to "Azg" on 17 November. Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Meruzhan Mikaelian was appointed energy minister to replace Gagik Martirosian, who has been given the newly established post of minister without portfolio responsible for "industrial infrastructure." Deputy Defense Minister Gevorg Vartanian was named minister for the environment. Minister for Operational Issues Shahen Karamanukian was fired and his duties merged with those of Minister for Territorial Rule David Zadoyan. Hayk Nikoghosian was appointed minister of health. LF


Meeting last week with journalists, Kocharian made it clear that he categorically opposes the proposed division of the National Security and Interior Ministry into two entities, Noyan Tapan reported on 16 November. Kocharian said that if the parliament adopts a law on doing so, he will refuse to sign it. Last month, the parliament's Committee on Defense and Security voted to approve a legislative act that would restore the separate existence of police and national security in Armenia. The move was initiated by the opposition Hayrenik [Fatherland] group, which believes that both the ministry and Minister Serzh Sarkisian have acquired disproportionate powers. Sarkisian had told journalists last month that it is normal practice in democracies to have "police and counterintelligence" co- existing within the same agency. "Do they want to copy Syria or Uganda?" he asked. LF


Leonard Petrosian, who stepped down in May as prime minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was named Armenian deputy defense minister on 17 November, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Petrosian's new duties will focus on supplies for the armed forces. LF


The preliminary results of Georgia's 15 November municipal elections indicate that the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), which has a clear majority in the parliament, failed to receive such a majority in some local councils and will be forced to form coalitions with other parties in most of Georgia's largest cities. The left-wing Labor Party made a surprisingly strong showing, while the Socialists and National- Democrats fared worse than expected. The Union for Democratic Revival, headed by Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze, won almost all the seats in Adjaria. Opposition party spokesmen accused the SMK of falsifying the vote, but international observers, including some from the Council of Europe, described the ballot as democratic. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 November quoted Central Electoral Commission chairman Djumber Lominadze as estimating voter turnout at just above the required minimum of 33.3 percent. LF


Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is on a working visit in the northwestern city of Aktyubinsk, said on 17 November he wants former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin to run against him in the 10 January presidential elections, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. According to Interfax, Nazarbayev intends to ask the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling of the Medeu District court, which fined Kazhegeldin for taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration in early October. Under that ruling, Kazhegeldin is barred from running in the elections. However, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 18 November that a new judge has been appointed to the Medeu court and will hear the case again on 18-19 November. Kazakhstan's Supreme Court is prepared to consider the case on 28-29 November if the Medeu court upholds its original ruling. BP


The Ukrainian government presented a 1999 draft budget to the Supreme Council on 17 November, Ukrainian Television and AP reported. The draft calls for a budget deficit of 0.6 percent of GDP and an inflation rate of 7.8 percent. It also foresees that the economy will grow by 1 percent next year. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov said the government plans to raise 23.1 billion hryvni ($6.74 billion) in budget revenues in 1999. National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko said the bank's goal in 1999 is to preserve the hryvnya exchange rate at 4 hryvni to $1. And Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy told the parliament that GDP this year is expected to fall by 1.5 percent instead of growing by 0.5 percent, as previously projected. JM


Parliamentary Budget Committee head Juliya Tymoshenko of the opposition Hromada party said the presented draft is "a budget of state catastrophe. It's good only as a manual for mass destruction, because it would not allow anyone to survive," AP quoted her as saying. She urged lawmakers to revise the document. The Progressive Socialist Party caucus in has gone on a hunger strike to protest the fact that the government did not accept their proposal to increase the subsistence minimum and the minimum wage. JM


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma met with CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii in Kyiv on 17 November and "generally" supported Berezovskii's proposals to reform the CIS, Ukrainian Television reported. In particular, Kuchma stressed the need for economic cooperation within the CIS and backed Berezovskii's plan to create a CIS economic council at the level of deputy prime minister. Kuchma and Berezovskii also agreed on the need to create a CIS free trade zone, which the latter described as "major direction in reforming the CIS." And both agreed that the CIS countries should be allowed to decide for themselves to which CIS bodies they will belong. JM


