RUSSIAN OFFICIALS HOPE FOR COMPROMISE WITH IMF...
An IMF mission arrived in Moscow on 20 January for another round of negotiations, which is expected to last at least three to four weeks. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" the same day, First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov said he expects the mission to "understand [Russia's] reality, making it possible to bring their positions closer together." He added that Russia "is not asking the IMF for money for any of our domestic spending as [former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii] Chubais did. Our interest lies purely in refinancing our debts to the fund itself." Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters that he also expects the IMF "to meet Russia halfway" during talks. The head of International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said on 18 January that his organization will appeal to the IMF to include provisions for unpaid wages in its agreement with Russia. JAC
...AS DIFFERENCES ELABORATED
According to Maslyukov, the fund and the government must iron out three key differences on economic policy. The fund is advocating high export duties on oil and non-ferrous metals, which the government believes would impose an unnecessary burden on producers already suffering from slumping world prices. In addition, Maslyukov said, the fund wants a three-fold increase in the primary budget surplus, which would require that "the already meager social sphere be dismantled completely." The fund would also like the division of budget revenues between the center and the regions to be revised to benefit the center. Maslyukov raised no objections to this stipulation. During his recent trip to Washington, fund officials appeared to like Maslyukov, according to "Vremya MN," citing Russian delegation sources. But the newspaper added that Maslyukov had a hard time discussing "such technically complicated documents as budget and fiscal legislation." Therefore, the daily concluded, the mission will "continue the discussion at the level of specialists and not politicians." JAC
BUDGET'S FATE LINKED WITH RUBLE RATE
State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov told reporters on 20 January that if the ruble exchange rate slips to 25 rubles to $1 before the budget is passed, the budget will have to be submitted to another first reading. The next day, the ruble fell slightly, finishing at 22.72 rubles to $1. The Central Bank has been intervening to maintain the ruble's value, spending close to $4 billion according to some estimates, currency traders told "Kommersant- Daily" on 19 January. Foreign exchange analysts believe that the Bank is only buying time and that unless it limits currency circulation, the exchange rate will reach 30 to 35 rubles to $1 in February, according to the daily. If it reaches 25 rubles after the budget has passed the Duma, corrections can be made to the budget on a quarterly basis, according to Zhukov. JAC
ALBRIGHT WANTS A LOOK AT YELTSIN?
Although illness will prevent Russian President Boris Yeltsin from visiting foreign capitals for at least two months, his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright scheduled to take place in Moscow sometime during 25-27 January has so far not been canceled, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 January. Citing "informed diplomatic sources," ITAR-TASS reported that U.S. officials were probing for a possible meeting with Yeltsin during Albright's visit. Doctors on 21 January ruled out surgery after conducting an endoscopy of the president's ulcer. JAC
RUSSIA, EU SIGN FOOD DEAL
Russia and the EU signed an agreement on 20 January for the provision of $500 million worth of food aid. Beginning in mid-February, Russia will receive 1 million tons of wheat, 50,000 tons of rye, 50,000 tons of rice, 150,000 tons of frozen beef, 100,000 tons of frozen pork, and 500,000 tons of skim dried milk. JAC
RUSSIAN OFFICIALS WARN AGAINST NATO INTERVENTION IN KOSOVA
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters on 20 January that although the Kosova situation "has recently deteriorated, efforts to settle the conflict by peaceful political means should not be stopped." The same day, the Duma unanimously backed a statement that "NATO's interference in the Balkans is inadmissible" and that the current wave of tension was "preceded by provocations, including the murder and kidnapping of Serbs." The previous day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned that any military interference in Kosova would only complicate the situation. He repeated his calls for a renewed political dialogue (see also Part II). JAC
TERRITORIAL DISPUTE BREWING OFF ALASKA?
