|Friday, 13 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 171, 98-09-07
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 171, 7 September 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 GEORGIAN, AZERBAIJANI CURRENCIES LOSE VALUEThe Georgian lari on 6 September fell from 1.38 to 1.70 to $1 in street trading, AP reported the following day. In his weekly radio address on 7 September, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze warned against panic, affirming that the lari is stable and there are no objective reasons for it to fall in value. Meanwhile in Baku, officials from the National Bank of Azerbaijan began touring currency exchange stalls on 4 September in the hope of preventing panic buying of dollars, according to ANS-Press. As of 5 September, the manat was trading at between 3,940 and 3,950 to $1, an increase of 100 manats over the previous week, Turan reported. ANS-Press quoted unconfirmed reports that customs officials have imposed restrictions on the import and export of foreign currencies. LF
 BAKU DEMONSTRATION POSTPONEDMeeting on 3 September, the opposition Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform decided to postpone the protest demonstration scheduled for 5 September, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev had rejected the opposition's demand to be allowed to hold the demonstration on the city's main Freedom Square, proposing instead that it take place at a motor-racing stadium in the suburbs. LF
 CIVILIAN KILLED IN COMBAT MANEUVERS IN GEORGIAA man was killed and his wife and mother injured on 5 September when Russian peacekeeping forces inadvertently fired an anti-tank missile at their home near Tskhinvali, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian troops, who are part of a peacekeeping contingent deployed in the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, were engaged in routine combat training. LF
 GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS PRESSURE RUSSIAN COUNTERPARTS TO LEAVEGeorgian border guards on 6 September entered the Russian border guard post in the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti and demanded that the Russians vacate the premises, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Under an agreement signed by Georgia and Russia earlier this year, Georgian border guards were to assume full responsibility for patrolling Georgia's sea borders on 1 September. The Russian contingent will be transferred from Poti to the Adjar capital, Batumi. LF
 KYRGYZ PREMIER ADDRESSES PARLIAMENTAddressing the upper house of the parliament on 4 September, Kubanychbek Jumaliev said the country's economic situation is stable. He noted that GDP growth during the first eight months of 1998 was 4.5 percent, and he predicted an annual inflation rate of 12 percent this year. Jumaliev admitted, however, that the Asian and Russian financial crises have adversely affected the som. He proposed banning any financial transactions in U.S. dollars and conducting all such transactions only in the national currency. Jumaliev also informed lawmakers that the government will not implement the law, enacted earlier this year, that reduces land tax by 50 percent. He asked the parliament to amend that legislation. LF
 TAJIK PRESIDENT ASSESSES MILITARYIn an interview with ITAR-TASS on 5 September, Imomali Rakhmonov said that despite the 1992-1997 civil war, Tajikistan has succeeded in building armed forces adequate to ensure the country's security. He added that joint maneuvers in recent months involving Russian forces and Tajik Interior Ministry troops, presidential guards, and army units have demonstrated that Tajikistan's armed forces "are capable of assuming control of the situation in conditions where either an external threat or local conflicts [arise]." In other news, the body of Mukhiddin Zamonov, a bodyguard for one of the opposition members of the National Reconciliation Committee, was found in a reservoir near Dushanbe on 4 September, one week after he was abducted by unidentified gunmen, AP reported. An Interior Ministry official has been arrested and has confessed to the killing, which is believed not to have been politically motivated. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 U.S. OFFICIALS REPORT 'HORRENDOUS' CONDITIONS IN KOSOVA...U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck said on 6 September that he and former U.S. Senator Bob Dole have seen evidence of "horrendous" rights violations after a tour of central Kosova, Reuters reported. Shattuck said he and Dole--the chairman of the International Commission on Missing Persons--saw "violations of humanitarian law and acts of punitive destruction." Dole is investigating reports that missing Serbs and ethnic Albanians are being held prisoner by either side. Shattuck said reports of Serbian security forces separating men and boys at gunpoint from groups of refugees will be a topic of discussion when he and Dole meet with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on 7 September. Shattuck also warned that many ethnic Albanians were in danger of dying of starvation and exposure if the wholesale destruction of villages by Serbian forces continues. PB
 ...DEMAND THAT BELGRADE INCREASE ACCESS TO KOSOVAShattuck said that the U.S. wants forensic experts allowed into the Serbian province to investigate alleged atrocities by both Serbs and ethnic Albanians, AP reported. Dole said they have heard "chilling" accounts of atrocities and that despite Western promises not to allow crimes against humanity to occur in Kosova, like those that took place in Bosnia, "such crimes are already happening." Shattuck said Serbian claims of crimes against humanity will be in doubt if experts are not allowed to verify the claims. That Yugoslav officials continue to deny visas to such experts is "absurd," Shattuck said. PB
