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Newsline - June 15, 2000


A group of 17 Russian businessmen, many of whom are themselves considered oligarchs, have signed an appeal to President Vladimir Putin protesting the detention of their fellow business executive, Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinskii. The appeal stated that until Gusinskii's arrest, "we believed we lived in a democratic country and today we have serious doubts." It suggested that there is no reason to jail Gusinskii since he poses no danger to society. According to Boris Berezovskii's "Kommersant-Daily," the initiators of the appeal were Alfa Group's Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven. Among the other signatories were Interros head Vladimir Potanin, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Yukos Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Sistema head Vladimir Yevtushenkov, LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov, and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev. Berezovskii and former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich were not among the signatories. However, Aven said Berezovskii was not included because he had already made his views known and is no longer a businessman but a State Duma deputy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2000). Abramovich is also a deputy. JAC


Gazprom head Vyakhirev and Interros head Potanin also signed an agreement, pledging to pursue joint investment projects and coordinate efforts in managing existing industrial assets, Interfax reported on 14 June. In commenting on the Gusinskii case the same day in Madrid, where he was paying an official visit, President Putin expressed displeasure over Gusinskii's not repaying credits owed to Gazprom. Gazprom, for its part, issued a press release acknowledging that the debts of Gusinskii's Media-Most "are unduly large, as President Putin recently said." However, the statement added that the company has "no grudge against Mr. Gusinskii" and that "as shareholders in the [Media-Most] holding, we are interested in the stability and financial health of Media-Most as a whole." JAC


Four State Duma factions--the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Yabloko, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), and Russian Regions--called on 14 June for Gusinskii's release and demanded a clarification of the circumstances of his arrest from President Putin. The largest faction, the Communists, did not sign the appeal, but Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that there was "no special need" to imprison Gusinskii and that he has asked that a query concerning Gusinskii be submitted to the Prosecutor-General's office. OVR faction leader and former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told NTV on 14 June that he is "outraged" by how the Prosecutor-General's Office has handled the Gusinskii matter, saying that it "very clearly wanted to shock or possible intimidate the public." Duma deputy (SPS) Irina Khakamada said that in light of recent events, the faction leaders "will give more serious consideration" to three bills reforming the administration of the Russian Federation, Interfax reported. JAC


When asked by reporters about Gusinskii on 14 June, U.S. President Bill Clinton said that "I don't know what the facts are.... But I do not believe people should be arrested solely because of what they say in exercising their role as members of the press." Clinton added that he had made a very strong statement on freedom of press when he was in Moscow recently and would "continue to do so" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2000). White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said that Gusinskii "should not be prosecuted for any reason relating to his position in the media. Any charges and trial should be done in a way that provides him with due process and is open and transparent." Meanwhile in Israel, the speaker of the parliament and several cabinet ministers have expressed concern about the manner of Gusinskii's arrest, AFP reported on 14 June. JAC


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has publicly accused presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin of orchestrating Gusinskii's detention, telling NTV on 14 June that "I think this is a dirty trick by Voloshin against Putin." Voloshin, who held the same position under former President Boris Yeltsin, is allegedly closely connected with the so-called "Family," composed of Berezovskii, Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, and former Sibneft head Abramovich. Echoing Luzhkov's charge, Media-Most Deputy Chairman Igor Malashenko told reporters in Madrid that "Putin is not the one who makes the decisions and doesn't control the situation in the country." It is instead "the same people who made decisions during the last era of Yeltsin." JAC


Media Minister Mikhail Lesin told Russian Public Television on 14 June that officials at the Prosecutor- General's Office have assured him that Gusinskii's detention is an isolated incident: "Mass media are in no danger, prosecutors have no desire to hinder journalists' work in any way." The same day, Russia's Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov told Ekho Moskvy that he does not see "any direct connection between the initiation of criminal proceedings against Gusinskii and pressure on the media." However, Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of Politika Foundation, told "Trud-7" that he thinks the Gusinskii case "could damage [Russia's image] more than the war in Chechnya ever will." He added that "instead of discussing world politics, [Putin] will be answering questions about 'Gusinskii the political prisoner.'" JAC


