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Newsline - November 20, 1998


Russian Public Television's (ORT) noon news program lasted only three minutes on 20 November because, according to the newscaster, essential equipment belonging to the television company has been confiscated owing to unpaid loans, ITAR-TASS reported. However, an official from the Moscow bailiff's office told the Russian agency that ORT executives are "throwing mud" and that their activities have been suspended in order "to reduce tension" and "allow the parties to reach an agreement on debt repayment." ORT spokesman Grigori Simanovich told Interfax on 19 November that "an absurd situation has emerged when government institutions sue a television company that is more than 50 percent owned by the government." Earlier, Simanovich suggested that the situation was not only absurd but politically motivated by media opponents on the political Left (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1998). JAC


The State Duma plans to investigate allegations that the percentage of government ownership in ORT exceeds 51 percent. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that the lower house will conduct a two- week investigation into claims by Duma Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist) that 26 percent of shares in ORT were signed over to President Boris Yeltsin in 1994 as a bribe, Interfax reported on 20 November. Speaking on ORT's "Vremya" program, financial magnate Boris Berezovskii confirmed that transfer but said it took place at the behest of Yeltsin's former bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, who is now a Duma deputy. Oleg Sysuev, deputy chief of the presidential staff, agreed that the entire transaction was "Korzhakov's idea" and that the president does not know about his "vast wealth." JAC


Russian government officials and a delegation of international banks led by Deutsche Bank issued a joint statement on 19 November saying they have reached a preliminary agreement on restructuring the government's short-term Treasury bill debt, Bloomberg reported. The statement includes a pledge by Russia to provide some dollars in cash in exchange for the debt. One more round of talks will be needed to work out the final terms, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 November. JAC


In his first in-depth interview, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov lambasted "economic reformers" and criticized the West for continuing to rely on them for information. He told "Izvestiya" on 20 November, that the West, specifically the U.S., criticized his cabinet's economic plan based on disinformation spread by former members of more liberal governments. He noted that "there is great support for [those former cabinet ministers] in some Western political circles and media," but "these are the gentlemen who duped the West" and paid no attention to "the social aspects of the economy." Primakov disputed the notion that a middle class has formed in Russia: "People waving their arms around on the stock exchange floor are not the middle class. Without the fundamental development of the economy, a genuine middle class--instead of just moneychangers-- cannot emerge." He characterized the 17 August moratorium on foreign debt payments as more of a panicked reaction than an appropriate policy. JAC


Primakov also suggested that the Western policy-makers are failing to grasp Russian reality because they are "bound by stereotypes, notably in relation to Maslyukov," who is a "professional of the highest order." Echoing earlier statements, he recalled that the U.S. came out the Great Depression by increasing the role of the state and that state regulation is needed to protect the population against "gangsterism" and "corruption." Primakov dismissed the idea that he will run for the Presidency, noting that "lunacy has its limits and I reached mine by agreeing to be prime minister." He added that "age is not on my side." The same day, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told ITAR-TASS that the number of the Primakov government's enemies is growing and that the government may be ousted. JAC


Sysuev, deputy chief of the presidential administration, suggested on 19 November that Kalmykia's threat to secede was in fact "a smoke screen for recent financial and economic dealings by the republic's leaders." He noted that the Security Council will discuss a new bill to address the problem of elected regional leaders who overstep their powers. The Duma Council instructed two of its committees to draft its own legislation on the issue. Meanwhile, the Yabloko party urged President Yeltsin to declare a state of emergency in the republic, noting that the local government has violated Russian law in a number of ways. A letter signed by Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii alleges that an offshore zone set up by the local government is a financial "black hole" in which funds from Moscow disappear. JAC


"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 November criticized the federal government for giving favored regional leaders money while withholding funds from those out of favor, noting that it is a "dangerous game" that Moscow cannot win. It added that "the federal center is weak and the president of Kalmykia will always be able to play at separatism, thus strengthening his own position within the republic." The same day Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev predicted that the Finance Ministry's inadequate attention to the regions could trigger unilateral cancellation of agreements on the division of powers between the regions and the federal government. JAC


