PUTIN SACKS ENERGY MINISTER...
President Vladimir Putin on 5 February fired Energy Minister Aleksandr Gavrin for "chronic inability" to solve the country's heating and fuel crisis, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" on 3 February reported that Russia's political elite expects more changes soon. As the paper put it, "the rumor window is open. The war of rumors has entered its culmination phase." PG
...MAKES FAR EAST GOVERNOR AN OFFER HE CAN'T REFUSE...
Following a phone call from Putin, Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko decided on 5 February to resign from his post. Last month, Nazdratenko had declared that he had no plans to resign and that the krai's energy crisis was of a systemic nature -- he asserted that Primore was only experiencing the effects of a nationwide crisis earlier than the rest of the country (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 January 2001). Nazdratenko also declared earlier that if he were to resign early, he would seek re-election, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported on 5 February. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 February that while President Putin was serving in the Kremlin's Control Department (GKU) in 1997, he had worked on gathering information that would lead to the dismissal of Nazdratenko. The GKU's current head, Yevgenii Lisov, apparently succeeded where Putin couldn't: he visited Nazdratenko in his Vladivostok hospital room on 5 February -- just before Nazdratenko agreed to resign, according to the daily. JAC
Putin also called on the head of the presidential administration to "reinforce the personnel of Unified Energy System (EES) because of the heating problems in the Russian Far East." The EES is headed by Anatolii Chubais, but Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that this action "does not straightforwardly imply that Chubais must be replaced." Chubais himself said that the president's personnel decisions so far are adequate, Interfax reported. But Chubais has been under pressure from the EES board and may lose his job or see his powers reduced in the near future, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 February. PG
MORE REGIONS REPORT POWER OUTAGES
Following the dismissal of Energy Minister Gavrin and reports of EES head Chubais's possible resignation over the energy crisis in Primorskii Krai, and several more regions are reporting heating shutdowns or malfunctions. According to "Segodnya" on 6 February, a number of apartments in St. Petersburg were not getting enough heat on 5 February, as temperatures outside dipped to minus 25 degrees Celsius. In Ulan Ude, an emergency situation was declared following an accident at one of the city's electricity stations on 3 February, and in a raion in Samara around 17,000 people are without heat following a break in a heating pipe due to the severe cold, RFE/RL's Samara correspondent reported on 5 February. Also without heat are villages in Chita Oblast, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and Yakutia, according to the Emergencies Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
LUZHKOV SAYS METRO BOMBING 'A TERRORIST ACT'
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said on 5 February that a bomb explosion at Moscow's Belorusskaya metro station earlier that day, which injured 10, was "100 percent" a terrorist act, Russian agencies reported. The Federal Security Service (FSB) said that it had not reached a conclusion but has increased security throughout the metro system. Meanwhile, prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the explosion, which officials said had the explosive power of 400 to 600 grams of TNT. PG
KUDRIN ASKS IMF TO LEVEL OUT DEBT REPAYMENTS
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told visiting IMF delegation head Gerard Belanger on 5 February that Russia faces "a complex situation" on debt repayments because of the peaking of payments in 2002 and 2003, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that his government will submit to the Duma amendments to the budget to finance repayments to the Paris Club. PG
SWISS FORMALLY ASK U.S. FOR BORODIN'S EXTRADITION
Switzerland on 5 February formally asked the United States to extradite Pavel Borodin, the state secretary of the Union of Belarus and Russia, to Switzerland for prosecution, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Ruslan Tamaev, the deputy head of the serious crime department of the Office of the Prosecutor-General, left for Switzerland to see if any arrangements could be made, Interfax reported on 5 February. "Segodnya" on 3 February suggested that Moscow is willing to start its own investigation of Borodin if the Swiss will agree to some deal and will provide the necessary documents. And Borodin's lawyers in New York said they are preparing additional petitions in advance of the 22 February extradition hearing, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 February. PG
SERGEEV SAYS CFE AT RISK IF NATO ENLARGES
Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said on 5 February that any inclusion of Baltic countries or CIS states into NATO "could destroy the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty," Russian agencies reported. In other comments, he said that Moscow does not seek to drive a wedge between the European Union and NATO and that Moscow will respond vigorously in concert with other countries if the U.S. withdraws from the ABM treaty. PG
RUSSIA REMAINS ON MONEY-LAUNDERING BLACKLIST
The Financial Action Task Force again this year listed Russia among the 15 countries around the world which have refused to cooperate in combating money-laundering crimes, "Segodnya" reported on 3 February. Meanwhile, Duma deputy and Fatherland-All Russia factional leader Yevgenii Primakov called on President Putin to "break the genetic connection with the group that made him its heir and get by the Scylla and Charibdis of chaos and corruption," Interfax reported on 5 February. Primakov said that he was confident that Putin has "enough strength" to do so. And "Nezavisimaya gazeta-politekonomiya," no. 2, published a draft anti-corruption program written by Mikhail Krasnov, the head of the Anti-Corruption Center in Moscow. PG
GOVERNMENT MOVES TO TAKE CONTROL OF ORT...
The government moved to take complete control of ORT television after acquiring it via a sale of 49 percent of its shares by Boris Berezovsky to Roman Abramovich, who was acting for the state, Russian agencies reported on 5 February. The government has nominated replacements for the five members of the ORT board it had not nominated. And it notified journalist Sergei Dorenko of his dismissal, who said that there were no legal grounds for his dismissal in which he was informed of "two or three weeks ago." In another media move, the chairman of the TV-6 board, Eduard Sagalaev, announced that he has tendered his resignation, Interfax reported on 5 February. PG
...AS GUSINSKY DENOUNCES PUTIN...
