In the effort to give good and comforting answers to the young questioners whom we love, we very often arrive at good and comforting answers for ourselves. - Ruth Goode
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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?
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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.


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