FIGHTING ESCALATES IN CHECHNYA...
Russian air and artillery bombardment of Grozny intensified on 26 October and ground forces continued their advance on the capital in what Chechen chief of staff Mumadi Saidaev called "the fiercest and biggest battle" since the beginning of the war, Interfax reported. Early on 27 October, Russian troops were reported to be just some 7 kilometers north of Grozny. Reuters quoted unnamed Chechen officials as saying that Russian forces had taken the town of Sernovodsk, 43 kilometers west of Grozny. Interfax said Rusian forces have also taken the villages of Azamat-Yurt, Stepnoe, Nizhnii Gerzel, and Kadi-Yurt and are closing in on Gudermes, east of Grozny. Maverick field commander Salman Raduev, together with Arbi Baraev, is coordinating the defense of Gudermes, according to Interfax. LF
...AS FIELD COMMANDERS VOW RETRIBUTION FOR GROZNY MARKET BOMBING
Meeting in Grozny on 26 October, Chechen field commanders issued a statement blaming the Kremlin for the 21 October blast in Grozny's central market place, which killed more than 100 people, Interfax reported. They vowed that "this crime will not go unpunished." In a statement circulated on 25 October in the electronic Turkestan Newsletter, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov warned that some groups within the Chechen army might act independently to carry out acts of retaliation, targeting nuclear powers plants, reservoirs, dams, and oil refineries elsewhere in the Russian Federation. LF
U.S. URGES RUSSIAN RESTRAINT TOWARD CHECHNYA...
At a news conference with Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen on 26 October, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the U.S. "urges Russia not to repeat the mistakes of the past in Chechnya and instead open a dialogue toward a peaceful resolution with legitimate Chechen partners," AP reported. Aartsen said that "a warning toward Russia is necessary." JAC
...EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER RUSSIAN STATEMENTS ON ABM...
The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Albright told journalists that she is "troubled" by reports of statements by some Russian military on the U.S.'s "interest" in developing a limited national defense system. She said that First Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov's warning that Moscow could "overcome" such a system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 1999) was an "overreaction," adding that she does not want anyone, whether in the U.S. or Russia, "to be reviving old problems." Meanwhile, Interfax reported that during his visit to Moscow on 27-28 October, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is expected to hold talks with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Berdennikov, who last week took part in another round of U.S.-Russian disarmament talks in the Russian capital. JC
...PROPOSES MOSCOW REAL ESTATE DEAL
Also on 26 October, Interfax cited unidentified sources as saying the U.S. is proposing that Russia transfer ownership of five real estate properties in Moscow, including the residence of the U.S. ambassador, in payment of the Soviet Union's lend-lease debt. Under a 1985 agreement, according to the agency, the U.S. agreed to pay 72,500 rubles ($2,800) annually, but more recently the Russian government has suggested an annual rent of $890,000. The agency also reported that Russia's outstanding debt for assistance that the U.S. provided during World War II is some $600-$700 million. JAC
KEY BUDGET OFFICIAL CALLS NEW DRAFT A STEP BACK...
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 26 October, State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov slammed the new version of the budget approved by the State Duma in its first reading on 26 October. He said that the government "has taken a major step back" and as a result the draft document is "less realistic." In the new version, revenues are set at 797.2 billion rubles ($31 million at the current exchange rate) and expenditures at 855.1 billion rubles. Zhukov added that the Budget Committee will consider amendments to the budget for its second reading on 30 October, which will likely be held during the first week of November. The third reading must be held before 28 November if the budget is to be approved before the end of the year, Zhukov warned. JAC
...SAYS IMF MAY DISAPPROVE
Zhukov also said the IMF may not approve of the 2000 draft budget in its current form because the fund "views the additional revenues of the 2000 budget as unrealistic in many aspects." Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Golikova was more optimistic, telling reporters the same day that the government will show the IMF how budget revenues will be increased without decreasing the primary surplus. She added that "we are well aware that the 20.1 billion ruble increase in revenues will necessitate strenuous work on the part of all fiscal agencies." Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov admitted that the government will "need fresh consultations with the IMF to explain the basis for the rise in revenues." JAC
GOVERNMENT PROMISES ALL EXPORTERS WILL SHARE THE PAIN
State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Zhukov said that additional taxation of oil and gas exporters required to meet the budget's new revenue requirements will deal "a serious blow to those industries." However, Deputy Finance Minister Golikova noted that although increasing the export duty on oil has been discussed for a long time, "it would be premature to speak about concrete figures." And First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told Interfax on 26 October that "several commodities will face higher export duties next year besides oil." JAC
RUMORS ABOUT PUTIN'S 'TRANSFER TO ANOTHER POST' HEAT UP...
