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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 92, 00-05-12

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 4, No. 92, 12 May 2000


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, REPUBLICAN PARTY AGREE ON CANDIDATE FOR
  • [02] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FACTION TO FORM POLITICAL PARTY
  • [03] FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY ELECTS 'TEMPORARY' LEADER
  • [04] ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES RELATIONS WITH TURKEY
  • [05] NEW IRANIAN AMBASSADOR ARRIVES IN YEREVAN
  • [06] AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS IN
  • [07] GEORGIA'S NEW STATE MINISTER OUTLINES PRIORITIES
  • [08] UN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER DELAY IN ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT
  • [09] GEORGIA AGAIN DENIES HOSTING MERCENARIES FOR CHECHNYA
  • [10] LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT IN KAZAKHSTAN
  • [11] KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION AGREE TO HOLD ROUNDTABLE
  • [12] KYRGYZSTAN TO RESETTLE ETHNIC KYRGYZ FROM TAJIKISTAN

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [13] CROATIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES MINORITY RIGHTS LAW
  • [14] CROATIAN GOVERNMENT BLOCKS SALE OF NEWSPAPER
  • [15] FORMER SLAVONIAN POLICE CHIEF CHARGED
  • [16] CHALLENGES TO MILOSEVIC EVEN IN HOMETOWN?
  • [17] SERBIAN OPPOSITION PLANS MORE RALLIES
  • [18] OPPOSITION TO UNITE IN OTPOR?
  • [19] MOBILE TELEPHONES BANNED IN YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT OFFICES
  • [20] MONTENEGRO TO 'DEFEND ITSELF'
  • [21] KOSOVARS MOURN SLAIN LEADER
  • [22] WHO KILLED COMMANDER DRINI?
  • [23] SERBS STONE U.S. PEACEKEEPERS...
  • [24] ...AND MUSLIM WOMEN
  • [25] MACEDONIA SIGNS TRADE PACT
  • [26] ROMANIAN MONEY-LAUNDERING CHIEF SUSPECT INTERVIEWED ON
  • [27] ...AFTER FRENCH INVESTIGATORS QUIZ MORE FORMER OFFICIALS
  • [28] LUCINSCHI DID NOT CONSULT EU EXPERT COMMISSION
  • [29] BALKAN AIRLINE PILOTS END STRIKE
  • [30] BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MOVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [31] REPRESSION BY SELECTIVE PROSECUTION

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, REPUBLICAN PARTY AGREE ON CANDIDATE FOR

    PREMIER?

    Robert Kocharian has endorsed the candidacy of

    Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) chairman Andranik Markarian

    as prime minister, but the People's Party of Armenia, its

    partner in the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, has not

    yet done so, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 11 May,

    quoting an unnamed senior parliament official. Sources in the

    presidential administration declined either to confirm or

    deny that report. LF

    [02] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FACTION TO FORM POLITICAL PARTY

    The 22

    members of the second-largest parliamentary faction,

    Kayunutiun (Stability), intend to form an eponymous political

    party, faction leader Vartan Ayvazian told journalists on 11

    May. He said that move will simply formalize the existing

    situation, as "we already operate like a party." Most

    Kayunutiun deputies are independents elected in single-

    mandate constituencies. The party will have a "social-

    democratic" orientation and will lobby for strengthening the

    regulatory role of the state in the country's economy,

    RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Alluding to rumors that

    Kayunutiun may turn its back on its previous informal

    alignment with the majority Miasnutiun faction and pledge its

    open support for President Kocharian, Ayvazian said that "a

    new majority" may soon emerge within the parliament. LF

    [03] FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY ELECTS 'TEMPORARY' LEADER

    The

    board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) on 11 May

    elected former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian as its

    "temporary" chairman, replacing former Interior Minister Vano

    Siradeghian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Siradeghian is

    believed to have fled Armenia last month after parliamentary

    deputies voted to lift his immunity in order to enable him to

    be taken into custody for the duration of his ongoing trial

    on charges of commissioning several contract killings (see

    "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 April 2000). HHSh board member and

    former deputy parliamentary speaker Ara Sahakian said in

    Yerevan last month that the party has become "a hostage" to

    Siradeghian, Groong reported, citing Snark of 17 April.