Some Alaska residents are protesting the U.S. State Department's decision to transfer to Russia "nine U.S. islands" that are rich in oil and fish reserves, "Izvestiya" reported on 21 January. The islands are located near the 49-kilometer U.S.-Russian border between the Bering Strait and Chukotka Sea. According to the newspaper, the Russian State Duma never ratified an intergovernmental agreement on dividing the Chukotka and Bering Seas, which the U.S. Congress approved in 1991. The latest round of negotiations on the border area was completed in Seattle recently "with nothing to show for it," the daily reported. However, Vladimir Izmailov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Fishing Committee and head of the delegation to the talks, reported that the two sides agreed to continue looking for a compromise. JAC
KALININGRAD OFFICIALS CALLS FOR TALKS WITH LITHUANIA
Valerii Ustyugov, chairman of Kaliningrad Oblast's legislature, has called for the Russia to begin urgent negotiations with Lithuania because if both Lithuania and Poland are admitted to the EU, Kaliningrad's borders will be closed, "Segodnya" reported on 20 January. According to the daily, Ustyugov believes that increasing cooperation between Lithuania and Moscow would prevent the possibility of an economic blockade of Kaliningrad. JAC
TRIAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL JOURNALIST BEGINS
The espionage trail of Captain Grigorii Pasko, former military newspaper reporter, began in Vladivostok on 21 January. Pasko was arrested in November 1997 for supplying classified information to Japan about the Russian nuclear fleet's environmentally hazardous dumping practices. Pasko's case has attracted the attention of a variety of international human rights organizations, and Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience. On 20 January, Reporters Sans Frontieres called on the Russian government to release Pasko since the European Convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, which Russia has signed, protects freedom of expression, Reuters reported. JAC
BORDYUZHA WARNS JOURNALISTS
Presidential administration head and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Bordyuzha called on heads of Russian mass media outlets to play a more responsible role in the dissemination of information on political extremism. The mass media "sometimes copy remarks of political extremists to advertise them," Bordyuzha told a gathering of media executives on 20 January, Interfax reported. He added that the "State Print Committee fails to exercise any control on mass media" and urged executives to use the media "to thwart trends that fuel ethnic differences and political extremism." JAC
CENTER-RIGHT COALITION NAMES ITSELF
The new coalition of so- called "center-right" political groups revealed its new name, Just Cause [Pravoye Delo] at a press conference on 20 January. The new coalition includes former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, former First Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov and Chubais, and former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko. The coalition's economic program will probably be based on Gaidar's ideas, Russian Public Television reported. According to Interfax, the coalition will hold a conference on Russian-Belarusian integration, organized by Boris Nemtsov, in March. JAC
NEW ACTING STATE PROPERTY HEAD APPOINTED
Aleksandr Braverman, until recently first deputy minister of state property, was appointed acting minister of state property on 20 January, ITAR- TASS reported. Minister of State Property Farit Gazizullin suffered a heart attack last August and still cannot carry out his duties in full. Interfax reported the same day that "government sources" said Gazizullin has offered his resignation, but a State Property Minister spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report. JAC
RUSSIA DEVELOPS CHEAPER 'STEALTH' TECHNOLOGY
Russian scientists have developed a new "plasmatic coating" for aircraft that conceals them "completely" from radar, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. The new technology is also cheaper than the U.S.'s competing "stealth" technology. Keldysh Research Center Director Anatolii Koroteyev told the agency that the coating around aircraft weighs less than 100 kilograms and therefore does not affect a plane's aerodynamics. JAC
FORMER SOVIET PREMIER REJECTS "GUBERNIYA" MODEL FOR RUSSIA
In the latest round of debate over whether the Russian Federation should be redivided into guberniyas, replacing the present system of national republics, oblasts, and krais, Nikolai Ryzhkov has endorsed the status quo. In an interview with "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 20 January, Ryzhkov termed the present system "a sensible political principle" but conceded that it needs to be amended to abolish discrepancies in the political status of the territorial formations and in their contributions to the Russian economy. He argued that there is nothing "unusual or illegal" in the present system of subsidies to some national republics, given the differences in economic potential and climatic conditions between them, but he warned against "huge, unjustified concessions" to preserve stability in certain regions "for purely political purposes." Ryzhkov also categorically condemned attempts by the "titular" nationality of any given republic to monopolize its national resources. LF
TATARS PROTEST BASHKORTOSTAN LANGUAGE LAW
Police arrested seven members of a group of 20 or so Tatars who picketed the Bashkortostan parliament in Ufa on 21 January to protest the republic's draft language law, ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, the parliament of Tatarstan sent a note to the legislature of Bashkortostan expressing its concern over the law's failure to include Tatar among the state languages of Bashkortostan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 21 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 11 January 1999). Bashkir and Russian are accorded that status in the draft. Tatarstan State Council chairman Farid Mukhametshin noted that the draft law has given rise to apprehension in Tatarstan. He expressed the hope that his parliament's "respectful appeal" would persuade Bashkortostan's parliament to amend the law in the second reading, scheduled for 21 January. Russians are the largest ethnic group in Bashkortostan, followed by Tatars and then Bashkirs. LF
TATARSTAN TAKES OVER DEFENSE INDUSTRY ENTERPRISES