"Moskovskii komsomolets" argued on 26 October that despite President Boris Yeltsin's assertion the previous day that he still fully supports Putin, the prime minister's position remains shaky. The newspaper, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, claims that "it is common knowledge that media magnate Boris Berezovskii wants Putin out." It also suggested that Yeltsin's conference with security ministers during Putin's absence from Moscow "looks suspicious" since "who or what prevented the president from postponing the conference by a day?" Putin, meanwhile, is taking the speculation in stride, according to Russian Public Television. "Gossip will exist as long as politics exists," he said. Vladimir Pribylovskii of the Panorama Research Center told "The Moscow Times" on 26 October that "firing Putin would be completely illogical right now, but we have learned never to explain or predict Yeltsin's behavior from the point of view of logic." JAC
...AS YELTSIN PLANS TO TAKE ANOTHER HOLIDAY
Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin announced on 26 October that Yeltsin plans to take a holiday starting 27 October for "not less than a week." Yakushkin also claimed that Yeltsin still plans to attend an OSCE summit in Istanbul on 18-19 November. JAC
RUSSIA LOOKING TO SELL FIGHTER JETS TO LIBYA...
Deputy Trade Minister Vladimir Pakhomov said on 26 October that Russia hopes to boost sales of fighter jets and other warplanes next year and intends to "resume cooperation with Libya and other countries that feel a need for multi-purpose fighters of the SU-type," AP reported, citing ITAR-TASS. Pakhomov noted that sales prospects have become brighter since three factories involved in the production of SU-type fighters consolidated their export efforts, ending competition between them. JC
...DENIES SUPPLYING IRAN WITH PROHIBITED GOODS VIA CASPIAN
Interfax on 26 October reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement "categorically denying" claims that Russia is using the Caspian Sea as a route for supplying Iran with components for weapons of mass destruction. Citing intelligence services in the West and Middle East, London's "The Times" had reported the previous day that Russia and Iran are believed to have concluded a "secret agreement" whereby a Russian shipping company with branches in Europe has been contracted to transport "prohibited components" from Europe to Russian ports on the Caspian Sea. From there, according to the newspaper, Russian and Iranian shipping companies transport the goods to Iran. JC
INFLATION PROJECTIONS RISE
The Economics Ministry reported on 26 October that the annual rate of inflation in 1999 may reach 41-43 percent, and not 30 percent, as was projected in the 1999 budget, according to Interfax. During the first nine months of the year, inflation totaled 31.4 percent. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko, however, has come up with a different figure. He told reporters on 25 October that Russia will likely end the year with an annual inflation rate of 38 percent and money supply growth rates of 43-50 percent. Previously, the money supply was predicted to increase by 18- 26 percent, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC
CIS CUSTOMS UNION MEMBERS MEET
Meeting in Moscow on 26 October, the presidents of the five members of the CIS Customs Union--Russia's Boris Yeltsin, Belarus's Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev, Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akaev, and Tajikistan's Imomali Rakhmonov--signed 10 agreements, including one imposing value-added tax in the place of destination and one on rail transport tariffs. The five leaders also signed a "Moscow Declaration" stressing the importance of political and economic stability as a basis for further economic integration and condemning "all forms of international terrorism and religious extremism," Russian agencies reported. In addition, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan agreed on a shared position on accession to the World Trade Organization, of which Kyrgyzstan is already a member. The participants praised the role of Nazarbaev, who is chairman of the Inter-State Council, in reversing the decline in trade between the union's member states that followed the 1998 Russian financial crisis, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 October. LF
EBRD DENIES CO-FUNDING CHECHEN BYPASS PIPELINE
A spokesman at the London headquarters of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development denied on 26 October that the bank is contributing to the funding of the oil pipeline bypassing Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. The construction of the pipeline began the same day. Interfax on 19 October had quoted Semen Vainshtok, director of the Russian pipeline operator Transneft, as saying that Russia's Sberbank and the EBRD has agreed to guarantee $120 million to fund that project. Transneft Deputy Director Sergei Ter-Sarkisyants said on 26 October that the company has lowered the cost of the bypass pipeline from more than $180 million to under $100 million and could provide at least half of that sum from its own funds. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE SAYS ARMENIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS 'FREE AND FAIR'
In a statement issued in Yerevan on 26 October, a delegation from the Council of Europe Local and Regional Authorities of Europe described the Armenian local elections two days earlier as free, fair, and a significant improvement on the 1996 local ballot, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The delegation, whose members visited 88 polling stations, said the vote was well organized and that voting and the vote count were conducted in conformity with the election law. This positive assessment is likely to expedite Armenia's full membership in the Council of Europe. LF
