RUSSIA HEDGES ON EXTENDING OIL-REDUCTION AGREEMENT WITH OPEC
Speaking to journalists after a meeting on 20 February between Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and the heads of the largest Russian oil producers, Energy Minister Igor Yusufov announced that the possibility that Russia may not extend the agreement it made last year with OPEC to scale down oil exports was not discussed, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The world oil market interpreted Yusufov's statement as a signal that Moscow does not plan to continue to abide by OPEC's policy of reducing global oil exports, and this led to a 3 percent fall in crude oil prices during the business day, bloomberg.com reported on 20 February. Meanwhile, Yusufov also said that the government has decided to form a working group composed of energy officials and oil executives to develop Russia's energy strategy. He added that the government is considering the construction of two major pipelines for exporting Russian oil to China, Japan, and Korea, with a projected capacity of 40 million tons (roughly 280 million barrels) a year. VY
MILITARY COOPERATION WITH CHINA SEEN AS THREAT TO RUSSIA'S NATIONAL SECURITY...
Writing in "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie," No. 5, military expert Sergei Orlov said that in becoming the No. 1 importer of Russian arms, China has led the best minds and weapon designers of the former Soviet military-industrial complex to ignore Russian interests and work to build up China's defense capabilities. Today, China is buying Russia's most advanced weaponry, while Chinese "head hunters" are carefully recruiting leading Russian scientists and research collectives that can fortify Beijing's ambitions to modernize its nuclear industry and develop its space program, including piloted space flights, Orlov said. At present, Russian military cooperation with China is based on several bilateral agreements and codified in a "friendship treaty" signed in July 2001, in which Beijing managed to incorporate maximum guarantees for itself while minimizing its own obligations to Russia. Orlov said that while it would be very shortsighted to judge China's intentions based only on such documents, it is clear that once Moscow helps Beijing reach its objectives, Russia's donor role will expire and subsequently Russian weapons in Chinese hands will pose a threat to Russia itself. VY
...AS RUSSIA MAPS OUT CHINESE EXPANSION
At a session held by the commission on border policy overseen by Konstantin Pulikovskii, the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, Russian officials discovered that the map used by the commission designates a Russian island off the coast of Khabarovsk as part of China, "Vremya novostei" reported on 20 February. According to specialists, the map, which was published in Russia, was likely drawn up based on a Chinese map. In fact, China has long considered two islands off Khabarovsk, Bolshoi Ussuriiskii, and Tarabarov, as its territory. According to the daily, the map will be destroyed in order not to assist the "Chinese in their propagandistic aims." JAC
EXPERT SAYS RUSSIA NOT PROTECTED FROM NUCLEAR TERRORISM
Aleksandr Koldobskii, the leading expert from the Moscow State Engineering and Physics Institute (MIFI), told a conference on nuclear terrorism held in Moscow on 19 February that he has no confidence that Russia and the rest of the world are sufficiently protected from the threat of nuclear terror, ntv.ru and ITAR-TASS reported. Koldobskii also said that in the years following the fall of Soviet Union, nuclear facilities in Russia were left practically unguarded and the thefts of fissionable materials multiplied by several times. Koldobskii added that he personally does not believe that reports about stolen weapons-grade radioactive materials have anything to do with nuclear terrorism because "it's simply impossible to steal the amount of plutonium needed for a bomb." But Koldobskii pointed out that among the some 700,000 people working for the Atomic Energy Ministry "one always can find a person who for money will give you access without asking questions or looking to see what you are taking away." VY
MOSCOW PROPOSES COMMERCIALIZING INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION
Yurii Koptev, the head of the national space agency Rosaviakosmos, announced on 20 February that the agency has proposed to countries participating in the International Space Station (ISS) project that two additional commercial modules be constructed for the station, RIA-Novosti reported. He said the new modules would allow the ISS to house "space tourists" and would help offset expected funding cuts for the project by the U.S. government. Koptev added that his agency has already designed the modules, and expressed his hope that the plan will be accepted by NASA, as well as the European, Japanese, and Canadian space agencies. VY
PREMIER SAYS GOVERNMENT HAS AVERTED POSSIBLE 2003 DEBT CRISIS
Prime Minister Kasyanov said on 20 February that his government has averted a potential crisis resulting from a peak of foreign indebtedness payments in 2003 thanks to general economic growth, a balanced budget, and a positive trade balance, Prime-TASS reported. "Using the positive monetary situation, the government initiated a buyout of its own debts [due to be paid in] 2003 led by the principle that 'the more spend we today, the more we save tomorrow,'" "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Aleksandr Shokhin, the head of the Duma's credit and financial markets committee, as saying on 20 February. VY
ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTRY CREATES OWN POWER COMPANY...
Oleg Saraev, the head of the state-owned Rosenergoatom, which is part of the Atomic Energy Ministry, announced that his agency has created a new national electric power operator called Unified Generating Company (EGK), Russian economic news agencies reported on 20 February. EGK will consolidate the output of 10 nuclear power stations, and will compete on the domestic and foreign electrical energy market with Unified Energy Systems (EES), which had been the only national power distributor. The ministry intends to use the profits it earns from EGK to pay debts it owes to EES, and for investment in the development of the nuclear power industry. VY
...AS CULTURE MINISTRY CONSOLIDATES FILM COMPANIES
Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi announced on 20 February that his ministry has decided to consolidate 18 state film studios into a holding company to be known as the Russian Cinema Distributor, "Izvestiya" and RBK reported. The new holding has been created in line with this year's decision by the government to strengthen the status of the Russian film industry and its role in the country's culture, and to prevent the further plundering of film studios' assets that has been taking place for years, Shvydkoi added. VY
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SEEKS TO REGISTER HOMELESS CHILDREN
Speaking to the State Duma on the issue of homeless children on 20 February, Vladimir Ustinov said that the number of teenagers and children involved in juvenile crime has doubled over the past decade and has reached 1.14 million, RIA-Novosti reported. Last year, law enforcement agencies detained 301,000 children aged 13 or under, 295,000 of whom were not enrolled in school and 45,000 of whom were illiterate, according to Ustinov. He suggested to the Duma that it introduce state registration for all homeless children as well as those who are not enrolled in school. VY
INTERNAL DEBT LOOMS OVER RUSSIA
While Russia is making progress in solving its foreign debt problems, it faces a catastrophic situation as far as internal debts are concerned, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 February. According to the daily, Russia's internal debt exceeds 6 trillion rubles ($2 billion), whereas the entire state budget for 2002 is not more than 2 trillion rubles ($670 million). Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy chief of the presidential staff, told the daily that if Russia were to meet all the social program obligations it has made, the country would immediately face internal default and financial chaos. Paradoxically, until now the government has been saved from a financial fiasco only by the legal illiteracy of the population, Kozak added. To avoid a potential crisis, he said the government should move quickly to redistribute financial responsibility for internal debts between the center and the regions. VY
FSB ACCUSES POLITKOVSKAYA OF WORKING FOR SOROS MONEY IN CHECHNYA
The regional operations headquarters for the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya has accused "Novaya gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya of using her reporting trips to the republic to resolve her own financial problems, ntvru.com reported on 20 February, quoting Ekho Moskvy radio. Ilya Shabalkin, a representative of the Center for Public Relations of the Federal Security Service, charged that each of Politkovskaya's trips arouses "unhealthy sensationalism." He also reported that last year "Novaya gazeta" signed an agreement with the Soros Fund to participate in a project called "Hot Spots" for which it received $55,000. According to the website, military officials in Chechnya earlier accused Politkovskaya of trying to attract the attention of the public and media to further her own celebrity. Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta" Deputy Editor in Chief Sergei Sokolov explained that "various officials in the federal forces and special services have expressed hostility -- to put it mildly -- toward" Politkovskaya. He continued that "she has received various threats and even had to leave the country" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 26 October 2001). Meanwhile, Soros officials told "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February that Politkovskaya's journalistic activities have nothing to do with the grant. JAC
DEPUTIES APPROVE CITIZENSHIP BILL...
