|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 159 Part I, 19 August 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 159 Part I, 19 August 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 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 * YELTSIN PROJECTS CALM * RUBLE, EQUITY MARKETS CONTINUE TO FALL * RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF VISITS TAJIKISTAN End Note: A COUP THAT SHOOK THE WORLD xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN PROJECTS CALM. President Boris Yeltsin returned to his residence outside Moscow on 18 August, but his aides noted that he continues to monitor the situation, Interfax reported, Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko told journalists that the government was forced to take the recent steps and would have control over the situation from now on, according to ITAR-TASS. (The same day, he asked Japan to extend Russia the $800 million credit Tokyo had agreed to last month.) Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Fedorov said it is important to prevent panic, noting that "today we have to pay for mistakes in the economic policy that were made in the past two years," ITAR-TASS reported. PG RUBLE, EQUITY MARKETS CONTINUE TO FALL. The ruble fell against the U.S. dollar on 19 August but rose slightly against the German mark at the Interbank Currency Exchange, Interfax reported. At the close of trading, the rate was 6.99 rubles to the dollar and 3.96 rubles to the German mark. The Central Bank announced that it is increasing its control over currency exchanges, where the ruble has fallen further, and has established a 15 percent maximum difference between foreign-currency buying and selling rates. Equity markets also fell on 19 August, with demand "practically non-existent" and investors trying to sell for dollars, Interfax reported. And because of declining demand, the Russian privatization agencies announced on 19 August that they will delay the offer of a 5 percent share in Gazprom, ITAR-TASS reported. PG GOVERNMENT MEMBERS PROMISE BETTER FUTURE. Speaking in Rostov-on-Don, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said on 18 August that expanded exports, which are likely following the fall in the value of the ruble, and funds released by debt restructuring will help the government to pay back wages, Interfax reported. He also said that the Russian government has no plans to drive the ruble down, as some observers have suggested, according to ITAR-TASS. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told Interfax on 18 August that tax collections continue to improve. PG ZYUGANOV CALLS FOR YELTSIN'S RESIGNATION. Arguing that Yeltsin had been "absolutely devalued" by the decisions announced on 17 August, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov demanded that the president resign, Interfax reported on 18 August. He said that he and his faction at the 21 August State Duma session will call on Yeltsin to step down and allow for the formation of a responsible government. Only such steps may allow the country to escape from its current predicament and avoid civil war, Zyuganov said. He added that his faction is prepared for "an emergency dialogue" with all groups opposed to Yeltsin's actions. PG OTHER POLITICIANS DEMAND CHANGES. Fearing that the ruble's decline will trigger more inflation and greater uncertainty, other political leaders called on the president and his government to make changes. Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev proposed the formation of a coalition government, Interfax reported on 18 August. He indicated that the Duma may ask for the current government to be reshuffled if that does not happen. Meanwhile, Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev said he favored a roundtable meeting, but Yeltsin's spokesman rejected that proposal, at least for the time being. PG RUSSIAN MEDIA SLAMS GOVERNMENT MOVES. On the day after the de facto devaluation of the ruble, commentators in the Moscow press attacked the move in the strongest terms. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 August, Tatyana Koshkareva and Rustam Narzikulov argued that "those who are chiefly to blame for the financial crisis are again trying to evade responsibility." They even suggested that "August 1998 bears a remarkable resemblance to August 1991. Seven years ago, there was a putsch in Moscow; yesterday there was a coup in economic policy." In "Segodnya," Yuliya Ulyanova entitled her article "Russia goes bankrupt" and argued that Yeltsin and his team are playing word games to avoid assuming responsibility,. adding they no longer deserve anyone's trust. But perhaps the sharpest comment came in "Komsomolskaya pravda." Its editors featured a list of six ways to survive the current crisis, noting that these could be ignored by those who already have hard-currency accounts. PG CENTRAL BANK OUTLINES FREEZE RULES. The Central Bank on 17 August suspended for 90 days all payments by residents to non-residents in settlement of the principal on financial loans whose term exceeds 180 days. It also suspended for the same period insurance payments on loans backed by securities, Prime-Tass reported. But the bank outlined a number of exceptions, including loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and certain other loans guaranteed by the government. Other Russian banks announced that they were scheduling talks with foreign partners to reschedule debt payments, ITAR-TASS reported. And Deputy Prime Minister Fedorov told Interfax that he has invited representatives from JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank to help reschedule Russia's domestic debt. PG REACTION OF RUSSIAN REGIONS TO RUBLE'S FALL VARIES WIDELY. According to a survey in the 18 August "Kommersant-Daily," the Russian Federation's far-flung regions reacted very differently to the change in government policy on the ruble. Some remained "icy calm," while others faced runs on foreign currency and goods. In St. Petersburg on 17 August, most banks simply refused to exchange currency at all, and people eagerly bought up durable goods and jewelry. The same pattern held in Novosibirsk and a number of other regions. In Novokuznetsk and Stavropol, on the other hand, there was little reaction at all. In most places, ever more people tried to convert rubles or buy durable goods as word spread about the de facto devaluation of the ruble. PG INTERNATIONAL REACTION CALMS. Political leaders, bankers, and investors in most countries suggest that Russia's economic difficulties will not have a serious immediate impact on their economies, Russian and international news agencies reported on 18 August With the exception of Belarus which is tightly linked to Russia and Ukraine (where officials are concerned about the fall of the hryvnya), leaders in the other former Soviet republics, the Baltic States, and Eastern European states indicated that they do not expect much damage. And in news that will be welcome to many Russian investors, the Cypriot Central Bank told ITAR- TASS on 18 August that the new Russian currency corridor will not have a "serious negative effect" on the activities of Russian off-shore companies there. PG NEMTSOV PRESENTS FIRST SUBSIDY TO DISPLACED MINERS. Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov on 18 August presented the first 30,000 ruble (some $400) subsidy to a miner who is seeking to go into business, ITAR-TASS reported. Nemtsov also chaired a meeting looking into charges that mining company officials have failed to live up to their obligations to pay workers. PG RUSSIAN REVENUES FROM OIL, GAS SALES FALL. Revenues from the sale abroad of natural gas were down 18.4 percent and from oil exports down 23.4 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the corresponding period in 1997, ITAR- TASS and Interfax reported on 18 August. The fall in revenues from the sale of natural gas reflects both a decline in price and a decline in exports; the decrease from the sale of oil reflected only the decline in price, as oil exports rose during this period. PG MOSCOW PLACES GREAT HOPES ON CLINTON-YELTSIN SUMMIT. Yeltsin's foreign affairs adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, told ITAR-TASS on 18 August that the Russian government has high expectations of U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Moscow on 1-3 September. Prikhodko said Yeltsin is "set to do serious work" on a wide variety of issues from economics to strategic arms reduction to the resolution of a variety of international problems, including Kosova. PG YELTSIN AIDE DRAWS 'RED LINE' AGAINST NATO. Also on 18 August, Sergei Prikhodko told ITAR-TASS that Russia will modify its approach to Western countries if NATO invites invite any former Soviet republic into the alliance and thus crosses the "'red line'" formed by the border of the former Soviet Union. Prikhodko also suggested that failure to make progress on modifying the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty could "jeopardize not only the amendments but the CFE in its present form." Meanwhile, Russian Defense Ministry officials again spoke out against any use of force in Kosova without UN Security Council approval, Interfax reported. And a commentary in the military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" said that "NATO declares war on Yugoslavia," which the newspaper described as "one of the countries most friendly toward Russia." PG NEW SHAKEUP IMMINENT AT ROSVOORUZHENIE? "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 August quoted unidentified sources as predicting that Yevgenii Ananev may soon be replaced as director-general of Rosvooruzhenie and that his replacement will be a deputy director of the Russian presidential administration who it claims has little experience in the field of arms exports. The newspaper recalls that the driving force behind Ananev's appointment one year ago and the concomitant restructuring of Rosvooruzhenie was Finance Minister Yakov Urinson, whom Yeltsin recently harshly criticized. LF YELTSIN URGED TO AID RUSSIA'S 2 MILLION HOMELESS CHILDREN. A group of public figures have called on the Russian president to take "energetic measures" to help the country's some 2 million homeless children, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 August. Their appeal said that "not only the future of the children rejected by society is threatened, but society itself." Among those signing the appeal were Raisa Gorbachev. Also on 18 August, Moscow's Commission on Vagrancy Prevention reported that there are some 30,000 homeless people in Moscow, the most prosperous city in Russia. At present, the Russian capital has facilities to handle only 1,505 of the homeless. PG RUSSIANS SPLIT OVER MEANING OF AUGUST 1991 COUP. On the seventh anniversary of the August 1991 coup, the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion released a poll highlighting deep divisions in Russian society about that event, Interfax reported. Of the 1,600 people polled, 46 percent said the events were "just an episode in the struggle for power," while 31 percent said the coup was "a tragic event with catastrophic consequences for Russia and its people." Only 8 percent said the events had allowed democratic forces to "put an end to communist rule" (see also "End Note" below). PG PROTEST RALLY IN KALMYKIA. Some 500 people staged a demonstration in the town of Priyutnoe on 10 August to protest catastrophic living conditions, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 August. Water supplies to the town have been cut off, some workers have not been paid for over a year, and some families have been reduced to eating animal fodder. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Russian presidential representative in Kalmykia V. Bembetov, and Russian President Yeltsin for his protection of Ilyumzhinov's "illegal" regime. They also addressed a letter to the Russian Chess Federation to protest the fact that funds allocated for paying child allowances are being used to finance the construction of facilities for the 33rd Chess Olympiad in Elista, the Kalmyk capital. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF VISITS TAJIKISTAN...The head of Russia's Federal Border Service, Colonel-General Nikolai Bordyuzha, arrived in Tajikistan on 18 August, ITAR-TASS reported. Bordyuzha described the situation along the Tajik- Afghan border as calm and said there is no immediate need to reinforce units already there. He added that Russian troops in Tajikistan are "ready" should the Taliban threaten the CIS border. Bordyuzha met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov behind closed doors. Later, Rakhmonov's defense adviser, Mizrob Kabirov, said Bordyuzha assured Rakhmonov that Russia will give Tajikistan all necessary help, including military, Interfax reported. The defense and foreign ministers of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are scheduled to meet in Tashkent on 22-23 August to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. BP ...FOLLOWED BY CHIEF OF STAFF, DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER. A Russian delegation led by the army chief of staff, Anatolii, Kvashnin and First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov arrived in Tajikistan on 19 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The delegation visited the headquarters of Russia's 201st Motorized Division and peace-keeping forces stationed in Tajikistan. The delegation then met with President Rakhmonov to discuss how to improve security along the Tajik-Afghan border. BP COMMANDER OF TAJIK INTERIOR MINISTRY FORCES SACKED. President Rakhmonov on 18 August dismissed the commander of the Interior Ministry's military forces, Major-General Shovali Saidamirov, ITAR-TASS reported. Saidamirov was fired because of "serious deficiencies in management of the troops, poor military discipline in units of the ministry's forces, and failure to enforce presidential orders on measures to consolidate law and order." BP KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER EVICTED FROM BUILDING. The Kyrgyz weekly newspaper "Asaba" has been evicted from the building in which it was located for nearly 60 years, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported on 18 August. That building was transferred to the Interior Ministry in 1991. Former Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov allowed "Asaba," now an opposition newspaper, to continue using its offices in the building, but incumbent Premier Kubanychbek Jumaliev supported the ministry's call to evict the newspaper. A government decree was issued in late may ordering the newspaper to vacate the building by 15 August, on which day the newspaper organized a protest in Bishkek's central square. Some 500 people, including members of the parliament, took part in the rally. The Interior Ministry responded by sealing off the newspaper's offices and releasing a statement saying "Asaba" is under private ownership and can "provide itself with its own building." A member of the newspaper's editorial board said new office space has been found and this week's issue of the newspaper will appear on time on 21 August. BP WOULD-BE AZERBAIJAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES PROTEST IRREGULARITIES. A spokesman for Azerbaijani businessman Ilgar Kerimov, whose application to register as a candidate for the October presidential elections was rejected, told Turan on 18 August that members of the Central Electoral Commission had hinted they expected a bribe in return for registering Kerimov as a candidate. The spokesman rejected as "unfair" the commission's claim that 70 percent of the signatures collected in support of Kerimov's candidacy were forged. A second would-be candidate, Umid [Hope] Party chairman Abulfat Akhmedov, claimed that the commission deliberately "lost" lists of signatures submitted in support of his registration. He said he intends to appeal to the Supreme Court against the commission's refusal to register his candidacy. LF FALL-OUT FROM BAKU PROTEST RALLY CONTINUES. Azerbaijan's Movement for Democratic Elections and Democratic Reforms issued a statement on 18 August protesting alleged bias in the state television coverage of the 15 August opposition demonstration in Baku, Turan reported. The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan reported that at least seven journalists were detained by police during the demonstrations in Baku and other cities, adding that four of them were beaten. The chairman of the Azerbaijani Council for Civil Defense and Sport said on 18 August that he intends to ask the Baku municipal authorities to demand that the leaders of the political parties who organized the demonstration pay a fee for the use of the motor sport stadium on the outskirts of Baku where the rally took place. The Baku mayor had refused permission to hold the demonstration on Baku's central Freedom Square. LF ABKHAZ, GEORGIANS FORTIFY INTERNAL BORDER. Newly appointed Georgian State Minister Niko Lortkipanidze and Major-General Sergei Korobko, commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed under the CIS aegis along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, met in Tbilisi on 17 August, Interfax reported. Korobko expressed concern that trenches and other fortifications are being dug on the Georgian bank of the Inguri River, which forms the internal border. A member of the Abkhaz government in exile told Caucasus Press that the Abkhaz are erecting barbed wire fences on their side of the river and that they intend to electrify those fences. But Georgian deputy parliamentary chairman Vakhtang Kolbaya cast doubt on that report, pointing out that the topographical relief would make it difficult, if not impossible, to do so. Lortkipanidze asked Korobko to intensify his control over the border to prevent further incursions by Abkhaz militants into Georgian territory. LF ARMENIAN EX-PRESIDENT READY FOR COOPERATION. Levon Ter- Petrossian's press spokesman, Levon Zurabian, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 18 August that Ter-Petrossian may cooperate with the present Armenian authorities in the future, despite "serious policy differences" on key issues. But he declined to predict whether Ter-Petrossian will return to active politics. Zurabian said that Ter-Petrossian could have taken "tough action" in response to pressure from then Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, which precipitated his resignation in February 1998. He added, however, that the former president refrained from doing so in the interests of democracy. Zurabian rejected charges that Ter-Petrossian's Karabakh policy was "defeatist," and he stressed the latter's achievements in winning the Karabakh war, stamping out racketeering and banditry, and ensuring macroeconomic stability. LF KARABAKH TO ISSUE OWN PASSPORTS. The government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic announced on 18 August that it plans to replace the old Soviet passports still in use with new ones, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. The process of exchanging passports will take approximately one year. Residents of Karabakh have until now used Armenian passports when traveling abroad. Azerbaijan is currently also issuing new passports. LF END NOTE A COUP THAT SHOOK THE WORLD by Paul Goble Seven years ago, a coup in Moscow set off a series of shock waves that continue to reverberate throughout the Russian Federation, its neighbors, and the world at large. When the coup began on 19 August 1991, the Soviet Union still existed, Mikhail Gorbachev was its president, and the post-Cold War international system appeared to be in order. When it ended three days later, each had been called into question. But despite the dramatic changes that followed, the coup attempt itself--why it was organized, why it almost succeeded, and why it ultimately failed--was in fact a manifestation of three underlying features of political life that continue to resonate there. First, the August 1991 coup was staged and opposed by two relatively small groups of people, each of which was convinced that the country faced a crisis and that its future depended entirely on the outcome of that crisis. The Emergency Committee, as events quickly showed, had very few people behind it. But despite the heroism of the defenders of the Russian White House, the number of people involved was also small. Both groups were united in a sense that the country would be doomed if the other won and by an understanding that the number of people actually involved in the political struggle was and would remain small. Most people in the Soviet government and in the country at large did not take either side. Instead, they adopted a wait-and-see attitude and probably would have been willing to support whoever came out on top. That absence of involvement and sense that the country will develop by crisis rather than organically continues to characterize political life across the post-Soviet space. Second, the coup bid almost succeeded and inevitably failed because individual loyalties to particular leaders proved to be greater than any attachment to political institutions. The Emergency Committee that launched the abortive coup thought it could count on the deference of the population to anyone claiming to speak in the name of the government. And its members also believed they could reckon with the obedience of the subordinates the members of the committee nominally led. While members of the committee may have been correct in their first assumption, they were clearly wrong on the second. Not only had the bonds of obedience already snapped, but their own all-too-obvious disobedience further severed the ties on which they had counted. But those who opposed the coup, including Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, also adopted a personalist approach. On the one hand, Yeltsin sought to portray himself as a hero-leader rather than an elected representative. And on the other, his demand that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev be returned to Moscow clearly had little to do with his respect for the office of the presidency. This absence of support for institutions independent of the people who occupy them continues to dominate political life in the region. Indeed, it remains one of the major reasons why the people in so many post-Soviet states have found it difficult to make the transition to democracy, a system that insists that institutions are more important than the individuals who occupy them. Third, the coup bid inevitably failed not so much because of the actions of those who opposed it but because the collapse of the coup and the ensuing developments served the interests of those who many supposed would be its most interested defenders. By mid-1991, many officials, both in Russia and other republics, on whom those behind the coup thought they could count had already decided they could profit more from reforms than from a return to the past. Such officials thus did not support the coup. But even though most did not oppose it either, they rapidly changed their political affiliations in its aftermath in order to continue to benefit from the new circumstances. And that pattern, one not typically revolutionary, has had some very serious consequences for political life in the post-Soviet states. It has meant that there has not been a clean break with the past in terms of those in power or in the ways they do business. It has increased cynicism both about the declarations of these now ex-communists leaders and about the ideals-- democracy and free markets, for example -- that they claim to support. And it has left many in these countries with the sense that once again the elite has found a way to take care of itself at their expense, an attitude that may produce a revolution but is certainly not the product of one. On the seventh anniversary of the abortive coup, Russia and many of its neighbors are developing in ways that reflect both the shock waves of that event and the continuities it revealed--a collection of new bottles that in many cases contain old wine. 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 of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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