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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 197, 00-10-11

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 4, No. 197, 11 October 2000


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] CIS CUSTOMS UNION STATES CREATE NEW EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION...
  • [02] ...APPROVE ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING PROGRAM
  • [03] BUDGET CUTS IN ARMENIA INEVITABLE?
  • [04] ARMENIAN METRO DRIVERS STRIKE OVER PAY ARREARS
  • [05] OSCE HAILS LIFTING OF AZERBAIJAN ELECTION RESTRICTIONS...
  • [06] ...BUT SLAMS AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL'S CRITICISM
  • [07] RELEASED AZERBAIJANI EDITOR RESIGNS
  • [08] JAPANESE DONATION EMBEZZLED IN GEORGIA?
  • [09] RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VISITS CO-ETHNICS IN KAZAKHSTAN
  • [10] EU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL POLL RESTRICTIONS...
  • [11] ...AS OPPOSITION CRITICIZES OBSTACLES TO CANDIDATE'S CAMPAIGN
  • [12] KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ABJURES REGIONALISM, CLAN TIES
  • [13] IMPRISONED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE
  • [14] BELARUS AGREES TO PROVIDE KYRGYZSTAN WITH MILITARY ASSISTANCE
  • [15] TURKMEN PRESIDENT NAMES RUSSIAN AS ADVISER
  • [16] SYNAGOGUE DAMAGED BY FIRE IN UZBEK CAPITAL

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [17] MILOSEVIC BACKERS BREAK OFF SERBIAN POWER-TRANSFER TALKS
  • [18] DJINDJIC: SERBIAN SECRET POLICE REGROUPING
  • [19] KOSTUNICA READY TO SACK TOP GENERALS?
  • [20] CACAK MAYOR WARNS YUGOSLAV OLD GUARD
  • [21] YUGOSLAVIA RETURNING TO TITO-ERA 'SELF-MANAGEMENT'?
  • [22] YUGOSLAVIA'S CROWN PRINCE ALEKSANDAR TO BELGRADE
  • [23] INDEPENDENT SERBIAN JOURNALIST FREED
  • [24] SERBIAN OFFICIALS TO ZAGREB
  • [25] U.S. ENVOY TO SERBIA
  • [26] KOSTUNICA REFUSES TO YIELD ON KOSOVAR PRISONERS
  • [27] KOSOVA'S SURROI COOL ON DIALOGUE WITH BELGRADE
  • [28] RADICALIZATION OF KOSOVA IN THE OFFING?
  • [29] NATO SAYS BOSNIAN CROAT ARMY WORKING AGAINST IT
  • [30] CROATIAN PROSECUTOR CHARGES SPY CHIEF IN WAR CRIMES CASE
  • [31] NO GRAND COALITION IN SLOVENIA?
  • [32] ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT AMENDS ELECTORAL REGULATIONS
  • [33] ROMANIA LAUNCHES 'ECONOMIC, DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE' IN YUGOSLAVIA
  • [34] MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ACCEPTS PRESIDENTIAL APPEAL
  • [35] DIACOV SAYS NO MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE 'YET AGREED' ON
  • [36] BULGARIA HAILS KOSTUNICA VICTORY, WARNS OF PITFALLS

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [37] A NEW THREAT TO RELIGIOUS MINORITIES?

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] CIS CUSTOMS UNION STATES CREATE NEW EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION...

    The presidents of the five member states of the CIS Customs Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) signed a treaty in Astana on 10 October establishing a new Eurasian Economic Union on the basis of the Customs Union, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2000). Unlike its predecessor, the Eurasian Economic Union will be registered with the UN as an international organization, which means that its decisions are binding on all participants and take precedence over international law, according to "Vedomosti" on 11 October. Those decisions will be reached by a two-thirds majority vote: Russia will have 40 percent of the vote, Kazakhstan and Belarus 20 percent, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 10 percent. Russian Deputy Premier Viktor Khristenko predicted that the new Eurasian Economic Union might achieve a common currency in fewer than the 30 years it took the EEC, on which the new union is modeled, to do so. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new union will not be an exclusively economic body but will have "social and humanitarian" aspects that he hopes will bring "positive results for the people." Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev had outlined such measures, entitled "Ten Simple Steps Towards Ordinary People," in January 1998. LF

    [02] ...APPROVE ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING PROGRAM

    The five presidents also approved the broad outlines of a five-year program for restructuring their respective economies, promoting macro-economic stabilization, improving the investment climate, and ensuring adequate food supplies for their populations, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 11 October. They further pledged to strengthen controls on their borders, according to Nazarbaev. LF

    [03] BUDGET CUTS IN ARMENIA INEVITABLE?

