The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence of inhumanity. - George Bernard Shaw
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 53 Part II, 18 March 1998


___________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 53 Part II, 18 March 1998

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 II, a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and
Southeastern Europe.  Part I covers Russia,
Transcaucasia and Central Asia 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

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Headlines, Part II

* CIS SUMMIT POSTPONED

* MILOSEVIC TELLS PRIMAKOV KOSOVO IS 'INTERNAL AFFAIR'

* KOSOVARS CONTINUE TO BOYCOTT TALKS WITH SERBS

* End Note: TRAPPED BY DEMOCRACY?

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REGIONAL AFFAIRS

CIS SUMMIT POSTPONED. The Russian presidential press service on 17 March
confirmed the postponement of the CIS Customs Union summit and the summit
of CIS presidents, planned for 18 and 19-20 March, respectively, RFE/RL's
Moscow bureau reported. President Boris Yeltsin has instructed Deputy Prime
Minister Ivan Rybkin, CIS Affairs Minister Anatolii Adamishin, and First
Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov to travel to CIS states to
coordinate new dates for those meetings. CIS Executive Secretary Ivan
Korotchenya told Interfax that the meetings are likely to be rescheduled
for 23 and 24 April. A Kremlin statement said Yeltsin was eager to attend
the summits but was forced to follow doctors' orders while he recovers from
a respiratory infection. However, some Russian commentators believe
Yeltsin's health was merely a pretext for postponing the summit.
"Kommersant-Daily" argued on 18 March that the delay was prompted by a
rapidly worsening "illness" of the CIS itself (see also item below). LB

CIS LEADERS EXPRESS REGRET AT SUMMIT POSTPONEMENT... Several CIS leaders on
17 March said they wished Yeltsin a speedy recovery and called on CIS
officials to use the extra month profitably, Interfax reported. Kazakh
President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he hopes the "sudden interval" will
give other leaders a chance to conduct a "deeper study of Kazakhstan's
proposals." Nazarbayev was scheduled to speak at the CIS summit and the
meeting of the four-country customs union. Tajik President Imomali
Rakhmonov said he was disappointed that the summit is delayed, as his
country is due to be accepted into the four-country customs union. BP

...OFFER VARIOUS EXPLANATIONS FOR DELAY. Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister
Anton Buteiko said the postponement is due to technical and other reasons,
not Yeltsin's illness, Interfax reported on 17 March. Buteiko said
uncertainty about whether Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev would attend,
conditions set by Georgia for its participation, and the Armenian
presidential elections are the more likely the reasons. He also said
Ukraine did not receive all the documents to be discussed at the summit.
But Russian CIS Affairs Minister Adamishin said on 18 March that everything
has been prepared for the summit and that all documents are in the
appropriate hands, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He stressed that
Yeltsin's health is the only reason for the summit's delay. BP

RUSSIAN, MOLDOVAN PREMIERS MEET. Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Moldovan
counterpart, Ion Ciubuc, met in Moscow on 17 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The
two agreed to start work on an economic cooperation program  for the years
1999-2008. Chernomyrdin commented that bilateral relations have progressed
to the point where "we can plan for ten years of cooperation." An agreement
was also signed on protection of investments. Chernomyrdin announced that
negotiations on Transdniester will take place in Odessa on 20 March,
according to the Russian news agency. He will attend along with the
presidents of Ukraine and Moldova as well as the Transdniester leadership.
BP

COMMUNISTS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF USSR REFERENDUM. Supporters of several
communist groups demonstrated outside the Moscow embassies of all former
Soviet republics, except for Belarus, on 17 March, the anniversary of the
1991 referendum on preserving the USSR. In that referendum, 76 percent
voted in favor of preserving the union. (They were not given the option of
voting for independence from the USSR, and the referendum was boycotted by
the Baltics, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova.) Demonstrators did not picket
the Belarusian embassy but sent instead a message of support to Belarusian
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Interfax reported that some of the 100
protesters outside the Latvian embassy in Moscow threw eggs at the building
and shouted slogans denouncing "fascism" in Latvia, a reference to the
recent rally by veterans of the Latvian SS Legion in Riga earlier this week
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 March). LB

