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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 35, 01-02-20

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. 35, 20 February 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIA REJECTS TURKISH OFFER OF
  • [02] ARMENIAN PREMIER'S PARTY SECURES
  • [03] ARMENIAN TRADERS STAGE STREET PROTEST
  • [04] AZERBAIJANI POLICE BATTLE WAR INVALIDS...
  • [05] ...AS BAKU MAYOR OFFERS THEM JOBS
  • [06] AZERBAIJANI TV LAUNCHES ITS VERSION OF

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [07] HAGUE'S DEL PONTE CALLS FOR 'CONCRETE
  • [08] WILL EU HELP CONVINCE SERBIA OF NEED TO
  • [09] SERBIAN LEGAL MEASURES ON HAGUE COULD
  • [10] SERBIA SEEKING TO PROD NATO INTO KOSOVA
  • [11] WHO OR WHAT IS BEHIND LATEST VIOLENCE IN
  • [12] PRESEVO FIGHTERS SAY SERBIAN POLICE KILLED
  • [13] MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER BACKS SERBIA IN
  • [14] PROTECTION OF MINORITIES: KFOR'S NEW GOAL
  • [15] STRIKE AT SERBIAN TELECOM
  • [16] MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON
  • [17] ANTI-NATIONALIST PROTEST IN CROATIA
  • [18] SLOVENES RIDICULE AUSTRIAN 'HABSBURG'
  • [19] IMPRISONED ROMANIAN MINERS' LEADER MAKES
  • [20] ROMANIAN OFFICERS CONVICTED FOR KILLINGS
  • [21] ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS MOTION TO DEBATE
  • [22] ILIESCU STILL OPPOSES HUNGARIAN UNIVERSITY
  • [23] RAPPORTEUR SAYS ROMANIAN REFORMS HAVE
  • [24] ROMANIA'S RULING PARTY BANGS ON SOCIALIST
  • [25] ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT REACHES AGREEMENT
  • [26] UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S MOLDOVAN VISIT
  • [27] ...AS IS OSCE BRATISLAVA MEETING ON
  • [28] MOLDOVA TO JOIN WTO
  • [29] MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS
  • [30] BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VETOES PARTIES' LAW
  • [31] BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS CONTINUE PROTEST

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [32] WILL UKRAINE'S PRESIDENT SURVIVE?

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIA REJECTS TURKISH OFFER OF

    KARABAKH MEDIATION

    The Armenian Foreign

    Ministry on 19 February rejected Turkish Foreign

    Minister Ismail Cem's 17 February proposal that

    Turkey host talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan on

    resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan

    bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February

    2001). Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik

    Aghajanian said that Turkey cannot act as a mediator

    because of its "explicitly one-sided position" favoring

    Azerbaijan. She also pointed to the absence of

    diplomatic relations between Ankara and Yerevan as a

    further obstacle to such talks. LF

    [02] ARMENIAN PREMIER'S PARTY SECURES

    PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE CHAIR

    After intensive

    lobbying by senior members of the Republican Party

    of Armenia (HHK), its candidate, Gagik Minasian, was

    elected on 19 February to head the parliament's

    Finance and Economy Committee, RFE/RL's Yerevan

    bureau reported. Minasian, who is close to Prime

    Minister Andranik Markarian, garnered 63 votes

    compared with 42 for rival Vahram Baghdasarian. In

    the previous vote on 7 February, Baghdasarian, also a

    member of the majority Miasnutiun bloc, received 54

    votes and Minasian 42. Minasian's appointment is a

    badly-needed victory for the HHK which has been

    weakened by the recent defection of several of its most

    prominent members (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report,"

    Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). LF

    [03] ARMENIAN TRADERS STAGE STREET PROTEST

    Some 10,000 street traders marched to the Armenian

    parliament building in Yerevan on 19 February to

    protest a government ruling requiring them to

    introduce cash registers as of 21 February in a bid to

    stamp out tax evasion, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau

    reported. The traders, who are supported by the

    Orinats Yerkir parliament faction, have demanded an

    emergency debate on the issue. The introduction of

    cash registers was originally scheduled for last fall but

    postponed after protests. The traders oppose any

    change to the present arrangement under which they

    pay tax at a fixed rate determined by the size and

    location of their market stalls. LF

    [04] AZERBAIJANI POLICE BATTLE WAR INVALIDS...