    Minister for State Revenues Gagik Poghosian told journalists in Yerevan on 10 October that taxes collected so far this year amount to only 60 percent of the planned total of 202 billion drams ($380 million), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said that shortfall may necessitate spending cuts but added that such cuts would primarily involve government procurements and would therefore not affect government sector employees. LF

    [04] ARMENIAN METRO DRIVERS STRIKE OVER PAY ARREARS

    Some 70 metro drivers in Yerevan staged a strike on 10 October to protest nonpayment of their salaries over the past four months, Noyan Tapan reported. Metro Director Tigran Musheghian blamed the arrears on underfinancing from the state budget. The drivers resumed work after Prime Minister Andranik Markarian promised to look into the issue and consider increasing subsidies to the metro system. LF

    [05] OSCE HAILS LIFTING OF AZERBAIJAN ELECTION RESTRICTIONS...

    In a press release issued in Baku on 10 October, the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission expressed its approval of the 8 October decision by Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission to register all political parties that had applied to contest the 5 November parliamentary election. The press release quoted ODIHR Director Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann as expressing the hope that candidates whose application to run in single- mandate constituencies had been "unduly denied" will now be registered. LF

    [06] ...BUT SLAMS AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL'S CRITICISM

    Stoudmann has also written to Ramiz Mekhtiev, head of the Azerbaijani presidential administration, taking issue with Mekhtiev's remark that an ODIHR statement criticizing the Azerbaijan Central Electoral Commission's failure to register several opposition parties to contest the poll was "unprofessional," Turan reported on 10 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2000). Stoudmann also refuted Mekhtiev's claim that the statement did not reflect ODIHR's opinion, as it was signed not by Stoudmann personally but by his deputy. LF

    [07] RELEASED AZERBAIJANI EDITOR RESIGNS

    Rauf Arifoglu, who was released from detention last week, has resigned as editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" to concentrate on campaigning for the 5 November parliamentary election, Turan reported on 10 October quoting "Azadlyg." Arifoglu, who faces charges of attempted hijacking, illegal arms possession and planning a coup d'etat, is sixth on the Musavat party's list of candidates to contest the poll under the proportional system. LF

    [08] JAPANESE DONATION EMBEZZLED IN GEORGIA?

    Some $900,000 donated by a private Japanese citizen to be used to meet part of the estimated $4 million cost of conducting next year's Georgian general census has vanished without trace, Caucasus Press reported on 10 October, quoting State Statistics Department Deputy Chairman Joseph Archvadze. LF

    [09] RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VISITS CO-ETHNICS IN KAZAKHSTAN

    Meeting in Astana on 10 October with the leaders of an association representing Kazakhstan's large Russian minority, Vladimir Putin called for that community to be given opportunities to preserve and develop its language and culture, Interfax reported. The association's leader, Yurii Bunakov, said that Putin is the first Russian president to take an interest in his co-ethnics' plight, adding that Russians are emigrating from Kazakhstan as they are "losing hope." Bunakov noted that while Russians account for more than 35 percent of the total population of Kazakhstan, they occupy less than 8 percent of government posts. LF

    [10] EU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL POLL RESTRICTIONS...