    Arzoumanian said he hopes to cooperate with several smaller

    center-right parties that split from the HHSh in the 1990s.

    Those parties plan to convene a demonstration in Yerevan on

    12 May to protest the present administration's policies. LF

    [04] ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES RELATIONS WITH TURKEY

    Vartan Oskanian told visiting European Parliament

    Parliamentary Cooperation Committee chair Ursula Schleicher

    in Yerevan on 10 May that Turkey's ongoing economic blockade

    of Armenia undermines stability in the South Caucasus, Snark

    and Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian also said that recognition

    by Turkey of the Armenian genocide was one of the conditions

    laid down in 1987 for that country's admission to the EU.

    Noting Turkey's ongoing insistence that the normalization of

    relations with Armenia is contingent on a solution to the

    Karabakh conflict, Oskanian stressed that "the Karabakh

    problem is to be resolved between Armenia and Azerbaijan,

    [between] Azerbaijan and the [unrecognized] Nagorno-Karabakh

    Republic, but Turkey has nothing to do with this." LF

    [05] NEW IRANIAN AMBASSADOR ARRIVES IN YEREVAN

    After a two-year

    interregnum, Mohamed-Farhad Koleini arrived in Yerevan on 11

    May to take up the duties of Iranian ambassador, RFE/RL's

    Yerevan bureau reported. He told journalists that there are

    no political implications to the interval between his

    predecessor's departure and his arrival in the Armenian

    capital. Koleini predicted that joint energy sector and

    transport projects, including the planned gas pipeline from

    Iran to Armenia, will give fresh impetus to bilateral

    relations. LF

    [06] AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS IN

    FIRST READING

    By a vote of 90 to seven, deputies approved on

    11 May the draft amendments to the election law submitted by

    President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. Most opposition

    deputies abstained from the vote. Parliamentary speaker

    Murtuz Alesqerov said that no changes will be made to the

    numbers of deputies to be elected under the proportional (25)

    and majoritarian (100) systems but that other proposed

    changes may be taken into account during the second reading

    on 12 May. Opposition deputies have criticized the draft

    amendments, which they claim render the law even less

    democratic than before. LF

    [07] GEORGIA'S NEW STATE MINISTER OUTLINES PRIORITIES

    Gia

    Arsenishvili told parliamentary deputies after they approved

    his nomination on 11 May that he considers his primary tasks

    to be implementing economic reform, combating the shadow

    economy, and resolving social problems, including the payment

    of pensions and wage arrears and creating new jobs, Russian

    agencies reported. Arsenishvili condemned political intrigues

    in the economic sector as "ruinous" for Georgia. Also on 11

    May, parliamentary deputies approved President Eduard

    Shevardnadze's proposal to amend the structure of the

    government, reducing the number of ministries from 21 to 18

    (not 22 to 19, as erroneously reported in "RFE/RL Newsline,"

    11 May 2000). LF

    [08] UN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER DELAY IN ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT

    In a

    statement released in New York on 11 May, the UN Security

    Council noted that the failure of the Georgian and Abkhaz

    leaderships to agree to a solution to the deadlocked

    conflict, including the status of Abkhazia vis-a-vis the

    central Georgian government, has "an unfavorable effect" on

    stability and the economic and humanitarian situation in the

    region, Caucasus Press reported. The statement calls on both

    sides to "show [the] political will" required to break the

    deadlock and to complete work on and sign the draft agreement

    on peace and the non-resumption of hostilities and the

    protocol on repatriation and measures to restore the Abkhaz

    economy. It also calls on both sides to ensure the safety of

    members of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, several of

    whom were abducted in October 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14

    and 18 October 1999). LF

    [09] GEORGIA AGAIN DENIES HOSTING MERCENARIES FOR CHECHNYA

    Georgia's National Security Ministry on 11 May rejected as

    "absurd and groundless" allegations by Russian First Deputy

    Chief of Army General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov

    that some 1,500 mostly Arab mercenaries are currently in the

    Pankisi gorge close to Georgia's border with Chechnya,

    Caucasus Press reported. Manilov had claimed that the

    mercenaries are waiting for the snow to melt in order to

    cross into Chechnya. LF

    [10] LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT IN KAZAKHSTAN

    Following talks in Astana

    on 11 May, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his

    visiting Lithuanian counterpart, Valdas Adamkus, signed

    agreements on technical, scientific, and cultural cooperation

    and on joint measures to combat organized crime and drug-

    trafficking, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Nazarbaev said

    later at a joint press conference that Kazakhstan could

    export some 60,000 tons of oil each month to Lithuania only

    if it concluded an additional agreement with Russia.