The government of Tatarstan has assumed control over the seven largest defense industry enterprises in the republic, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 21 January citing "Kommersant-Daily." Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov told Tatarstan Television that no one in Moscow has shown any interest in the enterprises in question. He said the Tatarstan authorities will not prevent the enterprises from continuing to fulfill orders for military hardware from Moscow, but he added that in the future they will also produce civilian goods in order to remain profitable. LF
LENIN'S TOMB TO CLOSE FOR SPRING CLEANING
The mausoleum containing former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin will be close from 2 February to 5 April for a planned disinfection, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. The same day, citizens of Ulyanovsk honored the 75th anniversary of Lenin's death by laying flowers at his statue in the town's central square. The agency also reported that the Russian Orthodox Church believes that burying Lenin, as some current leading Russian politicians have suggested, would be at variance with Russian historical tradition. JAC
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CONCERNED ABOUT 'POWER STRUGGLE'
National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian told a press conference in Yerevan on 20 January that the present Armenian leadership has done nothing to improve the situation in the country and cannot claim the credit for the positive shift in the OSCE's approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukian said that the leadership is composed of "disparate groups" that no single individual controls, and he noted that there is "an obvious clash of interests" between President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian. Manukian predicted that only nationwide mass protests can prevent the authorities from falsifying the results of the May parliamentary elections. He added that the level of popular discontent is currently higher than before the 1996 presidential elections. Senior officials recently admitted that the 1996 vote was rigged to prevent a runoff between Manukian and incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossian. LF
ARMENIAN BANKS FORM ALTERNATIVE 'ECONOMIC COURT'
Representatives of Armenia's leading banks told journalists on 20 January that they have created a "mediation court" that will resolve economic disputes without state participation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The constitution provides for such courts. Armenian Bank Association chairman Bagrat Asatrian, who served as Central Bank chairman from 1994-1998, said the court will deal with disputes between those business entities that would accept its legitimacy in advance. Vahe Stepanian, a former minister of justice, has been named court chairman. He told journalists the official courts of first instance can intervene in the mediation court's affairs only if one of the conflicting sides refuses to recognize the mediation court's verdict. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REFUTES RUMORS OF HEART PROBLEMS
Heidar Aliev, speaking to Russian Public Television (NTV) on 20 January, said Turkish media reports that he was suffering from "cardiac insufficiency" are untrue, Reuters reported. One of Aliev's doctors similarly told NTV that Aliyev is only suffering from acute bronchitis. "Milliyet" had reported on 20 January that Aliyev was diagnosed as suffering from heart disease, characterizing his condition as "serious but not critical." LF
UKRAINIAN PREMIER IN KAZAKHSTAN
Valeriy Pustovoytenko met with his Kazakh counterpart, Nurlan Balghymbayev, in Astana on 20 January after attending the inauguration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, RFE/RL correspondents reported the following day. The two prime ministers signed a joint communique on trade and economic cooperation and discussed bilateral trade prospects, including the possible participation of Kazakh companies in tenders for the privatization of the Lissichansk and Kherson oil refineries and the transportation of Kazakh crude to the West via Ukraine. Possible purchases by Kazakhstan of Ukrainian agricultural machinery were also discussed. Pustovoytenko told journalists after the talks that his country will import up to 5 million tons of oil from Kazakhstan this year, Interfax reported. LF
KAZHEGELDIN APPLIES TO REGISTER POLITICAL PARTY
Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the former prime minister of Kazakhstan who was barred from participating in the 10 January presidential election, has applied to Kazakhstan's Ministry of Justice to register his Republican People's Party, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported on 21 January. The party held its founding congress last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1998). LF
KYRGYZSTAN NATIONAL BANK CHAIRMAN DEFENDS FREE EXCHANGE RATE
At his first press conference in Bishkek on 20 January, Ulan Sarbanov said that a free exchange rate for the som is the most feasible and efficient policy and that the bank will intervene to support the national currency only in the event of serious fluctuations against the dollar, Interfax reported. The som fell sharply against the dollar in mid-November but later stabilized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1998). Sarbanov, who is 31 and a graduate of Novosibirsk University, was named deputy finance minister on 18 January and acting National Bank chairman one day later, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF
KYRGYZSTAN GRAPPLES WITH REFUGEE PROBLEM
Helmut Buss, who is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' representative in Kyrgyzstan, told journalists in Bishkek on 20 January that the country's failure to address the problems of refugees may result in cuts in aid from donor countries, Interfax reported. RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau noted that there are currently 14,500 registered refugees in Kyrgzystan, most of whom are ethnic Kyrgyz who fled the civil war and Tajikistan and do not wish to return to that country. Buss said 1,150 Tajik refugees returned from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan in 1998. LF
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has received more than 13,000 letters of complaint and protest from the population since he invited residents some six weeks ago to alert him to instances of injustice and bureaucratic indifference, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 January. The majority of complaints were directed at law enforcement agencies, prompting Niyazov to declare an amnesty for more than 3,000 prisoners, some of whom were apparently unjustly convicted. At a conference of regional police and government officials to evaluate the complaints, Niyazov said that most senior officials are neither willing nor able to deal with people's grievances. A new law stipulates procedures for examining such complaints. LF
KUCHMA FEARS REPERCUSSIONS OVER DEATH PENALTY
Oleksandr Martynenko, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's spokesman, said on 10 January that Kuchma fears the parliament's refusal to abolish the death penalty in Ukraine will force the Council of Europe to suspend Ukraine's membership, Interfax and Reuters reported. Kuchma introduced a moratorium on executions in 1997, but referring to public support for the death penalty, the parliament has rejected legislation abolishing the death penalty. Ukrainian courts sentenced 146 people to death in 1998 and 129 the previous year. Martynenko said Kuchma thinks that the suspension of Ukraine's membership in the Council of Europe would threaten "Ukraine's status as a new European, democratic state." JM
UKRAINIAN CABINET TRIMS PENSION, WAGE DEBT
According to the State Statistics Committee, the Ukrainian government last month slightly reduced wage and pension arrears. Overdue pensions and other social security payments amounted to 2.01 billion hryvni ($587 million) on 1 January, down by 207 million hryvni since 1 December 1998. Wage arrears amounted to 960 million hryvni, down by 37 million hryvni over the same period. Last month, President Kuchma ordered the government to pay its entire debts to the population by 1 July 1999. JM
BELARUSIAN TRUCKS HELD UP AT RUSSIAN BORDER
Some 500 Belarusian trucks are being held up at the Belarusian-Russian border, following new regulations introduced unilaterally by the Russian Transport Ministry on 17 January, Belarusian Television reported on 20 January. Under the regulations, Belarusian trucks must apply for a permit to cross the Russian border if they are carrying cargo from a third country. Belarusian Television said the permit costs $250 and noted that the Russian side has so far not supplied application forms for the permits at border crossing points. Belarusian Transport Minister Alyaksandr Lukashou admitted that "some tension" exists at the Belarusian-Russian border but said that Belarus does not intend to take reciprocal measures. He said talks to resolve the deadlock are being conducted at government level. JM
BLEGRADE SEEKS PERMANENT OBSERVER STATUS IN BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION PARLIAMENT
A Belgrade parliamentary delegation led by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj arrived in Minsk on 20 January to take part in a session of the Belarusian-Russian Parliamentary Assembly scheduled to begin the next day, Belarusian Television reported. The session will consider Yugoslavia's application for the status of permanent observer at the Belarusian-Russian legislature. The decision to seek that status was adopted by the Yugoslav parliament last month. JM
BELARUS WANTS IMF CREDIT TO STABILIZE RUBLE
Belarusian National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich said on 20 January that Belarus is planning to stabilize its currency and introduce a single exchange rate for the Belarusian ruble in non-cash operations. He stressed that the government hopes to obtain an IMF stabilization credit to achieve that aim. "Unfortunately, the National Bank reserves are very scanty, one can say, virtually nil," he commented. He added that the National Bank intends to reduce credit emissions in 1999 to 35 trillion Belarusian rubles ($275 million). JM
BELARUS REPORTS 181.7 PERCENT INFLATION IN 1998
The Belarusian Ministry of Statistics has reported that the 1998 inflation rate in Belarus was 181.7 percent, up from 63.1 percent in 1997 and far above the 27 percent targeted for last year. The ministry blamed the Russian financial crisis for the soaring inflation. It said that prices rose only by 44 percent in January-August 1998, while most of the increase was from September through December, following Russia's financial collapse. JM
ESTONIA'S VEIDEMANN IN MOSCOW
Population Minister Andra Veidemann met with Russian Nationality Affairs Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov in Moscow on 20 January and signed a memorandum on cooperation in ethnic policies, ETA reported. The document foresees information exchanges on the human rights situation and on ethnic minorities in each country. The meeting took place in a "friendly and business-like manner," according to both sides. At a separate meeting with Veidemann, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov proposed a Russian-Estonian dialogue on regional and cross-border cooperation, according to BNS. Veidemann also promised Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II to seek to bring the two Estonian Orthodox Churches to the negotiating table to resolve their dispute over property confiscated under communism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 1999). JC
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS MERGING MINISTRIES
The cabinet on 19 January approved amendments to the law on the government that foresee merging the Ministry of Roads and Communications and the Ministry of Economics by the end of this year, BNS reported the next day. The new ministry would start performing all the functions of the two ministries beginning in 2000. The merger would save one-third of the combined administrative costs of the two entities. A government spokesman said it is hoped that the parliament will the pass the amendments next month. JC
ULMANIS, TOO, STRESSES LATVIA REMAINS COMMITTED TO NATO ENTRY
Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis met with Prime Minister Kristopans on 20 January to discuss the recent article in a Jamestown Foundation publication suggesting that some Latvian politicians are seeking to revise the country's security policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 January 1999), "Diena" reported on 21 January, citing the presidential press service. Rejecting the assertions made in that article, Ulmanis said it is imperative to show that Latvia is "consistently realizing the goal of integration with NATO" by increasing its defense budget to 1 percent of GDP. "This way," Ulmanis said, "we will prove that Latvia is ready to pay for its security." The 1999 draft budget allocates 0.9 percent of GDP to defense. JC
LATVIAN OPPOSITION NOT TO SUPPORT DRAFT BUDGET...