Justice Ministry spokesman Gennadii Lisenkov told reporters on 14 June that Gusinskii is being held in a "privileged situation," sharing a cell equipped with a television at the Butyrka prison with two "intelligent people," a counterfeiter and another man charged with economic crimes. Most inmates at Butyrka are held in cells meant for 20-40 people that actually hold 50-80, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 15 June. "The Moscow Times" reported the same day that if Gusinskii is charged, he could spend the next two years in his Butyrka cell before his case ever makes it to court. According to the daily, Dmitrii Rozhdestvenskii, director-general of Russian Video, has been sitting in Lefortovo Prison for 21 months charged with misappropriating state funds and tax evasion. Gusinskii is suspected of embezzling some $10 million from Russian Video. Rozhdestvenskii had been repeatedly subjected to pressure from the Prosecutor-General's office to provide evidence against Gusinskii, according to "Kommersant-Daily." JAC


While the arrest of media magnate Gusinskii overshadowed President Putin's visit to Madrid, the Russian leader left the Spanish capital on 14 June having signed several accords and reached an agreement to boost bilateral ties. In particular, the two sides agreed to hold annual summits and cooperate in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. Addressing a group of Spanish businessmen, Putin urged larger investments in Russia, promising a stable ruble, economic growth, and lower taxes, according to dpa. Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, meanwhile, visited the Spanish company Patentes Talgo SA, with which the Russian government intends to create a joint venture to manufacture undercarriage systems adaptable to Russia's rail gauge, which is wider than those elsewhere in Europe, Reuters reported. JC


Speaking at a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on 14 June, President Putin said that the two sides had discussed issues related to U.S. plans to deploy a limited national missile defense system and had expressed "similar" views on those issues, Interfax reported. Both Spain and Russia are "concerned about the possible disturbance of the balance of powers," Putin commented. Early last week, during a brief visit to Rome, Putin had introduced his proposal for a joint European anti-missile defense system, which was enthusiastically received by his Italian hosts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 June 2000). Noting that the "development of relations with the European community is Russia's priority," Putin argued in Madrid that Russia is a European country both in terms of culture and mentality. "Europe cannot exist without Tchaikovsky [just as it cannot exist without] Velasquez," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. JC


"RFE/RL Newsline" incorrectly reported on 14 June that Putin had chosen Spain for his first official visit abroad since his inauguration as president. Putin was in Rome early last week and in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in mid- May.


At a press conference in Moscow on 14 June, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the International Military Cooperation Department of the Defense Ministry, stressed that President Putin's proposal for a joint European anti-missile defense system is not aimed "at making West European countries dependent on Russian anti-missile technologies," Interfax reported. "We are putting the emphasis on joint work and the coordination of activities" toward setting up such a system, he added. Ivashov also stressed Moscow's position that the U.S. is not facing a threat from so-called "rogue states" such as North Korea: "We evaluate the threats, the true missile threat, to the United States as being "nil." JC


Speaking in his native village of Tsentoroi on 14 June, Chechen leader-designate Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov called on Chechen resistance fighters to lay down their arms. "Enough blood of the Chechen people has been spilled for the sake of ideas which are alien" to the Chechens, Reuters quoted him as saying, in a reference to radical Islamism, which he has consistently condemned. Kadyrov again expressed his readiness for talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, field commander Ruslan Gelaev, and "all those who wish to end this war," but not with "bandits who...took hostages," Interfax reported. But at the same time he argued that Maskhadov has forfeited his legitimacy by failing to condemn criminal activities by some of his field commanders. Kadyrov nonetheless promised Maskhadov protection, provided he resigns voluntarily and apologizes to the Chechen people for betraying their confidence in him. LF


Kadyrov also appealed to Chechen field commanders to offer suggestions on how to restore peace and stability, ITAR-TASS reported. He said he plans to offer government posts to several members of Maskhadov's cabinet, including first deputy premiers Nuzhen Daaev and Musa Doshukaev. Kadyrov appealed by name to his rivals for the post of interim Chechen leader, State Council chairman Malik Saidullaev, Moscow businessman and former Russian presidential candidate Umar Dzhabrailov and former militia commander Beslan Gaantemirov, offering them jobs "if they are interested in helping their people." Kadyrov further expressed concern that federal funds intended for reconstruction of Chechnya's war-shattered infrastructure are being embezzled and sent abroad. LF


Industrial production soared 10.6 percent in May 2000, compared with the same period last month, the State Statistics Committee reported on 14 June. Output had also risen in April and March by 5.5 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively. Industrial production rose 10.4 percent during the first five months of the year compared with the same period last year. Compared with April 2000, output slipped 1.9 percent in May 2000. JAC