The IMF on 17 November said it may loan $100 million to Belarus if the country begins reforming its economy, AP reported. An IMF mission that has been Belarus for the past two weeks said the Belarusian government has agreed to some IMF demands. If these demands are met, the mission will return to Belarus in December "to discuss the credit of about $100 million," a mission representative said. The loan could be released in February or March 1999. Belarusian National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich told Belarusian Television on 17 November that "immediately after [the disbursement of the loan] or even simultaneously [Belarus and the IMF] will begin the next stage of work for releasing the main credit, which is a more significant sum." Prakapovich pledged to establish a "single cash and non- cash national currency rate on the domestic and foreign markets" in 1999. JM


Lawmakers on 17 November voted by 66 to five with five abstentions to ban electoral alliances, ETA and BNS reported. Eighteen deputies, mostly from the ruling coalition, did not take part in the vote. Observers believe that as a result of the ban, only six to eight political parties will win seats in the next parliament, compared with 12 in the current legislature. Among those parties whose entry into the next parliament appears threatened is the Coalition Party, the senior partner of the ruling coalition. According to recent opinion polls, support for the Coalition Party has slipped below the 5 percent necessary to win parliamentary seats. The ruling coalition had intended to renew its electoral alliance, while several right-wing parties had also been contemplating forming such an alliance. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Estonia in March 1999. JC


The cabinet on 17 November approved cutting next year's budget by 800 million kroons ($62 million), based on a projected GDP growth of 4 percent, ETA reported. As a result of that cut, local municipalities will receive considerably less money, as will those ministries whose budgets were expected to show the biggest growth next year, including the Interior Ministry. The opposition had rejected the original 18.45 billion kroons budget, which was based on GDP growth of 6 percent, as overly optimistic. JC


U.S. political scientist and former presidential security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told Lithuanian lawmakers in Vilnius on 17 November that a decision to invite Lithuania to join NATO will "depend on a hard political fight in the U.S.," BNS reported. Pointing to a "pragmatic concern for what happens in Russia," Brzezinski said it is unlikely that all three Baltic States would join NATO in the second phase of enlargement. A possible alternative, he continued, would be admitting just one Baltic State that meets membership criteria and is "less provocative to the Russians because it is not engaged in deep ethnic problems of an internal nature and also because it is geographically a little more removed." Commenting that this is "clearly the case of Lithuania," Brzezinski warned "it will take a very major political effort to make that possibility a practical deal." JC


The Constitutional Court has begun considering whether capital punishment contravenes the country's basic law, BNS reported on 16 November. In January, a group of parliamentary deputies appealed to the court to rule whether the death penalty violates constitutional provisions such as the one stipulating that the "human right to life is protected by law." The court has already asked state and public institutions to submit their opinion on the issue. In 1995, then President Algirdas Brazauskas decreed a moratorium on carrying out death sentences until a decision is taken on capital punishment. Ten people who have been sentenced to death since then are currently in prison pending such a decision. JC


The PZL Mielec aviation company has signed a contract for the delivery of parts to Hawk training planes produced by British Aerospace, PAP reported on 17 November. The contract will provide some 100 jobs in a local aviation plant that is now on the verge of bankruptcy. AP suggests that the contract is the first step in British Aerospace's bid to overhaul Poland's air force. According to the agency, British Aerospace's plan includes leasing Hawk planes to Poland, modernizing Soviet-built MiGs, and training Polish pilots in Great Britain. The need to modernize the Polish armed forces was highlighted by the recent crash--the third this year--of a Polish-built Iskra training plane. Two pilots were killed in that incident. JM


Marking the ninth anniversary of the demise of the communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia, Czech President Vaclav Havel on 17 November said he is "not particularly happy" about the "political and social climate" in the country but is "not losing hope" because he relies on the young generation, which has not been "deformed by years of communism." Havel spoke to journalists after he laid flowers on a spot marking the place where students' protests sparked the so-called Velvet Revolution in 1989. MS


Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on 17 November that the Czech Republic wants to join the Western European Union by mid-1999, CTK reported. Kavan, in Rome for a two-day meeting of the WEU council, said he received support from German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. Germany will hold the rotating WEU presidency for six months beginning 1 January. Czech Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy said that investment in defense must be increased by as much as 70 percent in order to bring the Czech defense forces up to WEU standards. PB


