RUSSIA RELUCTANTLY ATTENDS CLOSING CEREMONY FOR WINTER OLYMPICS...
Despite calls for the Russian contingent not to attend, the country's athletes were present for the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City on 24 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said on 23 February that "of course there were facts of an unfair approach to our sportsmen, but, as a respectful state and a great power, Russia cannot allow itself to be affronted," RTR reported. Russia finished the games with a total of six gold, six silver, and four bronze medals, after taking 11 gold medals at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994, and nine golds at the Nagano Games in 1998. Meanwhile, smi.ru commented on 23 February that Russia's critical position toward the 2002 Winter Olympics was softened by a warning by the International Olympic Committee that a boycott of the final ceremony by Russia could affect Moscow or St. Petersburg's bids to host future Olympic Games. VY/MES
...AFTER YET ANOTHER SCANDAL...
Following her dominating performance on 24 February in the 30-kilometer classical race, Russian cross-country skier Larisa Lazutina said of her disqualification from the 20-kilometer cross-country relay on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002): "I was devastated and it made me more determined for today... I took the test today and it was fine," AP reported. However, Lazutina was later stripped of her gold medal in the 30-kilometer classical race after testing positive for darbepoetin, a little-known performance-enhancing drug intended to help kidney patients avoid anemia. Cross-country skiers Olga Danilova of Russia, and Johann Muehlegg of Spain also tested positive for the drug, and were disqualified. Mikhail Ivanov of Russia was awarded Muehlegg's gold medal in the 50-kilometer classical race that took place on 23 February. All three positive results came from out-of-competition drug tests on 21 February, and the Spanish and Russian Olympic delegations have challenged the validation process of the tests. MES
...CONTINUED CLAIMS OF BIAS AGAINST RUSSIAN ATHLETES, DELIBERATE TYPOS...
Following Russia's 3-2 loss to the United States in the ice-hockey semifinal on 22 February, head coach Slava Fetisov said: "An agreement's been signed that is designed to have a final between Canada and the U.S.A. You have this final, you have NHL referees... They live here and they know the North American players," AP reported. Meanwhile, on 23 February, ITAR-TASS reported on presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii's response to the letter International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge sent to President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). "I have here the IOC president's letter to the president of Russia, and I could not help noticing one far from unimportant detail -- the leader of the International Olympic Committee called the president 'A. Putin' instead of Vladimir Putin," Yastrzhembskii said. "I would advise him to check the name before writing a letter to the head of state. I think this is not a slip of the pen, but [signifies] the type of attitude toward Russia. This letter came through the U.S. State Department." MES
...AND DUMA'S CALL FOR A BOYCOTT
On 22 February, the Russian State Duma passed a resolution calling for Russia's Sports Committee and the Russian Olympic Committee to boycott the final ceremonies should the IOC fail to provide reasons for its rulings against Russia's athletes and issue an apology to the Russian contingent, ITAR-TASS reported. No apologies were issued. The resolution called for North American referees to be removed from the Russia-U.S. ice-hockey game in order "to prevent serious conflicts that could have unpredictable consequences, including political." During the Duma's proceedings, deputy chief of the presidential staff Aleksei Volin said that "it was a wild Olympiad in the Wild West that undermined the Olympic movement," while Foreign Affairs Committee head Dmitrii Rogozin said that the Salt Lake Games duplicated the nationalist spirit of the 1936 Berlin Games, according to ITAR-TASS. Meanwhile on 23 February, Russian news agencies reported that the treatment of Russian athletes is particularly disturbing for Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II because he had personally offered his blessing to Russian Olympic Committee President Leonid Tyagachev for the success of the Russian team before it left for Utah. VY/MES
EX-SOVIET HOLIDAY CELEBRATED...
On 23 February, Russia held its inaugural celebration of the nonworking holiday the "Defenders of the Fatherland Day," which was known in the communist era as "Soviet Army Day" and was named as a federal holiday last year by the Duma on the initiative of the presidential administration. In Moscow, members of Russian left-wing opposition parties led by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) organized a large march of supporters to commemorate the 84th anniversary of the foundation of the Soviet army and navy, BBC reported the same day. Speaking at a rally at the monument dedicated to popular Soviet military commander Georgii Zhukov, KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that "the Russian army has never been in such a difficult and dramatic situation as now." His comments were echoed by Viktor Anpilov, the head of the Working Russia movement, who said that "there is nothing to greet today, on 23 February, as the army has been looted and is now dragging out a miserable existence; its airborne and missile forces are deliberately being eliminated; while the U.S. is declaring war on the whole world." The rally was interrupted by the appearance of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose attempt to join the rally was thwarted by communists calling him a "government" agent and "Judas." VY
...AS DEFENSE MINISTER SPEAKS ABOUT THE STATUS OF HIS ARMY
In an interview Sergei Ivanov gave to "Krasnaya zvezda" on 22 February to commemorate Defenders of the Fatherland Day, he said that Russia "is not preparing for large-scale wars, but [its] requirements for the level of national defense capability are still quite high." Ivanov added that Russia's military doctrine rejects the "globalism of Soviet times," but at the same time the state should maintain the readiness of its armed forces, as Russia is a "vast land-based power with the longest borders in the world" that has neighbors "whose intentions are not always encouraging." He also said Russia should not disregard "its naval component, without which Russia would lose its status as a superpower," and that the air force has been neglected and under-funded over the last 10-12 years. Ivanov said that in the last two years the military budget has been increased by one-third, so the situation should slowly begin to show improvements. VY
DUMA APPROVES ELECTRONIC ACCOUNTANCY
The Duma adopted amendments to the Law on Accountancy that will allow electronic accounting documents the same status as traditional paper documents, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 February. Proponents of the law say it will enhance the transparency of accounting in Russia, and will help the country meet international accounting standards. VY
KASYANOV'S PORTFOLIO WIDENS...
Following Ilya Klebanov's loss of his post as deputy prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002), Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a document on 23 February redistributing responsibilities between himself and his four remaining deputy prime ministers, Interfax reported. According to the document, Kasyanov will oversee the Atomic Energy Ministry; the Property Relations Ministry; the Ministry of Industry, Science, and Technology; the State Customs Committee; the Federal Property Fund; the Central Bank; and the Russian Academy of Science. He will also head the government commission on military-technical affairs. In addition, Kasyanov will coordinate the work of all structures that are subordinated directly to President Putin, such as the Defense, Foreign, Interior, Justice, and Emergency Situations Ministries; the Federal Security Service; the Federal Tax Police; the Federal Border Guards; and the Federal Agency for Government Communications. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin will remain at the helm of the Finance Ministry while overseeing the Economic Development and Trade, Tax, and Antimonopoly Policy Ministries; the State Statistics Committee; the Federal Securities Commission; the Federal Bankruptcy Service; the State Reserves Agency; and the new Financial Monitoring Committee. JAC
...WITH KLEBANOV'S DEMOTION
Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko will supervise the Energy, Natural Resources, Communications, and Railways Ministries; the State Housing and Construction Committee; and the Federal Energy Commission. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Gordeev will continue to serve as head of the Agriculture Ministry, while overseeing the State Fisheries Committee, the Federal Cartography Service, the Federal Land Survey Service, the Federal Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring Service, and the State Grain Inspectorate. Deputy Prime Minister Matvienko will supervise the work of the Labor, Health, Education, Culture, and Media Ministries, as well as the State Sports Committee, the Federal Archive Service, the Pension Fund, the Social Security Fund, and the Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund. JAC
RUSSIAN OIL TO BE EXPORTED TO U.S. VIA ALASKAN PIPELINES?
