|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 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx ALL BROADCASTS FOR SIX SERVICES LIVE ONLINE All programs of RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian Services are online live in RealAudio. The Russian Service broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To tune in, go to: http://www.rferl.org/realaudio/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 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. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "subscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word "unsubscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO RETRIEVE BACK ISSUES VIA EMAIL (1) Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the letters "ls" as the subject or body of the message. This will retrieve a list of available files. 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