Parliamentary chairman Jozef Migas has set 3 December as the date for the next round of presidential elections, AP reported on 17 November. Candidates must be nominated by 23 November. But it is unlikely that the new president will be elected at the beginning of December, as the ruling coalition has submitted a proposal to change the constitution and have the president elected by popular vote. Under the existing law, the ballot to elect a new president has to be repeated every 30 days until the necessary votes are achieved. Slovakia has been without a president since 2 March, when Michal Kovac's term expired. MS


"The legacy bequeathed by the previous government will cost the 1999 budget some 200-300 billion forints ($1-1.5 billion)," Jozsef Szajer, the leader of the coalition Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party's parliamentary group, told the parliament on 17 November. He said this legacy includes, among others things, the Postabank deficit and secret clauses in privatization contracts. Opposition Socialist Party caucus leader Laszlo Kovacs said that revenues have been overestimated in the draft budget. Gabor Kuncze, Free Democrat parliamentary group leader, said his party will not vote for the budget, and he attacked the cabinet's social policy, the postponement of judicial reform, and the freezing of civil servants' wages. MSZ


State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 17 November that U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Chris Hill, on a visit to southwestern Kosova, delivered a message to officials of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in which Hill advised the guerrillas "to exercise restraint and reduce their aggressive presence on the highways." Rubin added that "if the [UCK] doesn't hold to the cease-fire and conducts provocations, that will negatively affect international support for their cause." Meanwhile in New York, the UN Security Council passed a resolution in which it "called upon the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the leaders of the [Kosovar] Albanian community and all others concerned" to cooperate fully with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). The next day, court officials in The Hague said that they expect "immediate compliance" from Belgrade. PM


NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in Lisbon on 17 November that both sides in the Kosova dispute "now have before them an opportunity to reach a political settlement in this crisis, without which a durable peace cannot be established." In Prishtina, Fehmi Agani, who heads the Kosovar negotiating team, said, reportedly for the first time, that the Kosovars might accept something less than independence, namely republican status equal to that of Serbia and Montenegro within federal Yugoslavia. "A period of three to five years would be enough to see whether such a union could function. If it could, we would want to stay in it. If not, I don't see why we would stay." Previously, shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and his negotiating team were willing to consider an interim international protectorate to be followed by independence as the only alternative to immediate independence. Both Serbia and Montenegro oppose republican status for Kosova. PM


Adem Demaci, who is the political spokesman for the UCK, said in Prishtina on 17 November that "Rugova can sign anything, but there can be no deal without UCK consent." Jakup Krasniqi, who is a spokesman for the UCK's military headquarters, added that "we have our remarks and general comments" about Hill's draft political settlement. He did not elaborate. The UCK maintains that Kosova cannot remain in the same state as Serbia after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's violent crackdown in the province this year. PM


A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said in Paris on 17 November that Ambassador to Macedonia Jacques Huntzinger will speak with Milosevic in Belgrade on 18 November about a political settlement in Kosova. Huntzinger will then go on to Prishtina to meet Kosovar leaders. She added that "the question of autonomy, which was endorsed by the [international] Contact Group, has still not been broached by either side." France has sought the leading role in NATO's planned rapid-reaction force, which will rescue international civilian monitors if they find themselves in danger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1998). Hill and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke have led recent diplomatic efforts to solve the Kosovar crisis. Holbrooke wrote in his memoirs of the Dayton peace process that the French government chafed under what Paris regarded as undue U.S. preponderance in obtaining a settlement to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. PM


In Brussels on 17 November, the Atlantic alliance formally asked the government of Macedonia for permission to station at least part of the rapid-reaction force in that country. A response is expected the following day. Officials of the outgoing government have suggested that the answer will be positive. The incoming cabinet is also likely to approve the request in order to increase Macedonia's chances of early integration into Euro-Atlantic structures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). Elsewhere in Skopje, a spokesman for the victorious electoral coalition said that "if everything goes as we expect, a government will be formed at the beginning of next month." PM


