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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 95, 00-05-17

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. 95, 17 May 2000


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT WON'T PRESSURE INVESTIGATION
  • [02] YERKRAPAH FORMS PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
  • [03] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S PROMISE PROMPTS COMMUNISTS TO PUT OFF
  • [04] IVASHOV REPEATS MOSCOW'S OPPOSITION TO NATO PRESENCE IN
  • [05] COUNCIL OF EUROPE COMMITTEE BACKS ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI
  • [06] GEORGIA TO BECOME WTO MEMBER
  • [07] ABKHAZIA, NOT GEORGIA, SAID PRESSING FOR RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL
  • [08] GEORGIA CANCELS MILITARY PARADE FOR LACK OF FUNDS
  • [09] GEORGIAN STUDENTS RALLY FOR PRESS FREEDOM
  • [10] UN OFFICIAL ON DISPLACED PERSONS IN ABKHAZIA
  • [11] ABKHAZ LEADER DENIES MASKHADOV COMING TO SUKHUMI
  • [12] SOCAR CHIEF CRITICIZES GEORGIAN PIPELINE PROPOSAL
  • [13] COURT SUSPENDS 'MONITOR-WEEKLY'
  • [14] OPPOSITION PICKETS BAKU MAYOR'S OFFICE
  • [15] NEW POLITICAL PARTY FORMED IN KAZAKHSTAN
  • [16] KAZAKH PORT EARNS ITS WAY
  • [17] KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WANTS MORE REFORMS
  • [18] BISHKEK PROTEST CONTINUES
  • [19] SELF-DEFENSE UNITS SET UP IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN
  • [20] TAJIK PRESIDENT ENDS CONTRACT MILITARY SERVICE...
  • [21] ...SEEKS TIGHTER CIS INTEGRATION
  • [22] TURKMENISTAN TO CONDUCT SELECTIVE CENSUS
  • [23] ZINNI SAYS U.S. NOT HARMED BY UZBEK-RUSSIAN TIES

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [24] BELGRADE SHUTS DOWN OPPOSITION MEDIA
  • [25] OPPOSITION BLASTS TAKEOVER...
  • [26] ...CALLS FOR MASS PROTESTS
  • [27] WHAT IS MILOSEVIC'S GOAL?
  • [28] SERBIAN REGIME TARS OPPONENTS
  • [29] ANOTHER MILOSEVIC DIVERSIONARY TACTIC?
  • [30] SERBIAN UN EMPLOYEE KILLED IN KOSOVA
  • [31] CROATIA'S PLITVICE LAKES IN DANGER?
  • [32] RESULTS OF BOSNIAN ETHNIC CLEANSING BECOMING PERMANENT
  • [33] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES REGULATIONS ON 'SECURITATE
  • [34] CHURCHES IN ROMANIA SUPPORT EU INTEGRATION STRATEGY
  • [35] ROMANIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY SUSPENDS FOUR POLICEMEN
  • [36] LUCINSCHI, SMIRNOV DISCUSS TRANSDNIESTER STATUS
  • [37] AFGHAN WAR VETERANS CONTINUE PROTEST IN MOLDOVA
  • [38] MOST MOLDOVANS FAVOR JOINING EU
  • [39] BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATE ON NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [40] IDEL-URAL AND THE FUTURE OF RUSSIA

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT WON'T PRESSURE INVESTIGATION

    Robert

    Kocharian said on 16 May that no pressure is being exerted on

    the officials investigating the 27 October 1999

    assassinations in parliament and that he will not interfere

    in the process, Noyan Tapan reported. He was responding to a

    letter from families of the victims during a meeting with

    them. PG

    [02] YERKRAPAH FORMS PARLIAMENTARY GROUP

    Deputies affiliated with

    the Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans have

    formed their own parliamentary bloc, RFE/RL's Armenian

    Service reported on 16 May. This finalizes their split from

    the Miasnutiun bloc. The 12 deputies in the new group, called

    Hayastan, object to Miasnutiun's willingness to cooperate

    with President Kocharian. Hayastan's chairman, Miasnik

    Malkhasian, said that his union believes Kocharian should

    step down and let the Armenian people choose a new leader. PG

    [03] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S PROMISE PROMPTS COMMUNISTS TO PUT OFF

    RALLY

    Kocharian's promise to explore joining the Russia-

    Belarus union during his visit to Moscow in June prompted the

    Armenian Communist Party to put off its plans for a 16 May

    rally in support of the idea, RFE/RL's Armenian Service

    reported. The Communist leaders went on state television the

    previous day to say that they are postponing the

    demonstration to give Kocharian time to live up to his

    pledge. PG

    [04] IVASHOV REPEATS MOSCOW'S OPPOSITION TO NATO PRESENCE IN

    CAUCASUS

    While in Yerevan on 16 May, Colonel-General Leonid

    Ivashov, the chief of the international military cooperation

    department of the Russian Defense Ministry, said that "Russia

    will not condone NATO borders reaching the Psou River next to

    the Russian city of Sochi," Noyan Tapan reported. He noted

    that Russian bases in the region represent a significant

    factor promoting stability across the region. PG

    [05] COUNCIL OF EUROPE COMMITTEE BACKS ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI

    MEMBERSHIP

    The political committee of the Council of Europe

    on 16 May voted to recommend the inclusion of Armenia and

    Azerbaijan into the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Armenian

    Service reported. The two countries have had special guest

    status in the council since 1996 because of the Nagorno-

    Karabakh conflict. PG

    [06] GEORGIA TO BECOME WTO MEMBER

    The World Trade Organization

    announced on 16 May that Georgia will formally become a

    member on 14 June, AP reported. Tbilisi was approved for WTO

    membership in October 1999, but the Georgian parliament

    failed to ratify membership documents prior to a January

    deadline. Georgia will become the 137th member of that body.

    PG

    [07] ABKHAZIA, NOT GEORGIA, SAID PRESSING FOR RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL

    Georgia's ambassador to Moscow, Malkaz Kakabadze, told ITAR-

    TASS on 16 May that Tbilisi is not raising the question of

    pulling Russian peacekeepers out of Georgia. It is the Abkhaz

    who are doing so, he added. The same day, President Eduard

    Shevardnadze nominated Kakabadze for minister at large with

    responsibility for "supervising the settlement of conflicts"

    in Georgia. Meanwhile, Caucasus Press reported rumors in

    Tbilisi that former State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze may be

    named to replace Kakabadze in Moscow. PG

    [08] GEORGIA CANCELS MILITARY PARADE FOR LACK OF FUNDS

    The

    Defense Ministry has decided that the military parade planned

    for 26 May to mark the 3,000th anniversary of Georgian

    statehood will not take place owing to a lack of funds,

    Prime-News reported on 16 May. PG

    [09] GEORGIAN STUDENTS RALLY FOR PRESS FREEDOM

    Members of the

    Student Self-Government Organization staged a protest near

    Tbilisi State University to demand that the government

    refrain from putting pressure on Rustav-2 television and

    especially its journalist, Akaki Gogichaishvili, who has been

    critical of the cabinet. PG

    [10] UN OFFICIAL ON DISPLACED PERSONS IN ABKHAZIA

    Abkhaz leader

    Vladislav Ardzinba on 16 May received Francis Deng, the

    special representative of the UN secretary-general, Caucasus

    Press reported. Deng was in Abkhazia to study "the problems

    of internally displaced persons," the news service said.

    Ardzinba said that the Abkhaz authorities are not against

    providing help to repatriated internally displaced persons.

    PG

    [11] ABKHAZ LEADER DENIES MASKHADOV COMING TO SUKHUMI

    The office

    of Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba on 16 May described as

    "not serious" reports by the leader of the Georgian White

    Legion group that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and field

    commander Shamil Basaev will be in Sukhumi soon, Prime-News

    reported on 16 May. PG

    [12] SOCAR CHIEF CRITICIZES GEORGIAN PIPELINE PROPOSAL

    Natiq

    Aliev, the president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan,

    has criticized a Georgian proposal calling for the

    construction of two additional pipelines that would tie in

    Russian routes to the Baku-Ceyhan system, Kavkasia-Press and

    Kontakt reported on 16 May. Aliev said that it is "absurd" to

    make such a proposal given that the Supsa terminal "has

    already reached full capacity." PG

    [13] COURT SUSPENDS 'MONITOR-WEEKLY'

    The Azerbaijani Economic

    Court on 16 May suspended publication of "Monitor-Weekly" and

    froze its assets, Turan news agency reported. The court took

    this step because of a suit brought against the magazine, but

    its editor, Elmar Husenov, said that he believes politics

    were behind the court's action because the magazine has been

    critical of the Azerbaijani government. PG

    [14] OPPOSITION PICKETS BAKU MAYOR'S OFFICE

    Some 50 members of

    the opposition picketed the Baku Mayor's Office on 16 May in

    an authorized demonstration, Turan reported. The

    demonstrators are demanding that the authorities give them

    permission to hold mass demonstrations in the future. Baku

    Deputy Mayor Eldar Azizov met with the demonstrators and

    promised a response. PG

    [15] NEW POLITICAL PARTY FORMED IN KAZAKHSTAN

    Ghani Qasymov,

    parliamentary deputy and a former presidential candidate,

    told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 16 May that he is creating a

    new political party. The new group, to be called the Party of

    Kazakhstan Patriots, will be headquartered in Almaty. Qasymov

    said that he is seeking support from leading political

    figures and intellectuals across the country. PG

    [16] KAZAKH PORT EARNS ITS WAY

    Net profits from the Aktau sea

    port in 1999 totaled $4 million, a sum sufficient to cover

    all payments due to the European Bank for Reconstruction and

    Development, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 16 May. Aktau's

    income nearly doubled over the previous year, according to

    the news agency. PG

    [17] KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WANTS MORE REFORMS

    President Askar Akaev

    said on 16 May that Kyrgyzstan must either adopt further

    reforms or risk sliding back, Interfax reported. He called

    for the implementation of his long-term reform package as

    well as for steps intended to reduce the country's dependence

    on foreign aid. During the next decade, he said, Kyrgyzstan

    must reduce the number of people living in poverty. (Kyrgyz

    Finance Minister Sultan Mederov said that 50 percent of the

    Kyrgyz population is poor and 23 percent extremely poor.) And

    it can do so, he said, only if the private sector is expanded

    and the state creates a stable political and economic

    climate. PG

    [18] BISHKEK PROTEST CONTINUES

    For the 62nd day, 100 people

    participated in a protest demonstration to demand that the

    government release opposition politician Feliks Kulov and

    overturn the results of the last elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz

    Service reported. PG

    [19] SELF-DEFENSE UNITS SET UP IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

    Batken

    regional Governor Mamat Aibalaev told Interfax on 16 May that

    self-defense units are being formed in his region in order to

    repulse any invasion by extremist forces this spring and

    summer. He said that such attacks could come when the snows

    melt in mountain passes. Meanwhile, First Deputy Defense

    Minister Nurdin Chomoev told RFE/RL that the army is prepared

    to repulse any attack. PG

    [20] TAJIK PRESIDENT ENDS CONTRACT MILITARY SERVICE...

    In a decree

    designed to do away with military units consisting of former

    opposition soldiers, Imomali Rakhmonov on 16 May abolished

    contract service in the army and security services as of 1

    August, AP reported. He said that Tajikistan could not afford

    such contracts. In another move, he prohibited Tajik soldiers

    from carrying weapons when not in service. PG

    [21] ...SEEKS TIGHTER CIS INTEGRATION

    Rakhmonov told visiting CIS

    Executive Committee Chairman Yarov that Dushanbe favors

    deepening integration within the framework of the

    Commonwealth of Independent States. Rakhmonov's press

    secretary, Zafar Saedov, told journalists that Rakhmonov was

    among those behind the creation of the CIS anti-terrorist

    center. PG

    [22] TURKMENISTAN TO CONDUCT SELECTIVE CENSUS

    The first session

    of the commission for carrying out the 5 percent selective

    census in December 2000 took place in Ashgabat last week, the

    Turkmen State News Service reported on 16 May. Some 242,000

    people will be questioned and registered in the process, the

    service said. PG

    [23] ZINNI SAYS U.S. NOT HARMED BY UZBEK-RUSSIAN TIES

    General

    Anthony Zinni, the head of the U.S. Central Command, said in

    Tashkent on 16 May that Washington does not believe that

    improving relations between Tashkent and Moscow represent any

    threat to U.S. interests in Central Asia, Interfax reported.

    Zinni was in the Uzbek capital for a conference on Central

    Asian security. PG


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [24] BELGRADE SHUTS DOWN OPPOSITION MEDIA

    In the early hours of

    17 May, Serbian police occupied the Belgrade offices of

    opposition Studio B Television, Radio B-292, Radio Index, and

    the mass-circulation daily "Blic." Dragan Kojadinovic, who is

    a former director of the opposition television station run by

    Vuk Draskovic's "Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO)," told

    RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that the takeover is "state-

    organized robbery, without any legal basis, without any

    justification.... They took over all our premises, a few

    hundred plainclothes policemen. [Our] security people at the

    scene say they literally brought busloads of police, who

    entered the building and broke into our offices.... Their aim

    is to completely eliminate all programs of Studio B. They

    neutralized Radio B-292,...they are not letting our

    colleagues from 'Blic' enter their offices" in the same

    complex. PM

    [25] OPPOSITION BLASTS TAKEOVER...