    Lithuania had hoped to secure at least 4 million tons. Russia

    recently increased Kazakhstan's annual export quota by 3

    million tons, but 2 million tons is to be transported via the

    new bypass pipeline from Makhachkala to Novorossiisk (see

    "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000). Nazarbaev expressed the

    hope that Lithuania will agree to transport goods to China

    and Southeast Asia via Kazakhstan, according to Interfax.

    Trade turnover between the two countries has increased

    significantly over the past three years, reaching $95.8

    million in 1999. LF

    [11] KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION AGREE TO HOLD ROUNDTABLE

    Representatives of the Kyrgyz leadership, opposition and NGOs

    agreed during talks on 10 May to convene a roundtable

    discussion in early June, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek

    bureau reported the following day. Nine representatives each

    from the leadership, the opposition, and NGOs, including

    President Askar Akaev, will participate in the discussion,

    and all 29 registered Kyrgyz political parties will be

    invited to attend. The OSCE will also be represented. The

    participants will focus on the outcome of the contentious

    February-March parliamentary elections and measures to ensure

    the fairness of the upcoming presidential poll. LF

    [12] KYRGYZSTAN TO RESETTLE ETHNIC KYRGYZ FROM TAJIKISTAN

    Kyrgyzstan has created a special government commission to

    deal with the applications of some 1,600 ethnic Kyrgyz

    residents of neighboring Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan

    Autonomous Oblast to emigrate to Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Bishkek

    bureau reported on 11 May, citing the government press

    service. The would-be emigres cite the worsening economic

    situation in Tajikistan as the reason why they wish to leave

    the country. The commission will travel to Kyrgyzstan's Osh

    Oblast later this month to identify villages where the

    immigrants could be resettled. LF


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [13] CROATIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES MINORITY RIGHTS LAW

    The

    legislature approved a package of government proposals on 11

    May to guarantee minority rights according to European

    standards. The measures deal with minorities' cultural,

    educational, and linguistic rights and restore an earlier law

    that guarantees proportional representation in the parliament

    to minorities who constitute more than 8 percent of the

    population, which in practice means the Serbs. The Serbs made

    up 12 percent of the population in 1991, but most fled to

    Serbia or Bosnia after the 1995 Croatian army offensives that

    recaptured rebel territory. Many Serbs now wish to return or

    have already done so. Should they make up 8 percent by the

    next census, they could have 19 out of 151 legislative seats,

    which is more than some smaller parties in the governing

    coalition have, AP reported. "Vecernji list" wrote that the

    new legislation is more liberal than that in most European

    countries. The government's new budget earmarks just under $3

    million for minority affairs, the largest share of which goes

    to the Serbs, "Jutarnji list" reported. PM

    [14] CROATIAN GOVERNMENT BLOCKS SALE OF NEWSPAPER

    The anti-

    corruption agency has obtained a court ruling to block the

    sale of "Vecernji list" to a major Austrian media company,

    "Novi List" reported on 12 May. Deputy Prime Minister Slavko

    Linic said that the move is designed to protect foreign

    investors while the anti-corruption agency investigates the

    previous government's sale of shares in "Vecernji list" to an

    offshore company in the Virgin Islands. The sale of the mass-

    circulation daily in 1997 is under public scrutiny because of

    new evidence suggesting that political corruption was

    involved (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May 2000). PM

    [15] FORMER SLAVONIAN POLICE CHIEF CHARGED

    On 11 May, the

    district attorney in Osijek formally charged Dubravko

    Jezercic, who is the former police chief in that town, and

    his aide with blackmail and fraud in an effort to acquire

    property. This is the latest of many cases of corruption

    involving officials of the former government that have

    emerged since the elections in January and February. PM

    [16] CHALLENGES TO MILOSEVIC EVEN IN HOMETOWN?