State Department spokesman Rubin said on 17 November that Washington wants a moderate who is committed to the Dayton peace agreement to head the new Bosnian Serb government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). When a reporter asked Rubin whether the Bosnian Serbs are free to select their own prime minister, he replied: "Absolutely, and it's our choice to not support those who don't support Dayton," Reuters noted. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, a spokesman for the international community's Jacques Klein said that Klein has contacted Muslim and Croatian political leaders in order to persuade the Muslims to sign a bilateral agreement with Croatia soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported that the Muslim Party of Democratic Action could soon split over the issue of relations with Croatia. PM


Ivo Pukanic, who is the editor of the independent weekly "Nacional," told Reuters in Zagreb on 17 November that the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is trying to put him out of business. His distribution agency, which is close to the HDZ, has not paid him money owed for sales of "Nacional" since late October. He needs the money to pay his debts to the state-owned printer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1998). The Croatian authorities have often used financial pressures to silence independent voices in the media. Elsewhere, a spokesman for the HDZ said that its youth wing will soon publish a calendar to express solidarity with the 12 Croats in the dock at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The calendar will be called "We are with you, Hague 1999" and will feature one of the indicted war criminals as a "Croatian knight" for each of the 12 months. PM


Pellumb Cela, a member of the Democratic Party and deputy chairman of the Central Election Commission, formally requested on 16 November that the 22 November referendum on the new constitution be delayed. He said that during the preparations for that vote, the government committed several procedural violations, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Cela argued that local election commissions failed to publish the voter registration lists eight days before the referendum, as they are obliged to do under the election law. He added that there is confusion over the existence of two types of lists, one prepared by local governments and another prepared by the centrally appointed prefects' offices. Cela stressed that the only valid lists are those compiled by local governments. Commission Chairman Daver Cano rejected the complaint, arguing that the law allows for changes to the lists up to 48 hours before the ballot. FS


Public Order Minister Petro Koci told "Koha Jone" after a government meeting on 16 November that "we have information that some politicians are trying to cause new tension and instability in order to make the referendum vote on the new constitution invalid," dpa reported. "Shekulli" the next day quoted unidentified government sources as saying that armed groups in some northern districts are prepared to cause unrest during the vote. Neither newspaper clearly identified any suspects, but both suggested that the opposition Democratic Party is behind the alleged groups. National Police Chief Fadil Canaj told "Shekulli" that police have increased their presence in what may prove the most "problematic" parts of the country. Meanwhile, special police have begun guarding the Tirana soccer stadium ahead of an 18 November match against Greece. It is the first international match in Albania since 1996. FS


The Chamber of Deputies on 17 November voted to change the regulation amending the 1994 education law after the opposition had walked out during the debate that preceded the vote. The chamber rejected an amendment submitted by Victor Ciorbea's cabinet in early 1997, an amendment approved by the Senate in late 1997, and a recommendation by its own Higher Education Commission. Under the amended regulation, the law makes no mention whatsoever of university instruction in the languages of national minorities. The Senate's version of the law says that such instruction can be provided only by special sections within existing universities, while the commission recommended that such sections be allowed only in "multicultural universities." The chamber's version, which was approved despite objections by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, says multicultural universities must have Romanian sections. The chamber's and the Senate's versions of the law are to be debated by a mediation commission of the two houses. MS


Valeriu Stoica, National Liberal Party (PNL) deputy chairman, said on 17 November that only public opinion polls can establish which party is now the leading force in the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR). Stoica had earlier said the PNL has "taken over the helm" in the CDR, replacing the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNLCD), which has been divided by conflict. He had also commented that a new CDR protocol reflecting this change would have to be signed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). That statement was criticized by PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu on 16 November. Stoica said on 17 November that the growing strength of the PNL is "not directed against the other parties" represented in the CDR and that the PNL wants the PNTCD to be a "strong party," Mediafax reported. MS


Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Serebreanu told journalists on 17 November that the U.S. has decided to include Moldova in the Southeast Europe Action Plan launched in February by U.S. President Bill Clinton. He added that this is the "Foreign Ministry's most important achievement thus far," Infotag reported. Initially, the action plan included only Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Romania. Serebreanu said that as a result of its inclusion in the plan, Moldova can "count on further technical and other forms of assistance" from the U.S., as well as on attracting foreign investments. MS