    Some 20 police were injured on 19 February in street

    fighting in Baku with some 500 members of the

    Society of Karabakh War Invalids, Reuters and AFP

    reported quoting Azerbaijani Interior Ministry

    officials. Hundreds of invalids and their supporters

    had staged several short marches in the city during

    the day and blocked traffic on main streets, but

    returned each time after 20 minutes to the society's

    headquarters. Police did not attempt to disperse those

    marches, but clashed with the invalids in the late

    afternoon as the latter were converging on the venue

    for a planned rally. Police beat seven of the invalids.

    Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov earlier

    on 19 February accused the invalids of breaking the

    law. On 20 February, some 500 police surrounded the

    invalids' Baku headquarters, and other police

    detachments used force to disperse a large group of

    invalids and their mothers, detaining or beating

    dozens of people, Turan reported. LF

    [05] ...AS BAKU MAYOR OFFERS THEM JOBS

    Hajibala

    Abutalibov, who was appointed mayor of Baku last

    month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001), has

    launched a crackdown against illegal trade in the

    capital, but at the same time has reserved 10,000

    vacancies in legal retail stores for Karabakh war

    invalids, other veterans, and their family members,

    Turan reported on 20 February. LF

    [06] AZERBAIJANI TV LAUNCHES ITS VERSION OF


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [07] HAGUE'S DEL PONTE CALLS FOR 'CONCRETE

    SIGN'

    Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of

    the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, followed up her

    recent criticism of Belgrade's lack of cooperation with

    the court by calling on the Serbian authorities to

    "transfer" General Ratko Mladic or other unnamed

    Bosnian Serbs to the tribunal, even if Belgrade is not

    prepared to quickly extradite former President

    Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19

    February 2001). Speaking in Brussels on 19 February,

    Del Ponte stressed that "no political expediency, no

    fear of destabilizing Serbia should allow a reprieve to

    the transfer of such persons to The Hague. On the

    contrary, Serbia and the deepening of its

    democratization process will only benefit," Reuters

    reported. PM

    [08] WILL EU HELP CONVINCE SERBIA OF NEED TO

    COOPERATE?

    In Brussels on 19 February, Del Ponte

    also appealed to EU Commission President Romano

    Prodi, EU foreign and security policy chief Javier

    Solana, and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson

    to encourage Belgrade to work with The Hague,

    Reuters reported. Solana promised to write EU foreign

    ministers about her concerns. Prodi agreed with her

    that it is time for Belgrade to show a concrete sign that

    it is willing to cooperate, the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung"

    reported. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica

    recently cited remarks by Prodi and EU Stabilization

    Pact chief Bodo Hombach, as well as by unnamed U.S.

    officials, to the effect that it is not necessary for

    Belgrade to cooperate with The Hague (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 14 February 2001). U.S. President George

    W. Bush and Congress are to rule by 31 March whether

    Belgrade is cooperating sufficiently to receive an

    additional $100 million in U.S. aid. PM

    [09] SERBIAN LEGAL MEASURES ON HAGUE COULD

    TAKE 'MONTHS'

    In her remarks in Brussels on 19

    February, Del Ponte noted that other Yugoslav

    republics, including Croatia and Montenegro, are

    cooperating admirably with the court, the "Neue

    Zuercher Zeitung" reported. In Podgorica, Montenegrin

    President Milo Djukanovic stressed the importance of

    his republic's work with the tribunal, "Pobjeda"

    reported. But in Belgrade, Yugoslav Justice Minister

    Momcilo Grubac said that it might take "several

    months" for legislation on cooperating with the court

    to be drafted, sent to the parliament, and passed (see

    "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). He noted that

    the new laws might actually require Milosevic and

    others to be tried in Serbia before they could be sent

    abroad, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported.

    Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic noted that the

    new legislation might not be what The Hague wants.

    "I'm not optimistic, since not all members of the

    federal government want to pass the law on

    cooperation with The Hague Tribunal," AP quoted

    Batic as saying. PM

    [10] SERBIA SEEKING TO PROD NATO INTO KOSOVA

    CRACKDOWN?

    Kostunica has telephoned Bush to

    urge the holding of a special session of the UN Security

    Council to discuss recent violence in Kosova and the

    Presevo Valley, the BBC Serbian Service reported on 20

    February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001).

    (The Milosevic regime also frequently called for

    Security Council meetings in response to violence in

    Kosova.) Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said

    in Belgrade that NATO could be more tough with the

    unnamed people responsible for the violence, but that

    the alliance is "afraid that the Albanian terrorists will

    perceive them as adversaries," the "Financial Times"

    reported. NATO's position is that it is doing what it

    can and that the parties directly concerned must solve

    their problems in negotiations. In December, Predrag

    Simic, who is Kostunica's foreign policy adviser, wrote

    two articles in the weekly "NIN" in which he outlined

    plans for how Belgrade could re-establish its authority

    in Kosova with the cooperation of the international

    community. PM

    [11] WHO OR WHAT IS BEHIND LATEST VIOLENCE IN

    KOSOVA, PRESEVO?

    Unnamed "NATO sources" told

    Reuters on 19 February that there has been an

    increase in coordinated attacks on Serbs in Kosova

    since the new government took office in Belgrade in

    October, the agency reported from the Serbian capital.

    The sources added that "the Presevo and Kosovo

    extremists have overlapping agendas but not

    necessarily the same." Other Western sources have

    identified as many as three different Albanian groups

    operating in southwestern Serbia (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 19 February 2001). PM

    [12] PRESEVO FIGHTERS SAY SERBIAN POLICE KILLED

    BY OWN MINES

    In Lucane, commander Shefket

    Musliu of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja,

    and Bujanovac (UCPMB) said on 19 February that

    Serbian forces killed an Albanian commander recently

    in response to the death of three Serbian police in an

    explosion. Senior commander Sami Azemi denied that

    the UCPMB had anything to do with either that

    explosion or the one that destroyed a bus near

    Podujevo recently. Azemi condemned both attacks

    against Serbs, AP reported. On 20 February, "Koha

    Ditore" carried a statement by commander Vullnet

    Ibishi, saying that "the Serbian policemen ran into

    mines they had planted themselves. The incident

    occurred 500 meters behind Serbian positions where it

    was impossible for us to enter," Reuters reported. He

    added that the recent violence undermined attempts

    at a negotiated solution, "which we have favored from

    the beginning." PM

    [13] MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER BACKS SERBIA IN

    PRESEVO

    Ljubco Georgievski said in Belgrade on 19

    February that he supports Serbia's new plan to

    stabilize Presevo, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan

    Report," 16 February 2001). He added that he opposes

    unnamed "extremist forces without political support

    who want to jeopardize peace in the whole region."

    Georgievski said that the violence must stop if

    essential foreign investment is to flow into the region.

    PM

    [14] PROTECTION OF MINORITIES: KFOR'S NEW GOAL

    Norwegian General Thorstein Skiaker, who will take

    over command of KFOR on 6 April, said in

    Copenhagen on 19 February that "to establish safe and

    secure conditions for all ethnic groups in Kosovo is

    today the absolutely most important but also the most

    difficult task," AP reported. He added that KFOR's

    "assignment looks different today with the new

    [government] in Belgrade... The chances of having to

    defend Kosovo from an attack from the outside are

    now very [few]," he added. "From what I have learned

    from military reports, KFOR has roughly the strength

    needed to solve its problems," Skiaker noted. PM

    [15] STRIKE AT SERBIAN TELECOM

    An unspecified

    number of workers at Serbian Telecom went on strike

    on 19 February to demand payment of outstanding

    wages, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Postal

    workers staged a sympathy strike. In related news,

    Italian authorities in Turin are investigating the

    possibility that Italian Telecom paid large sums in

    kickbacks in conjunction with its acquisition of shares

    in its Serbian counterpart in 1997, "Pobjeda" reported

    on 20 February, citing "La Repubblica." PM

    [16] MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON

    REFERENDUM

    On 19 February, the legislature passed

    a measure stating that voting in the upcoming

    referendum on independence is open to all

    Montenegrin citizens who have lived in the republic

    for at least two years, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service

