|Wednesday, 22 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-07-29
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 DEFENSE MINISTER WORRIED ABOUT 'LEGAL BLACK HOLE' IN BALTIC REGIONSpeaking at a Navy Day celebration in Kaliningrad Oblast on 28 July, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that "Russia's leadership will not allow Kaliningrad to be torn away from the rest of Russia," polit.ru reported the next day. Ivanov also reiterated the Kremlin's concerns about the Baltic states, which have not signed the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, joining NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2002). He said that by doing so, they will create a "legal black hole" that "will not increase security in the Baltic region." According to RIA-Novosti, Ivanov also said that the Baltic Fleet, which is based in the Kaliningrad Oblast city of Baltiisk, "has played and will continue to play a military-strategic role in the region." He said that the fleet "enables [Russia] to influence military-political events happening [in the region]." RC
 FOREIGN MINISTER: NORTH KOREA READY TO TALKFollowing a two-day visit to Pyongyang, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists on 29 July that North Korea "is ready for a constructive dialogue with the United States and Japan without any preliminary conditions," ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported. Ivanov said he believes North Korean officials will try to meet with U.S. and Japanese representatives at the Brunei summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations later this week. RC
 RUSSIA ANTICIPATES RECORD ARMS SALES THIS YEARRevenues from weapons sales should reach record levels this year, ntvru.com reported, citing ITAR-TASS. According to figures from state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport, sales should increase by 15 percent this year, reaching $4.2 billion and setting a post-Soviet record for Russia. While in previous years sales of fighter aircraft made up as much as 60-70 percent of total sales, this year fighters will make up just 56 percent. Sales of ship-based helicopters and antiaircraft-missile systems have increased significantly. However, experts note that unless the state devotes considerable resources to developing new weapons, Russia's share of the global arms market will decline rapidly. RC
 LUKOIL GETS SHARE OF CASPIAN SEA DEVELOPMENTThe government has awarded LUKoil, the country's largest oil producer, the rights to develop the Russian half of the Khvalynskoye oil field in the north Caspian Sea, ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported on 29 July. The Khvalynskoye field was divided between Russian and Kazakhstan by a bilateral agreement signed in May, AP reported, with Kazakhstan's state-owned Kazmunaigaz set to develop the Kazakh half (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). LUKoil said that it invested about $82 million in developing production in the north Caspian region in 2001. According to AP, state-owned Rosneft was awarded the rights to develop Russia's share of the neighboring Kurmangazy field in June. RC
 KOZAK REPORTEDLY PROPOSES NEW FEDERAL REFORMS...At a government session on 25 July, Igor Shuvalov, head of the government apparatus, said that the government is including in its package of priority legislation for the fall 10 bills that would redistribute responsibilities and resources among various levels of government, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 July. The bills have been produced by deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak's presidential commission on demarcating these responsibilities. According to "Izvestiya," which acquired a copy of the approved text of the new concept, the next phase of federal reform will operate according to three principles, including the immutability of the constitution and the inadmissibility of one part of government placing financial responsibilities on another without also transferring the necessary sums. An unidentified source on Kozak's commission told the daily that two laws will be introduced on 15 September that will start the new federal reforms, one amending the law on general principles of state power and another on local self-rule. JAC
 ...AND KASYANOV OVERRULES HIM"Gazeta" the same day carried a different version of events, one which asserted that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov unexpectedly expressed opposition to the Kremlin and "ordered Shuvalov to write up new proposals for administrative reform, which should 'correct' Kozak's conception." According to the daily, Kasyanov ordered Shuvalov to develop a new concept of administrative reform that the cabinet will consider at the end of September -- the same time at which Kozak's commission will finish polishing its own plan. JAC
 GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS FOR RUSSIAN WOMENWomen are becoming increasingly active in Russia's social and political life, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 July, citing the results of a recent study by the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Complex Social Research. According to the study, women -- particularly those under the age of 30 -- have adopted strongly "pro-Western values," including among their priorities career, higher education, and equality between the sexes. The study identified a growing number of grassroots nongovernmental organizations devoted to women's issues. However, according to other academic sources cited by the daily, the electoral party lists of the country's political parties typically include just 10 to 12 percent women. Moreover, just 1.3 percent of the country's high-ranking bureaucrats are women, as are just 7 percent of Duma deputies. RC
 BOMB INSCRIBED WITH ANTI-SEMITIC SLOGAN EXPLODES IN MOSCOWA pipe bomb bearing the slogan "Death to Yids" was thrown onto the balcony of an apartment in southwestern Moscow and exploded on 28 July, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. No one was injured in the incident. Responding to the news, Russia's Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar called on the authorities to take emergency measures -- such as forming a special commission -- to combat anti-Semitic extremism. However, according to Interfax, Moscow police are not linking the incident with extremism or anti-Semitism; so far, they consider it a case of hooliganism. According to the agency, no Jews live in the particular apartment or in the entire building. JAC
 PLANE CRASHES IN MOSCOWAn Il-86 aircraft crashed at Sheremetevo-1 airport near Moscow on 28 July, Russian agencies reported. According to Reuters, the plane carrying 16 crew members home from flight duty crashed shortly after takeoff, and 14 people were killed. Two flight attendants who survived the crash have been hospitalized. The plane, which belonged to St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo Airlines, was capable of carrying up to 350 passengers and, according to ITAR-TASS, this was the first fatal crash in the history of the Ilyushin-86, which came into commercial service in 1980. About 120 of them are currently in service. According to Reuters, the deputy head of the crash investigation, Leonid Kashirskii, said it is too early to speculate on the cause of the crash. The plane's black boxes were recovered and are being examined. JAC
 ARMY UNITS ADOPTING ABANDONED CHILDRENMore than 200 formerly homeless boys are now being looked after by units of the Russian military under a Defense Ministry order issued in June 2001, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 July. According to unidentified ministry sources, that number is expected to reach 400 by the end of the year. According to the daily, the practice of army units adopting abandoned children began informally in 1995 during the first campaign in Chechnya. Since the order was signed last year, the practice has become widespread nationally. "Teenagers between 14 and 16 years old from city orphanages are literally lining up," said Nadezhda Kokoyanina, an official with the Arkhangelsk municipal government. "I think that this is happening because they hope that in the army they will feel like a member of a large, reliable family." An official from Vladimir Oblast was quoted as saying that the construction of special facilities for the estimated 220 abandoned children in that region is too expensive and so officials there look favorably on the practice of military units adopting them. RC