In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 February, media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky said that President Putin will suffer politically if he moves to close NTV. Gusinsky said "Putin believes that he is fooling everyone...But he is not so much fooling everyone as the West is pretending to believe him. Today, NTV amounts to only a drop in the bucket of overall deception, but a drop that could become critical for him when Western politicians stop deluding themselves." In other remarks, he said that Russians are unlikely to come to the defense of NTV as Czechs had of their television last month "because when tanks went into Prague [in 1968] people tried to stop them with their bodies. Because they didn't have a Stalin. Because they were Europe and we unfortunately were always Asia." And he concluded that "Putin will be remembered not as a man who united the Russian lands but as a destroyer. Not because he is a bad man, but because he simply does not understand." PG
...AND NTV PREPARES LAST DITCH DEFENSE
In the face of mounting government pressure, the NTV board has threatened to issue more shares in order to prevent Gazprom from taking control, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 February. The paper said that Media Minister Mikhail Lesin had urged Gazprom to try to organize an extraordinary board meeting first. But on 5 February, NTV will hold a general shareholder meeting in Gibraltar to consider electing a new board, Interfax reported on 5 February. PG
RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS UNDER ATTACK
The Glasnost Defense Fund reported that 16 journalists were killed in Russia in 2000, that there were 36 cases of censorship during that period, that 26 journalists were prosecuted, and that 11 journalists were illegally dismissed, "Versty" reported on 3 February. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 February that the apartment of one of its photographers had been broken into last week in such a way as to suggest more than a simple robbery. PG
SPS FACES UNIFICATION PROBLEMS
Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) deputy faction head Viktor Pokhmelkin said on 5 February that his group plans to become a political party at a 26 May congress. He said that Yegor Gaidar's Democratic Choice movement and Boris Nemtsov's Young Russia group have agreed to disband and join the new group, but Sergei Kirienko's "New Force" group has been reluctant to do so for both organizational and political reasons, ITAR-TASS reported. Pokhmelkin said that the SPS opposes Kirienko's belief that presidential envoys -- of which he is one -- should actively interfere in economics and appoint factory directors. Meanwhile, Boris Nemtsov, who leads the Duma SPS faction, said in an interview published in "Obshchaya gazeta," no. 5, that the new group would "even be prepared to field a presidential candidate who isn't a member of SPS -- [Yabloko's Grigorii] Yavlinsky, for example -- if pre-election polls show that he is the most popular leader on the right." PG
ATOMIC POWER PUSHED AS SAFE, FUTURE POWER SOURCE
Rosnergoatom Director Yuri Yakovlev was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 February as saying that Russian nuclear power stations are among the safest in the world and should play an increasing role in fulfilling the country's energy needs. He also said that all the stations should be placed under the control of a single energy company, a step that if taken would represent a major defeat to EES chief Chubais. PG
FOOD SUPPLY DOCTRINE TO BE OUT SOON
President Putin is currently considering the final version of a draft on food security, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 February. The new document is intended to outline plans to make Russia more self-sufficient in food. Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 February as saying that the government has allocated 2 billion rubles ($75 million) to stabilize grain market prices. PG
FSB LOSING BEST OFFICERS TO PRIVATE FIRMS
According to "Novaya gazeta," no. 6, the Federal Security Service (FSB) is losing some of its most skilled operatives to the private sector. Moreover, the service is rife with corruption and suffers from competition between those who have been promoted from St. Petersburg and those who have long served in Moscow. PG
IVANOV SAYS MOSCOW DEFENDS EUROPE AGAINST TERRORISM
Speaking at the international security conference in Munich on 4 February, Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov argued that "Russia, which now is at the frontline of the struggle against international terrorism in Chechnya and in Central Asia, is saving the civilized world from the plague of terrorism just as it saved Europe from a Mongol invasion in the 13th century, through its own suffering and deprivations," NTV reported. PG
MOSCOW FOR LIFTING SANCTIONS ON LIBYA
Following the verdict in the Lockerbie trial last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 5 February that Moscow has received a request from the League of Arab States for the lifting of all international sanctions on Libya, Interfax reported. Yakovenko added that conditions had been created after the trial that open up "prospects for lifting the sanctions." PG
NORTH KOREA'S LEADER TO VISIT MOSCOW
Diplomatic sources told Interfax on 5 February that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il will visit Moscow in late April. Earlier, officials had said that a time had been set but would not be announced. Russian President Putin visited Pyongyang in 2000, but the last time a Korean leader came to Moscow was in 1986. PG
MOSCOW APPROVES RADIOACTIVE SHIPPING VIA ARCTIC
Aleksandr Ushakov, the deputy chief of the northern seaway department of the Transportation Ministry, told ITAR-TASS on 5 February that Russian sailors are ready to ship radioactive materials from Western Europe to Japan as some Japanese firms have requested. PG
MOSCOW INDIRECTLY DENIES AUSTRIA'S ESPIONAGE CHARGES
Boris Labusov, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) press bureau, refused to comment directly on charges in Vienna's "Format" weekly that at least 100 of the 443 Russians in Austria are working in intelligence, but he did say that the 443 includes "babies and housewives," Interfax reported. PG
FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH AMERICAN JEWISH LEADERS
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with visiting American Jewish Committee leaders on 5 February, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that he saw this meeting as "a continuation of the traditional dialogue with representatives of American Jewish organizations, to which we pay much attention." PG
DUMA OFFICIAL QUESTIONS EX-KKK OFFICIAL'S PLANS TO LIVE IN RUSSIA
Duma Legislation Committee Chairman (SPS) Pavel Krasheninnikov told Interfax on 5 February that if the reports that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke plans to settle in Russia "to struggle against people of other colors and against Jews" are not "provocations," then "the Russian law enforcement agencies should deal with this person." PG
RUSSIA SECURES MODIFICATION OF NO SMOKING RULES ON RUSSIAN FLIGHTS
Boris Yeliseev, Aeroflot's legal issues director, told Interfax on 5 February that the airline has succeeded in getting the U.S. government to grant it an exception to the American prohibition on smoking for flights to and from American destinations. PG
BORDER TROOPS CUT, REDEPLOYED
Konstantin Totskii, the director of the Federal Border Guard Service, said on 15 February that the number of border guards will be cut by 15,000 over the next several years, ITAR-TASS reported. Most of the cuts will come in the north and west, with some increases in the south, he said, where the influx of drugs has grown. PG
JUDICIAL COUNCIL PUSHES JURY TRIALS, PLEA BARGAINS
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 February that the Judicial Council has suggested to President Putin that jury trials be introduced throughout the country, and it has suggested that plea bargains be allowed in cases for crimes carrying sentences of six years or less imprisonment. PG
MVD, MOSCOW CITY MOVE TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES
According to a report in "Nezavismaya gazeta" on 3 February, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo has moved to calm the dispute between his organization and Moscow Mayor Luzhkov by not insisting on the candidacy of the current acting chief of the city's Interior Ministry branch, Viktor Shvidkin, for a permanent position. The two leaders have been locked in a dispute over control of the Moscow city interior bodies. PG
HIGH-TECH CRIME INCREASES
High technology crimes in Russia increased by 60 percent from 1999 to 2000 to a total of 1375 in the latter year, the Interior Ministry told Interfax on 5 February. Of these, 584 involved unauthorized access to computer files, 284 the use of computers to cause damage, and 210 using computers to commit fraud. PG
DECREASED INCOME INEQUALITY REFLECTS DECLINE IN NUMBER OF WEALTHY
A decline in the number of wealthy people rather than an increase in the incomes of the poorest groups is responsible for the decline in the polarization of incomes among Russians, according to an analysis in "Nezavismaya gazeta-politekonomiya," no. 2. PG
RUSSIA SUFFERING FROM PROBLEMS OF MODERNITY
"Izvestiya" complained on 5 February that "Russia is suffering from an American disease" -- political correctness. The paper said that the arrival of "this American 'invention'" in Russia will mean that "our country will occupy a worthy place in the civilized world." Other new problems noted by the Russian press include the rise of slang on television ("Izvestiya" on 3 February), and both the appearance of lobbyists among the politically powerful and multicar accidents on city streets ("Nezavisimaya gazeta" on the same day). PG
DUMA DEPUTY QUESTIONS OFFICIAL VERSION OF GLUCK'S RELEASE
Pavel Krasheninnikov, who chairs the Duma Legislative Committee and a public commission on Chechnya, told journalists in Moscow on 5 February that he doubts official claims that the Russian Security Service (FSB) was responsible for securing the release the previous day of a U.S. aid worker kidnapped in Chechnya last month, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). Krasheninnikov said all details of the operation to secure Kenny Gluck's release should be made public. According to Glasnost-North Caucasus on 5 February, Gluck's captors had blindfolded him and then abandoned him outside the home of a doctor in the village of Starie Atagi, where Gluck was snatched on 9 January. In what may be a further move to create the impression that the FSB is restoring order in Chechnya, Russian agencies reported that on 5 February FSB operatives apprehended Chechen field commander Usman Umarov, who is said to be an ally of Aslan Maskhadov, as he was about to board a plane bound for Turkey at Vladikavkaz airport. LF
CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD SEEKS TO EXPEDITE DISPLACED PERSONS RETURN
Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told Interfax on 5 February that he has instructed the Chechen government to take the necessary measures to facilitate the return to their homes of all who fled to avoid the war in Chechnya. To that end, Kadyrov said, all refugee camps in both Chechnya and Ingushetia should be closed by the end of this year. He said the Chechen administration will provide money and building materials to families whose homes were destroyed. Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev welcomed Kadyrov's statement but expressed doubt that it will prove possible to repatriate all displaced persons by the end of 2001, Interfax reported on 5 February. Aushev noted that both the Chechen administration and the federal government had pledged to do so by the end of last year, but that there are still 146,000 officially registered displaced persons from Chechnya in Ingushetia and an additional 12,000 who are not registered. LF
ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS IRAN
On a two-day working visit to Tehran on 3-4 February, Vartan Oskanian met with Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi, Majlis speaker Mahdi Karrubi, National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rowhani, and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Iranian media reported. Issues discussed included all aspects of bilateral relations, including construction of the Kajaran tunnel and the planned Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, which Oskanian said will contribute to "peace and security," trilateral cooperation between Iran, Armenia and Greece, regional security issues, and the Karabakh conflict. Khatami expressed approval of the ongoing dialogue between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict and said Iran is willing to assist in doing so. He said it is imperative for the countries of the South Caucasus to "resolve misunderstandings" and cooperate, "without relying on foreign forces" (by which he presumably meant Turkey and the U.S.) to ensure regional security. He added that all countries of the region, including Russia, should work towards creating appropriate mechanisms for ensuring regional development and security. LF
TURKISH AIRSPACE NOT CLOSED TO ARMENIAN PLANES
The Turkish civil aviation authorities have assured Armenian Airlines that no restrictions have been imposed on Armenian civil aircraft entering Turkish air space, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau quoted an Armenian Airlines spokeswoman as saying on 5 February. But she also rejected a Turkish TV channel report of 4 February that the reason for a ban on two Armenian flights over Turkey on 3 February was that Armenian Airlines had failed to apply for clearance for those flights three days in advance as required by international regulations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian similarly told RFE/RL on 5 February that the 3 February incident was "a purely technical misunderstanding." LF
RADICALS QUIT ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTY
The third stage of the 12th congress of the opposition center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM) ended on 4 February with an announcement by several of its most authoritative leaders of their intention to quit the party and form a rival party to be named the National People's Party, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. One of those leaders, Shavarsh Kocharian, told journalists on 5 February that he has formed an initiative group to prepare for the founding of the new party, which, he added, will be committed to "the principles the AZhM used to espouse." The radicals oppose any cooperation with the present Armenian authorities, while the more conservative members of the AZhM argue that such cooperation is essential to achieve the party's objectives. The AZhM is represented in Andranik Markarian's government by Minister for State Property David Vartanian. The congress on 4 February elected a new party board, seven of whose nine members are Vartanian loyalists. That board does not include the party's founder and chairman, Vazgen Manukian. LF
AZERBAIJANI WAR INVALID ATTEMPTS SUICIDE
Rei Kerimoglu, press spokesman of the society representing Azerbaijan's Karabakh war invalids, was hospitalized on 6 February after slashing open his wrists in the foyer of the parliament building to protest accusations by Hady Rajabov, chairman of the parliament commission for social policy, that the invalids represent the interests of the former Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turan reported. Ali Kerimov, chairman of the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, had urged parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov on 5 February to take immediate action to preclude the death of any of the hunger-strikers, whereupon Alesqerov charged the parliamentary commission for social policy to rule on whether the strikers' demands for an increase in their pensions and allowances should be met. Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov met on 4 February with representatives of the Karabakh war invalids who declared a hunger-strike last month, Turan reported. The Islamic Party of Azerbaijan appealed to the hunger-strikers to abandon their action, saying that "it is not possible to defend human rights in a country where votes are stolen." LF
GEORGIA TO CHOOSE BETWEEN NATO, NEUTRALITY?