    Pozarevac public

    prosecutor Jovo Stanojevic has submitted his resignation,

    Radio B-292 reported on 11 May. He did not give a reason. The

    broadcast added that five of his deputies have also offered

    to quit. Meanwhile, the authorities suspended city judge

    Djordje Jankovic for participating in a recent demonstration.

    A local human rights lawyer told the radio that these latest

    developments indicate that even legal officials in the

    "bastion of the regime were fed up with pandering to illegal

    demands of the regime made for private interests." Elsewhere,

    Otpor activist Momcilo Veljkovic began a hunger strike on 12

    May to protest his detention by police. PM

    [17] SERBIAN OPPOSITION PLANS MORE RALLIES

    Leaders of major

    opposition groups agreed in Belgrade on 11 May to hold a

    major protest in the capital on 15 May. Democratic Party

    leader Vojislav Kostunica said that the rally will be "one in

    a series" that will also include a protest in Pozarevac,

    Reuters reported. He stressed that holding a rally in

    Milosevic's home town is a "matter of honor" after the regime

    prevented the opposition from holding a rally in Pozarevac on

    9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). Elsewhere,

    Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic denied that

    the rally had been blocked. He stressed that the police were

    only trying to ensure citizens' safety. "Traffic controls,

    identity checks, [and vehicle] ownership checks are frequent

    and normal everywhere in the world," he said. PM

    [18] OPPOSITION TO UNITE IN OTPOR?

    Velimir Ilic, who is mayor of

    Cacak and heads the New Serbia party, said in Jagodina on 11

    May that all opposition parties should "freeze" their

    activities and unite behind the Otpor (Resistance) student

    movement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He stressed

    that the regime "will not be able to do anything" against a

    movement whose leaders are aged between 15 and 30 years.

    Elsewhere, Bogoljub Arsenijevic Maki, who is known as the

    Serbian Robin Hood, said that only civil disobedience and not

    elections can unseat the regime, "Vesti" reported on 12 May.

    Finally, two unidentified assailants beat up Otpor activist

    Dejan Veljovic in Belgrade. PM

    [19] MOBILE TELEPHONES BANNED IN YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT OFFICES

    The

    government has banned mobile telephones and pagers in

    official buildings, Radio B-292 reported from Belgrade on 11

    May. The move is designed to protect official secrets against

    "foreign spies and their local agents," the broadcast added.

    PM

    [20] MONTENEGRO TO 'DEFEND ITSELF'

    Justice Minister Dragan Soc

    told "Vesti" in Podgorica on 11 May that his government

    reserves the right to defend itself. He added that Montenegro

    will increase the size of its police force if the government

    feels that that is necessary to deal with threats from

    Belgrade and its Montenegrin backers. He dismissed charges by

    the federal army that the Montenegrin authorities have

    trained an elite unit of snipers to liquidate army officers

    (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000). Prime Minister Filip

    Vujanovic similarly denied the army's charge, RFE/RL's South

    Slavic Service reported. PM

    [21] KOSOVARS MOURN SLAIN LEADER

    Several tens of thousands of

    ethnic Albanians attended the funeral of the slain former

    commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), Ekrem Rexha,

    in Prizren on 11 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000).

    Lennart Myhlback, who heads the local UN administration,

    stressed that Rexha was a leader who knew what Kosova needed

    to build its future. Bernard Kouchner, who is Kosova's UN

    administrator, called Rexha "an important ally for all those

    working for peace, tolerance and reconstruction" in Kosova,

    Reuters reported. PM

    [22] WHO KILLED COMMANDER DRINI?

    The UCK's former commander Agim

    Ceku suggested at the funeral in Prizren on 11 May that

    unnamed individuals opposed to Rexha's moderate polices are

    responsible for the death of the man better known locally as

    Commander Drini. Ceku stressed that "the future of Kosova

    cannot be built on murders and an absence of security. Nobody

    is going to allow" such lawlessness to continue, "The New

    York Times" reported. Several of Rexha's relatives said that

    his political opponents had recently threatened his life.

    Some 30 police have been assigned to the case. PM

    [23] SERBS STONE U.S. PEACEKEEPERS...

    Up to 300 Serbs stoned and

    jeered at U.S. peacekeepers in two separate incidents near

    Viti in southern Kosova on 11 May, AP reported. In one of the

    incidents, the peacekeepers were guarding a Serbian Orthodox

    Church when the crowd attacked them. PM

    [24] ...AND MUSLIM WOMEN

    A UN spokesman said in Sarajevo on 11

    May that an apparently organized group of 150 Bosnian Serbs

    stoned four busses carrying Muslim women refugees who had

    come to visit their former homes in Bratunac. Police detained

    22 of the attackers and expect to make additional arrests,

    the spokesman added. PM

    [25] MACEDONIA SIGNS TRADE PACT

    Macedonian officials initialed a

    trade agreement with the four-member European Free Trade

    Association in Geneva on 11 May, Reuters reported.

    Impoverished Macedonia is keen to promote economic relations

    with developed countries. PM

    [26] ROMANIAN MONEY-LAUNDERING CHIEF SUSPECT INTERVIEWED ON

    TELEVISION...

    In an interview with the private Pro-TV, Adrian

    Costea said on 11 May that his relation to former President

    Ion Iliescu and incumbent President Emil Constantinescu can

    be described as "that of counselor" and that his ties with

    former Foreign Affairs Minister Teodor Melescanu were "ties

    of friendship." Costea said he can also "assume paternity"

    over the setting up of Melescanu's Alliance for Romania

    Party, Mediafax reported. Costea's mandate as a presidential

    counselor was prolonged after the 1996 elections and only

    recently terminated. Melescanu on 11 May said in Oradea that

    he is "ready to assume full responsibility" for having issued

    a diplomatic passport to Costea, who "was entitled to the

    document as a presidential counselor." He also said the

    affair "has been triggered by those who now fear losing the

    elections." MS

    [27] ...AFTER FRENCH INVESTIGATORS QUIZ MORE FORMER OFFICIALS

    Viorel Hrebenciuc, who was in charge of local government

    affairs in Nicolae Vacaroiu's cabinet, and Dan Nicolae

    Fruntelata, state secretary in the same cabinet, were

    questioned by French investigating judges on 11 May about

    their role in the money-laundering affair, RFE/RL's Bucharest

    bureau reported. Hrebenciuc said that the contract under

    which Costea received large sums of money for the photograph

    album on Romania had been "perfectly legal" and that after

    the change of government in 1996, the contract was prolonged

    by the new cabinet. If that contract was illegal, Hrebenciuc

    said, his successor, former government secretary-general

    Remus Opris, must also be indicted. Opris responded that the

    money to Costea did not come from the state budget but from

    the now bankrupt Bancorex Bank, on the orders of the previous

    government. He added that he will sue Hrebenciuc. MS

    [28] LUCINSCHI DID NOT CONSULT EU EXPERT COMMISSION

    The EU Venice

    Commission of constitutional experts on 11 May asked

    President Petru Lucinschi and parliamentary chairman Dumitru

    Diacov to cease debate on changing the constitutional system

    until the commission's experts have concluded an examination

    of the proposed changes. The commission said that the draft

    law sent by Lucinschi to the Constitutional Court (see

    "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000) is different from the draft

    Lucinschi sent to the expert commission. In sending the draft

    to the court, Lucinschi claimed the Venice commission had

    given it the green light. Following the appeal, the

    parliament on 11 May decided to suspend the debate on

    changing the country's constitutional system, Flux and

    Infotag reported. MS

    [29] BALKAN AIRLINE PILOTS END STRIKE

    Pilots of Bulgaria's

    national carrier Balkan Airlines on 11 May ended a nine-day

    strike after accepting an agreement proposed by the company's

    management, AP reported. Bozhidar Danev, head of the

    Bulgarian Industrialists' Association, who mediated in the

    conflict, did not specify the details of the agreement. On 10

    May, Prime Minster Ivan Kostov had cut short a visit to

    Finland to deal with the strike, BTA reported. MS

    [30] BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MOVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