GORBACHEV SAYS CONSIDERED FORCE TO PRESERVE USSR. Former Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev says he considered using force to prevent the
disintegration of the USSR. In an interview with Interfax on 17 March,
Gorbachev said he decided to seek other ways to preserve the union in order
to avoid bloodshed and dividing the country. He argued that the Soviet
Union was not doomed, even after the failed August 1991 coup. Rather,
Gorbachev believes that actions by the Russian leadership, led by President
Boris Yeltsin, were "the key in deciding the fate of the Soviet Union."
Gorbachev added that while he "fought for the union to the end," he does
not currently favor efforts to restore the USSR. Instead, he supports an
economic alliance which in the long term could become a confederation. LB

BULGARIA, KAZAKHSTAN, TO COOPERATE ON OIL, GAS TRANSPORT. A
Bulgarian-Kazakh governmental commission agreed late last week to work out
plans for a partnership in the transportation of oil and natural gas from
the Caspian Sea to southern, central, and western Europe, an RFE/RL
correspondent in Sofia reported. Bulgarian Transportation Minister Wilhelm
Kraus said Kazakhstan has shown interest in the Black Sea ports of Varna
and Burgas, which could be used for bringing Caspian oil and  gas to
European markets. MS

TURKMENISTAN AGREES WITH RUSSIA ON GAS SHIPMENTS. Following telephone
conversations that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov had with Russian
Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, at least
tentative agreement appears to have been reached on renewing shipments of
Turkmen gas to Ukraine, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Niyazov and
Chernomyrdin reportedly agreed on shipping 20 billion cubic meters of
natural gas to Ukraine this year through Russian pipelines. But neither the
price per 1,000 cubic meters of gas nor transit fees for use of Russian
pipelines have been revealed. Both those issues were sticking points during
negotiations in January, when Chernomyrdin and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev
visited Turkmenistan. BP

EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE

LUKASHENKA BLAMES RUBLE COLLAPSE ON MOSCOW... Belarusian President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 17 March that the Moscow currency exchange is
responsible for the plunge in the Belarusian ruble, ITAR-TASS reported.
Responding to criticism from Russian First Deputy Premier Anatolii Chubais
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998), Lukashenka said "speculators" and
not the Belarusian economy is at fault for the devaluation. He added that
officials from the national bank and the State Control Committee will
report to him  on 20 March about measures taken to stop the currency slide.
Lukashenka also said the same day that 30 top officials have been arrested
on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power.  PB

...ACCUSES EU OF FUNDING OPPOSITION. Lukashenka also charged that the EU
had given several million dollars to the opposition, Reuters reported on 17
March. Lukashenka said a recent grant by the EU to fund civil society
programs in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1998) was "exclusively
to finance the opposition, opposition media, and researchers." He added
that the EU TACIS program was sending "college students who are against
Lukashenka" to the West to study. PB

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES POLICY WITH LUKASHENKA. Leonid Kuchma and
Lukashenka discussed the need to "regenerate" cooperation during a
telephone conversation on 16 March, the "Eastern Economist" reported.
Kuchma also told Lukashenka that the two countries should "activate"
economic ties. Lukashenka has been critical of Ukrainian foreign policy and
its refusal to cooperate with or show an interest in the Russia-Belarus
union. PB

EBRD RELEASES MONEY TO UKRAINE FOR CHORNOBYL. The European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development said it is sending some $30 million to the
Chornobyl Shelter Fund, which will oversee urgently needed repairs on the
sarcophagus covering the fourth reactor at the Chornobyl nuclear plant,
Reuters reported on 17 March. The bank said the fund has received pledges
of $387 million from 18 countries to fund the costs of repairing the
sarcophagus. PB

RUSSIAN-SPEAKERS RALLY AGAIN IN RIGA. More than 2,000 mostly elderly
demonstrators rallied in Riga on 17 March  to protest what they say are
overly strict citizenship rules and official discrimination against the
country's Russian-speaking population. Latvian Interior Minister Ziedonis
Cevers briefly met with the protesters and accepted a petition from them.
Unlike a demonstration earlier this month that resulted in scuffles between
pensioners and police, the 17 March rally was authorized and passed without
incident (see also "End Note" below). JC

EU OFFICIAL URGES IGNALINA SHUTDOWN. EU Environmental Commissioner  Ritta
Bjerregaard has pressed Lithuania to shut down the Ignalina nuclear power
plant, which has the same kind of reactors as the Chornobyl facility and
produces about 80 percent of Lithuania's electricity. In talks with
President Valdas Adamkus after visiting Ignalina, Bjerregaard urged that
the facility be shut down at the beginning of the next century. At the same
time, she stressed that Ignalina's closure is not a condition for either
the start of EU membership talks or admission. Adamkus argued that Ignalina
no longer poses any danger to Lithuania or neighboring countries, saying
"Vilnius is taking all measures to ensure the safety of the Ignalina
nuclear power station and has already invested more than $100 million for
that purpose already," BNS reported on 17 March. JC

EU SUSPENDS TRADE BENEFITS TO CZECH REPUBLIC. EU ministers on 17 March
decided to suspend preferential import tariffs on pork, poultry, and fruit
juice from the Czech Republic in a dispute stemming from restrictions
imposed by Prague on imports of apples from the European Union, Reuters
reported from Brussels. The Czech government imposed a limit of 24,000 tons
on imported apples and stipulated that imports exceeding that amount will
be subject to a 95 percent duty. A EU Commission spokesman said the Czech
decision was "discriminatory and unilateral," emphasizing that the
restrictions did not apply to apple imports from elsewhere.  In Prague,
Agriculture Minister Josef Lux said the EU decision was "unjustified" and
the Czech government was not ready to "accept unilateral dictates or
conditions of the EU." MS

MECIAR PROPOSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. In an interview with Slovak
Radio on 16 March, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said that the majority
needed for the election of the country's president by the parliament must
be reduced from three-fifths to a simple majority and that the parliament,
rather than the president,  should appoint the premier, who then would
appoint the members of his cabinet. Both changes would require amending the
constitution, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. The constitutional
changes proposed by Meciar would put his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia
at an advantage, since the coalition it heads is represented in the
legislature by 80 deputies and  a presidential candidate would require 76
votes, instead of the 90 currently needed. Parliamentary chairman Ivan
Gasparovic on 17 March announced that another round of presidential
balloting will take place on 16 April.  MS

HUNGARIAN MINORITIES TO RUN ON JOINT LISTS? Mihaly Karagics has said he
believes there is a "realistic chance" that minorities will win seats in
the elections scheduled for May if they join forces and run on joint lists,
AFP reported on 17 March. Karagics heads the ethnic Minority Forum recently
set up in January by representatives of the Croatian, German, and Slovak
minorities. The statement was made after the failure of the parliament
earlier this week to pass amendments that would have ensured minority
representation in the legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998).
Observers believe that such lists have no chance of success unless backed
by Hungary's largest minority, the 600,000-800,000 Roma. MS

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

MILOSEVIC TELLS PRIMAKOV KOSOVO IS 'INTERNAL AFFAIR.' At a meeting with
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov in Belgrade on 17 March,
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic stressed that the situation in Kosovo
is Yugoslavia's internal affair, which, he said, can be resolved only
within Serbia by political means. Tanjug quoted Milosevic as saying there
can be no justification for the refusal by representatives of the Albanian
minority to show up for talks with Serbian government representatives.
Tanjug says Primakov expressed his support for Yugoslavia's sovereignty and
territorial integrity as well as for Belgrade's determination to resolve
within Serbia, and by political means, the  problem of the Albanian
minority's rights in Kosovo. JN

DJUKANOVIC CALLS ON PRIMAKOV TO EXERT MORE PRESSURE FOR DIALOGUE.
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and Russian Foreign Minister Primakov
said in Belgrade on 17 March that Montenegro and Russia have "identical"
views on Kosovo, BETA and Radio B92 reported. Djukanovic told journalists
after the talks that he had asked  Primakov to "exert additional pressure"
on the Serbian and Albanian sides to start a dialogue on Kosovo "in the
interest of peace, democracy, Serbia, and Yugoslavia" as soon as possible.
Djukanovic says the two agreed that Kosovo must remain part of Serbia and
Yugoslavia and that it is in Serbia's best interest to start talks with the
Albanian side on the future of Kosovo as soon as possible. JN

KOSOVARS DEMONSTRATE IN PRISTINA... At least 40,000 Kosovars took to the
streets of Pristina on 18 March to protest against the Serbian government
and its repression ahead of a visit to the Kosovo capital by U.S. special
envoy Robert Gelbard. There was no police presence at the rally, which took
place without incident. JN

...CONTINUE TO BOYCOTT TALKS WITH SERBS. For the fourth consecutive time,
political representatives of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority on 17 March
refused to attend talks in Pristina with Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister
Ratko Markovic. However, members of the province's Turkish, Romani, and
Muslim minorities did attend the meeting. The Kosovars are demanding that
the dialogue with the Serbian leadership be held in the presence of an
international mediator. Markovic said no party or ethnic group in Kosovo
has a monopoly on human or civic rights issues. "The most numerous ethnic
group cannot assume the role of ethnic dominator, the role of leading
nation--all nationalities here are equal," he commented. JN

KOSOVO STUDENTS SAY RUGOVA NOT AUTHORIZED TO CALL ELECTIONS. The
Independent Union of Albanian Students of the University of Pristina on 17
March called for the postponement of the simultaneous presidential and
parliamentary elections by the Kosovo Albanians, BETA reported. The union
released a statement saying Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova "is not
authorized to call those elections." With the agreement of the coordinating
committee of the Albanian political parties, Rugova scheduled the parallel
elections for 22 March. The students said the elections should be postponed
"until better times arrive," adding that the vote cannot be held while "a
part of Kosovo is under a police siege". Similarly, the Muslim Party of
Democratic Action of Kosovo said it  would be "inappropriate" to hold
parallel elections in Kosovo at present. JN

VOJVODINA PARTIES CALL FOR INVESTIGATION OF DRENICA INCIDENTS. Nenad Canak,
the leader of the League of the Social Democrats of Vojvodina, and Ratomir
Svircevic, the deputy leader of the Reformist Democratic Party of
Vojvodina, proposed in Novi Sad on 17 March that the Serbian parliament set
up a board of inquiry into the Drenica incidents. Svircevic told reporters
that the board  should examine whether Interior Ministry agencies abused
their authority during the intervention. Meanwhile, Dragan Veselinov, the
chairman of the Party of Vojvodina, called for unity among all political
forces in the province in order to use the "historical moment" to raise the
autonomy issue. He said whatever Kosovo gains, Vojvodina must also gain,
"Nasa Borba" reported on 18 March. JN

TURKEY MAKES PROPOSALS FOR HALTING KOSOVO UNREST. Turkey on 16 March
outlined a concrete proposal for halting unrest in Kosovo and warned that
the unrest may expand into a Balkan-wide crisis unless a compromise is
reached, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. State Minister Ahat Andican
summarized Turkey's proposal as: a comprehensive dialogue to be launched
immediately between Yugoslav officials and Kosovar representatives aimed at
reaching agreement on a specific country or organization that would agree
to work on facilitating a resolution. The dialogue should also be aimed at
restoring the rights of all ethnic groups in Kosovo and should be open to
solutions other than autonomy. The Turkish proposal says ultimately that
the rights of Kosovo's Albanians and all ethnic minorities, including the
Turks, should be guaranteed. It also calls on the international community
to take effective measures to deal with violent incidents in Kosovo. JN

IZETBEGOVIC OPTIMISTIC ON SOLUTION FOR BRCKO. Bosnian Presidency chairman
Alija Izetbegovic said he is not entirely dissatisfied with a decision
postponing a solution for Brcko. In an interview in the Sarajevo daily
"Dnevni Avaz" published on 18 March, Izetbegovic said a careful reading of
chief arbiter Roberts Owen's 15 March decision discloses many important
messages. Of those messages, he said, the most interesting is that Bosnian
Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik must allow the return of Croats and
Muslims to Brcko, establish a multi-national authority and police force,
eliminate war criminals from the town, and create a free-trade zone.
Izetbegovic predicted that Dodik will be unable to comply fully, resulting
in Brcko not remaining in the Bosnian Serb entity. "The final outcome will
see Brcko in the (Croatian-Muslim) Federation or Brcko as a state
district,"  Izetbegovic commented. JN

TALBOTT RULES OUT ADDITIONAL NATO TROOPS TO BALKANS. U.S. Deputy Secretary
of State Strobe Talbott said in Sofia on 17 March there is no immediate
need to send additional U.S. or NATO troops to the region and that
diplomacy should be given a chance to solve the Kosovo crisis, an RFE/RL
correspondent reported from Sofia. Speaking in Skopje earlier the same day,
Talbott warned that the Kosovo crisis could escalate into a full-scale war
worse than the one in Bosnia. JN

YUGOSLAVIA'S NEIGHBORS OPPOSE SANCTIONS. Bulgarian Foreign Minister
Nadezhda Mihailova  told the Berlin daily "Der Tagesspiegel" that a
"comprehensive economic embargo against Serbia, such as the one imposed
during the Bosnian war," would have a very negative impact on Bulgaria
itself and would "take us back 10 years, signifying the end of our hopes of
joining the EU and NATO," AFP reported. Romanian Foreign Minister Andrei
Plesu said on 17 March that new sanctions against Yugoslavia would be
ineffective in ending violence in Kosovo. He added that "East Europeans
have learned to live with an embargo, which to Westerners may seem fatal."
He proposed coming up with other ways that are more "flexible and
imaginative" since "punitive measures do not always work in [solving]
regional troubles." MS

ALBANIAN GROUP SETS UP NATIONAL DEFENSE COUNCIL. An unknown group sent
letters to several Tirana dailies on 17 March announcing the creation of a
National Defense Council, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. The group says that
its "main objective is the creation of armed forces and structures that are
needed for the liberation and independence...of Kosovo." The group appealed
to political parties, police, and the army to show solidarity. FS

ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS CHARGED OVER 'ILLEGAL' RALLY.  Prosecutor-General
Ariston Puka on 17 March filed charges against 28 Democratic Party leaders
for "organizing an illegal demonstration." Democratic Party
Secretary-General Ridvan BodeIf faces up to three years in prison if
convicted, "Dita Informacion" reported. The Democrats had held a
demonstration on 25 February in central Tirana's Skanderbeg square, even
though police ordered the rally to be held outside the city center (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1998). FS

ROMANIAN SENATE CREATES NEW CONSTITUTIONAL STALEMATE. The Senate on 17
March rejected an amendment to the local administration law enabling
members of government to be also mayors or local government councilors. The
amendment was made by government regulation in May 1997 and had legalized
the premiership of Victor Ciorbea, who is also the elected mayor of
Bucharest. If the Chamber of Deputies approves the Senate's decision,
Ciorbea  will have to opt for one of the two functions. The Democratic
Party voted with the opposition, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The
Senate's decision also nullifies the right to use bilingual street signs
and the mother tongue in dealings with local authorities. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET. Finance Minister Daniel Daianu
on 17 March  said the government has approved the draft law on the 1998
budget, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Daianu said  that if the
parliament rejects the budget, he will resign. But referring to the Senate
decision on the local administration law, Democratic Party leader Petre
Roman said his party "will not vote to back a budget submitted by a mayor."
MS

PLESU ON TREATIES WITH RUSSIA, MOLDOVA. Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu on 17
March said that the pending basic treaty with Russia will not include a
condemnation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, because " the Russian
Federation and the Soviet Union are two different states" and because
Romania had not insisted on  such an inclusion when it concluded a treaty
with Germany. Plesu said that the dispute over the World War I Romanian
state treasury held in Moscow will not be resolved in the treaty but a
joint commission of experts will attempt to "trace the fate" of the
treasury. With regard to the pending treaty with Moldova, Plesu said
Romania is insisting on formulations emphasizing the "special ties" between
them, while Chisinau wants a "classic treaty of good neighborly relations."
MS

MOLDOVAN SUPREME COURT VOIDS GAGAUZ-YERI REFERENDUM.  The Supreme Court on
17 March nullified the decision of the Popular Assembly of the Gagauz Yeri
autonomous region to hold a referendum on a constitution for the region at
the same time as the 22 March elections to the Moldovan parliament,
RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported.  Following that decision, the Central
Electoral Commission revoked its earlier decision to allow the referendum.
A spokesman for the commission said the Popular Assembly failed to bring
the draft regional constitution into line with Moldova's basic law. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS OFFICERS AGAINST REFORMS MUST RESIGN. Ivan Kostov on
17 March told journalists that the "fairest way for all officers who do not
accept the reform of the army is to resign." He said the government "will
be uncompromising to everyone who sabotages the reform in the armed forces,
which means disciplinary dismissal." The previous day, President Petar
Stoyanov officially dismissed the commander of the missile force, General
Angel Marin, for having criticized cuts in the army and the "rush" to join
NATO. (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). In other news, Bulgarian
train drivers on 17 March decided to end a series of one-hour strike
following threats from the government to dismiss the strikes organizers. MS

END NOTE

TRAPPED BY DEMOCRACY?

by Paul Goble

	The escalating war of words between Riga and Moscow over the
Latvian government's handling of a demonstration by elderly ethnic Russian
pensioners earlier this month highlights the way in which politicians in
more open societies can threaten governments' efforts to reach agreements.
	During the past six months, relations between Latvia and the
Russian Federation had been improving. Not only had the two presidents
exchanged what both sides described as positive letters, but their
respective Foreign Ministries had been making progress on various fronts.
There was even talk that Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis would visit
Moscow to sign an agreement demarcating the border between the two
countries. Such an accord would have eliminated one of the biggest
obstacles to ties between the two countries and also one of the brakes on
Latvian integration into Western institutions.
	But that progress has been put on hold and may have even been
reversed in the aftermath of the 3 March  demonstration in Riga. At that
time, local police used batons to break up an unsanctioned demonstration by
1,000 elderly and predominantly ethnic Russian residents of the Latvian
capital protesting increases in utility rates. The Moscow media and members
of the Russian Duma immediately denounced that Latvian action as
anti-Russian, a plausible claim  in the minds of many Russians,
particularly because of past Russian media coverage of conditions in that
Baltic country.
	Some Latvian politicians dismissed these Russian claims out of
hand, arguing that Moscow was simply exploiting the rally to promote a
broader policy agenda. Others went so far as to suggest that the
demonstration against higher utility prices was, in fact, a Russian
provocation staged by Moscow. Such statements fanned the flames of anger in
both the Russian and Latvian capitals
	Moreover, it had the effect of tying the hands of those government
officials in either country who had been seeking better ties. No Russian
government official could afford to appear "soft" on Latvia after the 3
March demonstration and especially after the sometimes tendentious
discussions of it in the Russian media and the Russian parliament.  And no
Latvian official could afford to appear to be backing down to Russian
criticism, to be willing to acknowledge that Latvian officials might bear
some responsibility for what had taken place.
	In one sense, the responsiveness of government officials to
parliamentary and popular pressure is  a triumph of democracy. A decade
ago, the authoritarian regime in Moscow would not have had to worry about
what either its media or its parliamentary deputies would say since it had
control over both.
	But in another sense, their responsiveness to such popular and
parliamentary outbursts reflect both how far both societies have yet to
travel in the direction of institutionalized liberal democracy. It also
highlights some of the difficulties inherent in conducting diplomacy among
more open societies.
	Some newspapers and political figures in either country  have
adopted a more careful and nuanced approach to the handling of the
demonstration. Several Latvian newspapers have pointed out that the police
may have used excessive force, while some Russian commentators have noted
that the demonstration was first and foremost an economic one.
	But both the press and the politicians have largely played to the
crowd, drawing on stereotypes about the other country and its leaders
rather than considering what actually happened. Such a populist response to
events abroad is always possible in more open political systems, but it
seems to be an especially dangerous one in countries that are making the
transition from authoritarianism to democracy and lack the sophistication
that a longer experience with democracy can often provide.
	Moreover, this latest Latvian-Russian standoff calls attention to
the problems political leaders face in conducting diplomacy when popular
passions have been stirred. As Riga and Moscow had moved toward a
rapprochement over the last few months, few people in either country seemed
to care passionately one way or the other. Now, people and politicians in
both do, and that makes it more difficult for the two governments to find
their way toward agreement.
	It would be a misfortune if the path to better relations between
Latvia and Russia were blocked not by genuine obstacles but by a hindrance
created by the media and populist politicians.


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Natasha Bulashova, Greg Cole
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Updated: 1998-11-

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