State Duma deputies voted on 20 February to approve a bill on citizenship that establishes a new procedure for persons seeking Russian citizenship, polit.ru reported. Some 235 deputies voted for the bill, with 177 against and no abstentions, according to RIA-Novosti. The bill was approved in its first reading last October and since then some 204 amendments were proposed, of which the committee for state construction recommended adopting 92, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 October 2001). Under the bill, persons are eligible to apply for citizenship if they have lived in Russia for more than five years and have relatives in Russia. If they have no relatives, then they must live in Russia for 10 years before applying. In addition, potential citizens must speak the Russian language and be familiar with the Russian Constitution. JAC
...AS PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY MAKES ETHNIC SLUR
During the debate over the bill, Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Viktor Alknis accused his colleagues of "betraying" millions of former Soviet citizens by not giving them a special status and easier requirements for citizenship, while Vadim Bulavinov (People's Deputy) cautioned that Russia should not be turned into a "vacuum cleaner that sucks up criminals, scoundrels, and bums," the website reported. And presidential envoy to the Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov argued against the claim that an influx of immigrants could benefit Russia, asking rhetorically, "What, is Moscow full of intellectuals? It's full of beggars and Tajiks!" Also on 20 February, deputies rejected an amendment proposed by Tatarstan's legislature that would have given Russian citizens simultaneous citizenship in Tatarstan. Kotenkov argued that the amendment was "impossible to adopt." Tatarstan's amendment attracted only 21 votes in favor. JAC
UNITY OFFICIAL SUGGESTS DUMA SHOULD BE TRIMMER
Unity faction leader Vladimir Pekhtin met with President Vladimir Putin on 20 February to discuss reforming the Duma's apparatus and committee structure, RIA-Novosti reported. Pekhtin told reporters that he wants to reduce the number of Duma committees from 28 to 12-14, and liquidate most commissions. He is also proposing that the number of persons working for Duma apparatuses, around 2,000, be cut in half. He claimed that "even in the Soviet Union the largest ministry had [only] 980 persons." JAC
COAL COMPANY TRIES TO TURN TABLES ON ELECTRICITY SUPPLIER
Primorskugol, the largest coal company in Primorskii Krai, has halted its fuel shipments to Dalenergo, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 20 February. According to the agency, Dalenergo's debt to the company totals around 200 million rubles ($6.5 million), an 88 million ruble increase since December 2001. Meanwhile, Dalenergo announced on 19 February that it will begin massive shut-offs of electricity to enterprises to cities in Dalengorsk, Dalenerechensk, Lesozavodsk, and Partizansk. JAC
LOCAL BUSINESSMEN TRY TO GET PRIME MINISTER'S ATTENTION
Entrepreneurs in Ulyanovsk picketed the office of the mayor during the lead-up to Prime Minister Kasyanov's visit to that city, presscenter.ru reported on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). The businessmen carried placards demanding a reduction in the leasing fee for space in the food market. According to the website, the protest violated the rules in force prior to Kasyanov's arrival. JAC
PUTIN NOT SEEKING HANDS-ON MANAGER FOR RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN
"Versiya," No. 7, reported in its most recent issue that a recent news report that President Putin's personal masseur, Konstantin Goloshchapov, will head the president's re-election campaign, is false and is part of a smear campaign by security forces to discredit Goloshchapov. According to the original story, Putin brought Goloshchapov down to Moscow from St. Petersburg, and the latter has been accepting bribes from people hoping to influence Putin through Goloshchapov. According to the weekly, rather than organizing a campaign, Goloshchapov is instead trying to set up an association of Russian masseurs, which would issue licenses for certain kinds of medical massages. In addition, the association would also include a special group of masseurs, who have undergone a security check and would service senior government officials. JAC
OU EST LE BOEUF?
