RANKS OF BANKS MAY THIN BY 80 PERCENT...
Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told reporters on 9 February that Russia may have only 200-300 commercial banks by the end of 1999. According to Gerashchenko, Russia had about 1,500 banks as of early September 1998. Since then, 200 banks have lost their licenses, while 200 more licenses are likely to be pulled. The next day, more than 300 angry Inkombank depositors gathered in Moscow to plan a 23 February march on the Central Bank to demand their savings, the "Moscow Times" reported on 10 February. Inkombank's customers want earlier compensation than they are currently likely to get if they wait for Inkombank's bankruptcy case to make its way through Russian courts. JAC
...AS CENTRAL BANK SCANDAL PASSED OVER BY PRESS
Meanwhile, recent allegations by former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov against the Central Bank have failed to attract much Russian press attention. According to the "Journal of Commerce," the Duma's Audit Chamber concluded that more than 50 percent of the bank's annual operating expenses was spent on staff compensation. Gerashchenko told the chamber that this was in line with practices at Western banks. However, citing Western banking sources, the newspaper reported that 20 percent is standard for most Western commercial banks, while most countries' central banks spend less than 10 percent on staff. In statements after news of Skuratov's allegations broke, Gerashchenko praised the work of the Audit Chamber to the detriment of the Prosecutor- General's Office. JAC
DEBT DOWNGRADE LOOMING
Standard & Poor's warned on 9 February that it will downgrade Russia's foreign debt "in the near future" if the country does not receive new external loans or take action to bolster its foreign exchange reserves. The previous day, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko told reporters in Germany that Russia and its creditors should make a "political decision" to write off half of Russia's debts inherited from the Soviet Union and to refinance IMF loans without coordinating an economic program, Interfax reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 February, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov sent Kirienko to Bonn for talks with financiers and will deploy him during the next round of negotiations with the IMF. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov reported an IMF mission will be in Moscow 18-20 February, while IMF Moscow representative Martin Gilman told Interfax no date has been set. JAC
COMMUNISTS, YABLOKO PAN POLITICAL PACT
While State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev echoed the call by Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov for constitutional amendments to shift the country's balance of power, the Communist Party's Duma faction announced on 10 February that it will not support the draft political cease-fire agreement approved by the Security Council on 5 February, Interfax reported. Zyuganov said that supporting the document would be tantamount to "acting in a tragicomedy staged by [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin." Yabloko faction deputy chairman Sergei Ivanenko said that his faction does not take the document seriously either. The Duma must approve the pact for it to enter into force. Meanwhile, Duma deputies Sergei Yushenkov (Democratic Choice) and Konstantin Borovoi (who has no party affiliation) have started collecting signatures to demand a vote of no confidence in the government. JAC
EFFORT TO BAN RELIGIOUS GROUP CONTINUES
A Moscow district court resumed hearing the case brought by city prosecutor against the religious group, Jehovah's Witnesses, on 9 February. The prosecutor is seeking to ban the group from Moscow under a 1997 controversial law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1998). Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad spoke out against the group that day, saying that the Russian Orthodox Church "categorically disagrees with the methods of the organization, whose members go from door to door...engage in personal manipulation, in effect intruding on people's spiritual world and exerting psychological pressure on them." Russian Public Television reported that police investigators were looking into a possible link between the Jehovah's Witnesses and the recent joint suicide of three schoolgirls in Moscow. JAC
ITALY TO NUDGE IMF FOR RUSSIA...
Visiting Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema has expressed support for Russia's effort to obtain new money from the IMF, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. He pledged that Italy will assist Russia in forging an agreement with the fund. After his meeting with D'Alema, Prime Minister Primakov told reporters that Russia and Italy see eye to eye on many international problems, such as Kosova. D'Alema also met with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and Duma Chairman Seleznev, and he chatted with former acting Premier Yegor Gaidar, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, and others at a party at the Italian embassy. JAC
...AS YELTSIN'S PLANE BUMPS ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER'S
President Yeltsin's Il-96 plane knocked the tail wings off Prime Minister D'Alema's plane while taxiing at Vnukovo-2 airport in Moscow, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 February. Neither the president, who was on board, nor the plane sustained any damage. According to the newspaper, the incident occurred because of the poor condition of the tarmac rather than a pilot error. JAC
KREMLIN SENDING ASSISTANCE TO LEBED?
Security Council Secretary and head of the presidential administration Nikolai Bordyuzha announced on 5 February that an operational group from the Interior Ministry, the President's Main Control Department, and staff from the Security Council would be sent to Krasnoyarsk Krai to address the region's very serious crime problem, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 9 February. Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed visited Moscow in late January to try to enlist Prime Minister Primakov's and Bordyuzha's support in his battle with local business titan and former ally Anatolii Bykov. "Moskovskii novosti" in its 7-14 February issue suggests that Krasnoyarsk is in effect ruled by two governors, Lebed and Bykov, both of whom are running for future office, although neither has officially declared their intentions. Lebed, according to the newspaper, will run for president of Russia, while Bykov is planning to seek the governor's seat. JAC
BREAD SHORTAGE IMMINENT IN VORONEZH?
Bakeries in Voronezh Oblast have enough white flour to last only five or six days, "Tribuna" reported on 9 February. Local bakers are concerned that a bread shortage may ensue since the oblast's wheat reserves have run dry and the cash-strapped authorities cannot afford to pay farmers for new supplies. According to "Tribuna," such a state of affairs has never before occurred during peace time in the heart of the country's black earth region. Last year's grain harvest was the worst in a quarter of a century. Agricultural experts recently predicted bread shortages and sharp increases in bread prices would occur throughout Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). JC
GREECE ACQUIRES CONTROL OVER CONTROVERSIAL RUSSIAN MISSILES
The defense ministers of Cyprus and Greece, Yannakis Chrisostomis and Akis Tsohatzopoulos, signed an agreement in Athens on 8 February whereby Greece will assume operational control of the Russian S- 300 air defense missiles that Cyprus contracted to buy from Russia, Reuters reported the following day. The missiles will remain Cypriot property. In response to threats by Turkey to destroy the missiles and following U.S. and European pressure to renege on the deal, the Greek Cypriot leadership announced in December that the S-300s would be deployed in Greece, not on Cyprus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 1999). Chrisostomis will travel to Moscow on 15 February for talks with the Russian Defense Ministry and the arms export concern Rosvooruzhenie on unspecified amendments to the January 1997 contract to purchase the S-300s, according to Interfax. LF
STROEV LEADS DELEGATION TO INDIA
Russian Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev told a meeting of Indian business executives on 10 February, the last day of his three-day visit to India, that the "government of Yevgenii Primakov enjoys the confidence of society, the Federal Assembly, and all the branches of power," ITAR-TASS reported. Stroev added that "Russia has finally chosen the right road, and the economy will develop successfully." Stroev is in India to seek to improve bilateral relations, particularly trade relations. The previous day, the speaker of India's lower chamber of parliament, Ganti Mohan Chandra Balayogi, termed those ties "not lost but [in need of] renovation." Stroev admitted to Balayogi that there has been "a period of cooling" but pointed to the size of his delegation as proof that Russia highly values its relations with India. BP
KALININGRAD GOVERNOR FAVORS 'SELF-RELIANCE'
In an interview published in the 9 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta--Regiony," Leonid Gorbenko recommends that his oblast strive for economic self-reliance. Noting that Kaliningrad has suffered more than other regions during the financial crisis, owing to its distance from Moscow and dependency on fuel and energy imports, he said that "we consider the main principle of our economic policy to bethe support and protection of local manufacturers." The same day, ELTA quoted Gorbenko as telling the Baltic Sea States Council that Kaliningrad will be increasingly used to "establish and maintain mutually beneficial relations with an expanding EU." He also said the exclave will seek to enlarge the visa-free zone in the Baltic region to create a "Baltic Schengen." JC
HOUSING REALLOCATION PROPOSED IN SVERDLOVSK
Members of the Our Home, Our City faction in the Sverdlovsk Oblast Duma suggested selling the new, reportedly luxurious, residence of Governor Eduard Rossel in order to raise money for state employees' overdue wages, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 February. State workers have been picketing the governor's residence as well as the oblast's White House, which houses the government and the Duma, "Tribuna" reported on 9 February. Rossel's supporters suggest that the logical outcome of the sale of Rossel's residence would be auctioning off the White House, according to "Tribuna." Earlier, "Izvestiya" reported that the southern half of the oblast, particularly Beloyarsk Raion, has seen a sharp increase in the number of homeless animals, such as dogs, cats, and horses, who have been abandoned by their owners. JAC
CHECHEN OPPOSITION CREATES SHADOW GOVERNMENT
Meeting in Grozny on 9 February, Chechen field commanders opposed to President Aslan Maskhadov elected a state council that is intended to rule the republic in accordance with Islamic law, AP and Interfax reported. Maskhadov was named a member of the council, together with former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, field commanders Shamil Basaev and Ruslan Gilaev, and former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov. Also on 9 February, the field commanders threatened reprisals for the sentencing by a Russian court of two Chechen women on charges of planting a bomb at a railway station in the North Caucasus town of Pyatigorsk in April 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1997 and 13 January 1999). LF
ANOTHER ARMENIAN SENIOR OFFICIAL SHOT DEAD
The body of Deputy Interior and National Security Minister Major-General Artsrun Markarian was found close to a major highway north of Yerevan on 9 February, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. He had been shot in the head and chest. Markarian had been seriously wounded in January 1998 in what appeared to have been an assassination attempt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT UPHOLDS TELECOM MONOPOLY
Deputies voted narrowly on 9 February to reject an opposition demand that ArmenTel be stripped of its monopoly on the telecommunications sector, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Eduard Yegorian of the opposition Hayrenik faction, who had initiated the debate, told RFE/RL that the vote means Armenians will continue to pay high prices for mediocre telephone connections. On 8 February, former Communications Minister Grigor Pokhpatian issued a statement denying allegations made by a former U.S. employee of ArmenTel that he accepted bribes from the company's former shareholder, Transworld Telecom Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1999). LF
FIRE HALTS EXPORT OF AZERBAIJANI OIL VIA CHECHNYA
The Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR has been forced to halt the pumping of Caspian crude through the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk export pipeline as a result of a 4 February fire in the Chechen sector of the pipeline, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 February. The incident had led to a complete halt in the extraction of oil from the offshore Chirag field, which earlier had produced 90,000 barrels per day. Also on 9 February, a Georgian official with Chevron's Georgian subsidiary said the Georgian government has agreed to reduce from $7.75 to $5 per metric ton the tariff for the rail shipment from Baku via Georgia to the Black Sea port of Batumi of Kazakh oil produced by the Tengiz-Chevroil joint venture, Reuters reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS SENTENCED
Seven supporters of defeated Azerbaijani presidential candidate Etibar Mamedov were sentenced to terms of two to three years' hard labor on 9 February on charges of hooliganism, resisting arrest, and insulting the honor and dignity of President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. The men had participated in an unsanctioned demonstration in Baku in November 1998 to protest the alleged falsification of the outcome of the 11 October presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). Also on 9 February, parliamentary deputies representing six opposition parties, together with an unspecified number of independent deputies, announced the creation of the Democratic Bloc, which will hold its founding congress on 16 February. LF
AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT DENIES DESTRUCTION OF ARMENIAN MONUMENTS
Deputies adopted a statement on 9 February rejecting as "a lie" reports of the destruction of an Armenian cemetery and other Armenian monuments in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 December 1998), Turan reported. They said such reports are aimed at "preparing the ground for new territorial claims by Armenia." Responding to an appeal from Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to intervene to prevent further such destruction at the Old Julfga cemetery in Nakhichevan, UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor said measures have been taken to prevent a repeat of such "vandalism," Noyan Tapan reported on 8 February. LF
RUSSIA APPREHENDS GAMSAKHURDIA-ERA GEORGIAN OFFICIAL
Valerii Gabelia, who was a local administration official under Zviad Gamsakhurdia in 1990-1991, has been arrested by Russian police near Moscow, where he has lived since leaving Georgia in 1994, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 February. The Georgian government had requested his extradition to stand trial on charges of treason, attempting a coup d'etat, and banditry. LF
KAZAKHSTAN LIMITS IMPORTS FROM KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN
Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev told journalists in Astana on 9 February that in order to protect domestic producers, his country will limit imports from neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. Kazakhstan's Minister of Energy, Industry, and Trade, Mukhtar Ablyazov said the restrictions will affect several food imports. He also said the government will form an anti-dumping committee. BP
KAZAKHSTAN'S GOVERNMENT HOLDS SESSION ON ECONOMIC RESULTS...
Prime Minister Balgimbayev told the government on 9 February that last year, Kazakhstan was able to mitigate the impact of the world financial crisis, Interfax reported. However, he noted that Kazakhstan posted a $1.7 billion trade deficit owing to the fall in world prices of the country's major exports: oil, metals, and grain. At year's end, inflation was 1.9 percent, significantly below the 9.5 percent forecast. The average wage in Kazakhstan remained the highest among CIS countries, at the equivalent of $120-130 monthly, while the average monthly pension rose to $48. He said the government has paid nearly all pension arrears also. Balgimbayev also noted that the country attracted $2.2 billion in investments in 1998, up on the 1997 level. BP
...FOLLOWING REPORT BY STATE STATISTICS COMMITTEE
The chairman of Kazakhstan's State Statistics Committee, Jaksybek Kulekeyev, announced on 8 February that foreign trade in the first 11 months of 1998 fell by 7 percent, Interfax reported. Exports fell by 15 percent, compared with 1997, and totaled $5.5 billion. Imports increased during the same period by 1 percent, totaling $7.13 billion. Trade with CIS countries, including "shuttle" trade, totaled $5.8 billion, an 11 percent drop from 1997. Exports to the CIS were worth $2.4 billion, while imports were unchanged against 1997 figures, at $3.4 billion. BP
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS WITH BANK OFFICIALS...
