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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 183, Part I, 22 September 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 183, Part I, 22 September 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 LAYS OUT NEW GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE * GOVERNMENT UNVEILS NEW DEBT PLAN * LEADING TAJIK OPPOSITION FIGURE MURDERED End Note: "AND HOME THERE'S NO RETURNING" xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN LAYS OUT NEW GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE. ITAR-TASS on 22 September reported that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree laying out a new structure for the government. Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov will have six deputy prime ministers, including two first deputy prime ministers. Yeltsin also called for the creation of five new ministries, five state committees, and two federal services. The same day, Russia's ambassador to Greece, Valentina Matvienko, accepted the post of deputy prime minister in charge of social issues, which Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov recently rejected. According to Interfax, Matvienko has been with the Foreign Ministry since 1991 and is close to Primakov. JAC GOVERNMENT UNVEILS NEW DEBT PLAN. Acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov tried to soothe angry foreign investors on 21 September by suggesting a new scheme for restructuring Russian debt. Zadornov proposed redeeming short-term Treasury bills that matured between 19 August and 16 September. Under the government's previous plan, investors had the option of receiving only 5 percent of their holdings in cash and the remainder in longer-term ruble and dollar bonds. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Shokhin said that Zadornov's plan should not be considered "final." According to Interfax, he told reporters that "this is a decision involving an emission that should be made at the political level." Redeeming the securities, according to Zadornov, would require 10 billion to 12 billion rubles ($730 million). Zadornov's debt plan is included in a package of Finance Ministry proposals for the fourth quarter of 1998. Other proposals include introducing a single income tax of 20 percent, a lower profit tax, and mandatory sales of hard currency by exporters. JAC BANKS' FUTURE IN LUZHKOV'S HANDS? "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 September reported that one of the Central Bank's more powerful departments, OPERU-2, has been abolished, giving the Moscow department of the Central Bank new authority and expanded influence. In an interview with the daily, the former chief of OPERU-2, Denis Kiselev, said that the Central Bank's Moscow department will now oversee the daily operations of banks in its region, deciding their fate and that of their clients. He also said that the largest banks of the country will find themselves under the influence of the Moscow mayor's office. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported that despite banks' claim to lack funds to pay to their depositors, MOST-Bank recently opened a new "expensive" branch in Ulyanovsk. JAC FOOD PRODUCERS BANNING EXPORTS... "Izvestiya" on 22 September reported that many governors have banned food deliveries outside their region's borders, triggering a dangerous trend toward "food separatism." Among the regions cited were Stavropol, Krasnodar, Khabarovsk, and Samara. Earlier, "Izvestiya" reported that the Vologda administration had issued an order forbidding the export of staple goods and food products from the region. On 21 September, acting Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters that more than 60 regions have adopted their own austerity programs. On 15 September "Kommersant vlast" concluded that regional leaders' "separatist threats" are aimed only at "milking as much money from the federal center as possible." The newspaper cited the fact that Sverdlovsk governor Eduard Rossel's calls for a sovereign Urals republic ended when "the region was loaned several tons of precious metal." JAC ...AS GOVERNMENT TILTS TOWARD REGIONS, INDUSTRY. "Russkii telegraf" argued in its 19 September issue that Yevgenii Primakov's government "has shifted its political priorities in the direction of the regions" and in particular, its industrial elite. As evidence, the newspaper cited the rumored inclusion of four regional heads- Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Saratov governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev--in the government presidium. It also reported that the original plan of inviting 12 leaders of interregional associations was scrapped because it was "too reminiscent of the old Politburo." The newspaper noted that the new government intends to focus its efforts on Russia's "industrial elite" since "no one has suggested that the Komi governor either submit an [economic] program of his own or join the government." Gustov told reporters on 21 September that the presidium will include "two first deputy prime ministers, four deputy prime ministers, and Central Bank chairman Viktor Gerashchenko." JAC MORE SUPPORT FOR REGIONAL MERGERS. First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov, whose portfolio includes regional policy, told reporters on 21 September that he supports the idea of reducing the number of the Russian Federation's constituent members through mergers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 1998). As a first step, Gustov, a former governor of Leningrad Oblast, proposed unifying the city of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. On 19 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" characterized Gustov's views on various matters as "socialist," saying "he supports the ideology of the Communist Party." "Izvestiya" said Gustov was supported in gubernatorial elections by "left-wing forces" but enjoyed "a good relationship with young reformers in the cabinet." JAC REGION SUFFERS NEWS SHORTAGE. According to the "IEWS Russian Regional Report" of 17 September, Yekaterinburg, in Sverdlovsk Oblast, has witnessed a dramatic decline in the number of newspapers available, as publishers have chosen to reduce their print runs rather than raise prices in response to climbing costs. Major national newspapers, such as "Izvestiya" and "Rossiiskaya gazeta," and local papers such as "Oblastnaya gazeta" and "Uralskii rabochii" are impossible to find or are being printed less frequently. Pro-communist newspapers, such as "Iskra uralskaya" are reportedly doing better and can be found in many locations free of charge. JAC IMF DEBATE CONTINUES. "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 22 September reported that Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov announced he has already unearthed some information about the Central Bank's misuse of IMF funds. Earlier, former Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin said that nothing untoward has been done with the fund's monies. He told Ekho Moskvy that the first $4.8 billion tranche of the IMF stabilization loan has been used to replenish the bank's foreign exchange reserves. "Parlamentskaya gazeta" quoted Central Bank Joint Economic department director Nadezhda Ivanova as telling the State Duma that $1 billion of the IMF funds were transferred to the Finance Ministry and the remaining $3.8 billion spent on long-term U.S. treasury bonds." JAC MEDICINES IN SHORT SUPPLY. ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September that cases of measles and mumps have increased in Volgograd owing to a lack of funds to purchase vaccines. "Izvestiya" reported on 19 September that deliveries of foreign medicines will be suspended from 26 September because the State Customs Committee discovered that not a single importer has a valid foreign trade license. The newspaper quoted the director of one of the largest drug distributors as saying that even medicines manufactured domestically require imported materials. "Kommersant-Daily" reported that medicines are in short supply in some regions because of hoarding. In Altai Republic, local diabetic have bought up a year's worth of insulin supplies, while pharmacies in Volgograd have enough to last only for eight to 20 days. JAC CHERNOMYRDIN TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT, NOT DEPUTY. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has decided against running for a Duma seat in the Yamal-Nenets region, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1998). Chernomyrdin declared that he is still planning to run for president in 2000. JAC SELEZNEV IN IRAN. At the beginning of a three-day official visit to Tehran, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev met with Iranian parliamentary chairman Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri on 21 September, Russian agencies reported. Seleznev underscored the importance of establishing closer bilateral ties to create a Moscow-Tehran axis. The two men agreed that ties between the two countries' parliaments are of paramount importance at present, given Iran's "international isolation," Interfax reported. The two officials also discussed bilateral trade (which last year totaled $550 million), the possibility of Russian involvement in oil and gas extraction in the Persian Gulf, and the situation in Afghanistan. LF YAVLINSKII SUFFERS HEART ATTACK. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii suffered a heart attack on 18 September. Yavlinskii, who is 46, is said to be in normal condition at the hospital in which he is staying. According to a recent poll, Yavlinskii's approval rating increased after the recent political crisis. It was Yavlinskii who first suggested Primakov as a compromise candidate for the premiership. JAC NUREYEV REHABILITATED. Six years after his death, ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was rehabilitated posthumously on 21 September. ITAR-TASS reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office said that it has studied Nureyev's case thoroughly and can find no evidence to support a 1962 charge of high treason. JAC WILL CHECHNYA JOIN OIC? Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Grozny on 21 September that he was assured by the Malaysian prime minister during his recent visit to that country that Chechnya will be granted membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Interfax reported. But later the same day, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed skepticism at Maskhadov's claim. The Malaysian embassy in Moscow told the news agency that it cannot confirm that Maskhadov had met with the prime minister, adding that the Chechen president's visit to Malaysia was a private one. LF VLASOV'S RELEASE IMMINENT? Maverick Chechen field commander Salman Raduev told journalists in Grozny on 21 September that negotiations on the release of Russian presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov are almost complete and that he may be released within the next week, Russian agencies reported. Vlasov was abducted on 1 May on the Chechen-Ingush border. Raduev accused Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin of hindering the negotiation process. He denied that any ransom would be paid (although Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Magomed Magomadov had said in June that Vlasov's kidnappers were demanding $2 million for his release). Raduev also claimed to have helped mediate the release of two British aide workers released on 20 September. At the same time, he conceded that Russian mogul Boris Berezovskii had also played a key role in that process. LF REVISED DATA ON RUSSIAN MISSING TROOPS, CIVILIANS. A Russian presidential commission for prisoners of war has published a list of 794 people missing in action since the Chechen war. Of those missing, 490 are members of the armed forces, 199 members of the Interior Ministry troops, 22 members of other security forces, and 83 civilians. The commission spokesman said that 10 Russian servicemen captured during the 1994-1996 war are believed to be held hostage in Chechnya, together with some 200 servicemen and civilians abducted over the past two years. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA LEADING TAJIK OPPOSITION FIGURE MURDERED. Otakhon Latifi, head of the National Reconciliation Commission sub-committee on legal issues, was shot dead by unidentified attackers leaving his home in Dushanbe on the morning of 22 September. A former "Pravda" correspondent, Latifi returned to Tajikistan last year after five years of exile in Iran. Both the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition have condemned the killing, according to dpa. LF KYRGYZ OFFICIAL SEEKS TO EXPLAIN CHANGES IN LAND OWNERSHIP. Presidential administration head Omar Sultanov addressed the nation on state television on 20 September to explain and seek support for the proposed constitutional changes that will legalize the private ownership of land, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Those changes, which also include restrictions on the powers of the parliament and guarantees of media freedom, are to be put to a nationwide referendum next month. Sultanov assured his audience that the current five-year moratorium on the sale of land will remain in effect and that 700,000 Kyrgyz citizens who have already received plots of land free of charge will not be required to pay for them. In addition, the country's main natural resources will remain state property, he said. LF LANGUAGE ISSUE ALSO TO BE PUT TO REFERENDUM? The Bishkek city administration announced on 21 September that the City Assembly has appealed to the parliament to include a question on the status of the Russian language in next month's nationwide referendum, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. According to the 1989 law on the state language and the 1993 constitution, Kyrgyz is the sole state language in Kyrgyzstan. Some public organizations and politicians (including President Akayev) have suggested giving Russian the status of either second state language or a language of interethnic communication. The parliament, however, has rejected those proposals. Ethnic Russians account for some 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population. LF ARMENIA CELEBRATES INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM ANNIVERSARY. Armenia on 21 September marked the anniversary of the 1991 referendum in which participants voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession from the USSR, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The celebrations included the official opening of a Victory Arch at the entry of the main military cemetery, located in a Yerevan suburb where most victims of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia are laid to rest. In a departure from previous years, there was no military parade. LF ARMENIAN PREMIER CONCLUDES LEBANON VISIT. Armen Darpinian returned to Yerevan on 18 September following a three-day official visit to Beirut, Armenian agencies reported. Darpinian held meetings with President Elias Hrawi, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and his Lebanese counterpart, Rafik Hariri, who had visited Yerevan in May. Both sides noted that cordial bilateral relations are not paralleled by similarly strong trade and economic ties. As a first step toward improving those ties, the two premiers signed an agreement on avoiding dual taxation. Darpinian also attended the opening of a business forum attended by entrepreneurs from both Armenia and Lebanon. Hrawi extended an invitation to Armenian President Robert Kocharian to visit Lebanon. LF TENSIONS WITHIN FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY. Former deputy parliamentary speaker Karapet Rubinian called on 18 September for the resignation of Vano Siradeghian as chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Rubinian argued that under Siradeghian's chairmanship, the party has committed "mistake after mistake" in recent months. He charged that Siradeghian is an obstacle to the HHSh's regaining its leading position in domestic politics. The HHSh's ruling board voted on 18 September to accept Rubinian's resignation from the party. It also voted to expel a second former deputy parliament speaker, Ara Sahakian, who had criticized Siradeghian in an interview with the daily newspaper "Aravot." Another prominent HHSh member, former parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsian has been refusing to attend the board's meetings, reportedly because of differences with the party leadership. LF END NOTE "AND HOME THERE'S NO RETURNING" by Liz Fuller For almost 40 years, the Meskhetians (an ethnically mixed group comprising mostly Muslim Georgians and some Kurds and Muslim Armenians, whose common identity was largely forged in the course of deportation) have been lobbying for permission to return to their ancestral villages in southwestern Georgia, from where they were deported in 1944. The most recent attempt to secure such permission failed. On 17 September, Georgian special police detachments surrounded a hostel in Tbilisi, rounded up some 40 Meskhetian men, loaded them on to buses, and deported them to the Russian Federation. The men belonged to an 83-person delegation that had traveled to the Georgian capital the previous day to plead with the Georgian leadership for permission to settle permanently in Georgia. The women members of the delegation were left behind in Tbilisi. Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze told journalists that he had ordered the expulsion of the Meskhetians because, he claimed, they are aligned with opposition supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The deportation recalls the mass expulsion of the Meskhetians from Georgia in November 1944 on Stalin's orders. The rationale for that action was the need to clear a strategically located region on the Soviet-Turkish frontier of elements suspected of pro-Turkish sympathies so that Soviet military operations could be extended into northeastern Turkey. On 15 November 1944, the entire Meskhetian population of several districts in southwestern Georgia, totaling between 150,000 and 200,000 people, were loaded into rail cars and transported to Central Asia. Thousands died en route, and thousands more in the harsh conditions in which they were forced to live in exile. Following Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" to the 20th CPSU congress in 1956, which disclosed some, but by no means all the evils committed during the Stalin era, the restrictions imposed on most of the deported ethnic groups were lifted. But unlike the Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, and others whose exile Khrushchev had explicitly condemned, the Meskhetians were not permitted to return to Georgia. Their efforts to do so were hindered by the fact that in many cases, their nationality had been arbitrarily changed to "Turkish" in their internal passports. Consequently, some were offered the chance to settle in Azerbaijan and accepted on the assumption that it would prove easier to resettle in Georgia from that neighboring republic. That assumption quickly proved to be false. By the late 1960s, the Meskhetians had split into two factions. One faction continued to push for the right to return to Georgia, while the other launched a campaign for the right to emigrate to Turkey. In the mid-1970s, the first of those two factions enlisted the help and support of the tiny Georgian dissident movement headed by Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who at the time was a faculty member of Tbilisi State University. Now represented by an informal association called "Salvation," the faction eventually registered a modest success in the early 1980s, when small-scale repatriation to Georgia got under way, presumably thanks to the efforts of then Georgian Communist Party Central Committee First Secretary Eduard Shevardnadze. That influx petered out, however, in the late 1980s. A further catastrophe hit the Meskhetians in the summer of 1989, when approximately 100 were killed in ethnic clashes in Uzbekistan's Fergana valley. Some 4,500 Meskhetians were swiftly evacuated from Uzbekistan to the Russian Federation, rather than Georgia. Since the collapse of the USSR, Meskhetians in several cities in southern Russia, especially Krasnodar, have been subjected to systematic harassment by the local authorities, who refuse either to acknowledge them as Russian citizens or to grant them residence permits. Following his return to Georgia from Moscow in 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze at first argued against allowing the Meskhetians to return to Georgia on the grounds that social and economic collapse precluded creating adequate conditions for their repatriation. But in December 1996, Shevardnadze signed into law a state program whereby some 5,000 Meskhetians would be gradually repatriated to Georgia by the year 2000. Some Georgian political figures objected to the proposed repatriation on the grounds that the Meskhetians considered themselves Turks, and would thus constitute a "fifth column" and potential separatist movement. The Georgians and Armenians who for the past 50 years have inhabited the villages from which the Meskhetians were originally deported in 1944 threatened to take up arms to prevent their return. In the event, whether for political or financial reasons, the1996 program was not systematically implemented. One Georgian observer suggested that Shevardnadze would have been committing political suicide if he had made provision for the deported Meskhetians to return to Georgia before reaching a settlement to the Abkhaz conflict that would create secure conditions for those ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war to return to their homes. The Meskhetians therefore renewed their lobbying campaign, seeking support from, among others, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel and the Turkish government. Ankara has apparently agreed to allow some of those Meskhetians who wished to settle in Turkey to do so, on condition that the Georgian government expedite the repatriation of those who prefer to settle in Georgia. 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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