The Foreign Ministry's press service distributed an official statement on 22 February that said the strategic energy priorities formulated during the meeting early this month between U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Prime Minister Kasyanov "make Russia and the United States natural and efficient partners in energy dialogue, as both countries share joint approaches and interests," RIA-Novosti reported. "Kommersant-Dengi," No. 7, commented that the new U.S. energy strategy seeks to lessen the country's dependence on foreign oil by developing Alaskan oil fields and diversifying suppliers, and that Russia may be able to usurp Saudi Arabia's role as a primary supplier to the U.S. market. The weekly added that the plans include the delivery of Russian oil from the Sakhalin Islands to Alaska, which is why Exxon-Mobil and Royal Dutch/Shell have already announced their intentions to speed up multibillion investments in the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 hydrocarbon projects. VY
LEFTIST MILITARY LEADERS SAY PUTIN'S POLICIES CATER TO U.S., OLIGARCHS
The newspapers "Sovetskaya Rossiya" and "Segodnya" published an appeal to Russian President Putin on 22 February that was signed by some of Russia's most famous generals and admirals, many of whom are retired. According to the appeal, Putin has failed to meet their expectations that he would "introduce order." They accused Putin of continuing the "criminal" course pursued by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, as evidenced by the liquidation of the spy center in Lourdes, Cuba, and by allowing U.S. troops on Central Asian territory. They also charged that the president has chosen the oligarchs, "who turn off the electricity to strategic military installations, over the Russian people." According to the appeal, "our people already know that socialism is better than capitalism, therefore we insist that in the nearest future a referendum be held in Russia on the restoration of the socialist system and planned-market economy, and the eradication of the criminal regime of the oligarchs." The appeal was signed by former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, Colonel-General and former State Duma deputy Albert Makashov, army General Vladimir Arkhipov, and Lieutenant-General Mikhail Titov among others. JAC
MORE RESHUFFLING AT THE FOREIGN MINISTRY
President Putin has signed a decree relieving Aleksandr Avdeev of this post as first deputy foreign minister because of his transfer to a new, as yet unnamed, position, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. Avdeev had overseen Balkan policy among other things. According to the agency, Avdeev is a strong contender for the post of Russian ambassador to France. Putin also signed a decree appointing Valerii Loshchinin to the post of first deputy foreign minister, an office he will now hold simultaneously with the position of state secretary. Loshchinin was promoted to the post of state secretary last October after serving as a deputy foreign minister in charge of CIS affairs. JAC
PRIVATIZATION OF RUSSIAN FILM INDUSTRY LAUNCHED IN ST. PETERSBURG
NTV reported on 24 February that the Culture Ministry has announced the beginning of the privatization of the Russian film industry with the sale of shares in the St. Petersburg-based Lenfilm studio. Meanwhile, Lenfilm Director Viktor Sergeev has tendered his resignation, Ekho Moskvy reported on 21 February. Sergeev told the station that he is not opposed to privatization of Russia's film studios, but the government "chose the wrong moment for a radical break-up of the film industry." Sergeev told NTV that there appears to be little investor interest in the studios, and that no oligarchs, such as Boris Berezovsky, have come along with any kind of financial offers -- attractive or otherwise -- for Lenfilm. JAC
INTERREGIONAL ASSOCIATION SEES WTO MEMBERSHIP AS POTENTIALLY HARMFUL FOR SOME REGIONS
Participants in a meeting in Kazan of the Greater Volga Interregional Association declared on 21 February that joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a "necessity" for Russia despite the fact that the country is currently hardly ready to compete in foreign markets, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. At the same time, association members called on the Russian federal government to develop programs to support regions that could suffer most from WTO membership, as well as a more open trade regime. JAC
SOME LOCAL MEDIA TRY TO DISCOURAGE USE OF TATAR PASSPORTS
Efir TV of Kazan and the "Konets Nedely" weekly recently carried reports focusing on the difficulty of obtaining passports without an insertion in the Tatar language, claiming that officials in Interior Ministry bodies in many Russian regions are unaware of the inserts' validity and thus tend to detain the bearers of "strange passports," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 22 February. Tatarstan's militia confirmed the problem and instructed traveling residents of Tatarstan to stay calm and tell the Russian militia that the federal government agreed to include the extra pages. Despite the negative coverage of the special inserts, only 213 Tatarstan residents have so far applied for and received passports without the Tatar inlay -- while 700,000 people have received the new type of documents. According to the bureau, a total of 3.9 million new passports are to be distributed in the republic by the deadline of 31 December 2003. JAC
CULTURAL MISUNDERSTANDING BEHIND FLIGHT EXPULSION, PHILHARMONIC DIRECTOR MAINTAINS
The director of St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Sergei Sheryadev, said on 22 February that his orchestra was booted off a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles not because of drunken behavior but because his musicians did not understand the very strict nature of heightened U.S. security measures, ntvru.com reported. Various Western media reported on the incident on 17 February. He did not exclude the possibility that five or so of his 107 musicians might have had too much to drink, but the real source of the conflict, according to Sheryadev, was that the "musicians, as creative people, operate very far from American security methods," and their reaction to these methods was "completely inappropriate." JAC
CHECHEN VILLAGERS PROTEST DISAPPEARANCE OF LOCAL RESIDENTS
Residents of the village of Avtury in Shali Raion southeast of Grozny began a protest blockade of the local administration building on 22 February, Interfax reported. Local council head Sherip Alikhadzhiev said the villagers are protesting the disappearance on 19 February of four local residents whose burnt-out car was found two days later. LF
CHECHNYA QUIET ON DEPORTATION ANNIVERSARY
Security precautions were tightened in Chechnya on the eve of 23 February, the anniversary of the 1944 deportation of the Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia on Stalin's orders, Reuters reported. No incidents were reported. On 25 February, chechenpress.org reported that leaflets are circulating in Grozny calling on the city's inhabitants to prepare for military action against the "Russian occupiers." LF
ARMENIA NOT IN LINE FOR DEBT RELIEF
The IMF/World Bank meeting in London to discuss the economic situation of the seven poorest former Soviet republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan) will not discuss writing off the debts of either Armenia or the other countries in question, Armenian Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian told RFE/RL by telephone on 22 February. Sarkisian explained that "we are only talking about restructuring the debts so that these countries can service them on time." He added that in terms of its ability to meet its debt repayments, Armenia is "in much better shape" than some of the other six. LF
ARMENIA, CYPRUS SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Visiting Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and his Cypriot counterpart Socratis Hasikos signed an agreement in Nicosia on 22 February on military and military-technical cooperation, Noyan Tapan and Caspian News Agency reported. The agreement, which Sarkisian described as "very important" for Yerevan, provides for military exchanges and the training of army officers. Sarkisian also met on 22 February with President Glafcos Clerides and with Archbishop Chrisostomos, who quoted Sarkisian as saying they had agreed that Cyprus and Armenia have "a common enemy, the Turks," according to Cyprus News Agency, as cited by Groong. LF
AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS PLANNED KARABAKH PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT
Sergei Davidian, who is chairman of the Central Election Commission of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, announced in Stepanakert on 22 February that in accordance with the enclave's constitution, presidential elections will take place on 11 August 2002, 28 days before incumbent President Arkadii Ghukasian's four-year term expires, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. On 23 February, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Matin Mirza denounced the planned ballot as illegal, adding that it will "undoubtedly" have a negative impact on efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. LF
U.S. VICE PRESIDENT CONFERS WITH AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney telephoned Heidar Aliev on 21 February to enquire after his health, Turan and Interfax reported the following day. Aliev is recuperating in the Cleveland clinic where he underwent prostate surgery on 14 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002). Cheney thanked Aliev for Azerbaijan's support for the ongoing campaign against international terrorism. The two also discussed U.S.-Azerbaijani relations and the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict. LF
GEORGIAN NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY COMMITS SUICIDE
Nugzar Sadzhaya died in hospital in Tbilisi on 25 February of apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds from his personal pistol, Caucasus Press reported. He had reportedly shot himself in his office at the state chancellery, which has since been cordoned off by troops, AP reported. Sadzhaya, who was 60, was a long-time close associate of President Eduard Shevardnadze, who blamed his suicide on "moral terror," according to Reuters. Last week, parliament deputy Boris Kakubava, who heads one of the organizations that represent displaced persons from Abkhazia, accused Sadzhaya, along with intelligence service head Avtandil Ioseliani, of masterminding the assassinations of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, National Democratic Party Chairman Gia Chanturia, and Deputy Interior Minister Gia Gulua, ITAR-TASS reported. Observers question whether a man who spent decades working with the KGB would be so sensitive as to kill himself unless the allegations leveled against him could be corroborated. The newspaper "Akhali epokha" on 23 February claimed without identifying its sources that Russian security services "are waging a secret war" against Sadzhaya, whom they suspected of clandestine contacts with the Chechen resistance. Sadzhaya denied in October 1999 conducting secret negotiations with former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIALS AGAIN RULE OUT JOINT ACTION WITH U.S., RUSSIA IN PANKISI
Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 February that Georgia is not planning to mount an antiterrorist operation in the Pankisi Gorge with Russian and U.S. assistance, Interfax reported. Interfax also quoted Georgia's ambassador in Moscow, Zurab Abashidze, as saying that no such operation is needed "at this point." On 24 February, ITAR-TASS similarly quoted National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania as saying that he "excludes any special operation in the Pankisi Gorge in cooperation with Russia and the U.S." at the present time. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES ABKHAZ CONFLICT WITH TURKISH AMBASSADOR
President Shevardnadze has discussed with outgoing Turkish Ambassador to Georgia Burak Gursel the prospects for resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported on 23 February. Gursel had traveled to Sukhum several days earlier, where he assured Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia and Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba that although not a member of the Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia group, Turkey is keenly interested in promoting a peaceful solution to the conflict. Representatives of the Abkhaz emigre community in Turkey have recently appealed to Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem to do more to promote a settlement of the conflict, to arrange a visit to Turkey by Djergenia and Shamba, and to facilitate travel by Abkhaz to Turkey, Caucasus Press reported on 7 February. LF
OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT UNABLE TO STAMP OUT CORRUPTION
Speaking in Tbilisi on 22 February, former parliament Chairman Zurab Zhvania accused the Georgian leadership of being powerless to take decisive action to stamp out corruption, Caspian News Agency reported. Zhvania said that failing is the primary reason "why we are not on President Shevardnadze's team any more." LF
GEORGIAN COUP PLOTTER RELEASED FROM JAIL
General Gudjar Kurashvili, who was sentenced last November along with nine fellow-conspirators to three years' imprisonment on charges of plotting in May 1999 to assassinate President Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2001), was released from jail on 22 February, Caucasus Press reported. LF
NEW KAZAKH OIL CONGLOMERATE HEAD OUTLINES POLICY...
Lazzat Kiinov, whom Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev named on 20 February to head the new KazMunayGaz company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002), told Interfax on 22 February that in future the Kazakh government will retain a 51 percent stake in all new oil and gas contracts. Contracts signed in the past between international investors and KazakhOil or KazTransOil, the companies on the basis of which KazMunayGaz was created, will not be revised, Kiinov said. LF
...AS FORMER OIL SECTOR BOSS EXPRESSES APPROVAL
In a press release issued by KazakhOil on 22 February, that organization's former president, Nurlan Balghymbaev, said he repeatedly had urged President Nazarbaev to merge KazakhOil with KazTransOil, Caspian News Agency reported. Balghymbaev said that he did not want "to lay the blame on anyone, but within two years KazakhOil was turned from a powerful company into a structure with antiquated assets." Balghymbaev was named to head KazakhOil after resigning as prime minister in October 1999. LF
EDITOR OF KAZAKH OPPOSITION PAPER APPEALS TO U.S. ADMINISTRATION TO HELP MEDIA
In a letter dated 22 February addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and carried by forumkz.org, Ermurat Bapi, who is the editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "SolDat," appealed to the U.S. to expedite the creation in Kazakhstan of an independent publishing house that would print newspapers critical of President Nazarbaev and his regime. Bapi said an announcement was made at the time of Nazarbaev's visit to Washington in December 2001 that Washington is prepared to do so. Bapi explained that state-run publishing houses refuse to print not only his "SolDat," but two other independent newspapers that had expressed support for the demand that local administrators be publicly elected (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT FACTIONS APPEAL TO OSCE ON BEHALF OF ARRESTED DEPUTY...
The Communist and Kyrgyzstan parliament factions submitted to the OSCE office in Bishkek on 21 February an appeal to OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis to help them establish an independent commission to determine whether or not arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov has been beaten while in custody, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov has told visitors he was beaten, although while in the presence of prison officials he has denied it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 22 February 2002). On 23 February, Beknazarov's wife, Saken Mamakeeva, told RFE/RL that she traveled to Djalalabad Oblast on 19 February but has not been allowed to meet with her husband. LF
...AS HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG CALLS FOR HIS RELEASE
On 21 February, the Geneva-based International Organization Against Torture appealed to other similar organizations to write to the Kyrgyz authorities demanding the release of both Beknazarov and Djaparaly Kamchybekov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov is accused of having failed to bring murder charges against Kamchybekov after the latter killed a man in self-defense in early 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002). LF
KYRGYZ PAPER ACCUSES U.S. OF FAILING TO PAY FOR USE OF AIRPORT...