Predicting that oil production could slump to 220 million tons by 2000, First Deputy Prime Minister Maslyukov said Russia may halt oil exports and become an oil importer, Interfax reported on 20 November. Meanwhile, Occidental Petroleum became the latest Western oil company to abandon a Russian project, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 November. Amoco and Elf Aquitaine earlier announced plans to exit from some projects. Analysts suggest that Russia cannot compete with other energy-producing countries, which offer lower production costs, a more modern infrastructure, and investor- friendly economic policies. JAC


Ice in the Arctic Ocean stopped a Russian oil tanker equipped with an atomic-powered ice breaker from continuing on its journey to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 November. The tanker was carrying 12,000 tons of fuel, which would have allowed 4,000 residents there to remain through the winter, AFP reported the previous day. Meanwhile, a relief effort in Kamchatka Oblast has gone more smoothly. Three atomic submarines are providing the town of Vilyuchinsk with electricity, "Torgovaya gazeta" reported on 12 November. JAC


Some 3,000 workers at the closed city of Snezhinsk in Chelyabinsk Oblast protested a three-month backlog of unpaid wages by staging a one-day strike on 19 November, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC


The Derzhava Social Patriotic Movement, founded by General Aleksandr Rutskoi in 1994, elected a new chairman on 19 November, Interfax reported. Delegates at the movement's sixth extraordinary congress selected Konstantin Zatulin, an adviser to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and director of the Institute for the Countries of the CIS. Zatulin told Interfax he is a staunch Luzhkov supporter, like many of Derzhava's members. JAC


A Moscow court on 19 November ruled the Feniks company's purchase of shares in Purneftegaz, Rosneft's main production unit, invalid. Feniks was ordered to return its portion of shares, which it obtained at a sale price, which many analysts and government officials considered scandalously below market (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1998). A legal case on the last 25 percent of shares in Purneftegaz held outside Rosneft, which was sold under the same terms in September, is still pending. JAC


A Russian Proton rocket lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome on 20 November to put the first part of the international space station into orbit, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian and U.S. officials called the launch "flawless" and are now waiting for the 5 December docking with the second segment of the station, which will be carried aboard the U.S. shuttle "Endeavor." Meanwhile, Yurii Semenov, the president of Russia's "Energiya" corporation, which owns the space station "Mir," said the station will remain in space until the year 2001. Previous plans called for closing down "Mir" in mid-1999. BP


The legislature of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug has passed a law on reindeer breeding, ITAR-TASS reported. Sergei Karyuchi, deputy chairman of the legislature, described the law as landmark legislation since previously "reindeers lacked legislative protection." Some peoples in the area, such as the northern Evenks, were traditionally reindeer breeders but their way of life was seriously disrupted under communism. JAC


The parliament on 19 November voted by 142 to three with no abstentions to endorse President Eduard Shevardnadze's candidate for minister of finance, Caucasus Press and Reuters reported. The new minister is 37-year-old David Onoprishvili, who since 1995 has served as chairman of the parliamentary Committee for Economic Policy and Reforms. Outlining a program of austerity measures, Onoprishvili told deputies he is "not very happy" about having to take up the daunting job. He ruled out a money emission to cover the budget shortfall, saying such a move would lead to hyperinflation. A graduate of Columbia University, Onoprishvili worked as a consultant to the World Bank in 1994-1995. He replaces Mikhail Chkuaseli, who resigned a week ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). LF


Murman Zakaria, one of the leaders of the Coordinating Council of Political Parties of Abkhazia and Samachablo, which represents Georgians forced to flee their homes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has expressed doubts that the upcoming meeting between President Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba will alleviate the plight of those displaced persons, Caucasus Press reported on 19 November. Zakaria said that the Abkhaz have no interest in reaching a settlement and that Moscow is encouraging them to prolong the negotiating process indefinitely. He predicted that the agreement to be signed by Shevardnadze and Ardzinba, details of which have not been revealed, will recognize Abkhazia's independence. Georgian and Abkhaz officials have said the agreement will outline measures for the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia. Meanwhile, another two Abkhaz policemen were killed on 19 November when their car hit a land mine in Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. LF


Up to 50 Georgian Kurds have begun a hunger strike at the Kurdish cultural center in Tbilisi, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 19 November. The center's chairman, Ordukhan Kashaki, told Caucasus Press that the strikers are protesting the 12 November arrest in Rome of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan and the tendency of the international media to characterize the entire Kurdish nation as separatists and terrorists. LF


