|It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is. - Erasmus|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 1, No. 122, Part I, 22 September 1997
A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II covers Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I *DUMA PASSES REVISED RELIGION LAW *CHERNOMYRDIN-GORE COMMISSION MEETS *UZBEKISTAN, RUSSIA WATCH AFGHAN DEVELOPMENTS End Note DEMOCRACY OR OLIGARCHY? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA DUMA PASSES REVISED RELIGION LAW. The State Duma on 19 September passed the revised law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations by 358 to six with four abstentions, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The law was approved without debate after being submitted jointly by President Boris Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, and Communist deputy Viktor Zorkaltsev, who chairs the Duma's Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organizations. Presenting the law to deputies, Kotenkov argued that it corresponds to international norms and that 37 amendments had removed all the "odious" points from an earlier version vetoed by Yeltsin in July. Zorkaltsev told deputies that the revised law preserved the main purpose of the original draft, which he identified as favoring "traditional" Russian religions and restricting the activities of foreign missionaries. He described criticism of the law as "anti-Russian" and inspired by religious groups based abroad. CRITICS SAY LAW LITTLE CHANGED FROM EARLIER VERSION... Critics say the amendments do not fundamentally alter the religion law, which is expected to be passed by the Federation Council and signed by Yeltsin, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 19 and 20 September. The list of "traditional" Russian faiths previously comprised only Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism but now includes other Christian denominations. But the most controversial point remains: namely, to receive the full rights of registered religious organizations, groups must prove they have existed in Russia for at least 15 years. Groups that fail this test will not be able to engage in commercial activities, open schools, or run media outlets, and they will have to re-register every year until they meet the 15-year requirement. Yabloko Duma deputy Valerii Borshchev told RFE/RL that he fears the 15-year rule will allow local authorities to confiscate property or demand bribes from religious groups seeking registration. ...VOW TO LODGE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPEAL. Representatives of minority religious groups and Duma deputies from the Yabloko faction have vowed to appeal to the Constitutional Court over the religion law, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 September. Article 14 of the constitution guarantees that all religious associations are equal under the law. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii noted that in the president's July veto message to the parliament, Yeltsin cited numerous violations of the constitution in the original religion law. Only one of those violations has been removed in the amended version, Yavlinskii argued. Opponents to the law include representatives of Old Believers, an Orthodox group dating from the 17th century, whose adherents were persecuted during the Soviet period. Some Russian Muslim organizations also oppose the law. Because they have registered religious centers and schools only since1990, they currently fail to meet the 15-year requirement. RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH WELCOMES PASSAGE OF LAW. Orthodox Church leaders, who had urged Yeltsin to sign the original religion law, hailed the passage of the revised version. Speaking in Ukraine, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said the law is not discriminatory and would target "destructive totalitarian sects." He added that it would "streamline the activities of foreign sects and quasi-missionaries," ITAR-TASS reported on 20 September. In contrast, Democratic Russia co-leader Gleb Yakunin, a priest who was defrocked after criticizing the Russian Orthodox Church in the late 1980s, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 20 September that he fears the law will harm Orthodoxy in Russia. Yakunin argued that the 2000-year-old history of Christianity indicates that official persecution does not stop the spread of religion. He predicted that within 10 years, the majority of Russian Christians will belong to Protestant denominations. FOREIGN MINISTRY, KREMLIN HOPE FOR UNDERSTANDING FROM ABROAD. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told Interfax on 19 September that Moscow hopes the revised religion law will "eliminate reasons for concern among those partners of Russia...that have been paying heightened attention to issues of freedom of conscience and worship in our country." He added that the amendments to the law had taken into account "Russia's international commitments and world legislative experience in that field." (The U.S. Senate approved a measure in July that would have frozen some $200 million in aid to Russia if the original version of religion law had taken effect.) Mikhail Komissar, the deputy head of the presidential administration, argued on 20 September that the law is not discriminatory, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The requirement that newer groups register with the authorities every year until they pass the 15-year test is intended to prove that such groups represent "real religions," Komissar said. CHERNOMYRDIN-GORE COMMISSION MEETS. The ninth session of the Russian-U.S. Commission for Economic and Technological Cooperation opened on 22 September outside Moscow. U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin agreed at the opening meeting to continue cooperation on the disaster-prone "Mir" space program and to seek to dismantle legislative and administrative barriers to increasing bilateral trade and U.S. investment in Russia. RUSSIA PROPOSES JOINT MONITORING AT BUSHEHR. Meeting on 21 September in Moscow with U.S. Energy Secretary Frederico Pena, Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov proposed that the U.S. and Russia jointly monitor ongoing construction of the Iranian nuclear power station at Bushehr, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. Mikhailov said that such a system of joint control would dispel U.S. suspicions that Russia is aiding Iran in developing nuclear weapons. He added that Russia complies strictly with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and does not supply nuclear technology to any country except China, where Russian specialists are assisting in construction of a centrifugal facility for enriching uranium. Pena and Mikhailov also attended the opening in Moscow of the International Nuclear Safety Center, which will monitor safety at Russian nuclear power plants, according to Interfax. CHECHEN PRESIDENT WARNS OF POSSIBLE BLOCKADE. Addressing the cabinet on 21 September in his capacity as prime minister, Aslan Maskhadov ordered emergency measures to stockpile essential commodities in anticipation of a possible Russian blockade of Chechnya, according to Interfax. Maskhadov said provocations were taking place just beyond Chechnya's borders to provide grounds for setting up checkpoints and sealing the borders. He also called for tougher measures to combat crime, in particular abductions. TWO MORE AID WORKERS ABDUCTED IN NORTH CAUCASUS. Two representatives of the International Orthodox Charity Association of North America were snatched by unidentified gunmen on 20 September near Ingushetia's border with Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. Spokesmen for the Chechen police and Ingush President Ruslan Aushev have both denied any knowledge of the incident. ROKHLIN'S MOVEMENT HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin says his movement to support the armed forces, defense industry, and military research will encourage public protests in order to force Yeltsin to "step down now rather than in the year 2000," Russian news agencies reported on 20 September. Rokhlin told some 2,000 supporters at a Moscow congress representing 68 regional branches of his movement that Yeltsin must resign because his six years in office show "his activity results in destruction rather than creation." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, and Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov, Yeltsin's former bodyguard, were among those attending the congress. At a 19 September press conference, Rokhlin claimed that the presidential administration is planning to discredit him politically and perhaps even "physically eliminate" him, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. NEMTSOV DECLINES TO DISCUSS PRESIDENTIAL BID... First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told NTV on 19 September that he currently has no plans to contest the next presidential election, scheduled for 2000. He added, "I will work in the government and carry out the duties entrusted to me. I don't even want to speak of presidential elections," according to Interfax. Nemtsov noted that his primary duties in the government involve policy to restructure subsidies for housing and municipal services. Although addressing those issues "will not add [to my] popularity," he said, "I took them up because I understand that without solving them Russia has little chance of overcoming the economic crisis." Many Russian observers consider Nemtsov a leading contender in the next presidential race. ...BUT YAVLINSKII THROWS HAT IN RING. Yabloko leader Yavlinskii has announced he will run for president in the next election, Russian news agencies reported on 20 September. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, broadcast on 21 September, Yavlinskii said he does not expect to have trouble raising money to participate in the next presidential campaign. He acknowledged that media coverage could be a bigger problem in light of the way most Russian media rallied around Yeltsin and remained "closed" to him during the 1996 campaign. However, Yavlinskii argued that since circulation's of newspapers and ratings of television programs covering political topics have dropped, the media may begin to offer more objective coverage by 2000 in the hope of regaining readers and viewers. In the 1996 presidential election, Yavlinskii finished fourth with about 7.5 percent of the vote. YAVLINSKII ON CONSTITUTION, REFUSAL TO JOIN GOVERNMENT. Yavlinskii told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 21 September that although Yabloko believes the constitution does not provide a "normal" balance of powers between the legislature and the executive, it wants constitutional amendments to affect only the powers of Yeltsin's successors. (Communist leaders advocate amendments that would reduce Yeltsin's power while he is still in office.) Asked why Yabloko members did not join the government after the 1996 presidential election or during the March 1997 cabinet reshuffle, Yavlinskii explained that during negotiations with Kremlin officials, including First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, he was given to understand that Yabloko would play a purely "decorative" role if it joined the government. Yavlinskii added that if he had teamed up with Yeltsin during the presidential campaign, he would currently be in the position of Aleksandr Lebed, who was Security Council secretary for just four months before being sacked. DUMA VOTES TO RAISE MINIMUM PENSION. The Duma on 19 September approved a law to raise the minimum monthly pension by 10 percent to 76,533 rubles ($13) as of 1 October and by another 10 percent to 84,186 rubles as of 1 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 September. Since May 1996, the minimum monthly pension has been 69,575 rubles. Several attempts by the Duma to raise the pension since then have been blocked. Most recently, the Federation Council in July rejected a draft law that would have raised the minimum pension by 20 percent as of 1 July. At the time, government officials said the Pension Fund lacked the funds to support the increase. However, the new law is expected to be approved by the Council and signed by Yeltsin, because it was submitted to the Duma by the government. In addition, Pension Fund officials now say the fund has the means to pay out higher pensions. RUSSIAN COMPANY, DE BEERS AGREE ON DIAMOND EXPORT DEAL. Following two-day talks in Moscow, representatives of the Russian diamond monopoly Almazy Rossiya-Sakha (Alrosa) and the South African-based multinational corporation De Beers agreed on a diamond-exporting deal to be signed in October, "Bloomberg Financial News" reported on 19 September. Alrosa spokesman Georgii Menaev told Bloomberg that De Beers will export $550 million worth of Russian uncut diamonds in 1997 and the same amount in 1998. Russia will not be able to export any other uncut diamonds during that period, except to CIS countries for polishing. Almost all Russian diamond exports were halted at the beginning of this year (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 3 January 1997 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1997). De Beers said Russia violated the terms of an earlier deal by selling too many uncut diamonds on the world market without going through the De Beers Central Selling Organization. NEW TATAR-RUSSIAN-BRITISH OIL JOINT VENTURE. Ideloil, a Tatar- Russian-British joint venture, has registered in Moscow, an RFE/RL correspondent in Kazan reported on 19 September. The partners are the Tatnefteprom joint stock company (40 percent), Tatneft and Tatneftekhiminvestholding (10 percent each), Russia's Zarubezhneft (5 percent), and Britain's AMINEX PLC (35 percent). Ideloil intends to extract high-density oil in eastern Tatarstan. The initial volume is estimated at 2.5 million metric tons per year. Six joint oil-extracting companies previously established by the Tatarstan Republic extracted a total of 1 million tons of oil during the first 6 months of 1997, which is the equivalent of total annual production last year. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA UZBEKISTAN, RUSSIA WATCH AFGHAN DEVELOPMENTS. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry on 19 September denied that any fighters from the Afghan Islamic movement Taliban or the opposing coalition had crossed into Uzbek territory, ITAR-TASS reported. Pakistan Television reported two days later that Taliban forces had captured the town of Khairaton on the Uzbek border, while Radio Pakistan reported that forces opposing the Taliban had launched an unsuccessful counterattack to drive the Taliban away from Mazar-i- Sharif, 60 kilometers south of Khairaton (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997). Meanwhile, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin discussed by telephone on 20 September the situation on the Uzbek-Afghan border, among other matters. RETURNING TAJIK REFUGEES WITHOUT SHELTER. In a 19 September statement to Reuters, the UN High Commission on Refugees claims that many of the Tajik refugees recently repatriated from Afghanistan are currently "without a roof over their heads." Most of the 5,600 refugees who have returned from Afghanistan since 17 July appear destined to spend the winter without protection from the elements. The UNHCR on 1 August appealed for some $10 million for reconstruction of houses and for health, education, and employment projects; but so far it has "not received a single cent." INTERNATIONAL MILITARY EXERCISES CONCLUDE IN CENTRAL ASIA. The week-long military exercises in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan concluded on 21 September. The exercises, which involved troops from NATO