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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 249, 00-12-29

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. 249, 29 December 2000


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES GOVERNMENT'S PERFORMANCE
  • [02] ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DENY RUMORS OF SECRET KARABAKH SETTLEMENT
  • [03] WORLD BANK RELEASES LOAN TRANCHE FOR ARMENIA
  • [04] DEFENDANT WITHDRAWS TESTIMONY IN KARABAKH TRIAL
  • [05] AZERBAIJAN AMNESTIES PRISONERS, GEORGIA DESERTERS
  • [06] RUSSIA COMPLETES WITHDRAWAL OF EXCESS MILITARY HARDWARE FROM GEORGIA
  • [07] GEORGIAN COMMUNISTS APPEAL TO PUTIN TO REHABILITATE STALIN
  • [08] STANDOFF BETWEEN GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP, MEDIA INTENSIFIES
  • [09] BALCEROWICZ TO REMAIN GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR
  • [10] GEORGIAN NAVAL CAPTAIN ACQUITTED
  • [11] MOLDOVA TO OPT OUT OF MILITARY COOPERATION WITHIN GUUAM
  • [12] KAZAKHSTAN ADOPTS LAND LAW
  • [13] KAZAKHSTAN, UZBEKISTAN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON DEBTS
  • [14] NEW KYRGYZ PREMIER CONFIRMS STREAMLINED GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE
  • [15] KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT PASSES AMNESTY LAW
  • [16] KYRGYZ POLITICIAN TAKES PAPER TO COURT
  • [17] TAJIK PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT DISCUSS REGIONAL SECURITY

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [18] YUGOSLAV DEPUTIES DEMAND UN REIN IN ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS
  • [19] KOSTUNICA SEES NO IMMEDIATE TRIAL FOR MILOSEVIC
  • [20] KOSTUNICA SEEKS CLOSER MOSCOW TIES
  • [21] FINAL RESULTS IN SERBIAN VOTE
  • [22] GREECE WELCOMES DOS ELECTION VICTORY
  • [23] YUGOSLAVIA SEEKS TO RESTORE TIES WITH ALBANIA
  • [24] BELGRADE LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON FOREIGN JOURNALISTS
  • [25] SERBIAN POWER SHORTAGE SPARKS MORE PROTESTS...
  • [26] ...NO QUICK FIX SEEN
  • [27] YUGOSLAVIA EXPECTS ROBUST GDP GROWTH IN 2001
  • [28] DJUKANOVIC TO RESIGN IF MONTENEGRINS DON'T BACK INDEPENDENCE
  • [29] FLOODING HITS MONTENEGRIN CITIES
  • [30] JELAVIC URGES DUAL CITIZENSHIP FOR BOSNIAN CROATS
  • [31] TUDJMAN'S PARTY TO SEEK IMPEACHMENT OF CROATIAN PRESIDENT
  • [32] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES CONFIDENCE IN NASTASE CABINET
  • [33] ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENT IN BUCHAREST
  • [34] IMPRISONED MOLDOVAN TO REPRESENT ROMANIA IN STRASBOURG
  • [35] LUCINSCHI TO CALL EARLY ELECTIONS IN FEBRUARY
  • [36] BULGARIA REGISTERS FIRST POSITIVE TRADE BALANCE

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [37] 'THE GREATEST POLITICAL MISTAKE'

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES GOVERNMENT'S PERFORMANCE

    Addresing a cabinet session on 28 December, Robert Kocharian lauded the efforts made over the past eight months by Andranik Markarian's government to end economic stagnation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "The government did get down to business," Kocharian said. "It has been trying to improve the situation we were in at the beginning of the year. I think that we have registered achievements." LF

    [02] ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DENY RUMORS OF SECRET KARABAKH SETTLEMENT

    Two senior Armenian officials have refuted a report published on 21 December in the independent Azerbaijani daily "Azadlyq" claiming that at their 1 December meeting on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Minsk, Armenian President Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev agreed on the substance of a secret Karabakh peace accord. According to "Azadlyq," which referred to "sources close to the [Azerbaijani] president's family," the accord envisages a period of three--five years during which confidence-building measures will be implemented, after which talks will begin on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory and the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic. Caucasus Press on 26 December quoted Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian as saying that meetings between the two presidents will continue, and that representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh will participate. Armenpress on 27 December quoted Armenian presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian as saying that once the two presidents agree on a settlement, its content will be made public for discussion by the parliament and nation-wide before the final signing. LF

    [03] WORLD BANK RELEASES LOAN TRANCHE FOR ARMENIA

    Owaise Saadat, who is the World Bank's resident representative in Armenia, told journalists in Yerevan on 22 December that after a one-year delay, the bank has now disbursed the final $6 million tranche of a deficit-funding structural adjustment credit (SAC) for 1999, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said the next such SAC loan, worth $50 million, will be made available in March provided that the planned international tender for four state-owned energy distribution networks is completed within the time frame agreed in talks last month between the bank and the Armenian government. LF

    [04] DEFENDANT WITHDRAWS TESTIMONY IN KARABAKH TRIAL

    Sasun Aghadjanian, who is accused of seriously wounding President Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in an apparent assassination attempt last March, told a Stepanakert court on 26 December that the enclave's former Defense Minister Samvel Babayan played no part in that attack, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Babayan, whom Ghukasian had fired in 1999, was arrested shortly after the March attack, but has consistently proclaimed his innocence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). Aghadjanian, who has undergone at least one psychiatric examination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2000), implicated Babayan in his pre-trial testimony, but on 26 December claimed that he had masterminded the attack personally. He said he decided to "intimidate," but not to kill Ghukasian following a 1999 speech by the latter which he found offensive. LF

    [05] AZERBAIJAN AMNESTIES PRISONERS, GEORGIA DESERTERS

    Azerbaijan's President Aliev on 28 December pardoned 54 persons sentenced on charges of plotting his ouster in October 1994 and March 1995, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 28 December, the Georgian parliament passed by an overwhelming majority of votes an amnesty for 4,500 deserters from the country's armed forces, Caucasus Press reported. LF

    [06] RUSSIA COMPLETES WITHDRAWAL OF EXCESS MILITARY HARDWARE FROM GEORGIA

    Russia has withdrawn from Georgia the last consignment of military equipment and weaponry in excess of the limits stipulated under the revised CFE treaty ahead of the 31 December deadline for doing so, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 December citing a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. The equipment was taken from the military bases at Vaziani, near Tbilisi, and Gudauta, in Abkhazia, in accordance with an agreement signed in November 1999. The future of the Gudauta base remains unclear, as Georgia has not yet formally agreed to Moscow's proposal to turn it into a support base for the Russian peace-keeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. Equipment belonging to that force still remains at the Gudauta base, Caucasus Press reported on 28 December quoting a senior Russian military official. LF

    [07] GEORGIAN COMMUNISTS APPEAL TO PUTIN TO REHABILITATE STALIN

    Delegates to a congress of the United Communist Party of Georgia (SGKP) voted on 27 December to invalidate all resolutions taken by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union condemning Joseph Stalin, ITAR-TASS reported. SGKP chairman Panteleimon Giorgadze termed the vote "our duty towards the most gifted politician of the 20th century," according to Reuters. Congress delegates also voted to appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to rehabilitate Stalin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 December. LF

    [08] STANDOFF BETWEEN GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP, MEDIA INTENSIFIES

    Speaking at a press confernce in Tbilisi on 28 December, Georgian parliament deputy speaker Vakhtang Rcheulishvili accused the independent Georgian media of being "as corrupt as some politicians," and said journalists are equally to blame for the current situation on the country. He specifically singled out the newspapers "Alia" and "Rezonansi" for propagating what he termed misleading information. President Eduard Shevardnadze accused the media last week of launching an "informational offensive" against the Georgian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2000). Also on 28 December, parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania ordered the parliament's press service to revoke the withdrawal of a journalist's accreditation. Nino Tkeshelashvili, who works for the independent TV station Kavkasi, had her accreditation withdrawn two weeks ago after a heated exchange with the chairman of the parliamentary procedural committee. LF

    [09] BALCEROWICZ TO REMAIN GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR

    Former Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, who was confirmed on 22 December as the new president of the Polish National Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2000), will not give up his post as economic advisor to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Interfax reported on 28 December. A team of Polish economists working under Balcerowicz's guidance is currently preparing proposals on the reform of the Georgian pension system and other social programs. LF

    [10] GEORGIAN NAVAL CAPTAIN ACQUITTED

    A Tbilisi district court on 28 December found former Georgian navy commander Otar Chkhartishvili not guilty of misappropriating 50,000 laris ($27,000), Caucasus Press reported. Chkhartishvili was arrested in May 1998 on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement, and sentenced in April to two years' imprisonment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2000). But an appeals court rejected most charges of the indictment in June, whereupon a new investigation was initiated. The Georgian Military Procurator's Office has said it will appeal Chkhartishvili's acquittal. LF

    [11] MOLDOVA TO OPT OUT OF MILITARY COOPERATION WITHIN GUUAM

    Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi has announced that his country will not participate in any military cooperation projects within GUUAM, the informal group that aligns Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova, Caucasus Press reported on 29 December. Lucinschi said Chisinau seeks to maintain its neutrality and will therefore abjure military cooperation within the CIS as well. But he reaffirmed Moldova's interest in economic cooperation within GUUAM, including the transportation of Caspian oil to European markets via the South Caucasus. LF

    [12] KAZAKHSTAN ADOPTS LAND LAW

    Both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament on 27 December again discussed, and adopted in the final reading, the draft land law passed in the first reading in November, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Reuters and Interfax reported. The bill, which has been submitted to President Nursultan Nazarbaev for signing, provides for the long-term leasing, but not for private ownership of agricultural land, according to Reuters. The Senate (the upper chamber) made some 70 amendments to the draft earlier this month, one of which precludes discussion in the Mazhilis (the lower chamber) of the price of land. On 28 December, representatives of the political parties aligned in the Land Protection Front expressed their disapproval of the law at a press conference in Almaty, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. They argued that the law does not differentiate between arable land and semi- desert, noting that the population of semi-desert and desert regions is almost exclusively ethnic Kazakh. LF

    [13] KAZAKHSTAN, UZBEKISTAN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON DEBTS

    A session of the Kazakh-Uzbek Cooperation Commission in Astana on 26 December failed to yield an agreement on the payment of Tashkent's estimated $4.2 million debt, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The Kazakh government had demanded payment of that debt after Uzbekistan raised fees for supplies of natural gas to southern Kazakhstan from $35 to $50 per thousand cubic meters. LF

    [14] NEW KYRGYZ PREMIER CONFIRMS STREAMLINED GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE

    Kurmanbek Bakiev on 28 December presented to parliament the formal blueprint for his new government, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That plan corresponds almost 100 percent with the proposals made to parliament on 21 December by President Askar Akaev which cut the number of ministries and government agencies from 42 to 27-29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2000). But Bakiev also told parliament deputies on 28 December that the composition of the new government will not be unveiled until next month. Observers had anticipated that he would do so before the end of the year. LF

    [15] KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT PASSES AMNESTY LAW

    The lower chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament passed on 26 December in the second and final reading a law on a general amnesty prepared in April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Under its terms, some 3,000 people of a prison population of 15,560 will be eligible for release. Parliament committee chairman Azimbek Beknazarov, who co-authored the bill, told RFE/RL that it had originally been scheduled for passage on 9 May, the 55th anniversary of the end of World War II. He said the Kyrgyz leadership decided to postpone the debate so as not to create conditions for the amnesty of imprisoned politicians Feliks Kulov, Daniyar Usenov and Topchubek Turgunaliev. LF

    [16] KYRGYZ POLITICIAN TAKES PAPER TO COURT

    Presidential administration head Misir Ashyrkulov has brought slander charges against the newspaper "Komsomolskaya pravda v Kyrgyzstane," a weekly supplement to the Moscow-based "Komsomolskaya pravda," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 27 December. Ashyrkulov is demanding 3.2 million soms (about $65,000) in damages for a 1 December interview in which Viktor Zapolsky, editor of the independent newspaper "Delo Nomer," accused the Kyrgyz Security Ministry of fabricating criminal cases. Ashyrkulov headed that ministry in 1998-1999. LF

    [17] TAJIK PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT DISCUSS REGIONAL SECURITY

    Visiting Dushanbe, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov discussed with President Imomali Rakhmonov bilateral relations, Central Asian security and the situation in Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 27 December. Trubnikov termed the war in Afghanistan "a direct physical threat." LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [18] YUGOSLAV DEPUTIES DEMAND UN REIN IN ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS

    The Yugoslav parliament on 28 December passed a resolution calling on the United Nations to clear Albanian guerrilla fighters from the buffer zone between Kosova and the rest of Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. The deputies said that if the UN fails to act, Belgrade reserves the right to take steps to do so on its own. Meanwhile, conditions in the five-kilometer wide zone continued to deteriorate over the past several days, with shooting and shelling near Bujanovac, AP reported. PG

    [19] KOSTUNICA SEES NO IMMEDIATE TRIAL FOR MILOSEVIC

    Arguing that his government has far more pressing problems, including dealing with Montenegro, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told German Radio in Belgrade on 27 December that he does not anticipate the prosecution of former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic anytime soon, Reuters reported. "We need to create the institutional conditions to put questions of responsibility on a legal basis, rather than using revolutionary justice," he said, adding that "the people are hungrier for food than they are hungry for revenge or justice." PG

    [20] KOSTUNICA SEEKS CLOSER MOSCOW TIES

    President Kostunica told visiting Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev on 27 December that Yugoslavia and Russia will seek to expand their ties, Tanjug reported. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 December that Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic will visit Moscow on 17-18 January. PG

    [21] FINAL RESULTS IN SERBIAN VOTE

    The Republic Electoral Commission on 27 December released the final official results of the 23 December parliamentary vote in Serbia, Reuters reported. The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), which supports Yugoslav President Kostunica, received 64.08 percent of the vote and will have 176 seats in the 250-member parliament. Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists received 13.76 percent of the vote and will have 37 seats. The nationalist Radical Party received 8.5 percent of all votes and will have 23 seats, while the Party of Serbian Unity founded by the late warlord Arkan won 5.33 percent and will have 14 seats. No other party -- including the Yugoslav Left Party headed by Milosevic's wife and the Serbian Renewal Movement led by Vuk Draskovic -- received the 5 percent vote required for representation. The commission noted that it had cancelled the results from 19 of the more than 8,000 voting stations because of irregularities, and had not opened 56 stations in Kosova. It said that voter turnout was 57.72 percent. PG

    [22] GREECE WELCOMES DOS ELECTION VICTORY

    Greek Foreign Minister George Panpandreou sent a message to Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic saying that the latter's electoral victory "establishes democracy and confirms the Serbian people's will for changes which will take it towards the European family," Reuters reported on 28 December. Meanwhile, Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on 27 December that Berlin will provide Serbia with an immediate 50 billion mark ($23.7 million) aid package. PG

    [23] YUGOSLAVIA SEEKS TO RESTORE TIES WITH ALBANIA

    Yugoslav Federal Prime Minister Zoran Zizic said on 28 December that Belgrade would like to reestablish diplomatic ties with Tirana, AP reported. Those links were suspended during last year's NATO airstrikes in Kosova and Serbia. At present, Albania is the only neighboring country with which Yugoslavia does not have diplomatic relations. PG

    [24] BELGRADE LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON FOREIGN JOURNALISTS

    Yugoslavia's Information Secretary Slobodan Orlic told Tanjug on 27 December that Belgrade will no longer impose restrictions on the admission and accreditation of foreign journalists. Instead, he said, the country's information secretariat will work to ensure that all foreign journalists can function in Yugoslavia freely. PG

    [25] SERBIAN POWER SHORTAGE SPARKS MORE PROTESTS...

    Continuing power shutoffs have sparked protests across Serbia, Reuters reported. In Nis, people burned tires to block a road on 26 December. In Belgrade's Vidikovac suburb, some 300 people blocked a main street, while others were unable to move through the streets quickly because traffic lights were out. (The interior ministry on 28 December called on drivers to be extra-cautious.) And even an important football game had to be finished under emergency lighting when the main lights shut down. PG

    [26] ...NO QUICK FIX SEEN

    Most other indications were that the brownouts and blackouts are likely to continue for some time. Senior energy sector official Dragan Batalo said that prices will have to rise and more infrastructure must be built in order to match capacity to demand, AP reported on 28 December. He placed all the blame on the failures of the former Milosevic regime, as did Nada Kolundzija, a senior official of the 18-party DOS alliance, AP reported on 27 December. Meanwhile, Serbian Energy Minister Srboljub Antic said the same day that Serbian cities should follow the example of Cacak and Kragujevac by declaring a state of emergency and suspending schools and industrial facilities, Reuters reported. PG

    [27] YUGOSLAVIA EXPECTS ROBUST GDP GROWTH IN 2001

    The Yugoslav government said on 27 December that it expects the country's GDP to grow by 10 percent in 2001, DPA reported. Meanwhile, the central bank announced that it will end its current fixed exchange rate on the dinar and switch to what it called "a managed fluctuating rate." As part of its austerity measures, the government plans to cut spending on the military and increase tax collection. Despite that, the government expects a current account deficit of 1.5 percent of GDP. PG

    [28] DJUKANOVIC TO RESIGN IF MONTENEGRINS DON'T BACK INDEPENDENCE

    President Milo Djukanovic said on 26 December that if Montenegrins fail to support his call for independence in a referendum during the first half of 2001, he will resign as president, AP reported. He said that independence would not lead to any stoppage in "the free flow of people and goods" between Montenegro and Serbia. PG

    [29] FLOODING HITS MONTENEGRIN CITIES

    Heavy rains over the last several days have flooded many Montenegrin cities, AP reported on 28 December. A Cetinje official said that the city has not had so much rain "since 1986." In an effort to lift people's spirits, Montenegrin television ran a jingle informing the population that people there are now "sailing on" to a better future. PG

    [30] JELAVIC URGES DUAL CITIZENSHIP FOR BOSNIAN CROATS

    Ante Jelavic, the Croat member of the three-man Bosnian presidency, said that Bosnian Croats should have dual citizenship because the special agreement between Croatia and the Federation of Bosnia-Herezegovina is "a noose around the necks of Bosnian Croats ... and a worthless peace of paper, " Hina reported on 28 December. He added that Bosnia's Croats no longer want to participate in Croatian elections. PG

    [31] TUDJMAN'S PARTY TO SEEK IMPEACHMENT OF CROATIAN PRESIDENT

    Vladimir Seks, the parliamentary faction leader of the HDZ, which was founded by former President Franjo Tudjman, said that his party will seek the impeachment of incumbent President Stipe Mesic, DPA reported on 28 December citing "Jutarnji list." Seks said that Mesic and his government had harmed Croatian national interests by cooperating with the international war crimes tribunal. PG

    [32] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES CONFIDENCE IN NASTASE CABINET

    With a vote of 314 for and 145 against, a joint session of the two chambers of the parliament on 28 December voted confidence in the cabinet headed by Adrian Nastase, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The new ministers were sworn in by President Ion Iliescu shortly afterwards. The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) supported the cabinet, while the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the Democratic Party voted against it. On 27 December, Nastase and the leaders of the Democrats, the PNL and the UDMR signed a joint declaration pledging support for the government in "isolating extremism," its fight against poverty and corruption and for integration in Euro-Atlantic structures. But Democratic Party leader Petre Roman said his party will vote no-confidence because "one cannot simultaneously be in the opposition and back the government." MS

    [33] ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENT IN BUCHAREST

    Two men who claimed they were looking for "Auschwitz soap" made of human fat smashed windows and hurled objects on 28 December at the Jewish History Museum in Bucharest. The two hit a guard and attempted to strangle him, Mediafax reported. They started vandalizing the exhibition after they were told that the museum has no display of such soap. Sorin Iulian, secretary general of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, was quoted by AP as saying that the museum used to display such soap made in Nazi concentration camps till last year, but it no longer does so. There has been recently controversy among Holocaust historians whether the soap had been fabricated from Jewish human fat, as previously believed. President Iliescu said in reaction on 29 December that the incident is "a grave insult against the Jewish community's memory and identity" and is "unacceptable in a tolerant, democratic society." MS

    [34] IMPRISONED MOLDOVAN TO REPRESENT ROMANIA IN STRASBOURG

    Ilie Ilascu, who has been imprisoned in Tiraspol since 1992, has been chosen to be a member of the Romanian parliamentary representation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Ilascu was elected a Senator on the lists of the PRM in the November Romanian parliamentary elections. MS

    [35] LUCINSCHI TO CALL EARLY ELECTIONS IN FEBRUARY

    President Petru Lucinschi on 27 December told journalists that after consultations with the parliamentary parties he has decided to dissolve the parliament on 8 January 2001 and to call early elections in February, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi said there is no time to change the electoral system, and the February elections will have to be conducted under the old proportional system on party lists. He said the new parliament will be entitled to decide whether or not to abolish the outgoing legislature's decision to transform Moldova into a presidential republic and, if that happens, the decision will be submitted to a referendum. Lucinschi said he will not run for a new presidential mandate now, but has not decided what he might do if the parliamentary republic is abolished. MS

    [36] BULGARIA REGISTERS FIRST POSITIVE TRADE BALANCE

    The balance of trade for 2000 is positive for the first time since 1989, BTA reported on 27 December, citing Bulgarian Radio. In the January-October period, the positive trade balance amounted to $165 million. Bulgarian Finance and Economy Ministry officials said the expected growth in the GDP over 1999 is 5 percent and inflation is likely to be 10 percent. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [37] 'THE GREATEST POLITICAL MISTAKE'

    by Paul Goble

    Moscow's dispatch of Soviet troops to Afghanistan 21 years ago this week was "the greatest political mistake" whose consequences continue to plague both Afghanistan and the Soviet successor states, according to the last Soviet commander there.

    General Boris Gromov, who heads a Russian veterans organization, said on 27 December that "the dispatch of Soviet troops into Afghanistan was not justified either politically or militarily." And he called on everyone involved "to concentrate efforts on overcoming that error" by helping Afghanistan, former Soviet soldiers who served there, and their families.

    Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's decision to send troops to defend what he believed was a communist government in Afghanistan was a key act in the overreach which many analysts point to as presaging the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union itself. It helped to reenergize Western opposition to Soviet communism.

    When Moscow was finally compelled to withdraw from Afghanistan eight years later, many throughout the Soviet empire became convinced that Moscow would eventually be forced to leave their lands as well, a conviction that helped to power national movements in Eastern Europe and the non-Russian Soviet republics.

    But as Gromov makes clear, the 1979 invasion continues to have an impact in Afghanistan, in Russia and other post-Soviet successor states, and in defining international relationships between Moscow and the rest of the world.

    The continuing consequences of the Soviet invasion are most obvious in Afghanistan itself. The actions of the Soviet troops there destroyed much of the social infrastructure of traditional Afghan society, opening the way both to vastly expanded drug production and to the rise of the Taliban movement which rejects modernity in the name of radically traditional Islamist politics.

    Drugs produced in Afghanistan continue to destabilize both Iran and the countries of Central Asia. In both places, leaders have invoked the dangers of drugs to justify their own authoritarian approaches and to win the sympathy and support of the international community.

    But even more dramatically, the Taliban movement has become the latest symbol of Islamist politics, especially because of its willingness to provide sanctuary for accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. Increasingly, this distinctively local movement has been portrayed by some as a threat to the entire world and used to justify patterns of cooperation.

    In Russia itself, the consequences of the 1979 invasion are perhaps less obvious but equally profound. On the one hand, and not unlike in the United States after Vietnam, most Russians concluded from the Afghan conflict that they must never fight again unless they are certain of their aims and capable of winning any conflict they enter with low casualties on their own side. Indeed, that Afghan model helps to explain Moscow's current approach in Chechnya.

    And on the other hand, the bitter experience of the Afghan fighting has divided Russian society, with many now viewing that war as an exemplar of what was wrong with the old Soviet system and others drawing the opposite conclusion, deciding that the opening up of Soviet society under Mikhail Gorbachev was responsible for a defeat that Russia must at some point avenge.

    Finally, the impact of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan continues to reverberate through the international community. Two decades ago, Moscow's actions prompted the United States and other Western countries to change their approach to the Soviet Union, not only boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow but also adopting the harder line exemplified in U.S. President Ronald Reagan's denunciation of the USSR as "an evil empire."

    Now, that invasion and the disastrous consequences it had for Afghanistan are having just the opposite effect, prompting a new kind of cooperation between Moscow and Washington. Last week, the two countries worked together in the United Nations Security Council to impose new sanctions on the Taliban to force them to hand over bin Laden and to stop supporting terrorism.

    Not surprisingly, this new cooperation between Russia and the United States has outraged the Taliban. Their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said this week that "the United States and Russia want to destroy good Muslim people all over the world." And on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul Fitr, he urged the followers of Islam to "stay united against these cruel intentions."

    But even the vast majority of Muslims who are appalled by the Taliban's actions are concerned about this new cooperation against an Islamic state, seeing it as an example of what Harvard University's Samuel Huntington called "the clash of civilizations" and portending more conflicts between the West and the world of Islam.

    Twenty-one years ago, Brezhnev assumed that Soviet forces would soon put things right in Afghanistan. Instead, that action continues to transform the world a generation later.

    29-12-00


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


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