    Veran Matic, who heads the

    association of private electronic media organizations, told

    RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in Belgrade on 17 May: "This is

    a complete prohibition of elementary freedom of speech in

    Serbia. These media outlets were, after all, the heart of our

    information sphere in Serbia today. The media landscape in

    Serbia will be permanently fragmented and damaged in the

    future if we don't start working again" and undo the damage.

    Deputy Mayor of Belgrade Milan Bozic, who is also a member of

    Studio B's board of directors, told AP that the "regime has

    made a move with unforeseeable consequences. Whether this is

    the beginning of the regime's suicide or just a

    miscalculation, the next few days will show." Opposition

    Alliance for Change leader Vladan Batic stressed that the

    "government has imposed an informal state of emergency. This

    indicates the introduction of a state of [martial law]." PM

    [26] ...CALLS FOR MASS PROTESTS

    Aleksandar Cotric, who is a

    spokesman for the SPO-led city government, said after an

    emergency session of the city council: "We call on all

    Belgrade residents to come to defend their radio and

    television," AP reported. He added that the opposition will

    announce details of the planned rallies and protests later in

    the day after opposition leaders meet. PM

    [27] WHAT IS MILOSEVIC'S GOAL?

    Serbian Deputy Prime Ministers

    Vojislav Seselj and Milovan Bojic signed a decree in which

    they said that the authorities have shut down Studio B

    because it allegedly "frequently called for the toppling of

    the constitutional order and for rebellion against a legally

    elected government," AP reported from Belgrade on 17 May. It

    is unclear whether the decree also referred to the other

    opposition media outlets located in the same office complex

    as Studio B. Several unnamed opposition leaders told AP that

    Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is preparing to declare

    a state of emergency that will lead to a full-fledged

    dictatorship. Opposition leader Zarko Korac said the latest

    developments show "that the Serbian regime has opted for an

    open dictatorship. It is up to the citizens of Serbia to

    respond and say whether they want to live in such a society,"

    he stressed. PM

    [28] SERBIAN REGIME TARS OPPONENTS

    On 16 May, the Borba

    publishing house, which is close to the regime, refused to

    print "Blic," "Danas" reported. The Forum and Glas publishing

    houses printed "Blic" instead. Democratic Alternative leader

    Nebojsa Covic said that the regime is preparing to declare a

    state of emergency by branding its opponents "fascists" and

    "traitors" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2000). Elsewhere,

    leaders of Milosevic's Socialists and the United Yugoslav

    Left, which is run by the Yugoslav president's wife, Mira

    Markovic, officially called on state bodies to "take

    measures" against "terrorist" opposition parties and the

    Otpor (Resistance) student movement, RFE/RL's South Slavic

    Service reported. In several cities and towns, police

    detained some 40 opposition activists, including 20 in

    Valjevo alone. PM

    [29] ANOTHER MILOSEVIC DIVERSIONARY TACTIC?

    The Serbian Interior

    Ministry said in a statement on 16 May that police have

    arrested eight people who Belgrade says abducted indicted

    Bosnian Serb war criminal Dragan Nikolic from Smederevo on 21

    April and handed him over to NATO forces in Bosnia. The

    ministry claims that the eight received $50,000 from NATO for

    delivering Nikolic, whom the Hague-based tribunal has

    indicted on more than 80 counts, including several for

    murder, stemming from his time as commander of a Serbian

    prison camp at Susica near Vlasenica in 1992. Politika

    Television, which is run by Milosevic, said that the eight

    "committed an unprecedented crime by handing over their

    compatriot to the proven enemies of Serbia and its people,"

    AP reported. NATO, for its part, says that its troops

    arrested Nikolic in Bosnia. On several occasions in the past

    year, the Milosevic regime has staged well-publicized

    investigations or trials of alleged conspiratorial groups to

    divert public attention from other problems of the regime's

    own making. PM

    [30] SERBIAN UN EMPLOYEE KILLED IN KOSOVA

    UN police have

    recovered the body of 25-year-old Petar Topoljski, Reuters

    reported from Prishtina on 16 May. Bernard Kouchner, who

    heads the UN's civilian administration (UNMIK) in Kosova,

    said: "This news is a terrible blow, not only to the family

    and friends of Mr. Topoljski, but also to all the staff at

    UNMIK. We have tried to create the conditions of security for

    all our staff. But those intent on killing have found a way

    to their goal," he added. Kouchner praised the Serbs on his

    staff for their efforts "in spite of the threats and

    isolation that they must endure here." PM

    [31] CROATIA'S PLITVICE LAKES IN DANGER?

