OLIGARCHS CONSIDER BACKING NEW TV CHANNEL...
"Vedomosti" reported on 11 February that a group of Russia's most well-known oligarchs, such as MDM-Bank head Chairman Aleksandr Mamut, Siberian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich, and former Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh, have agreed to invest $20 million in a bid to win the tender for TV-6's broadcasting license for TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev and his team. Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Interros Chairman Vladimir Potanin were involved in negotiations but decided not to participate, according to the daily, because they approached the investment purely from a business point of view. According to the daily, the consortium of oligarchs was formed at the request of presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin. Kiselev has so far refused to comment on any negotiations regarding the tender. "Kommersant-Daily" also reported on 9 February that an oligarch consortium is being formed to bid for TV-6, but that report said the initiator was Chubais. JAC
...AS EKHO MOSKVY STAFF CONTEMPLATES MOVE TO NEW STATION
Gazprom-Media General-Director Boris Jordan and Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov met on 11 February to discuss Venediktov's announcement on 8 February that he will resign if the station's board of directors is changed. Venediktov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that day that he received a document from a Cyprus-based sister company of Gazprom-Media, Leadville Investments, that proposes a change of the board of directors of Ekho Moskvy so that it includes only representatives of Gazprom-Media and NTV. According to Venediktov, former Gazprom-Media head Kokh promised earlier that the board would have three seats for Gazprom, three for Vladimir Gusinsky's representatives, and three for journalists from Ekho Moskvy (see also "Russian Political Weekly," 11 February 2002). Venediktov told listeners on 9 February that he and his staff will seek to form a new station. Gazprom-Media press secretary Aelita Yefimova told RIA-Novosti that she could not specify what the results, if any, were of the 11 February meeting. JAC
RUSSIAN MILITARY THREATENS TO STRIP JOURNALIST OF CREDENTIALS IN CHECHNYA
"Novaya Gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya is in danger of losing her press accreditation to work in Chechnya, RIA-Novosti reported on 11 February, citing the operational headquarters of the Russian military in Chechnya. Politkovskaya arrived in the Shatoi Raion in southern Chechnya on 9 February, whereupon she was detained by Russian military officials for violating the rules under which she has press accreditation to work in that area, ntvru.com reported on 11 February. The next day, she went off in an unknown direction without the permission of military commanders. Politkovskaya was detained almost a year ago by Russian military officials for traveling in Chechnya without required documents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2001). In October of 2001 she fled to the West because of threats she received in connection with an article she wrote suggesting that a helicopter full of senior Russian military officials was shot down by a Russian serviceman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). Politkovskaya's recently published book, "A Dirty War" (Harvill Press: 2001), was critical of Russian military officials' conduct in Chechnya. JAC
PRESS FREEDOMS GOOD, STURGEON BETTER
Speaking at the international conference "Power of Press and Pressure of Power" in Moscow, which was organized by Harvard University and Moscow State University along with the Union of Rightist Forces, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said he "would tolerate opposition mass media in the country providing that every journalist acted responsibility." The BBC commented on 9 February that only the Western participants were serious about the topic of the conference. The spirit of the Russian side was better expressed by the head of the National Association of Broadcasters, Eduard Sagalaev, who said he "likes freedom of press, but sturgeon more," polit.ru reported on 9 February. VY
RUSSIAN INFLATION RATE TWO TIMES HIGHER THAN EXPECTED
The optimistic prognosis made by the government at the beginning of the year concerning the reduction of Russia's inflation rate from 18 percent to 12-14 percent was groundless and will certainly be revised upward based on January's economic indicators, "Ekspert," No. 6, reported. The monthly said that the rise in inflation in January was stimulated by the increase of utilities tariffs by up to 150 percent in some cases. Meanwhile "Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 8 February that inflation in January reached 30 percent, and that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov privately asked the mass media not to circulate the news in order to prevent the "wrong interpretation" of the situation. VY
COMPUTER COUNTERINTELLIGENCE GOES PUBLIC
In his first public appearance, Dmitrii Chepchugov, the head of the Moscow Interior Ministry's department responsible for investigating cyber crimes, said that his unit along with the Federal Security Service (FSB) is playing a "computer counterintelligence" role by monitoring criminal activity on the Internet, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 8 February. He said his officers recently exposed a group of highly sophisticated hackers who sold fictitious economic rating reviews of Russian timber-export companies over the Internet. Members of the group also broke into credit card institutions' computer systems abroad, stole clients' identifications, and took money. In cooperation with their counterparts in the U.S., Canada, France, and Britain, Chepchugov's department arrested the hackers and recovered several hundred thousand dollars from them, he added. VY
DUMA STRENGTHENS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ECONOMIC CRIMES ON EQUITIES MARKET...
The State Duma approved in the final reading the amendment to the Criminal Code increasing legal responsibility for abuse of investment information on the securities market, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 February. According to the amendment, the release to the public of any type of intentionally distorted information on securities would be punishable by financial penalties of up to 700 minimal salaries, or by prison sentences of up to two years. VY
...AND REACHES COMPROMISE ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE
The government has reached a compromise with the military on the issue of alternative military service according to which the appropriate bill will be presented to the Duma not by the chief of the General Staff, Anatolii Kvashnin, but by Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok, Ekho Moskvy reported on 8 February. Pochinok's bill allows draftees to perform alternative service near the place of their residence. The bill also clearly defines the economic sectors and professions in which a draftee can opt for alternative service. Finally, the bill postulates that draftees should receive adequate salaries for their service and preserve their rights to be enrolled in higher education institutions while serving. VY
RESIDENTS BLOCK RAILWAY LINE IMPORTING NUCLEAR WASTE...
About 500 residents of the town of Sosnovoborsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai blocked a railway line along which nuclear waste is being imported on 9 February, Interfax reported, citing Greenpeace Rossiya. According to Greenpeace, 41 tons of spent nuclear fuel from the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria was transported to the town of Krasnoyarsk 26 along this railway line. The protestors are demanding that the waste be taken back to Bulgaria and that a referendum on making their region free from nuclear waste be held. They submitted more than 40,000 signatures in support of the referendum to the krai's regional election commission on 7 February -- 5,000 more signatures than required by law. A previous attempt to hold a national referendum on the import of nuclear waste and other environmental issues failed when the Central Election Commission said that more than 600,000 of some 2.5 million signatures were invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 26 October 2000). According to the law, 2 million signatures are needed. JAC
...AS YABLOKO TEAMS UP WITH ECOLOGISTS TO DEVELOP ANTINUCLEAR WASTE REFERENDUM
Yabloko Deputy Chairmen Sergei Mitrokhin and Igor Artemiev announced on 9 February that they have reached agreement with human rights and ecological organizations to work together to call for a national referendum against the import of nuclear waste to Russia, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. Yabloko, along with the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial, Socio-Ecological Union, and Greenpeace Rossiya, agreed that such a referendum must be preceded by regional referenda -- especially in localities earmarked to host treatment and storage sites. VY
U.S.-RUSSIA GROUP DISCUSSES AFGHANISTAN, NEW THREATS
In a joint statement published after a meeting of the U.S.-Russia Working Group on Afghanistan held in Washington on 8 February, the group co-chairmen -- Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage -- said they discussed the ongoing reconstruction of Afghanistan, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Trubnikov and Armitage said that they discussed further measures to fight international terrorism, drug trafficking, and emergence of new terrorist threats in such regions as the Balkans. Finally, in their joint statement Trubnikov and Armitage said the United States has no intention of creating permanent military bases in Central Asia. VY
AFGHAN FORCES TO USE RUSSIAN ARMS
Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim arrived with a big military delegation in Moscow on 10 February for a weeklong visit to hold talks with senior Russian defense and security officials, Western and Russian news agencies reported. In an interview with RIA-Novosti, Fahim said that restoring his country's army based on Russian weaponry is the most economically acceptable option for Kabul. The previous Afghan army was armed with Soviet weapons and modeled on the Soviet army, and the new Afghan army will be modeled after Russia's, Fahim said. Meanwhile, a Russian Defense Ministry press release said Fahim will meet with the heads of the weapons export agency Rosoboroneksport and the MiG aircraft corporation. VY
FATHERLAND, UNITY FADE AWAY
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland party, the All-Russia movement, and the Unity party all held congresses on 8 and 9 February in Moscow at which delegates agreed to dissolve their respective political organizations in favor of forming a new party called Unified Russia, Russian agencies reported. State Duma deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Ivanenko told TV-6 on 8 February that the dissolution of the various groups "is not a political event of national importance but a bureaucratic redistribution of posts and offices." The same day, "Vremya MN" noted that the goal of the recently enacted law on political parties, which was to reduce the number of political parties to two or three, "has not survived its encounter with reality." Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 7 February that six parties have been registered so far in accordance with the law, according to ITAR-TASS. These parties, which were registered last year, will have to submit their financial data to tax agencies by 20 March. JAC
NIKOLAEV CRONY GET NUMBER 2 RATHER THAN TOP SPOT AT DIAMOND FIRM
Former Sakha (Yakutia) Republic Prime Minister Vasilii Vlasov has been nominated for the post of first vice president of Alrosa rather than president as some news outlets had reported earlier, Interfax reported on 11 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). According to the agency, Vlasov will oversee issues related to regional development. The current first vice president of Alrosa, Aleksandr Matveev, is now considered the most likely candidate to fill the vacant spot at the head of the company. Vlasov is a close associate of former Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev and a former head of Sakhaneftegaz. JAC
ONE ENVOY MEETS WITH COSSACKS...
Selected regional and federal government officials met in Nizhnii Novgorod on 8 February with atamans from Cossack communities in the Volga federal district, strana.ru reported. Presidential envoy to the district Sergei Kirienko along with representatives from the Interior, Defense, Emergency Situations, and Agriculture Ministries, and those from the Federal Tax Police took part in the meeting. Among the topics of discussion were laws regulating government relations with Cossacks. JAC
...WHILE ANOTHER MEETS WITH ITERA
Presidential envoy to the Urals federal district Petr Latyshev met with president of the international gas export group Itera, Igor Makarov, on 8 February, Interfax-ANI reported. According to the agency, Latyshev and Makarov conducted negotiations of the supply of gas to Sverdlovsk Oblast as well as other Itera business in the Urals district. JAC
NEW ATTEMPT ON LIFE OF NORTH OSSETIAN MINISTER
North Ossetian Interior Minister Lieutenant General Kazbek Dzantiev escaped serious injury on the morning of 11 February when a bomb exploded as he was about to get into his car to drive to work, ntvru.com reported. One of his bodyguards was hospitalized. It was the second attempt on Dzantiev's life this year; the first took place just days before the 27 January presidential election (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 4, 24 January 2002). LF
CHECHEN CIVILIANS AGAIN PROTEST RUSSIAN SECURITY SWEEP
Some 400 residents of the towns of Starye and Novye Atagi, Shali, and Germenchuk gathered on 9 February outside the republican Prosecutor's Office in Grozny to demand the release of persons detained by Russian troops during search operations in those towns over the past two weeks, AP reported on 10 February. Also on 9 February, FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said Shali was targeted because Chechen fighters have recently been using the town as a base from which to launch terrorist attacks on local officials, Interfax reported. Zdanovich said the Shali search has yielded an underground laboratory for the manufacture of bombs and detonators. LF
CHECHEN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES MILITARY STRATEGY
Aslan Maskhadov convened a meeting of the Military Council in southern Chechnya last week to discuss with field commanders his proposed plan of military action for the spring and summer of this year, Chechenpress reported on 8 February. Maskhadov expressed confidence that successful implementation of the measures outlined will result in the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Chechnya by the end of 2002. LF
PARTIES INSIST ON DEATH PENALTY FOR ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN
Leading Armenian political parties continue to argue that the five gunmen who murdered eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament in October 1999 be sentenced to death, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 February. The Armenian government undertook to abolish the death penalty when the country was accepted into full membership of the Council of Europe in January 2001, but has not yet done so, and the Constitutional Court is examining whether abolition is compatible with the clause in the constitution allowing the death penalty for "exceptionally grave crimes." Lawmakers argue that the Council of Europe should "make an exception" in the case of the five gunmen, but Hovannes Hovannisian, who heads the Armenian delegation to the Council of Europe, has said he thinks that is highly improbable. LF
COMMISSION ENDORSES ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
The Armenian parliamentary commission for constitutional reform on 8 February approved the amendments proposed by President Robert Kocharian that envisage a semi-presidential form of government, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. At the same time, the commission rejected alternative proposals drafted by the opposition (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 42, 20 December 2001). LF
IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER POSTPONES VISIT TO ARMENIA
Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani has postponed indefinitely a visit to Armenia planned for 7-10 February, according to Arminfo on 8 February, as cited by Groong. An Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman had told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 4 February, however, that no date had been set for Shamkhani's visit. Iran's ambassador to Yerevan, Mohammad Koleini, said the same day that the two countries' representatives are already discussing the prospects for military cooperation. LF
ARMENIA TO RESCHEDULE GEORGIA'S ENERGY DEBT
The Armenian government has agreed to reschedule Georgia's $18 million debt for electricity supplies, Noyan Tapan and Caucasus Press reported on 9 February. LF
TURKISH PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CRITICIZES AZERBAIJANI-RUSSIAN RADAR AGREEMENT...
On a three-day visit to Baku, Omer Izgi, who is speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, on 8 February reaffirmed Ankara's support for Azerbaijan's position on the Karabakh conflict, but at the same time called for Azerbaijan to sign with Turkey an agreement on economic cooperation analogous to that it signed in Moscow last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). Izgi also expressed disapproval of Baku's decision to lease to Russia for a period of 10 years the strategic Gabala radar station, which he said will enable Russia to "monitor" Turkey, according to Azerbaijan's ANS -TV, as cited by Groong. LF
...PROMPTING AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPART TO PROPOSE JOINT USE
In response to Izgi's complaint, Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov said on 8 February he does "not exclude that in future Turkey could participate in the joint exploitation" of Gabala, or that Turkey could establish military bases in Azerbaijan, Reuters reported. In Moscow, an unidentified military-diplomatic source told Interfax the same day that he doubts Alesqerov's remarks reflect official Azerbaijani policy. The source added that Moscow would interpret the opening by a NATO member state of a military base on the territory of a CIS state as "a further advance of the alliance's military infrastructure toward Russia's borders." LF
OFFICIALS DENY MEETING BETWEEN AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT, ARMENIAN REPRESENTATIVE
The independent Azerbaijani newspaper "Ekho" on 8 February quoted unnamed senior Azerbaijani officials as denying that President Heidar Aliev met on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in New York with Ara Abramyan, who heads the Armenian disapora community in Moscow. ITAR-TASS on 6 February quoted Abramyan as saying that he had discussed during a brief meeting with Aliev how to achieve a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. LF
GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS END PROTEST PICKET...
Following a meeting with UN special representative for the Abkhaz conflict Dieter Boden, Georgian displaced persons ended on 9 February the protest they began on 19 January at the bridge over the Inguri River that links Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The displaced persons were demanding that the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone under the CIS aegis either be withdrawn or be empowered to protect the local Georgian population more effectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 January, and 4 February 2002). LF
...AS GEORGIAN ENVOY ENDORSES CIS PEACEKEEPERS' PRESENCE
Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, whom Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze named last fall as his special representative for the Abkhaz conflict, told journalists in Moscow on 8 February following talks with Russian Foreign Ministry officials that he sees no alternative to the Russian peacekeepers' continued presence in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Interfax further quoted Abashidze as telling Russian Public television that he does not think the peacekeepers should be granted additional police powers to protect Georgian displaced persons who wish to return to Abkhazia. LF
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG CONDEMNS KYRGYZ RESPONSE TO HUNGER STRIKER'S DEATH...
On 7 February the Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture issued a statement condemning the Kyrgyz authorities' harassment of the relatives of Sherali Nazarkulov, who died the previous day after a hunger strike to protest the arrest of Kyrgyz parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2002). The statement noted that Nazarkulov's wife and fellow human rights activists were not allowed to claim his body for burial or to attend the autopsy, and that medical personnel at the hospital where he died were pressured to record the cause of death as a stroke, not the direct result of his hunger strike. LF
...AS KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARIANS DEMAND THAT PRESIDENT RESIGN
Thirteen parliament deputies issued a statement on 7 February blaming Nazarkulov's death on President Askar Akaev's failure to respond to either domestic or international appeals on Beknazarov's behalf, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They argued that by ignoring the upsurge of protest over Beknazarov's arrest and departing on vacation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002), Akaev has forfeited the "moral right" to remain president, and should therefore resign. LF
KYRGYZSTAN, TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN STRIPPED OF VOTING RIGHTS AT UN
Kyrgyzstan has been deprived of its right to vote at UN General Assembly sessions because of its failure to pay membership dues for 2000-2001 amounting to $204,900, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau quoted Foreign Ministry official Marat Usupov as saying on 8 February. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been similarly penalized for nonpayment of official dues, according to Asia Plus-Blitz on 5 February. LF
AFGHAN OFFICIALS APPREHEND TAJIK FIELD COMMANDER
Senior Tajik security officials announced in Dushanbe on 9 February that the Afghan authorities have arrested a Tajik opposition field commander believed to have been responsible for the murder in July 1998 of three UN officials and their Tajik translator, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. At the time of his capture last fall the field commander was reportedly fighting on the side of the Taliban. LF
TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH WORLD BANK OFFICIALS
Imomali Rakhmonov held talks in Dushanbe on 8 February with a visiting World Bank delegation, Russian agencies reported. Dennis de Trei, who is the bank's director for Central Asia, said the delegation submitted to Rakhmonov proposals for increasing the effectiveness of projects the bank is financing in Tajikistan. De Trei also expressed concern that Tajikistan's foreign debt now exceeds $1 billion. LF
TAJIK OFFICIAL PROPOSES UPGRADING STATUS OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE
Russian should be granted the status of an official language in Tajikistan in acknowledgement of its role in facilitating communication between the various peoples of Central Asia, presidential administration official Gayur Kakharov told ITAR-TASS on 9 February. He said doing so would not in any way infringe on the status of the Tajik language. LF
PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN SUPPORT TURKMEN GAS-EXPORT PIPELINE
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad on 10 February, visiting interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's Premier Parvez Musharraf affirmed their shared conviction that construction of a pipeline to export Turkmen natural gas via Afghanistan and Pakistan would be "advantageous not only for our countries but for the entire region," turkmenistan.ru reported, quoting Reuters. Karzai is to visit Ashgabat soon to discuss the project with Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurat Niyazov. Visiting eastern Turkmenistan on 8 February, Niyazov expressed the hope that the situation in Afghanistan will soon be conducive to reviving plans for that pipeline, Reuters reported. The project was shelved during the civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. LF
UZBEKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN SIGN CUSTOMS COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Meeting on 8 February at the Khairaton border crossing, Uzbek and Afghan customs officials signed a protocol that provides for the mutual recognition of customs documentation and for the exchange of information and mutual assistance, according to the National Information Agency of Uzbekistan's website. The Uzbek officials offered to provide the Afghan side with equipment, and to help train customs personnel. LF
WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT--PART 1 COUNTRIES
Through 10 FEBRUARY
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS BETTER PERFORMANCE FROM BANKS
Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a meeting with Belarusian bankers on 8 February that the country's banks "fail to meet the needs of the national economy and our society as a whole," Belapan reported. "The banking sector does as it pleases today. We know that our banks draw little investment, credit, foreign currency resources...into the country. Then let us agree that you will double the amount of resources you attract this year. You can have it as an agreement, or you can have it as an order," Lukashenka added. He denied the reports that he has recently told the banks to scrape up $410 million in loans for Belarus's ailing agriculture. "We will no longer bend all rules and economic laws to finance our agriculture or any other sectors," he said. JM
BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE SAID TO MASSIVELY RUBBERSTAMP PRESIDENTIAL BILLS
Ivan Pashkevich, a member of the Chamber of Representatives, told an international conference in Minsk on 8 February that every one in two bills passed by the chamber contravenes the constitution, Belapan reported. Pashkevich noted that making laws is almost the sole privilege of the Presidential Bill Drafting Center that, according to Pashkevich, produces draft laws on a "mass scale." He divulged that lawmakers are not familiar with or do not understand some 95 percent of the bills passed by the chamber, because they do not have the time to read them. "Even if [the legislature] postpones some bills, they are returned [to the chamber] with manic persistence and passed on the third or fourth try," Pashkevich added. JM
PRESIDENT WANTS UKRAINE TO JOIN EU BY 2011
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told a government meeting on 8 February that Ukraine must join the European Union by 2011, Interfax reported. Kuchma noted that to qualify for EU membership, Ukraine should secure annual economic growth of between 5-7 percent, join the World Trade Organization by the end of 2003, and create a free-trade zone with Central and Eastern European countries by 2004, Reuters reported. JM
UKRAINIAN SPEAKER SAYS NO IMPEACHMENT ON THE AGENDA
Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch on 8 February denied earlier reports by a number of Ukrainian media outlets that the Verkhovna Rada put the issue of President Kuchma's impeachment on the agenda of its current session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2002), Interfax reported. JM
UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS MELNYCHENKO'S ELECTION BID...
The Supreme Court on 8 February upheld the decision of the Central Election Commission denying the registration of former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, who has been granted asylum in the United States, as a candidate on the Socialist Party list in the upcoming parliamentary election, Interfax reported. The court said the information Melnychenko supplied about his place of residence in the past five years is "essentially unreliable." Meanwhile, earlier this month the commission accepted a parliamentary bid by former Ukrainian banker Viktor Zherdytskyy, who has been in a German jail since 2000 awaiting trial for allegedly embezzling several hundred thousand dollars intended to assist Ukrainian victims of World War II. JM
...AS PROSECUTOR DISMISSES U.S. EXAMINATION OF MELNYCHENKO'S TAPES
Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets on 8 February said the results of the recent U.S. examination of Melnychenko's recordings, which provoked Ukraine's "tape scandal" in 2000, "have no legal force for the Ukrainian investigation," Interfax reported. Bahanets noted that, according to Ukrainian legislation, such an examination may be made only by "a competent expert with an appropriate license." Lawmaker Oleksandr Zhyr said on RFE/RL on 7 February that Bruce Koenig, a veteran FBI expert on audio and video recordings, examined samples of Melnychenko's recordings and concluded that they are authentic and unaltered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2002). Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office maintains that Melnychenko's tapes are doctored. JM
ESTONIA'S PREMIER COOLS OPTIMISM ABOUT RUSSIAN MARKET
In an interview in "Postimees" on 9 February, Siim Kallas advised business people to pay more attention to boosting exports to the West and not to expect dazzling prospects in trade with Russia, ETA reported. His comments were prompted in part by the recent talks held with President Arnold Ruutel and Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar in which business leaders urged for the improvement of relations with Russia. Kallas admitted to the daily that he favors the settlement of the dispute over the registration of the Estonian Orthodox Church subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, which has been mentioned as the primary reason why Russia has not granted most favored nation status for trade with Estonia. SG
LATVIA'S FARMERS UNION HOLDS CONGRESS
Augusts Brigmanis, the chairman of Latvia's Farmers Union (LZS), told the party's congress in Riga on 9 February that it is very important for Latvia to defend its national interests while seeking EU entry, LETA reported. He said the LZS will protest Latvia's entry into the EU if subsidies provided by the union to farmers in Latvia are lower than the subsidies to farmers in current EU member states. Brigmanis also proposed imposing a moratorium on the sale of agricultural land in Latvia until 2013, arguing that land prices are too high for local farmers but ridiculously low for foreigners. He also said Latvia should follow the example of the new Danish government and permit immigrants to remain in Latvia only if they have found legal employment. SG
CONGRESS OF LITHUANIAN SOCIAL LIBERALS HELD IN VILNIUS