Following the 31 May explosion that killed two soldiers, Oleg Savchenko, a likely future candidate for governor in December 2000 gubernatorial elections in Volgograd Oblast, has called on local authorities "to cleanse the oblast [of] all Chechens located in the oblast illegally," according to EWI's "Russian Regional Report" on 14 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2000). Savchenko, who is also chairman of the board of directors of the Volga Ball Bearing Factory, accused oblast and local authorities of having "assisted the Chechen diaspora to seize control of the most profitable sectors of the Volgograd economy." According to the publication, the head of the oblast's administration for internal affairs admitted that following the explosion, a massive investigation into "persons of Caucasus nationality" and firms controlled by them was launched. As a result, 31 companies have been closed. AP reported on 2 June that at least two people were arrested in connection with the explosion. JAC


With only one week left until the end of the summer fishing season in the Caspian basin, Russian fishermen have caught less than 20 percent of their sturgeon quota--or just more than100 tons, Interfax reported on 14 June. State Fishing Committee deputy head Vladimir Izmailov told the agency although there will be a fall fishing season in September, yields are usually a third of the summer catch. He concluded that "a seven-fold decrease in exports of black caviar is inevitable." This is more optimistic than his prediction last month, when he suggested that Russia might have to halt caviar exports altogether (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2000). Izmailov announced on 15 June that the Fishing Committee is intensifying its efforts to develop schools of sturgeon for fish farming to enable the production of caviar on a commercial scale. JAC


Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met in Brussels on 13 June with NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, whom he briefed on the current stage of talks aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to Armenpress, cited by Groong. Oskanian stressed that the presidents of both Armenia and Azerbaijan have reconfirmed their commitment to a compromise settlement of that conflict. Robertson greeted Armenia's aspiration to intensify its cooperation with NATO within the Partnership for Peace program. Doing so, he said, will promote peace and stability in the region. LF


The ad hoc Armenian multiparty parliamentary commission claimed on 13 June that fraud, inefficiency and mismanagement in the energy sector since1992 has cost Armenia about $200 million in total losses, which is equal to 40 percent of the budget for this year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. The commission's 37-page report alleges that 305,000 tons of fuel oil worth $25 million never reached Armenia between 1992 and 1995 and that the 224,000 tones of fuel oil imported in 1993 and 1994 cost the Ministry of Energy $11 million and not $29 million, as reported by official statistics. President Levon Ter-Petrossian's administration is also accused of "abusing" $12 million from a $60 million energy loan extended by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The commission calls for a criminal investigation into its findings, which its head, Davit Lokian, says do not give a complete picture of the total abuses. LF


Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov held talks in Baku on 14 June with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ramiz Mekhtiev, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayet Guliev, and President Heidar Aliev, Turan and Russian agencies reported. Ivanov and Mekhtiev signed a joint protocol on coordinating measures to combat terrorism, organized crime, and drug-smuggling, which Ivanov described as "an important step" toward developing bilateral cooperation. It is not known whether the two men also discussed the disaffected Lezghin minority, whose historical homeland is divided by the Azerbaijani-Russian frontier. Turan had reported on 13 June that the Lezghin separatist organization Sadval is planning a congress in Makhachkala on 14 June. Aliyev assured Ivanov that "there are no unresolved issues" between Azerbaijan and Russia, according to Interfax. On 12 June, Aliyev had said Russia "can and must" promote a solution to the Karabakh conflict. LF


Meeting on 14 June in Baku with visiting Romanian Senate Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Georgiu Presecaru, President Aliyev said that during his upcoming visit to Romania, "specific decisions" will be taken on the export of some Azerbaijani oil via that country, Interfax reported. In a meeting the same day with Rza Ibadov, who chairs the Azerbaijani parliamentary commission for foreign policy, Presecaru said that such exports via the Baku-Supsa pipeline and by tanker to Constanta would supplement, rather than compete with, the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, according to Turan. Presecaru also expressed Romania's interest in expanding bilateral economic cooperation with Azerbaijan and promised support for Baku's bid for full membership in the Council of Europe. LF


Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the Russian Defense Ministry's Department for International Military Cooperation, said in Moscow on 14 June that any Georgian demands for equipment currently deployed on Russia's military bases in Georgia will be rejected, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Two of those four bases are to be closed by mid- 2001. Ivashov said that the assets of the former Soviet military were equitably divided following the demise of the USSR and that Georgia received its rightful share. The chairman of the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, Revaz Adamia, said earlier this month that Tbilisi will demand $10 billion compensation for weaponry withdrawn from Georgia during the early 1990s, including two submarines and military aircraft. LF


