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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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
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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
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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.

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