French farmers sent 500 pedigree cows to Siberia on 20 February as part of an intergovernmental agreement to improve Russian meat quality, "The Moscow Times" reported on 20 February. According to the daily, the shipment of 500 cows sent to Tyumen Oblast is just the beginning, and up to 10,000 pedigree cows will be delivered to different Russian regions each year for 10 years. Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin said that the cows are badly needed as the region has had difficulty trying to raise cattle that are good for both meat and milk. JAC
CHECHEN PROTESTS AGAINST RUSSIAN 'SWEEPS' GATHER MOMENTUM
Residents of the Chechen villages of Novye and Starye Atagi are converging by foot or bus on the village of Tsotan-Yurt, whose residents have embarked on an open-ended protest against the brutality shown by Russian troops during two recent search operations, Chechenpress reported on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January and 15 February 2002). Starye and Novye Atagi were similarly subjected to such searches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 19 February 2002), even though local administration head Musa Dakaev told "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 February that Novye Atagi is "one of most peaceful villages in Chechnya." LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S BODYGUARD CONVICTED OF MANSLAUGHTER
A Yerevan court on 21 February handed down a one-year suspended prison sentence to Aghamal Harutiunian, the member of President Robert Kocharian's bodyguard accused of the death in a Yerevan cafe last September of an Armenian from Georgia, Poghos Poghosian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Harutiunian pleaded guilty to manslaughter, having told the court last month that he gave Poghosian a "gentle shove" that caused him to lose his balance and fall, incurring fatal head injuries. Several witnesses testified that they saw a group of men assaulting Poghosian after the latter addressed insulting remarks to Kocharian, but that Harutiunian was not one of them. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO ALLAY CONCERNS OVER NEW MEDIA BILL
Speaking in Yerevan on 20 February, Kocharian said a new draft law on the media that many journalists consider poses a threat to press freedom will not be enacted unless it is approved by Council of Europe experts, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The bill envisages a new system of licensing for media outlets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2002), and requires journalists to submit written applications in advance to interview government personnel and to pay an honorarium for such interviews. Kocharian stressed that "we all need free media," but added that the media should be "responsible." LF
ISRAEL RESPONDS TO ARMENIAN DIPLOMATIC NOTE ON GENOCIDE
In a 19 February response to Armenia's diplomatic note of 15 February, the Israeli Foreign Ministry again rejected any comparison between the Armenian genocide of 1915 and the Holocaust, according to Mediamax and Arminfo, as cited by Groong. "Israel recognizes the tragedy of the Armenians and the massacre of the Armenian people, but at the same time believes that this should not be described as genocide," the Israeli statement said. Armenia had protested an earlier statement made in Yerevan on 8 February by Rivka Kohen, Israel's ambassador to both Armenia and Georgia. Kohen characterized the 1915 killings as "merely a tragedy" that cannot be compared to the Holocaust (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). LF
RUSSIAN STATE DUMA SPEAKER SAYS KARABAKH SHOULD JOIN PEACE TALKS
In an interview published in the independent newspaper "Golos Armenii" on 19 February and reproduced by Groong, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev underscored Russia's interest in "the soonest possible regulation of the [Karabakh] conflict, the establishment of strong relations between those two Transcaucasus countries, and the continuation of multilateral cooperation with Armenia and Azerbaijan without unresolved political problems." To that end, Seleznev said, "I would like the [unrecognized] Nagorno-Karabakh Republic also to participate" in future talks between Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives on finding a solution to the conflict. Azerbaijan has consistently ruled out any such participation by Karabakh officials. LF
TRIAL OF RADICAL ISLAMISTS OPENS IN AZERBAIJAN
The trial opened on 20 February in Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes of six men suspected of membership of the underground Islamic organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Turan and Interfax reported. The six men, one Ukrainian and five Azerbaijanis, were apprehended in Baku in July 2001 and face charges of preparing to commit acts of terrorism against the U.S. Embassy in Baku and the headquarters of other international organizations, and of seeking to overthrow the country's leadership and establish an Islamic state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2002). LF
AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS CONFRONT BAKU MAYOR
Residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku accused Baku Mayor Hadjibala Abutalibov on 20 February of failing to deliver on promises he made late last month to provide gas supplies and employment opportunities, and to improve their living conditions, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002). The meeting reportedly took place in a "tense atmosphere," with villagers shouting "We don't believe your promises," and "Allahu akbar," to which Abutalibov responded "I'll wait until you come to your senses." LF
U.S. OFFICIAL HOPES FOR GEORGIAN ACTION AGAINST AFGHAN MERCENARIES
Reuters on 20 February quoted an unnamed U.S. administration official as saying that Washington is considering how to help Georgia apprehend and neutralize Afghan militants who have taken refuge in the Pankisi Gorge, but rules out Russian participation in any such operation. He categorically denied Russian media reports that following a meeting in Washington on 8 February of the U.S.-Russia joint working group on terrorism, the U.S. drafted a plan for a joint operation with Russia against Afghans in Pankisi. Reuters also quoted U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as saying that the U.S. has made clear to Moscow that it believes the situation in Pankisi "is best dealt with through...cooperation [between] the U.S. and Georgia." Also on 20 February, ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified NATO official as denying that the alliance has considered any action in Pankisi. LF
GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON PATROLS OF KODORI GORGE
No agreement was reached during lengthy talks in western Georgia on 20 February between representatives of the Abkhaz and Georgian governments, the UN Observer Mission, and the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, on the arrangements for joint patrols of the Kodori Gorge that were to have begun that day, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). They will resume talks on the issue on 26 February. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili had expressed confidence on 19 February that the Georgian and Abkhaz sides would reach agreement on joint patrols by unarmed police of both the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge and Abkhazia's Gulripsh Raion. LF
GEORGIA AGAIN RULES OUT AUTONOMY FOR ARMENIAN-POPULATED REGION
Foreign Minister Menagharishvili told journalists on 20 February after a session of the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee that discussed the tense situation in the predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Djavakheti that the region is an inseparable part of Georgia and that there can be no further discussion of it being granted autonomous status, Caucasus Press reported. Menagharishvili also expressed his appreciation of the Armenian government's support for the Georgian position. LF
KAZAKHSTAN MERGES STATE OIL EXTRACTING, EXPORTING AGENCIES
President Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree on 20 February abolishing both the state oil company KazakhOil and the oil and gas export concern KazTransOil, and creating a new organization named KazakhMunaygaz, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Lazzat Kiinov, the 52-year-old governor of Mangystau Oblast, was named to head the new company, while Nazarbaev's son-in-law Timur Kulibaev, the former president of KazTransOil, was appointed his deputy. It is not clear what new position will be offered to Nurlan Balghymbaev, who was named KazakhOil president after resigning as premier in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1999). On 21 February the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported that on 26 February KazakhOil is to launch a five-year Eurobond at an annual interest rate of 9 percent. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT CONFERS WITH RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE...