Interfax and AP on 22 February quoted that day's issue of the newspaper "Vechernii Bishkek" as quoting a member of the Manas airport administration as saying that the U.S. is currently paying Bishkek only $4,000-$5,000 for each takeoff and landing by a U.S. military plane from that airport, rather than the previously agreed $7,000. The paper reportedly also said that several unspecified "incidents" involving the U.S. military have taken place at Manas since the beginning of February, and that some passengers have complained about the presence at the airport of a large number of armed U.S. servicemen. The Kyrgyz leadership has formally granted the U.S. the use of the airport for one year within the parameters of the ongoing antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan. LF
...AS IMPRISONED FORMER VICE PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DEPLOYMENT OF RUSSIAN TROOPS
In an interview published in the newspaper "Aghym" on 22 February, imprisoned former Vice President Feliks Kulov argued that Kyrgyzstan should deploy Russian troops on its territory alongside the U.S. contingent and those belonging to other member states of the antiterrorism coalition, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kulov was sentenced in January 2001 to seven years' imprisonment on charges, which most observers believe were fabricated, of abuse of his official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF
WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT -- PART 1 COUNTRIES
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION WANTS OBSERVER STATUS IN OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY
Belarus's Consultative Council of Opposition Parties proposed to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on 22 February that it grant observer status to both the Belarusian opposition and the Chamber of Representatives, a Belarusian legislature elected in the 2000 elections that were declared unfair and undemocratic by OSCE monitors, Belapan reported. The proposal was made by Uladzimir Nistsyuk, Anatol Lyabedzka, and Valyantsina Palevikova -- who attended last week's OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session in Vienna -- to OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Adrian Severin. The three suggested that this status could be effective until 2004, when the next parliamentary elections are to be held in Belarus. Severin has not commented on the proposal. A delegation from Belarus's National Assembly, although invited, failed to appear at the OSCE gathering in Vienna. JM
COURT OUSTS COMMUNIST LEADER FROM ELECTION RACE IN CRIMEA
A district court in Simferopol on 25 February canceled the registration of Crimean Supreme Council Chairman Leonid Hrach, the leader of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine, as a candidate in the 31 March elections to the Crimean autonomous legislature, UNIAN and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. The court concurred with a complaint filed by the proxy of a candidate running in the same constituency with Hrach in Simferopol that Hrach had misinformed the election commission about his income and possessions as well as failed to suspend his activity in the post of Crimean speaker for the duration of the election campaign period, as is required by the law on the election to the Crimean Supreme Council. Hrach is the leader of the Crimean Bloc of Leonid Hrach, one of the two major groups vying for seats in the 100-member Crimean legislature. Hrach remains No. 14 on the election list of the Communist Party of Ukraine in the elections to the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv. JM
U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS WASHINGTON HAS NO PROOF OF ALLEGED UKRAINIAN ARMS TRADE WITH AFGHANISTAN
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer said in Kyiv on 24 February that the U.S. "enthusiastically" supports Ukraine's intention to join the World Trade Organization, Ukrainian Television reported. Pifer stressed that Washington attaches great importance to the development of close relations with Kyiv, and may consider revoking the economic sanctions against Ukraine if it strictly adheres to all the points in the recently adopted law on combating CD piracy. Pifer also said that the U.S. does not possess any information that would confirm that Ukraine supplied arms to Afghanistan's Taliban. In January, Ukrainian lawmakers urged prosecutors to probe such allegations, which were voiced last year in some foreign media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECREES PAY RAISE FOR SERVICEMEN, MOVES TO SHORTEN SERVICE
Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree to increase wages for Ukrainian senior officers by 50 percent and to lower-rank servicemen by 100 percent as of 1 January 2003, Interfax reported. By virtue of another decree, Kuchma ordered the government to submit a bill to the parliament proposing to reduce compulsory military service in Ukraine to 12 months as of 2005. JM
UKRAINIAN TELEVISION URGES PARTIES TO REFRAIN FROM 'FOUL LANGUAGE' IN CAMPAIGN SPOTS
Former presidential adviser Ihor Storozhuk, the head of the Ukrainian National Television Company, advised parliamentary election candidates against "resorting to foul language, trading insults, and making groundless allegations" in state-sponsored election broadcasts that the company is obliged to carry under the election law, Ukrainian Television reported. Storozhuk's appeal was followed by a program commenting on the Socialist Party's election broadcast on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). The broadcast featured excerpts from recordings made by former presidential security guard Mykola Melnychenko, in which a voice similar to that of President Kuchma was heard using extremely foul language and attacking his opponents. JM
CONTENTIOUS ISLAND BECOMES PART OF UKRAINIAN REGION
The Serpents Island (Zmiyinyy Ostrov) in the Black Sea has officially become part of Kyliyskyy District of Odesa Oblast, Ukrainian Television reported on 23 February. Kyiv and Bucharest have long been in dispute over this rocky islet and over how to divide the oil- and gas-bearing continental shelf around it (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 December 2001). The report added that Ukraine has built and installed some "necessary facilities" on the islet, including a post office and a payphone. JM
UKRAINIAN BROADCASTER REQUESTS SECURITY SERVICE PROTECTION
Serhiy Sholokh, the director of Kiev-based Radio Kontynent, has said that he and his family are under threat of "physical elimination," UNIAN reported on 22 February, quoting from Sholokh's letter to Security Service head Volodymyr Radchenko. Sholokh said the previous day that "an unknown person who refused to identify himself called me and made threats," adding that Sholokh and his family need to leave the country immediately. Sholokh asked the Security Service to take measures to protect his family. Radio Kontynent is a rebroadcaster of the BBC and Deutsche Welle, and has previously encountered difficulties with the authorities, including a temporary license revocation last year. JM
ESTONIA MAY GIVE UP ON ASKING FOR TRANSITION PERIOD FOR TAX-FREE TRADE
Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland said that Estonia may give up on its calls for a 6 1/2 year transition period for tax-free trade in its ongoing EU membership negotiations, ETA reported on 25 February. She noted that the EU has never responded to this request, which would be part of the taxation chapter that Estonia wants to close in the first half of this year. The Estonian Association of Tourist Firms claims that ending the tax-free system would deprive Estonia of 5 billion kroons ($278 million) a year, and raise the state's unemployment rate by 8 percent. Ojuland asserted that the government may consider granting state subsidies to shipping companies to prevent a fare hike. SG
RIGA, MOSCOW CITY COUNCILS SIGN COOPERATION PROTOCOL
Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars and Moscow City Council Chairman Vladimir Platonov signed a protocol on cooperation and mutual contacts in Riga on 22 February, LETA reported. It seeks to facilitate the development of Latvian-Russian relations, and calls for greater partnership relations between the two capitals based on the principles of equality and mutual admiration. The cooperation will focus primarily on the expansion of contacts in education, science, environment, sports, and tourism. The protocol was signed for a period of five years and will be extended automatically for another five years if neither party announces its intention to end it. On 23 February, commemorated in Russia as Defenders of the Fatherland Day, the Moscow delegation placed flowers at the monument to the Soviet soldiers the German army forced to leave Riga during World War II, and met with Jurmala Mayor Dainis Urbanovics. The delegation departed the next day after visiting the open-air Ethnographic Museum near Riga as well as the medieval town of Sigulda. SG
SLOVENIA, LATVIA EXPECT TO JOIN EU, NATO TOGETHER
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said during an official visit to Riga on 22 February that his country and Latvia "belong to the same class," and are likely to join both NATO and the European Union on similar schedules, dpa reported. Both countries will finish accession talks with the EU this year and receive NATO invitations in November if all goes as planned, he said. "The year 2002 will be a good one," Rupel added. During a swing through the Baltics, Rupel has reiterated support for the "Vilnius 10" group of NATO applicants while saying he believes five to seven countries will be invited into the defense alliance. AH
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL ENCOURAGES BUT GIVES NO GUARANTEES TO LITHUANIA
Lord George Robertson began a one-day visit to Vilnius on 22 February with talks with President Valdas Adamkus, ELTA reported. He asserted: "Lithuania is on the right road, but you are not at the destination yet. No decisions have been taken and nobody can take for granted an invitation to join NATO." He said that Lithuania's key tasks for membership are the modernization of its armed forces, antiterrorist activities, and maintaining democratic standards. Premier Algirdas Brazauskas assured him that all political parties in Lithuania support NATO membership and will not reduce the 2 percent of GDP devoted to defense spending. Robertson told Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius that Lithuania should have mobile and well-trained armed forces that are able to participate with alliance forces in collective defense and peacekeeping operations. At a meeting with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and other deputies, Robertson answered the question of whether four, five, or seven will be admitted in the next round of NATO expansion by diplomatically replying that the enlargement formula could range from one to nine new members. SG
POLISH ARCHBISHOP ACCUSED OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Poland's respected daily "Rzeczpospolita" disclosed on 23 February that 67-year-old Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, the metropolitan of Poznan, has been accused by "numerous" clerics of sexual harassment. "Rzeczpospolita" reported that the archbishop has frequently used a 200-meter underground passageway connecting his palace in Poznan to lodgings of priests and seminarians from a local seminary to pay them unannounced visits. "I have asked you to come here today to say that I have never, I repeat never, molested our seminarians and priests," PAP quoted Archbishop Paetz as saying to a gathering of senior priests on 23 February. In a statement released later the same day, Poland's Roman Catholic Church Episcopate said the Vatican has already been looking into the sexual-harassment allegations against Archbishop Paetz. PAP reported that Papal Nuncio to Poland Jozef Kowalczyk is going to travel to Poznan to conduct his own investigation. Polish Television quoted unofficial sources as saying that the pope has decided to discharge Archbishop Paetz from his post. JM
POLISH SHIPYARD REINSTATES WORKERS TO END STRIKE
A weeklong strike by some 500 workers of the Gdynia shipyard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002) ended on 25 February after the management agreed to reinstate 122 employees it fired last week in a wage dispute, AP reported, quoting shipyard spokesman Miroslaw Piotrowski. Under the 25 February settlement, the sacked workers will be reinstated, but they will have their contracts reviewed after a year. Piotrowski said the company plans to take legal action against three strike leaders for organizing an illegal labor protest. He added that the protesters have gained no concessions on their wage demands. JM
POLISH PRESIDENT CALLS ON TRADE UNIONS TO CONSIDER 'NEW PROPOSALS' TO FIGHT UNEMPLOYMENT
Addressing a news conference after a meeting of center-left leaders in Stockholm on 23 February, Aleksander Kwasniewski appealed to Poland's trade unions "to become open to new proposals" regarding ways to combat the country's 18 percent unemployment, PAP reported. Kwasniewski stressed that the government has a program to facilitate the employment of graduates and to make the labor market "more flexible," but added that it cannot be implemented if trade unions continue to block changes in the Labor Code. JM
CZECH PRESIDENT TRIES TO MEND RELATIONS WITH EGYPT
Vaclav Havel has written to his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak, assuring him that Premier Milos Zeman's statement that compared Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat with Adolf Hitler "does not reflect official Czech foreign policy," AP reported on 22 February. Reacting to Zeman's statement, Egypt "postponed" a visit to Cairo by the Czech premier planned for the end of the month. In turn, the Foreign Ministry has instructed Czech ambassadors to Arab countries to inform leaders about Zeman's denial of the statement attributed to him by the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz." On 22 February, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan denied reports that Prague intends to expel Palestinian Ambassador Sami Abdal Fatah, calling those reports a "canard." MS
CZECH UNIT MOVES TO KUWAIT
A Czech military unit of some 350 experts in fighting chemical and biological attacks has begun transferring personnel to Kuwait, dpa reported on 23 February. "Mlada fronta Dnes," quoting Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik, reported the same day that the unit will operate under U.S. command and will be deployed anywhere in the Middle East it is needed. MS
CZECHS OPTIMISTS ON VISEGRAD FOUR'S 'FUTURE'
"Relations between Central European countries [that are members of] the Visegrad Four are firm" and "the current deviation of [Hungarian Premier] Viktor Orban should not change those relations in the future," CTK quoted government spokesman Libor Roucek as saying on 23 February. Roucek spoke after it was announced in Prague that Premier Zeman will not attend the planned summit of the Visegrad Four premiers in Budapest in protest against the recent statement by Orban that the Benes decrees should be abolished before the Czech Republic and Slovakia accede to the EU. Roucek added that he "hopes" Orban "does not want to change the postwar agreements in Europe." He said the Visegrad Four should "orient themselves to the future, rather than the past" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). MS
EU COMMISSIONER ASSURES CZECHS ON BENES DECREES
Guenter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner in charge of enlargement, assured Foreign Minister Kavan in Brussels on 22 February that the EU has no intention whatsoever to link Czech or Slovak accession to the EU with the abolition of the Benes decrees, CTK reported. MS
SPIDLA WILL NOT SEEK CZECH PRESIDENCY
Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Vladimir Spidla announced on 22 February that he does not intend to run for the post of president in 2003, when Havel's mandate ends, CTK reported. Spidla told journalists that his intention is to "lead the CSSD to victory" in the June 2002 elections, and that he has "no other political ambition." Spidla was responding to speculation in the media that he might seek the presidency even if he were to inherit Zeman's post of premier after the elections. MS
SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS SUBMIT ANTI-STATUS LAW BILL
The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) submitted a draft law to the parliament on 22 February that provides for sanctions against Slovak citizens who accept the Hungarian ID card under the provisions of the Status Law, CTK reported. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in response that the draft law is "unnecessary," and pointed out that the Hungarian Coalition Party has warned that the move might prompt its departure from the coalition and the fall of the government. The cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda approved measures on 20 February aimed at "safeguarding Slovakia's national and state interests," but unlike those measures, the KDH-drafted law stipulates that organizations involved in issuing the Hungarian ID card will be disbanded. The government only approved a "check" on the legality of the involvement of those organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 21 February 2002). MS
SLOVAK PREMIER EXPLAINS DECISION TO BOYCOTT VISEGRAD FOUR SUMMIT
Premier Dzurinda said on 22 February that his decision not to attend the planned summit in Budapest of the Visegrad Four premiers is due to the fact that Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban "makes inappropriate statements more and more often." He said his decision is aimed at "making it clear that Viktor Orban should decide whether he is ready to return to the dialogue...that brought so many positive results, or wants to continue pursuing the nationalist course." Dzurinda added that Orban should make that decision "even before the [Hungarian] elections." Dzurinda also said that Orban's recent "statement on the Benes decrees," and his claim that Slovakia is "incapable" of reaching an agreement on the Status law due to its own "special political situation," are "extremely untruthful and extremely inappropriate." MS
VISEGRAD FOUR BUDAPEST SUMMIT CANCELED...