    reported. The measure will pass if a simple majority of

    those voting approve it. Legislators from the

    opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) and the

    People's Party walked out to protest the decision. They

    want the referendum to be approved only if a majority

    of registered voters cast their ballots for it. The SNP

    also wants voting open to Montenegrins living in

    Serbia. Recent polls show a clear majority of

    Montenegrins favoring independence. PM

    [17] ANTI-NATIONALIST PROTEST IN CROATIA

    Up to

    10,000 persons gathered in Zagreb on 19 February for

    a rally with the themes "My Vote For Justice" and "One

    Hour For A State Based On The Rule Of Law." The

    demonstration was in support of the government's

    cooperation with The Hague and its willingness to

    bring all war criminals to trial, RFE/RL's South Slavic

    Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February

    2001). PM

    [18] SLOVENES RIDICULE AUSTRIAN 'HABSBURG'

    PROPOSAL

    The Ljubljana daily "Delo" has criticized a

    recent Austrian proposal to establish a Central

    European Strategic Partnership, starting with a

    conference of regional foreign ministers, "Die Presse"

    reported on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14

    February 2001). The Slovenian daily suggested that

    Austria's motives are selfish and economic rather than

    beneficent and political. "Delo" charged that Austrian

    politicians have behaved arrogantly toward their

    eastern neighbors since that country joined the EU

    and noted that Carinthian Governor Joerg Haider has

    frequently tried to bully Slovenia. PM

    [19] IMPRISONED ROMANIAN MINERS' LEADER MAKES

    DEATH THREAT

    Miron Cozma, who was sentenced in

    February 1999 to 18 years in prison for his role in the

    riots that brought down the government headed by

    Petre Roman in September 1991, on 19 February

    threatened political scientist Stelian Tanase with

    death. Tanase told "RFE/RL Newsline" on 20 February

    that the call was placed from the prison where Cozma

    is serving his sentence. Tanase said Cozma had

    apparently interpreted a remark made in a television

    program hosted by Tanase as being directed against

    efforts of his supporters to bring about the reversal of

    the sentence. Tanase says the remarks were triggered

    by such dubious recent judicial decisions as that of

    suspending the sentences passed against generals

    Victor Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac. He has launched

    a criminal complaint with the police and the

    Prosecutor-General's Office. MS

    [20] ROMANIAN OFFICERS CONVICTED FOR KILLINGS

    DURING 1989 REVOLUTION

    The Supreme Court of

    Justice on 19 February convicted two generals and a

    captain of "negligent manslaughter" in connection

    with the death of 50 conscripts at the Bucharest

    Otopeni airport during the 1989 revolution, AP

    reported. On 22 December 1989, the unit defending

    the airport opened fire on another unit that had

    responded to its call for reinforcements. The court

    ruled that General Dumitru Draghin, former

    commander of the airport defense forces, and General

    Grigore Ghita, head of airport security forces, should

    have ensured that the two units were aware of each

    other's position, and sentenced them to eight and six

    years, respectively. Captain Ionel Zorila was sentenced

    to four years on similar charges. The court ruled that

    the defense and interior ministries must pay 37.5

    billion lei ($1.3 million) in compensation to relatives

    of the deceased. MS

    [21] ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS MOTION TO DEBATE

    MINORITY-FRIENDLY LAW

    With a vote of 81

    against, one for, and one abstention, the Senate on 19

    February rejected a motion of the extremist Greater

    Romania Party (PRM) to debate the recently-passed

    Local Public Administration Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest

    bureau reported. The PRM senators walked out before

    the vote, protesting the decision to reject the motion

    on grounds of unconstitutionality. PRM leader

    Corneliu Vadim Tudor said after the vote that his

    party had "achieved its purpose" to "demonstrate that

    the PRM is the only opposition party represented in

    the legislature." Tudor said that the law, which

    allegedly makes Hungarian Romania's second official

    language, "can be passed by the parliament but will

    never be passed by the [Romanian] people." MS

    [22] ILIESCU STILL OPPOSES HUNGARIAN UNIVERSITY

    In an interview with the Budapest daily "Magyar

    Hirlap," President Ion Iliescu on 20 February says he

    continues to oppose a separate Hungarian-language

    university in Romania, as this "may lead to

    segregation." He expressed hopes that following the

    implementation of favorable regulations on church

    properties and the use of minority languages, other

    claims of the Hungarian minority can be resolved once

    Romania's economy can afford it. In the interview,

    Iliescu also criticized the Hungarian government for

    failing to guarantee parliamentary representation for

    ethnic minorities. MSZ

    [23] RAPPORTEUR SAYS ROMANIAN REFORMS HAVE

    EU BACKING

    Baroness Emma Nicholson, European

    Parliament rapporteur on Romania, said after talks

    with President Ion Iliescu, Prime Minister Adrian

    Nastase, and other officials on 19 February that the EU

    "fully backs" the reform program of the Romanian

    cabinet, state television reported. She said the reforms

    aimed at improving the conditions of abandoned

    children, in which she is particularly interested,

    "already show signs of bearing fruit." Nicholson also

    said Romania needs "significant foreign investment."

    MS

    [24] ROMANIA'S RULING PARTY BANGS ON SOCIALIST

    INTERNATIONAL DOOR

    The Party of Social

    Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 19 February

    designated Adrian Severin as "envoy to the Socialist

    International" to promote its effort to be accepted as a

    member of that forum, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau

    reported. The former foreign minister and current

    chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is

    known to have numerous ties to the Socialist

    International. The negotiations for the PDSR's merger

    with the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR)

    are at an advanced stage and the two formations are

    likely to be merged under the name of Social

    Democratic Party. The PSDR is a Socialist International

    member and the merger is likely to facilitate

    membership in the international, which the PDSR

    sought unsuccessfully in the past. MS

    [25] ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT REACHES AGREEMENT

    WITH UNIONS, EMPLOYERS

    The government on 19

    February signed a "social pact" with representatives of

    the main trade unions and the organization

    representing Romanian employers, RFE/RL's Bucharest

    bureau reported. The one-year agreement stipulates

    that the unions will not undertake labor action in

    exchange for the government's pledge to raise real

    wages by 4 to 4.5 percent in 2001, raise minimum

    wages by at least 10 percent, and to cut

    unemployment to under 10 percent from the current

    11 percent. Under the agreement, the cabinet pledged

    to raise the GDP by between 4 and 4.5 percent and cut

    inflation to 27 percent from the over 40 percent

    registered in 2000, while keeping the deficit under 4

    percent. MS

    [26] UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S MOLDOVAN VISIT

    POSTPONED...

    President Petru Lucinschi's office

    announced on 19 February that a "working visit" by

    Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has been

    postponed, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The

    visit should have started on 20 February. As grounds

    for the postponement, the presidential office

    mentioned the need for the two sides' teams of experts

    to "better prepare the summit" and particularly the

    planned meeting of the joint commission on

    Moldovan-Ukrainian cooperation. No new date was set.

    Infotag cites "observers" who believe the main reason

    for postponing the visit is the internal situation in

    Ukraine. MS

    [27] ...AS IS OSCE BRATISLAVA MEETING ON

    TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT

    The OSCE-organized

    meeting of the state commissions from Moldova,

    Ukraine, and Russia on solving the Transdniester

    conflict, planned for 20-21 February in Bratislava, has

    been postponed for one week, RFE/RL's Chisinau

    bureau reported. The Moldovan commission's

    chairman, Vasile Sturza, said one of the reasons for

    the postponement was the intended visit to Moldova

    by Ukrainian President Kuchma, which has since been

    postponed. Sturza hinted that another reason was the

    position of the Tiraspol authorities, who earlier asked

    that the meeting be postponed until after the 25

    February parliamentary elections in Moldova. MS

    [28] MOLDOVA TO JOIN WTO

    Negotiations between

    Moldova and the World Trade Organization have been

    successfully completed and Moldova's membership in

    the WTO will formally be approved at the next

    meeting of the organization's general Council, AP

    reported on 19 February. The agency cited Moldovan

    Deputy Minister of Economy and Reforms Gheorghe

    Gaberi as saying his country has adapted its foreign

    trade legislation to meet WTO rules and has made

    concessions in opening its markets to foreign goods

    and services. MS

    [29] MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS

    CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGES

    Dumitru Pulber

    and Elena Safaleru were selected on 19 February as

    judges on the Moldovan Constitutional Court, RFE/RL's

    Chisinau bureau reported. Safaleru is a deputy elected

    to the parliament on the lists of the For a Democratic

    and Prosperous Moldova Bloc, and Safaleru is an

    assistant judge at the Constitutional Court. They will

    replace two other judges whose terms expired. MS

    [30] BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VETOES PARTIES' LAW

    President Petar Stoyanov on 17 February vetoed the

    recently-passed Political Parties Act and sent it back to

    the parliament for reconsideration, BTA, cited by the

    BBC monitoring service, reported. Stoyanov said that

    as formulated, the law fails to make the necessary

    distinction between parties represented in the

    parliament separately, those represented in

    parliamentary coalitions, and those that are members

    in parliamentary groups of other parties. He said this

    makes it difficult to interpret the law correctly and

    thus to determine which parties must re-register and

    which formations are exempt from this requirement.

    MS

    [31] BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS CONTINUE PROTEST

    Bulgarian radio journalists are continuing their protest

    against the appointment of Ivan Borislavov as new

    general director, BTA reported on 19 February. The

    agency said President Stoyanov met with radio

    governing board member Alexander Burzitsov, who

    has been acting as interim director-general since

    Borislavov's hospitalization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19

    February 2001). Stoyanov said he wishes to meet with

    members of the radio staff to hear their views but that

    Borislavov's current health state makes such a meeting

    "inappropriate for now." National Council for Radio

    and Television member Svetlana Bozhilova said the

    council has postponed the signing of the contract with

    Borislavov "until he is discharged from the hospital or

    decides to resign." MS


    [C] END NOTE

    [32] WILL UKRAINE'S PRESIDENT SURVIVE?

    By Jan Maksymiuk

    Despite the evidence implicating President Leonid

    Kuchma in the murder of independent journalist

    Heorhiy Gongadze, and the protests triggered by those

    revelations, it seems unlikely that Kuchma's political

    future is threatened. This month's two strongest anti-

    Kuchma protests gathered some 5,000 people each

    and both of them were held in Kyiv. There have some

    anti-Kuchma protests in the provinces within the past

    month, but they gathered several hundred people at

    most. As some Ukrainian commentators say, what is

    really wrong about Ukraine is not Kuchma's

    authoritarian rule or his alleged responsibility for

    ordering Gongadze's murder, but the fact that most

    Ukrainians do not care about who rules them and how.

    Ukraine's current political unrest was provoked

    by Kuchma's former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko,

    who bugged the president's office for several months

    last summer and subsequently publicized the tapes

    allegedly proving the complicity of Kuchma and other

    top officials in the disappearance of Gongadze, an

    outspoken critic of the ruling regime, on 16 September

    last year.

    Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz publicized

    the Melnychenko tapes on 28 November. It is now

    almost three months since the Gongadze case made

    headlines in the Ukrainian and world press, but

    nothing has been definitively clarified since then.

    Officially, a body found near Kyiv and widely

    believed to be Gongadze's was identified by genetic

    tests as Gongadze's only "to the extent of 99.6

    percent." And this means, that Gongadze is not dead

    from the legal point of view. As Gongadze's wife told

    the Ekho Moskvy radio station, "if there is no crime,

    then there is no perpetrator of the crime."

    Officially, the Melnychenko tapes have been

    dismissed as a fake. The Prosecutor-General's Office --

    in an enigmatic statement early this month -- said

    some conversations on the tapes actually took place

    but on the whole the tapes were "compiled from

    separate words and fragments, which is essentially a

    falsification."

    Kuchma himself has flatly denied any

    involvement in the disappearance of Gongadze, telling

    the "Financial Times" that he did not even know the

    journalist. He said the bugging scandal was staged by a

    "well-organized force" with "a great deal of money and

    capabilities," but failed to identify that force.

    Some 60 lawmakers and opposition politicians set

    up a Forum for National Salvation earlier this month

    with the aim of impeaching Kuchma and transforming

    Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential or even

    parliamentary republic. But the group has so far failed

    to muster any significant support outside Kyiv. The

    authorities counterattacked by arresting former

    Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, a prominent

    member of the forum, on charges of bribery,

    smuggling, tax evasion, and document forgery.

    Kuchma has simply shrugged off the current anti-

    presidential protests in Ukraine, saying he does not

    see any "civilized" opposition to himself within the

    framework of "Ukraine Without Kuchma" rallies. This

    statement may mean, among other things, that he is

    now ready to use not quite "civilized" means to deal

    with his opponents. As for the Forum for National

    Salvation, Kuchma said in a written statement that the

    group is not seeking salvation for the nation but "for

    themselves from political bankruptcy and

    oblivion...[and] criminal responsibility." Many were

    shocked that this statement was also signed by Premier

    Viktor Yushchenko, who has so far preserved the

    image of an independent politician, apparently not

    involved in shady economic deals or dirty political

    games in Ukraine. The Forum for National Salvation

    objected that Yushchenko's siding with Kuchma

    "contradicts both God's and human laws." This may

    be, incidentally, true, but Yushchenko's decision

    surely does not contradict the common sense of a man

    who occupies a leading position and wants to remain

    there as long as possible. Yushchenko is now 46, and

    some 50 percent of Ukrainians believe he stands a

    good chance of becoming Ukraine's next president. If

    Kuchma dismissed him now, his prospects of

    remaining in the spotlight until next presidential

    elections would be rather uncertain.

    How could Kuchma survive the current political

    unrest virtually unscathed? The answer is very simple:

    because neither the West nor Russia actually wants

    him to step down. Russian President Vladimir Putin's

    recent talks with Kuchma in Dnipropetrovsk signaled

    to many that Moscow wants to extend a helping hand

    to the Ukrainian president in order to seek some

    profits for Russia in Ukraine from the bugging scandal.

    The West, which has been carefully portioning its

    financial and moral support to Kuchma in a bid to

    prevent Ukraine from siding with Russia too strongly,

    may be somewhat baffled as to what to do now.

    However, the fact that there has so far not been even a

    hint of disapproval from major Western leaders for

    how Kuchma is behaving means only one thing: the

    West wants him to survive and continue his course.

    Paradoxically, one of the victims of the bugging

    scandal may be Ukraine's moderate nationalist right-

    wing, which supports Kuchma politically in the

    parliament in the so-called parliamentary majority.

    Why "national democrats" support Kuchma is obvious,

    although commentators perhaps do not always dwell

    on the reason: because the "national democrats"

    traded their support for former Communist Party

    apparatchik Kuchma for his agreement to

    "Ukrainianize" Ukraine -- to establish a truly Ukrainian

    education system, first of all. Arguably, nobody will

    deny that building the Ukrainian nation not only in

    the corridors of powers but also in people's minds

    warrants some political sacrifices and compromises.

    But now the question has arisen: Is this one

    compromise too many?

    20-02-01


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


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