Askar Akayev, meeting with the heads of the country's 24 commercial banks in Bishkek on 9 February, said bankers need to formulate a plan for building a national banking system, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Akayev recommended the banks do more to attract private investors, noting that small and medium-sized banks that have already done so survived the initial impact of the Russian financial crisis. Akayev also emphasized the importance of the bank's support for agriculture, noting that this is a strategic industry and that 95 percent of state loans to farmers in 1998 were paid back. Akayev warned that the government, the National Bank, and commercial banks must ensure that there is no repeat of last fall's devaluation of the som. BP
The chairwoman of the Association of Bankers, Sharipa Sadybakasova, said the National Bank has too much control over commercial banks, and she recommended greater independence for the latter. The chairman of the National Bank, Ulan Sarbanov, said his institution will continue to exert strong control over commercial banks. He favored limited independence for commercial banks. The chairman of the board of directors and the owner of KRAMDS bank brought up the subject of Erkinbek Alimov, the bank's chairman, who is currently held on charges of embezzlement. Both said there is no legal reason for his arrest, as Alimov had only approved loans to people who then embezzled that money. They demanded his release, threatening that otherwise they will appeal to international organizations. BP
TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS IRAN...
Boris Shikhmuradov made a one-day visit to Iran on 6 February to discuss possible routes for exporting Turkmen natural gas and oil, IRNA reported. In his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Shikhmuradov said his country is in favor of exporting oil via Iran as "the Iranian route is economical and safe." The chairman of Iran's Expediency Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told Shikhmuradov in a separate meeting that he agrees with that viewpoint and hopes for the speedy implementation of agreements between the two countries, "despite overt and covert opposition of the U.S. to the transfer of energy...via Iranian territory." Shikhmuradov also met with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who described Tehran-Ashgabat relations as "deep-rooted and strong." BP
...HINTS AT IMPROVEMENT IN REGIONAL TIES
In his talks with Kharrazi, Shikmuradov mentioned that during his recent visit to Islamabad, Pakistani officials spoke of a desire to "open a new chapter in Tehran-Islamabad relations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). Shikhmuradov said he had also met with representatives of Afghanistan's Taliban movement in Islamabad who had assured him that the murderers of Iranian diplomats and a reporter would soon be brought to justice. The Taliban officials had said they want good relations with all their neighbors, including Iran. Shikhmuradov and the Iranian officials with whom he met agreed on the need for clearly defining the "Caspian Sea's legal regime." BP
UKRAINE DEVALUES CURRENCY
Ukraine announced a new trading band for the hryvna on 9 February, effectively devaluing the beleaguered currency, dpa reported. The new trading corridor is 3.4 hryvni to 4.6 hryvni to the dollar, down from 2.5 to 3.5 announced in September. The government has kept the hryvna at an artificial rate of 3.43 hryvni to the dollar since November, although it has been trading on the black market at 4 hryvni to the dollar. Deputy Economy Minister Serhiy Tyhypko said the government will have to maintain the currency corridor in order to ensure stability for investors and domestic producers. National Bank chairman Viktor Yushenko said he hopes to maintain the exchange rate in the middle of the band. PB
UKRAINIAN BANKS ANGRY AT GOVERNMENT
Some 80 Ukrainian banks have accused the government of delaying payments on treasury bills without consulting bank officials. The Finance Ministry announced last week that it will not redeem government bonds due to mature this month until between May and September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). The banks, struggling to stay in business since the Russian economic crisis, said they will appeal to the Association of Ukrainian Banks and seek to have the government's decision overturned in court. PB
CRIMEAN TATARS TO APPEAL FOR INTERNATIONAL HELP
The National Movement of Crimean Tatars said on 9 February in Simferopol that they have begun collecting signatures for an appeal on their plight to the UN and the Council of Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. A regional meeting of Crimean Tatar leaders passed a resolution stating that Kyiv "cannot and will not carry the burden of restoring [the] lawful rights of the Crimean Tatars, cannot and will not provide for equal rights of all people residing in Crimea, and keeps pursuing a policy of genocide and ethnocide against [the Crimean Tatars]." Crimean Tatar leader Vasvi Abduraimov said some 80,000 Tatars in Crimea are unable to receive Ukrainian citizenship and that unemployment is as high as 50 percent among them. PB
LUKASHENKA BLAMES MISMANAGEMENT FOR ECONOMIC WOES
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 9 February in Minsk that "mismanagement" was one of the main reasons for the country's economic decline in 1998, Belapan reported. Speaking at a conference of senior central and local government officials, Lukashenka said Belarus has all the conditions for a productive economic year in 1999. He also outlined the country's economic priorities as closing the trade deficit, halting spiraling inflation, maintaining economic growth, and reducing the number of unprofitable companies. The same day, two employees at the Minsk Tractor Factory went on a hunger strike to demand a wage increase and to seek to force management to adhere to the collective bargaining agreement. PB
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO LANGUAGE LAW
Lawmakers on 9 February passed in the third and final reading amendments to the state language law and tax law requiring those working in the services sector to be proficient in the Estonian language. The vote was 35 to six with one abstention. At the end of last year, President Lennart Meri had signed amendments to the election law imposing language requirements on members of the parliament and local governments. Moscow and OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel have both criticized such amendments. JC
PREMIER OPPOSES SOCIAL DEMOCRATS' BID FOR BIGGER ROLE IN RIGA CITY COUNCIL
Vilis Kristopans, speaking to journalists in Riga on 9 February, said that the Social Democrats cannot build on their cooperation agreement with the prime minister to boost their influence in the Riga City Council, BNS reported. "The Riga City Council is not a lower chamber of parliament," he commented. His remarks came after the Social Democrats faction in the city council handed over a request to Riga Mayor Andris Berzins to give key council posts to the Social Democrats. Earlier, Kristopans had refused to include in his cooperation agreement with the Social Democrats a clause providing for their increased role in the Riga City Council. JC
LILEIKIS CASE POSTPONED, PENDING EVIDENCE FROM U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
A Vilnius judge on 9 February announced he is suspending the trial of suspected World War II criminal Aleksandras Lileikis and will ask the U.S. Justice Department to provide evidence that the 91-year-old defendant is feigning sickness to avoid appearing in court. A Lithuanian team of doctors ruled that Lileikis is too sick to stand trial, but the head of the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations says he has strong evidence that Lileikis is faking. Also on 9 February, the same judge suspended the trial of Kazys Gimzauskas, Lileikis's deputy during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, on the grounds that the defendant is deemed by local doctors to be too sick to appear in court. The judge said the trial will resume if the defendant's health improves, but he did not set a date. JC
FORMER KGB AGENTS SEEKING TO KEEP POSITIONS IN LITHUANIA
Head of the State Security Department Mecys Laurinkus told the parliament on 9 February that 74 former KGB agents have so far applied to be allowed to retain their posts, following the enactment of the controversial lustration law on 1 January, ELTA reported. Under that law, former KGB agents are barred for 10 years from holding government office and working in various private-sector jobs. Also on 9 February, the Constitutional Court began its deliberations on whether the legislation conforms with the basic law. JC
POLAND TO PRIVATIZE ARMS INDUSTRY
The government on 9 February approved a two-year plan to privatize the country's defense industry, Reuters reported. Economy Minister Janusz Steinhoff said "the state of our arms industry is tragic," noting that it was "created to serve the Warsaw Pact and now must serve our armed forces and NATO." Under the program, foreign companies that want to sell military equipment to Poland will have to invest in Polish defense companies. Steinhoff said the government will sell 22 of Poland's 34 defense firms. Deputy Economy Minister Dariusz Klimek said investor interest is "tremendous," despite the industry's debt of some 2 billion zlotys ($570 million). PB
EU INVESTIGATING POLAND'S COAL EXPORTS
The Polish Economy Ministry said on 9 February that the EU is investigating allegations that Poland is dumping subsidized coal exports on foreign markets, AP reported. It said that an EU official is in Poland for this purpose and that Weglokoks, the country's largest coal exporter, is one company being checked. Britain recently asked Poland to reduce its subsidized coal exports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1999). Poland plans to reduce coal production from 137 million tons to 110 million tons by 2002. In other news, Pierre Moscovici, the French European affairs minister, said in Warsaw on 9 February that the EU's failure to reform its finances at the EU summit in March would not automatically delay enlargement of the union, Reuters reported. PB
HAVEL'S POPULARITY DROPPING
A public opinion poll released on 9 February by Sofres-Factum confirms trends suggesting a drop in the popularity of President Vaclav Havel, CTK reported. An absolute majority (61 percent) said Havel is doing a worse job than two years ago, when he began to have health problems, while only 1 percent said the opposite. Nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) said Havel should resign. A poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research in January showed Havel's popularity has dropped from 70-80 percent in the early and mid- 1990s to 46 percent. Reacting to the polls, Havel said on 9 February that he follows them "with some interest" but has "not drawn any conclusions." MS
HAVEL MEETS WITH CAUCUS LEADERS
After meeting separately with the heads of parliamentary groups, Havel on 9 February told journalists that he plans to organize a meeting of parliamentary party leaders, excluding the Communist leader, to discuss ways of solving the country's current economic and political problems. The meeting has been tentatively scheduled for early March. Havel said he is not seeking to interfere in politics and is only offering the presidential palace's "neutral grounds" as a venue for seeking "consensus and communication," CTK reported. He said all invited formations have confirmed their participation, with the exception of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus said earlier he has doubts about the purpose of the meeting. MS
SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ARMY LAGS BEHIND NEIGHBORS
Pavol Kanis on 9 February said the Slovak army is "considerably lagging behind" the armies of neighboring countries and will undergo a "fundamental reorganization" to prepare it for admission to NATO in 2001, CTK reported. Kanis said the army has three years to "make up for the time wasted" by the government of Vladimir Meciar. In related news, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe signed a memorandum of understanding with the Slovak government, providing for unescorted access to the Malacky airfield near Bratislava and to an adjoining weapons range for training purposes, AP reported. About 200 U.S. military will train at the base five or six times a year, but U.S. planes will not be kept there on a permanent basis. Jozef Pivarci, state secretary in the Defense Ministry, said the agreement "clearly confirms [Slovakia's] political orientation." MS
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NATO MEMBERSHIP
With 330 votes in favor, 13 against, and one abstention, the parliament on 9 February approved Hungary's joining NATO and ratified the North Atlantic Treaty, Hungarian media reported. Only the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party cast "no" votes, saying that Hungary should follow the goal of neutrality espoused by the 1956 revolution. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi is expected to present the accession documents to the U.S. government next month. MSZ
HUNGARIAN, ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTERS SEEK TO IMPROVE RELATIONS
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told his visiting Romanian counterpart, Radu Vasile, on 9 February that it is in Hungary's interest that Romania join NATO and the EU. The two premiers agreed "in principle" that a Hungarian-German university should be set up in Romania, but Vasile did not specify when this might happen. He tried to dispel Hungarian concerns that a planned Budapest-Bucharest highway would circumvent Transylvania, saying that the two major cities of Cluj and Targu Mures would "somehow be linked to the system." Vasile and Orban agreed to promote the opening of a Hungarian consulate in Miercurea-Ciuc and Hungarian and Romanian cultural centers in Cluj and Budapest. They also agreed that after joining the Schengen agreement, Hungary should try to avoid introducing visa requirements for Romanians. MSZ
U.S. SAYS SERBS RISK NATO AIR STRIKES
State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 9 February that NATO will launch air strikes against Serbia if the Kosovars agree to a settlement at the Rambouillet talks but the Serbs balk over the stationing NATO peacekeepers in Kosova. "The Serbs will be subject to air strikes. And so they would be making a big mistake to hold up this agreement over the question of allowing forces in," Rubin stressed. Earlier that day, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic said in Belgrade that his government would agree to foreign troop deployment in Kosova "under no conditions." In Rambouillet, AP reported that "despite claims of progress [by international mediators, unnamed] sources close to the delegations said that the two sides have not agreed upon a single word of the peace plan." PM
UCK WANTS FORMAL CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT
The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) said in a statement in Prishtina on 10 February that it demands independence "through a clear and indisputable formulation with fixed dates and according to a clearly set-down procedure." The previous day, Albin Kurti, who is the spokesman for UCK political representative Adem Demaci, noted: "You cannot have a political process on one side and at the same time massacres and terror on the other. If these negotiations continue without a cease-fire, they cannot lead to a peace agreement. The Serbian regime has not respected any international agreements it signed in the past. Unfortunately, the international community has not adequately punished Serb behavior in the past." Observers noted that the Serbian negotiators are unlikely to agree to signing a cease-fire because it would mean accepting the UCK as a legitimate negotiating partner. Belgrade's position is that the guerrillas are "terrorists" and that one cannot negotiate with such individuals. PM
ALBRIGHT REASSURES DJUKANOVIC
Rubin told reporters on 9 February that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright telephoned Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic "to thank him for his government's continued support for our efforts to resolve" the Kosova dispute. Albright also praised Montenegro's "constructive role" throughout the crisis. Rubin added that "the Secretary took this opportunity to assure President Djukanovic that Montenegro's concerns will be kept in mind" at Rambouillet. She also told Djukanovic, as she recently told Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, that the international community's focusing on Kosova "does not mean president Milosevic has a free hand to cause problems elsewhere" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1999). PM
ALBANIA'S MAJKO WARNS OF "COLLECTIVE SELF-DEFENSE"
Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told journalists in Tirana on 9 February that "if we have a continuation of the massacre in Kosova..., all Albanians in the Balkans--in Albania, in Macedonia, in Kosova [and] Montenegro--have the right to collective self-defense." He did not elaborate. Majko noted that the Albanian government will make available its military facilities to NATO troops for any peace-keeping mission in Kosova, "Zeri i Popullit" reported. He nonetheless stressed that "Rambouillet [is only] one step in a [longer] process" leading to a peaceful solution of the Kosova crisis. Observers noted that Majko and other members of the Socialist-led government usually avoid formulations that suggest possible joint political or military action by all Albanians in the Balkans. FS
GLIGOROV FEARS REGIONAL INSTABILITY
Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov told his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, in Paris on 9 February that the failure of the Rambouillet talks would likely lead to renewed fighting in spring "with all the consequences one can imagine for stability in the Balkans." Chirac replied that France "will not allow" any threat to the stability of southeastern Europe, dpa reported. He called Macedonia "an element of stability" in the region. PM
MACEDONIA REGRETS CHINA'S DECISION TO BREAK TIES
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Skopje on 9 February that the Macedonian government hopes China will reconsider its decision announced earlier that day to sever ties with Skopje because of the latter's recognition of Taiwan (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 February 1999). The Macedonian spokesman added that China "does not seem to understand" that Skopje opened ties to Taipei "purely on economic grounds." It is unclear whether China will continue to fund the construction of the Kozjak dam and hydroelectric project, for which Beijing has granted $85 million, Reuters reported. PM
SALAJ SAYS PASALIC SEEKS TO CONTROL HINA
Branko Salaj, who recently resigned as head of the state-run Croatian news agency Hina, told a press conference in Zagreb on 8 February that President Franjo Tudjman's chief aide, Ivic Pasalic, carries out the most political interference into Hina's work, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). Pasalic denied the charge. Elsewhere, police arrested Marko Marcinko, who is the former director of the failed Glumina Banka, and six of his associates on charges of corruption and fraud. PM
BELGRADE WANTS TO TRY SAKIC
The Yugoslav Justice Ministry said in a statement on 8 February that it will seek the extradition of Dinko and Nada Sakic from Croatia in conjunction with atrocities they allegedly committed against Serbs, Jews, Roma, and opposition Croats during World War II. Nada Sakic was extradited to Croatia in November from Argentina, where she and her husband Dinko have lived since the end of World War II. A Zagreb court dismissed charges against her last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). Her lawyer said she wants $3,000 compensation for the three months she was imprisoned, "Vecernji list" wrote on 10 February. Her husband still faces trial for war crimes in Croatia, to which Argentina extradited him in June. PM
MUSLIMS DRAGGING FEET ON MIXED POLICE FORCES?
