|Monday, 23 November 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 1, No. 164, 97-11-20
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 1, No. 164, 20 November 1997
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 IRAN SEEKS IMPROVED TIES WITH AZERBAIJANIranian Minister for Cooperation Morteza Haji, who is co-chairman of the Azerbaijani-Iranian commission on economic cooperation, told President Heidar Aliev in Baku on 18 November that Tehran attaches "special importance" to bilateral relations with Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijani state television has also reached a preliminary agreement with Tehran whereby each country will air a daily one-hour program on the other's national network, according to Turan on 19 November. Iranian television broadcasts on Azerbaijani state television were discontinued in May 1997 on the grounds they were "propagandistic." LF
 UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER POSTPONES BAKU VISITValeriy Pustovoytenko has postponed a visit to the Azerbaijani capital scheduled for 20 November, ANS-Press reported, quoting a Ukrainian consular official in Baku. No reason was cited for the postponement. Pustovoytenko and the Azerbaijani government were to have discussed prospects for exporting part of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Ukraine. LF
 GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS OVERFollowing three days of talks in Geneva, Georgian and Abkhaz delegations agreed on 19 November to Tbilisi's proposal to create a coordinating council to oversee further talks. That body will be headed by UN special representative to Georgia Liviu Bota and will have three committees addressing the repatriation of displaced persons, security, and economic issues. The first session of the council will take place in December, according to Reuters. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov said the atmosphere at the talks was far more cordial than at earlier rounds of negotiations. He added that Moscow "will spare no effort" to reach a political solution to the conflict but does not claim any monopoly on peacekeeping operations in the region. The October CIS summit in Chisinau extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force in Abkhazia until 31 December 1997. LF
 WHO WILL MEDIATE KYAPAZ DISPUTE?Turkmenistan has lodged an appeal with the UN for assistance in settling its dispute with Azerbaijan over ownership of the Kyapaz/Serdar Caspian oil field, Interfax reported on 19 November, quoting an unnamed official from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry. The official said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had reacted "with understanding" to the Turkmen request. He added it is "senseless" to expect an objective ruling on the issue from other littoral states. On 18 November, however, ANS-Press quoted LUKoil chairman Vagit Alekperov as saying the Kyapaz dispute will be resolved through the mediation of the Russian government. Meeting in Ashgabat recently with President Saparmurat Niyazov, U.S. Energy Secretary Federico Pena expressed his country's willingness to help resolve the dispute, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 November. LF
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT HOPES FOR BIG PROFIT FROM U.S. DEALSNursultan Nazarbayev was quoted by Interfax on 19 November as saying two oil and gas deals signed in Washington the previous day will bring Kazakhstan $600 billion over the next 40 years. Nazarbayev is currently in the United States on an official visit. Meanwhile, Vagit Alekperov, the president of Russia's LUKoil, has said that oil and gas condensate from the Karachaganak field, in western Kazakhstan, will be shipped to Western markets via Russian transport networks. LUKoil has a 15 percent stake in the Karachaganak project. According to Alekperov, Kazakh hydrocarbons from the Karachaganak field will exported via the Novorossiisk port by September 2000. BP
 FIRE DAMAGES KAZAKH POWER PLANTA fire broke out at the Ekibsztuz Thermo-electric plant, in northern Kazakhstan, on 18 November, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. The fire was extinguished after two-and-a-half hours, but one 500-watt generator is in need of repair and will be out of operation for a week. As a result of the power outage, passenger trains were delayed and television broadcasts from Almaty and Moscow temporarily halted. Shortages will continue until the damaged generator has been repaired. BP
 KYRGYZ GOLD PROJECT AHEAD OF SCHEDULEKyrgyzstan's largest joint venture, the Kumtor gold mine, announced on 17 November that it has exceeded its goal of producing 12.7 tons of gold this year, according to RFE/RL correspondents. So far this year, 13.2 tons of gold have been produced. Cameco corporation of Canada and Kyrgyzaltyn, who are partners in the project, expect production to reach 20 tons annually by the end of the century. The gold mine began operations this year. BP
 UN PLEDGES FURTHER SUPPORT TO TAJIKISTANFollowing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal to increase aid to Tajikistan, the UN Information Center in Tehran has released a report saying up to $65 million in humanitarian aid will be allocated to the Central Asian country, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 November. That decision will be confirmed at the donor countries conference in Vienna on 24-25 November. In addition, the UN observer mission in Tajikistan is to be increased from 44 to 120 members, but no time frame was announced for that increase. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 PLAVSIC "WELCOMES" BACK MUSLIMS, CROATSRepublika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, meeting with Sadako Ogata, the UN high commissioner for refugees, in Banja Luka on 19 November, said that Croatian and Muslim refugees are "welcome" to return. Ogata noted that "real peace will not come while people are still displaced." Plavsic's position in recent months has been that refugees may return once all Serbs living in temporary shelters have received homes of their own. During the war, Banja Luka was known as "the heart of darkness" because of the ruthlessness with which Serbs drove Croats and Muslims from the region. PM
 BOSNIAN SERB ELECTIONS SET TO GO AHEADRobert Frowick, the head of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission, which will supervise the 22-23 November Bosnian Serb parliamentary vote, said in Banja Luka on 19 November that he expects the elections to go ahead without any difficulty. In Sarajevo, an EU spokesman said the union will spend $1.4 million to help make the vote a success. The EU will fund the work of 600 short-term monitors as well as 134 longer-term personnel, who will stay on through mid-December to complete the final tally. PM
 CHARGES OF MASSIVE FRAUD IN BOSNIAMuslim authorities may have diverted millions of dollars this year to illegal agencies, including an Iranian-trained spy network, the "Los Angeles Times" wrote on 20 November. European investigators called the diversion of funds through fraud and tax evasion "systematic and almost routine." Muslim officials deny the charges, which international officials in Sarajevo have also made (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 14 November 1997). Meanwhile in London, "The Guardian" reported that an official of the British charity Medjugorje Appeal sent troop carriers, hand-cuffs, and other military or police equipment to the Bosnian Croat militia during the war. PM
 MIXED SIGNALS ON CROATIAN TV REFORMThe parliament on 19 November rejected an opposition request to place a discussion of the television law on the legislative agenda, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. The opposition and a group of prominent radio and television journalists, known as Forum 21, recently called for the government to loosen its control over the electronic media. Meanwhile, top officials of state-run television (HTV) discussed reform with members of Forum 21. The reform-minded journalists said they were "pleasantly surprised" by HTV's receptiveness to their proposals, "Novi List" wrote. PM
 OSCE WANTS OPEN CROATIAN-YUGOSLAV BORDERSpokesmen for the OSCE mission to Croatia said in Zagreb on 19 November that successful integration into Croatia of eastern Slavonia's Serbs will depend heavily on whether Croatia observes agreements allowing local residents free movement between Croatia and Serbia. UN authorities, which administer eastern Slavonia, said Croatian regulations on travel documents will go into effect on 1 December. After that date, Yugoslav citizens must have a Croatian visa or papers proving they live in the border area in order to enter eastern Slavonia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. PM
 CHINA DENIES YUGOSLAV MISSILE SALEA Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing on 20 November denied reports in the Belgrade "Nedeljni telegraf" the previous day that China agreed to sell Yugoslavia an unspecified quantity of GSSM intermediate-range ballistic missiles and Red Arrow-8 anti-tank missiles during the recent visit of President Slobodan Milosevic. The spokesman said "the report on so-called sales of weapons by China in the Yugoslav media is not correct. China is not prepared to sell such kinds of weapons to Yugoslavia." The Belgrade newspaper said Milosevic agreed to pay for the weapons by spending $5.8 million to build a fruit processing plant near Beijing. PM
 SANDZAK MUSLIMS TO HAVE OWN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATESulejman Ugljanin said on behalf of the List for Sandzak coalition in Novi Pazar on 19 November that Yugoslavia's Muslims will field their own candidate in the 7 December Serbian presidential elections. Ugljanin added that no Serbian candidate has a platform that addresses Muslim concerns. Ugljanin's announcement indicates that there is little chance that Serbia's Muslim minority will vote for an opposition candidate against Milosevic's candidate Milan Milutinovic or Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj. Kosovo's political leaders have already said Serbia's ethnic Albanians will boycott the vote. PM
 ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TO CLAMP DOWN ON PYRAMIDSThe parliament on 19 November amended the constitutional law to allow the government to audit and administer private companies if the government concludes that their activities "endanger or harm the economic interests of the citizens," Albanian Television reported. The move came after the Constitutional Court ruled that the new pyramid transparency law violates the right to private ownership of businesses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 1997). Some legal experts fear that the parliament's move may set a precedent for the legislature to change the constitutional law every time a conflict with the Constitutional Court arises. The court can strike down ordinary laws, but not a constitutional change approved by the parliament. FS
 BRITAIN REFUSES ALBANIAN DIPLOMATS ASYLUMBritish authorities on 19 November turned down requests for political asylum by outgoing Albanian ambassador Pavil Mihal Qesku and his deputy Fillakti Piro. The BBC reported that London does not feel that the two will face political persecution if they return to Albania. PM
 MAJOR DONORS PRAISE ROMANIAN ECONOMIC REFORMSFollowing a 19 November meeting with Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara and other government officials, the G-24 group and the World Bank praised Romania's commitment to economic reform and pledged continued financial support, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. Reuters the same day cited an IMF statement saying the IMF is ready to soon release the third tranche of the $415 million credit agreed on in April. Meanwhile, the Romanian National Bank on 19 November announced that the country's foreign debt is $7.7 billion. Of that sum, $2.8 billion is owed to international financing institutions and $3.2 billion to private banks abroad. MS