The People's Party of former Prime Minister Andris Skele is likely to vote against the 1999 draft budget in its first reading, BNS quoted caucus head Gundars Berzins as saying on 20 January. The draft, which the cabinet approved last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1999), foresees revenues at 1.41 billion lats ($2.82 billion) and expenditures at 1.47 billion lats. It will be put to two readings in the parliament. If lawmakers fail to approve the draft, their rejection is considered to constitute a vote of no confidence in the government, requiring the cabinet to resign. JC
...WHILE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS STRESS CONDITIONS FOR SUPPORTING GOVERNMENT
Egils Baldzens, leader of the Social Democrats' caucus, told journalists on 20 January that his party will sign an agreement on backing the government only if the cabinet agrees to meet a number of the Social Democrats' demands, BNS reported. Baldzens was speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans. Most of the Social Democrats' demands are related to social problems, education, and the privatization of large companies. Kristopans has ordered Latvia's Way chairperson Kristiana Libane to draft an agreement with the Social Democrats. JC
POLISH COALITION SEEKS TO STAVE OFF CRISIS
Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and its coalition partner, the Freedom Union (UW), have reached what AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski said was "a breakthrough [and] a wise compromise," Polish media reported on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). The AWS has decided to withdraw its controversial bill on distributing state assets among all citizens. It is widely believed that the dismissal of Deputy Health Minister Jacek Wutzow, whom the UW blamed for the poorly prepared health reform, has also contributed to healing coalition rifts. But Health Minister Wojciech Maksymowicz commented that Wutzow was released because he had successfully carried out his main task of "making health service establishments independent." Krzaklewski said the next step in overcoming the coalition crisis will be to vote down the opposition's motion of no confidence in Maksymowicz. JM
BALCEROWICZ SLAMS GOVERNMENT FOR SLOW REFORMS
Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz criticized his government in the 20 January "Gazeta wyborcza" for delaying promised economic reforms and privatization. Balcerowicz said the delays pose a threat to Poland's EU membership talks and might undermine the social security reform launched this year. He commented that he is particularly concerned about privatization, noting that successful sales in the telecommunications and banking sector were followed by "a virtual lack of privatization in other areas." "There is a threat that in 2000 and 2001 we will not have the revenues needed for the pension reform," he wrote. JM
CZECH OPPOSITION PARTIES POSTPONE SIGNING NEW AGREEMENT
The signing of a new agreement between the four-party opposition alliance, composed of the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), the Freedom Union, and the extra-parliamentary Civic Democratic Alliance and the Democratic Union (DEU), will not take place on 27 January, as originally planned. KDU-CSL acting chairman Jan Kasal told CTK that he sees "no need to put in writing what is running normally." Freedom Union chairman Jan Ruml said he is convinced that it is "only a matter of time" before the DEU- proposed agreement is signed. The Freedom Union insists on discussions among the alliance's leaders before important parliamentary debates, following the KDU-CSL's support in the legislature for the deficit budget proposed by Milos Zeman's cabinet. MS
SLOVAKIA ADAMANT ON URGENCY OF NATO ACCESSION
Defense Minister Pavol Kanis on 20 January told his Austrian counterpart, Werner Fasslabend, that Bratislava will have "to react actively" to the admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland into NATO because that step "will create problems in relations between countries that have joined the alliance and those that have not done so," CTK reported. Speaking before leaving on a visit to the U.S, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told journalists the same day that the purpose of his visit is to discuss not Slovak-U.S. relations but Slovakia's integration into NATO. He said Slovak diplomats consider NATO membership "a matter of months, not years." MS
BUDAPEST TO CHANGE STRATEGY IN "HUNGARIAN-HUNGARIAN" RELATIONS?
Zsolt Nemeth, Foreign Ministry political state secretary, told journalists in Uzhorod, western Ukraine, on 20 January that Hungary intends to invite to the forthcoming "Hungarian-Hungarian summit" only those ethnic Hungarian parties from neighboring countries that are represented in the respective countries' parliaments. Bela Bugar, chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party of Slovakia, responded by saying that a party's legitimacy should not be linked to parliamentary representation, since many ethnic parties lack the necessary number of supporters to ensure their parliamentary representation. MSZ
BELGRADE MAY COMPROMISE ON WALKER...
Newly appointed Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic said on 20 January that Belgrade may be willing to compromise on the expulsion order for William Walker, the head of the OSCE's verification mission, Reuters reported. Draskovic said the issue could be "solved through compromise" to everyone's satisfaction. Draskovic said it would be better to "present the truth" to Walker than to declare him persona non grata. Serbian Deputy Premier Tomislav Nikolic said Walker's departure "will be delayed" so that he can be given the chance not to be thrown out but to resign. Walker has until 5:00 p.m. local time on 21 January to leave the country or face expulsion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). The OSCE, NATO, and several Western governments have said Walker must stay in Kosova. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev met with Draskovic and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in an effort to reverse the expulsion order on Walker (see also Part I). Walker said "I'm hereas long as the mission goes on." The chairman of the OSCE, Knut Vollebaek, was expected in Belgrade on 21 January to try to prevent Walker's expulsion. PB
...WHILE ARBOUR AGAIN DENIED ENTRY
Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, was again turned back by Yugoslav border guards at the Macedonian border on instructions from Belgrade, AP reported on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 1999). Arbour said she will abandon her efforts to enter Kosova and to investigate the deaths of the ethnic Albanians at Recak. Belgrade said it does not recognize Arbour's jurisdiction in Kosova. PB
FINNISH PATHOLOGIST ASKS SERBS TO WAIT
Forensic expert Helena Ranta asked Serbian Justice Minister Dragoljub Jankovic to order a halt to autopsies being performed by Yugoslav officials in Prishtina on the 45 people alleged to have been massacred by Serbian forces, AFP reported on 21 January. Ranta said that X-ray equipment as well as the presence of the full 17-member forensics team is needed before autopsies begin. Yugoslav pathologists as well as unnamed Belarusian officials have begun the autopsies in the presence of some OSCE monitors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). Jankovic told Renta that the autopsies had to begin because there was a lack of storage space for the bodies and because they had been rotting outside for five days. Sandy Blyth, a spokesman for the OSCE verification team, said the autopsies had been sped up, despite Renta's request that they wait for the Finns. PB
NATO PREPARES FOR STRIKES...
NATO increased its preparedness for military strikes in Kosova on 20 January as the alliance's secretary-general, Javier Solana, warned that "if the only language that Milosevic understands is the language of force, he will find force," Reuters reported. NATO said it has increased the air forces' readiness from 96 hours to 48 hours and has repositioned battleships in the Adriatic to better prepare for air strikes. In Copenhagen, Solana said that if "the use of military force or the threat of military force is necessary to bring about a political solution, NATO is prepared to do it." Earlier in London, Solana called on Milosevic to rescind his expulsion order on Walker. PB
...AS FIGHTING CONTINUES
Sporadic mortar and machine-gun fire could be heard in the area around Recak on 21 January as a UN relief agency brought aid to villagers who left their homes after fighting erupted in the area, Reuters reported. Two ethnic Albanians were killed in the most recent fighting, while two others were injured near Vraganica. Fighting was also reported in Shipolje and Kosovska Mitrovica. PB
BOSNIAN FOREIGN MINISTER FEARS REFUGEES FROM KOSOVA
Jadranko Prlic said in Sarajevo on 20 January that he is concerned that the flare-up in fighting in Kosova will unleash a new wave of refugees, Reuters reported. Prlic said there are already between 10,000 and 20,000 Kosovars in Bosnia. He added that Bosnia backs international efforts to end the crisis. In other news, three Muslims convicted in December for their alleged roles in killing four Serbs in 1996 were transferred from Republika Srpska to a prison in the Muslim-Croatian federation. In exchange, three Bosnian Serbs imprisoned in Zenica were sent to Srpska. The conviction of the Muslims was called a "judicial farce" by the UN representative in Bosnia. PB
CROATIA, MONTENEGRO OPEN BORDER
Croatia and Montenegro agreed on 20 January to open two border crossings that have been closed for seven years, AP reported. The Croatian Foreign Ministry said the action adds to the "normalization of relations and easing of tensions." The agreement will allow both people and goods to pass through the border crossings. PB
TUDJMAN BLAMES FOREIGNERS, SPIES FOR PROBLEMS
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said during his state of the nation address on 20 January that membership in the EU and NATO remain "a strategic target of our foreign policy," AP reported. But Tudjman said that foreign powers are making accession to the two organizations difficult with their "efforts to alter the political landscape in Croatia and force us into undesirable integrations." Tudjman added that Zagreb needs to upgrade its intelligence services in order to combat the increased number of "spy networks" in the country. He said such networks threaten Croatia's independence. Tudjman also blamed "certain countries" for trying to fix Bosnian elections to the detriment of Bosnian Croats. PB
NANO RESIGNS AS LEADER OF ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS
Former Premier Fatos Nano resigned on 20 January as the leader of the Socialist Party and said he will launch "an emancipating movement" that will restore hope among his countrymen, AP reported. In a speech to party officials, Nano said his credo will be "no communism, no anti-communism." Nano added that he was resigning because of a lack of support from the party leadership, which, he said, is no longer in touch with ordinary Albanians. Nano, 45, resigned as premier in September after an uprising by the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha. PB
ROMANIAN MINERS TURN DOWN GOVERNMENT OFFER
A spokesman for the Jiu Valley miners on 21 January said the miners have rejected the government's offer to send a delegation of government officials headed by Labor and Social Protection Minister Alexandru Athanasiu to negotiate with them. The miners insist on Premier Radu Vasile's presence at the negotiations. The miners' spokesman said they are headed for Costesti, some 120 kilometers north of Bucharest, where large police forces are deployed. On 20 January, some 10,000 miners traveling in buses and cars reached the outskirts of Horezu, near Costesti. President Emil Constantinescu the next day convened an extraordinary session of the parliament to debate the strike., RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
EXTREMIST ROMANIAN SENATOR TO BE SUSPENDED FROM HOUSE DEBATES?
The Senate's Judiciary Commission on 20 January recommended that Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, be barred from participating in house debates for 30 days for having incited the miners to continue their strike and for having offended President Constantinescu in a message addressed to the miners on 7 January. The decision is subject to approval by the Senate's Permanent Bureau. MS
ORGANIZATIONS PROTEST JOURNALISTS' SENTENCES
The Romanian Press Club on 21 January protested the one-year suspended sentences handed down by a Bucharest court to two journalists from Iasi, who were found guilty of libeling a police officer and a local judge. The two were also ordered to pay "moral damages." The Bucharest court commuted the sentences handed down by an Iasi tribunal, whereby the two journalists were to have served their sentences. Meanwhile, on 19 January, Amnesty International protested the decision of a Bistrita-Nasaud court to send back to prison Cornel Sabou, a journalist from Baia Mare who was sentenced in December 1997 to 10 months in prison for libeling a judge. Sabou's sentence was suspended in October 1998 for family reasons, but he requested a continuation of the suspension because he is suffering from tuberculosis. The request was turned down on the grounds that he can get adequate treatment in prison. MS
MOLDOVA'S ETHNIC BULGARIANS TO HOLD REFERENDUM
Preparations for holding a referendum in the Taraclia district on whether to join the newly established Cahul County or opt for administrative independence have been finalized, Infotag reported, quoting the chairman of the local electoral commission. Voting will take place on 24 January. The Central Electoral Commission prohibited the referendum, but the Taraclia authorities and the mostly ethnic Bulgarian residents of the district view the ban as "unjustified". In Sofia, a protest rally took place outside the Moldovan Embassy on 17 January, a spokesman for the Moldovan Foreign Ministry announced on 19 January. The protestors demanded that Taraclia retain its status as a separate administrative unit. Parliamentary Chairman Dumitru Diacov on 20 January deplored the intention to hold the referendum, saying everyone must respect the country's laws, Flux reported. MS
BULGARIA TO PROSECUTE RFE/RL JOURNALIST?
Reporters Sans Frontieres, an independent organizations defending the freedom of the press worldwide, on 19 January released a statement protesting the decision of Prosecutor-General Ivan Tatarchev to open an investigation into Tatiana Vaksberg, a freelancer for RFE/RL's Sofia bureau. She is accused of "insulting state authority" and of offending the "[personal ] honor and dignity" of Tatarchev. In an October 1998 broadcast, Vaksberg suggested that Tatarchev was not doing enough to bring criminals to justice and may himself be prosecuted for failure to perform his duties. MS
NEW OIL SLICK ON RIVER DANUBE
For the third time within a week, an oil slick has been reported floating downstream on the River Danube, at the mouth of the Timok River, which flows into the Danube along the border with Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 20 January. Bulgarian officials told the news agency that "all measures have been taken to absorb and clean the new slick" before it reaches the Kozloduy nuclear plant. MS
ELECTION ALLIANCE BAN AND ESTONIAN POLITICS
by Jan Cleave
Since last November's ban on election alliances, political parties in Estonia have been pondering how best to prepare for the 7 March general elections. Some have discussed mergers. Others have opted to run on the list of another party, while still others have concluded post-election cooperation agreements. It is unclear, however, whether "more order" will be brought into Estonia's political landscape in the near future. President Lennart Meri expressed the hope for such a development when he promulgated the ban two days after its passage.
As was the case in neighboring Latvia before last fall's general elections, more than a dozen parties are represented in Estonia's legislature. A number of those parties entered the parliament in an election alliance (because alone they would have failed to pass the 5 percent threshold to parliamentary representation) but subsequently pursued their own political goals. The ruling coalition, for example, having come to power in 1995 as an election alliance composed of the Coalition Party and the Country People's Union, set up four separate caucuses, which at times have bitterly opposed one another. Not only has the large number of small and medium-sized parties represented in the parliament frequently encumbered that body's work; it has also contributed to halting the consolidation of the country's political forces.
Proponents of prohibiting election alliances argued that the bill would help promote such consolidation by forcing smaller parties to merge with larger ones. Not surprisingly, the ban was spearheaded by the leftist Center Party, which, together with the rightist Reform Party, was leading in opinion polls and was expected to benefit from such a prohibition. It was also no surprise that the Rural Union opposed the bill while the Pensioners and Families Party and most Coalition Party members chose not to vote, since those three parties had been planning to renew their election alliance. The fourth member of the ruling coalition, the Country People's Party, voted in favor of the bill, thereby finally distancing itself from its coalition partners.
Almost immediately after the vote, the efficacy of the election alliance ban was called into question when the Coalition Party announced that the Rural Union and the Pensioners and Families Party would run on its list in the upcoming election. According to a survey conducted last month by the Saar Polling Institute, neither the Coalition Party nor the Rural Union would pass the 5 percent threshold; but under current house rules, each party would be able to form its own caucus if it had at least six parliamentary deputies who had run on one list. The announcement prompted a flurry of criticism in the Estonian press that the ban had been "half-finished" and that joint lists should also have been prohibited to prevent parties with less than 5 percent support from wangling their way into the parliament.
In early December, the Center Party submitted a bill to the parliament that would establish the principle of "one list, one caucus" and thereby eliminate what it called the "danger of the disintegration of pseudo-election alliances." Under the draft law, persons elected to the parliament on one election list would be entitled to set up only one caucus. If that principle were to be enforced before the March ballot, only half dozen or so parties are likely to be represented in the new parliament.
According to last month's Saar poll, voter support for the five front-runners is distributed more or less evenly. The Center and Reform Parties remain ahead with 10.7 percent and 10.1 percent backing, respectively. They are closely followed by the centrist Moderates (9.9 percent), the right-wing Fatherland Union (9.7 percent), and the left-of-center Country People's Party (9.5 percent). The only other parties that would pass the 5 percent threshold are the rightist People's Party (6.2 percent), which has opted to run on the Moderates' list, and the Pensioners and Families' Party (5.6 percent). The ruling Coalition Party received just 4.8 percent backing. (Two Russian-speaking parties, the United People's Party and the Russian Unity Party, intend to run on a joint list with the ex-communist Social Democratic Labor Party, but their combined vote is currently below 5 percent.)
Recently, two loose blocs have been forged on the basis of post-election cooperation agreements. On the last day of 1998, the Reform Party, the Moderates, the Fatherland Union, and the People's Party signed such an agreement. Two weeks later, the Center Party and the Country People's Party concluded a non- binding "cooperation memorandum" aimed at paving the way for the formation of a ruling coalition. According to the December Saar poll, the combined vote for the center-right bloc is 36 percent and for the leftist one 20 percent.
There are doubts, however, as to whether either of those blocs would be able to form a cohesive ruling coalition. The four parties belonging to the center-right bloc have worked together in the parliament as the United Opposition since fall 1997, but ideological differences exist within that grouping, particularly in the economic and social spheres. The Center Party and the Country People's Party have similar economic goals but, with only 20 percent backing, would be forced to seek other political forces with which to form a ruling coalition. Center Party leader and former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar has refused to name any candidates for such cooperation, commenting only that "Estonian politics have become pragmatic to such an extent that one is ready to work closely with everyone with whom an agreement can be reached on the principles of a political program."