countries and the CIS, simulated social unrest fomented by outside forces and practiced distributing aid to the civilian population in times of natural crisis. Uzbek President Islam Karimov called "Centrazbat" a "historical event." Uzbek Defense Minister Colonel-General Rustam Akhmedov described the exercises as an "unprecedented event" that "strengthens regional, national, and global security." Russian General Vitalii Sokolov, who observed the exercises, agreed with Akhmedov, saying such exercises "must be held as often as possible." Colonel James Flock, a NATO representative at the exercises, noted this was the first time troops from the alliance's U.S. Atlantic Command had participated in an exercise on the territory of a non-NATO country. AZERBAIJAN EARLY OIL COUNTDOWN. The first early oil from Azerbaijan's Chirag Caspian field will begin to flow, as scheduled, on 26 September but repairs to the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk export pipeline will not be completed by 1 October, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 20 September. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Natik Aliev, the president of the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR, as saying "it will not be a catastrophe" for Azerbaijan if the oil does not begin to flow on schedule. In such an event, the Azerbaijan International Operating Company--the consortium developing Chirag--plans an oil swap that entails selling the Chirag oil to Azerbaijan for refining in Baku and receiving in Novorossiisk the same quantity of Russian crude for export. Although Russian crude is inferior in quality to Azerbaijani, this arrangement is more advantageous than postponing production, an AIOC spokesman told Reuters on 4 September. ARMENIAN RULING PARTY CEDES CONTROL OF KEY PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE. The leadership of the Armenian Pan-National Movement on 20 September announced it will leave the choice of the new chairman of the parliamentary Committee on State and Legal Affairs to its junior partners in the ruling Hanrapetutyun coalition, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The movement had earlier claimed the right to appoint a successor to Eduard Yegoryan. But it reversed that decision at the request of President Levon Ter- Petrossyan and parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan, according to the movement's chairman and controversial Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghyan. Yegoryan was removed as chairman of the committee on 10 September after he quit Hanrapetutyun to form the Hayrenik faction. The movement had proposed Father Husik Lazaryan, Siradeghyan's predecessor as chairman of the movement's board, to head the committee. Lazaryan will now head the parliamentary Committee on Education and Science. GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS CONTINUE. Georgian and Abkhaz government delegations headed by Prime Ministers Niko Lekishvili and Sergei Bagapsh met in Tbilisi on 20-21 September to discuss resuming rail, road, and sea transportation and restoring communications and power supplies, Russian agencies reported. Lekishvili told journalists on 22 September he is "satisfied" with the progress made. Bagapsh noted that working groups have been created to address specific problems. The meeting was the second at which economic issues have been discussed since Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Abkhaz counterpart, Vladislav Ardzinba, signed a non-aggression pact in mid-August. LOCAL-ELECTION ROW IN GEORGIA. In a ballot behind closed doors, the Central Electoral Commission voted not to register an opposition initiative group that demands a nationwide referendum on how local mayors are elected, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 September. Four days earlier, the parliament had approved in the first reading the provision of a draft law on local government whereby the president would name the mayors of the six largest cities. The Union of Traditionalists and several other opposition parties argue that this provision is undemocratic and aimed at ensuring the victory in the next parliamentary elections of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia. They argue that mayors should be elected. HEAD OF UN GEORGIA MISSION RECALLED. General Haroun al-Rashid, who heads the 130-strong UN observer mission in Georgia, has been recalled to New York, AFP reported on 21 September. The general will be asked to explain why he violated official policy by agreeing to pay a $7,000 ransom for two of his men and their local interpreter who were recently taken hostage by unidentified persons in western Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1997.) UN regulations forbid the payment of ransom to obtain the release of abducted personnel. END NOTE DEMOCRACY OR OLIGARCHY? by Liz Fuller The aftermath of last year's presidential elections in Armenia continues to have repercussions for the country's political system. Preliminary returns from the 22 September 1996 vote indicated that incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossyan had been reelected with 52.32 percent of the vote. But opposition candidate Vazgen Manukyan accused the Armenian authorities of falsification on