 ROMANIAN DEPUTY TO LOSE IMMUNITY?The Judicial Commission of the Chamber of Deputies on 19 November voted to recommend that the house lift the immunity of Gabriel Bivolaru, a deputy from the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR). Bivolaru is suspected of having forged documents to obtain bank credits for himself and for companies with which he is associated, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A similar request to lift Bivolaru's immunity was rejected by the chamber earlier this year, but the Prosecutor-General's Office says new evidence has emerged since then. The PDSR said it will not oppose lifting Bivolaru's immunity this time. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SETS ELECTION DATEPetru Lucinschi on 19 November signed a decree stipulating that the next parliamentary elections will be held on 22 March 1998. The decree follows the recent decision of the Constitutional Court ruling that the legislature's mandate ends on 27 February (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1997). Lucinschi's decision was welcomed by the pro-presidential Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova (PMPD), the opposition Democratic Convention of Moldova, and the Socialist-Unity-Edinstvo faction. In other news, the extra parliamentary Moldovan Civic Party on 19 November announced it has joined the PMPD, BASA- press reported. MS
 MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS BILL ON NATIONAL PROPERTIES REGISTERThe parliament on 19 November rejected a government-proposed draft law setting up a national properties register. The register is among the conditions for the IMF and the World Bank to continue extending loans to Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997). Under house regulations, the draft cannot be debated again during the current parliamentary session because it was rejected in the first reading. MS
[C] END NOTE
 LUKASHENKA PLAYS POPULIST CARD AT HOME AND IN "NEAR ABROAD"by Christopher Walker
While many in the West have focused on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's systematic crackdown on political opponents and independent media in Belarus, there is a potentially more destabilizing development that could create serious problems far beyond Belarus. As he holds back his own country's progress by ignoring the need for economic and social reforms, Lukashenka appeals to his countrymen's worst fears by using the difficulties posed by reform in other former Soviet republics, Russia in particular, to justify his course at home.
Moreover, he is doing his best to peddle a similarly seductive and possibly explosive populist message to the economically disenfranchised within Russia. To this, he adds a dose of Soviet nationalism and pan-Slavic revisionism.
Within Belarus, Lukashenka has used his overwhelming control of state-run media to make a simple, yet effective populist appeal to his core constituency outside urban centers. That constituency is, in fact, a "captive" audience. With only a handful of weakened independent or opposition newspapers publishing in Minsk, it is difficult for those outside the capital to receive alternative information. In Minsk, there is a palpable feeling of being cut off. Even at major hotels, one is unable to find a Western newspaper or magazine.
According to Lukashenka's prescription for reform, changes are necessary but he himself will manage to make changes differently. Or, as Lukashenka himself puts it, Belarus is taking all of the "best things" learned from Russia's reform experience and discarding the "worst."
But what he is unable to explain is how in the long term Belarus will function among its neighboring states that have advanced through the toughest stages of the reform process. With all of its warts, the Russian reform process has advanced to the point where most observers believe the results achieved to date have taken root. Clearly, a major shift in the Russian domestic political landscape may change that belief.
By exploiting the anxieties of the Russian masses, Lukashenka is a politician who may make an impact in Russia. There has been significant speculation about Lukashenka's ultimate ambition on the Russian political scene and how he hopes to achieve his objectives.
For Moscow, dealing with the peculiar reality of Russian-Belarusian integration is a delicate political issue. In many ways, Belarus, together with Armenia, is Russia's last genuine ally. Few politicians in Moscow are prepared to take on directly the charismatic Lukashenka for fear that it could be perceived by the Russian domestic constituency as a slap in the face of an ally. At the same time, the Russian leaders who suffer the brunt of Lukashenka's criticism are those who have led Russia's economic reform process, namely Boris Nemtsov and Anatolii Chubais. His attacks on those leading Russian reformers will only make the job of continuing reform in Russia more difficult.
While in Belarus, the recent campaign against corruption may in fact be a tool for settling internal political scores, it also serves as a populist instrument to underscore the fact that many in the Russian business and political elite have been able to enrich themselves during the transition.
Ironically, by accepting Lukashenka's unworkable prescription now, Belarusians will certainly face more painful economic and social dislocation in the foreseeable future, when the present approach proves no longer sustainable.
Few Belarusians can imagine domestic political life without their autocratic president; some may not want to imagine it. But the house of cards Lukashenka is busy building may collapse more quickly than expected. In the meantime, he is pursuing domestic and international policies that may ultimately destabilize the region.
By telling these economically and socially dislocated constituencies what they desperately want to hear, but not what is necessary to improve their material condition in the long term, Lukashenka is setting a trap into which unsuspecting Belarusians--and Russians--may fall.
While many Belarusians may be unable to imagine life without Lukashenka, Western observers may not fully appreciate the disturbing possibility of his influence becoming more pronounced in Russia. As one Belarusian journalist in Minsk put it, "Outside Belarus, people underestimate Lukashenka; inside the country, [Belarusians] overestimate him."
The author is manager of programs of the Connecticut-based European Journalism Network.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty