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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 160 Part I, 20 August 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 2, No. 160 Part I, 20 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 * KIRIENKO SAYS RUSSIA CAN MEET FOREIGN OBLIGATIONS AND PAY WAGE ARREARS * CABINET APPROVES DRAFT BILLS ON DOMESTIC DEBT * RUSSIA, TAJIKISTAN RELEASE STATEMENT ON AFGHANISTAN End Note: THIRTY YEARS LATER, CZECHS STILL DEBATE LEGACY OF 1968 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA KIRIENKO SAYS RUSSIA CAN MEET FOREIGN OBLIGATIONS AND PAY WAGE ARREARS. Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko told Russian Television on 19 August that Moscow will fulfill all its state obligations "on foreign debts, forex-denominated bonds, and state guarantees included," Interfax reported. Only securities denominated in rubles will be converted into longer term treasury bills and federal bonds, Kirienko said. Arrangements for doing that will be announced on 24 August. The prime minister noted that Moscow currently must pay some 4-5 billion rubles ($590 to $740 million) each week to service its ruble-denominated debt. By stretching out repayments and not repudiating the debt itself, he suggested, the government would be able to spend that money on paying back wages. PG CABINET APPROVES DRAFT BILLS ON DOMESTIC DEBT. At a meeting on 20 August, the Russian government approved draft legislation that would reduce Russian obligatons on treasury bills by 14-30 billion rubles ($2-4 billion) in 1998 and 44- 80 billion rubles ($6-12 billion) in 1999 as a result of reschedulilng, ITAR-TASS reported. If the Duma fails to pass the two bills, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov said the government will have to repay securities valued at 113 billion rubles ($16 billion) in 1998 and 260 billion rubles ($37 billion) the following year. At the same meeting, Prime Minister Kirienko said that the government plans to balance the budget by this fall and to prepare a new budget for next year to be submitted to the State Duma by 21 September. PG RUBLE LOWER, MARKETS QUIET. The ruble continued to decline on 19-20 August but less dramatically than the day before, Russian agencies reported. The difference between rates to buy or to sell rubles also generally declined across the country--less in response to the Central Bank's threat to impose penalties on those institutions where it was greater than 15 percent and more as a result of competition in the marketplace. Across the country, demand for foreign currency tended to decline as well, allowing some observers to argue that the largest ruble decrease is over. Meanwhile, the equity markets drifted lower, but the declines in price were less striking than the lack of any interest in trading. Traders told ITAR-TASS on 19 August that the market is likely to "remain inert" until the government resolves the treasury bill swap issue. PG A DAY OF DISCOURAGING ECONOMIC NEWS. The State Committee for Statistics on 19 August released statistics suggesting that the Russian economy may be in even worse shape than many had thought, ITAR-TASS reported. GDP, industrial output, oil production, automobile production, and exports all fell in July. The GDP drop was the largest monthly decline since September 1996. Unemployment rose to 8.3 million. Real income dropped almost 9 percent from the year before. And wage arrears grew by 6.5 percent. In most of these indices, the trends appeared to be accelerating from earlier in the year. PG INFLATION PREDICTED TO BE UNDER 10 PERCENT IN 1998. Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin said on 19 August that the rate of inflation will be "slightly below 10 percent by the end of the year" even if it fluctuates above that level before that time, Interfax reported. PG BANK ASSOCIATION CHIEF CALLS FOR CALM, HELP. Sergei Yegorov, the chairman of the Association of Russian Banks, told a news conference on 19 August that the country's banking system can survive if the government succeeds in preventing panic, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that for that to happen, the Central Bank will have to provide some banks with additional funds. Yegorov also said that only 200 to 250 of the country's 1,600 banks are in any immediate danger of failing, a figure other bankers disputed. He suggested that the banking system and the economy itself can be saved if Russians put some of the approximately $80 billion they keep in cash into the banks. PG HOTLINES TO EXPLAIN FISCAL MEASURES, FIGHT SPECULATION. The Central Bank set up a special telephone hotline to allow the population to receive answers to questions about the government's efforts to stabilize the situation, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 August. Meanwhile, the government set up a special hotline for people to turn in those violating rules against speculation and making superprofits, the Russian agency reported. In addition, the Federal Tax Service will levy special taxes on any such profits, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Fedorov told ITAR-TASS the same day. PG IMF FUNDS GO TO DEFENSE OF RUBLE. Central Bank chief Dubinin told a Duma committee on 19 August that his bank has spent approximately $3.8 billion to support the ruble since 20 July, Russian and Western agencies reported. "We received $4.8 billion from the IMF, of which $1 billion went to fund budget spending, and the Bank of Russia spent the rest on defending the exchange rate," the central banker said. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that Moscow expects an IMF delegation to visit the Russian capital in September to discuss the disbursement of the next tranche of the IMF loan. PG MOSCOW MAY CHANGE TAXES ON OIL COMPANIES. Responding to a World Bank argument that Russia's current system of collecting taxes on oil company earnings rather than on profits could make it more difficult for the firms to compete internationally, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told an interagency stabilization commission on 19 August that the Russian government will review the situation, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. YELTSIN PLANS "NO MEETINGS." Boris Yeltsin's press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Interfax on 19 August that the president has "no meetings" on his schedule but will make a one-day trip to Severomorsk on 21 August to observe a Northern Fleet exercise. Yastrzhembskii said that it is possible for Yeltsin, who is currently at his dacha outside Moscow, to stay in touch with developments in the capital by telephone. PG RUSSIAN PUBLIC INCREASINGLY ANGRY AT GOVERNMENT. Some 65 percent of 6,000 Russians surveyed earlier this month said that the government "can no longer count on the patience of the population," Interfax reported on 19 August. That figure was up from 50 percent in March. But the number prepared to join strikes, participate in armed insurrection, block traffic or seize enterprises remains low, ranging from 6 and 11 percent, according to the Sociology and Parliamentarism Institute, which conducted the poll. PG LEFT TO CALL FOR YELTSIN'S RESIGNATION. Representatives of 40 leftist organizations agreed on 19 August to call for Yeltsin's resignation when the Duma convenes on 21 August, Interfax reported. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov said he is "absolutely confident" that at least 300 deputies will support a resolution calling for the president's resignation or impeachment. "The president has made everybody sick," Zyuganov said. And he suggested that "when the legislators and broad masses of working people join their efforts, the president can be forced to resign." PG DUMA COMMITTEE FOR CENSURE, NOT RESHUFFLE OF GOVERNMENT. At a meeting on 19 August, the Duma Budget and Finance Committee urged deputies to find the work of the government and Central Bank "unsatisfactory," ITAR-TASS reported. But committee chairman Aleksandr Zhukov warned against any effort to reshuffle the government during the crisis. (Central Bank chief Dubinin said he is prepared to resign if necessary.) Meanwhile, Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev urged both houses of the parliament to develop "an emergency anti- crisis program," ITAR-TASS reported. "The government should stop talking about proposing a stabilization program. So far there has been nothing to stabilize," Seleznev said. PG CHERNOMYRDIN CALLS FOR MASSIVE INCOME TAX CUT. Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former prime minister and current leader of Our Home is Russia, told Interfax on 19 August that the government should cut income taxes by 50 percent to boost private spending and production. The same day, he discussed the crisis with Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed and Duma chairman Seleznev PG NOVGOROD GOVERNOR CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY. Arguing that Russia faces "a crisis of power but not a financial crisis," Novgorod governor Mikhail Prusak suggested that Yeltsin should convene a Constitutional Assembly in order to write a new constitution. The basic law adopted in December 1993 was a transitional document, and the country must replace it, he said. In other remarks, Prusak suggested that for Russia, "the most dreadful thing is a vacuum of power." PG GORBACHEV DENOUNCES YELTSIN. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told Reuters on 19 August that Yeltsin would perform "his last good deed for his people" if he called early elections. But he suggested that Yeltsin is unlikely to do that because "I don't think he realizes what the situation is." Gorbachev said he is especially worried about the social and political impact of price increases certain to be triggered by the devaluation of the ruble. In a related development, Gorbachev told Interfax that he has turned down an invitation to meet with the Duma's Impeachment Commission personally because some of its members were supporters of the Emergency Committee that launched the August 1991 coup against him. PG COUP ANNIVERSARY PASSES ALMOST UNNOTICED. Approximately 50 people gathered near the Russian White House on 19 August to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the1991 coup and Russian resistance to it, AP reported. The demonstrators, who carried Russian flags and portraits of Yeltsin, were heckled by communists and coal miners protesting the Yeltsin regime for failing to pay workers on time. Neither Russian President Yeltsin nor former Soviet President Gorbachev made any public statements about the 1991 events. PG FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS U.S. SEX SCANDAL WON'T AFFECT SUMMIT. Unidentified sources at the Russian Foreign Ministry told Interfax on 19 August that the sex scandal "surrounding U.S. President Bill Clinton" will have no impact on the timing or content of the Russian-U.S. summit in early September. The Foreign Ministry refused to comment on Clinton's testimony or his appearance on U.S. television. But one source at the ministry commented that "the world is changing and so are moral standards. What was believed to be male valor in the 1960s and was not publicly discussed is not quite acceptable for the present generation of Americans." PG CORRECTION: As of late August 1997, Yakov Urinson held the post of Deputy Premier and Economics Minister, not Finance Minister, as incorrectly reported in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 19 August. TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA, TAJIKISTAN RELEASE STATEMENT ON AFGHANISTAN. Following talks between officials of the Tajik government and a Russian military-political delegation in Dushanbe, a joint statement on the situation in Afghanistan has been released, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 August. That statement calls for the "close interaction" of CIS countries that are signatories to the collective security treaty in protecting the southern borders of the CIS, notably the Tajik-Afghan border. The statement also emphasizes that Russia and Tajikistan are "deeply worried by the escalation in bloodshed in Afghanistan and by the fact that fighting is taking place in immediate proximity to the Tajik-Afghan border." That fighting "poses a real direct threat to the southern borders of the CIS," according to the statement. The signatories also call on the UN to convene an international conference on Afghanistan attended by representatives of all the states bordering Afghanistan, Russia, and the U.S. BP UN CALLS FOR RESULTS IN TAJIK MURDER INVESTIGATION. The UN Security Council on 19 August called on Tajikistan to complete its investigation into the murders of four UN employees in late July and to bring the guilty parties to justice, Reuters reported. The four UN employees were killed in central Tajikistan. Tajik authorities said recently they know who and where the killers are (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1998). The perpetrators are in an area controlled by the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), which has been cooperating in the investigation. Despite UTO promises to extradite them to Dushanbe, the killers appear neither to have been detained or transferred to Dushanbe. BP THREE ARRESTED IN TAJIKISTAN FOR DISTRIBUTING TALIBAN PROPAGANDA. Tajik law enforcement officials on 19 August took three foreigners into custody on charges of distributing "extremist" literature at mosques in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. The three were apprehended in a Dushanbe mosque and were reported to be in possession of "numerous" pieces of literature based on ideas espoused by Afghanistan's Taliban movement. The three had Pakistani passports. BP OUSTED AFGHAN PRESIDENT IN TAJIKISTAN. Russian Public Television, citing the RIA-Novosti news agency, reported on 19 August that ousted Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzay, have left northern Afghanistan and are now in Tajikistan. BP CONVICTED IRANIANS EXTRADITED FROM TURKMENISTAN. Thirty- eight Iranians convicted by Turkmen courts mainly on charges of drug-smuggling have been sent back to Iran, Interfax reported on 19 August. Some of the convicted had been sentenced to death. Most of those convicted were women. The extradition agreement was reached during Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's visit to Iran in July. BP TENGE FALLS BUT KAZAKHSTAN NOT WORRIED. Kazakhstan's national currency has fallen by from 77 to 79 to $1 since 18 August, but officials in the country say they are not concerned. The following day, the National Bank released a statement that there "was no real threat of a sharp devaluation of the tenge," Interfax reported. The statement noted that "Kazakhstan spends roughly 9 percent of its budget to service internal and external debts," unlike Russia and Ukraine, where "the figure reaches 35 percent." The statement also pointed out that "the currency and financial systems of Russia and Kazakhstan were divided long ago" and that the Russian ruble now accounts for "no more than 7 percent of trade settlements" in Kazakhstan. BP U.S., OSCE CONCERNED ABOUT AZERBAIJANI DEVELOPMENTS. The U.S. State Department issued a statement on 18 August registering concern at the detention or arrest of a number of people who intended to participate in the 15 August opposition-sponsored demonstration in Baku, Turan reported. It noted that the right of peaceful assembly and demonstration is an accepted international principle. The statement also registered "disappointment" at the failure of the Azerbaijani authorities and opposition to reach agreement on the composition of the Central Electoral Commission, stressing the responsibility of the Azerbaijani government to ensure that the 11 October presidential elections are free and fair. Turan also quoted an unidentified official of the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights as saying that organization is "deeply concerned" at the Azerbaijani authorities' reaction to the 15 August demonstration. LF ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN TBILISI. Vartan Oskanian and his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagharishvili, signed a further partnership and cooperation agreement in Tbilisi on 19 August, Caucasus Press reported. The agreement mentioned cooperation within the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and within the TRACECA and INOGATE projects. Oskanian characterized Georgia as Armenia's "strategic partner" and noted Georgia's role in mediating improved relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Asked to comment on the 13 August standoff between ethnic Armenians and Georgian troops in Akhalkalaki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 1998), Oskanian said the creation of an autonomous region in southern Georgia is a domestic political issue in which Armenia will not interfere. Oskanian also met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who characterized bilateral relations as exemplary but called for the harmonization of the two countries' tax and customs policies. Shevardnadze extended an official invitation to Armenian President Robert Kocharian to visit Tbilisi. LF KIRIENKO MEETS WITH GEORGIAN MINISTER OF STATE. Meeting in Moscow on 19 August, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and Vazha Lortkipanidze discussed TRACECA and other Caucasian projects and the possibility of Russian participation in those projects, according to Caucasus Press. Lortkipanidze also briefed his Russian counterpart on the Abkhaz situation, blaming the expulsion of the ethnic Georgian population of Gali in May on the failure of the Russian peacekeeping force to intervene. Kirienko affirmed his support for Georgia's territorial integrity and condemned as unjustifiable attempts to prevent the repatriation of the Georgian fugitives. LF PRIMAKOV MEETS WITH ABKHAZ PRESIDENT. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who is currently vacationing in Sochi, met with Vladislav Ardzinba on 18 August to discuss the situation in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion and the prospects for a meeting between Ardzinba and Georgian President Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Ardzinba affirmed that he sets no preconditions for such a meeting, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 August. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov last week urged the two leaders to meet in order to expedite the signing of agreements on strengthening the present cease-fire accord and the return to Gali of ethnic Georgian displaced persons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 1998). LF ABKHAZ, GEORGIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS RECONSTRUCTION. Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh visited Gali Raion on 19 August where he discussed with local officials funding for the district and repairs to strategic highways, Caucasus Press reported. How the Russian financial crisis will impact on such plans is unclear: Georgian presidential economic adviser Temur Basilia told journalists in Tbilisi on 19 August that most of Georgia is unlikely to be affected, except for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Akhalkalaki, where the Russian ruble, not the Georgian lari, is used. Meanwhile the Abkhaz government in exile in Tbilisi is considering a draft program of urgent measures to improve the situation in Abkhazia's predominantly Svan-populated Kodori gorge, which is the only district of Abkhazia controlled by Georgia. LF END NOTE THIRTY YEARS LATER, CZECHS STILL DEBATE LEGACY OF 1968 by Jeremy Bransten It has been 30 years since Soviet troops rolled down Wenceslas Square and the Prague Spring was crushed under the metallic tread of tanks on cobblestones. But this year, there will be no big anniversaries, no national outpouring of emotion such as in February, when the hockey team won the gold medal at Nagano and half of Prague spilled out onto the streets. A decade ago, with public opinion muzzled, and Soviet troops still occupying Czechoslovakia, the 20th anniversary of the 1968 invasion had deep resonance. But today, even the 1989 Velvet Revolution seems an increasingly distant memory. And those who remember are asking: Does the Prague Spring have any meaning for Czechs today, 30 years after its premature death? Political scientist Bohumil Pecinka doesn't think so. He says that most people prefer to look to the period before the Communist takeover in 1948, rather than to the 1968 interlude. "After 1989, and the Velvet Revolution," he says, "there wasn't a return to 1968, but a return to 1948, or more accurately, to before 1948, when democracy was destroyed in our country. And the majority of people now look at 1968 as an attempt by the Communist elite to humanize the then Communist regime--not to change it." Yet 1968 was much more than that. Although it was originally devised as a modest reform program within the Czechoslovak Communist Party, the Prague Spring quickly mushroomed into a grassroots movement. And when it was crushed, for a brief few day newspapers splashed photos across their front pages of a sad, defiant people meeting tanks with clenched fists. Prague became synonymous with the dashed hopes of a generation. But the world's attention soon shifted, until another revolution came, whose velvet embrace swept those humiliating memories away. The cobblestones are the same, but these days, wandering down Wenceslas Square, where the American Express and McDonald's outlets disgorge flocks of admiring backpackers, it's hard to conjure up the tanks, or the heady atmosphere of 1968. The only Russians you'll see today are nouveau rich "biznemeni" who cruise by in their BMWs. A small wooden cross and a plaque dedicated "in memory of the victims of Communism" mark the spot where in 1969, Jan Palach, a 20-year-old student, immolated himself to protest the Soviet invasion. Tourists take photos, and move on to the T-shirt stands. Remembering hurts in this country, says Pecinka. "The Communist system was so well perfected that anyone who wanted to live here and not just exist had to somehow conform...to make lots of small compromises. And people don't want to recall that," he explains. Ludvik Vaculik, a leading Czech writer, is one local who didn't compromise and who likes to remember. Vaculik published the "2,000 Words" declaration in the summer of 1968. The manifesto called for true democratic change in Czechoslovakia, from the ground up, directly challenging the regime's role in leading reform. Moscow branded the document counter-revolutionary and used its publication, in part, to justify the invasion. Vaculik says the Prague Spring still has great significance, but many people prefer to ignore it. "The legacy of 1968 is that people, at that time, stepped away from their personal interests and careers and understood that there was a common task. It was an ability to rise above things and act as a human whole--and this, with our new freedom, is now being whittled away." Vaculik notes that the lessons of the Prague Spring are more appreciated in the West than in the East, and he adds that without wanting to, Czechoslovakia became the sacrificial lamb that helped dispel any myths about Eastern European Communism. "This whole process and all of 1968 had greater significance for Europe than for us. The leftist intelligentsia in Europe learned what the USSR was all about--what kind of power it was--and that socialism in the Soviet mold was unreformable. Although he spent the next 20 years shuttling from one interrogation cell to another, for Vaculik the Prague Spring was worth the personal cost." It really can't be measured by the standard of was it worth it or not," he says. "No, that's not important. It was necessary. Some people stood the test, and some simply did not." Historian Pavel Zacek explains the Sisyphean struggle he faces. Zacek, a one-time student activist, is now deputy director of the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes. The office is a part of the Interior Ministry. Its task is to investigate the activities of the former State Security apparatus and compile evidence against individuals who committed specific crimes on behalf of repressive institutions. On paper, the office enjoys broad powers - more power in fact, than any other such body in Eastern Europe. Its staff-members, as Interior Ministry employees, have broad access to classified files and have prepared indictments against scores of individuals, including some of the main actors in the post-1968 "normalization" period. But the indictments must then proceed to the courts, where they are often thrown out. But Zacek says he is not after punishment. He just wants Czech society to honestly assess its past so that it can move on to a secure democratic future. "We have to bear in mind that some of these perpetrators are 70- to 80-year-old pensioners. The point is not to lock them up, but to decide that what they did was a crime and for society to acknowledge that among it are criminals. Without this assignation of blame, society cannot come to terms with its past, accept a democratic order, and move forward." The author is an RFE/RL editor based in Prague. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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