 LOCALS TAKE UP THEIR OWN DEFENSEResidents of the Kunashak Raion of northern Chelyabinsk Oblast have formed a voluntary citizens' patrol to combat crime stemming from neighboring Kurgan and Sverdlovsk oblasts, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 July. The unit is headed by Marat Abilov and has approximately 14 members. Local officials donated 10,000 rubles ($320) to equip the patrol with nightsticks and binoculars. The raion has a population of 34,000 and is served by just 94 police officers -- about one for every 11 villages. According to Abilov, raiders from neighboring oblasts frequently steel nonferrous metals from cemeteries and telephone switching stations and rustle cattle and other livestock. Police estimate that 85 percent of all crimes committed in the raion are committed by residents of the neighboring oblasts. An official with the local administration told the daily that they are working on upgrading the legal status of the patrols, including granting them additional budgetary funds and the rights to search automobiles and homes and to carry firearms. RC
 PUTIN SIGNS NEW LAWS AMIDST DOUBTS...President Vladimir Putin on 28 July signed three controversial federal bills into law, Russian news agencies reported. Putin signed the laws on alternative civil service, on the prevention of extremist activities, and on the legal position of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation. Human rights activists have spoken out against the alternative-service law, saying that it is overly restrictive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2002). The law on political extremism is considered by some to be so vague that it can be used as a weapon against almost any kind of political activity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2002). JAC
 ...AS DUMA DEPUTY SLAMS PUTIN ON CIVIL SOCIETYLiberal Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev (Union of Rightist Forces), in an interview with polit.ru on 29 July, harshly criticized President Putin's policies on the development of civil society. Kovalev said that the construction of "managed democracy" continues apace, although bureaucrats have learned not to use that much-maligned phrase. He said the Kremlin's drive to strengthen the vertical of power "has nothing in common with civilized federalism," but instead is an effort to place all levels of power under direct control from the center. He described the existing law on political parties as "the establishment of complete control over the formation of new political organizations," and the law on combating extremism as "a bid to control nongovernmental organizations." As for the mass media, "not a single independent ogran remains," Kovalev said. "In my view, social development in Russia is regressing," Kovalev concluded. RC
 WRITER REFUSES TO TESTIFYNovelist Vladimir Sorokin, who faces pornography charges for his 1999 avant-garde novel "Goluboye Salo," refused to answer questions from prosecutors on 29 July, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported. "I refused to testify in this shameful case," Sorokin told reporters after leaving the prosecutor's office. "I consider it insulting, both for me as a writer, for Russian literature as a whole, and for our glorious investigative organs who have unexpectedly taken up belles lettres." He added that he refuses to take part in "this theater of the absurd." Meanwhile, about 15 members of the Yabloko political faction and representatives of the Moscow branch of the P.E.N. Club picketed the prosecutor's office while Sorokin was being questioned, Interfax reported. Yabloko Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin told the agency that the case against Sorokin is a deliberate policy adopted by the bureaucrats who stand behind the pro-Putin youth organization Walking Together. RC
 PLANS FOR PETERSBURG JUBILEE UNVEILEDAt a press conference in St. Petersburg on 26 July marking the fact that just 10 months remain before the celebration of the city's 300th anniversary next summer, Eduard Kochergin, chief artist of the local Bolshoi Drama Theater and organizer of the opening ceremonies, announced the progress of his work to date, RosBalt reported. Kochergin said that the opening ceremonies will all take place along the Neva River embankment and will reproduce elements from the city's jubilee celebrations in 1803 and 1903. Events will begin with a religious procession along the Neva featuring Peter the Great's personal icon "The Savior," which will be taken by boat to the State Hermitage Museum. An exhibition of Peter's personal belongings will open at the Hermitage the same day. The events will continue with the "opening of the Neva," a traditional ceremony that was performed from Peter's day until 1916 in the presence of the tsars. President Putin is expected to sit in for the monarch at this event. The opening ceremonies will conclude with a memorial service in the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral and the placement of a special medal on Peter the Great's grave. "My group's task is...to preserve our history and traditions and, by adapting them, to create this celebration," Kochergin said. RC
 CANDIDATE RAISES 'CHINESE THREAT' IN CAMPAIGNGerman Sterligov, a candidate in Krasnoyarsk Krai's 8 September gubernatorial election, told reporters on 26 July that "Siberia risks becoming Chinese" and "the growth of the Chinese population numbering in the billions will lead to the extinction of native residents," RIA-Novosti reported. Sterligov also called for introducing a ban on abortions "because if we do not stop now and start reproducing, it will be too late." Sterligov is one of the founders of the Alisa trading group and is a former business partner of another businessman-candidate in the election, Artem Tarasov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2002). JAC
 TRAFFIC POLICE TAKING VARIED APPROACHES TO THEIR WORKTraffic police officers in Yekaterinburg are taking an innovative step to train undisciplined drivers by requiring them to watch a film on auto safety, ntvru.com reported on 26 July. Traffic police have been responding to minor infractions such as not allowing pedestrians the right of way at tram stops by issuing tickets requiring drivers to see the film. Meanwhile, the head of the Russian traffic police, Lieutenant General Vladimir Fedorov, told reporters on 23 July that officers in Saratov Oblast have opened 3,500 cases of violations of the rules under the new Administrative Code, which came into effect on 1 July, ITAR-TASS reported. However, only 25 of the cases have been passed onto courts, and the rest were dealt with under the old rules. Fedorov added that some traffic police divisions have failed to organize classes to instruct personnel on the application of the new code of administrative offenses. JAC
 PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION CREATES NEW DEPARTMENT FOR CIS AFFAIRSA new Main Administration for CIS Affairs is being established within the presidential administration, "Rossiiskie vesti" reported on 25 July. Its focus will be Russian policy toward the CIS and the "unrecognized enclaves within the post-Soviet space," and it will reportedly be headed by a deputy head of the presidential administration, Federal Security Service Major General Viktor Ivanov. The paper commented that the new department will undercut administration officials Sergei Prikhodko and Vladislav Surikov, both of whom, it claims, previously focused on Russia-CIS relations. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA ANNOUNCES THIRD TENDER FOR POWER DISTRIBUTION NETWORKSThe Armenian government announced on 25 July a new tender for the country's power-distribution networks, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. Two earlier privatization attempts failed when all potential bidders withdrew (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 April, and 3 December 2001). Sources close to the government said the identity of the main bidder is known, and that it may be a Russian-Ukrainian company. The tender stipulates that bidders must have a minimum market capital of $100 million; the minimum set for the two earlier tenders was $250 million. The power distribution sector posted losses in 2001 of $65 million. LF
 CONTROVERSY OVER FORMER ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CONTINUESHasmik Petrosian, who heads the Armenian presidential press service, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 26 July that President Robert Kocharian's 22 July decree demoting former defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian strips him of all military ranks. Until then it was unclear whether Harutiunian had merely been demoted from lieutenant general to major general (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002). Opinions still differ as to whether Kocharian was legally entitled to demote Harutiunian. Opposition parliament deputy and legal expert Vartan Poghosian argued that he was, but that his decree violates the law on military service that authorizes the president only to demote officers who are on active duty. Harutiunian, Poghosian said, asked to be retired from active duty after he was dismissed as minister in May 2000. LF
 AZERBAIJAN CLAIMS COUP BID BY FORMER PRESIDENT FOILED...Former President Ayaz Mutalibov planned to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership in September-October 2001 with the help of the committee to protect his rights, the Civic Unity Party, the Vahdat party, and the Committee of Baku and Baku villages, but was prevented from doing so, the National Security Ministry said in a statement released on 26 July, according to Turan. The statement did not explain how the coup was thwarted, but named five persons, including one police official, who it said played a key role in its preparation. Civic Unity Party Secretary-General Sabir Hadjiev, however, told Turan on 26 July that the ministry's claims are untrue, and that neither his party nor Mutalibov personally ever intended to seize power by force. Mutalibov issued statements last October denying National Security Ministry claims that he had planned to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership in either May or October of that year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001). LF
 ...AS HIS WHEREABOUTS REMAIN A MYSTERYOn 24 July, Hadjiev rejected as untrue Azerbaijani media reports that Mutalibov has been expelled from Moscow, where he had lived since fleeing Azerbaijan in May 1992 after an abortive bid to regain the presidency. He said Mutalibov was vacationing in southern Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002). But on 25 July, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted one of Mutalibov's assistants as saying that he has begun a tour of unspecified CIS states "where he has many friends." LF
 MORE AZERBAIJANI SERVICEMEN DIE OF HEATSTROKEFour more Azerbaijani soldiers have died of heatstroke in recent days, raising the total number of such deaths this month to eight, Turan reported on 27 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002) Several dozen have reportedly been hospitalized. Opposition party leaders including Musavat's Isa Gambar and Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov have accused military commanders of negligence and demanded that they be held responsible for the fatalities. LF
 FORMER GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER IMPLICATES OPPOSITION LEADER IN MURDERFormer parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania was involved in the death in September 1994 of former National Bank Chairman Demur Dvalishvili, Temur Khachishvili, who was at that time Georgian Interior Minister, told journalists in Tbilisi on 26 July, Caucasus Press reported. Dvalishvili was reported to have shot himself after being summoned to the Interior Ministry for questioning. Khachishvili said he has documentary evidence that Zhvania received a 102 billion kupon credit from the National Bank that he never repaid. (In September 1994, $1 was worth 2.478 million kupons.) "Izvestiya" on 14 September 1994 noted that Dvalishvili had issued over 700 large credits to various firms and individuals, many of whom never repaid them. Khachishvili was sentenced in November 1998 to 15 years' imprisonment on charges on participating in the August 1995 car-bomb attack on then-parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze; Shevardnadze formally pardoned him earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). LF
 U.S. GENERAL VISITS GEORGIA...On a one-day visit to Tbilisi on 27 June, General Charles Holland, who is special operations commander, U.S. Forces Europe, met with President Shevardnadze and Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze to assess the progress of the U.S.-funded "Train and Equip" program for the Georgian Army, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported. Holland told journalists after that meeting "I was assured that the Georgian Defense Ministry and the U.S. military are working hard to put 'Train and Equip' into practice." LF
 ...AS GEORGIAN POLICE INTERCEPT ANOTHER WEAPONS CONSIGNMENTA Georgian Defense Ministry official, Major Gia Mamardashvili, has been remanded in custody for three months after police in the west Georgian town of Senaki flagged down his car on 27 July and discovered he was transporting six antiaircraft-missile systems, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Mamardashvili, who was heading east toward Tbilisi, has reportedly refused to divulge where the weapons were being taken. LF
 GEORGIA SHELVES PLANS TO REINTRODUCE CABINETShevardnadze met on 26 July with heads of parliamentary factions to discuss his proposal of last summer to reintroduce the cabinet of ministers model, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report,"
Vol. 4, No. 19, 21 May and No. 24, 28 June 2001). No decision wasreached, but participants agreed to establish a special government commission to draft the relevant amendments to the constitution. Industry Will Save Georgia faction head Gogi Topadze told Caucasus Press that "it is clear that a cabinet will not be established before the next parliamentary elections," which are due in November 2003. Caucasus Press commented on 22 July that Shevardnadze is no longer pushing for the restoration of the cabinet because doing so would necessitate firing many state chancellery staff. LF
 GEORGIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY REFUSES TO REGISTER VIRKThe Justice Ministry has turned down a registration application by the Virk Party that represents the Armenian population of Georgia's southern Samtskhe-Djavakheti region, according to Armenpress on 23 July, as cited by Groong four days later. Virk leader David Rstakian rejected the ministry's argument that Virk violates the constitutional ban on regionally based parties; he pointed out that Virk has chapters all over Georgia. Rstakian said Virk's demand for formal autonomy for Djavakheti does not pose a threat to Georgia's territorial integrity. He predicted that "sooner of later Georgia will have to agree to a federative structure" and that Djavakheti must be one of the components of that federation. LF
 HAVE CHECHEN FIGHTERS CROSSED FROM GEORGIA INTO RUSSIA?Russian agencies on 27 July quoted Russian Federal Border Service press service head Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Livantsev as saying that his men intercepted a group of several dozen Chechen fighters who entered Chechnya from Georgia earlier that day. Livantsev said three Chechens were killed in an exchange of fire, two taken prisoner, and the remainder headed back to Georgia. On 29 July, Caucasus Press reported that Russian Army troops have surrounded a group of 60 Chechens in Itum-Kale who crossed into Chechnya from Georgia two days earlier; it is not clear whether the reports refer to the same group. But Georgian Border Service officials told Caucasus Press on 29 July that neither Georgian border guards nor the OSCE monitors deployed on the Georgian-Chechen border have registered any movement across the border into Chechnya in recent days. LF
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION...The Kyrgyz leadership convened a third roundtable discussion in Bishkek on 26 July, at which the country's top leadership, the media, political parties and NGOs were each represented by between 18-25 persons, akipress.org reported. Six prominent opposition politicians boycotted the gathering. In his address to the roundtable, President Askar Akaev appealed to all political factions to engage in a dialogue with the aim of defusing tensions, and warned opposition figures not to try to exploit those tensions for their personal political aims, Russian agencies reported. Akaev also rejected criticism of the border agreements under which Kyrgyzstan cedes territory to China. He accused critics of those agreements of "seeking...to instigate an interstate war." LF
 ...HINTS MAY CEDE SOME POWERS...Akaev also said on 26 July that he might agree to cede some powers to parliament if the relevant constitutional amendments are endorsed in a nationwide referendum, Interfax reported. Opposition parties represented in parliament want the legislature, rather than the president, to form the Cabinet of Ministers and nominate judges. LF
 ...ACCUSES RFE/RL OF 'INFORMATION TERRORISM'...Akaev described RFE/RL at the 26 July roundtable as "one of the fundamental threats to our state," terming its broadcasts "tendentious and one-sided" and "information terrorism directed against the Kyrgyz Republic," akipress.org reported. Human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov responded to those accusations by yelling, "It's not true!" several times. LF
 ...AND IS URGED TO PARDON KULOVIn his speech at the 26 July roundtable, Abdygany Erkebaev, who is speaker of the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament), appealed to President Akaev to "solve the Kulov problem as soon as possible," akipress.org reported. Former Vice President Feliks Kulov was sentenced in January 2001 to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abusing his official position while serving as national security minister. He received an additional sentence in May 2002 on charges of embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001 and 9 May 2002). Erkebaev pointed to Akaev's earlier decisions to pardon opposition politician Topchubek Turgunaliev and Zhalgap Kazakbaev, who was also sentenced for large-scale embezzlement. LF
 ISLAMIC DEMOCRATIC PARTY ESTABLISHED IN KYRGYZSTANThe founding congress of the Islamic Democratic Party took place in Bishkek on 20 July, "Vremya MN" reported on 24 July. Its chairman, former television commentator Narkas Mulladjanov, predicted that it will succeed within a short time in attracting no less than 100,000 members. The paper observed that the party is likely to attract in the first instance residents of the slums surrounding Bishkek. It may, however, encounter problems trying to register given that Kyrgyzstan's Constitution bans political parties based on a religious ideology. LF
 PAKISTAN URGES CENTRAL ASIAN STATES TO CONCENTRATE ON FOOD PRODUCTIONAddressing agricultural ministers from the Central Asian states on 26 July in Islamabad, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said in light of its "vast and bounteous natural resources," the region could become a hub of food production if investment is forthcoming, Caspian News Agency reported. LF
 TAJIK PRESIDENT WANTS MORE ECONOMIC AID FROM UNMeeting on 26 July in Dushanbe with the outgoing head of the UN Tajikistan Office of Peacekeeping Ivo Petrov, Imomali Rakhmonov again expressed gratitude for that organization's efforts to promote peace and national concord following the 1992-97 civil war, Russian agencies and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. At the same time, Rakhmonov said he hopes for more economic aid from the UN. He also called on the international community to provide aid for postwar reconstruction in Afghanistan. LF
 TYPHOID EPIDEMIC REPORTED IN TAJIKISTANThe incidence of typhoid in Dushanbe and the surrounding region has reached epidemic proportions, with some 40,000 cases of the disease registered, according to "Meditsinskaya gazeta" on 24 July. The paper added that there is no danger the disease could reach Russian territory. LF
 UZBEK TRADERS PROTEST NEW CUSTOMS DUTYTraders at the markets in Tashkent and other cities across sUzbekistan launched a strike on 25 July to protest a new 90 percent customs duty on imported goods, AP reported the following day. They say the new tariff will raise prices so high that most people will no longer be able to afford them. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT MONITORS HARVEST FROM THE AIREarly in the morning of 26 July, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka took an inspection flight by helicopter over Minsk and Brest oblasts to monitor how his directives regarding this year's harvest efforts are being carried out, Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka slammed local officials for what he called "deception and window-dressing" in the field. "What I told you to do should be fulfilled irreproachably, without deception," the president said after landing. "When I said that [harvester operators] had to stay overnight in the field, it meant that they had to spend the night in the field. I have flown 300 kilometers but I have not seen a single harvester in Minsk or Brest oblasts. Only white fields -- what a terrible sight.... The closer I got to the landing place, the more [the picture] resembled harvesting. This is what I call sheer deception and window-dressing." JM
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS PERSECUTION OF INDEPENDENT PRESSSome 50 opposition activists staged a picket in front of the presidential administration building in Minsk on 27 July, protesting the persecution of the independent press by the authorities, Belapan reported. Demonstrators held copies of independent newspapers and asked passers-by to sign a petition in defense of journalists Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka, who were sentenced for defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 2 July 2002). The picket coincided with the 12th anniversary of the declaration of Belarus's sovereignty. Police arrested Pavel Sevyarynets, the leader of the opposition Youth Front. On 29 July, a district court in Minsk sentenced Sevyarynets to 10 days in jail for organizing the 27 July protest. JM
 BELARUSIAN BELIEVERS TUSSLE WITH POLICE OVER NEWLY BUILT CHAPELPolice arrested four people in the town of Pahranichny (Berastavitsa Raion of Hrodna Oblast) on 26 July from among those trying to prevent local authorities from demolishing the newly built house and chapel of Yan Spasyuk, a priest representing the officially unrecognized Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Belapan reported. Earlier the same week, the Berastavitsa Raion authorities ordered that Spasyuk's 400-square-meter building be demolished, saying its construction was not officially approved. Spasyuk told the agency that he built the house and the chapel without official permission but added that the real motive behind the demolition order is the "threat" that his independent church poses to the officially favored Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus. JM
 UKRAINE MOURNS WORLD'S WORST AIR-SHOW TRAGEDY...An Su-27 fighter jet crashed into a crowd of spectators during an air show in Lviv on 27 July, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. According to official reports, 83 people, including 23 children, were killed and 116 were injured in the world's worst air-show disaster. The jet's two pilots managed to eject before the jet hit the tarmac and remain hospitalized. President Leonid Kuchma declared 29 July a national day of mourning. "It's like a bad dream," Kuchma said at the tragedy site on 27 July. Many head of states, including the pope, have sent their condolences to the victim's families, and Switzerland and Poland have offered medical assistance in treating the injured. The 26 July air show in Lviv was attended by some 10,000 spectators. JM
 ...AS KUCHMA SACKS MILITARY OFFICIALS...Following the air disaster in Lviv, President Kuchma dismissed Chief of General Staff Petro Shulyak, who performed the duties of Ukraine's acting defense minister at the time of the crash, UNIAN reported on 29 July. Kuchma has also dismissed Air Force commander Viktor Strelnykov. Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko, following Kuchma's instruction, has fired Serhiy Onyshchenko, the commander of the air corps that staged the 27 July air show in Lviv. Shkidchenko himself has tendered resignation over the crash and is reportedly awaiting Kuchma's decision. JM
 ...AND PROSECUTORS OPEN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONSProsecutors ordered arrests of Colonel General Viktor Strelnikov, Lieutenant General Serhiy Onyshchenko, and two other military officials whom they believe are responsible for the air-show disaster in Lviv, UNIAN reported on 29 July. Strelnykov and Onyshchenko are suspected of committing a crime classified as "negligent attitude to the military service that led to heavy consequences." A criminal case has also been opened against the two surviving pilots, Volodymyr Toponar and Yuriy Yehorov, who are charged with violating regulations applicable to the use of aircraft. The Prosecutor-General's Office has preliminarily stated that the air-show tragedy was caused by "serious miscalculations in the organization and fulfillment of flights in the air force and, in particular, in the organization of the air-show measures in Lviv," UNIAN reported. JM
 ESTONIAN EXPLOSIVES-DETECTION TEAM DEPARTS FOR AFGHANISTANInterior Minister Ain Seppik and acting Rescue Board General Director Jaanus Vessart were present at Tallinn's international airport on 26 July for the departure of an explosives-detection team made up of five men and three dogs, BNS reported. The team will participate in a three-month mission in Afghanistan where its primary task will be ensuring the safety of U.S. military personnel at an air base participating in the Enduring Freedom operation. The team's participation is considered an important opportunity for Estonia to show that it can be a contributor and not only a recipient in safeguarding international peace. SG
 NEW POLISH PARTY FOUNDED IN LITHUANIAThe founding congress of Lithuania's Polish People's Party was held in Vilnius on 27 July, BNS reported. The congress was attended by 85 delegates who elected former Vilnius Raion official Antonina Poltaviec to head the party, while Ryszard Maciejkianiec, Pavel Mikuto, and Edward Tomaszewicz were chosen as deputy chairmen. Former parliament deputy and head of the Lithuanian Polish Union Maciejkianiec criticized the existing Polish Election Action -- which has deputies in the parliament and local councils -- for not preparing a development program for the Vilnius district, where the majority of Lithuania's Poles live. The new party plans to participate in local council elections on 22 December with a program calling for accelerating the economic development of the Vilnius district with a special emphasis on property restitution, regional policy, education, and youth programs. SG
 AUSTRIA AND PORTUGAL SUPPORT BALTIC ASPIRATIONSIn Salzburg on 26-27 July, Austrian and Portuguese Presidents Thomas Klestil and Jorge Sampaio assured their Baltic counterparts Arnold Ruutel (Estonia), Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia), and Valdas Adamkus (Lithuania) that they strongly support their countries' efforts to join NATO and the European Union, BNS reported. The presidents addressed such issues as the fight against organized crime, illegal migration, money laundering, and drug smuggling. The five presidents stressed the need for the small countries in the EU to stand together to protect their national identities. Vike-Freiberga brought up the issue of EU agricultural subsidies and received support for her position that new member states should be treated the same as current EU members. The presidents also discussed relations with Russia and Ukraine as well as the question of visas for Kaliningrad Oblast residents. SG
 POLISH FINANCE MINISTER APPEALS FOR 'NATIONAL CRUSADE' AGAINST UNEMPLOYMENTAddressing the Sejm on 26 July, newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko called for a "national crusade" against the country's 17 percent unemployment rate, PAP reported. Kolodko was presenting three draft laws linked to the government's anti-crisis program adopted earlier the same week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002). "I will be grateful if you will help me in this national crusade, because if not, this plague [high unemployment] will devour all the fruits of the Polish economy," Kolodko noted. He said Poland's return to 5-7 percent economic growth is possible by 2005, up from 1 percent forecast for this year. JM
 POLISH PARLIAMENTARIANS SEE BELARUSIAN REGIME AS THREAT TO STABILITYThe Sejm's Foreign Affairs Committee on 26 July presented its position on Poland's policies toward Belarus, PAP reported. The committee said Poland should continue to support international efforts "to restore the rule of law" in Belarus. "We see the maintaining of undemocratic power structures in [Belarus] as a threat to peace and stabilization in Central and Eastern Europe," the committee said in a statement. Simultaneously, the parliamentarians noted that the "new international situation and traditional ties between Poles and Belarusians prompt us to gradually widen the scope of a political dialogue with the Belarusian authorities." The committee acknowledged that there is a need to expand the Polish-Belarusian cooperation in economic, banking, financial, and military spheres, as well as in transport, construction, border protection, education, and culture. JM
 FORMER CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR SRBA AFFAIRUN General Assembly Chairman and former Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan was quoted by Czech Radio as saying on 28 July that he had no knowledge that Karel Srba was an agent for the Military Intelligence Service (VZS) when he appointed him Foreign Ministry secretary-general, CTK reported. CTK on 29 July reported that Kavan told Czech Television the same day that he is prepared to step down as a Czech parliamentary deputy or as a representative for the Czech Republic in the European Convent if time constraints prevent him from adequately fulfilling those positions while serving as UN General Assembly chairman. However, he said, "I see no reason why I should give up any of these posts because of responsibility for anything that has not yet been settled and of which I have not been accused." Also on 29 July, Kavan discussed the Srba affair with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and the prime minister said in a press release that he is insisting on a thorough investigation, CTK reported. MS
 CZECH PREMIER SAYS KAVAN NOT CONNECTED TO MURDER PLOT...On 27 July, Spidla said he believes there is no connection between Kavan and the plot allegedly masterminded by Srba to assassinate "Mlada fronta Dnes" journalist Sabina Slonkova, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 24, 25, and 26 July 2002). Also on 26 July, a regional court in Ceske Budejovice ruled that Srba and three other persons suspected of participating in the plot are to remain in custody. In an interview given to the daily "Lidove noviny" on 27 July, Prime Minister Spidla said there is no connection between the Srba affair and the replacement of Andor Sandor as head of the VZS, CTK reported. Spidla said that before the scandal broke he was told by Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik that Sandor's contract would not be extended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002). MS
 ...AS SPECULATION ARISES OVER SRBA AFFAIR AND REPLACEMENT OF VZS HEADOn 26 July, TV Nova reported that Srba had been a VZS agent until the day before and that investigations are being conducted into whether he had abused that position. TV Nova also said Sandor had been ordered to dismiss Srba after the latter's departure from the Foreign Ministry, but he failed to carry out the order, which the television station suggested was the real reason for Sandor's dismissal as VZS head. Sandor on 26 July denied any connection between the VZS and the "atrocity" of the Slonkova affair or the Cesky Dum scandal. Meanwhile, Jan Vidim, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Defense and Security Commission, told CTK on 26 July that apart from Sandor's dispute with Tvrdik over the restructuring of the VZS, there are other reasons for his dismissal, which must, however, remain secret. MS
 CZECH PRIME MINISTER WANTS TO NOMINATE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SOONPrime Minister Spidla said on 27 July after a meeting of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leadership that the CSSD should nominate by mid-September its candidate for the presidential elections in February 2003, CTK reported. Meanwhile, President Vaclav Havel left Prague on 27 July for his summer house in Portugal, where he will remain for several weeks recovering from his latest bout of chronic bronchitis, which recently led to his hospitalization, Reuters reported. MS
 PROSECUTION OF FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER HALTEDA Prague city court has upheld a Prague district court decision to halt criminal proceedings against communist-era Interior Minister Josef Jung, CTK reported on 27 July, citing "Mlada fronta Dnes" and "Pravo." Jung was charged with abuse of power for having rescinded author Pavel Kohout's citizenship in 1978, when the writer spent a year in Austria. The city court heeded the lower court's decision that the case falls under the statute of limitations. MS
 GERMANY SENDS BACK CZECH ROMAA group of 79 Czech Roma were denied entry into Germany on 26 July on the grounds that they had no health insurance and were not carrying enough money, CTK reported. The group included 30 Roma from the Ostrava region who announced earlier that they intended to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, claiming they do not feel safe in the Czech Republic and are subject to discrimination. The British government is currently being taken to court in London by six Roma whose travel to the U.K. was denied by British officials who refused them permission to board flights from Prague airport to destinations in the U.K. MS
 CZECHS TO RECEIVE NATO MISSILES AHEAD OF SUMMITThe Czech Army will receive some 150 air-to-air Sidewinder missiles and other equipment prior to the November NATO summit in Prague, CTK reported on 26 July, citing Defense Ministry official Jindrich Ploch. Ploch said the delivery will be paid for by the U.S. Defense Department and other NATO members and will not affect the Czech budget. Reuters reported last week that the equipment is valued at $35 million. Ploch said the Czech Air Force on its own will be capable of defending Czech air space during the summit. MS
 SLOVAK NEO-NAZIS STAB GIRL IN BRATISLAVAA group of three to five neo-Nazis on 28 July attacked two girls in Bratislava, stabbing one of them and slightly injuring the other, CTK reported. The girl who was stabbed has been hospitalized but her life is not in danger. The apparent reason for the attack is that the neo-Nazis objected to the girls' dreadlocks. A spokesman for the People Against Racism organization said the attack is apparently another of a series of increasingly violent attacks by neo-Nazis against non-Romany young people who belong to various subcultures. Police have opened an investigation. MS
 MISSING MEDGYESSY DOCUMENTS SURFACE IN HUNGARYThe parliamentary commission investigating Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy's past was informed on 26 July that documents pertaining to Medgyessy's role as a counterintelligence agent in the communist era were discovered on 23 July. "Vilaggazdasag" reported that the documents in question are believed to be Medgyessy's resume, orders regarding his appointment, and a document recommending that he receive a reward, but said they are unlikely to contain specific information about Medgyessy's activity as an agent. The surfacing of the documents came as a surprise, as national security State Secretary Andras Toth had earlier announced that the secret services possessed no relevant documents on Medgyessy's past. "Nepszabadsag" reported that the secret services checked only the National Security Office's (NBH) archives, and the documents were discovered in a separate file in the office of the director of the NBH. Secret Services Minister Elemer Kiss said successive directors must have forgotten about it. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY TO OVERHAUL ARMED FORCESThe Defense Ministry on 30 July will begin a six- to eight-month defense review, political State Secretary Imre Ivancsik said on 26 July, Hungarian dailies reported. Ivancsik said the review is necessitated by the slow progress of military reforms, the absence of technical upgrades, and the need to meet NATO standards and review defense planning. The objective is to clearly define military tasks and to find needed funding, Ivancsik said. He added that the Defense Ministry seeks more efficient cooperation with NATO, as the alliance's recent criticism of Hungary for being unable to meet its commitments is justified. Staff members from the prime minister's office, the Foreign Ministry, and the Finance Ministry will also be involved in the process, according to Hungarian dailies. MSZ
 FORMER PREMIER TOUTS REUNIFICATION OF HUNGARIAN NATIONFormer Prime Minister Viktor Orban, speaking at the summer university in Balvanyos, Romania, said that Hungary cannot ignore the interests of ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 29 July. Orban emphasized that the new government must continue the reunification of the nation across borders. He said there is a chance that a consensus will be reached in Hungarian politics regarding the Status Law and proposed that the law not be amended without the approval of ethnic Hungarians abroad. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN EXTREMISTS CALL FOR TOPPLING GOVERNMENTThe leadership of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) said in a position paper released on 28 July that "the present government must be forced to call new parliamentary elections, staged using clean methods, or else it must be toppled," "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The MIEP document stated that in the present situation parliamentary methods are inadequate, as the ruling coalition with its five-member majority "can carry out an antinational plan to sell out and destroy our nation." The party calls for more farmers' demonstrations and road blocks before the autumn harvests, as well as for action against the "slanderous" press. MIEP proposed that a ring of 1 million people should be formed around the parliament building to demand new elections. The statement also said that former Prime Minister Orban was right to call the Socialists and Free Democrats "traitors," and added that "he should declare that again, everywhere, inside the parliament, on the streets -- we shall echo him." MSZ
 YUGOSLAV ARMY ACCUSED OF ENDANGERING CROATIAN OFFICIALS...Yugoslav troops fired in the direction of four boats carrying local Croatian officials to the disputed island of Sarengradska Ada on the Danube River on 28 July, Reuters reported. The visit to meet with officials from Backa Palanka had been arranged in advance and the troops "should have known about it," an unnamed official said. Yugoslav soldiers held the governor of Vukovar-Srijem county, several mayors, and some other citizens, including four children, for several hours before releasing them. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic later noted that the troops "fired warning shots in the air. They were not shooting at anyone, and no one was hurt." The minister expressed regret over the incident and added that he hopes bilateral relations will not be harmed. He said later that the incident was the result of "poor organization" of the bilateral meeting, Hina reported on 29 July. In addition, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic discussed the incident. PM
 ...AND CROATIAN LEADER EXPRESSES 'OUTRAGE'Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 28 July that he was "outraged" over the incident despite a personal apology by telephone from Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Reuters reported. "That's not enough. We demand a public apology and detailed explanation," the Croatian leader said. He then flew by helicopter to the scene and met with Svilanovic. Racan subsequently said he was "saddened and angered" by the incident, adding that "shooting near civilians, even if it was shooting in the air or in the water, is simply unacceptable." He said there will be "further talks to prevent a recurrence of such incidents." In Zagreb, the Foreign Ministry protested to the Yugoslav Embassy over the incident and the refusal of the Yugoslav ambassador to accept a protest note until an investigation is made, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
 RACAN SET TO NAME CABINETRacan will announce his new government to the parliament in the morning of 30 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 28 July. Among the changes will be Zeljka Antunovic in place of Jozo Rados as defense minister. PM
 BOSNIAN CROAT MINISTER SAYS MUSLIMS WANT HIM OUTMijo Anic, who is defense minister of the Croat-Muslim federation, said in Capljina on 27 July that unnamed Muslim politicians want to oust him as part of what he called the elimination of Croats from federal power structures, Hina reported. His statement comes several days after a search for financial records in his ministry by the Finance Police at the request of federal President Safet Halilovic and Deputy Defense Minister Ferid Buljubasic. Anic spoke immediately after members of the Finance Police blocked the account of the federal army's Croatian units. Anic charged that the actions of the Finance Police were politically motivated. PM
 BUSH REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO BOSNIAU.S. President George W. Bush told Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija in Washington on 26 July that the United States will remain in Southeastern Europe and work for stability and democracy, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Upon returning to Sarajevo the next day, Lagumdzija said several American officials told him that both the region in general and Bosnia in particular remain important for U.S. strategic interests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2002). PM
 LOCAL ELECTIONS TAKE PLACE IN SOUTHERN SERBIASome 75,000 citizens of Serbian, Albanian, and Romany nationality had the opportunity to cast their ballots for local officials in the Presevo valley on 28 July, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 July 2002). Turnout was high and incidents were few. Preliminary results are due later on 29 July in a vote expected to break down along ethnic lines. Serbs are in the majority in Medvedja, while Albanians are likely to win in Presevo. The toss-up is Bujanovac, which is more mixed. The vote was observed by more than 100 international observers, as well as several hundred representatives of local NGOs. Albanians had boycotted other elections in recent years, but several former guerrilla leaders called on their supporters in recent days to claim their rights at the ballot box. PM