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 February that rather than aspire to NATO membership in 2005, Georgia may instead opt for neutrality, Caucasus Press reported. He said there is little likelihood that Georgia will be admitted to the Atlantic alliance in the near future. Shevardnadze had told the "Financial Times" in October 1999 that if he was re-elected the following year, Georgia would "knock vigorously on NATO's door" by 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1999). LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TEHRAN...
Erlan Idrisov held talks in Tehran on 3-4 February with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi and with President Khatami, Iranian news agencies reported. Those talks focused on bilateral relations, which Kharrazi characterized as positive, regional cooperation, the situation in Afghanistan, and the division and legal status of the Caspian Sea. According to a Kazakh Foreign Ministry statement summarized by Interfax, the two sides believe the latter problem should be resolved on the basis of a "mutually acceptable compromise." Idrisov passed to Kharrazi a letter from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, and gave Khatami an invitation from Nazarbaev to attend the first summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Asia, which is to be held in Almaty this fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). According to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, Tehran "unconditionally supports" that initiative. LF
Idrisov met in Moscow on 5 February with Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov to discuss cooperation between Russia and the states of Central Asia in combating terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking, and ensuring regional security, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov told journalists after those talks that last year Kazakh-Russian relations entered a phase of "new dynamics" and that the intensity of contacts has reached an unprecedented level that bodes well for long-term cooperation. He said the two countries will continue to deepen both political and military cooperation, the latter within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. According to Interfax, Idrisov brought to Moscow an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the OSCA summit, and hopes to "check positions and gain Russia's support" prior to that meeting. LF
KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT PETITIONED OVER WORSENING SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Some 200 residents of Djalalabad Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan have signed a petition demanding that the government improve social conditions, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They note that electricity and heating tariffs and food prices have recently been raised while wages and pensions remain at the same level as last year. They suggest that people whose monthly income does not exceed 600 soms (about $12.5) should be charged lower rates for heating and electricity. They also stated their opposition to the planned privatization of the energy sector announced by Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 15 January 2001). LF
TAJIK DEFENSE MINISTER IN MOSCOW
Meeting in Moscow on 5 February, Sherali Khairulloev and his Russian counterpart Igor Sergeev discussed bilateral military cooperation and the situation in Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. LF
TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN SIGN TWO BILATERAL AGREEMENTS
Tajik Prime Minister Aqil Aqilov headed a government delegation to Tashkent on 3 February, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Two intergovernment agreements were signed, one on cooperation in the use of water resources in 2001 and the second on mutual payments for goods transport and Tajikistan's debts to Uzbekistan. Those debts total $129 million, but it is not clear whether the Tajik side had requested that they be rescheduled. During telephone conversations on 31 January and 1 February, Presidents Islam Karimov and Imomali Rakhmonov agreed on the need to expand mutually beneficial economic cooperation. Relations between the two countries are still overshadowed by Uzbek accusations that Tajikistan is harboring and abetting fighters of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Tajik fears that Uzbekistan is similarly sheltering rebel Tajik Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. LF
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKER RELEASED FROM PRISON
Uladzimir Kudzinau, a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th convocation, was released from prison on 5 February, Belapan reported. Kudzinau received a seven-year prison sentence in August 1997 on charges of giving a bribe. Kudzinau denies his guilt, saying his case was fabricated as a reprisal for his involvement in the preparation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's impeachment in 1996. Kudzinau's release became possible owing to amnesty and the introduction of a new Criminal Code stipulating milder punishment for bribery. Kudzinau told journalists he is going to actively participate in politics. "The authorities want to drive the Belarusian nation, which they call an opposition, into the 'legal field' they invented, while they are indulging in legal arbitrariness," he said. JM
UKRAINIANS CONVERGE ON KYIV, DEMAND KUCHMA'S OUSTER
Protesters from around Ukraine marched into Kyiv on 6 February and converged on a tent camp on Independence Square, which was set up there within the framework of a Ukraine Without Kuchma protest action, AP reported. The protesters demand President Leonid Kuchma's ouster over allegations that he may be implicated in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Interfax reported that the protest organizers expect some 10,000 people to gather on Independence Square later today. JM
PRO-PRESIDENTIAL FORUM CONVENES IN KYIV
Some 1,000 people convened for a pro-presidential "assembly of political parties and public organizations" in Kyiv on 5 February, Interfax reported. They claimed to represent some 170 parties and organizations, including the Social Democratic Party (United), the Democratic Union, Labor Ukraine, the Popular Democratic Party, and the Agrarian Party. The assembly pledged to unite efforts to preserve political stability in the country and to support the president in implementing his "strategy of national development." The forum simultaneously demanded that President Kuchma take all lawful measures "to prevent social confrontation and a violent scenario in the development of events." JM
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL VACATIONED
Mykhylo Potebenko on 5 January went on leave, Interfax reported. Opponents of President Kuchma accuse Potebenko of delaying the investigation of the Gongadze case in order to protect the president. Lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko told the agency that Potebenko took a 45-day leave, adding that Kuchma will most likely dismiss the Prosecutor-General because of "health reasons." JM
IMF OFFICIAL URGES MORE REFORMS IN UKRAINE
John Odling-Smee, head of the IMF's Second European Department, said in Kyiv on 5 February that Ukraine should preserve and even reinforce the policy of reforms it embarked on last year, Interfax reported. Odling-Smee said Kyiv should continue its budgetary reform and launch reforms of the pension system, education, and health care. He added that Ukraine should continue the privatization of large enterprises and stop state interference in the agricultural sector. According to Odling-Smee, Ukraine's transition economy faces typical problems resulting from the merger of interests of state officials and big oligarchic clans. He said a "new nomenklatura," which wants to maintain its monopoly on some markets in Ukraine, hinders the country's development, particularly in the private economic sector. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT OPENS SESSION
Ukraine's Supreme Council of the Third Convocation on 7 February opened its seventh session, which will last until mid-July, Interfax reported. Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch said lawmakers are to consider 470 legislative issues, including the adoption of civil, economic, criminal, tax, customs, budget, and land codes. JM
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS GERMANY
Toomas Hendrik Ilves was assured by his German counterpart Joschka Fischer in Berlin on 5 February that Germany supports the expansion of the European Union at as early a date as possible, BNS reported. The foreign ministers praised the results of the Nice summit on EU expansion and endorsed Estonia's plans to close several chapters of the EU membership negotiations in the first half of this year. Ilves, in a speech at Humboldt University, expressed support for an EU with a two-chamber parliament which would guarantee that small states would be strongly represented in major issues. He also called for the election of an EU president who would have to be approved by at least half of the member states. SG
FINNISH PRIME MINISTER VISITS LATVIA
Paavo Lipponen and his Latvian counterpart Andris Berzins discussed on 5 February in Riga bilateral relations, international affairs, and Latvia's efforts to gain membership in the EU, LETA reported. The prime ministers also talked about cooperation in internal affairs, justice, language instruction, and also in the investments of Finnish companies in Latvia. Lipponen said that Finland believes that every country has the right to choose its own security solutions and supports "the open door" principle adopted by NATO. In a subsequent meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, he discussed these topics and enquired about the ongoing historical research. Vike-Freiberga noted that in June, on the 60th anniversary of the mass deportations of Latvians to Siberia, a commission of Latvian historians intends to hold a conference on the consequences of the Soviet totalitarian regime. SG
LATVIA'S NEW FACTION QUITS GOVERNMENT
Ingrida Udre, the head of the New Faction, announced on 5 February that the faction will no longer participate in the ruling coalition because the government is not observing its earlier commitment, LETA reported. Udre pointed out that restrictions to the pension law have not been revoked and promises pertaining to real estate taxes remain unfulfilled. She said that the faction was dissatisfied with the work of the finance, education, and state administration reform ministers. Even after the departure of the New Faction, the ruling coalition will still have the support of 64 of the 100 members in the parliament. SG
LITHUANIAN ECONOMY MINISTER RESIGNS
At a meeting of the board of the Liberal Union on 5 February, Eugenijus Maldeikis declared that he was resigning in order to ensure the stability of the cabinet's activities, the continuation of reforms already begun, and for personal reasons, "Lietuvos Rytas" reported the next day. The announcement was unexpected as earlier that day, Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, without waiting for the State Security Department report on Maldeikis's visit to Moscow in January, declared that he would not ask him to resign. Maldeikis will take an upaid vacation until President Valdas Adamkus returns from holiday in Mexico and can formally accept his resignation. SG
POLAND OPENS COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICE FILES TO PUBLIC
Leon Kieres, head of the National Remembrance Institute, said that all those wishing to look into their personal files gathered by communist-era secret services may apply to do so as of 7 February, PAP reported on 5 February. Names of the agents who reported on a given person will be blackened in the files. If an applicant wishes to know the names of those who informed on him/her, that person will have to lodge a separate application. Under a law passed in 1999, the institute will open secret police files only to people it considers victims of repression. Kieres noted that the institute will need some six months to process the applications, so the first Poles should be able to inspect their files in July. JM
POLAND'S DAEWOO TO AX 1,300 JOBS
The Polish unit of Korean automaker Daewoo Motor Co. said on 5 February that it will lay off 1,300 workers at its Warsaw plant, AP reported. "We definitely have too many white-collar workers. Sales of all producers have slumped. Lots of used cars were imported last year. These are the main reasons," the company's spokeswoman said. Daewoo is the second-largest foreign investor in Poland, having spent nearly $1.6 billion. It employs some 10,000 people in several Polish car factories, and produced some 100,000 cars last year. JM
CUBA FREES DETAINED CZECHS
Deputy Ivan Pilip and former student activist Jan Bubenik are on their way to Prague after being released from detention by Cuban authorities on 5 February, CTK and AP reported. The Cuban Foreign Ministry told foreign ambassadors summoned for a meeting that the two Czechs had signed a document expressing regret that they had broken Cuban law because they were unaware of its provisions. They said they "understand they had offended the Cuban people, which was not their intention." No copy of the document was distributed to the press. Inter-Parliamentary Union General-Secretary Anders Johnson, who has been in Havana negotiating the two Czech prisoners' release since last week, told reporters that Pilip and Bubenik are "very happy." Johnson is accompanying them and their relatives on their way back to Europe. MS
CZECH PRESIDENT, KLAUS, DIFFER IN ASSESSING PITHART'S CUBAN VISIT
Vaclav Havel said on 5 February before the release of Pilip and Bubenik that the visit to Cuba by Senate chairman Petr Pithart was "a decisive step" that could lead to a "quick return home" of the two, CTK reported. But Civic Democratic Party chairman and former Premier Vaclav Klaus said Pithart's failure to bring the two home shows that "one must not pin exaggerated hopes on non-standard methods." Klaus was ready to admit that the visit "has probably not worsened the chances of the two Czechs" but emphasized that the state is "duty-bound to defend its citizens by using standard procedures." MS
ZEMAN CALLS FOR BOOSTING SWEDISH INVESTMENTS
Prime Minister Milos Zeman, on a two-day visit to Sweden, called on Swedish investors to invest more in his country and said Sweden should submit a bid in the tender for the purchase of fighter planes for the Czech army, CTK reported. Zeman told an investment forum that "even the cautious Japanese" are investing in the Czech Republic, while "the Swedes are unfortunately hesitating." He said that "the difference between the tender for the purchase of fighter planes and the Olympic games is that the person who comes in second in the Olympics wins a silver medal. Whoever comes in second in the tender wins nothing." MS
CZECH OFFICIAL ACKNOWLEDGES POLICE BRUTALITY DURING IMF MEETING
Interior Ministry Inspection Office chief Mikulas Tomin told journalists on 5 February that police acted against the law when they roughed up several people while trying to quell demonstrations against the annual IMF/World Bank meeting in Prague in September. Tomin said his office was, however, unable to identify any of the violators. He said police severely beat up an "innocent Czech" and injured him after mistaking him for a protester. Tomin said up to four officers participated in the attack, but "no one knows their names and no one has admitted guilt," dpa reported. After the clashes, some 200 complaints against police brutality were lodged by people detained during the protests, in the course of which police detained some 900 demonstrators. MS
TEMELIN OPPONENTS TO RESUME BORDER BLOCKADES
Representatives of Austrian organizations opposed to the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant on 5 February decided to resume blockades of the border, dpa reported the next day. They said they were doing so in protest against Czech non-fulfillment of obligations undertaken at the December meeting in Melk, Austria, between the two countries' premiers. The Temelin opponents said they will block border crossing points in Wullowitz and Weigetschlag, on 16 and 18 February, respectively. MS
SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER IN BRUSSELS
Defense Minister Jozef Stank told NATO officials in Brussels on 5 January that his country is determined to implement all necessary reforms in its armed forces to ensure that it qualifies for NATO membership in 2002, CTK reported. The officials told Stank that even countries now perceived to be best prepared for membership if and when the organization is further expanded will not be admitted into the organization if they do not keep up the pace of preparations for that goal. Slovak Ambassador to NATO Peter Burian told CTK that Stank "interprets this statement as a challenge to Slovakia not to ease its reforms" in the military sector. MS
The headline of the item on Hungarian Agriculture Minister Joszef Torgyan denying rumors about his dismissal in the 5 February issue of "RFE/RL Newsline" incorrectly described Torgyan as foreign minister.
MONTENEGRO'S PRESIDENT REMAINS FIRM ON REFERENDUM...
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Washington on 5 February that he remains committed to his pledge to seek a referendum on independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). "We believe that a clean, democratic, and transparent procedure for both processes clearly expresses the undoubted will of the citizens of Montenegro, and we believe that the international community will honor it," RFE/RL reported. "Members of Congress with whom I have met so far reacted very positively to our initiative. They think that the Montenegrin people have an unquestionable right to express their views on their future," Djukanovic added. The president stressed that "the genie is out of the bottle. It is irrational to shut one's eyes to the totally changed situation in our region." PM
...CHALLENGES 'DOMINO THEORY'
Refuting Belgrade's view that the continuing dissolution of the former Yugoslavia is sure to lead to regional instability, Djukanovic said in Washington on 5 February: "I think it's an unnecessarily overpoliticized argument to say that because of Kosovo, Montenegro cannot gain international recognition. First we had a six-member Yugoslavia, and a bad Kosovo situation. Then we had a two-member Yugoslavia, and an even worse Kosovo problem. Therefore, Yugoslavia is not a required framework or a necessary precondition for the resolution of the problems of Kosovo," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). Djukanovic added that he understands that "the international community has had a very bad experience with the Balkans over the past 10 years... It is logical that we should bear the burden of past instability in the Balkans. But we don't want to remain the slaves of...that heritage forever," dpa reported. PM
STATE DEPARTMENT CLARIFIES STAND ON MONTENEGRO
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 5 February that "we support the transparent democratic discussions between representatives of Montenegro, Serbia, and the federal government of Yugoslavia on the restructuring of the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. But in the end, how exactly that process should work, I think, is something that should be the subject of discussions between Serbia, Montenegro, and the federal government" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). PM
KOSOVAR LEADER SAYS U.S., KOSOVARS HAVE 'UNDERSTANDING'
Moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova said in Washington on 2 February after talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell that he and his fellow Kosovars discussed independence with the secretary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000). "We did ask Secretary Powell for an early recognition of independence of Kosova because we believe that recognition of independence will calm down the whole region." Referring to Powell's response, Rugova said: "We have an understanding in general," AP reported. He did not elaborate. PM
GREEK PROTESTERS BLOCK KFOR CONVOY
Communist-led protesters blocked a column of returning German KFOR troops outside Thessaloniki on 5 February, AP reported. The demonstrators demanded the return home of Greek KFOR troops and the testing of German equipment for evidence of uranium contamination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). German KFOR officials have told "RFE/RL Newsline" that their troops have sometimes been subjected to protests and physical abuse in the Thessaloniki area. PM
PRESEVO FIGHTERS SAY SERBIA WANTS 'MILITARY SOLUTION'
Serbian forces and fighters of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) exchanged fire in the Presevo valley in the night of 5-6 February. Each side said the other shot first, but no independent assessment on the ground is available. Speaking in the name of the UCPMB, Tahir Dalipi charged that the Serbian authorities are seeking a "military solution" after local Albanians agreed on a common platform for talks with Belgrade, Reuters reported. "The Serbs were always ready to talk, thinking that the Albanians are not united. But now that we are united, they are trying to provoke a military solution," Dalipi added (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). PM
KOSTUNICA SEEKS TO ELIMINATE PRESEVO DEMILITARIZED ZONE
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told "Vesti" of 6 February that "the Yugoslav army and KFOR are no longer enemies, so there is no more need for a demilitarized zone between them." Ex-General and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic recently warned against such an approach (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). Some observers suggest that the Serbian authorities need to maintain a certain degree of unrest in the Presevo valley to demonstrate that they are the victims of Albanian "terrorism" and to maintain political pressure on KFOR. Belgrade's immediate goals, these observers believe, are first to modify and then to overturn the 1999 Kumanovo agreements on Kosova, which sealed Serbia's defeat in that conflict. Belgrade's longer-term goals are to obtain Western support for its position on Kosova and ultimately to overcome the negative political effects of starting and losing four regional wars. PM
JANE'S: MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN GUERRILLA FORCE DOES NOT EXIST
"Jane's Intelligence Review" reported on 6 February that the alleged Albanian National Army (AKSh) in Macedonia is the creation of Belgrade's disinformation experts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). The article suggested that the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia are too well established in the republic's political life to resort to armed revolt. Recent violence in ethnic Albanian areas of Macedonia is more likely to be the work of criminal gangs that are taking advantage of NATO's preoccupation with Presevo to develop their trade in weapons, drugs, and humans, the article concluded. PM
ORGANIZED CRIME AGAIN SERVES NOTICE ON SERBIAN REFORMERS?
For the second time in just over one week, it appears that Serbia's vast and powerful underworld has served notice on the government of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to think twice about its pledge to clean up organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). In the latest incident, a fire destroyed the jeep of government political leader and parliamentary deputy Cedomir Jovanovic in Belgrade in the early hours of 6 February, Reuters reported. Jovanovic declined to offer any suggestions as to who or what might be behind the incident. Police are investigating. PM
ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR HELP IN FIGHTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING...
Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Milan on 5 February that his government is determined to combat human trafficking. He stressed, however, that his impoverished country needs Western help if it is to succeed. Meta told Reuters that "the Albanian government is very committed to fighting illegal trafficking. Over the last year, the extent of illegal immigration from Albania to Italy has been reduced by more than five times." He appealed for more training and equipment, adding that "it would not be useful" for foreign troops to be stationed in Albania, as they are in Bosnia, to help combat human trafficking. PM
...AS DOES CROATIAN PREMIER
Responding to a 4 February article by British and Italian Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Giuliano Amato in London's "The Observer," Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the next day that his government wants to help combat human trafficking. He argued that "the Croatian government and the public know very well how serious this problem is, not only from the European Union's position, but also from the standpoint of our national interest." Racan stressed, however, that Croatia needs financial and technical assistance to succeed. Like Meta, he ruled out any need for foreign personnel, Reuters reported. PM
CROATIAN PREMIER GREETS 'EURO-REGION' PROPOSAL
Racan said in Zagreb on 5 February that he has nothing against regional cooperation. He added that he fears only isolationist tendencies within the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Commenting on a recent proposal by Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, Racan said that the idea of setting up a Euro-region in the area "might be interesting some day" once the political situation stabilizes in Yugoslavia and Croatia is sure that all of its neighbors are democracies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). He added that an additional precondition will be the solution of some unspecified problems with Bosnia and especially with the Republika Srpska. PM
PETRITSCH NAMES IRISH JUDGE TO SETTLE BOSNIAN BORDER DISPUTE
The international community's high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch, said in Sarajevo on 5 February that "for nearly five years, the representatives of the Republika Srpska and the federation have procrastinated and have failed in their responsibility to the citizens of this area to resolve what actually should be quite a simple issue," namely defining the border between the two entities in Sarajevo's Dobrinja suburb. He added that he has intervened and asked former Irish High Court Judge Diarmuid Sheridan to issue a binding ruling within three months, Reuters reported. This is but the latest in a series of cases in which the high representative has had to intervene to end a dispute over what at first glance seems like a relatively simple problem. PM
RULING PARTY SENATORS PROTEST AGAINST ROMANIAN LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW
Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) senators Adrian Paunescu and George Pruteanu protested on 5 February against the Local Public Administration Law allowing national minorities to use their own language, Mediafax reported. Paunescu told a meeting of the PDSR parliamentary group that this provision must be eliminated from the bill's final formulation, which is to be discussed by a commission mediating differences between the Senate's formulation and that approved by the Chamber of Deputies. Pruteanu said the right to officially use minority languages must be restricted to localities where minorities make up 50 -- rather than 20 percent -- of the population. PDSR parliamentary group leader Ioan Solcanu said the bill will be discussed again at a meeting of parliamentary groups with Premier Adrian Nastase, and added that President Ion Iliescu has been invited to that meeting. MS
MOLDOVANS NEED PASSPORTS TO CROSS ROMANIAN BORDER
Romanian Ambassador Victor Barsan said in Chisinau on 5 February that Moldovan citizens will have to use passports to cross the border with Romania as of 1 July, Romanian Radio, citing Moldpress, reported. Until now, Moldovans could cross the border between the two states by showing their ID cards. Barsan emphasized that the measure is in line with EU procedures and added that Romania does not intend to restrict the free movement of people across the border. "Passports are the normal document one shows when crossing frontiers," he said. MS
NEW MOLDOVAN ORGANIZATION BACKS 'BRAGHIS ALLIANCE'
The Congress of Moldovan Citizens on 4 February decided to back the Braghis Alliance in the parliamentary elections scheduled for later this month, the RFE/RL Chisinau bureau reported. The recently-formed "congress" was called at the initiative of the Republica organization, which was formed in early 2000 to back President Petru Lucinschi's failed initiative to change the country's political system into a presidential one, Infotag reported. The new organization includes 17 minor political parties and movements and the delegates welcomed Lucinschi's arrival with standing ovations. Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis also participated in the gathering, alongside 6,000 delegates from different counties. The organizing committee said the organization might transform itself into a political party after the elections. MS
MOLDOVAN PARTY LEADER SUES NEWSPAPERS
Iurie Rosca, leader of the Popular Party Christian Democratic, on 5 February announced he is suing three Moldovan newspapers for "calumny." The three publications -- "Comunist," "Tineretul Moldovei," and the Russian-language "Delovaya gazeta" -- last week reproduced documents allegedly proving that Rosca had been a KGB informer under the communist regime. Rosca said the documents were forgeries "produced on the orders of precisely those clans whom I bothered." He said that behind the three publications hide "those political formations that were utterly opposed to our attempt to make public the activities of the KGB as a political police." MS
BULGARIA: THE RUSH TO BUILD COALITIONS
By Margarita Assenova
Public support for the major political parties in Bulgaria continues to be both low and close. According to BBSS Gallup International, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's party, the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), is backed by 23.5 percent of voters compared to 19.8 percent for the Socialist Party (BSP). Although a date for the parliamentary and presidential elections due this year has not been set, the race for attracting coalition partners has started.
The first battle was for the third major party in Bulgaria -- the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF). After unsuccessful talks with the ruling coalition, MRF leader Ahmed Dogan was almost ready to make an agreement with the Socialist Party. His plans were overturned by a documentary on the Communist assimilation campaign against ethnic Turks in 1984 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 January 2001). After the film was shown on national television, it became apparent that Dogan would have lost the backing of ethnic Turks if he agreed to enter a coalition with the former Communists, who were responsible for the forcible ethnic assimilation.
The Turkish party decided to run alone, postponing any coalition decisions until after the elections. There is a possibility that the Turkish party may play the role of kingmaker in the next parliament, as it did in 1992.
The UDF turned to its partners in the governing coalition to build more stable arrangements for the next elections. There are already indications that the People's Union (the Democratic Party and the Agrarian Union) may run on a single slate with the UDF. This means that the UDF must undertake and keep certain promises after the elections in order to maintain a coalition with its long-time allies.
Encouraged by the success of the Socialists in neighboring Romania, the former Bulgarian Communists started consolidating their base by forming a broad coalition with 14 smaller leftist and nationalist groups. The newly formed "Coalition for Bulgaria" is a strange alliance of former and present Communists, nationalists, Social Democrats, anti-fascists, agrarians, trade-union activists, one women's union, and two Romany organizations.
The differences between their platforms are significant. The basic differences have already resulted in the departure from the coalition of Velko Valkanov, leader of the Bulgarian Anti-Fascist Union, who wanted to be allowed to campaign against Bulgaria's accession to NATO. The Socialist Party leader and official representative of the "Coalition for Bulgaria," Georgi Parvanov, opposed such a campaign, because last spring the Socialists declared their support for Bulgaria's bid to join NATO after years of adamant opposition.
Bulgaria's Socialist Party has tried to regain popular support ever since it lost power in 1997, when its government led the country to the brink of economic and financial catastrophe. The Socialists were severely discredited in the public eye and subsequently were not able to attract significant public backing. Their first chance came during the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which they vehemently opposed. However, only a limited number of people participated in the protest demonstrations in Sofia in 1999.
The Socialists realized by then that they needed a different strategy in order to regain power. They now sought to open themselves up to EU and NATO integration, to attract diverse allies and thus overcome the isolation of 1997, and to enhance public dissatisfaction with the reforms implemented by the UDF.
Nevertheless, support for the BSP remains approximately the same as in 1997. The party's approval of eventual NATO membership, though positive for the sake of establishing a national consensus, served primarily to alienate some of the Socialist hard-liners. The latest tactic of building a broad coalition with partners who have virtually no public support has only served to bring ridicule upon the 110-year-old party, which seems to have a problem finding its identity. But constructing an election campaign around the message that the UDF failed either to raise living standards or to fight crime may yet prove to be a successful strategy for the BSP.
Over the last four years, public support for the UDF dropped by 30 percent and is now just four points higher than that for the BSP. This will make the race very close. The future government will likely depend on a broad and probably unstable coalition of several parties.
Although the ruling United Democratic Forces managed to improve Bulgaria's financial and economic situation, achieve GDP growth for three consecutive years, privatize 70 percent of state enterprises, and launch negotiations for EU integration, the average income remains very low and the level of poverty is high. According to a survey conducted by ALPHA Research last December, 54 percent of Bulgarians said that they would advise their children to emigrate.
The main task before the ruling coalition on the eve of the elections is to regain the trust of the people. In his recent annual state-of-the-nation speech, President Petar Stoyanov said that "until we raise living standards for real, we will disappoint three generations of Bulgarian citizens in their expectations of the advantages of democracy."
The major reasons for disappointment among ordinary citizens have been alleged official corruption and nepotism among some UDF leaders, as well as their internal rivalries in jockeying for power. In recent months, accusations that the Interior Ministry was tapping the telephones of high-ranking politicians, prosecutors, and journalists has contributed to public disillusionment.
Since last fall, several assassinations and bombings have taken place in Sofia and other big towns. Despite the fact that the victims were figures from the criminal underground, the unusually rapid rise in crime makes the population feel threatened and insecure. Some observers suspect that many of these cases are provocations aimed at destabilizing the country and discrediting the government on the eve of crucial elections. In this context, the Bulgarian security services and the government of Ivan Kostov were implicated in a spying scandal involving the telephone tapping of politicians in Macedonia.
In such a climate of uncertainty and public frustration, the upcoming elections are becoming a worrisome event. Undoubtedly, with the start of the election campaign, Bulgaria's political tensions will further increase. Margarita Assenova is a consultant with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.