The Party of Young Turkic Nationalists requested permission on 19 November from Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev to picket the Italian Embassy on 24 November, Turan reported. The party intends to protest the Italian authorities' reluctance to extradite Ocalan to Turkey. LF


Addressing the government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 19 November, Arkadii Ghukasian denied rumors that some members of the enclave's leadership are unhappy with the new peace proposals advanced by the OSCE Minsk Group earlier this month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Ghukasian said the peace plan contains encouraging new provisions, including elements of an "unconventional status" for Karabakh. Murad Petrosian, the hard-line chairman of the Karabakh parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, has reportedly criticized the proposals. Petrosian has repeatedly expressed skepticism that the OSCE is capable of mediating a political settlement to the conflict. LF


The opposition Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform (SIDSUH) issued a statement on 19 November expressing "concern" that the Azerbaijani authorities have not yet made public the details of the latest OSCE peace plan, Turan reported. The statement claims that the proposal reportedly contained in that plan--namely, that the Azerbaijan Republic and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic form "a common state"--threatens the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. To accept such a proposal is "betrayal of the [Azerbaijani] people and the state," the statement concludes. LF


A Baku district court imposed a 20 million manat ($5,000) fine on the independent newspaper "Yeni Musavat" on 19 November for having implicated a senior Azerbaijani Interior Ministry official in the February 1997 murder of Academician Zia Buniatov, Turan reported. Vidadi Mahmudov, defense lawyer for "Yeni Musavat," complained that the verdict was unfair as the newspaper had printed a statement by the official in question denying any part in the killing. Rauf Arifoglu, the editor of "Yeni Musavat," embarked on a hunger strike a week ago to protest an earlier fine for insulting a member of the presidential apparatus. A second independent newspaper, "Azadlyg," is facing a libel suit brought by President Heidar Aliev's brother Djalal, whom it claimed has bought expensive property in Britain. Arifoglu and "Azadlyg" editor Gunduz Tairli met on 19 November with Western diplomats in Baku who expressed their regret at the court cases. LF


CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii outlined his proposals for reforming and giving a new lease of life to the commonwealth during talks in Yerevan on 19 November with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian expressed his approval of those proposals, which include acting on the 1994 proposals to create free trade zones within the CIS, terming them "quite a workable and serious package." Berezovskii, for his part, gave a positive assessment of the latest OSCE peace proposals for Karabakh, saying they are "a step forward," according to Interfax. On arrival in Baku later the same day, Berezovskii met with President Aliev, who made it clear that his country will intensify its cooperation within various CIS bodies only when measures have been implemented to enable the CIS to function more effectively, according to Interfax. LF


The National Unity Party sent a letter to President Imomali Rakhmonov and the parliament on 19 November condemning the rebellion in northern Tajikistan earlier this month and demanding those who took part in it be severely punished, ITAR-TASS reported. The letter also criticized party leader Abdumalik Abdullojonov for his role in the rebellion, saying he has not been in contact with the party for three years and was acting on his own. It also called on residents of northern Tajikistan to hand over voluntarily any weapons they may have been given by "mutineers" during the rebellion. The letter came one day after Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that the Tajik Justice Ministry has asked the Supreme Court to ban the activities of the National Unity Party. BP


Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he is counting on "nothing but victory" in the January presidential elections, Interfax reported on 19 November. Nazarbayev spoke of the success his country has enjoyed since it became an independent state in 1991. He said that during that period, inflation has dropped from 2,900 percent to 2.3 percent and that 75 percent of industrial companies and 90 percent of farms have been privatized, And he added that there are 7,700 new farms and 122,000 new businesses employing some 1.2 million people. Nazarbayev promised the presidential elections will be free and fair. BP


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, addressing the parliament on 19 November, presented an economic stabilization program for 1999, Ukrainian and Western media reported. Kuchma called on lawmakers to authorize printing more money for the cash-strapped economy. "We need to inject more payment tools into the economy where money has stopped serving its primary goal," he commented. Kuchma criticized the National Bank for maintaining the "artificial stability" of the hryvnya. He said the bank profited through transactions with bonds instead of providing loans to enterprises. Kuchma urged the Supreme Council to adopt a special bill on the National Bank and its supervisory council in order to gain more control over bank policies. JM