Russian border guards who three months ago occupied the Georgian village of Pichvini and evicted residents from their homes are erecting fortifications there, Caucasus Press reported on 15 June. The village is located on a disputed sector of the Russian-Georgian border and commands mountain paths leading to Chechnya. The local Georgian population are reportedly angered that the Georgian leadership declined to challenge the Russian action for fear of creating further tensions in bilateral relations. LF


At their 14 June summit in Dushanbe, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan signed an agreement charting plans for creating a common economic space by 2002 and for further economic integration between their countries between now and 2005, Interfax reported. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev characterized that document as "the first step toward the formation of a common labor and capital market." Akaev said that plans for integration comprise four stages: the creation of a free trade zone, the setting up of a Customs Union, the formation of a payments and monetary union, and the establishment of a common labor and capital market. The four presidents unanimously elected Tajikistan's Imomali Rakhmonov to succeed Akaev as chairman of the Union's Inter-State Council. LF


At Tajikistan's request, the four presidents adopted an appeal to the UN Security Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the OSCE to devote more attention to the situation in Afghanistan, Interfax and RFE/RL' s Kyrgyz Service reported. Uzbek President Islam Karimov explained that "the creeping expansion of religious extremism and international terrorism" originating in Afghanistan poses a threat to the countries of Central Asia. He expressed regret that all UN initiatives on Afghanistan to date have proved fruitless. The four presidents also appealed to the international community for financial aid to resolve the ecological problems posed to the region by Tajikistan's Lake Sarez. LF


The lower house of the Kazakh parliament on 14 June postponed ratification of bilateral agreements, signed in 1995, allowing Russia to use military ranges on Kazakh territory for testing anti-missile and anti-aircraft equipment, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies called for the creation of a commission to study the agreements, under which Kazakhstan will receive $27.5 million annually for the use of those facilities. President Nursultan Nazarbaev will discuss the use of those bases and other aspects of bilateral defense cooperation during his visit to Moscow next week, Defense Minister General Sat Tokpakbaev told parliamentary deputies on 14 June. Tokpakbaev also admitted that the Kazakh leadership does not have a full inventory of all armaments the country possesses, Reuters reported. LF


Lyubov Ivanova, one of two lawyers for detained Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 14 June that his case was transferred to the Kyrgyz Military Court the previous day. Kulov was arrested in late March, but no date has been set for his trial on charges of abusing his official position as minister of security from 1996-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2000). Meanwhile Kulov's second lawyer, Nina Zotova, has been ordered to vacate the office premises she rents from the Federation of Kyrgyz Trade Unions. She has received no response to repeated appeals to the district court on Kara Buura to declare invalid the official results of the 12 March parliamentary runoff, according to which Kulov lost that vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 March 2000). LF


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 14 June told heads of higher educational institutions that he will place this year's entrance examinations "under his control," Belarusian Television reported. "If some of you or those who are listening to us today think that the president should not deal with [entrance examinations], he is simply a narrow-minded man," Lukashenka said. A presidential aide explained that many officials in Belarusian higher educational institutions take bribes for enrolling students. Lukashenka has asked the Belarusian Patriotic Youth Union, an organization modeled on the Soviet-era Communist Youth League, to monitor entrance examinations in Belarus on his behalf. In 1995, in a bid to prevent examination topics being leaked, Lukashenka kept those topics in his presidential safe and read them out live on television and radio on examination day to those about to take the examinations. JM


Top foreign investors have complained about the investment climate in Ukraine at a meeting of the Foreign Investments Advisory Council in Kiev, AP reported on 14 June. The council, which includes representatives of 23 top international corporations and banks as well as President Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian leaders, was set up in 1997 to promote investments. "There's a general feeling that executive government in not functioning properly," Andrew Seton from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development noted. Seton cited such obstacles to investment as state interference in the private sector, excessive state regulation, and tax collection at the regional level that is "not consistent with [investors'] understanding of the tax regulations in Ukraine." Kuchma pledged to do his utmost to transform Ukraine into an attractive post-Soviet country in terms of investment, according to Interfax. JM


Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar told a Tallinn conference on communist crimes that the fact that communist crimes are not denounced in the same way as are Nazi crimes is "the biggest inequality of our time," ETA reported on 14 June, the anniversary of massive deportations carried out by the Soviets in 1941. Saying Communism did "much more evil" than Nazism, Laar added that he and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are cooperating to set up an international foundation to investigate communist crimes. Russian human rights activist and State Duma member Sergei Kovalev revisited the theme he discussed at a similar conference in Vilnius earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2000), saying "crimes of the communist era will remain untackled as long as Russia hasn't publicly offered her apologies to the Baltic states." MH


EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen praised the passage of amendments to the Estonian language law on 14 June, saying the language law is now in total compliance with all OSCE and EU norms, ETA reported. The amendments were passed by a vote of 50 to one, removed controversial provisions. The law still requires Estonian language knowledge for those working in those parts of the public and service sectors deemed vital, such as first aid and police. But there will be no language knowledge requirement to work in private sector jobs such as at shops and stores. Also on 14 June, the parliament eased the naturalization process for disabled applicants, removing requirements such as examinations testing the applicants' knowledge of the Estonian language and constitution. MH


After hours of heated debate, the parliament on 14 June voted by 51 to 37 to pass a controversial bill that sets ministerial wage at 24,755 kroons ($1,515) a month, or 5.5 times the national average, ETA reported. By a vote of 56 to 32, the parliament also approved a 5 percent valued-added tax on heating as of 1 July. Until now, heating has not been subject to VAT. Two members of the ruling coalition--the Pro Patria Union and the Reform Party--wanted an 18 percent levy on heating, in line with the general rate of VAT, but the third partner, Moodukad, voted with the opposition to push through the lower rate. Finance Minister Siim Kallas of the Reform Party said a negative supplemental budget may now be necessary. MH


A survey conducted by the company Tieto Konts suggests that one-third of information technology students in Latvia plan to pursue their future outside Latvia, LETA reported on 14 June. Some 77 percent of respondents also said they would go abroad for an indefinite period if they were offered study opportunities or work. Organizers of the survey say that the main motivation appears to be financial, though many respondents also stressed the experience and professional skills gained from being abroad. MH


Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek has appointed Bronislaw Komorowski as defense minister, PAP reported on 14 June. Komorowski, who is chairman of the parliamentary National Defense Commission, will replace Janusz Onyszkiewicz of the Freedom Union (UW) which last week quit the coalition cabinet formed with the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). Komorowski and Onyszkiewicz were Poland's first civilian deputy defense ministers, both serving from 1990-1993, after the fall of the communist regime. Komorowski previously belonged to the UW but quit the party in 1997 to join the Conservative Peasant Union, a component of the AWS parliamentary coalition. JM


The Lustration Court ruled on 14 June that Robert Mroziewicz, former deputy foreign minister and deputy defense minister from the Freedom Union, is a "lustration liar," PAP reported. The court said the lustration statement Mroziewicz supplied as a government official did not disclose that he had collaborated with the communist-era security services from 1977-1985. According to the court, Mroziewicz agreed to collaborate without being pressured to do so, accepted a codename, and even drafted a document obliging himelf to become a secret collaborator. Mroziewicz denies he was a collaborator and intends to appeal the verdict. JM


In its annual report released on 14 June, Amnesty International harshly criticized discrimination of Romany minorities in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. It said members of these minorities are still facing discrimination in education, are often treated by police with brutality, and face attacks by skinheads and other extreme nationalists without receiving proper protection from the authorities. MS


The cabinet on 14 June approved the "Concept for Integration of the Romany Community." The document outlines measures for eliminating discrimination and improving the social position of Roma. Pavel Rychetsky, deputy premier in charge of legislation, told journalists that the government has decided against setting up a "quota system" for Romany employees in the civil service but will offer advantages to companies where Roma or other socially disadvantaged groups account for more than 60 percent of the work force. The cabinet also approved guidelines for a law on ethnic minority rights, adding that the ministers concluded there is "no need" to set up an office for ethnic minorities. He also noted that the bill will reflect commitments stemming from the European Convention on the Protection of Ethnic Minorities, to which the Czech Republic has acceded, but not the Charter on Minority and Regional Languages, which Prague has not yet ratified, CTK reported. MS


The Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech and the Syndicate of Czech Journalists on 14 June criticized the recent seizure by police of copies of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," CTK reported. Lea Motlova of the syndicate told journalists that "no one but a court of justice" can make such a decision. She said the ban of this and other anti- Semitic or racist books is "pointless" and that the committee fears the police action against "Mein Kampf" could establish a precedent. She noted that books by Marx, Engels, and Lenin are readily available in shops and libraries, despite the fact that communist ideology is "comparable to Nazism" and has caused "comparable human suffering." MS


Rudolf Schuster on 14 June called on Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet to "improve cooperation with opposition parties" in view of the country's difficult economic situation, CTK reported. Schuster was speaking on national television to mark his first year in office. He said members of the government must stop fighting against one another, concentrate on their tasks, and explain the cabinet's policies to the people. He also said he opposes a cabinet reshuffle because "cosmetic changes" cannot provide a solution to the problems facing Slovakia. MS