The 3rd Congress of the New Union (Social Liberals) in Vilnius on 9 February re-elected parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas as its chairman for a four-year term by an unanimous vote of the 364 delegates, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 11 February. The congress also elected an 87-member party council whose members Paulauskas had proposed. The council will meet on 23 February to choose the party's deputy chairmen from its members. In his report to the congress, Paulauskas expressed satisfaction that the number of party members has increased to nearly 4,000, and noted that new members include Social Security and Labor Minister Vilija Blinkeviciute and Health Minister Konstantinas Romualdas Dobrovolskis. However, he did not reveal whether he intends to run for Lithuania's presidency, saying that there is still a lot of work to be done before an electoral campaign can begin. SG
POLISH PREMIER SAYS EU SUBSIDES WILL TURN FARMERS AGAINST INTEGRATION
Leszek Miller told foreign diplomats on 8 February that the European Commission's plans to limit farm subsidies for Poland will not make it easier to win over Polish farmers to the idea of European integration, PAP reported. Miller added that prime ministers of the Visegrad Four countries will meet in mid-February and try to work out a joint response to Brussels' proposals. The commission's plan calls for farmers from Poland and nine other future members to have access to only 25 percent of the direct agricultural subsidies given to their Western neighbors in 2004, 35 percent in 2006, with the prospect of full subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy coming as late as 2013. JM
FAULT AT CZECH NUCLEAR PLANT IS 'SERIOUS TECHNICAL PROBLEM'
The latest malfunction at the Temelin nuclear power plant is a "serious technical problem" that "must not be allowed to repeat itself," dpa reported on 10 February, citing Dana Drabova, the chairwoman of the Office of Nuclear Safety (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2002). Drabova said the investigation will last "at least one week." MS
CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES FREE ACCESS TO STB FILES
The Chamber of Deputies approved a law on 8 February that will allow adult citizens access to any files of the former communist secret police, upon written request, CTK and international agencies reported. Files of foreign nationals, as well as files whose content could endanger state security or human life, will remain classified. The vote was 102 in favor and 53 against. The ruling Social Democratic Party's vote was split, with CSSD Chairman Vladimir Spidla voting against and Prime Minister Milos Zeman being absent when the vote was taken. While CSSD Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky interpreted the law as giving access only to those on whom files were kept by the StB, Civic Democratic Party parliamentary deputy Marek Benda said the law allows free access to the files to any person aged 18 and over. MS
FOUR PARTY COALITION BECOMES JUST 'COALITION'
Cyril Svoboda, the chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, and Hana Marvanova, the chairwoman of the Freedom Union-Democratic Union, told journalists on 8 February that their formations will run in the June elections on joint lists under the name "Coalition," CTK reported. Unlike the former Four Party Coalition, the new alliance will have no joint structures, no joint leader, and no shadow cabinet. Also on 8 February, Roman Catholic priest Tomas Halik told CTK that he will coordinate a public discussion between the Coalition leaders and representatives of civic initiatives who might run on the joint lists. Halik's name has been mentioned among those to be considered for inclusion on the independents' lists. Freedom Union-Democratic Union Deputy Chairman Ivan Pilip told Czech television on 10 February that the independents will "under no circumstance" run as a separate bloc on the joint lists. MS
CZECH ARMY DELIVERED TRUCKS TO NORTH KOREA
At least 250 Tatra army trucks were exported to China and North Korea between 1993 and 1997, CTK reported on 11 February, citing the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." The transaction was aided by Communist deputy Vojtech Filip via the Kamo firm, which is based in Ceske Budejovice. The official destination of the delivery was the Hun Chun free-trade zone, situated in the vicinity of the Chinese-North Korean border, but the daily said the final destination was Pyongyang. It cites an army investigator as saying: "We consider it as proved that at least some of the vehicles ended up in North Korea." A spokeswoman for the Trade and Industry Ministry confirmed that Kamo had a license for the deal, which was canceled in 1999. She did not explain the cancellation. MS
SLOVAK SDL STILL 'UNDECIDED' ABOUT MIKLOS VOTE
Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) Chairman Pavol Koncos said on 9 February that the SDL has "not yet decided" how to vote in the 13 February debate in the parliament on a possible no-confidence motion in Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos, CTK reported. Koncos, who spoke after a meeting of the SDL National Committee, said that the committee and the SDL parliamentary group will call a special meeting after the debate and make its decision then. He said the decision will not depend on the coalition's postures of selling the state's minority stake in the SPP energy utility, but on the sale of the state's shares in the VZS steelmaker, which the SDL would consider to be a "violation of the law." The motion against Miklos is likely to be formally submitted by the main opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. MS
SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS PREPARING ANTI-STATUS LAW BILL
The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), a member of the ruling coalition, is preparing a bill aimed at safeguarding Slovak sovereignty and countering "controversial provisions" in the Hungarian Status Law, TASR reported on 8 February, citing KDH Deputy Chairman Vladimir Palko. Palko said the KDH will submit the bill to the parliament "if the government does not approve it, or if it does not prepare measures against the effects of the Status Law." Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky, who is also a former KDH chairman, said the KDH wants Slovakia and Hungary to reach an agreement on the law, and that the bill will be submitted only if such an agreement fails to materialize. The Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" wrote on 11 February that the bill stipulates that Hungarian minority organizations in Slovakia that issue Hungarian ID cards will be disbanded and their assets will be confiscated. MS
SLOVAK SUPPORT FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP GROWING
Support for membership in NATO has grown in Slovakia from 51 percent in November 2001 to 53 percent at present, CTK reported on 8 February, citing a poll conducted by Focus. Thirty-five percent are against membership and 12 percent have no opinion on the matter. Opposition to membership in November was 40 percent. MS
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT TO MEDIATE BETWEEN POLITICAL PARTIES
The opposition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) on 8 February wrote to President Ferenc Madl asking him to act as mediator between parliamentary parties on the issues of the Status Law and EU accession, in view of the "uncivilized tone used in the election campaign." SZDSZ Chairman Gabor Kuncze recalled that governing party deputies had called the opposition "traitors," and several people also heard Prime Minister Viktor Orban utter the word in parliament. Kuncze said it is vital that Orban apologize to the opposition parties for his remarks. Hungarian radio reported that Madl said last week during his visit to Kyiv that he will try to mediate between the leaders of the parliamentary parties because the Status Law and EU accession have become matters of dispute and it is "regrettable that the tone of the campaign has become uncivilized." MSZ
FIDESZ DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OFFERS GLIB APOLOGY TO 'TRAITORS'
Laszlo Kover on 8 February told an election forum in the Hungarian city of Nagykanizsa that he apologizes to those Socialist Party politicians whom he called traitors in parliament on 5 February, as "traitors can only be those who have a country." Kover said opposition politicians "hate the country in which they live," and, with their continued "mud slinging," want "a general sense of nausea to bury the parliamentary elections." Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs "is Goebbels' best disciple," because he is trying to mislead the public with his "countless reiterated lies," Kover added. Regarding the Socialists, he said, "if the past cannot be abolished for good, let us at least abolish them from the future." MSZ
LINEUPS EMERGE FOR FORTHCOMING HUNGARIAN ELECTIONS
On 9 February, the FIDESZ Council approved the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum national list for the April parliamentary elections, Hungarian media reported. The list is headed by Prime Minister Orban, followed by Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David, Christian Democrat Co-Chairman Peter Harrach, FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni, parliamentary speaker Janos Ader, FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover, and FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Jozsef Szajer. In other news, the opposition Socialist Party's candidate for prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, on 8 February introduced Csaba Laszlo, a 39-year-old economist and vice president of K&H Bank, as his candidate for finance minister. Laszlo said Medgyessy's program would create sustainable annual economic growth of 5-6 percent and a lasting improvement in living standards. MSZ
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER VOWS INDICTED MEN WILL GO TO THE HAGUE
Echoing other statements he has made in recent weeks, Zoran Djindjic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 10 February that he expects that four former top aides to Slobodan Milosevic will soon find themselves in The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001 and 4 February 2002). He said that only "technical questions" are holding up the departure of the four indicted men. Djindjic added, however, that one of the men, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, enjoys "immunity" by virtue of his office. In related news, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said that indicted Yugoslav citizens must go to The Hague. He stressed that those individuals who "bloodied their hands in the name of the Serbian cause must answer before The Hague tribunal, and before the people and history." PM
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER WANTS IDEAS
In a statement to the Frankfurt-based diaspora daily "Vesti" of 9 February, Djindjic appealed to Serbs living abroad to invest in Serbian companies or set up businesses of their own in Serbia. He called on members of the diaspora to write him with their ideas on the most important tasks necessary to get the Serbian economy moving. Suggestions may be sent to: (firstname.lastname@example.org). PM
RFE/RL JOURNALIST WINS TOP SERBIAN POST
Milica Lucic-Cavic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service was elected president of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) in Belgrade on 9 February. She stressed that her first priority will be resolving the status of professional journalists there. PM
BOSNIAN SERB EX-PREMIER: WAR CRIMINALS MUST GO
Returning from a trip to the U.S., Milorad Dodik, who heads the Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNS), said in Banja Luka on 10 February that one of the chief demands of the international community to governments in the region is the extradition of all indicted war criminals, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
CONTROVERSY OVER AMENDMENTS TO BOSNIAN SERB CONSTITUTION
Speaking in Bijeljina on 9 February, Dragan Kalinic, who is speaker of the Republika Srpska parliament and head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), said that he is for a "healthy compromise" with parties from the mainly Croat and Muslim federation about changes to the two entities' constitutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added, however, that "there are certain limits and a minimum of Serbian interests" that he must respect in his ongoing talks with political leaders from the federation. In Sarajevo, representatives of four leading NGOs in the federation said that they do not consider that the proposed amendments to the Bosnian Serb Constitution go far enough to meet the recent ruling by the Bosnian Constitutional Court on equality between Muslims, Serbs, and Croats throughout the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). Speaking in Zvornik the next day, Kalinic said that two-thirds of the deputies to the Bosnian Serb parliament will have to approve any constitutional changes. He stressed that the size of the respective ethnic groups according to the 1991 census "is unacceptable to the Serbs" as a basis for assigning cabinet posts. PM
PETRITSCH: BOSNIA MUST MOVE BEYOND DAYTON
Speaking in Sarajevo on 9 February, Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, said that the 1995 Dayton agreement must "expand" and "evolve," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He argued that the days are over of implementing Dayton according to the strict letter of the text (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 December 2001). Petritsch did not elaborate. PM
CROATIAN PRESIDENT: BOSNIAN ROLE ONLY ON OFFICIAL BASIS
In a statement released by his office in Zagreb on 11 February, Stipe Mesic said that he is willing to help improve the position of Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina but only on the basis of governmental institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He ruled out working through nonofficial channels, as was the practice during the rule of the late President Franjo Tudjman. Mesic called for the return of refugees and for the complete equality of all three peoples in the neighboring country. He was replying to an earlier letter from Herzegovinian leader Ante Jelavic. PM
CRITICISM OF YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT'S TRIP TO U.S.
Batic said in Novi Sad on 9 February that the recent visit to Washington by Vojislav Kostunica represented a "step backward" compared to the president's trip to the U.S. in 2001, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 May 2001). Batic noted that Kostunica did not meet with any important officials this time. The minister added that the trip seemed to be more for tourism than for politics, even though Kostunica traveled in his official capacity. "Vesti" reported on 9 February that Kostunica met and was photographed with two prominent Yugoslav professional basketball players, Vlade Divac and Predrag Stojakovic, who play for the Sacramento Kings in the U.S. National Basketball Association. PM
FRESH TALK OF SPLIT IN CROATIAN PARTY
"Jutarnji list" reported from Zagreb on 8 February that a split in the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) seems to be only a matter of time. Some of the parliamentary deputies are loyal to party leader Drazen Budisa, while others do not want the HSLS to leave the governing coalition, as Budisa wants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002). PM
BOSNIAN SERB EX-PRESIDENT: 'I'M A DEFENDANT, NOT AN INFORMER'
Biljana Plavsic told "Vesti" on 9 February that she has no intention of testifying against Milosevic or former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic in The Hague, as some press reports have suggested. She dismissed those reports outright, stressing that she has enough to do in preparing her own defense. Plavsic suggested that she would not be in the dock herself if she had important incriminating evidence against others. PM
EU FAILS TO PRESSURE MONTENEGRO
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic held talks in Brussels on 10 February with security policy chief Javier Solana, who stressed again the EU's view that Serbia and Montenegro must remain together in a joint state, "Vesti" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 December 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January, and 4 and 5 February 2002). It is not clear whether Solana repeated the points that he made in previous talks with Djukanovic or offered him some new incentives to stay in a union with Belgrade. Djukanovic said on 11 February that matters remain unsolved but talks will continue, perhaps until the end of February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In related news, Slobodan Samardzic, who is an adviser to Kostunica, said that the outcome of the dispute over the future of Serbian-Montenegrin relations is too difficult to predict, "Vesti" reported on 9 February. He stressed that a compromise is unlikely and that there will probably be only winners and losers. PM
KOSOVA: INTERNATIONALS DEFEND ANTI-INTERNATIONAL PROTESTERS
UN police officials said in Prishtina on 10 February that they will not tolerate attempts by unnamed Kosovars to interfere with protests against the recent arrest of three former ethnic Albanian guerrillas, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2002). Many Kosovars regard the protests as harmful to relations between the province's ethnic Albanian majority and representatives of the international community. PM
BOOBY TRAP KILLS MAN IN MACEDONIA
A bobby-trap bomb in a house in the troubled Skopje suburb of Aracinovo killed Aco Stojanovski and wounded a second man on 10 February. AP called the incident the most serious in Macedonia in weeks. A police spokesman told the news agency that the authorities believe that Stojanovski's brother, who works for the security forces, was the intended target of the blast. No one has claimed responsibility. In 2001, Aracinovo was a stronghold of the ethnic Albanian rebels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 June, and 7 August 2001). PM
MACEDONIAN POLICE RETURN TO ADDITIONAL VILLAGES
Members of the ethnically mixed police entered seven villages near Tetovo and five near Gostivar on 11 February, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002). Angry ethnic Albanians prevented the police from entering three additional villages in the Gostivar area, saying they still do not trust the police. PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER EXPLAINS INTENDED CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE
Adrian Nastase said on 8 February that amending the constitutional prerogatives of the country's president should not be transformed into a "personalized debate," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the amendment would not be enforced in the next presidential elections. Nastase said that an amendment is warranted by the fact that although Romania has a parliamentary system, the country's president is elected by popular vote, as in presidential systems. He also said the prerogatives of Romania's two chambers of the parliament should be redefined, with each chamber having its own specific and separate prerogatives. MS
SERBIAN PREMIER IN ROMANIA
Zoran Djindjic, on a one-day visit to Romania on 8 February, met with his Romanian counterpart Nastase and Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase and Djindjic focused on bilateral economic relations, and the Serbian premier said a free-trade agreement is to be signed in the near future. Nastase said Romania has always backed and will continue backing Yugoslavia's territorial integrity, and that changing borders in Europe "leads nowhere but to new conflict breeding grounds." MS
U.S. TO USE ROMANIAN PORT TO SUPPLY KFOR
The U.S. European Command (EUCOM) plans to use the Black Sea port of Constanta to rotate Kosova KFOR peacekeepers, Reuters reported on 8 February, quoting U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest. Guest said Constanta is "more convenient" than the Bulgarian port previously used for this purpose, and that "this rotation will demonstrate Romania's ability to support a large military operation involving troops and equipment." Premier Nastase said the "fact that EUCOM has confidence in Romania's capacity to fulfill this important task is proof of the progress we have made toward [NATO] accession." MS
SUSPENSION OF PPCD LIFTED IN MOLDOVA...
Justice Minister Ion Morei announced on 8 February that the one-month suspension of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) has been lifted, which will allow the PPCD to participate in the electoral campaign ahead of the 7 April early local elections, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Morei said the decision also reflects a "response" to the concerns expressed by the Council of Europe over the suspension. He called on the PPCD to stop "actions that may lead to internal strife and public violence." In response to the decision, PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca thanked the European Council for its support and said ongoing protest demonstrations will continue. Rosca said that some 120,000 signatures have been gathered so far against the decision to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes in Moldovan schools. MS
...AND PPCD CALLS FOR EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
On 10 February, the PPCD said it will participate in the early local elections, but also called for early parliamentary elections, Romanian radio reported. In a press release, the party said the regime of President Vladimir Voronin has led to the intensification of cronyism and corruption, intensified the process of Russification, and enforced assimilation of the Romanian majority as well as the Ukrainian, Gagauz, and Bulgarian minorities. At the same time, the PPCD said, the regime has repeatedly acted against political pluralism and for the annihilation of the democratic opposition. The PPCD also accused the regime of having caused a deterioration in relations with Romania and Ukraine and with the European institutions, describing those relations as being governed today by "suspicion and hostility." MS
GAGAUZ-YERI ASSEMBLY APPROVES REFERENDUM ON DISMISSING GOVERNOR
The Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly on 8 February approved holding a referendum on 24 February on dismissing the region's governor, Dumitru Croitor, Infotag reported. The vote was 24 in favor and 12 against. Infotag said the decision infringes on current legislation, which stipulates that at least 30 days must pass after the plebiscite's approval before it can be held. Opponents of the referendum say its partisans are manipulated from Chisinau and seek to replace the elected Executive Committee -- the autonomous region's government -- with communists in order to hold early local elections in Gagauz-Yeri on 7 April. The same day, the Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed "concern" that the tensions in the region could lead to instability and encroach on the autonomous status of the Turkish-speaking region's population. MS
TRANSDNIESTER 'FOREIGN MINISTER': NO EVACUATION BEFORE COMPENSATION
Transdniester "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay told Infotag on 8 February that there will be no further evacuation of the Russian arsenal from the self-styled republic until both Moscow and the OSCE settle their "debt" to the Transdniester. Litskay claimed that together, Russia and the OSCE "owe" the separatists $300 million, and that Tiraspol demonstrated its "goodwill" by allowing four Russian train convoys to depart. But he added that there will be "no further arms evacuation" until the debt is settled. MS
BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATING NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
On 8 February, the parliament began debating the no-confidence motion submitted by the opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS), international news agencies reported. The vote is expected on 13 February and observers say it has no chance of being approved, and that no other party on the benches of the opposition will support the motion. Nadezhda Mihailova, the leader of the ODS parliamentary group, told Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski in submitting the motion: "Your government came to power pledging new morality and new honesty, but you have been doing just the opposite." Responding to the motion, Finance Minister Milen Velchev said the ODS has no moral right to submit it, as every day new evidence emerges on the illegalities committed by members of the former government (see "End Note."). MS
WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT--PART 2 COUNTRIES
Through 10 FEBRUARY
BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MOVES VOTE OF NO-CONFIDENCE -- TO DISCIPLINE ITSELF
Somewhat surprisingly, the opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) on 4 January submitted a motion of no-confidence in the cabinet headed by Simeon Saxecoburggotski. The motion cites the introduction of VAT on medicines as well as the government's taxation policy in general as grounds for the vote of no-confidence, which Ekaterina Mihailova, the chairwoman of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), the largest ODS component, called a "warning sign" for the government.
The date chosen by the ODS to launch its challenge is symbolic -- five years to the day since the ODS forced the Socialist government to resign. But even before the vote takes place on 13 February, it is clear that this time the ODS has almost no chance of success. The second largest "opposition" party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), has announced that it will abstain from the vote. Although the BSP is not a member of the ruling coalition, it is represented in the government by Kostadin Daskalev, the deputy prime minister and minister for regional development.
In her speech during the parliamentary debate on 8 February, Mihailova urged the prime minister to resign: "This government started with a lie, with promises it cannot keep. Mr. Prime Minister, you are responsible, you have chosen the members of parliament and the ministers, that is why you hold great responsibility... Go home, this administration is dangerous for Bulgaria."
But Finance Minister Milen Velchev as well as Economic Minister Nikolai Vasilev of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) dismissed the opposition's charges. While Velchev called the no-confidence motion an "attempt to destabilize the country," Vasilev referred to it as "a tempest in a teapot."
Velchev defended the introduction of VAT on medicine as a further step in the government's efforts to bring Bulgaria's tax system into line with that of the EU. He pointed out that the taxation will also help to abolish the flourishing black market in pharmaceutical products. Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski said that the introduction of VAT on medicines was primarily motivated by serious financial problems within the Bulgarian health system that he blames on the previous ODS-led government.
Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), went even further in his critique of the ODS. As coalition partner of Saxecoburggotski's NDSV, he declined to participate in the parliamentary debate. Asked by journalists about his decision, he answered that he is "not used to dealing with opponents who are not able to articulate the problems." He also rejected speculation about a government reshuffle.
Already before the parliamentary debate, some media speculated about the reason why the ODS leadership submitted the motion of no-confidence at all. Velina Gospodinova and Mitko Mandzhukov of the weekly "Kapital" recalled that the SDS leadership had planned a motion of no-confidence for January, but members of the ODS parliamentary faction decided that the time for a vote of no-confidence had not yet come.
With its decision to move a no-confidence vote now, the SDS leadership surprised its partners within the ODS -- the Bulgarian National Agrarian Union (BZNS-NS) and the Democratic Party (DP).
Within the SDS, there were lengthy discussions about the possible political consequences of such a step. Some legislators feared that the electorate might perceive the motion as populist; others were afraid that the BSP might support the SDS. In that case, the SDS could lose its reputation as a conservative anticommunist party. With the BSP abstaining from the vote, the SDS would have the chance to present itself as the sole political alternative in the country, and be able to present itself as united.
Since the parliamentary elections of June 2001, which brought former monarch Saxecoburggotski to power, the SDS has been engaged in political infighting. A power struggle between Ekaterina Mihailova and the prominent former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova is likely to be decided at the party's national conference due next month. However, that struggle does not seem to be ideological. Ekaterina Mihailova, who is often described as the "Cinderella" of the SDS, is said to be close to former party leader Ivan Kostov. But the glamorous Nadezhda Mihailova is part of the old SDS leadership as well. Many observers consider the conflict between the two Mihailovas simply one of personality. After it losing three consecutive elections, some party members appear to be looking for a more charismatic leadership.
An unnamed commentator of the daily "Standard" analyzed the parliamentary debate under the headline "It is time for the BSP and the SDS to unite." He observed that everything seems to be confused in Bulgaria -- even the political left and right. "With astonishing political populism the SDS...defended the poor, the hungry, and the sick. At the same time their main opponent in the former two-pole political system, the BSP, had to carry out yet another u-turn and defend the cabinet, despite its marked right-wing, conservative, and antisocial taxation policy."Ulrich Buechsenschuetz is a freelance political analyst based in Berlin. He contributes regularly to "RFE/RL Balkan Report."