 KOSTUNICA'S PARTY EXPELLED FROM SERBIAN GOVERNING COALITIONThe presidency of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) voted in Belgrade on 26 July to expel Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) from the coalition, which is a first step toward depriving the DSS of all its seats in the Serbian parliament, Reuters reported the next day. The move comes in the run-up to the 26 September elections. The presidency's decision immediately followed a ruling by the Yugoslav Constitutional Court to uphold a demand by the DSS that the recent replacement of some DSS deputies to the Serbian parliament by the DOS be ruled illegal. Kostunica hailed the court's decision, but officials of the Serbian Constitutional Court said that their court alone had the right to rule on the matter. Dragan Marsicanin, who is deputy leader of the DSS, promised to fight the DOS decision to expel his party "by all legitimate political means." The DSS has boycotted the Serbian parliament for some weeks. PM
 DJINDJIC TESTIFIES BEFORE BUGGING COMMISSIONDjindjic told the Serbian parliament's commission investigating the "Pavkovic affair" on 27 July that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). The prime minister added that he and Kostunica "have had virtually no communication for months." Djindjic said he fears that the ongoing political imbroglio is frightening away much-needed foreign investors. Kostunica, who refuses to recognize the commission or its authority, called that body "a theater." But several NGO representatives hailed the six days of public testimony by leading officials, saying that the experience was one of virtually unknown openness and transparency in Serbia. The representatives added that they hope officials will be held accountable before the public in the future as well. PM
 THE HAGUE DROPS CHARGES AGAINST YUGOSLAV ADMIRALThe tribunal has withdrawn its indictment of Admiral Milan Zec for his alleged role in the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik for lack of evidence, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 26 July. PM
 PRE-ELECTION COALITION OF MACEDONIA'S ETHNIC ALBANIANS ENDS BEFORE IT BEGANThe ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which was founded recently by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, announced on 28 July that it will not enter the pre-election coalition of ethnic Albanian parties that was recently proposed by Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) Chairman Abdurrahman Aliti, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The BDI leadership stressed in its press release that the only avenue for cooperation among the ethnic Albanian parties is the Coordination Council. But that body, which was set up at the beginning of 2002 at Ahmeti's urging, never really functioned because of animosities between Ahmeti and the leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 February and 26 July 2002). UB
 NANO NAMES NEW ALBANIAN GOVERNMENTPrime Minister Fatos Nano announced his cabinet on 27 July, AP reported. It includes 18 ministers, two of whom are former prime ministers and rivals of Nano. Ilir Meta will be deputy prime minister and foreign minister, while Pandeli Majko will have the defense portfolio. Outgoing Defense Minister Luan Rama moves to the Interior Ministry. Opposition leader Sali Berisha has said he and his supporters will vote against the cabinet, but Nano can count on at least 74 out of 140 votes in the legislature. It is not clear if President Alfred Moisiu will reject any of the appointees in keeping with his promise to block any "corrupt" persons from joining the cabinet. PM
 ROMANIAN LIBERALS APPROVE AMENDMENTS TO PARTY STATUTESThe National Liberal Party (PNL)'s Delegation of Permanent Representatives approved on 26 July amendments to the party statutes proposed by Theodor Stolojan, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Stolojan has made accepting the amendments a condition for his running for party chairman. The vote was 64 in favor, 16 against, and three abstentions. The forum also decided that the PNL congress, at which Stolojan will presumably be elected chairman, will be held in Bucharest on 24-25 August. Under the amendments, the party will be led by a 10-member Executive Bureau appointed at the chairman's discretion. The PNL congress must approve the amendments before they are included in the statutes. Outgoing PNL Chairman Valeriu Stoica announced at the meeting that he will never run again for a PNL leadership position. MS
 COUNCIL OF DIASPORA ROMANIANS TO BE SET UPDoru Vasile Ionescu, a state secretary in the Public Information Ministry, announced on 26 July that the government will set up a Consultative Council of Diaspora Romanians, Romanian radio reported. The council will be composed of representatives of Romanian minorities in neighboring countries, as well as representatives of ethnic Romanian organizations around the world. MS
 ELIE WIESEL BEGINS VISIT TO NATIVE ROMANIANoble Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel on 28 July met in Bucharest with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase at the beginning of a visit that includes the inauguration of a museum in the house where Wiesel was born in Sighet and the presentation of a decoration by President Ion Iliescu, Romanian radio reported. The 74-year-old Wiesel was deported by Hungarian authorities, who ruled northern Transylvania at the time, to Auschwitz in 1944. He was later sent to Buchenwald. His mother perished at Auschwitz, and his father at Buchenwald. Wiesel is also to be made a honorary member of the Romanian Academy. On his arrival, he said that he intends to discuss with President Iliescu and other Romanians the past and "ways to build a future without hate and fanaticism." In a press release on 28 July, Nastase said that Wiesel's visit is part of the government's actions aimed at "assuming [responsibility] for history and overcoming its painful legacy." Nastase also drew attention to the government's ordinance of earlier this year forbidding the display of fascist symbols, and to the introduction of courses teaching the Holocaust in school and in the curriculum of the National Defense College. MS
 ROMANIA, MOLDOVA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON SCHOLARSHIPSNegotiations between representatives of the Romanian and Moldovan education ministries on scholarships granted by Romania to Moldovan students broke down on 26 July and Romania pulled out of the talks, Mediafax reported. The decision was made after the Moldovan side demanded that four branches of Romanian universities functioning in Moldova since the 1999-2000 academic year be closed down. Bucharest says the branches were set up at the specific request of the Moldovan Education Ministry. The Romanian side said after the announcement that it is still ready to grant 850 scholarships to Moldovan high school student and 1,000 scholarships for university students who will, however, now have to apply at those institutions to receive the grants. MS
 MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES VORONIN'S VERSION OF TELERADIO MOLDOVA BILLParliament on 26 July reversed its earlier decision and approved a draft submitted by President Vladimir Voronin for setting up Teleradio Moldova as a public company, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. That draft gives the presidency, the government, and the parliament much greater influence in appointing the company's council and its managers than did the earlier draft proposed by the Braghis Alliance and drafted by the Electronic Media Association. The Party of Moldovan Communists' decision to shift its position after earlier supporting the Braghis Alliance version in the first reading of the bill caused heated debate, and the opposition said the approved version contradicts the recommendations of the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO SET UP COMMISSION ON IMPLEMENTING OSCE PLANPresident Voronin, speaking at the last summer session of the parliament on 26 July, said he will set up a special presidential commission to examine proposals made by the OSCE on settling the Transdniester conflict, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin hailed the plan as "a chance for reunification" and called on the opposition and Moldovan society to back the proposals, which envisage the country's federalization. He said the special presidential commission will consult with international experts in order to work out a new government program that "takes into account the needs of reunification." He also expressed the hope that Transdniester representatives will participate in the commission's debates. MS
 DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS BULGARIA CAN AFFORD TO WAIT ON MISSILE DESTRUCTIONNikolay Svinarov said on 27 July that he is convinced that a possible delay in meeting Bulgaria's commitments to scrap its arsenal of SS-23, Frog, and Scud missiles would not affect the country's bid to join NATO, mediapool.bg reported. Svinarov was responding to a statement reportedly made by U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew that Bulgaria will not be invited to join NATO at the alliance's summit in Prague in November should it fail to destroy the missiles on time. In December 2001, Bulgaria's parliament set October 2002 as the deadline for the destruction of the missiles. Also on 27 July, Svinarov signed an agreement on the technical aspects of the project with the U.S. company CDI, which is to carry out the scrapping. Over the past few weeks there have been protests in the town of Stara Zagora against the scrapping of the missiles located near the town. UB
 BULGARIA TO HOLD SEPARATE TALKS WITH EU MEMBER STATES ON KOZLODUY NUCLEAR PLANTEuropean Affairs Minister Meglena Kuneva announced on 28 July that the government will hold separate talks with each European Union member state regarding the future of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, mediapool.bg reported. Kuneva said she hopes to reach an agreement with every individual EU government in order to change the European Commission's demand that the power plant be shut down as soon as possible. UB
 JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER CRITICIZES BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT'S ECONOMIC POLICYAhmed Dogan, the leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), said on 28 July that the government has failed to develop a workable investment policy, which he said is inexcusable, mediapool.bg reported. "If one looks for an excuse [for the failure of the investment policy], the international economic situation is not the best [one]," Dogan said in response to Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's address to the nation last week marking the completion of his first year in office. Dogan openly criticized Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev last week, saying the ministry must coordinate investments, not just deliver reports on them. DPS Deputy Chairwoman Emel Etem said the party will wait until after the NATO summit in Prague before considering whether to call for a reshuffling of the government. UB
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT LUKASHENKA WARMS TO NATOBy Taras Kuzio
In a highly surprising development, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is warming up to NATO. Lukashenka became president of Belarus in 1994 at the same time NATO began developing its Partnership for Peace (PfP) program in former Soviet and Eastern bloc countries. Since then Belarus has, along with Turkmenistan and Russian protectorate Tajikistan, which signed up for PfP only a few months ago, been the least disinterested of CIS states in cooperation with NATO.
The small number of joint Belarusian-NATO events ended in 1998 after a dispute with European Union countries over the location of their embassies in Belarus. Meanwhile, the United States increasingly applied a policy of diplomatic isolation of Belarus. In December 2001, relations between the United States and Belarus were described by the Belarusian Foreign Affairs Ministry as "worsening," and political contacts were said to be "at a complete standstill."
Belarus's only contact with NATO was low-key, through the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), established in 1997 to replace the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) created after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The EAPC has 46 members (the 19 full-fledged NATO members plus 27 partners), all of which cooperate with NATO through PfP at different levels.
Under Lukashenka, a Sovietophile and pan-Eastern Slavic ideology produced an anti-Western and anti-NATO foreign policy that attracted advocates among Russian nationalists and communists and, at times, among even Russian democrats. The peak of this "cold war" between Belarus and NATO was in 1999-2000 as NATO was carrying out its bombing campaign of Kosova and Serbia, and Lukashenka visited Belgrade to offer his support to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
After the election of Vladimir Putin as Russian president in March 2000 a gradual rapprochement between Russia and NATO began that gathered momentum after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States. The creation of an international alliance against terrorism, with the United States and Russia at its core; the establishment of a NATO-Russia Council; Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership; and the expected expansion of the Atlantic alliance and the EU have all forced Lukashenka to change his policy toward NATO.
The first indications of this Belarusian change of heart came in June when the Belarusian parliament changed legislation to allow Belarusian armed forces to participate in peacekeeping duties abroad, except in "hot spots." The measure for the first time gave Belarus the possibility of participating in NATO peacekeeping operations. At the large annual military exercise "Berazina-2002" at the Barysau military camp, Lukashenka indicated his willingness to invite NATO and U.S. troops to take part in future exercises. "If you wish to participate in such exercises to any extent, we are ready to invite appropriate units, observers, participants -- anybody you like," Lukashenka said.
Five additional activities were added to the Belarusian PfP program in 2002-03. These include the planning, organization, and administration of programs in military research and technology; mine clearance; preventing the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons; small arms and light weapons; and military topography. The new PfP program makes provisions for the first time for joint exercises with the Defense Ministry and Emergency Situations Ministry. The first possible joint exercises could take place as early as this winter in Belarusian areas badly affected by the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident.
In July 2002, Lukashenka said at a meeting of his Security Council that Belarus is considering expanding cooperation with NATO in light of Russia's and Ukraine's steps toward closer NATO ties. Nevertheless, Lukashenka refused to consider either full NATO membership or a special bilateral partnership for Belarus. "Russia and Ukraine ran to NATO, seemingly, but this does not mean that we have to run after them," he said.
At the same time, Lukashenka accepted that it is time to modify Belarusian foreign policy, "under the conditions of military-political and Euro-Atlantic integration." In addition, earlier this month Syarhey Martynau, Belarus's permanent representative to NATO, officially invited NATO to participate for the first time in the country's next large military exercise planned for 2004.
Like Lukashenka, Martynau reiterated Belarus's principled continued opposition to NATO expansion. "Belarus cannot disregard the new reality," he said, adding, "at the same time, we must not allow new demarcation lines to affect our borders." In other words, Lukashenka has moved toward a more pragmatic view of NATO similar to Putin's. "We must take the current situation into account, adjust our policy, and get used to this reality," Lukashenka warned his Security Council.
However, it remains to be seen whether Lukashenka is sincere in his rapprochement toward NATO. The new Belarusian military doctrine adopted in February does not regard any state as a potential adversary. At the same time, two of the specified "external military threats" continue to be "expansion of military blocs and alliances" and "interference in Belarusian internal affairs." All international organizations of which Belarus is a member, or of which it aspires to join, have a right to comment on the internal affairs of member states. But defining that right as an "external threat" harps back to the Soviet era when the USSR refused to accept that its internal affairs could be the subject of international attention under the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Helsinki accords. In addition, classifying the expansion of military blocs and alliances as a "threat" is a clear allusion to NATO, because Minsk does not view the expansion of the CIS Collective Security Organization as a "threat."
Belarus will not seek NATO membership under Lukashenka as he has ruled out any "radical" steps. "Partnership," rather than "confrontation," is what Minsk now seeks. In this regard, the Russian daily "Izvestiya" is probably correct in suggesting that the adjustment in Minsk's position -- like Ukraine's recent statement of its intention to seek NATO membership -- was undertaken in response to the speed with which Russia has moved ahead in its relations with the United States and NATO since 11 September.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow and adjunct professor at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.