    The Bulgarian

    Socialist Party (BSP) and the Euroleft on 10 May submitted a

    no-confidence vote in Ivan Kostov's cabinet. BSP leader

    Georgi Parvanov said "corruption has engulfed the whole state

    machine" and is "at the core of all woes of derailing

    reforms, poor management of state enterprises, lack of a

    social policy...and lack of foreign investment," Reuters

    reported. The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms

    did not support the motion, which has little chance of

    passage. The motion must be debated within 72 hours of its

    submission and the vote must take place within 24 hours of

    that debate. MS


    [C] END NOTE

    [31] REPRESSION BY SELECTIVE PROSECUTION

    by Paul Goble

    Newly inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin

    appears to have embarked on a strategy long favored by

    authoritarian leaders: the selective prosecution of his

    opponents for legal violations.

    That chilling conclusion, only four days into Putin's

    term, is suggested by the 11 May police raid on a major

    Russian media group that has long been critical of Kremlin

    policy in general and of Putin's approach to a variety of

    issues, in particular.

    Early on 11 May, armed tax police searched the

    headquarters of the Media-Most Group, headed by Vladimir

    Gusinskii. This group controls NTV, the radio station Ekho

    Moskvy, the daily "Segodnya," and the weekly magazine

    "Itogi." The Federal Security Service (FSB) said that the

    raid was intended to find evidence of tax irregularities or

    what an FSB spokesman insisted was "a regular financial

    offence." Later the same day, FSB officials reported finding

    not only the evidence they said they were looking for but

    indications of other criminal activity, including the use of

    unauthorized eavesdropping devices.

    But Gusinskii and his supporters, who have often been

    the objects of official attention for their critical coverage

    of the government, viewed the police action in a very

    different way. Gusinskii himself suggested that "it is

    obvious that what is happening is a factor of political

    pressure." And another Media-Most leader, Igor Malashenko,

    said the action "contradicts the norms of Russia's

    constitution and is against freedom of speech."

    Because of the nature of the Russian political and

    economic system over the last decade, both the FSB and

    Gusinskii are right in some sense.

    Given confusion over tax policies and the underlying

    corruption of Russian society, virtually no firm in that

    country has always been able or willing to conduct its

    affairs in full compliance with the law. consequently, the

    authorities are likely to be able to find evidence justifying

    prosecution almost anywhere they choose to look.

    But it is precisely because the authorities have the

    possibility to pick and choose whom they will prosecute that

    Gusinskii and the Media-Most team have the better argument.

    They properly point out that they have been singled out from

    among all the other potential targets of investigation. And

    they plausibly suggest that the government has done so not

    out of a concern for law enforcement but rather to build its

    power.

    Even a cursory examination of the Russian media scene

    suggests that Gusinskii's group is no more "illegal" than

    that of other media barons, but Media-Most distinguished

    itself from other such holdings: it has been very critical of

    the Kremlin. The 11 May raid suggests that the Kremlin has

    decided to respond to that criticism and to do so in an

    ostensibly respectable way by using the provisions of the law

    itself rather than brute force to move against freedom of the

    press and those who seek to defend it.

    Such a strategy has three major advantages for a leader

    like Putin, who has made it clear that he wants to ensure his

    control. First, it can be used to silence or break those who

    oppose his regime, either by drawing them into legal cases or

    financially ruining them.

    Second, actions of this type intimidate other groups

    that might be thinking about opposing him. The latter can see

    what the costs of such an approach are and may therefore

    decide to remain silent or otherwise go along with the

    regime.

    And third, because such actions are cloaked in a mantle

    of legality, they often escape any criticism from democratic

    governments. Such governments can and do say to themselves

    that the Russian police are, after all, only enforcing the

    law.

    But for all three of these reasons, this "legal" threat

    to media freedom and to other forms of freedom that rely on

    it may be even more insidious than the direct application of

    force. Thus, the 11 May raid on Media-Most may prove an even

    more significant turning point in Russia's political

    development than Putin's inauguration as president four days

    earlier.

    12-05-00


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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