Czech Premier Minister Zeman and his Slovak counterpart Dzurinda on 22 February canceled their planned attendance of the 1 March summit of the Visegrad countries because of Premier Orban's recent call to abolish the 1945 Benes decrees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002), prompting Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller to follow suit. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said that Hungary's government does not intend to link the abolition of the Benes decrees to EU accession. Opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said that "regrettably, it could be expected that the leaders of the Visegrad countries would run out of patience with Orban's clumsy style." In response to the cancellation of the summit, Orban said on 23 February that "all must calmly realize that some issues have a sense and a depth over and above politics. Collective guilt is an invention that has no place in the 21st century." MSZ/MS
...WHILE IRREDENTIST HUNGARIAN GROUP PROTESTS AT SLOVAK EMBASSY
Approximately 100 young people staged a demonstration outside the Slovak Embassy in Budapest on 23 February to protest Slovakia's rejection of Hungary's Status Law and demand the cancellation of the Benes decrees. The demonstration was organized by a youth organization called "64 counties," named so in memory of Greater Hungary, which was divided into 64 counties. The demonstrators sang songs about Greater Hungary and denounced the "anti-Hungarian" stands taken by Bratislava. The group submitted a petition to Slovak diplomats saying that if the demands are not met, Hungary will not support Slovakia's NATO and EU admission. Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel said: "We must ask whether this action is not a logical continuation of the embarrassing manifestations of nationalism in Hungary's internal political life. We expect the highest officials of the Hungarian Republic to clearly dissociate themselves from this action," CTK reported. MSZ/MS
HUNGARIAN PREMIER OPENS BUDAPEST 'HOUSE OF TERROR'
Premier Orban on 24 February inaugurated the House of Terror museum in the Budapest building that was the former headquarters of World War II-era Nazi-like Arrow Cross, and which later served as headquarters of the dreaded communist state security police. About half of those 30,000 attending the opening were demonstrators from the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party. Critics of the museum, whose director is Orban's counselor Maria Schmidt, claim that there is a disproportionate under-representation of the fascist horrors in comparison with the communist atrocities, and that the exhibit deliberately attempts to link the MSZP with Soviet-era terror. MSZP Chairman Kovacs said that if his formation wins the next elections, it will rename the museum "House of Remembrance and Reconciliation," in order to "commemorate the victims of terror, rather than terror itself," Hungarian media reported. MSZ/MS
YUGOSLAVIA DISMISSES EU PLAN FOR NEW FEDERATION WITH MONTENEGRO AS 'FINANCIAL FRANKENSTEIN'
Following meetings with Montenegrin leaders and EU security chief Javier Solana, Serbian leaders rejected the EU's proposal for keeping the two remaining republics of the former Yugoslavia in a loose federation, AP reported on 24 February. Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said he would not accept "a rotten compromise" under which "something artificially glued together would be called a state." B92 radio reported that the EU proposed a future Yugoslavia without a president and only a symbolic federal administration. Serbia and Montenegro also would have separate currencies, customs, and tax systems, while Serbia would be effectively responsible for both republics' foreign debts. Serbian Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic said that different tax systems and customs tariffs on imported goods "would create a playground for smugglers and require a border control between the two republics." That, he said, would "look like a financial Frankenstein -- impossible for a common market and a free flow of goods." DW
SERBIAN WOMAN KILLED IN KOSOVA
An ethnic Serbian couple walking down a street separating the Serbian and Albanian sections of the town of Lipljan were fired upon with an automatic rifle in the evening of 22 February, and the 57-year-old woman was killed, AP reported the next day. A UN spokesman said the woman's husband escaped injury. Some 1,000 Serbs protested the killing on 24 February, demanding protection by the international civilian and military missions in Kosova. Momcilo Trajkovic, a Kosovar Serb leader and a deputy in the Serbian parliament, said he viewed the shooting as "a carefully planned terrorist act" aimed at frightening the 2,500 Serbs living in the Lipljan area into leaving Kosova, Beta reported. DW
RUSSIA TO REDUCE PEACEKEEPING ROLE IN KOSOVA, SAYS BALKANS MUST NOT BE IGNORED
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said after talks with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in Moscow that the international community must continue to pay attention to tensions in the Balkans, AP reported on 22 February. "There are still serious problems that may destabilize the regional situation," Ivanov said. At the same time, Covic said he had received confirmation from Russia that Moscow will reduce its peacekeeping contingent in Kosova, Interfax reported. He said that the most likely reasons "for making this final decision are the fact that over three years nothing or very little has been done to ensure security, free movement, and the normal life of the population." DW
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER WON'T GIVE UP MLADIC, WANTS EU TO PAY UP
In an interview with the German weekly "Der Spiegel" released on 23 February, Zoran Djindjic said he won't order the arrest of war crimes suspect Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic for fear of starting a civil war, AP and Reuters reported. "Am I now to risk the lives of our police so that Mladic and his 100-strong personal guard can be served up at the table in The Hague? What if it caused civil war to break out? We have over 200,000 refugees from Bosnia, many of them armed. The price is too high," Djindjic said. In the interview, Djindjic also complained about slow and delayed reconstruction payments from the EU. "In the past year, two-thirds of the promised 300 million euros ($263 million) has been taken away as debts from the Milosevic time... These are cheap tricks," he said. DW