The U.S. trade representative says Bulgaria has made significant progress in reducing the piracy of CDs and has been moved to a lower level of concern on its "watch list," an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 17 November. Charlene Barshefsky on 4 November lowered Bulgaria from the U.S. "priority watch list" to its "watch list." The U.S. trade representative says Sofia has made substantial progress and that with a few more steps toward CD title verification and strengthened customs enforcement, it could be removed from the list next year. MS


by Jan Cleave

On several occasions this fall, Estonian President Lennart Meri has said he regards the passage of amendments to the country's citizenship law as one of the legislature's most important tasks in the coming months. He has appealed to lawmakers to overcome the "political passions" that have built up over the bill of amendments. And he has stressed that the bill's passage would be advantageous for both the domestic and the foreign policy of the country.

Like neighboring Latvia, Estonia has a sizable ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking community and has been under pressure from both Moscow and the West to pass amendments making it easier for members of that community to become citizens. Last month, Meri's Latvian counterpart, Guntis Ulmanis, signed into law such legislation, but only after several well-publicized incidents that prompted Moscow to step up the pressure, the difficult passage of the amendments through the Latvian parliament, and their final approval in a referendum. Estonian lawmakers, meanwhile, have not yet completed the second reading of amendments to the Estonian citizenship law, nor has a date been set for such a debate.

So far, the Estonian bill has been almost one year in the making: last December, just days after Estonia was included among the six countries singled out for "fast- track" EU membership talks, the government submitted the bill to the parliament. The draft provides for stateless children under 15 who were born after 26 February 1992 (when the country's 1938 citizenship law was reinstated) to gain citizenship. The children's parents must apply on their behalf, must be stateless themselves, and must have lived in Estonia for at least five years. It is estimated that some 6,000 children would be eligible for citizenship immediately and 1,500 annually thereafter.

As was the case in Latvia (where the final version of the amendments makes a similar provision for stateless children who were born after 21 August 1991, when the country regained independence), nationalist-inclined politicians opposed the bill on the grounds that such children would not be required to prove proficiency in the state language. Such legislation, they argued, would discourage non-Estonians from learning Estonian (according to the Open Estonia Foundation, only 16 percent of non-Estonians speak Estonian fluently, while 37 percent are deemed to have a satisfactory command). When the bill was opposed by a majority of deputies in June, the parliament postponed its second reading until the fall.

Estonian politicians who greeted last month's signing into law of the Latvian amendments have urged that Estonia follow suit as quickly as possible. Such a development would be advantageous on three fronts. At home, it would help speed up the integration of Russian-speakers (who constitute an estimated one-third of Estonia's 1.45 million population); the government advocated this in its national integration policy, aimed at averting what it calls "one state--two societies." With regard to relations with Russia, it might help expedite the signing of the border treaty, which Moscow has repeatedly linked to an improvement in the situation of Estonia's ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking community. And as far as Tallinn's bid for Western integration is concerned, it would meet requests by the European Commission to loosen citizenship requirements.

It is difficult to predict whether the events that surrounded the Latvian citizenship law amendments will have an influence on parliamentary deputies in Tallinn when they resume debating the Estonian bill. On the one hand, there may be a strong desire not to further prolong the amendments' passage and to push for their speedy signing into law. On the other hand, among deputies opposed to the bill, there may be a degree of complacency based on the perception that Tallinn's relations with Moscow are not as tense as Riga's and that Estonia has, after all, already been included among the fast-track EU membership candidates.

Such complacency could have serious repercussions, not least with regard to EU integration. In a recent document, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly commented that Latvia's chances of joining the EU would have been endangered had last month's citizenship referendum failed. That vote did not fail, however, and the European Commission is to consider recommending that Latvia be moved up to the fast-track group by the end of next year if Riga meets certain economic criteria.

In the meantime, the EU and other organizations will be watching to see whether Estonia passes the citizenship law amendments, thereby helping consolidate its position among the fast-track candidates. If it does so without the kind of adverse publicity that surrounded Latvia this summer, it will also avoid tarnishing its image in the West and exacerbating relations with Russia.