President Nazarbaev met on 19 February in Astana with Russian presidential apparatus head Aleksandr Voloshin to discuss Russian-Kazakh relations, accelerating integration within the Eurasian Economic Association, and preparations for the informal CIS summit to be held in Almaty in early March, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF
...AND WITH HIS TURKMEN COUNTERPART
On 20 February, Nazarbaev telephoned Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, to congratulate him on his birthday the previous day, Interfax reported. Niyazov confirmed that he will attend the Almaty summit, on the sidelines of which he and Nazarbaev will meet to discuss the condition of the Aral Sea and the rational use of water resources. LF
ABDUCTED KYRGYZ OFFICIALS RELEASED
Residents of the village of Kara-Suu in Djalalabad Oblast, which is the native village of arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, late on 19 February freed the local officials whom they had taken hostage the previous day to demand Beknazarov's release, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). The officials had traveled to Kara-Suu after villagers kept their children home from school to protest Beknazarov's arrest and trial. A local police official denied on 20 February that the officials were forcibly detained, saying that they had to wait for transportation to return to the town of Djalalabad. LF
TAJIKISTAN SIGNS UP FOR NATO'S PFP
Tajikistan formally joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program on 20 February eight years after its inception, becoming the last of the former Soviet republics to do so. Speaking after he and Tajik Ambassador Sharif Rakhimov signed the relevant documentation in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson expressed appreciation of Tajikistan's role in the fight against terrorism, AP reported. Rakhimov for his part said Tajikistan hopes that cooperation with NATO will contribute to regional stability and provide opportunities for modernizing the country's armed forces. LF
FRENCH MILITARY INTELLIGENCE CHIEF VISITS TAJIKISTAN
General Philippe Rondeau met in Dushanbe on 20 February with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss regional security issues, ITAR-TASS reported. No details were divulged. Following talks two days earlier with Tajik Defense Ministry officials, Rondeau said he is "pleased" with Tajikistan's assistance to France and other countries engaged in the ongoing antiterrorism campaign. Tajik officials said France signaled its readiness to provide Dushanbe with unspecified "special technologies." It is not clear, however, if a decision was taken on whether France will help modernize the Ayni military air base outside Dushanbe that the Tajik leadership has offered the antiterrorism coalition. The costs of bringing the airfield up to NATO standards are estimated at several million dollars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002). LF
TAJIKISTAN UNDERTAKES TO REPAY IMF LOAN
In a statement released on 20 February and summarized by Asia Plus-Blitz, the Tajik Finance Ministry undertook to comply with the IMF's request that it repay a total of $31 million in loans advanced in violation of the conditions of its agreement with the fund (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002). The ministry explained that the violations centered on unreported loans by two German banks to two state-owned Tajik companies for the purchase of equipment, and that the fund's decision was not politically motivated. LF
ANOTHER SENIOR TURKMEN OFFICIAL JOINS OPPOSITION
In a statement released on 18 February and carried on the website gundogar.com, former Turkmen Deputy Premier Khudaiberdy Orazov announced that he is aligning with the opposition National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan. Orazov described the current situation in Turkmenistan as "a profound systemic crisis" resulting from Niyazov's "dictatorial regime," and explained his decision to leave the country and join the opposition in exile in terms of his realization that it is impossible to change the situation from within. In a separate interview with "Vremya novostei," Orazov explained that his forced resignation in January 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2000) was prompted by his public disagreements with Niyazov over the latter's plans to secure a $350-$500 million loan from the U.S.'s EximBank to buy agricultural machinery after the country had already received a $1 billion loan for the same purpose. LF
U.S. TO EXPAND MILITARY COOPERATION WITH UZBEKISTAN
Visiting Tashkent on 18-19 February, General Richard Myers, who is chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Uzbek Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov and President Islam Karimov to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a whole, and the prospects for increasing bilateral military cooperation. Myers told journalists after his talks with Karimov that they discussed the possibility of joint training and maneuvers both in Uzbekistan and the U.S., and that the U.S. will supply unspecified equipment for the Uzbek armed forces. He also commented that the antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan appears to have weakened the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in terms of disrupting supplies, arms, and cash to the point that "the IMU is a much less effective force today here in Uzbekistan," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. LF
WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT -- PART 1 COUNTRIES
Through 20 FEBRUARY
BELARUSIAN PARTY ASKS GOVERNMENT TO PUBLICIZE ARMS TRADE DETAILS
The United Civic Party has asked Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou to make public the information on Belarus's arms sales that was passed to a delegation of U.S. congressmen last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 February. Speaking on Belarusian Television on 16 February, Khvastou said the Belarusian side released "data, facts, and figures" regarding its arms trade to the U.S. delegation. The United Civic Party expressed its hope that the Foreign Ministry will be "open and honest not only before U.S. congressmen but also before its own compatriots." United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka commented that Belarusians do not know either "where the sold [Belarusian] submachine guns fire," or for what purposes "the colossal sums" earned from weapons trade are spent or by whom. JM
BELARUSIAN YOUTH ACTIVIST JAILED FOR VALENTINE'S DAY MARCH
A district court in Minsk on 20 February punished 18-year-old Vasil Parfyankou with 10-day arrest for his participation in a march to commemorate Valentine's Day in Minsk last week, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The court also imposed a fine equal to five minimum wages ($150) on student Andrey Kazlou for the same offense. "I think it's unfair to punish for a Valentine's Day march. This holiday is celebrated in all of Europe. Apparently, the authorities are guided by the pronouncements of [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka, who once promised that he would not lead us to follow the civilized world. He intends to lead us in some other direction but young people obviously do not want this," Kazlou's father commented. Four more Youth Front activists were fined earlier for the march, including Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN MINISTERS GO ON ELECTION CAMPAIGN LEAVE, PREMIER STAYS
Seven members of the Cabinet of Ministers who are seeking parliamentary mandates in the 31 March parliamentary ballot have taken leave for the period of the election campaign, Interfax reported on 20 February. They are: Deputy Premier Volodymyr Semynozhenko, Industrial Policy Minister Vasyl Hureyev, Agrarian Policy Minister Ivan Kyrylenko, Transportation Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko (all from the For a United Ukraine bloc); Education and Science Minister Vasyl Kremen (Social Democratic Party [United]); Environment Minister Serhiy Kurykin (Party of Greens); and Emergency Situations Minister Vasyl Durdynets (who is running in a single-seat constituency in Transcarpathia). Premier Anatoliy Kinakh, who is on the For a United Ukraine election list, has said he will not go on leave because of the campaign. JM
UKRAINIAN ELECTION COMMISSION ANNULS REGISTRATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL BLOC
The Central Election Commission on 20 February canceled the registration of the election list of the Rayduha (Rainbow) election bloc, which consists of the Ecological Party "Defense," the All-Ukrainian Party of Peace and Unity, and the Party of Pensioners, Interfax reported. The Rayduha bloc is sponsored by oligarch Vadym Rabynovych. The commission announced that its decision follows last week's court ruling saying that the bloc -- which was formerly called Rainbow and Green Ecologists -- was created illegally. There is another environmental group -- the Party of Greens of Ukraine -- among the 33 blocs and parties currently running in the election. JM
OUR UKRAINE SLAMS STATE OFFICIALS FOR HINDERING ITS ELECTION CAMPAIGN