UN ENVOY TO BOSNIA WARNS BELGRADE TO STAY OUT OF 'CONSTITUENT PEOPLE' ISSUE
High Representative to Bosnia Wolfgang Petritsch said on 24 February that he has urged Zagreb and Belgrade to refrain from attempts to make the "constituent people" issue in Bosnia an international one, Hina reported during Petritsch's visit to the Yugoslav capital. Croatia and Yugoslavia should encourage Bosnian politicians to resolve the question themselves, he added. Petritsch also suggested that Yugoslavia follow the Croatian example and financially assist with the return of refugee Bosnian Serbs to Bosnia. AH
BOSNIAN DELEGATION MAKES FIRST OFFICIAL VISIT TO YUGOSLAVIA
The speakers of both houses of the Bosnia-Herzegovinian parliament, Zeljko Mirjanic and Sejfudin Tokic, arrived in Belgrade on 24 February for two days of meetings with Yugoslav officials, Onasa reported. It is the first Bosnian parliamentary delegation to visit Yugoslavia, and comes three months after a Yugoslav legislative group visited Sarajevo. The Bosnian parliamentary delegation is expected to meet the presidents of both chambers of the Federal Assembly and see Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic, according to official Yugoslav sources. AH
CROATIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE IS WILLING TO TESTIFY IN MILOSEVIC TRIAL
President Stipe Mesic said he has responded to questions by investigators from the UN war crimes tribunal and is willing to testify in the case against former President Slobodan Milosevic, Western agencies reported on 23 February. Mesic declined to give details on the questioning and said the prosecution has not summoned him to testify at The Hague. In response to charges raised by Milosevic that Mesic led Croatian efforts to "break up Yugoslavia" while it held the rotating presidency in 1991, the prime minister said he merely "concluded, at the time, that Yugoslavia no longer existed," AP reported. AH
PRESIDENT MESIC WRAPS UP ASIAN TOUR
Croatian President Mesic said on his return from a 10-day Asian tour that while his country wants to take part in European unification, "our interests are outside Europe as well," Hina reported on 23 February. He stressed economic relations with the countries he visited, including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. Croatia offers cooperation in shipbuilding and ports that could provide key access to the European market, he added, according to the agency. AH
CROATIANS SAY OSCE NO LONGER CONSIDERS THEIR COUNTRY 'A PROBLEM'
Zdravko Tomac, who led Zagreb's delegation to the winter session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said after the close of the session on 22 February that "Croatia is no longer being mentioned as a problem in Southeastern Europe but as an important factor that can help solve crises in the neighborhood," Hina reported. Tomac said his government thinks the OSCE should reduce, then discontinue, its mission to Croatia as soon as possible. Another delegation member, Ivan Milas (HDZ), added that "the greatest success of our policy is that nobody is mentioning us in particular." AH
MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY WARNS OF SPRING OFFENSIVE BY ETHNIC ALBANIAN REBELS
Deputy Defense Minister Boris Zmejkovski told a press conference on 23 February that his ministry has "indications of preparations for the spring offensive... For that goal, new contingents of sophisticated weapons were brought to Macedonia," dpa reported. This followed the arrest of eight ethnic Albanians on 21-22 February suspected in drug and arms trafficking. NATO sources said there is no information available on a possible rebel arms buildup, and the leader of the formally disbanded National Liberation Army (UCK), Ali Ahmeti, immediately dismissed the Macedonian government's accusation. DW
ALBANIAN PRESIDENT SWEARS IN PREMIER MAJKO
President Rexhep Meidani swore in newly elected Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and his cabinet on 22 February, the same day the country's parliament wrapped up contentious debate over the proposed government, Western and local news agencies reported. Despite grim predictions from observers who say Majko's tenure will be plagued by infighting in his Socialist Party, the 34-year-old leader told Reuters he will fight graft, which played a major part in the fall of Ilir Meta's government. "We need a 'clean hands' operation," said Majko, who served as prime minister in 1998-99. "My government will have all its doors wide open." The agency quoted an unnamed political observer as saying that Majko "became prime minister because of clashes and will continue to be affected by them." AH
ROMANIA DISPATCHES ADDITIONAL 'LETTER OF INTENT' TO IMF
On 22 February, the government dispatched an "additional letter of intent" to the IMF outlining measures intended to help meet conditions agreed to last year for the current standby agreement with the fund, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Among the measures mentioned is a pledge to privatize three large-scale enterprises by 31 March, and eight more by 31 September. The government also pledged to improve revenue collection, and to respect restrictions on wages and the number of employees in state-owned companies agreed to with the IMF in the original accord. At the same time, the cabinet seeks the fund's approval for increasing the deficit from 3 to 3.2 percent of GDP. MS
ROMANIAN INVESTIGATORS REJECT TUDOR'S REQUEST TO SUBPOENA ARAFAT, SHARON
Prosecutors investigating the lawsuit launched against Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor rejected his request to call Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon, and President Ion Iliescu as witnesses, Mediafax reported on 22 February. Tudor is under investigation for "spreading false information" in his claim that Romania has trained Hamas terrorists. In related news, Tudor demanded on 22 February that the parliamentary mandate of Senator Bela Marko, the chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, be revoked because he accepted a Hungarian ID card under the provisions of the Status Law. He also said that parliamentary deputy Sever Mesca, who resigned from the PRM the same day, has been "bought" by the ruling Social Democratic Party. Since the 2000 elections, the PRM has lost 14 deputies and one senator, who were either expelled or resigned from the party. MS
RUSSIAN STATE DUMA CONDEMNS ROMANIAN 'INTERFERENCE' IN MOLDOVA...