a massive scale, claiming he had received an overall majority. Three days after the vote, Manukyan's irate supporters attacked the parliamentary building but were driven back by armed police. Ter- Petrossyan deployed tanks on the streets of Yerevan, and several of Manukyan's close associates were arrested. International observers questioned the official results but stopped short of ruling the elections invalid. One year later, the impact of those events can still be felt. The country's political forces continue to realign themselves, and that process will gather momentum as the1999 parliamentary elections draw nearer. The outcome of that vote will, in turn, determine the relative chances of the various candidates for the presidency in 2001. (The Armenian Constitution bars Ter-Petrossyan from seeking a third presidential term.) Many Armenians believed Manukyan's claim that the Armenian authorities falsified the presidential election results, just as they had been convinced that the official results of both the 1995 parliamentary elections and the referendum on the country's new constitution did not reflect how votes had been cast. (International monitors had characterized those elections as "free but not fair.") The perception that the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh)--the senior partner within the ruling Hanrapetutyun bloc--is intent on clinging to power at all costs has increasingly alienated the population from the leadership. In a televised address one week after the 1996 disputed presidential poll, Ter-Petrossyan acknowledged that the results reflected widespread popular discontent, particularly with economic policies that had enriched a small elite of HHSh members while forcing hundreds of thousands of white-collar workers to emigrate in search of employment. Ter-Petrossyan fired Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan, who for three years had implemented privatization and radical market reforms, regardless of their social consequences. When Bagratyan's successor, Armen Sargsian, resigned in March because of a serious illness, Ter-Petrossyan named the hugely popular president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Robert Kocharyan, to replace him. At the same time, Ter-Petrossyan initiated a dialogue with all opposition parties, excluding Manukyan's National Democratic Union (AZhM) but including the Dashnak party which he had accused of terrorist activities and temporarily banned in late 1994. The willingness of most parties in the National Alliance (formed to support Manukyan's presidential bid) to acknowledge Ter- Petrossyan as the legitimate president exacerbated tensions within the alliance, particularly between Manukyan and veteran dissident Paruir Hairikyan. Manukyan's personal popularity has plummeted over the past year, and attendance at the Friday evening rallies convened by the alliance in the spring was modest. In late May, Hairikyan announced that he no longer recognized Manukyan as leader of the alliance. Manukyan himself has admitted that the alliance lacks cohesion, and that its survival is in doubt. Paradoxically, the1996 elections prompted a similar split within the HHSh, which is widely perceived as corrupt and lacking any consistent ideology. In July, the movement's ruling board elected as its chairman Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghyan, whose unquestionable popularity partly derives from his distributing largesse among the population on public holidays. Siradeghyan's election as HHSh leader precipitated the resignation from the movement of Eduard Yegoryan, the respected chairman of the parliamentary Committee for State and Legal Affairs. Yegoryan has since created his own parliament faction, Hairenik, composed mostly of like-minded defectors from the HHSh. Former Premier Hrant Bagratyan has likewise left the HHSh to create his own political party, Azatutyun (Liberty). While such realignments testify to the HHSh's loss of authority, the emergence of new political parties and factions is unlikely to have a significant impact on domestic politics. Hanrapetutyun still has a comfortable majority within the parliament. Neither Yegoryan nor Bagratyan has yet unveiled a political program crafted to mobilize strong popular support. And Siradeghyan has admitted that in its present condition, even the HHSh cannot serve as a power base for a potential presidential candidate. He has created an advisory board charged with revamping the movement's ideological platform, although he has disclaimed any intention of contesting the presidency. Former National Security adviser Davit Shahnazaryan recently remarked that individuals, not laws, determine the political process in Armenia. If oligarchy is defined as a system in which a privileged clique exercises despotic power, and if the difference between oligarchy and democracy is determined by the extent of citizens' participation in government, then Armenia is closer to the former than to the latter. In this context, Ter-Petrossyan's 1996 campaign slogan assumes a sinister meaning far different from the one he intended. He had promised "Victory, Stability, Progress" but not democracy. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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