    The EU issued a statement in Brussels on 10 October expressing anxiety over obstacles that "might prevent opposition figures" from contesting the 29 October presidential poll, Reuters reported. The statement also expresses "perplexity" over "the purpose and progress " of court proceedings brought against some of those candidates, including former Vice President and Bishkek mayor Feliks Kulov. LF

    [11] ...AS OPPOSITION CRITICIZES OBSTACLES TO CANDIDATE'S CAMPAIGN

    The opposition socialist Ata-Meken party issued a statement in Bishkek on 10 October criticizing the Kyrgyz authorities for interfering in the presidential election campaign of its chairman Omurbek Tekebaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The statement claimed that Tekebaev's campaign posters are systematically removed from public places. LF

    [12] KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ABJURES REGIONALISM, CLAN TIES

    Incumbent President Askar Akaev's presidential campaign program gives priority to consolidating democratization, Interfax reported on 10 October. To that end, Akaev pledged that members of Kyrgyzstan's next government will be selected solely on the basis of their professional qualifications, rather than on the basis of their origins or clan affiliation. Akaev also promised to improve the investment climate and macro-economic stability and promote conditions that will support the development of private business. LF

    [13] IMPRISONED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE

    Opposition Erkindik party leader Topchubek Turgunaliev has begun a hunger strike in prison to protest the Central Electoral Commission's decision to allow incumbent President Akaev to contest the 29 October presidential poll but to exclude several opposition candidates, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Turgunaliaev was sentenced last month to 16 years' imprisonment on charges of planning to assassinate Akaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2000). LF

    [14] BELARUS AGREES TO PROVIDE KYRGYZSTAN WITH MILITARY ASSISTANCE

    Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told his Kyrgyz counterpart, Akaev, in Bishkek on 10 October that Minsk is ready to provide assistance to Kyrgyzstan within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty to counter attempts to destabilize the situation in that country, ITAR-TASS reported. Akaev said that Belarus will supply special equipment, including surveillance systems, that will be used to protect Kyrgyzstan's borders. LF

    [15] TURKMEN PRESIDENT NAMES RUSSIAN AS ADVISER

    Saparmurat Niyazov announced in Ashgabat on 10 October that he has chosen an ethnic Russian, Vadim Masson, as his adviser on science and culture, Interfax reported. Masson acquired Turkmen citizenship last year. Niyazov also announced the foundation of a scientific institute, whose council Masson will chair and which is to study Turkmenistan's cultural heritage and "the role of the Turkmen people in...modern civilization." LF

    [16] SYNAGOGUE DAMAGED BY FIRE IN UZBEK CAPITAL

    One of Tashkent's four synagogues was badly damaged by fire late on 9 October, shortly after Yom Kippur services ended, AP reported. Several Torah scrolls were destroyed in the blaze. Rabbi Abe David Gurevich said that although the cause of the fire is not yet clear, he plans to request police protection for other synagogues and for a Jewish school. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [17] MILOSEVIC BACKERS BREAK OFF SERBIAN POWER-TRANSFER TALKS

    Members of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj's Radicals have broken off talks with supporters of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica aimed at a transfer or power in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 10 October. The Socialists and Radicals said that they will resume talks only when "lynch mobs" in various parts of Serbia cease trying to take over state institutions, businesses, and factories (see below). On 9 October, Seselj's bodyguards fired into the air to ward off a crowd of angry students who had assembled around him, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. PM

    [18] DJINDJIC: SERBIAN SECRET POLICE REGROUPING

    Zoran Djindjic, who is one of the top leaders of the Democratic Opposition, said in Belgrade on 10 October that some members of Milosevic's secret police have regrouped and resumed wire-tapping of opposition politicians, Reuters reported. Djindjic added, however, that the majority of the police are loyal to the new government. Opposition leader Nebojsa Covic said that "everybody and nobody" controls the police at the moment. The opposition wants to appoint one of its own people as interior minister, but Milosevic supporters are resisting the move. On 11 October, Reuters reported that plainclothes police briefly detained Djindjic's driver and the bodyguard of a second opposition leader. PM

    [19] KOSTUNICA READY TO SACK TOP GENERALS?

    "The army will have to be consolidated," Kostunica said in Belgrade on 10 October, AP reported. "Vesti" wrote the following day that Kostunica will fire the top military leadership at an upcoming session of the Supreme Defense Council. The first but not only generals to be purged will be indicted war criminal and Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic and Chief of the General Staff Nebojsa Pavkovic. The meeting will take place once Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has recovered from injuries sustained in a recent car accident, the daily added. Kostunica may hold a smaller meeting with leading generals shortly. Meanwhile in Montenegro, the authorities have greatly increased the police presence outside government buildings in recent days. PM

    [20] CACAK MAYOR WARNS YUGOSLAV OLD GUARD

    Velimir Ilic told AP in Belgrade on 10 October that "the people will eat [Milosevic's Socialists] alive" unless they hand over power to the new authorities. He stressed that crowds from Cacak, who helped bring down the Milosevic regime on 5 October, are ready to return to the capital to "finish the job" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2000). Ilic warned Milosevic's supporters that "the people's patience is exhausted." PM

    [21] YUGOSLAVIA RETURNING TO TITO-ERA 'SELF-MANAGEMENT'?

    Many workers across Serbia have forced their bosses out in recent days and set up self-managing councils to run the enterprises or restored former directors from the pre-Milosevic era, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 10 October. In some cases, individuals with no connection to the Democratic Opposition have sought to take over enterprises, allegedly in the name of the new government. At many universities, students have forced out professors and rectors who were Milosevic's political appointees. PM

    [22] YUGOSLAVIA'S CROWN PRINCE ALEKSANDAR TO BELGRADE

    The office of Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, who is the claimant to the Yugoslav and Serbian thrones, said in a press statement in London on 10 October that he will go to Belgrade on 15 October to congratulate Kostunica on his election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000). The statement added that "the Crown Prince will also stress the need for unity amongst all democratic political parties in the interest of all citizens, as well as the indispensable need for taking urgent measures to help people in the greatest need. Furthermore, he will appeal to all citizens to respect each other, ruling out any kind of revenge." PM

    [23] INDEPENDENT SERBIAN JOURNALIST FREED

    On 10 October, a military court in Nis freed from prison Miroslav Filipovic, who is serving a 10-year sentence on espionage charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2000). The court ordered a retrial, claiming "irregularities" in the original trial. Filipovic has always maintained that he is innocent. He has argued that the real reason he was jailed was because of his reporting of Serbian atrocities in Kosova in 1999. In recent days, the new government freed two British, two Canadian, and four Dutch nationals, whom the Yugoslav authorities arrested as part of Milosevic's pre-election xenophobic propaganda campaign. Kostunica has not issued a general amnesty but said that he "wants politics out of the courtroom," "The New York Times" reported. PM

    [24] SERBIAN OFFICIALS TO ZAGREB

    Democratic Opposition representatives Zarko Korac and Dusan Mihajlovic are slated to meet with Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula in Zagreb on 11 October, Hina reported. PM

    [25] U.S. ENVOY TO SERBIA

    William Montgomery, who is outgoing U.S. ambassador to Croatia and widely expected to be the new ambassador in Belgrade, is slated to arrive in the Serbian capital on 11 October, Reuters reported. He will launch "exploratory talks" aimed at restoring diplomatic relations. The U.S. embassy complex in central Belgrade stands empty and is covered with anti- U.S. and anti-NATO graffiti. In recent weeks, Montgomery has headed a U.S. office in Budapest aimed at promoting democracy in Serbia. President Bill Clinton's adviser James O'Brien is expected on 12 October as part of a wider Balkan tour. PM

    [26] KOSTUNICA REFUSES TO YIELD ON KOSOVAR PRISONERS

    Kostunica told French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine in Belgrade on 10 October that the release of the at least 700 Kosovar Albanians held in Serbian jails is contingent upon ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosova clarifying the fate of some 1,000 missing Kosovar Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000). He has previously linked any progress on Kosova to the return of Serbian refugees there. Kostunica told Vedrine that he wants to start a "dialogue" with the Kosovar leaders. The Yugoslav president also said that his country wants to become an EU member "with full powers," Reuters reported. Vedrine replied that "Yugoslavia has much to do" before that can happen, adding that "one should not put the cart before the horse." PM

    [27] KOSOVA'S SURROI COOL ON DIALOGUE WITH BELGRADE

    Veton Surroi, who is Kosova's best-known journalist, told Reuters in Prishtina on 10 October that Serbia and Kosova "are both, curiously enough, in the state-building process. We will need to communicate, but I think first we will need to communicate as equal partners, and certainly within international fora." Kosovar leaders have long insisted that any contacts with Belgrade can only take place with international participation and not on a bilateral level. PM

    [28] RADICALIZATION OF KOSOVA IN THE OFFING?

    Reuters on 10 October quoted several Western NGO officials and diplomats in Prishtina as warning that Kosovars may tend to support radical candidates in the 28 October local elections if they sense that the international community has "gone too far towards Kostunica." Many Kosovars fear that the West will try to force them back into a close relationship with Serbia now that Milosevic is gone. Louis Sell, who is the Kosova director of the International Crisis Group, told the news agency that "there are no Albanians who do not want independence." PM

    [29] NATO SAYS BOSNIAN CROAT ARMY WORKING AGAINST IT

    SFOR spokeswoman Susan Gray said in Sarajevo on 10 October that NATO peacekeepers recently found an unspecified quantity of illegal weapons and espionage equipment in offices of the Bosnian Croat intelligence service. The discovery came in a post office in the central Bosnian town of Vitez. She did not go into detail but noted that the Croats were "collecting data that could be detrimental to SFOR and the international community's operations," Reuters reported. She said that the Croats were involved in unspecified "anti-Dayton activities." PM

    [30] CROATIAN PROSECUTOR CHARGES SPY CHIEF IN WAR CRIMES CASE

    The prosecutor's office in Zadar has charged Josip Nekic, who headed the Zadar branch of the Agency for the Protection of the Constitutional Order, and Zeljko Stipic, a local army member, with giving aid and shelter to four former Croatian soldiers involved in the 1993 Ahmici massacre of Muslim civilians in Bosnia, AP reported on 11 October. Nekic's agency is one of Croatia's secret services, which enjoyed significant power under the late President Franjo Tudjman. PM

    [31] NO GRAND COALITION IN SLOVENIA?

    Conservative leader Janez Jansa and center-left leader Janez Drnovsek told Ljubljana's 24-UR radio that their respective parties represent opposite poles in Slovenian politics. Jansa said that a coalition between such different parties is unlikely. The broadcast added that the two parties currently lead in opinion polls in the runup to the 15 October legislative elections. PM

    [32] ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT AMENDS ELECTORAL REGULATIONS

    The government on 10 October amended election regulations to make it possible for alliances of parties to compete in the parliamentary elections and back a presidential candidate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Until now party alliances were allowed to compete in local elections only. The move follows an appeal launched by the extra-parliamentary Generation 2000 party against the registration of the Democratic Convention of Romania 2000 (CDR 2000) on grounds that the similarity of names could cause confusion. Under the amended regulations, the parties that recently formed the CDR 2000 can compete as an alliance. MS

    [33] ROMANIA LAUNCHES 'ECONOMIC, DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE' IN YUGOSLAVIA

    Foreign Minister Petre Roman said in Belgrade on 10 October that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica "positively responded" to Romania's proposals to re-launch and boost trade between the two countries and encourage the participation of Romanian companies in Yugoslavia's reconstruction. He said Kostunica also views favorably Romania's request to speed up removing debris from the River Danube in Novi Sad. Roman added that his and Industry and Trade Minister Radu Berceanu's one-day visit to Belgrade was "an economic and diplomatic offensive," and he suggested to Kostunica that Romania propose Yugoslavia's accession to CEFTA. The Romanian foreign minister also said he will propose that his government set up a special fund to encourage Romanian business investments in neighboring countries. The same day, Bucharest decided to lift its embargo against Yugoslavia. MS

    [34] MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ACCEPTS PRESIDENTIAL APPEAL

    The Constitutional Court on 10 October ruled that an electoral amendment, passed by the parliament in March, stipulating that only parties registered for at least two years can run in the parliamentary elections is unconstitutional, Infotag reported. The provision was appealed by President Petru Lucinschi and independent deputy Ion Morei. At the same time, the court rejected three other complaints against the amendment by Lucinschi and Morei. The two challenged the stipulations that the Central Electoral Commission and its chairperson are appointed by the parliament, that foreign media licensed in Moldova cannot run electoral advertisements, and that independent candidates must garner at least 3 percent of the vote to gain representation in the legislature. MS

    [35] DIACOV SAYS NO MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE 'YET AGREED' ON

    Parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov denied on 10 October that the main parliamentary political groups have already agreed on the presidential candidate to be elected under the new system in December, Flux reported. He admitted, however, that discussions are ongoing between his own Democratic Party, the Party of Moldovan Communists, and the Democratic Convention of Moldova. Diacov also said that his recent visit to Moscow helped dispel "suspicions" that the Russian leadership "has certain options favoring this or that [Moldovan] political personality" or that it "tends to interfere in Moldovan internal affairs." He said he discussed with his Russian counterpart, Gennadii Seleznev, the Transdniestrian conflict and the so- called "Primakov plan" on settling that conflict. But he added that the plan has "not yet been finalized." MS

    [36] BULGARIA HAILS KOSTUNICA VICTORY, WARNS OF PITFALLS

    President Petar Stoyanov on 10 October said he expects Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's victory in the elections to positively impact on the general image of the Balkans and help attract foreign investments to the region. Stoyanov told reporters that the challenges facing Kostunica include how to approach the Kosova problem, treat ethnic minorities, and handle Belgrade's re-integration into international institutions, Reuters reported. Stoyanov said there is "no room for antagonism" between the two Balkan neighbors and that he has invited Kostunica to visit Bulgaria. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [37] A NEW THREAT TO RELIGIOUS MINORITIES?

    By Paul Goble

    New Russian government efforts to enlist the Orthodox Church in Moscow's fight against religious minorities, who some Russian officials say threaten Russia, could endanger religious liberty in that country.

    Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said in Volgograd last week that the Russian police and religious leaders should combine forces to oppose cults and sects that "aim to undermine statehood in Russia." Those remarks represent the Russian government's clearest response so far to the Russian Orthodox Church's requests for a special relationship with the state and to the court-imposed limitations on government controls over religious groups.

    Since the collapse of Soviet power, Russian Orthodox hierarchs have sought to enlist the government in opposing the missionary activities of various non-indigenous religious groups, denominations that the Orthodox often describe as "foreign." Responding to this effort, the Russian government drafted and passed a law that not only underscored the special relationship between the state and Orthodoxy but also set the stage for Russian government moves against religious competitors.

    But last year, Russia's Constitutional Court struck down several provisions of that law after a group of Jehovah's Witnesses argued that the legislation violated the principle of freedom of conscience as enshrined in the 1993 Russian Constitution.

    Rushailo's proposed alliance between state and Church thus appears to be an effort to circumvent this ruling. On the one hand, it could open the way for the state to use the Church to fight some of its battles. On the other, it might suggest to Orthodox and others that at least some in the Church are prepared to play the kind of intelligence and control function that some priests and hierarchs played during Soviet times.

    The timing of Rushailo's suggestion makes it likely that his remarks will be especially troubling both to followers of minority denominations and to those concerned about religious and human rights. Recently, the U.S. State Department publicly condemned attacks on a Jewish school in Ryazan on 17 September and on assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons in Volgograd- -where Rushailo made his remarks--on 20 August.

    The State Department called on the Russian authorities to "conduct full and thorough investigations on an urgent basis" and said that "those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent under Russian law." The U.S. statement also provided details of all three attacks. In Ryazan, it said, a group of youths had broken into a Jewish Saturday school, shouted anti-Semitic slogans, and intimidated the local principal into denying the Jews further use of the school.

    Local officials have told the media that they are investigating the case. But they have made no arrests, and at least one Ryazan official dismissed the event as simple hooliganism with no broader meaning.

    In Volgograd, the State Department noted, other groups of extremists burst into the services of the two Christian denominations and beat worshipers, directly threatening several Mormon missionaries from the U.S. In addition, the statement pointed out, officials close to President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and regional officials whom the Kremlin actively supports have made openly anti-Semitic remarks. Such actions and remarks, the State Department said, "undermine efforts to create a tolerant society under the rule of law." It added that "all Russian citizens must be afforded the greatest possible protection of their religious and hard-won democratic freedoms."

    At least some Russians who view religious minorities as a threat may read Rushailo's words as Moscow's response to the U.S. on this point and thus see his words as a kind of official blessing for attacks on religious minorities--even if that was not his intention.

    If that should happen, then the tragic events of Ryazan and Volgograd may very well be repeated elsewhere, a development that could threaten not only the followers of minority religions in Russia but the very possibility of religious freedom in the country.

    11-10-00


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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