The State Duma on 22 February approved a resolution on the "inadmissibility" of Romania's "interference in Moldovan internal affairs," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Duma said Romania is infringing on Moldova's "sovereign right to an independent linguistic policy and the safeguarding of Russian as the traditional language of interethnic communication." The Duma said that Bucharest aims to "increase its influence in Moldova and is placing obstacles on the road to that country's integration into the EU," and warned that the protests "against the so-called enforced Russification" in Chisinau "can destabilize the country ahead of the local elections." MS
...PROMPTING ROMANIAN REBUTTAL
In a declaration issued on 22 February and echoed by Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana the next day, Romania said it is "surprised" by the State Duma declaration, and rejected it as being "in contradiction with the position consistently expressed by Bucharest." The ministry said the State Duma's declaration "runs the risk of encouraging forces interested in transferring Moldova's internal problems to the sphere of Romanian-Russian bilateral relations." Geoana said that those who "try to teach Romania moral lessons are...attempting to provoke a dangerous game." On 23 February, the Foreign Ministry summoned Moldova's Ambassador to Bucharest and said it expects "explanations" from Chisinau regarding a minor fire that damaged the Romanian cultural center the previous night. MS
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT DROPS CONTROVERSIAL DECISIONS
On 22 February, the government annulled the decision to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes in schools, and introduced a "moratorium" on the decision to replace the teaching of the "History of Romanians" with the "History of Moldovans." The parliament approved the changes the same day, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Russian-language classes will now be optional, with the choice depending on the decision of parents. A commission of experts is to examine replacing current history textbooks with textbooks on the "History of Moldova." The parliament also approved a resolution condemning the protests as "endangering national security," and as "questioning and denigrating the Moldovan state and its people." It said that "extremist political circles" from Moldova, "above all the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD)," are "backed by extremist forces from outside the country" and "pose a direct threat to the constitutional order and to the Moldovan Republic's independence." MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY 'INFECTED WITH NATIONALIST VIRUS'
Speaking on Moldovan television on 23 February, Vladimir Voronin called the ongoing demonstrations an "attempted putsch," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. President Voronin said that Moldova has been "infected by the virus of nationalism, extremism, and insanity," and that PPCD leader Iurie Rosca is a "terrorist" who "uses children as shields" to bring about Moldova's transformation into a "territory of fear and horror." Voronin said the administration will use only "democratic means" to stop the protests, and urged the Council of Europe to send representatives to assess the situation. Rosca said in response that the president's speech is proof that the country's rulers are "panicking." The demonstrations peaked again on 24 February, and the estimated crowd of 60,000 approved a resolution calling for "civic disobedience." MS
GAGAUZ-YERI GOVERNOR THWARTS PLEBISCITE
Police in Comrat, acting on Governor Dumitru Croitor's orders, seized the offices of the Central Election Commission (CEC) on 24 February, ITAR-TASS reported. CEC Chairman Ivan Petrov said police "produced a writ describing the referendum as illegal, took away the [commission's] seal, voting ballots, and other documents, and stopped our activity." Croitor said that the commission's mandate "expired after the partial municipal elections of 18 February." His supporters showed an Infotag correspondent evidence that forgery by Croitor's opponents was underway at polling stations in Comrat. MS
BULGARIA, RUSSIA SETTLE DEBT DISPUTE
Bulgaria and Russia agreed on 23 February on the settlement of a long-standing Russian debt to Bulgaria, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. The agreement followed a meeting in Sofia between the two countries' joint governmental commission on trade and economic cooperation and was signed by Russian Deputy Premier Aleksei Kudrin and his Bulgarian counterpart Nikolai Vasiliev. Under its stipulations, Bulgaria agreed to reduce the debt owned by Russia from $100 million to $88.5 million. In exchange, Russia pledged to pay the debt by 2004, rather than over 20 years, as it did for debts it owes to several of its other former East European allies. Out of the remaining debt, $15 million is to be paid within the next few months, and $49.5 million is to be paid in nuclear fuel supplies. The rest will be covered by Bulgarian purchases of Russian-produced equipment for its army. MS
WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT -- PART 2 COUNTRIES
ROMA UNREST ROCKS BULGARIAN CITY
At about 9 p.m. on 18 February, hundreds of Roma took to the streets in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city, in protest against the decision of the state-run electricity company Elektrorazpredelenie to cut power to their neighborhood of Stolipinovo due to unpaid bills. The angry crowd blocked streets with burning garbage containers and threw stones at police officers. A trolley bus was destroyed, and several shops were looted.
Later that night, police managed to seal off the neighborhood, but did not intervene. Newspapers reported that tensions remained high in Plovdiv on 19 February, but that there was no new violence. The police also prevented the residents of another Romany neighborhood from blocking a major highway.
While Plovdiv Mayor Ivan Chomakov called for peace and order, the director of the electricity company, Valentin Kirchev, categorically ruled out any deal with the demonstrators, saying, "if we lose this battle now, we will lose the war." His company nevertheless agreed to discuss the unpaid bills with representatives of the municipal council, the electricity company, and the Romany community. The Stolipinovo neighborhood reportedly owes some 6 million Leva ($2.67 million) to the electricity company, and some of the company's clients -- mostly small enterprises -- have unpaid monthly bills of up to 700 Leva ($311).
As a compromise, the company set the evening of 19 February as the deadline for the payment of 30,000 Leva ($13,300), which is equal to 10 percent of the neighborhood's January bills. On the evening of 20 February, however, the Romany protests resumed in the center of Plovdiv, as the electricity company decided to switch on electricity in the Romany neighborhoods for only a few hours per day.
This is not the first time that the inhabitants of Stolipinovo have protested against electricity cuts. As the daily "Monitor" recalled, Roma from the neighborhood also set up roadblocks in 1998, after which three other Plovdiv Romany neighborhoods took part in the resistance against the electricity company's attempts to collect debts owed to it.
At that time, the city council resorted to a tactic typical of the Bulgarian government's policy toward Roma -- as long as the Roma did not demand anything along the lines of welfare or health care benefits, the authorities would not interfere in the Romany communities' affairs. On the government level, several institutions that are theoretically responsible for minority questions similarly failed to take any action. Recently, President Georgi Parvanov announced that he will form a council on ethnic problems, and it remains to be seen whether the new institution will be more active than its predecessors.
According to Bulgaria's 1992 census, at that time the Romany minority numbered about 315,000 people, or 3.5 percent of the total population. But other estimates set the number much higher, because many Roma listed their ethnicities as either Bulgarians or Turks.
Recent official data sets the unemployment rate among the Roma as high as 70 percent, compared to the national average of 18 percent. But as Roma experts Elena Marushiakova and Veselin Popov of the Ethnographic Institute and Museum in Sofia point out, many Roma have turned to the flourishing shadow economy to make a living, while others go to Greece or Italy for seasonal work.
Almost every large settlement in Bulgaria has at least one Romany neighborhood. During the 1970s and 1980s, the communist government tried to tear down some of these settlements in order to hide the existence of the Romany minority. After protests, they sometimes built concrete walls around the makeshift settlements, as they did in the central Bulgarian town of Kazanlak. The largest of Bulgaria's Romany settlements are Fakulteta in Sofia and Stolipinovo in Plovdiv, which number some 30,000 inhabitants.
Housing conditions in these settlements are often miserable, and surveys of the general health condition of the minority consistently report that it is far below average. The rate of illiteracy among Roma remains above the national average.
The Romany minority is not a homogeneous group, but is divided in many subgroups -- along religious, linguistic, and even occupational lines. These groups function as closed communities and do not associate with outsiders, which is one reason why attempts by the Bulgarian government to assimilate the minority have failed.
This also why the Roma themselves have failed to unite in a single organization that could represent the entire community. After 1989, several political parties intending to represent Roma interests were founded, but they initially failed to garner much support. Only in the late 1990s were members of the Euro-Roma Party as well as the Free Bulgaria Party elected to a number of municipal councils.
The gap widened as nongovernmental organizations filled the vacuum left by the Roma's failure to organize themselves into political parties. But some observers say that most of these NGOs were founded with the sole purpose of raising funds abroad. Officially founded to support Romany issues, these NGOs remained almost invisible in Bulgaria, contributing to the growth of a Bulgarian "Roma industry" with few activists and almost no influence.
Given the experience of the past few years, it is unlikely that the recent protests will force the government will rethink its current policy, which is characterized by Marushiakova and Popov as the "[simulation of] activity instead of making use of the existing potential for change. This situation is not affected by differences between political parties because the attitude of the state toward the Romany issue has been predetermined by underlying stereotypes and prejudice toward Gypsies in Bulgarian society."
Ulrich Buechsenschuetz is a freelance political analyst based in Berlin. He contributes regularly to "RFE/RL Balkan Report."