|He who knows nothing is nearer the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. - Thomas Jefferson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 87, Part I, 5 May 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 87, Part I, 5 May 1999 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 CURIOUS ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING OUTSIDE OF MOSCOW? Get detailed reports about Russia's regions and regional policy in the weekly "RFE/RL RUSSIAN FEDERATION REPORT." It's available on our web site at: http://www.rferl.org/russianreport/index.html To subscribe, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * ANOTHER SYNAGOGUE TARGETED * CHERNOMYRDIN AGREES WITH ANNAN ON KEY DEMANDS FOR KOSOVA * KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GREATER MEDIA FREEDOM End Note: THE CRIMINALIZATION OF POLITICS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA ANOTHER SYNAGOGUE TARGETED. The only synagogue in Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, has been attacked twice in the last five days, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 4 May. On 2 May, a menorah in the synagogue yard was broken, and the next day, a window was smashed, metallic Stars of David torn off the outer walls and 10 swastikas formed out of stones in the synagogue's yard. Meanwhile in Moscow, law enforcement officers told Interfax that the bombs that exploded near two synagogues in the city on 2 May were identical. Both devices were homemade and consisted of about 400 grams of TNT. JAC CHERNOMYRDIN AGREES WITH ANNAN ON KEY DEMANDS FOR KOSOVA... Following a meeting with Russian special envoy for Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin in New York on 4 May, UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan said there was "general agreement" between them over key NATO demands on Kosova. He said both sides agreed on the need for a withdrawal of Serbian forces and the return of refugees under the supervision of an international force. Annan, however, added that obstacles remain and there is still "quite a bit of ground to cover." He pointed out that the discussion focused on "how we get Belgrade to accept" some of those demands. OSCE Chairman Knut Vollebaek, who also met with Chernomyrdin, said that now "there seems to be more of a willingness from [Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic] to have an international component, an international force" in Kosova, AFP reported. He gave no further details. FS ...WANTS STRONGER ROLE FOR G-8. Chernomyrdin met with Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in Washington on 4 May and discussed the possible role of the G-8 countries in solving the Kosova crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. In Bonn, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev said that high-ranking officials of the G-8 countries have developed a draft peace plan, which they will submit to a foreign ministers' meeting there on 6 May. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer insisted on the "robust participation of NATO" to protect returning refugees. Chernomyrdin met in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, and National Security Adviser Samuel Berger and later with Vice President Al Gore. White House officials reported no breakthrough, AFP reported. In Moscow, Russian Public Television said Chernomyrdin suggested a peacekeeping force that included heavily armed troops from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and "other countries that Milosevic can trust" and lightly armed NATO troops. FS PRIMAKOV SAYS ECONOMY OVER THE HUMP... In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" published on 5 May, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov said "Russia has passed the most acute phase" of its financial crisis. "There may still be some zigzags but we prevented inflation from becoming hyperinflation and even reduced it..., and other macro indices have improved as well," he said. Primakov repeated the refrain that he has "neither the ambition nor the desire to run for president in the next elections" and described his attitude toward the alliance of Otechestvo and Vsya Rossiya as "positive." At the same, he commented that he does not think it "appropriate to participate in any political movement" while in government. JAC ...AND CHANGES IN GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL 'NATURAL.' On the issue of whether more cabinet officials might be dismissed, Primakov said he "never stated that I would be against any changes in the government. On the contrary, the government is a living organism, and naturally changes must and will take place." Referring to rumors about the imminent dismissal of First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov and Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik, he said "we would lose not only professionals but also important opportunities in our relations with legislators." Mikhail Lapshin, leader of the Agrarian Party, of which Kulik is a member, told Interfax on 4 May that the party would oppose Kulik's removal from his post. Leader of the union of agricultural workers Aleksandr Davydov said that Kulik's departure at the height of the spring sowing season would be disastrous since only Kulik managed to arrange deliveries of goods crucial for this year's harvest. JAC ANOTHER REGION NEARING DEFAULT. Credit agency Fitch ICBA has withdrawn its rating for Leningrad oblast, "The Moscow Times" reported on 5 May. According to a Fitch official, the withdrawal came at the request of regional officials and was not related to the oblast's looming default on $50 million in foreign loans (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 May 1999). The region had been rated at CC, indicating it was very close to default. The next region facing default may be the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, which will soon have to make a $100 million principal payment on a syndicated loan, the daily reported. Some analysts fear that one region's experiencing a default could have a domino effect, according to the newspaper. Citing Finance Ministry sources, "Kommersant-Daily" predicted earlier that nearly half of Russia's regions may default on debt owed to foreign creditors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 1999). JAC YELTSIN ENCOURAGES PUBLIC TO CELEBRATE CHRISTIANITY... Speaking at the opening of the first session of the Organizing Committee for the Celebration of the Approaching Millennium and the 2000th anniversary of Christianity, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said that the religious occasion "should be observed in every Russian family," ITAR- TASS reported on 5 May. JAC ...AS MILITARY REACHES EXCLUSIVE ARRANGEMENT WITH ORTHODOX CHURCH. Meanwhile, "The Moscow Times" reported the same day that more than 100 Russian Orthodox churches and chapels are operating on military bases throughout the country. Head of Russia's Council of Muftis Ravil Gainutdin has responded to that development by saying that the construction of churches in military garrisons is "discrimination" against Muslim soldiers, who make up 20 percent of all servicemen, the daily reported. The Orthodox Church's work in the military is based on priests' contacts with individual commanders and on a vague agreement between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Defense Ministry, the newspaper reported. According to Gainutdin, the Defense and Interior Ministries refused to sign a similar agreement with Muslim authorities. Archpriest Aleksii Zotov, deputy chairman of the Patriarchate's Department for Contacts with the Military, questioned the need for Catholic priests in the Russian army. "If there is a Catholic soldier, our priest, if he is not an idiot, will find a Catholic priest for him," he commented. JAC RNE MEMBERS HOPING TO BECOME SECURITY GUARDS? In an interview with "Ekho Moskvy" on 4 May, Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov confirmed that the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity (RNE) could participate in parliamentary elections in 1999 as long as it forms a bloc with organizations that have already registered with the ministry. "Argumenty i Fakty" reported in its April issue that "30 or 40" industrial enterprises in Moscow Oblast are currently sponsoring the RNE, despite the recent court ban of its Moscow chapter. A director of a security firm told the journal that criminal groups are forming alliances with RNE and other extremist movements so that these groups can be deployed during showdowns with competitors or law enforcement officials. In addition, the source said that RNE members and other groups are trying to gain entry to the security business as a legal means of acquiring weapons. JAC CRIME RATE RISING, LED BY THEFTS. The number of crimes reported in Russia in the first quarter of 1999 increased by 20 percent compared with the same period last year, according to Interior Ministry figures, Interfax reported on 4 May. Thefts accounted for almost half of the total figure of about 752,000, while the number of economic crimes jumped by 17.6 percent. JAC PROFESSIONALS FACING HIGHER RISK OF UNEMPLOYMENT. The rate of unemployment in Russia--now at 12 percent--is increasing at a faster rate, according to the April edition of "Novoe Vremya." According to the journal, the chief source of the increase are dismissals, while the process of reorganizing small to medium-sized enterprises, which provide two-thirds of jobs, has turned out to be slow. Among highly-qualified workers, "jobs are being lost most rapidly." Twenty percent of the unemployed are professionals and only 10 percent have no qualifications whatsoever. JAC NORTH OSSETIA RELEASES FINAL ELECTION RESULTS. The Russian Communist Party (KPRF) has the largest number of deputies-- 13--in North Ossetia's 75-member parliament elected on 25 April, Caucasus Press reported on 5 May, quoting Central Electoral Commission chairman Aslanbek Kairov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 1999). Seven deputies are ethnic Russians, while one is Armenian and one Kumyk. There are three women deputies. LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA DETAINED FORMER ARMENIAN MINISTER REFUSES TO COOPERATE. Former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian is refusing to answer investigators' questions, claiming his detention threatens the freedom and fairness of the parliamentary elections scheduled for 30 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 May. Siradeghian was detained at Yerevan airport earlier this week on returning to Armenia after a three-month absence in connection with a series of killings he is suspected to have ordered in his capacity as interior minister from 1992-1996 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 1999). Members of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), of which Siradeghian is chairman, issued a statement on 4 May accusing the Armenian leadership of being unable to guarantee free and fair elections and of trying to exclude the HHSh from the election campaign. HHSh leaders also told reporters that they have lodged a protest with the OSCE election monitoring mission and are considering boycotting the poll. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION URGED TO RETURN TO PARLIAMENT. Parliamentary first deputy speaker Arif Ragimzade has met with Yusif Bagirzade, one of the 17 opposition parliamentary deputies aligned in the Democratic Bloc, Turan reported on 4 May. Ragimzade urged those deputies to resume participation in the work of the legislature. The Democratic Bloc is refusing to take part in parliamentary proceedings until a debate is convened on the work of the parliament and of speaker Murtuz Alesqerov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April and 3 May 1999). Also on 4 May, the parliament passed in the first reading legislation on municipal councils and the conduct of municipal elections. LF U.S. SEEKS TO REASSURE GEORGIA OVER ANTIQUITIES. The president of the International Arts and Education Fund has informed Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze that the fund takes full responsibility for the Georgian icons and other antiquities to be exhibited in four U.S. cities later this year, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian students and clergymen launched a hunger strike in Tbilisi last week to protest the planned exhibit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 1999). Some of the hunger strikers fear the artifacts may be clandestinely sold to private collectors, while others told RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau that "God's grace will abandon Georgia" if the icons and other religious objects are allowed to leave the country. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GREATER MEDIA FREEDOM. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL correspondents in Astana on 4 May, Nursultan Nazarbaev said that Kazakhstan needs further democratic reforms, including the expansion of freedom of speech and the press. One day earlier, journalists had complained that the new draft media law currently under discussion would have the opposite effect. Marat Ospanov, chairman of the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, similarly told the private television station "31" that censorship exists in Kazakhstan, although it is illegal, Interfax reported on 4 May. Ospanov said he himself is subject to censorship, which he blamed on the owners of unspecified media outlets. LF FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER SUES JUSTICE MINISTRY... A district court in Almaty on 5 May started hearing a case that former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin has brought against the Ministry of Justice for its refusal to register the "Respublika" newspaper, which is published by Kazhegeldin's Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Amirzhan Qosanov, who is a member of the party's executive board, told journalists that all the necessary documents for the official registration of "Respublika" were submitted to the Ministry of Justice last August. LF ...CLARIFIES FUTURE PLANS. Speaking in London two days earlier, Kazhegeldin said he will not contend the parliamentary elections to be held in Kazakhstan in October, although other members of his party may do so, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Kazhegeldin hinted that he will not return to Kazakhstan until after the publication later this year of his new book, "Economic Modeling." LF SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DELEGATION VISITS KYRGYZSTAN, KAZAKHSTAN. Deputy Foreign Minister Frantisek Dlouhopolcek headed a Slovak government delegation that visited Bishkek on 3 May and Astana the following day, RFE/RL correspondents in the two capitals reported. Dlouhopolcek met with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev and representatives of the presidential administration to discuss inter-governmental cooperation. In Astana, he and Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev reviewed bilateral relations, economic and cultural cooperation, and the Kosova conflict. LF TWELVE TERRORIST SUSPECTS DETAINED IN KYRGYZSTAN. The Ministry of National Security announced in Bishkek on 4 May that 12 people suspected of preparing terrorist acts at railroad and bus terminals in Bishkek were detained over the previous three days, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Weapons, cartridges, and drugs were reportedly also seized. An investigation is under way. LF UN ENVOY DISCUSSES PEACE PROCESS WITH TAJIK PRESIDENT. Jan Kubis told journalists after meeting with President Imomali Rakhmonov on 4 May that he informed the latter about unspecified proposals drafted by the Contact Group for Tajikistan to expedite the peace process, AP-Blitz reported. Kubis also condemned opposition commander Mansur Muakalov's seizure last week of six police officers but expressed approval at the creation of a government commission to negotiate their release. AP on 30 April had quoted Kubis as blaming those abductions on the Tajik government's failure to implement agreements granting amnesty to opposition members. In a letter addressed to the Committee for National Reconciliation, Muakalov described the kidnappings as "a forced measure" in response to the "indifference" of the government and United Tajik Opposition leaders. LF TURKMENISTAN TO OPEN MORE EMBASSIES. President Saparmurat Niyazov has issued a decree on opening embassies in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Tajikistan, Interfax reported on 4 May. That move is a follow-up to Turkmenistan's decision earlier this year to introduce a visa requirement for visitors from most CIS states (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"18 March 1999). LF JAPANESE FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS UZBEKISTAN. Masahiko Komura met in Tashkent on 4 May with his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Kamilov, President Islam Karimov, and Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov, Interfax reported. Their talks focused on regional security and bilateral cooperation. Komura also attended the opening of the first Japanese International Cooperation Agency office in Central Asia. That body provides technical assistance in the transition to a market economy, environmental protection, and the development of transport, communications, and public health facilities. LF END NOTE THE CRIMINALIZATION OF POLITICS By Paul Goble Several post-Soviet leaders are seeking to defeat their opponents in the courtroom rather than at the ballot box, an abuse of still fragile legal systems that threatens not only to poison political life but to further limit the chances that these countries will move toward democracy. The latest example of such an effort and its consequences appear to be taking place in Kazakhstan. Late last month, Yuri Khitrin, Kazakhstan's chief prosecutor, announced that he has reopened an investigation into the affairs of Akezhan Kazhegeldin, a former prime minister who now leads the opposition to President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Khitrin said that he is again looking into charges that Kazhegeldin and his wife engaged in money laundering and failed to pay taxes on their earnings. In Washington during a speaking tour of the U.S., Kazhegeldin proclaimed his innocence, vowed to fight the charges in court, and suggested that this legal move is intended to intimidate him. Whatever the merits of these specific charges against Kazhegeldin, his suggestion that the Nazarbaev government is using the veneer of legality to drive him from political life appears credible, given the ways in which the authorities have deployed the legal system against him. Earlier this year, officials in Nazarbaev's entourage prevented Kazhegeldin from running against the incumbent president in the 10 January poll. And they clearly hope that this latest charge will prevent him from taking part in parliamentary elections slated for this fall. Indeed, even if he is able to demonstrate his innocence in court, the charges themselves may be enough to prevent him from participating. Using the legal system to block political challengers is hardly unique to Kazakhstan. Legal maneuvering against serious political challengers has taken place in Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation. And most recently, the Belarusian authorities arrested Mikhail Chyhir, also a former premier and a candidate in the opposition presidential elections scheduled for this month, on charges of "grand larceny" and abuse of office in his former capacity as a top bank official. The advantages of such a strategy to incumbents are obvious. A legal challenge has the effect of discrediting opponents they do not want to face both at home and abroad. Many people in these countries hear such charges and assume that there must be some truth to them. And many abroad find the charges plausible enough to cause them to back away from supporting opponents of the current regimes. But this misuse of the legal system does far more than exclude opponents from taking part in elections. First, it sends a chilling message to all citizens of these countries. If the regime is prepared to go after a former prime minister like Kazhegeldin, it will certainly be willing to go after anyone, from the highest official to the most ordinary citizen. While no one is above the law, this use of legal proceeding suggests that there can be no certainty that the authorities in these post-communist countries will employ such measures in a lawful manner. And that reduces the chances that these countries will be able to become democratic and law-based societies. Second, it undoubtedly limits the number of people who will think about going into political life and challenging incumbents. Anyone who sees what the authorities can do to someone who challenges their power is likely to think twice before trying to get involved. Such fears narrow the politically engaged class and make it more likely that future political change will come in a ratchet-like rather than evolutionary manner, a pattern that could throw some of these countries into chaos when the current incumbents inevitably pass from the scene. And third, such actions increase the value of incumbency. Many officials will do what they can to remain in office lest they find themselves subject to legal challenges following their departure. Not only will such efforts tend to further restrict the possibilities of political evolution, but they almost certainly will reduce the opportunities for the development of another generation of active political leaders. Moreover, such legal actions against political opponents have the effect of increasing the importance of the immunity from prosecution that members of most of the parliaments in this region now enjoy. Few current members will want to give that protection up by leaving office, and thus many of them may be willing to vote for measures that extend their terms or guarantee their reelections. At the same time, many may try to become deputies precisely to gain that advantage. But such efforts have another and perhaps more insidious consequence: they tend to isolate the political class from the population and thus reinforce the Soviet-era notion that the elite is permitted to do things that the citizenry cannot. It is a fundamental principle of democratic governance that no one should stand above the law. But it is equally important that no one should be victimized by the political misuse of legal norms. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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