Kuchma said the hryvnya should no longer be kept within the government-set trading band but should be allowed to float freely. He said that while the Ukrainian hryvnya was "artificially supported" over the past two years, Ukraine's trade partners devalued their currencies, which hurt Ukrainian exporters. "Today it is necessary to discontinue the excessive regulation of foreign currency purchases by Ukrainian export enterprises, liberalize the currency market, and discontinue its mechanical regulation," he argued. JM


Kuchma also said he still backs the government and the National Bank leadership. "I ask the parliament not to create unnecessary tension around the issue of the government's possible dismissal. Such a step would be not only untimely and senseless, but also dangerous for the state," he commented, adding that a crisis in the National Bank would be even more dangerous than in the government. Kuchma urged the parliament to adopt a 1999 budget with a deficit of 0.6 percent of GDP and to consider a draft bill on the privatization of Ukrtelecom, Ukraine's telecommunications giant. JM


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 November attended a meeting of the "nationwide headquarters," an emergency task force set up last week to deal with the shortages of food and consumer goods (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1998), Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka commented, "I have the impression that there is no catastrophe in Belarus, no collapse or crisis in provisions for the population." He argued that prices of foodstuffs in Belarus are "distorted," being 200-300 percent lower than in Russia or Ukraine, and that food is being smuggled to those countries. And he admitted that the administrative measures to control prices have proved inefficient and the government has been forced to increase prices "to save the production [sector]." JM


Lukashenka has sharply criticized Prime Minister Syarhey Linh for allowing prices of Belarusian vodka to double this week. "You simply hate your people. If you had respected them, you would not have done this. Why are you discrediting your country and yourself?" he asked Linh in the presence of television cameras. The president added that the price of vodka should have been increased "calmly, in three or four goes." He ordered the prime minister to compensate for the price hike by increasing monthly wages by the amount it costs to buy several bottles of vodka. A half-liter bottle of Belaya Rus vodka now costs 185,300 Belarusian rubles ($2.5 according to the official exchange rate). JM


Lukashenka also ordered the government "to introduce order in the trade sector. "You have to put pressure on all local administration: governors and city and raion executive committee heads. They should grow pale and blush over how their trade is being conducted," the president said. He also warned the government not to use Belarus's emergency food reserves "sooner than January-February and without my knowledge." Lukashenka threatened "the most severe consequences" for agricultural sector officials and dismissals in the trade sector unless the situation in the food market is stabilized within the next two weeks. JM


Addressing a conference in Stockholm on security and cooperation in the Baltic region, U.S. political scientist and former presidential security adviser Zbygniew Brzezinski urged Russia to formally repudiate its stand that the 1940 occupation of the Baltic States was lawful, BNS reported on 19 November. Pointing to a Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry document earlier this year claiming that the Baltic States had joined the Soviet Union legally and on a voluntary basis, Brzezinski argued that such an attitude "arouses a feeling of insecurity" among the three countries. He also repeated the idea, expressed earlier this week during his visit to Vilnius, of a charter between NATO and the Baltic States to improve security and confidence in the region. JC


Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann's ruling Coalition Party has postponed taking a decision on a possible cabinet reshuffle until 25 November, Reuters reported on 19 November, quoting a party spokesman. At a news conference the previous day, Siimann had expressed annoyance with one of his party's junior coalition partners, the Country People's Party, which recently voted, together with the opposition, against electoral alliances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 1998). Siimann neither denied nor confirmed rumors he is considering replacing Environment Minister Villu Reiljan and Agriculture Minister Andres Varik, both members of the Country People's Party, according to BNS. JC


Estonian President Lennart Meri on 19 November promulgated the law banning electoral alliances, which was passed by the parliament earlier this week, ETA reported. In a statement, Meri said he hopes that Estonian parties will start merging so that the Estonian political landscape can be "brought into a more orderly situation before the [March 1999] elections. Otherwise, we could be in a situation after the elections where the disputes [between] smaller and medium-sized parties will not be much different from the disputes in the [electoral alliances] era." He also urged parties to name their cooperation partners in a new cabinet as soon as possible, commenting that the voter does "not want to buy a pig in a sack." JC