U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Visiting Baku on 26 October, Strobe Talbott assured Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev that the U.S. appreciates and will do its best to support Aliev's efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Talbott is to travel to Yerevan on 27 October and then to Moscow (see above). The U.S. hopes to persuade Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, to sign a formal settlement of the conflict at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November, but Kocharian has said he considers the venue inappropriate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 1999). Talbott and Aliyev also discussed the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline. Turkey and Azerbaijan are to sign four legal and political agreements that constitute the framework for that project at the Istanbul summit. LF
NEW AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER NAMED
President Aliyev on 26 October named parliamentary deputy and Democratic Independence Party co-chairman Vilayat Guliev as foreign minister, Reuters and Turan reported. Guliev, who is 48, is a philologist who speaks English and Persian. He has never worked in foreign policy or held any diplomatic post, according to Turan. Guliev replaces Tofik Zulfugarov, who submitted his resignation on 24 October to protest Aliev's policy on resolving the Karabakh conflict. LF
ANOTHER WESTERN OIL COMPANY PULLS OUT OF AZERBAIJAN
The Houston-based oil company Conoco has announced the closure of its Baku office, following its failure after three years of talks to reach agreement with the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR on reviving the shallow-water sector of the Gyuneshli oil field, Business Wire and Interfax reported on 21 and 26 October, respectively. Meanwhile a SOCAR spokesman told Interfax on 21 October that he opposes the over-hasty implementation of plans for the company's partial privatization. Under those plans, which President Aliyev has not yet approved, the state would retain a 15 percent stake in SOCAR and in the Azerkhimiya, Azerigaz and Azerenergiya companies. Thirty percent of the shares would be sold at a cash auction and the remaining 55 percent for vouchers. LF
RUSSIA CRITICIZES GEORGIA'S ASPIRATIONS TO NATO MEMBERSHIP...
In an indirect response to a remark made the previous day by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to the "Financial Times," the Russian Foreign Ministry on 26 October issued a statement warning that NATO enlargement "does not help to strengthen stability in the Euro-Atlantic region," ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze had told the London-based daily that if he is re-elected president next year, Georgia will campaign vigorously for NATO membership. The Russian Foreign Ministry statement said that doing so "is not the way to solve the problem of the security of one's own country or on the whole continent." In a separate development, an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official told Interfax on 26 October that Russia is interested in the strengthening of peace and stability in Georgia and in continuing its policy of pursuing friendly relations with that country. Also on 26 October, Shevardnadze and Russian President Yeltsin held a telephone conversation, no details of which have been disclosed. LF
...AS GEORGIA DENOUNCES RUSSIAN OFFICER'S ELECTION COMMENTS
The Georgian Foreign Ministry on 26 October officially protested as "provocative and irresponsible" a remark made by Major General Vyacheslav Borisov, commander of the Russian military base in Batumi, to the independent Rustavi-2 TV station two days earlier, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Borisov had said that the majority of troops at the base support the election alliance headed by Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze. He said if that bloc wins the 31 October parliamentary elections, the new parliament will ratify the 1994 agreement allowing Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia for 25-30 years. The Georgian protest note said Borisov's statement constitutes interference into Georgia's internal affairs. LF
COMPOSITION OF NEW KAZAKH PARLIAMENT BECOMES CLEARER
The Otan Party, which supports Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, will be the largest faction in the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's new parliament. It won 15 of the 47 seats contested in the second round of voting on 24 October, giving it a total of 23, Interfax reported on 26 October, quoting Central Electoral Commission member Tatyana Okhlopkova. The Civic Party, which also supports the Kazakh leadership, won three additional seats, giving it 12 in all. The Communist Party has three seats, the Agrarian Party two, and the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan one. It is unclear how many of the remaining deputies are nominally independent but support the present government. LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT SAYS 'ANYONE' MAY RUN FOR PARLIAMENT, PRESIDENT
In a 27 October speech marking the anniversary of Turkmenistan's 1991 declaration of independence, Saparmurat Niyazov promised that the 12 December parliamentary elections will be free and democratic and that anyone may run as a candidate, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. He added that all candidates will be granted access to state television to publicize their election programs. Niyazov similarly said that "anyone" is free to contest the presidential elections due in 2002. LF
LUKASHENKA URGES RUSSIA TO QUICKLY SIGN UNION TREATY...