    Petar Vidakovic, who is a

    former director of the Plitvice Lakes national park, told

    "Jutarnji list" of 17 May that mismanagement by the previous

    Croatian administration under late President Franjo Tudjman

    caused more damage to the park than did the Serbian rebel

    forces during their occupation of the area from 1991 to 1995.

    Vidakovic stressed that he has a plan to refurbish the famous

    environment of lakes and waterfalls, along with

    infrastructure. He added that his project will cost only $10-

    12 million, in contrast to what he claims were the $20-25

    million that the Tudjman administration squandered. PM

    [32] RESULTS OF BOSNIAN ETHNIC CLEANSING BECOMING PERMANENT

    Largely unnoticed, Muslim displaced persons in the Bosnian

    federation have been selling or exchanging their former homes

    in the Republika Srpska during the four years since the

    Dayton agreement came into effect, "Dnevni avaz" reported on

    17 May. Similarly, Serbs now living in the Republika Srpska

    have been legally disposing of their properties on federal

    territory. Several lawyers from Serb-held Zvornik have been

    particularly active in persuading Muslim refugees abroad to

    sell their former homes. If the process continues, the

    results of ethnic cleansing will become permanent, the Muslim

    daily added. The Dayton agreement stressed the right of all

    refugees and displaced persons to return to their former

    homes. PM

    [33] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES REGULATIONS ON 'SECURITATE

    COLLEGE'

    Lawmakers on 16 May approved regulations for the

    National College for the Study of Securitate Archives,

    Mediafax reported. The college is to coordinate the work of

    the council that will supervise access to personal secret

    police files and verify the accuracy of public officials'

    statements about their links with the Securitate. Deputies

    also decided that the college can be funded only by the

    state. College President Gheorghe Onisoru complained that

    this decision limits the council's independence and "condemns

    it to poverty." ZsM

    [34] CHURCHES IN ROMANIA SUPPORT EU INTEGRATION STRATEGY

    Representatives of the 17 recognized Churches in Romania

    signed a declaration in Snagov on 16 May supporting the

    government's medium-term development strategy aimed at

    accelerating the country's EU accession, Romanian media

    reported. Church representatives confirmed their willingness

    to participate in the European integration process. The

    document was also signed by representatives of the Hungarian

    Churches from Transylvania, which asked that provisions on

    the return of Church property confiscated by the Communist

    regime be included in the text. Premier Mugur Isarescu said

    the strategy is a guideline of measures to be taken over the

    next four years, irrespective of which parties form future

    governments. ZsM

    [35] ROMANIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY SUSPENDS FOUR POLICEMEN

    Romania's

    Interior Ministry suspended four police officers who were

    involved in a struggle with journalist Valentin Dragan that

    left the latter with a broken leg, AP reported on 16 May. The

    ministry is investigating the incident. PG

    [36] LUCINSCHI, SMIRNOV DISCUSS TRANSDNIESTER STATUS

    Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 16 May

    rejected an offer by Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi to

    agree to a political settlement in which the Transdniester

    would enjoy wide autonomy and its officials would gain senior

    positions in Chisinau, Western news agencies reported. But

    the Transdniester officials did permit Moldovan authorities

    to visit Ilie Ilascu who has been in prison for opposing the

    separatists. PG

    [37] AFGHAN WAR VETERANS CONTINUE PROTEST IN MOLDOVA

    Some 3,000

    Afghan war veterans on 16 May said that they will continue to

    demonstrate outside the government building in Chisinau until

    the cabinet meets their demands for early elections as a

    means of helping the country recover from its economic

    crisis, BASA-press reported. President Lucinschi said that he

    will not "accept the language of ultimatums and violence" but

    is prepared for a discussion of the problems of veterans. PG

    [38] MOST MOLDOVANS FAVOR JOINING EU

    According to poll results

    reported by AP Flux on 16 May, 69.3 percent of Moldovans are

    in favor of their country joining the EU. At the same time,

    55.6 percent of respondents said that they have never felt

    themselves to be Europeans. PG

    [39] BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATE ON NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

    Lawmakers on 16 May began debating a no-confidence motion

    against the government of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, Reuters

    reported. The Bulgarian Socialist Party called for the vote

    citing growing corruption among government officials, but

    other politicians suggested that the corruption charges are

    only a cover for complaints about the impact of

    privatization. Like two earlier motions, this one is not

    expected to pass since the coalition of Union of Democratic

    Forces and People's Union control 139 out of the 240 seats in

    the legislature. PG


    [C] END NOTE

    [40] IDEL-URAL AND THE FUTURE OF RUSSIA

    By Paul Goble

    Turkic and Finno-Ugric activists in the area

    between the Volga and the Urals are reviving an idea

    that threatens to undermine Moscow's ongoing efforts to

    re-establish control over Russia's far-flung regions.

    They seek to create Idel-Ural, the historical name for a

    confederation of the peoples of Tatarstan,

    Bashkortostan, Chuvashiya, Mordovia, Marii El, and

    Udmurtiya, and thereby establish an economically and

    politically powerful entity between European Russia and

    Siberia.

    The peoples of this area have already tried to

    establish such a confederation. Indeed, their efforts

    are noted in the U.S. Captive Nations Week resolution.

    But precisely because such an entity would be so

    threatening to Russia's territorial integrity, Moscow

    repeatedly has taken steps to block any such move and

    likely will do so once again.

    The latest effort was launched at a conference of

    non-governmental activists on 24 April in Ioshkar-Ola,

    the capital of Marii El. There, these groups unanimously

    backed the proposals of the moderate nationalist Tatar

    Public Center to set up an Idel-Ural Fund to promote the

    idea via its own newspaper and to hold two more

    conferences later this year. Participants in the meeting

    told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that they took this

    decision now because they and the people they represent

    are concerned by the intensification of Russian

    government surveillance over organizations, like theirs,

    representing ethnic minorities inside the Russian

    Federation.

    They are also undoubtedly worried by what even

    Russian scholars now refer to as the growing

    Islamophobia among Russians during the fighting in

    Chechnya. According to polls, the number of Russians who

    view Islam as a "bad thing" has grown from 17 percent in

    1992 to 80 percent now.

    In support of such concerns, the U.S. Commission on

    International Religious Freedom said earlier this month

    that Russia is manipulating intolerance against Muslims

    to fuel public support for its war effort against

    Chechnya.

    So far, the activists, who met in Ioshkar-Ola at

    the end of April, do not enjoy even the public support

    of the governments in the regions from which they come.

    Most of these regimes have been far more cautious in

    their expression of concern about Moscow's approach and

    have sought to make the best deals they can with

    President Vladimir Putin.

    But the Ioshkar-Ola meeting and especially its

    decision to resuscitate the emotionally powerful term

    "Idel-Ural" nonetheless contain messages to three key

    audiences. First, its call for the establishment of

    Idel-Ural serves notice to the governments in this

    region that their populations may be far more radical

    than are local officials. On the one hand, the decision

    at the Ioshkar-Ola meeting may radicalize these regimes,

    leading them to take a tougher stand against Moscow in

    the expectation that such a move will win them support.

    On the other, it may cause them to become more dependent

    on Moscow, thereby reducing their authority and making

    authoritarianism and instability more likely in the

    future.

    Second, the Ioshkar-Ola meeting calls into question

    the assumptions of those in the Russian government who

    believe they can either attack Islamic groups with

    impunity or co-opt the majority of them. The Russian

    government has used anti-Islamic rhetoric during its

    Chechen campaign that has offended even those Muslims

    within the Russian Federation who agreed with Moscow's

    overall approach in Chechnya.

    But more important, the decisions at Ioshkar-Ola

    suggest that Moscow will not be able to co-opt the so-

    called "moderate Russian Muslims," as Putin and his

    aides have suggested. The Tatars, who have been

    celebrated for their "moderation" in dealings with

    Moscow, are clearly sending a message that Moscow's

    current approach may leave them no longer moderate.

    And third, the Ioshkar-Ola decisions also call into

    question the assumptions of many Western governments

    that Putin's presidency is likely to lead to more

    stability, even at the cost of increasing

    authoritarianism. In fact, moves by Putin thus far may

    generate their own nemesis, just as Soviet leader

    Mikhail Gorbachev's moves to recoup Moscow's power in

    1990-1991 led even those who had never thought about

    secession to decide to move in that direction.

    The Ioshkar-Ola meeting is likely to mark yet

    another turning point in the development of the post-

    Soviet space, one that could trigger precisely the kind

    of instability that leaders there and elsewhere say they

    want to avoid.

    17-05-00


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


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