 KINKEL REJECTS U.S. ENVOY'S CRITICISMGerman Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel on 6 September strongly refuted allegations by U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill that Europe is indifferent to solving the Kosova crisis, Reuters reported. Kinkel, speaking on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Salzburg, called Hill's comments "cynical and condescending" and said that the EU is "not the world's policeman." At the same time, Kinkel said the EU should appoint its own special envoy to Kosova, such as the U.S. has done with Hill. Hill said in a speech in the U.S. on 4 September that the EU is content on forging a united Europe that conveniently does not include the Balkans. PB
 EU BANS YUGOSLAV FLIGHTSThe EU on 6 September announced it will prohibit Yugoslav national airline (JAT) flights to the EU, AP reported. The move was announced at the EU foreign ministers' meeting in Salzburg after Athens dropped its reservations against the ban. The sanction on JAT will be in force until Belgrade halts its crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosova, officials said. PB
 SERBS SAID TO HAVE CAPTURED 450 SUSPECTED REBELSSerbian police reportedly detained some 450 suspected members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), dpa reported on 6 September. The Serbian Media Center said some 250 men were captured near Klina and another 200 in the central Kosova region of Orahovac, both areas the scene of heavy fighting between Serbian and UCK forces recently. Kosovar Albanian sources claim many of the men are civilians and are not members of the UCK. PB
 UCK SPOKESMAN WARNS ABOUT DEALING WITH MILOSEVICAdem Demaci, the political representative of the UCK, said on 5 September that he has no faith in an interim peace accord between Yugoslav President Milosevic and Kosova "shadow state" President Ibrahim Rugova, AP reported. Demaci told the Albanian-language daily "Bujku" that he does not believe Milosevic, who, he added, is "constantly lying." Demaci said although the accord is at a preliminary stage, he fears Rugova "will make a mistake." He said Serbia uses one hand to "simulate dialogue" and the other "to exert force against our population." Milosevic and Rugova have agreed in principle to a U.S. formula granting Kosova some degree of autonomy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1998.). PB
 CROATIAN CANDIDATES BANNED FROM BOSNIAN ELECTIONSThe OSCE's Electoral Appeals Commission has disqualified 15 candidates of a Croatian nationalist party from taking part in the 12-13 September Bosnian elections, AP reported on 5 September. The members of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia-Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) were banned because they allegedly received unfair and blatant support from Croatian television, which is controlled by Croatia's ruling HDZ party. The HDZ BiH has protested the action and said in a statement that the OSCE is trying to rig the election. It said it will consider boycotting the election if the OSCE's decision is not reversed. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said the next day that the ban of ethnic Croats from the Bosnian elections is detrimental to the democratic process and the peace process in Bosnia- Herzegovina, AP reported. PB
 CROATIAN ELECTRIC COMPANY DEMANDS COMPENSATION FROM SLOVENIAThe Croatian Electric Power Company has formally asked the Krsko nuclear power plant in Slovenia to reimburse it for losses incurred when the plant cut off power to Croatia, HINA reported on 5 September. The company is asking for $8.6 million for outages that occurred between 30 July and 1 September. The director of the Slovenian utility company, Ivo Banic, said the request has no legal basis. Slovenia has sporadically turned off power to Croatia from the plant-- which Zagreb says is jointly owned by both countries-- because it has failed to pay its bills. PB
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES REVISED BUDGET...The cabinet headed by Radu Vasile on 5 September approved Finance Minister Daniel Daianu's proposal to cut this year's budget by 8 trillion lei ($890 million) and to increase budget revenues by raising duties on imports and taxes on tobacco and alcohol. The cabinet also decided to impose a wage freeze and to apply an 11 percent value-added tax on newsprint, and it approved a decree whereby debts of loss-making state companies will be covered by selling shares in those companies on the bourse or through direct negotiations between prospective buyers taking over the debt and the companies' management. On 4 September, at a meeting called by President Emil Constantinescu, the leaders of the ruling coalition parties agreed to put aside differences in order to expedite reform. MS
 ...BUT WILL CABINET SURVIVE?The chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), Bela Marko, said after the meeting with President Constantinescu that he failed to extract from the coalition partners a promise to pass through the parliament the amendment to the education law allowing the setting up of a Hungarian-language state university. Marko added that the UDMR will support in the parliament only those economic reform measures with which it agrees. At a meeting of the UDMR's Council of Representatives on 5 September, the UDMR decided that agreement on the proposed amendment must be reached by 30 September or it will leave the ruling coalition. Such a scenario could mean the cabinet will not longer have sufficient votes to pass laws that require a special majority. MS
 CHIRAC PROMISES HELP AMID MOLDOVAN ECONOMIC CRISISFrench President Jacques Chirac, on a one-day visit to Moldova on 4 September, said France will help Moldova overcome the difficulties arising from the financial crisis in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. President Petru Lucinschi said he had appealed to Chirac to intervene in order to secure assistance from the IMF and the World Bank. Lucinschi said that as a result of the Russian financial crisis, Moldova's monthly losses amount to 5 percent of GDP. The Moldovan leu has dropped by more than 25 percent against the U.S. dollar, and the National Bank has intervened to stop it falling further. National Bank governor Leonid Talmaci told AP on 4 September that the bank will not allow the devaluation to exceed 5 lei to the dollar. The parliament will convene in an emergency session on 11 September to discuss the crisis. MS
 BULGARIA ALLOWS CIRCUMCISION OF MUSLIM BOYSFor the first time in 50 years, the Bulgarian authorities have allowed circumcision ceremonies for Muslim boys, dpa reported on 4 September, citing BTA. More than 30 Muslim boys were circumcised on 6 September in the Teke mosque in Dobrich, northeastern Bulgaria. The circumcisions were carried out by Fawzy Ibraiamov, who was jailed under the former communist regime for illegally carrying out circumcisions. MS
[C] END NOTE
 RUSSIA FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLEby Julie Corwin
While Moscow--or the press, at least-- is riveted by the Kremlin's current political gyrations, one suspects after reading Fen Montaigne's "Reeling in Russia" (St. Martin's Press; New York, 1998) that the Russian countryside is paying only scant attention. Montaigne, a former Moscow-based correspondent for the "Philadelphia Inquirer," journeyed over 6,000 miles from Murmansk to Kamchatka with fly-fishing rod in one hand and notepad in the other. The book that results is part travelogue, part reflection on Russia--a kind of Marquis de Custine goes fishing minus the uppity French attitude. By skipping Moscow altogether, Montaigne provides a useful antidote to most Western media coverage of Russia, which rarely ventures out of one time zone, let alone covers all 11.
The portrait of the people that emerges is one of a populace anaethesized by alcohol, deeply mistrustful of political institutions, and reduced by economic upheavals to eking out little more than a subsistence-level income. The few individuals with energy and initiative face constant setbacks. For example, Victor Chumak, one of Russia's first private farmers living in Rtysheva, in Saratov Oblast watched the foundation of his small agricultural empire erode overnight. Interest rates on bank loans hit 200 percent, and the bank repossessed his 12 tractors, two harvesters, and three trucks. In the village of Umba on the Kola Peninsula, Victor Shmelyov, a former highly paid truck driver now unable to find work, has been reduced to taking whatever odd jobs he can find, such as ushering foreigners around in his broken-down van.
And then there are the individuals who don't participate in the economy any differently than their forebears might have 100 years ago: Vasily Volkov and his daughter Yelena pick berries on Kola Peninsula during the high season and spend the rest of their time fishing on the lakes and rivers in the forests of Karelia. The berries they sell for $14 a bucket; the fish they trade for bread and cured pork. Their only source of steady income is Volkov's monthly pension, worth about $60 a month.
The Volkov's relationship is similar to that of most of people Montaigne encounters. They don't just live on the land, they live off it. They see the forests, rivers, lakes as vast basins of inexhaustible resources that exist to be exploited. Poaching is the rule, enforcement of fishing regulations the exception. On the Kola River, biologists estimate that poachers kill up to 50 percent of the salmon run. Some poachers catch enough fish merely to feed their families, while others string large nets across the mouths of rivers and make hundreds of thousands of dollars a season. Inspectors are routinely bribed to look the other way; those who won't are transferred. At one point, an American naturalist tries to persuade his listeners in Kamchatka that efforts must be made to preserve Russia's unique steelhead trout before it disappears from the local Utkholok, Tigil, Kvachina, and Snatolveyem Rivers, as it did in the American Pacific Northwest.
Against the background of these individual struggles and on almost every page of the book is vodka. Consumed in vast quantities late into the evening as well as early in the morning, it appears to function as the social/political/economic lubricant, numbing the population to unnecessary indignities while at the same time making everything run less efficiently. At Kem on the Karelian coast, Montaigne encounters Yevgeny Nikonov, the owner of a small lumber mill, who argues that he must keep a cap on wages in order to preserve a minimum level of sobriety at his business. Nikonov says, "'The average worker wants to earn only enough for a bottle of vodka a day, two packs of cigarettes, and a little food. If you pay him more, he'll drink a second bottle and not come to work the next day." Nikonov claims that the workers he fired for drunkenness on the job have vandalized his house and boat and robbed the store run by his sister several times.
When reporting his experiences directly, Montaigne is an engaging writer. He can make a character and a place come to life quickly. His zest for adventure, quiet sense of humor, and a profound love for Russia make him an entertaining guide. His attempts, however, to wrap up the Russian national character every five pages or so become tiresome, and at times the long fishing interludes distributed over longer intervals feel like a device--or, even perhaps, a ploy by a publishing company eager to find a way to market a book about rural Russia to group of consumers who routinely pay $60 to $100 for new graphite rods. Perhaps for his next book, Montaigne should leave the rods at home and stay in one place--possibly a struggling former collective farm. He writes with feeling and obvious enthusiasm about agriculture, and a longer stay with the people he writes about might enable him to make them seem less stereotypical: less Vasily the Peasant and Andrei the New Russian and more like vivid, unique individuals.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty