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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 29, 01-02-12

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. 5, No. 29, 12 February 2001

Following a meeting in Gudermes on 9 February with Viktor Kazantsev, the federal representative to the South Russia Federal District, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov has finally approved the structure of the future Chechen government, Interfax reported on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). Kadyrov on 10 February announced the appointments of Viktor Aleksentsev and Hero of Russia Colonel Yuri Em as deputy heads of the Chechen government. Vasilii Vasilenko from Moscow was named press minister, and economist Abu Sugaipov minister of household services. Veteran journalist Movla Osmaev, who served as deputy information and press minister in 1995-1996 under Doku Zavgaev, has been tapped to be minister of culture. Lema Dadaev was named minister of science and public and specialized education, and Magomed Vakhaev has been appointed minister of labor and social protection. The responsibilities of government ministers Magomed Muzaev and Ilya Gavrilov are not clear. The cabinet does not include an interior minister as the federal Interior Ministry refuses to hand over responsibility in that sphere to Kadyrov's administration. LF

CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGNS
  • [02] ARMENIAN WAR VETERANS ORGANIZATION RALLIES BEHIND PREMIER
  • [03] ARMENIAN OFFICIAL DISAVOWS CALLS FOR AUTONOMY FOR CO-ETHNICS IN GEORGIA...
  • [04] ...DEFENDS TREATMENT OF DETAINED ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN
  • [05] AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES FOUND NEW SOCIETY FOR WAR INVALIDS
  • [06] GEORGIAN OFFICIALS INSPECT FRONTIER WITH CHECHNYA, INGUSHETIA
  • [07] GEORGIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON REMOVAL OF MUNITIONS STORE
  • [08] KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT ENUMERATES PRIORITIES FOR ARMY REFORM
  • [09] JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER BEGINS HUNGER-STRIKE
  • [10] FORMER SENIOR TAJIK OFFICIAL SENTENCED TO DEATH

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [11] YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT SETS UP INTERNAL CUSTOMS POSTS...
  • [12] ...TO THE SURPRISE OF MONTENEGRO
  • [13] MESSAGE TO MONTENEGRO: BRUSSELS KNOWS BEST
  • [14] MONTENEGRO TAKES EU BLAST IN STRIDE
  • [15] YUGOSLAV PREMIER: MILOSEVIC EXTRADITION 'BENEATH DIGNITY'
  • [16] EU 'SUGGESTS' THAT BELGRADE ARREST VUKOVAR CRIMINALS
  • [17] PRESEVO MAYOR: SERBIAN FORCES USE ALBANIANS AS 'HUMAN SHIELD'
  • [18] MACEDONIA, YUGOSLAVIA TO SETTLE BORDER QUESTIONS WITHOUT KOSOVARS
  • [19] WORK BEGINS IN MACEDONIA ON TETOVO UNIVERSITY
  • [20] CROATIAN LEADERS SLAM VETERANS' PROTESTS
  • [21] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS MAKE CONTROVERSIAL IRAQI TRIP
  • [22] ROMANIA 'SUSPENDS' SENTENCE OF CONVICTED GENERALS
  • [23] ROMANIAN PARTIES FACING INTERNAL CONFLICTS
  • [24] HIDDEN TENSIONS EMERGE AT ROMANIAN-MOLDOVAN SUMMIT
  • [25] MOLDOVAN POLLS SHOWS PARLIAMENT TO HAVE FIVE PARTIES
  • [26] EIM TO MONITOR MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS
  • [27] BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
  • [28] FORMER BULGARIAN KING CRITICIZES COURT DECISION
  • [29] FORMER BULGARIAN BANK OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR ILLEGAL BAILOUTS
  • [30] BULGARIANS' LIBYAN TRIAL POSTPONED AGAIN

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [31] WHEN RELIGION, NATIONALITY, AND POLITICS INTERSECT

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGNS

    Boris Nazarian submitted his resignation as prosecutor-general late on 8 February, Noyan Tapan reported. Nazarian, a close associate of former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, was appointed to that post following the October 1999 parliament shootings. It is not clear whether he offered any explanation for his decision, or whether President Robert Kocharian has accepted his resignation. LF

    [02] ARMENIAN WAR VETERANS ORGANIZATION RALLIES BEHIND PREMIER

    Following a congress in Yerevan on 10 February, leaders of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war formally stated that the organization will not split with the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Its individual members will, however, be free to decide whether or not to quit either the Yerkrapah Union or the HHK to join the new political party to be founded by Aram Sargsian and Albert Bazeyan. Both men quit the HHK last week to register their rejection of the policies of the Markarian government (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). LF

    [03] ARMENIAN OFFICIAL DISAVOWS CALLS FOR AUTONOMY FOR CO-ETHNICS IN GEORGIA...

    Speaking in Yerevan on 9 February, presidential press spokesman Vahe Gabrielian said that recent statements by members of the Communist Party of Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun calling for territorial autonomy for the predominantly Armenian population of Georgia's Djavakheti region do not reflect "the opinion or policy of the [Armenian] state," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Gabrielian said that administrative divisions within Georgia are an internal Georgian issue. But he added that the Armenian leadership does not overlook issues relating to Armenian communities abroad in its relations with the countries where they live. Also on 9 February, Armen Rustamian, a member of the HHD parliament faction, told journalists that his party is not advancing territorial claims on behalf of the Armenian population of Djavakheti, but supports their right to self-determination, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

    [04] ...DEFENDS TREATMENT OF DETAINED ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN

    Gabrielian also told journalists on 9 February that the Armenian authorities have demonstrated every possible humane approach towards detained businessman Arkadii Vartanian, Noyan Tapan reported. Vartanian was taken into custody on 30 October after a march by his supporters to the presidential palace and subsequently charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership. He was hospitalized last month with heart problems. Gabrielian noted that Vartanian was taken to a specialized clinic of his own choice rather than the remand prison hospital, and that his lawyer and relatives are free to visit him there. LF

    [05] AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES FOUND NEW SOCIETY FOR WAR INVALIDS

    A constituent congress took place in Baku on 9 February of a new government- sponsored committee intended to represent the interests of war veterans and invalids, Turan reported. Only representatives of state-controlled media were allowed to attend. The congress elected a 145-member board and 82 chairmen of district branches of the committee. Mehti Mehtiev, about whom little is reportedly known, was named the committee's chairman. The new committee is clearly intended to undermine the society of Karabakh war invalids whose members launched a hunger-strike last month to demand an increase in their pensions and allowances, and whose leader, Etimad Asadov, was denounced at the congress as a "mafioso" who is sought by police in an unnamed foreign country. Turan reported on 10 February that most members of the new committee are veterans of World War II. LF

    [06] GEORGIAN OFFICIALS INSPECT FRONTIER WITH CHECHNYA, INGUSHETIA

    Georgian Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili, parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, and Georgian Border Guards Commander Lieutenant-General Valeri Chkheidze monitored the situation on Georgia's border with Chechnya and Ingushetia on 11 February, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Both the Georgian border guards and the OSCE observers deployed on that sector of the Georgian border said no violations have been recorded recently. LF

    [07] GEORGIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON REMOVAL OF MUNITIONS STORE

    Talks between Russian and Georgian military officials have failed to yield an agreement on a timetable for the closure of an ammunition depot in Sagaredzho, eastern Georgia, ITAR-TASS quoted Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze as telling journalists on 9 February. Georgian specialists believe it would be possible to remove all munitions and mines stored at that facility within 10-12 months, while Russian experts say it will take three years. LF

    [08] KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT ENUMERATES PRIORITIES FOR ARMY REFORM

    Addressing Kazakhstan's top brass in Almaty on 9 February, Nursultan Nazarbaev singled out as the main focus of the reform of the armed forces begun last year the threats posed by terrorism, religious extremism, drug- trafficking, and the infiltration of Kazakh territory by "armed gangs," Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He said the Soviet-era concentration on readiness to wage a major war with China is no longer relevant, and that greater flexibility and responsiveness on the part of the military are called for. "Today, the mobility and self-reliance of every serviceman, platoon and regiment are of primary importance," Nazarbaev said. As a first step in that direction, a rapid deployment force comprising a former paratroop battalion and the Kazbat peacekeeping force has already been formed, that unit's deputy commander, Adylbek Aldabergenov, told Interfax on 9 February. LF

    [09] JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER BEGINS HUNGER-STRIKE

    Former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov has begun a hunger-strike in jail, his lawyer told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 9 February. Kulov was sentenced to a seven-year jail term last month on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as national security minister in 1997-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). On 10 February, Kulov's lawyer said the Bishkek Military Court will begin considering Kulov's appeal against that sentence on 22 February. LF

    [10] FORMER SENIOR TAJIK OFFICIAL SENTENCED TO DEATH

    Djakhongir Ruziev, who served from 1997-2000 as chairman of Tajikistan's State Committee for Precious Stones, was sentenced to death by the Tajik Supreme Court on 9 February on charges of committing one murder and organizing two more, and of stealing gems worth a total of $29 million, Interfax reported. Ruziev's nephew was found guilty on two counts off murder and likewise sentenced to death; four other people identified as Ruziev's accomplices were jailed. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [11] YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT SETS UP INTERNAL CUSTOMS POSTS...

    The Federal Customs Directorate said in a statement on 11 February that internal customs posts on the borders between Serbia and Montenegro and between Serbia and Kosova will be set up the next day, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). The statement cited the need to "block illegal traffic in goods." AP reported from Belgrade on 12 February that the checkpoints are indeed in place. Officials from the EU, its Balkan Stability Pact, and the European Parliament said in Belgrade in recent days that they support Yugoslavia's efforts to control its borders and thwart crime, dpa reported. The former regime of President Slobodan Milosevic also set up customs checks on the border with Montenegro, which the Montenegrin authorities regarded as a form of economic blockade against their republic. PM

    [12] ...TO THE SURPRISE OF MONTENEGRO

    Montenegrin Trade Minister Ramo Bralic said on 12 February that "the re- imposition of control checkpoints between Serbia and Montenegro is a political move. Our government found out about it from the media," AP reported from Belgrade. He added that "if the [new Belgrade] government is really democratic, there were several other ways of establishing control of trade between the two republics, aside from the checkpoints." PM

    [13] MESSAGE TO MONTENEGRO: BRUSSELS KNOWS BEST

    For at least the second time in less than one month, EU officials delivered a tough message to the Montenegrin government to work out a joint political arrangement with Serbia and not to declare independence, "Vesti" reported on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). "Any renegotiation of the federal relationship must take into account the internal stability of Yugoslavia and the regional stability of Southeastern Europe. No unilateral action should be taken which could jeopardize this process," Sven-Olof Petersson, a senior official at the Swedish Foreign Ministry and head of the EU Political Directors Troika, said. Petersson conceded the Montenegrins' right to hold a referendum but added that such a vote is a "very sensitive issue" that has often led in the past to a polarization of society. He warned that leaders of a country must take responsibility for their decisions, adding that any unilateral move could have unspecified serious consequences. Dutch and Belgian diplomats also made up the delegation. PM

    [14] MONTENEGRO TAKES EU BLAST IN STRIDE

    The office of President Milo Djukanovic replied to the EU's warning with a statement on 9 February, AP reported. Djukanovic rejected "European fears that the Montenegrin proposal for remodeling the federation could destabilize the Balkans. We [Montenegro] and Serbia will patiently seek a common solution, which should benefit both sides, and which would further strengthen and stabilize the region," he added. In a newspaper interview, Djukanovic stressed that the breakup of the flawed Yugoslav federation will actually contribute to stability in the Balkans, "Vesti" reported on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 November 2000 and 19 January 2001). In January, several Montenegrin officials made it clear that they regard such EU statements as arrogant and inadmissible, particularly when coming from officials who themselves represent small countries. PM

    [15] YUGOSLAV PREMIER: MILOSEVIC EXTRADITION 'BENEATH DIGNITY'

    Zoran Zizic said that Milosevic will not be extradited to The Hague so long as he is prime minister, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica on 12 February. Zizic stressed that any extradition would be "beneath the dignity of the state" and therefore unacceptable. PM

    [16] EU 'SUGGESTS' THAT BELGRADE ARREST VUKOVAR CRIMINALS

    Doris Pack, who led a European Parliament delegation to Belgrade, said on 10 February that "we have asked [Yugoslavia]...if it would be possible to incriminate the troika [of Yugoslav army officers] that destroyed Vukovar," in 1991, AP reported. She "suggested" that the arrest of Veselin Sljivancanin, Mile Mrksic, and Miroslav Radic would be regarded in the EU as a "sign of [the] good faith" of the new Belgrade authorities. Pack stressed that the arrests must "be soon because others, not only the EU, are waiting for some movement in this direction." She pointed out that "all our help is linked to conditions. We deliver, if you deliver as well." EU Commission President Romano Prodi said in Belgrade almost two weeks earlier, however, that he has "full confidence" in President Vojislav Kostunica and places "no conditions" on him in return for EU aid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). Prodi was specifically referring to the extradition of war criminals. Croatian authorities have long insisted on the arrest of the "Vukovar troika." PM

    [17] PRESEVO MAYOR: SERBIAN FORCES USE ALBANIANS AS 'HUMAN SHIELD'

    Mayor Riza Halimi of Presevo said on 11 February that Serbian forces used an unspecified number of ethnic Albanians traveling in buses and other vehicles as "human shields" in an exchange of fire with the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) on the Prishtina-Gjilan-Presevo road, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 11 February. Serbian forces said in a statement that the travelers were caught in crossfire during an UCPMB attack on a Serbian position. The statement added that Serbian forces helped bring the "members of the Albanian nationality...to safety." The Serbian military also reported several additional attacks by the UCPMB on various Serbian positions in the Presevo region. As with many of the reports on military activity in southwestern Serbia, there is no independent confirmation of the frequent Serbian and far less frequent Albanian claims. PM

    [18] MACEDONIA, YUGOSLAVIA TO SETTLE BORDER QUESTIONS WITHOUT KOSOVARS

    Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim said in Skopje on 11 February that his government and the new Yugoslav authorities have nearly completed work on defining their common border, dpa reported. He added that he expects the final document to be ready for signing at the 22 February Balkan summit in Skopje. Speaking to reporters, he refused to comment on reports that Kosovar leaders wanted to be included in the talks. Kerim added: "I do not know what relevant political factors from Kosovo could take part in talks on the border, because that issue is settled between Macedonia and Yugoslavia, according to international norms." PM

    [19] WORK BEGINS IN MACEDONIA ON TETOVO UNIVERSITY

    Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, ethnic Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi, and the OSCE's Max Van Der Stoel attended the groundbreaking ceremony in Tetovo on 11 February for the republic's first private university (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). Instruction will be provided in Albanian, Macedonian, and English according to a well-defined curriculum. The university will be named after Van Der Stoel, who worked out the compromise formula. The ethnic Albanians of Macedonia have long wanted a university with Albanian-language instruction, but the Macedonian authorities feared that such an institution could easily turn into a focal point of Albanian nationalism, as Prishtina University did in the 1970s. The new institution aims at providing a world-class education free of nationalist indoctrination. Some observers have already suggested that, if successful, the university could attract students from well beyond Macedonia and the region's ethnic Albanian communities. PM

    [20] CROATIAN LEADERS SLAM VETERANS' PROTESTS

    Nearly 100,000 war veterans and supporters of late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community demonstrated in Split on 11 February to protest the government's policy of prosecuting Croatian war criminals and cooperating with the Hague-based tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). President Stipe Mesic said that the demonstrators are trying to take power from the street rather than fight elections that they know they cannot win, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Parliamentary speaker Zlatko Tomcic said that the protesters' statements sounded more like an ultimatum than a call for dialogue, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. PM

    [21] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS MAKE CONTROVERSIAL IRAQI TRIP

    Five Romanian parliamentarians, two from the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and three from the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) flew to Baghdad on 10 February in a Moldovan plane transporting equipment sent within the framework of the "Oil for Food" program, Mediafax reported. The Foreign Ministry said the trip was coordinated by the Chamber of Commerce and did not break any UN sanctions, but the chamber's chief, Constantin Cojocaru, said this body had no knowledge that parliamentarians will accompany the transport. Chamber of Deputies spokesman Andrei Chiliman said such trips require the approval of the parliament's bureaus, which has neither been sought nor granted. PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said in reply "we do not need to ask the parliament's permission, because we serve the Romanian people" and called on Romania to resume ties with Iraq and not let its people "die of hunger." MS

    [22] ROMANIA 'SUSPENDS' SENTENCE OF CONVICTED GENERALS

    Prosecutor-General Joita Tanase on 9 February said he is "suspending" the sentencing of generals Victor Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac until 9 May. They were both sentenced to 15 years in prison for the role they played in quashing the revolt in Timisoara against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989. Stanculescu has been a fugitive since he was sentenced in July 1999. The prosecutor-general said his office is examining the possibility of launching an appeal against the sentence, as demanded by the Defense Ministry, which had been sentenced to pay damages to victims. Former Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica criticized the decision as "political" and said it was "strange" that Tanase, who has been in office for just a few weeks, had sufficient time to study the voluminous file and make a decision. MS

    [23] ROMANIAN PARTIES FACING INTERNAL CONFLICTS

    The Democratic Party's National Coordination Council on 9 February decided to convoke an Extraordinary Convention in May. Democratic Party leader Petre Roman recommended that the convention meet in September but was outvoted 276 to 160. Only an Extraordinary Convention can elect a new leadership for the party and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu officially announced he will run for the party's chairmanship. Deputy Chairman Radu Berceanu resigned after being criticized by Roman for his coordination of the party's electoral campaign. On 10 February, the National Council of the Alliance for Romania decided to define the party's ideology as "social- liberal," as proposed by chairman Teodor Melescanu, but rejected the proposal to define the party as "center-right." Melescanu said he favors negotiations with the Democrats for an alliance, while Bucharest branch chairman Doru Viorel Ursu said the council's decisions are "non-statutory" and supported negotiations with the ruling PDSR. MS

    [24] HIDDEN TENSIONS EMERGE AT ROMANIAN-MOLDOVAN SUMMIT

    President Ion Iliescu on 9 February told his Moldovan counterpart Petru Lucinschi in Vaslui that negotiations on the pending basic treaty between the two countries must be resumed after the Moldovan elections. Lucinschi said Moldova has "no problems" with the treaty initialed in April 2000 and the new Moldovan parliament should ratify it. Lucinschi also said his country is opposed to the concept of "two Romanian states" and prefers to speak of "brotherly relations." While both presidents agreed on the need for an urgent settlement of the Transdniester conflict, Iliescu said Russia's responsibility for that effort is "important" while Lucinschi said Moscow plays "a positive role." They agreed that relations between their countries must improve "regardless of the outcome of the Moldovan elections." Iliescu also said the tightening of border controls to reduce illegal immigration must not hinder "the free travel of Moldovan citizens." MS

    [25] MOLDOVAN POLLS SHOWS PARLIAMENT TO HAVE FIVE PARTIES

    Only five political formations are likely to meet the 4 percent electoral threshold requirement and be represented in the next Moldovan parliament, according to a poll conducted by the local Institute for Public Technologies, Infotag reported on 9 February. The poll shows the Party of Moldovan Communists has the largest backing (48.2 percent), followed by the Braghis Alliance (15.3), the Party of Revival and Conciliation (9.2), the Democratic Party (6.2), and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (6 percent). Over 60 percent of the respondents said they are sure to participate in the ballot on 25 February, 33.7 percent have not yet decided whether to do so, and 5.6 percent said they will not participate in the elections, Infotag reported. MS

    [26] EIM TO MONITOR MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS

    The European Institute for Mass Media (EIM) will monitor between 11 and 25 February the coverage of the electoral campaign in the Moldovan media, Flux reported on 11 February. EIM will collaborate for this purpose with the Chisinau-based CIVIS Center for Sociological, Political, and Psychological Investigations. MS

    [27] BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

    The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on 9 February moved a no- confidence motion against the cabinet headed by Ivan Kostov, blaming it for the recent upsurge in crime, Reuters reported. "Escalation of crime in recent months is the result of the government's policy, " which has turned "clientilism and corruption into an official state policy," the motion said. The vote is scheduled for later this week but has no chance of being approved by the parliament, though the Turkish ethnic minority Movement for Rights and Freedom announced it will back it. MS

    [28] FORMER BULGARIAN KING CRITICIZES COURT DECISION

    "The fact that I was deprived of the possibility to take part in the presidential elections has left me perplexed," former King Simeon II said in a written statement to the press on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). While acknowledging that he has not permanently lived in Bulgaria in the last five years as stipulated by the constitution, Simeon said that "hardly any one else was more involved [than myself] in the problems of the country and its people." The former monarch said he respected the court ruling, but believed that the five-year residency requirement had been specifically designed to bar him from running, Reuters reported. He also promised to find a "valid alternative" to respond to the wishes of those who intended to vote for him in the presidential race. MS

    [29] FORMER BULGARIAN BANK OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR ILLEGAL BAILOUTS

    Stoyan Shukerov, former head of the National Bank's department for foreign currency transactions, was charged on 9 February with providing between 1993 and 1996 some $49 million in illegal bailouts to five commercial banks that went bankrupt in 1997, AP reported, citing BTA. He is suspected of lending the money without requiring collateral and poorly supervising loan recipients. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. MS

    [30] BULGARIANS' LIBYAN TRIAL POSTPONED AGAIN

    A Libyan court on 10 February postponed for the ninth time the trial of the six Bulgarian medical personnel accused of having willfully infected children with the HIV virus in a Benghazi hospital, Reuters reported, citing Bulgarian Radio. The trial, which opened on 7 February 2000, is now due to resume on 17 March. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [31] WHEN RELIGION, NATIONALITY, AND POLITICS INTERSECT

    By Paul Goble

    A provision in the Russian draft law on political parties prohibiting the organization of such groups on religious and ethnic lines has sparked a protest from members of the country's largest religious denomination, the Russian Orthodox Church.

    A spokesman for the Union of Orthodox Christians, a group representing that denomination's lay members, sharply criticized the Kremlin's draft political party law that the Duma gave preliminary approval to on Wednesday. He said in Moscow on the same day that such a ban, if imposed, would deprive millions of Orthodox Russians of the right to promote traditional Russian Orthodox values.

    The spokesman noted further that parties rooted in the Christian tradition play a key role in many political systems, including those of the most developed Western European states. And he said that parties promoting religious values can play an especially important part in the revival of Russian society.

    This criticism of draft legislation developed by the administration of President Vladimir Putin is especially important for three reasons:

    First, it provides an important clue as to how the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox church intends to expand its already large political role. By church rules, priests and hierarchs are prohibited from directly participating in political life at any level. But the ban does not extend to lay members of their congregations, and consequently, the Union of Orthodox Christians could easily become a political vehicle for the patriarchate itself.

    Given the Orthodox Church's tradition of closely allying itself with the state and given the important role of priests in the lives of believers, the organization of such an Orthodox Russian party could thus become a powerful support for the central leadership, even if it offended many other groups.

    Second, it suggests that the new draft law, one for which some four alternative drafts and more than 500 amendments have already been proposed, may face a more difficult future during upcoming discussions in the Russian parliament than many now expect.

    Over the last several weeks, the Moscow press has been full of articles noting the objections of this or that political faction to the draft legislation but arguing that the Duma will certainly pass the bill in almost the same form proposed by the Kremlin. The objections from the Union of Orthodox Christians, however, may provide some important assistance to those who object to the bill for other reasons.

    And third, the objections of the Union of Orthodox Christians highlight another instance of the law of unintended consequences. Those involved in drafting the law on parties and those commenting on its prospects have suggested that the ban on organizing parties based on religious or national lines was inserted to limit the political possibilities for small, non- Russian, and especially Islamic groups.

    But now that members of the largest confession have discovered that this ban could affect them as well, many in Moscow and elsewhere are likely to be forced to confront a problem familiar to many other countries around the world.

    Government attempts to restrict minorities in ways that end by restricting the rights of a majority group have typically generated a reaction among the majority that has often proved far more threatening than any of the minority actions would have been. In Canada, for example, earlier efforts to restrict the assertiveness of French-speaking Quebec residents have had the unintended consequence of helping to power Anglophone counter movements.

    And efforts at restricting such minority rights, especially when they are lifted under political pressure from the dominant group, sometimes serve as the occasion for greater not lesser nationalist assertion by the dominant communities. Indeed, many minority groups often see such a pattern as both a reason and an opportunity for greater activity on their parts. If the draft parties law is revised, some minorities in Russia may thus organize precisely because that happened.

    And to the extent that occurs, the chance of clashes along religious or ethnic lines are likely to increase -- precisely the opposite outcome the drafters of the original bill intended.

    While those members of the majority group who first object to these restrictions at first may be doing so on human rights grounds, as appears to be the case with the Union of Russian Christians, others in that majority community may then seek to use any change in such restrictions to promote their own, more openly nationalist agendas. And that in turn could provoke a nationalist and religious response from the minorities as well.

    In short, the Kremlin's effort to exclude national and religious elements from Russian political life could well end by promoting the inclusion of some and the further exclusion of others, a trend with potentially explosive consequences for the future development of a unified civil society in that country.

    12-02-01


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


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