The Our Ukraine election bloc headed by former Premier Viktor Yushchenko has issued a statement condemning the official "anti-Yushchenko campaign" by local and national officials, "Ukrayina Moloda" reported on 20 February. In particular, Our Ukraine blames regional state television and radio companies for denying Yushchenko access to airtime on a commercial basis; law enforcement bodies for detaining activists distributing the bloc's campaign materials; and regional state administrations for attempts to disrupt Yushchenko's meetings with voters (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 February 2002). "Administrative levers of pressure against people, illegal methods of manipulating public opinion, and black public relations techniques are applied in order to influence the result of the elections," the statement reads. JM
QUADRILATERAL MEETING IN UKRAINE MULLS SECURITY COOPERATION
A meeting of the heads of the security councils of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland in Kharkiv on 20 February has reached an accord on forms and methods of cooperation between the relevant national security structures, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo. "Poland finds it difficult to withstand flows of illegal migrants on the way to Western Europe. Ukraine finds the same problem no less important here. Russia is trying to defend its foreign economic projects. Moreover, international terrorism, which has recently significantly renewed and expanded its arsenal of means, is recognized as the main enemy for all countries," Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council chief Yevhen Marchuk commented on the meeting to 1+1 Television. The details of the accord reached at the meeting have not been made public. JM
UKRAINE NOT TO BREAK TIES WITH IRAN, IRAQ
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Dolhov said on 19 February that Ukraine's foreign policy with regard to Iran and Iraq remains unchanged despite U.S. President George W. Bush's description of these countries and North Korea as an "axis of evil," UNIAN reported. According to Dolhov, Ukraine fully supports the European leaders' position that "no country should dictate its policy to others and act unilaterally." JM
NORWEGIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS ESTONIA
Kjell Magne Bondevik, on an official visit to Estonia on 19-20 February, declared that Norway will firmly support the entry of the Baltic States to NATO at the summit meeting in Prague in November, ETA reported. He affirmed this to his Estonian counterpart Siim Kallas, who mentioned that his country has worked hard to win the invitation by such measures as raising defense spending to 2 percent of GDP. The ministers also discussed EU expansion and bilateral relations, including participation by the Norwegian government in the project to fight contagious diseases. Talks with parliament Deputy Chairman Tunne Kelam and Estonian-Norwegian parliamentary group Chairman Tiit Kabin also focused on these issues. President Arnold Ruutel told Bondevik that Estonia is interested in having good relations with all its neighbors, including Russia. They also spoke about bilateral cooperation in the spheres of environmental protection and energy, joint efforts to preserve the maritime environment, and development of a joint electricity and natural gas network between the Baltic and Nordic countries. SG
LATVIA RECEIVES PERMISSION TO OPEN CONSULAR OFFICE IN KALININGRAD
The Latvian Foreign Ministry finally received a note on 20 February from the Russian government granting it permission to open a consular office in Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, BNS and LETA reported. In March 2001 Latvia sent a note to Russia asking to be allowed to open in Kaliningrad a consular office of the Latvian Embassy in Moscow. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed the decree on permitting the opening of the office at the end of January and instructed the Kaliningrad regional and city administrations to cooperate with Latvia on setting up the consular office, which should make it much easier for the region's population to get Latvian visas. The funds necessary to establish and maintain the office in Kaliningrad will be taken from the Foreign Ministry and Latvian Port Council budgets for 2002. Foreign Ministry press secretary Ilmars Henins said that Latvia will try to open the office as soon as possible. SG
PRIVATIZATION OF LITHUANIA'S GAS UTILITY
Germany's main natural gas distributor Ruhrgas was the only company to submit a bid by the 19 February deadline to buy the 34 percent share of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) assigned for a strategic investor, ELTA reported the next day. Another 34 percent of Lietuvos Dujos will be sold to a gas supplier, probably Russia's Gazprom. In the first phase of the competition in December 2001, Gaz de France and the consortium of Ruhrgas and the German company EON Energie submitted applications to participate in the bidding. EON Energie formally asked the German government on 19 February to eliminate objections of the Competition Council to its intentions to take control of Ruhrgas, and is likely to announce on 28 February if it will join the Ruhrgas bid for Lietuvos Dujos. SG
CONFUSION OVER POLISH DEPUTY PREMIER'S PRONOUNCEMENTS IN BRUSSELS
Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski said on 20 February that he did not make a mistake in Brussels on 18 February while criticizing the European Commission's farming aid proposals and warning that Poland will preserve tariffs on EU farm produce if the EU refuses to increase subsidies for Polish farmers, PAP reported. According to Kalinowski, it was European Affairs Minister Danuta Huebner who made a mistake in criticizing his statement. "Deputy Prime Minister Kalinowski was certainly representing his own view and most probably that of his own political grouping," Huebner said on Polish Radio on 19 February. Meanwhile, Premier Leszek Miller said on 20 February that Kalinowski assessed the European Commission's proposals in Brussels as agriculture minister, but "the Polish government has not adopted a position on this issue yet." The same day the League of Polish Families demanded that the government present a progress report on the EU talks on agriculture at the upcoming parliamentary session. JM
GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE
Joschka Fischer said after talks with Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 20 February that the "irritations" caused by the recent remarks attributed to the Czech premier regarding Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians have been "cleared up," CTK and international agencies reported. Fischer told reporters that accusations of "collective guilt" are "unacceptable," and that Germany has "acknowledged responsibility for our history many times," adding that "we reject, however, the principle of collective guilt and collective punishment." Fischer also met with President Vaclav Havel, who told him that the "colorful expressions used by a certain politician" cannot hinder the development of the good relations between the two countries. Fisher's visit was mainly aimed at preparing the planned visit to Prague by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in March. MS
CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE CALLS ON ZEMAN TO STEP DOWN
Parliamentary deputies representing the Coalition -- an opposition alliance including the Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union -- on 20 February called for a no-confidence vote in the cabinet headed by Zeman in order to force the premier's ouster following the statements he made in his interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz," CTK reported. The deputies said they intend to seek the support of the main opposition Civic Democratic Alliance (ODS). ODS Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer said his party will not back the demand "so soon before the elections," but added that the statements "convinced everyone that Zeman should really retire." Government spokesman Libor Roucek described the Coalition initiative as a "cheap pre-electoral gesture." MS
FORMER CZECH COMMUNIST PREMIER ACQUITTED
A court of justice in Prague on 20 February acquitted former communist Premier Lubomir Strougal of charges of abuse of power linked to the killing of three people by the communist secret police in 1949, CTK and international agencies reported. The judge said there was not sufficient evidence to link Strougal to the crime. Strougal was charged with protecting seven members of the secret police from being brought to justice for those murders as well as stopping the investigation while he was the interior minister in 1965. The prosecution said it will appeal the verdict. Strougal became premier in 1970 and remained in that post for 18 years. Nadezda Kavalirova, deputy chairwoman of the Confederation of Political Prisoners, said she is "horrified" by the verdict and regrets living "in a country with unfair laws." MS
CZECHS FAVOR BIG NATO EXPANSION
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told the Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Commission on 20 February that the Czech Republic is in favor of a very large NATO expansion, Reuters reported. Kavan said that at its November Prague summit the organization should admit up to seven new states among its members, in light of the changing security challenges that emerged after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack against the United States. MS
CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER UNIMPRESSED BY ORBAN'S STATEMENT ON BENES DECREES...