According to an amendment to Hungary's screening law adopted by the parliament on 14 June, a panel of judges will screen newspaper, radio, and television editors as well as judges, and state prosecutors to determine whether they were members of fascist or communist organizations or the communist secret service. The law affects editors working in the private and state-run media. If the panel finds incriminating evidence, the person will be given the option to resign within 30 days or face the findings being made public. MSZ


Hungarian officials expressed surprise after learning on 14 June that the Romanian Aurul company has resumed operations at the gold smelter in Baia Mare, which caused the cyanide spill into the Tisza River in January. Government commissioner Janos Gonczy said he received a pledge in Bucharest in April that he would be able to assess safety measures at the smelter before Aurul resumed activity, but he noted that he had received no invitation to do so. MSZ


A spokesman for the military court in Nis said on 14 June that journalist Miroslav Filipovic is charged with the "criminal act of espionage in conjunction with spreading false information" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). The court must soon launch proceedings against the journalist and decide whether Filipovic should be in prison until the trial begins. The London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), which published many of Filipovic's articles, said in a statement that "Miroslav's only 'crime' has been to pursue serious reporting at the highest level. He has shown unique courage in covering topics at the heart of Yugoslav politics. IWPR calls on the Yugoslav authorities to respect the rule of law and behave according to international norms and standards." PM


Albanian Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha said in Tirana on 14 June that some Kosovar "factions" close to the UN civilian administration in Kosova are responsible for the decision of Bernard Kouchner, who heads that administration, to ban Berisha from visiting Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2000). Berisha added: "I know Mr. Kouchner and I respect him for a lot of things he has done. But I was really surprised about the arbitrary decision of barring me from visiting Kosova." The former Albanian president criticized unnamed Kosovar political "factions inside the UN administration who smuggle weapons into Kosova with the help of Tirana government." Berisha added that such politicians espouse a "primitive nationalism." The reference is presumably to Hashim Thaci and General Agim Ceku, both of the former Kosova Liberation Army. Kouchner's spokeswoman said in Prishtina that "the situation is tense and Berisha's arrival could make the situation more tense. Berisha could be in danger." She did not elaborate. Reuters reported that Berisha's opposition to the 1999 Rambouillet Agreement could be a reason for the ban. PM


The Kosova Electric Company on 14 June cut the power to Kouchner's house due to unpaid bills. The bill was soon paid and the power restored. Company spokesman Fadil Lepaja said that the ethnic Albanian from whom Kouchner rents the house was "most probably" at fault for the lack of payment. Lepaja added that "we still consider Mr. Kouchner to be one of the most honorable citizens of Kosova," AP reported. PM


Some 20 armed vehicles belonging to the military police passed twice through Tuzi, near the Albanian-Montenegrin frontier, on 14 June. The exercise caused "disquiet among the local mainly ethnic Albanian population," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Yugoslav army had previously announced that maneuvers would take place following the 11 June local elections. PM


The steering committee of the Podgorica branch of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) unanimously agreed to reject the resignation of Predrag Bulatovic as party leader, "Vesti" reported on 15 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2000). Bulatovic offered to resign following the defeat in the local elections of the Yugoslavia coalition, to which the SNP belongs. The steering committee said in a statement that despite the coalition's defeat, the SNP will be the strongest single party in the new city council. PM


A court in Banja Luka ruled that Biljana Plavsic and her supporters retain the legal right to use the name Serbian National Alliance (SNS), "Vesti" reported on 15 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2000). The court thereby ruled invalid her ouster in a vote at the party congress on 3 June. Her leading opponent, Dragan Kostic, charged that the court ruling came as a result of political pressure from the authorities of the Republika Srpska. Kostic and his allies, who include SNS leader Jovan Mitrovic, will soon found their own party. Plavsic hailed the court's decision. She added that she "thanked the surgeon Dragan Kostic for removing with his surgeon's knife parts of the SNS that were of no use." PM


The Democratic People's Union (DNZ) announced that it will nominate Fikret Abdic, who founded the party, to replace Alija Izetbegovic for the Muslim seat on the joint presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2000), "Vesti" reported on 15 June. It is not clear whether Abdic, whom Izetbegovic's government has declared a war criminal, is legally entitled to run for office. Prior to the 1992-1995 war, he was Izetbegovic's only serious rival for popularity among Bosnia's Muslims. During the war, he promoted the interests of his power-base in the Bihac area at the expense of the interests of the authorities in Sarajevo. He also collaborated with both Serbian and Croatian forces. The Sarajevo government subsequently declared him a war criminal. Abdic is believed to be living in Croatia. PM


Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic said in Sarajevo on 14 June that the Bosnian authorities are disappointed with the results of the EU's Balkan Stability Pact, Reuters reported. He suggested that many donors have not made good on their pledges and that the Pact's own bureaucracy has slowed matters down. He called for a greater role for countries from the region in coordinating projects. The Stability Pact acts as a clearing house for projects in order to prevent waste and duplication of effort and to identify projects most worthy of support. PM


The Defense Ministry said in a statement in Ljubljana on 14 June that it has launched an investigation to find out who recently leaked a document to the Maribor daily "Vecer" regarding cooperation between the Intelligence Security Agency (OVS) and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The statement did not deny the substance of the report in "Vecer," which wrote that the DIA and OVS are jointly studying the political situation in Serbia. The two agencies are particularly interested in the former general and current opposition politician Vuk Obradovic, AP reported. The U.S. embassy had no comment on the report. "Vecer" and the reporter who wrote the story are cooperating with the police investigation. President Milan Kucan said, however, that time has come to "question the purpose" of the OVS, which "has been implicated in various scandals and is undermining the credibility of the country." PM


The Interior Ministry on 14 June put out an international arrest warrant for Josip Gucic and his son Zvonimir, who are suspected of embezzling about $24 million in dubious business transactions in recent years. The elder Gucic is believed to be in Germany, where he was allegedly undergoing medical treatment. This is the latest in a series of investigations into the affairs of leading businessmen who were close to the regime of the late President Franjo Tudjman. PM


Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 14 June that his government will soon submit to the parliament a bill on "prohibiting the propagation and use of fascist symbols." The move comes in the wake of a recent gathering of far-right supporters to honor a World War II fascist leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2000). PM


The government on 14 June published the names of several generals and many reserve officers whom it claims falsely were classified as war invalids and thereby entitled to special pensions and privileges. Many of the men were close to the Tudjman leadership. Former commander Branimir Glavas said that he does not recognize the legitimacy of the move, "Jutarnji list" reported. General Ivan Tolj, who also lost his invalid's status, said that he will start court proceedings against the government. Other top officers affected include Ante Budimir, Zivko Budimir, Mate Lausic, Mile Cuk, and Matko Kakrigi. PM


The College of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Files Archives on 14 June said it is "temporarily suspending" its activities to protest the fact that the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), where most of the files of the former secret police are deposited, is not cooperating with the council in good faith, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. College member Mircea Dinescu said the SRI is still using some Securitate informers and does not want their identify to be revealed. Gheorghe Oniosoru, who chairs the council, said access to the files must not be hindered or made conditional. The SRI has denied the accusations. President Emil Constantinescu, meanwhile, convened a meeting on 15 June between Oniosoru and SRI chief Costin Georgescu to mediate the conflict. MS


Police on 14 June detained for questioning Ion Popa, manager of the National Oil Company Petrom, who is suspected of having signed a contract for diesel oil deliveries worth some $1.4 million to two local firms without requesting bank guarantees. Under existing rules, state-run companies must ask for collateral when payment is not made on delivery, Reuters reported. MS


Representatives from the European Commission said in Bucharest on 14 June that Romanian officials stole aid sent for malnourished children, including stocks of honey, biscuits and chocolate, Reuters reported. They said they found many children still suffering from malnutrition at a center in Bucharest that had received in November enough aid to last for nine months. Solving the problem of homeless and mistreated children is one of the conditions set by the EU for Romania's accession to the union. MS


The premiers of Bulgaria and Slovakia on 14 June said their countries wish to coordinate efforts in the quest to join the EU and NATO, BTA and TASR reported. Ivan Kostov and Mikulas Dzurinda also stressed the importance of resuming navigation on the River Danube, which is now hindered by the ruins of bridges destroyed during on NATO air raids on Yugoslavia last year. Kostov said Slovak businessmen must participate in the opportunities offered by the Balkan Stability Pact, mentioning in this connection the planned new bridge over the Danube linking Bulgaria and Romania. Dzurinda was also received by President Petar Stoyanov. MS


The River Danube town of Nikopol has again been polluted by ammonia gas from the Turnu Magurele chemical plant, on the Romanian side of the river. Concentrations were 3.7 times above standard norms, AP reported, quoting an Environment Ministry official. MS


By Jan Maksymiuk

On 24 November 1996, a constitutional referendum initiated by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka took place in Belarus. Lukashenka submitted to popular vote a radically rewritten constitution broadly expanding his powers at the expense of those of the legislative branch. The new basic law abolished the country's former parliament--the 260-seat Supreme Soviet--and introduced a bicameral legislature consisting of a 110-seat Chamber of Representatives (the lower house) and a 64-seat Council of the Republic (the upper house). This legislature has been deprived not only of the possibility to effectively act as a check on the government but also of the right to draw up its own budget.