Addressing the Russian State Duma on 27 October, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka urged Russia to quickly approve the treaty proposing a Belarusian-Russian union state. "If we delay any further, the people will lose their faith in the idea of a union state and the chance of carrying it out," Reuters quoted Lukashenka as saying. Lukashenka noted that the "fierce pressure of adversaries" of the Belarusian-Russian merger has exceeded "all conceivable bounds," according to ITAR-TASS. He criticized "individual Russian media" for presenting Belarus as a "wild [and] underdeveloped" country and a "communist preserve." After talks with Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 26 October, Lukashenka said that agreement has been reached to wrap up discussion of the draft union treaty by 20 November and to sign it "in early December," Interfax reported. JM
...ACCUSES 'ABROAD' OF SPONSORING BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PROTEST
Speaking to Russian journalists in Moscow on 26 October, Lukashenka said the opposition "freedom march" in Minsk on 17 October was planned and sponsored "from abroad," Belarusian Television reported. He claimed that the Belarusian opposition received $300,000 through Belarusian NGOs as well as through "our so-called fascist independent media" to help stage the march. Lukashenka denied that riot police beat the protesters. "We did not beat anybody because we knew that [the demonstrators] need a feature [in television news]," he said. Lukashenka also said he has "reasons to say that the U.S. are exerting pressure not only on Belarus." He quoted Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev as saying "indignantly" at the CIS Customs Union summit in Moscow the same day that "the U.S. is interfering in domestic affairs."Lukashenka, however, did not specify in which countries' affairs the U.S. is interfering. JM
UKRAINE'S 'KANIV FOUR' ELECTION ALLIANCE FALLS APART
The presidential election alliance of Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko fell apart on 26 October after Moroz announced he will stay in the race despite the alliance's earlier decision to support Marchuk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 October 1999). "From now on, everyone is conducting his campaign separately," Marchuk commented, according to AP. Moroz noted that the Kaniv four has fulfilled its task by "breaking the information blockade" around its four candidates. Meanwhile, Tkachenko announced the same day that he will withdraw from the race and called on his supporters to vote for Communist Petro Symonenko. Progressive Socialist leader Natalya Vitrenko commented that Tkachenko has resigned in favor of Symonenko in order to avoid his "political death," Interfax reported. JM
UKRAINE'S MOROZ WARNS AUTHORITIES AGAINST ORGANIZING 'PROVOCATION'
Socialist Party leader and presidential candidate Oleksandr Moroz has warned Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and Security Service chief Leonid Derkach against staging a "provocation" indented to discredit him in the eyes of Ukrainian voters, Interfax reported on 26 October. Moroz said Ukraine's "law enforcement bodies" will air on state- controlled television channels a video that alleges his involvement in the 2 October attempt on Vitrenko's life. Moroz added that such a move would contravene Ukraine's Constitution. JM
UKRAINIAN NATIONALISTS TO SUPPORT FORMER KGB GENERAL
Yaroslava Stetsko, leader of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, said in Lviv on 26 October that her party will support Yevhen Marchuk's presidential bid. Stetsko added that this was a difficult decision for her organization, which had been persecuted by the KGB in the past. General Yevhen Marchuk was the Ukrainian SSR's KGB first deputy chairman in 1990 and chief of the Security Service in independent Ukraine from1991-1994. JM
NEW CORRUPTION SURVEY RANKS BALTIC STATES IN MIDDLE OF PACK
In Transparency International's annual corruption index, released on 26 October, Latvia ranks 58th out of the 99 countries surveyed, according to BNS. TI's 1998 survey had placed Latvia 71st out of 85 countries. This year, Estonia ranked 27th and Lithuania 51st. The index attempts to rank countries according to the public perception of corruption (see also below). MJZ
RUSSIAN EMBASSY WARNS ESTONIA AGAINST TIES WITH CHECHNYA...
The Russian Embassy has warned Estonian authorities against developing closer relations with Chechnya, according to BNS on 26 October. Commenting on a visit this week by three Chechen parliamentary members to Tallinn, a spokesman said it is hoped that Estonia will stick to its policy of regarding Chechnya as an inseparable part of Russia. MJZ
...WHILE DUMA CONDEMNS ESTONIAN DISCRIMINATION AGAINST RUSSIAN MILITARY PENSIONERS
The Russian State Duma on 26 October adopted a resolution condemning the Estonian parliament's approval of amendments to the law on foreigners, which, the Duma said, "set a stricter procedure for granting residency permits to Russian military pensioners and in reality legitimized the possibility of deporting them," ITAR- TASS reported. Duma deputies called the amendments yet another effort "to force persons whose native language is Russian to leave [Estonia]." MJZ
LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY ASKS RUSSIA FOR EXPLANATION OF ILLEGAL BANKING ALLEGATIONS
The Latvian Foreign Ministry has asked the Russian Embassy in Riga to explain the basis for the Russian Federal Security Service's allegations of illegal banking operations being conducted by the Latvian Embassy in Moscow, according to BNS on 26 October. In an interview with Latvian Radio, Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins said the Russian Embassy has no facts to confirm the Russian media report, stressing that Latvia is interested in good neighborly relations with Russia. MJZ
LITHUANIA ANNOUNCES DELAY ON WILLIAMS DEAL...
According to BNS and ELTA on 26 October, the head of Lithuania's negotiating team, Sigitas Kaktys, has announced that the signing of the final agreements between Lithuania and the U.S.-based Williams International, scheduled for 29 October, has been postponed. The agreements must be approved by the cabinet before their signing, but Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas has not included the documents on the agenda of the weekly cabinet meeting, which will take place on 27 October. The documents are being reviewed by the cabinet's lawyers and could be added to the agenda if a majority of ministers vote to overrule the premier. AB
...WHILE REPRESENTATIVES OF INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL INSTITUTION CONVERGE ON VILNIUS
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is prepared to help Lithuania secure more favorable terms in its negotiations with Williams International, "Lietuvos Rytas" reported on 27 October. EBRD Vice President Joachim Jahnke arrives in Vilnius on 27 October to evaluate the bank's on-going projects, which include a loan to the Ignalina nuclear power plant to upgrade security. His bank is prepared to lend the Lithuanian government up to 20 percent of the financing needed to upgrade the Mazeikiai oil refinery if the final agreement with Williams guarantees the viability of the plant. A team from the IMF is also expected soon to negotiate the terms of Lithuania's latest structural stabilization loan. The Lithuanian government's fiscal debt now reaches 5.8 percent of GDP, and IMF and World Bank officials have expressed concern that the Williams deal will raise that figure to nearly 10 percent. AB
CORRUPTION IN POLAND REPORTED TO BE INCREASING
According to Transparency International's annual index (see above), the level of corruption in Poland is increasing, Polish media reported on 26 October. The survey puts Poland in 44th place, between Mongolia and Brazil. Jacek Leski, deputy head of TI Poland, said that corruption in Poland is prevalent at all administrative levels, in the parliament, and in the legal system. "The root of Poland's corruption and the most difficult problem still to be solved is the mechanism of financing political parties and politicians," Reuters quoted Leski as saying. Slovenia ranked 25th, suggesting that it is the least corrupt country from Eastern Europe. Estonia ranked 27th, Hungary 31st, and the Czech Republic 39th. JM
POLISH TEACHERS ANNOUNCE STRIKE FOR 19 NOVEMBER
Polish Teachers Union head Slawomir Broniarz announced on 26 October that the union will launch a one-day nationwide strike on 19 November to demand increased funds for education and wage hikes for teachers, PAP reported. The schools supporting the strike will be closed on that day. "We feel we have done everything we could to improve things in education," Deputy Education Minister Wojciech Ksiazek commented, adding that the ministry will raise teachers' wages. JM
CZECH UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICES MARK ROMA WITH 'R'
For years, Czech unemployment offices have added an "R" into the computer files of applicants who appear to be Romany, TV Nova reported on 26 October. The station's reporters were able to secure lists of Romany applicants from such offices in Prague and Ceske Budejovice, which would be impossible to do if they were not keeping track of unemployed Roma in some manner, the television station noted. Vladimir Valek of the Olomouc unemployment office said he has heard that the practice is taking place but stressed that his own office is not engaging in it. Social and Labor Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla said he did not know about the practice, "Lidove noviny" reported on 27 October. He added that action should be taken "as quickly as possible" against those offices that use such techniques. VG
PROSPECTS OF CZECH 'RIGHT-OF-CENTER' COALITION LOOK DIMMER...
Parliamentary deputy Marie Machata on 26 October announced that she is quitting the Freedom Union and will sit in the lower house as an independent, Czech media reported. Civic Democratic Party (ODS) deputy chairman Ivan Langer said Machata's departure has made it impossible for the ODS to form a "right-of-center" coalition government with the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats. Together, the three parties would have only 100 deputies in the 200-seat lower house, since former Christian Democratic leader Josef Lux is undergoing treatment for leukemia in the U.S.
...WHILE CALLS FOR CABINET CHANGES CONTINUE
Leading Social Democrat and deputy parliamentary chairman Stanislav Gross said the government should not shy away from making changes in the cabinet. He said he expects Prime Minister Milos Zeman to dismiss Deputy Prime Minister Egon Lansky, adding that the changes should not stop there. VG
CZECH DEPUTIES WANT STIFFER PENALTIES FOR RACIAL, CLASS HATRED
A group of Czech parliamentary deputies on 26 October submitted a bill that would impose stiffer penalties for the propagation of movements that promote racial or class hatred, Czech media reported. The bill would impose prison sentences of up to eight years for such crimes. While some deputies commented that the bill is partly a reaction to rhetoric from the Communist Party officials, they said they do not think it will lead to a ban on the party. VG
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT PASSES EUROPEAN CHARTERS
Lawmakers on 26 October passed European charters on local self-administration and cross-border regional cooperation, TASR reported. The government described the move as proof that Slovakia has the political will to decentralize the state administration. The same day, the parliament failed to pass a bill on the protection of economic competition, which President Rudolf Schuster had sent back to the legislature on 16 September. Deputy parliamentary chairman Pavol Hrusovsky said the bill's passage has now been delayed indefinitely. VG
VATICAN DISPUTE REVEALS FISSURES ON SLOVAK COALITION
Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) leader Jozef Migas on 26 October repeated his party's refusal to support the proposed agreement between the Vatican and Slovakia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999), TASR reported. Migas, whose party is a member of the governing coalition, said the status and funding of the Catholic Church in Slovakia should be defined before any accord is approved with the Vatican. He said such a process could "take years." Frantisek Miklosko of the Christian Democratic Movement, which is also a member of the governing coalition, said the SDL's position is based on "atheism" and that it is "typical of [the SDL's] communist electorate. VG
HUNGARIAN INTERNAL SECURITY HEAD RESIGNS
Minister of Interior Sandor Pinter on 26 October "temporarily" accepted the resignation of Laszlo Gal, head of the ministry's internal security office. Gal had requested that his resignation be valid as long as the investigation continues into alleged police involvement in illegal oil dealings in Bekes County. Gal was the head of the Bekes county police until July 1998 and his name was repeatedly mentioned in recent media coverage of illegal oil dealings. He said he resigned in order to avoid speculation that he might obstruct the ongoing investigation. MSZ
ALBANIA'S MAJKO SAYS HE QUIT TO END TENSIONS
Former Prime Minister Pandeli Majko said in Tirana on 26 October that he decided to resign because political tensions within his own Socialist Party prevented him from doing his job (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 1999). Majko's move came just two weeks after he lost a battle for the party leadership with former Prime Minister Fatos Nano. The Socialists are expected to nominate Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta for Majko's job on 27 October. Nano and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo stressed that there will be continuity between the old and new government. Meta is known as a close associate of Majko's. AP reported that the controversial Nano came under strong pressure from Albania's Western allies not to take the premiership himself. PM
SECURITY TIGHTENED IN TIRANA
Police increased security in the capital on 26 October, apparently fearing a fresh outbreak of the gunshots and violence that often accompany political changes in Albania. Police stopped cars with license plates from outside Tirana and checked drivers' documents. Majko said: "Yesterday after news of my resignation broke, there were no gunshots in Tirana. Friends and adversaries, thanks for your respect and silence," Reuters reported. Firing guns into the air is a traditional sign of celebration in many parts of the Balkans. PM
DJINDJIC CALLS FOR DEAL ON SANCTIONS
Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 26 October that Western countries should lift sanctions against Serbia in return for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's agreeing to early elections. "Sanctions are both outdated and ineffective, and the idea is to 'trade' them for early elections, regardless of the results.... If the opposition wins, there is no reason for sanctions any more. If the majority of people votes for Milosevic, then [the effects of Milosevic's rule are] the problem of those people. What's the point of saying: 'You either get rid of Milosevic or you will be ruined as a nation?'" Djindjic concluded, according to Reuters. The opposition leader added that he recently "passed on" his idea to U.S. special envoy James Dobbins, who found it "interesting" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999). PM
BELGRADE PUBLISHERS FINED $9,000...
A Belgrade court ruled on 26 October that the publishers of the private daily "Danas" must pay $9,000 for having violated Serbia's draconian 1998 media law. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj sued the daily for having published an interview with Montenegro's outspoken Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda. In that text, Kilibarda said that Seselj planned to expel Montenegrins from Serbia or make them wear "yellow badges" if Podgorica declares its independence from Belgrade. The Serbian regime has made frequent use of the press law to put financial pressure on private media. PM
...WHILE OPPOSITION EDITOR ALSO FACES LAWSUIT
Cedomir Jovanovic, who is editor of the opposition Alliance for Change's publication "Promene," said in Belgrade on 27 October that he has received a subpoena from a local court. He is charged with unspecified violations of the media law. "It seems that the trial will be held within 24 hours," Jovanovic said, adding he will not appear personally before the court. He charged that "the lawsuit is just another pressure on us and the Alliance for Change," AP reported. PM
BELGRADE COMMUTERS PROTEST TRANSPORT DELAYS
Hundreds of angry commuters staged a spontaneous protest in the Serbian capital on 26 October, Reuters reported. Demonstrators told reporters that they are tired of having to wait up to two to three hours to get home each evening. Serbia's public transport system has greatly deteriorated over the past 10 years because of a lack of fuel and spare parts. PM
TALKS BETWEEN SERBIAN, MONTENEGRIN PARTIES END
Spokesmen for the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and Montenegro's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) said in Belgrade on 26 October that talks on the future relations between the two republics ended without agreement. The discussions will resume at an unspecified time. The DPS spokesman said that the next round of talks will be between "governments, parties, and experts." The SPS official, however, said that the discussion will take place "between parties and in the parliament," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 1999). PM
SERBIAN OPPOSITION, CROWN PRINCE TO RALLY DIASPORA
Vladan Batic, who heads the Alliance for Change, said in Belgrade on 26 October that a meeting will "soon" be held of Serbs living abroad "to involve the diaspora in ending the current crisis in Serbia." Batic added that the initiative for the meeting came from Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, who is the claimant to the throne. Aleksandar is a London-based businessman who has frequently said that he is "willing to serve his people" if asked. Observers note that the monarchist tradition is strong among Serbs. PM
NATO TO MOVE KOSOVA LOGISTICS CENTER TO SLOVENIA?
The Atlantic alliance and Slovenia have agreed that NATO will move the "logistics center" of its supply operation for Kosova from Thessaloniki to Koper, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 26 October. NATO supplies will then proceed to Kosova via the Montenegrin port of Bar. A spokesman for the Slovenian Foreign Ministry said that the agreement is a business deal and does not mean that Slovenia has granted NATO a base. The pact will come into effect once Montenegrin authorities agree. Earlier this year, Greece insisted that NATO make Thessaloniki the headquarters for most of its Kosova operations. That arrangement has, however, been widely criticized in other NATO countries and in Kosova as impractical and expensive. PM
HAGUE COURT: MILOSEVIC TO FACE FRESH WAR CRIMES CHARGES
A spokeswoman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal said in Prishtina on 26 October that Milosevic may soon face additional indictments for war crimes committed by his forces in Kosova. In May, the court indicted him and four of his top aides for atrocities committed in Kosova in 1999. The new charges will involve war crimes from 1998, she added. The spokeswoman noted that on 31 October, international forensics experts will suspend for the winter their work in exhuming mass graves in Kosova. In related news, forensics experts on 26 October exhumed a mass grave of 14 Muslims in Jelec, near the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. Some 24,000 persons are still listed as missing from the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia. PM
WORKERS STAGE PROTEST IN BOSNIA
Some 3,000 workers from the textile and rubber industries demonstrated in Sarajevo on 27 October for better pay and job security. Speakers made remarks such as "Starvation and idleness are killing us," and "Politicians and ministers shouldn't be surprised if we ask for their removal in the near future," AP reported. This is the latest in a series of labor protests in the Muslim- controlled areas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 1999). PM
CROATIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION LAW
The upper house of the parliament adopted a new electoral law, which the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) recently proposed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999). The controversial measure guarantees representation for the generally pro-HDZ diaspora. The exact number of seats for the HDZ will depend on the number of Croats living abroad who cast their votes. The law reduces the number of seats reserved for members of the dwindling Serbian minority from three to one. The lower house is expected to approve the measure on 29 October. The EU, the U.S., and the Croatian opposition have repeatedly warned Zagreb to remove electoral legislation that gives an unfair advantage to the HDZ. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT COMPLAINS ABOUT ORPHANAGE REPORTS
Emil Constantinescu on 26 October complained about recent reports in the international media about the "shocking conditions" in the country's orphanages. Constantinescu said Romania "does not need such help" from the foreign media, saying the orphanage problems were "inherited from the Communist regime." According to official statistics, there are 33,000 orphans and 98,000 disabled children living in Romanian institutions. The number of institutionalized children has reportedly risen by a fifth since 1989. Constantinescu also said Romania has managed to keep up with its debt repayment scheduled thanks to the "great sacrifices" of its people. VG
MOLDOVAN PARTY MAKES ITS PARTICIPATION IN GOVERNMENT CONDITIONAL
Party of Democratic Forces leader Valeriu Matei on 26 October said his party will remain in the governing coalition provided its partners fulfill certain conditions, BASA-Press reported. Matei said one of those conditions is support for the legalization of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church. He said it is "too early" to reveal the other conditions. VG
BULGARIAN, TURKISH PREMIERS INAUGURATE CONSTRUCTION OF HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT
Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and his Turkish counterpart, Bulent Ecevit, participated in a ceremony inaugurating the construction of the joint Gorna Arda hydroelectric system, BTA reported. The system will consist of three dams on the Gorna Arda River in Bulgaria and three hydroelectric plants. Bulgaria and Turkey will share the estimated $220 million costs of the project. The project is expected to create about 3,000 jobs in southern Bulgaria, where some 800,000 ethnic Turks live. Ecevit said he is grateful that Bulgaria has guaranteed its ethnic Turkish minority equal rights. VG
BETWEEN THE RUSSIAN AND BELARUSIAN SCENARIOS
by Jan Maksymiuk
Regardless of who wins this year's presidential elections in Ukraine, no one should expect the country's dire economic situation to improve soon. That is the only certainty with regard to Ukraine at the present time.
Ukraine's foreign debt stands at $12 billion, of which $3.1 billion is due to be paid next year, while the National Bank's reserves total $1.3 billion. The country is thus facing a default on its foreign debt.
Meanwhile, the government's "domestic" debt, in unpaid wages, pensions, and social benefits, totals 10 billion hryvni ($2.5 billion). Some 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and real unemployment stands at 25 percent. Some 17 percent of Ukraine's labor force is occupied in the shadow economy, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the country's economic activity. Corruption is pervasive. And one-third of the population wants to leave the country because of economic woes.
Even if these data--taken from the newspaper "Den," which supports Yevhen Marchuk's presidential bid and is very hostile to incumbent President Leonid Kuchma--are exaggerated, the true picture of Ukraine's socio-economic condition is unlikely to be much rosier.
All observers of the Ukrainian political scene agree that none of the presidential hopefuls will obtain more than 50 percent of the vote on 31 October, meaning there will be a runoff on 14 November. Observers also tend to agree that Kuchma will be one of the two participants in that second round. However, it is anybody's guess whom the incumbent will be running against.
Ukrainian opinion polls suggest that the most likely candidates to reach the runoff with Kuchma are Natalya Vitrenko, Petro Symonenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Yevhen Marchuk. However, many hopefuls, as well as political analysts, have repeatedly cast doubt on the objectivity of polls in Ukraine, claiming they are biased.
Of the front-runners, Petro Symonenko, the uncharismatic leader of the Communist Party, appears the rival against whom Kuchma would prefer to compete on 14 November. Many analysts argue that in such a case, Kuchma's election team could successfully apply Boris Yeltsin's campaign tactics of 1995, when the Russian president faced Communist Gennadii Zyuganov in the run-off and, with the concerted help of Russian electronic media, effectively instilled the fear of a "red revenge" into the electorate. Those analysts assert that Kuchma could successfully use the same strategy against Symonenko. They also point out that Kuchma's campaign is already closely following the "Russian scenario": the Ukrainian incumbent, like his Russian counterpart four years ago, is employing the services of a host of pop stars and celebrities to promote him in the provinces.
Kuchma's potential duel with Progressive Socialist leader Natalya Vitrenko would be more difficult and its outcome less easy to predict. That scenario could be called the "Belarusian" one because of Vitrenko's extremely populist election ticket, which strongly recalls Alyaksandr Lukashenka's in the 1994 Belarusian presidential vote. The 2 October attempt on Vitrenko's life has most likely boosted her surprisingly high popularity. The unpredictability of a possible Vitrenko challenge to Kuchma lies in the fact that her electorate cannot be defined in terms of its social or economic status. Vitrenko's populism finds its appeal among different social layers of the Ukrainian population, whose only common denominator may be disappointment with Kuchma's rule. It is easy to make mistakes in trying to neutralize the populist appeal in the post-Soviet area, as the case of Belarus five years ago amply demonstrated.
Many would argue that Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz's possible runoff could be the worst scenario for Kuchma. Despite his fierce and not always fair criticism of the incumbent, Moroz is seen as a moderate leftist and, in contrast to Symonenko, a likeable one. In the second round, Moroz might be able to enlist the support of both Symonenko's and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's electorate--a goal he failed to achieve while campaigning within the so- called Kaniv Four election alliance of Marchuk, Tkachenko, and Volodymyr Oliynyk. However, the failure to arrive at a political compromise even with Tkachenko (who is now supporting Symonenko) means that Moroz is less likely to appear in the runoff than either Symonenko or Vitrenko.
Marchuk's chances of reaching the second round seem even more remote than Moroz's. In fact, Marchuk is seeking support among the same electorate as Kuchma--that is, among those supporting both Ukraine's pro-market reform and strong statehood. Voters may rather prefer Kuchma, who has already proven himself to be a reformer, if only a half-hearted one, and a staunch supporter of an independent Ukraine.
Ukraine's presidential election campaign has so far been less than exemplary, to say the least. It has been characterized by language that is invariably harsh, very often offensive, and sometimes vulgar. The administration keeps the electronic media--both state-controlled and commercial--on a tight rein, not allowing those media to give more air time to Kuchma's rivals than was prescribed by the Central Electoral Commission. At the same time, Kuchma receives extensive coverage in the state media as the incumbent head of state.
It appears, however, that neither Ukrainian citizens nor the international community would protest very much if Kuchma were elected for another five years. For many inside and outside Ukraine, such an outcome would mean continuation and stability, even if embarrassingly low political and economic standards continue to prevail.