The government will not change its attitude concerning the 1945 Benes decrees in the wake of Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's call in Brussels for the decrees to be abolished in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla told journalists on 20 February. Pavel Rychetsky, also a deputy premier, said the Constitutional Court has already examined the decrees and "found them legitimate." MS
...WHILE SLOVAKIA CALLS THE DEMAND 'UNACCEPTABLE'
In Bratislava, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said Slovakia considers the Hungarian premier's statement on the need to abolish the decrees "unacceptable," TASR reported. Kukan said that his ministry "sees no reason to revise this historical act." Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said that Orban's call is "counterproductive, opening [the wounds] of the past and leading nowhere." MS
SLOVAK CABINET APPROVES ANTI-STATUS LAW MEASURES
The cabinet on 20 February approved measures aimed at "safeguarding Slovakia's national and state interests" in face of the Hungarian Status Law, TASR and CTK reported. Foreign Minister Kukan told journalists that the Interior Ministry has been instructed to ask the courts to examine whether the activities of the ethnic-Hungarian Association for Joint Goals are in line with Slovak legislation. The association was established in Nitra and has branches in several other localities. It handles ethnic Hungarians' applications for receiving Magyar ID cards, to which they are entitled in line with the Status Law provisions. The Slovak Coalition Party's representatives in the cabinet abstained. Kukan added that Slovakia intends to conduct further talks with Hungary in order to reach an agreement in the dispute. He said he personally believes a breakthrough in the negotiations will only become possible after the Hungarian elections in April. MS
SLOVAK SDL RETREATS FROM STOPPING GAS UTILITY DEAL
The Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) on 20 February decided to withdraw its objection to the sale of a 49 stake in the state-owned gas utility Slovensky Plynarensky Priemysel, CTK reported. Earlier, the SDL threatened to veto the deal and even leave the ruling coalition if the cabinet did not agree to offer for sale a smaller stake than 49 percent. The lucrative deal is expected to raise up to $3 billion, and the cabinet intends to use the funds to help reform the pension system and cover other expenses. Investors must submit binding bids by the end of this month. MS
HUNGARIAN PREMIER, PRODI DISAGREE ON EU FARMING SUBSIDIES
European Commission President Romano Prodi on 20 February ruled out higher farming funding for candidate countries, Hungarian and international media reported. After talks with Prime Minister Orban in Brussels, Prodi said that "if candidate countries want more funds, they must convince the member states to contribute more... We have used all the resources available." For his part, Orban said it is "inconceivable" that further talks on the subsidies proposal cannot be conducted, and that if this is so "one cannot speak of negotiations." The Hungarian government "understands, but does not accept" the draft proposal, he continued, as the proposal does not reflect "the principle of equal treatment," and does not provide "equal market conditions" for Hungarian farmers. MSZ
ORBAN QUESTIONED IN BRUSSELS ON STATUS LAW, ANTI-SEMITISM...
In his talks with Prodi, Orban said the impasse with Slovakia on the implementation of Hungary's Status Law is due to a "deep misunderstanding of principles" of the law, and that he is "not very confident" that an agreement can be reached before the Hungarian general elections in April. "We have reached agreements with Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine, and Romania. Slovakia is the only country with which we still have a dispute," Orban said. Prodi welcomed the memorandum of understanding with Romania, and said he would welcome an identical accord with Slovakia, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. In reply to a question, Orban declared that he is not anti-Semitic, but noted that "much remains to be done to combat historical prejudices." He denied that there is any political anti-Semitism in Hungary, and said the situation there is no worse than in Europe in general. He emphasized that Jewish education in Hungary currently enjoys full state subsidies for the first time in the country's history. MSZ
...WANTS BENES DECREES ABOLISHED IN CZECH REPUBLIC, SLOVAKIA
Orban also said that the 1945 Benes decrees should be abolished in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, emphasizing that the decrees are in contradiction with EU legislation, CTK reported. He said the decrees "were not good for the last century and are certainly not good for the 21st century." MSZ/MS
HUNGARIAN MEDIA CHIEFS REJECT ALLEGATIONS OF POLITICAL BIAS
Leaders of Hungarian public service media organizations on 20 February rejected allegations that state media agencies lack objectivity in reporting and are susceptible to political influence. The Hungarian MTI news agency released a statement in which the heads of the news agency, public television broadcasters, and the state radio rejected comments that they claimed are "aimed at discrediting thousands of public media journalists." The statement was issued following a conference organized by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), where IFJ General Secretary Aidan White cited Hungary as a country where the media continues to be "unduly influenced by political forces." The IFJ had earlier published a report that harshly criticized the Hungarian authorities, accusing them of "improper political influence" on the media. MSZ
EU BALKAN CHIEF SAYS VESTED INTERESTS HOLD UP DANUBE WORK
Erhard Busek, who heads the EU's Balkan Stability Pact, told a Cologne conference on Danube reconstruction on 20 February that some vested interests are holding up work in restoring freedom of movement along and across the river, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Busek noted that the city government of Novi Sad profits handsomely from fees stemming from its temporary pontoon bridge and would lose that money if permanent bridges were rebuilt and the pontoon one dismantled. He also noted that the Stability Pact has problems in dealing with Kosova, where there is no government, and with Macedonia, where political instability has limited the government's ability to act. Busek praised Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia as countries with which it is relatively easy to work. He added, however, that some unnamed countries expect that it is enough for them to say, "'here is our bank account number, please send the money in the morning.' Of course, that's not how we do things." PM
MONTENEGRO NOT READY TO AGREE TO EU PLAN
Igor Luksic, who is a spokesman for Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Podgorica on 20 February that Djukanovic will not give EU security chief Javier Solana a final answer regarding the EU's project for future Serbian-Montenegrin relations when the two meet in Belgrade on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 February 2002). Djukanovic still wants "clarifications" on several unspecified points. Elsewhere in the Montenegrin capital, the Association of Lawyers of Montenegro said in a statement that the EU and U.S. are challenging the basic rights of Montenegrin citizens by opposing a referendum on independence in that republic. PM
CONTROVERSY OVER MACEDONIAN-YUGOSLAV BORDER DEAL
The Macedonian government and UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) disagreed in separate statements on 20 February regarding a 2001 border agreement between Belgrade and Skopje, dpa reported. In Prishtina, UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that "the Territory of Kosovo can't be subject to any agreement until the UN Security Council authorizes the final status of the province." In Skopje, President Boris Trajkovski charged that "the agreement was ratified by both the Yugoslav and Macedonian parliaments. The document was hailed by the international community, including the United States and European Union. We have a positive statement from the UN secretary-general," Kofi Annan. Belgrade has been seeking to reinforce its claim to Kosova by entering into legal agreements regarding the province, whose ethnic Albanian majority wants nothing to do with Serbia. Belgrade and Skopje cooperate closely against what they call "Albanian terrorism." PM
BOSNIAN REFUGEE-RETURN PROGRAM MOVING AHEAD
The joint Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees launched its "integrated return" program in Vares on 18 February, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The project will take 10 months to complete and is funded with just over $1 million by the Bosnian government, the UNHCR, the U.S., and several other donors. It provides for the reconstruction of 127 homes and infrastructure, and will enable the return of 82 Croatian families from Drvar and 30 Serbian families from throughout the Republika Srpska. Furthermore, 15 Muslim families already in Vares "will have their housing problems solved." In addition, 209 families in Drvar, Zvornik, Brcko, Prijedor, and Vares will be able to go back to their prewar homes soon to be vacated by the returnees. Mico Micic, who is the Republika Srpska's minister for refugee affairs, called the project "the right way" to proceed. Kresimir Zubak, whose Bosnian ministry launched "integrated return," said he hopes that other communities and even cantons will follow the example of Vares. In 2001, Bosnian refugee returns made impressive gains. PM
HAGUE COURT FREES CROAT AND YUGOSLAV PENDING TRIAL
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal announced on 20 February that it will allow General Rahim Ademi to return to Croatia and Admiral Miodrag Jokic to go to Belgrade pending their respective trials, Reuters reported. Both men, who went to The Hague voluntarily in 2001, must surrender their passports to local authorities back home and not leave their respective countries. PM
CROATIAN POLITICAL LEADERS MEET
The heads of the five parties in the governing coalition met in Zagreb on 20 February for their first meeting following the return of Drazen Budisa to the chairmanship of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2002). Heading the agenda was a discussion of proposed legislation on the privatization of the oil company INA and the energy firm HEP. Budisa and Zlatko Tomcic, who heads the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), have both said that they want to renegotiate the terms governing the functioning of the coalition in the wake of the departure of the small Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) in 2001. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ENDS ASIAN TOUR...
Ion Iliescu on 21 February ended his tour of five Far Eastern countries, meeting in Singapore with President S.R. Nathan. They signed an accord on avoiding double taxation. MS
ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER SETS PRIORITIES
Pandeli Majko outlined his government's tasks in a paper issued on 19 February, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. His first domestic priority is to fight corruption through immediate concrete measures and through longer-term institutional change. In foreign policy, the government will build on the achievements of its predecessor. Tirana will seek the freer legitimate movement of people and goods in the region while cracking down on smuggling and human trafficking. Kosova will play a central role in Albanian policy. Tirana also seeks to promote good relations with Belgrade and Podgorica, and notes the "strategic role" of Rome and Athens, as well as its good relations with Ankara. Relations with the U.S. are "strategically important, a priority, and of a long-term nature." Majko also noted the "importance" of relations with Russia on the assumption that Moscow will play a "constructive role" in the region in keeping with its "new philosophy in international relations." PM
MOLDOVA'S PPCD LEADERSHIP TO FACE CHARGES?
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, speaking at the meeting of the government on 20 February, said the Justice Ministry should initiate criminal procedures against the leaders of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tarlev said the PPCD leaders should be charged with "luring children" in the current protest demonstrations. The demonstrations continued on 20 February and PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca told those assembled that the main demand of his party now is the resignation of the cabinet. MS
...AND PREMIER STARTS RUSSIAN VISIT
Adrian Nastase arrived on 21 February in Moscow, where he was to meet with his counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov and with businessmen, including the management of Gazprom. Nastase is accompanied by a large delegation including Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana and by a large group of Romanian businessmen. Regaining access to the Russian market is obviously high on the agenda. No breakthrough is to be expected in the stalled discussions on the basic treaty, but this may come later this year when President Iliescu is expected in Moscow. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told RIA-Novosti ahead of the visit that the breakthrough can be expected when the Romanian side "renounces the [recurring] inclination to include in the treaty problems that should be dealt with by historians, rather than politicians," i.e., a denunciation of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. MS
ROMANIAN EXTREMISTS ENGAGE IN MUDSLINGING
Responding to an attack in the weekly "Romania mare," which is owned by Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, PRM Deputy Chairman Ilie Neacsu said on 20 February that he intends to sue Tudor for slander, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Neacsu denied that he is guilty of "grave abuse" in his capacity as chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Agricultural Commission. He said that the problems in the PRM are not due to himself and other PRM leaders who back him, but to Tudor, who "does not respect the law, the party's statutes, and behaves as if the party is his farm" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). Before Neacsu joined the PRM, he edited the weekly "Europa," which was the most anti-Semitic publication in Romania in the early 1990s. MS
AUSTRIAN PRIME MINISTER HAILS RELATIONS WITH SLOVENIA
Wolfgang Schuessel told his Slovenian counterpart, Janez Drnovsek, in Ljubljana on 20 February that any open questions between Austria and Slovenia will not be an obstacle to Slovenia's joining the EU, "Die Presse" reported. Schuessel praised as "a model" the two countries' work in resolving problems such as those surrounding the Krsko nuclear power plant or a cultural agreement. The Austrian leader said that Slovenia is the best qualified of all EU applicants and that he hopes the two countries can work closely together for "European interests" once Ljubljana is admitted to that body. Schuessel repeated Austria's interest in closer cooperation within the EU of small central European states on the model of the Benelux as a counterweight to the larger countries. In his only critical remark, Schuessel called on Slovenia to speed up court decisions on property restitution or compensation claims by Austrian citizens (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 November 2001). Schuessel's generally highly positive remarks stand in sharp contrast to those made in the past by the Freedom Party's (FPO) Joerg Haider, who often criticizes Slovenia and has threatened to block its EU membership. PM
ROMANIAN PETITION DRIVE TO CHANGE ELECTORAL LAW FAILS
The Pro Democratia civic organization has failed in its drive to gather 250,000 signatures backing a change of the current electoral law, Romanian radio reported on 20 February. Pro-Democratia Chairman Cristian Parvulescu said some 161,000 signatures had been gathered, which is well below the constitutional minimum required for a grassroots legislative initiative. Parvulescu said he believes the cold weather conditions are the main reason for the failure, and that Pro Democratia intends to launch a new drive soon. MS
MOLDOVAN PREMIER TELLS WORLD BANK TO MIND ITS OWN BUSINESS
Tarlev also told the cabinet that the World Bank and other international organizations should not interfere in Moldova's internal affairs, Infotag reported. Tarlev was responding to a recent statement by the World Bank's representative in Chisinau, Carlos Elbirt, who said the government should soon nominate the new ministers of finance and economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). Tarlev said the government is seeking to fill the vacancies with "young, businesslike people," who should be "capable of helping the country become integrated into Europe and the world community." MS
ROMANY RIOTS IN PLODVIV NEIGHBORHOOD NOT OVER
Plodviv police stepped up patrols in the predominantly Romany neighborhood of Stolipinovo after riots continued on 20 February for the second day, dpa and AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). A policeman was injured in the unrest. Some 1,000 Roma stoned eight ethnic Bulgarian houses in the neighborhood. The power company said it will not restore electricity to Stolipinovo until its inhabitants meet the conditions of an agreement made last month to pay 10 percent of the neighborhood's debt, which is as high as $2.7 million. MS
MACEDONIANS SET UP NEW PARTY IN BULGARIA
A new political party striving to represent Macedonians has been set up in Bulgaria, the Skopje daily "Vecher," cited by "Balkan Human Rights List," reported on 19 February. The party calls itself OMO Pirin and its chairman is Botjo Vangelov. Vangelov said that the formation will focus on ensuring the economic prosperity of the Pirin region and the preservation of Macedonian national identity, customs, and traditions. He said he does not expect any difficulties in registering the new party. MS
WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT -- PART 2 COUNTRIES
Through 20 FEBRUARY
WESTERN MEDIA, IMAGE MAKING, AND HUNGARY
There is a major press scandal brewing in Hungary -- nothing new there -- but this time the international media is involved. It raises issues that go beyond local conflicts over the media and directly places the nature of European journalistic standards on the agenda.
It is commonly accepted that the style of reporting journalists are traditionally supposed to adopt can be summarized as "the facts are sacred, but comment is free." But this is beginning to look threadbare. Increasingly, journalists are using "colorful" language to make their writing more vivid, and thereby more saleable, and are encouraged in this by their editors and the journalistic training they receive. There is a strong propensity to personalize stories, to focus them on an individual, rather than deal with an issue in the round. And often enough a critical stance becomes a readiness to give every event the worst, most sensationalist interpretation.
The trouble in Hungary has arisen because journalists themselves are the focus of the story and they don't like it. A group of Budapest students recently set up a media-watch project called Control Group -- probably "survey" is better than "control" -- and have completed a content analysis of Western media coverage of Hungarian politics. Indeed, they have gone further, criticizing specific Western correspondents stationed in Budapest. The response has been a collective howl of outrage.
The Control Group report argued that Western media coverage of Hungary has tended to be antigovernment and to reflect the perspectives of the opposition, especially of the Free Democrats. And these arguments were backed up by data and direct quotations from the journalists concerned. There is little doubt, incidentally, that reportage of Hungary does reflect the general skepticism journalists have toward conservatism in Europe. Many journalists have left-of-center assumptions, often quite unconsciously.
The foreign journalists concerned deny bias, of course, and insist that they report "the truth," possibly even "The Truth." But matters don't end there. Simultaneously, they also adopt a more modest stance and suggest that all they do is to offer "the first draft of history." Both cannot be right. "Truth" is a claim to unchallengeable knowledge and pure objectivity. The "first draft" position accepts the ad hoc, contingent nature of what journalists do, of their dependence on their contacts and, sometimes, their inability to make distinctions that local journalists make, but which are unimportant to their foreign counterparts.
The division between different readerships is a further source of problems. A Hungarian reader will expect something different from that of a British or Dutch reader, for instance, but journalists seldom bother with this difference and assume a single, universal readership. This can lead them to write in such a way as to appear unsubtle or, in the worst cases, ignorant of local realities.
Matters are made even more complex by the differences between Western politics and the patterns of post-communism, which Western journalists either ignore or tend to regard as a local irritant. To Hungarians, then, what the Western media say about them can seem -- and sometimes actually is -- patronizing and insensitive. Some Western journalists are certainly insensitive to the impression they create and reject any suggestion that they are seen as semicolonial arbiters imposing an alien set of norms. But then Central Europe has an ambiguous position in Europe generally -- a part of Europe certainly, but not quite with the same equal status as, say, Portugal.
Take the case that the Control Group complained of -- the left-wing bias they allege can be found in much of the Western press. Few foreign correspondents in Budapest seem to have made much effort to understand the peculiar dilemma of the post-communist right. If you are a conservative, what exactly are you conserving? It can't be the recent past because it is communist, and attempts to conserve the pre-World War II past have failed miserably. The Polish right has foundered on this issue, but the Hungarians appear to have managed it rather more successfully, avoiding the worst excesses of nostalgia, fragmentation, and isolationism. This success is in itself offensive to the Hungarian left; Western journalists in Budapest frequently slip into reflecting the views of their center-left Hungarian informants and to present these views as the dominant Hungarian position.
Overall, the problem is more than one of insensitivity and being patronizing, though these are relevant. Underneath it all is the question of whether there is a single, universal European journalistic standard. If there is, is it being applied with greater or lesser stringency to Hungary than it is to, say, France or Britain? Are the Western media actually applying harsher criteria to the center-right Hungarian government than they would to a center-left Hungarian government (a suggestion that has already been made in the Hungarian press)?
And are the Hungarians correct in their concerns that the Western media are tarnishing Hungary's image, that the overall presentation of the country is, in fact, less sympathetic to Hungary than it might be, that the view of Hungary that a Western reader receives is too strongly structured by negative issues (anti-Semitism, anti-Roma prejudice, hints that the Hungarian prime minister is somehow tainted by "fascism" or "nationalism")? Is the other perspective adequately presented? And finally there is the question of tone. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the patronizing tone adopted by some Western journalists is one that they would not use from Paris or Berlin. In that sense the Hungarians have a case.
Ultimately, there is an insoluble issue here. Both the Hungarians and the Western press start from an assumption that somewhere out there is a single, objective truth, and that it is the responsibility of the press to reflect this. In the real world, this is illusory. There may be agreed views of the truth, which are sometimes imposed as the hegemonic truth, but in a globalized world, there is only a polyphony of voices, all of them claiming to speak the truth. What democratic criteria do demand, however, is that all actors should have a voice. In so far as the Western media deny the center-right in Hungary a voice, or present that voice as marginal or inferior, the complaints of the Hungarians seem more justified than not.
The author is Jean Monnet Professor of Politics at SSEES, University College London.