The 1996 plebiscite took place amid egregious violations of constitutional norms and procedures, and its results are widely believed to have been rigged. Before the referendum, the opposition in the Supreme Soviet had initiated procedures for impeaching Lukashenka, and his days in office appeared to be numbered. What saved him at the very last moment was a "conciliatory mission" undertaken by Moscow. A group of top officials led by then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin arrived in Minsk and persuaded the opposition not to impeach Lukashenka in exchange for the Belarusian president's pledge that the referendum would be of a consultative nature only. The opposition and Lukashenka struck a deal to that effect, but following the referendum, which overwhelmingly endorsed the new constitution, Lukashenka enforced the results of the vote by decree.

The new constitution prolonged Lukashenka's term in office for two another years, until 2001. Since the 1996 referendum, Lukashenka has consolidated his power and turned Belarus, as the U.S. Congress's 3 May 2000 resolution put it, into "an authoritarian police state where human rights are routinely violated." With Moscow's political and economic support, he has appeared to ignore Western criticism. But while he has managed to marginalize the opposition at home, he has failed to undermine the oppositionists' standing abroad.

This fall, Belarus will hold elections to the Chamber of Representatives, a body that in the past four years has turned the concept of Belarusian parliamentarism into a caricature. Since last fall, the Belarusian opposition has been trying--with the help of the OSCE and other European organizations--to organize a dialogue with the authorities in order to hold fair, democratic parliamentary elections and overcome the country's international isolation. The OSCE says it will recognize the Belarusian ballot only if the authorities amend the country's electoral code, give the opposition access to the state-controlled media, expand the powers of the current legislature, and stop political persecution.

Following Vladimir Putin's election as Russian president, Lukashenka's political position has dramatically weakened. As long as the politically--and physically--feeble Boris Yeltsin remained in power, Lukashenka could harbor hopes to continue to push his integration policies ahead and eventually succeed Yeltsin as head of a Belarusian-Russian unified state. Following Putin's installation in the Kremlin, however, such a turn of events seems unlikely. Now the most pressing issue confronting Lukashenka appears to be how to keep power in Minsk and avoid the incorporation of Belarus into the Russian Federation as the latter's 90th subject.

Holding free and fair elections in Belarus could give Lukashenka the democratic mandate that he so obviously lacks, as well as improve his political position both at home and abroad. It is likely that these considerations have forced Lukashenka to launch a so-called "sociopolitical dialogue" in Belarus. Two months ago, the authorities brought together some 100 public associations and organizations in a bid to present the gathering to the OSCE as a forum for discussing the upcoming elections. The Belarusian opposition, however, refused to participate in that forum, which it says lacks the leverage to change Belarus's legislation and is only Lukashenka's attempt at outplaying the opposition (and the international community) once again.

So far, the OSCE Minsk mission appears to have abided by the position defined by the OSCE Istanbul summit in November 1999: The constitutional crisis in Belarus can be overcome only by a "significant dialogue" that will lead to free, democratic elections. The current "sociopolitical dialogue" by no means corresponds to that definition, even though Lukashenka has promised to take the legislative initiative and submit to the Chamber of Representatives some amendments to the electoral code. At the same time, he appears willing neither to discuss the expansion of powers of the current legislature nor give the opposition access to the media he controls. As a result, his declared intention to hold transparent and democratic elections sounds like an empty promise.

By August at the latest, the OSCE is expected to make a decision on whether to send observers to Belarus's elections this fall. Sending observers to elections will not automatically mean that the OSCE recognizes the ballot as democratic. But such a step usually indicates that there are prerequisites for holding democratic elections.

In Belarus, no such prerequisites have been in evidence. Nor is there any real chance that in the next two months Lukashenka will take radical steps to comply with the OSCE demands. As a result, it would seem that the OSCE decision on whether to send its observers to Belarus is a foregone conclusion. However, given Lukashenka's talent for political maneuvering, it cannot be ruled out that he will outplay the opposition once again--this time with the OSCE performing a "conciliatory mission" in Belarus.