Richard Monk, who heads the UN-sponsored International Police Task Force in Bosnia, said in New York that efforts to form ethnically mixed police forces have been "surprisingly successful" in some Bosnian Serb areas, AP reported. He added, however, that the Sarajevo authorities often lack the "political will" to form such units. PM
MODERATE SERBS FIRM ON DODIK
The international community's Carlos Westendorp said in Banja Luka that Petar Djokic has turned down Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen's nomination of him as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). Westendorp added that moderate Serb leaders Biljana Plavsic, Milorad Dodik, and Zivko Radisic have insisted to him that Poplasen keep Dodik as prime minister, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Banja Luka. Dodik recently returned from a trip to Washington, where President Bill Clinton assured him of U.S. support, "Danas" reported on 9 February. PM
ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT TO BURN SPEED BOATS
A special working group recommended to Prime Minister Majko on 9 February that smugglers' speed-boats seized by police be burned, "Koha Jone" reported. To date, the government has auctioned off the boats, but it has since found out that the mafia has bought back most of them. The working group directly coordinates police operations against smuggling across the Straits of Otranto. It includes officials from the Defense Ministry, which will soon provide navy support for the police and Coast Guard. The government created the working group following the kidnapping of Vlora's police chief by smugglers in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). FS
ROMANIAN MINERS THREATEN NEW STRIKE
Miron Cozma, leader of the Jiu Valley miners' union, who last month staged a violent march on Bucharest, has threatened to launch a new strike next week to protest the local state-owned mining company's failure to renew collective labor contracts that expire at the end of this month, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 9 February. The company's manager responded that negotiations on a new contract cannot begin until the parliament approves the 1999 budget. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SUBMITS LAW ON BROADENING GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY
Petru Lucinschi on 9 February submitted to the parliament a draft law that would considerably broaden the powers of the cabinet, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The draft is to be debated under emergency procedures once the legislature passes a confidence vote in Serafim Urecheanu's cabinet. The draft grants the government powers to rule by decree for two years, including introducing legislation on the budget, privatization, taxation, social insurance, and social protection. Under its provisions, the parliament must debate within 72 hours laws submitted by the cabinet, otherwise those laws are to be considered as having been approved. Although the draft requires consultations with parliamentary groups before a new cabinet is formed, it stipulates that the government is to be set up "solely on the criteria of expertise and unity of outlooks of its members." MS
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO SOFIA ON BILATERAL TIES
Leonid Kerestedzhiyants told Bulgarian diplomats and officials on 9 February that his country is eager to improve ties with Bulgaria but that some Russian companies encounter difficulties in participating in Sofia's privatization drive, Reuters reported. He said Russia is not seeking special privileges but noted that there have been cases where Moscow had no access to privatization tenders. Kerestedzhiyants also said Moscow's decision to lower import taxes on some Bulgarian goods, announced last week, will improve the large imbalance in bilateral trade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). MS
DOWN TO SUBSISTENCE
By Paul Goble
Nearly three out of every four Russians now grow some or all of their own food, a measure of the ways in which they are attempting to cope with their ever-increasing impoverishment.
That figure comes from a U.S. Information Agency-sponsored survey of more than 2,000 residents of the Russian Federation. Conducted in September-October 1998 and released last month, this poll not only helps to answer "just how bad" poverty in Russia now is but, equally important, undercuts some assumptions about how Russians are dealing with their economic difficulties.
The poll's findings about subsistence farming are perhaps the most striking. More than half of all Russians--some 55 percent--currently grow approximately half or more of their food in private gardens, at their dachas, or on other plots of land. Only 27 percent, the poll found, do not grow any of the food they consume--and that in a country whose population remains more than 70 percent urban.
But this is just one of the ways Russians are trying to cope at a time when only 50 percent of Russian adults are employed and only one in four of those who are employed are being paid on a more or less regular basis.
Not surprisingly, many Russians are turning to family and friends. Some 57 percent of those polled had borrowed money, and another 52 percent had accepted assistance of one kind or another from family or friends in the six months before the poll. But most expressed fear that this source may be drying up. Fewer than 40 percent said they believe they can count on this source of alternative income if things become even worse.
Russians are not turning to two potential sources of income that many have assumed they are using to keep afloat. As the USIA report notes, "contrary to popular accounts, the substitution of barter for wares overall is not that prevalent." And workers not paid on time are not making money "in a flourishing second economy."
With regard to barter, the survey found that in the six months before the poll, only 27 percent of those working had received goods in lieu of wages and that in half of these cases, this was only a one- or two-time event. And the survey found such wage substitutes are doing little to help those not being paid on a regular basis. Some 35 percent of workers who have either not been paid or have been paid more than a month late "never receive payment in kind," the report said.
With regard to the question of second jobs, the USIA survey failed to find much evidence that Russians are making use of them to supplement their incomes. While some may have underreported their participation in such jobs owing to concerns about taxation, 82 percent said they do not have a second job. Only 10 percent said they have a regular second job, and only 6 percent indicated they sometimes do.
Moreover, most of these jobs provide relatively little income. Forty-three percent of those with such jobs say it provides them with less than 25 percent of their income; only 16 percent say that it provides more than half.
Given the assumptions many have made about the role of the second economy in Russia, the USIA survey intriguingly found that those not paid regularly are no more likely to have a second job than those who are paid on time. That lack of individual entrepreneurship in much of the Russian labor force was reflected in another finding of the USIA-sponsored poll: namely, that large majorities of working Russians were unwilling to leave their current jobs even if they are not being paid on a regular basis. Most believe that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find an equivalent position quickly or at all.
And all are aware that the government is unlikely to provide them with unemployment benefits in the interim. Indeed, two out of three unemployed Russians today have never received such benefits.
Given such concerns and difficulties, Russians are turning toward subsistence, an obvious survival strategy and one that represents an unspoken call for help from the outside.