Vilis Kristopans told journalists on 19 November that he intends to form a minority government, Reuters and BNS reported. He said he will form a three-party coalition, composed of his Latvia's Way, the Fatherland and Freedom party, and the New Party, and will offer one or two portfolios to groups outside the coalition to bolster support both in society and the parliament. He also said he had offered the centrist People's Party, which won the elections, the post of agriculture minister but did not invite it to formally join the coalition, an offer the People's Party rejected. "Diena" reported on 20 November that the non-coalition ministers could come from either the leftist Social Democrats or the Greens. Kristopans has said he will name his government lineup next week. The three-party coalition will have 46 seats in the 100-strong parliament. JC


According to a poll conducted by the opinion and market research center Vilmorus earlier this month, 78 percent of Lithuanians do not approve of banning capital punishment, BNS reported on 19 November. Sixteen percent of respondents said they are in favor of such a ban, while 6 percent said they have no opinion on the subject. At the beginning of this week, the Constitutional Court began considering whether capital punishment contravenes the basic law (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 18 November 1998). JC


Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Askar Akayev, met in Warsaw on 19 November and signed a declaration on developing friendly relations and cooperation, PAP reported. Akayev is the first president from the former Soviet Central Asian republics to visit Poland. He said in Warsaw that Kyrgyzstan wants to make use of Poland's exemplary experience in economic and political transformation in his country's next stage of reform. The total volume of trade between Poland and Kyrgyzstan was $5.5 million last year. "This is much too small," Kwasniewski commented. Akayev pledged to introduce privileges for Polish investors in Kyrgyzstan. JM


Speaking to the parliament on 20 November, Mikulas Dzurinda said his cabinet is determined to make human and minority rights a top priority in its program and to work harder for membership in NATO and the EU. Earlier on 20 November, the government approved its program, which provides, among other things, for the restructuring and the privatization of banks with the help of foreign investors, Reuters reported. MS


British Armed Forces Minister Douglas Henderson on 20 November signed with his Slovak counterpart, Pavol Kanis, a memorandum of understanding providing for cooperation between the two countries' armed forces, including the sharing of know-how and experience in strategic planning. Henderson said Britain is looking forward to the "near future when Slovakia will be a full member of NATO" and that it is "well placed to be at the head of any expansion" of the organization, AP reported. But according to Reuters, Henderson said that the April 1999 Washington summit will "want to assess the consequences" of the new members' accession to NATO before considering the entry of others. MS


Hungarian border guards on 17 November turned back a group of Romanian soldiers heading for a NATO Partnership for Peace training exercise in Slovenia because they lacked transit permits, Reuters reported two days later, quoting a border guards spokesman. The Hungarians said the soldiers could cross as tourists without weapons. RFE/RL's Romanian service reported that the unit did cross without arms and that the Romanian side has launched an investigation into the incident. The Hungarian Constitution stipulates that in the absence of parliamentary approval or a valid international treaty, foreign military troops cannot cross Hungarian territory or be deployed or stationed in the country. Romanian General Staff chief Constantin Degeratu is scheduled to hold a press conference explaining "the circumstances of Romania's non-participation" in the exercise, Romanian state radio announced on 20 November. MS


The U.S. envoy to Kosova, Christopher Hill, and his EU counterpart, Wolfgang Petritsch, called for swift progress on talks between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanian leadership on an accord granting Kosova autonomy, AFP reported on 19 November. Petritsch and Hill made their comments after meeting in Vienna. In New York, the UN Security Council called for the "early deployment" of the international "verifiers," who are to monitor the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova. In a statement, acting U.S. ambassador to the UN Peter Burleigh said the council is concerned about "persisting tensions" in many areas in Kosova. PB


Montenegrin Information Minister Bozidar Jaredic said on 19 November that the seizure by Serbian authorities of copies of the weekly "Monitor" was a "blatant violation of relations between the two republics," the independent Belgrade-based news agency BETA reported. Jaredic said that this action "will contribute to the further deterioration of relations between the two federal units." "Monitor" is published in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica. In addition, a Serbian court fined the weekly the maximum 1.2 million dinars (about $120,000) for publishing a picture of a clenched fist, the symbol of a Belgrade University student group that has called for the overthrow of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Drasko Djuranovic, chief editor of "Monitor," said he had not been notified about the decision but added that "in this country of miracles, everything is possible." PB


Ljubco Georgievski, the expected prime minister-designate, said on 19 November that he wants the West to help soothe tensions caused by the planned deployment of a NATO rapid reaction force in Macedonia, Reuters reported. Georgievski said "we would be happy if this question were diplomatically coordinated with [Yugoslavia] so we can openly make the final decision." He added that "it would not be good if Yugoslavia took this as a hostile act as it has the last few days." Jacques Huntzinger, the French ambassador to Macedonia, said he had discussed the issue with both Georgievski and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, but he would not comment further. The rapid reaction force is to be deployed in Kosova to rescue some of the 2,000 unarmed "verifiers" in the Serbian province if they become endangered. U.S. General Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, will visit Macedonia on 23 November to discuss the force. PB


The newly elected Macedonian parliament convened for the first time on 19 November, AP reported. The assembly, in which a center-right coalition has a majority, elected law professor Slavo Klimovski as speaker. PB


The Yugoslav federal authorities announced in Belgrade on 19 November that Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik told Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Jovan Zebic that Banja Luka will use the same exchange rate between the Yugoslav dinar and the German mark as is used by the Belgrade authorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Yugoslav government had announced on 12 November that it would not allow the further transfer of dinars to the Republika Srpska until the Bosnian Serb government lowered its official exchange rate from 7.5 dinars to the German mark to 6 dinars, which is the official rate in Yugoslavia. The Bosnian Serb government shortly before had adopted the rate of 7.5 to 1, which is approximately the black market value. PM


The U.S. State Department said on 19 November that it believes Serbs used tear gas against Muslims during the Bosnian war. But it added that it has no evidence that chemical weapons were used, as Human Rights Watch charged the same day. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Washington will study the Human Rights Watch report, which called on the international community to investigate whether Serb forces used the BZ chemical nerve agent during the siege of Srebrenica. Some 35 survivors of that attack said Serb mortars released a low-hanging colored cloud that caused people to have hallucinations. The human rights organization said that it failed to find any physical evidence of a chemical attack. Its findings were turned over to the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. PB


Jacques Klein, the deputy high representative in Bosnia, said on 19 November that he is optimistic that a deal on special relations between Croatia and the Muslim-Croatian half of Bosnia will be signed in Zagreb in the next few days, Reuters reported. The pact was to be signed on 16 November, but Muslim-Croatian Federation President Ejup Ganic did not show up at the signing ceremony (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 1998). PB


Representatives of the governments of 16 European countries, including 12 prime ministers, opened a three-day gathering of the Central European Initiative (CEI) in Zagreb on 19 November. Business leaders are also attending the meeting. Croatian Economic Minister Nenad Porges said the previous day that the gathering will demonstrate "that central and southern European countries make up a specific, separate European region that is capable of competing with other European countries in attracting foreign investments." Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa called the meeting "the most significant foreign-policy event held in Croatia since it gained independence" in 1991. Austria and Italy are the only members of the CEI that also belong to the EU. The other 14 are former communist countries: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Ukraine, and Belarus. PM


A survey published on 19 November showed that two-thirds of Croats believe it is time for a change and want a new party to run the next government, Reuters reported. And, when asked which party they supported, President Franjo Tudjman's ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) only had the support of 21 percent of respondents, the same percentage as the opposition Social Democrats, the former Communists. Some 75 percent of those surveyed said some political power should be transferred from the presidency to the parliament and the government. The poll was conducted by the Puls agency and was sponsored by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute.PB


Ion Iliescu, chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), says his party will boycott parliamentary debates unless the ruling coalition signs a written pledge to respect the opposition's right to express its views in the legislature. Other opposition parties have they are ready to join such a boycott, which, Iliescu said, will trigger early elections. Iliescu made the statement after the Senate on 19 November voted against debating a PDSR motion on non-respect for the law-based state. The parliamentary coalition said that the motion was unconstitutional because it criticized President Emil Constantinescu, noting that the basic law stipulates that the parliament can debate only motions against the government. MS


The Supreme Court of Justice on 19 November ordered Greater Romania Party chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor to pay more than $2,000 in damages for having slandered the Romanian Writers' Union, Mediafax reported. Several hundred libel cases have been brought against Tudor, who enjoys parliamentary immunity. The union sued Tudor in 1995, and Tudor agreed to renounce his immunity to appear in court, having already won twice in lower courts. The decision of the Supreme Court is final, but Tudor says he will take his case to an international tribunal. MS


An IMF spokeswoman on 19 November confirmed that Bulgaria has met the targets laid down in a three-year $864 million extended agreement and has been allowed to make a second $73 million drawing from the loan, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The loan was approved by the IMF's executive board in September. Meanwhile, the World Bank has approved a new $80 million loan to help Bulgaria upgrade its social protection system. MS


Workers on strike at a lead and zinc mine in southern Bulgaria are ignoring Finance Minister Muravei Radev's warning that the pit might close unless they go back to work. About 500 miners at the Zlatograd branch of the GORUBSO firm have been on strike for nine days to demand wage increases of up to 200 percent. The Finance Ministry says the Zlatograd firm has incurred losses of 800 million leva ($446,800) in its core activities between June and September this year and that its debt stands at 5.7 billion leva ($3.18 million), Reuters reported. A similar protest by miners at Zlatograd last February did not result in a pay increase for the strikers. MS


by Roland Eggleston

This week's visit to Moscow by new German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has made clear that any personal friendship between the leaders of the two nations will no longer play so large a role in German-Russian relations.

Officials in Bonn say the days of the so-called "Maennerfreundschaft"--or male-bonding--between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl are now history. One of those officials says that "Kohl based his policy too much on the person of Boris Yeltsin," adding that "at the time, he may have been quite right: Yeltsin was the strong man who could, and did, exercise control. But those days have past."

Political commentator Lutz Steiner says "Schroeder has made clear that the new Germany is ready to support and help Russia through its current crisis. But it will be done on a firm economic basis." Steiner adds that "there will be none of the so- called 'agreements between old friends,' under which Helmut Kohl sometimes offered Russia thousands of millions [of marks] in credit."

Yeltsin was quoted by most German newspapers as having declared in Moscow that "relations between Germany and Russia are, and will remain, what they were in recent years." But in Bonn, officials said that Germany's left coalition of Social Democrats and Greens wants to fashion a new relationship independent of any personal friendship between the national leaders.

The officials said that Schroeder is acutely aware that Russian politics is in a state of flux. On the one hand, there is Yeltsin's visible frailty and the fact that his term in office will soon expire. In the best of circumstances, Yeltsin will remain in power only until the year 2000. Who his successor will be remains unclear.

Schroeder is said also to have taken into account that Russian parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year. They could bring new leaders to the fore even before the expiration of Yeltsin's term.

Schroeder's recognition of these realities was expressed not only in his meetings with Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. He also expressed his views when he met with former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Krasnoyarsk Governor, likely presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed, as well as communist and other political leaders. By contrast, Kohl's visits to Moscow were usually focused only on Yeltsin and those around him.

One theme that pervaded all Schroeder's discussions in Moscow was that financial assistance to Russia should be provided internationally and not by Germany independently. Schroeder emphasized several times that, in his phrase, "Germany's resources are exhausted."

Most German commentators agree. With more than 10 percent of the nation's workers unemployed and severe problems in some areas of the economy, there is widespread agreement that the new government is being forced to look inward more than in the past.

Schroeder also pointed out to his Russian interlocutors that other Western countries are also placing restrictions on their future financial assistance to Russia. A Bonn official said: "Schroeder made clear to all his discussion partners that Russia must lay out firm foundations for economic recovery before it can expect new help from the Western industrial states."

Schroeder's view, as he told Primakov, is that "the work must be done" in Moscow. But he publicly described the new Russian economic program as a "good beginning" that ought to receive a friendly reception from the IMF and World Bank. German commentators say that Schroeder paid attention to the complaints he heard from German businessmen at a private meeting. The businessmen expressed frustration with Russian tax policies, problems in implementing contracts, and other difficulties. Schroeder told them that his government is ready to intervene with Russian authorities in individual cases instead of only making a blanket approach on behalf of all German businessmen.

Still, Schroeder was said also to have discussed with the businessmen Lebed's suggestion that Germany develop more business and political contacts with the Russian regions. Schroeder has said publicly that he will also recommend to the 17 provincial governments in Germany that they develop contacts with Russia's regions.

German commentators are uncertain about what remains of the bilateral relations forged by Kohl and Yeltsin. One question has to do with the so-called "European triangle," the name given to the meeting in March between Yeltsin, Kohl, and French President Jacques Chirac. Under the skeptical eyes of Washington and London, the three leaders agreed to develop triangular cooperation in a number of areas, including a tri-national university, increased exchange of scientists, and more joint cultural projects.

None of these programs have been realized, and perhaps now they never will. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Munich.