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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 250, 99-12-30

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. 3, No. 250, 30 December 1999


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES BUDGET DEBATE
  • [02] RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS SENTENCED FOR ARMENIAN SHOOTING
  • [03] AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS ARMENIAN SEISMIC MONITORING STATIONS
  • [04] GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DENIES CHECHEN FIGHTERS IN GEORGIAN
  • [05] TWELVE INDICTED FOR PLOTTING GEORGIAN COUP
  • [06] PARTICIPANTS IN COMMEMORATION OF KAZAKH DEMONSTRATION FINED
  • [07] KYRGYZSTAN'S ECONOMY STABILIZES
  • [08] FORMER KYRGYZ PREMIER DENIES ROLE IN BUSINESSMAN'S MURDER
  • [09] TWO SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR TAJIK COUP ATTEMPT
  • [10] TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER IN IRAN
  • [11] 'AND HE SHALL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER...'
  • [12] TURKMENISTAN TO SWITCH TO LATIN ALPHABET
  • [13] UZBEK ELECTION RESULTS PUBLISHED

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [14] MILOSEVIC RESHUFFLES MILITARY COMMAND
  • [15] OPPOSITION GROUPS TO DISCUSS COMMON STRATEGY
  • [16] YUGOSLAV LAWYERS PROTEST DISMISSAL OF JUDGES
  • [17] RUSSIA WON'T SELL ADVANCED WEAPONS TO BELGRADE
  • [18] CHINA MAY VETO EXTENSION OF KFOR BEYOND JUNE 2000
  • [19] EU PLANS TO SEND MORE FUEL TO YUGOSLAVIA
  • [20] MONTENEGRIN AIDE SAYS 'FEDERAL STATE DOES NOT EXIST'
  • [21] BELGRADE EXPLOITING MAFIA CHARGES IN MONTENEGRO
  • [22] DETAILS OF MONTENEGRIN HARD CURRENCY OFFER
  • [23] UN CHIEF SAYS KOSOVA VIOLENCE UNACCEPTABLE
  • [24] ARRESTS AND RELEASES IN KOSOVA
  • [25] SFOR GOES ON HEIGHTENED ALERT IN BOSNIA
  • [26] OSCE TO REMOVE 15 MUSLIM CANDIDATES FROM BOSNIAN ELECTORAL
  • [27] BOSNIAN SERBS PLEAD NOT GUILTY AT HAGUE TRIBUNAL
  • [28] CROATIAN OPPOSITION FORMS OWN ELECTION COMMISSION
  • [29] MACEDONIA SEIZED SERBIA-BOUND EXPLOSIVES
  • [30] ALBANIANS CHOOSE ENVER HOXHA 'MAN OF CENTURY'
  • [31] ALBANIA CRITICIZES BELGRADE, SEEKS CLOSE TIES WITH PODGORICA
  • [32] ROMANIA INTRODUCES NEW TAX SYSTEM...
  • [33] ...AND TAXES PENSIONS
  • [34] ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RETURNS FROM MOSCOW
  • [35] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [36] NEW ORTHODOXY?

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES BUDGET DEBATE

    The deputy

    chairman of the Armenian parliamentary Committee on Finance

    and Economics, Manvel Badeyan, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau

    on 28 December that the final draft of the 2000 budget will

    be submitted to the legislature in late January. The draft

    was originally submitted to deputies in early November but

    then withdrawn for amendments. Badeyan said the reason for

    the delay is that the Armenian government is keen to have a

    "realistic" budget but doesn't yet know how much the country

    will receive from international financial organizations. In

    particular, agreement has not yet been reached with the World

    Bank on the size of a Structural Adjustment Credit that is

    earmarked to cover much of the anticipated budget deficit. LF

    [02] RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS SENTENCED FOR ARMENIAN SHOOTING

    Two

    Russian border guards were sentenced to jail terms of 14 and

    15 years for indiscriminately opening fire on civilians in

    the north Armenian town of Gyumri in April, AP reported (see

    "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1999). Two people were killed and

    a further nine wounded in the shooting. LF

    [03] AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS ARMENIAN SEISMIC MONITORING STATIONS

    Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry on 27 December issued a

    statement condemned as a violation of Azerbaijan's

    territorial integrity Armenian plans to open a network of 150

    seismic monitoring stations in Armenia and the unrecognized

    Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, ANS TV

    reported. LF

    [04] GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DENIES CHECHEN FIGHTERS IN GEORGIAN

    TERRITORY

    Georgian Deputy Security Minister Levan Kenchadze

    on 29 December rejected as untrue claims by former Defense

    Minister Tengiz Kitovani that up to 1,500 Chechen fighters

    are using the Pankisi gorge in northern Georgia as a base,

    Caucasus Press reported. Earlier the same day, Kitovani said

    in Tbilisi that the Chechens are being allowed to move freely

    on Georgian territory and are planning to attack Russian

    troops based in Georgia. On 28 December, police in Tbilisi

    apprehended four people attempting to smuggle a large

    quantity of heroin from Pankisi. Georgian police believe the

    drug was processed in an underground facility in Chechnya

    controlled by Chechen field commanders. LF

    [05] TWELVE INDICTED FOR PLOTTING GEORGIAN COUP

    Twelve people,

    including a former senior Defense Ministry official, have

    been charged with conspiring to assassinate Georgian

    President Eduard Shevardnadze in May of this year, Interfax

    and Caucasus Press reported on 28 December (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 24 and 26 May 1999). Seven people, including

    former Defense Ministry official Gudjar Kurashvili, have been

    arrested in connection with the planned coup, while a further

    five are still at large. The latter include former

    parliamentary deputy Boris Kakubava and Igor Giorgadze, ex-

    head of the Georgian Security Service, who is wanted for his

    alleged involvement in the August 1995 attempt to kill

    Shevardnadze. LF

    [06] PARTICIPANTS IN COMMEMORATION OF KAZAKH DEMONSTRATION FINED

    Azat Party leader Hasen Qozhakhmet on 29 December said he and

    an unspecified number of others have been fined for

    participating in a gathering to commemorate those killed

    during the Almaty protest of 19 December 1986 against the

    appointment of an ethnic Russian as first secretary of the

    Communist Party of Kazakhstan, RFE/RL correspondents in

    Almaty reported. Qozhakhmet, who was imprisoned for his role

    in the 1986 protest, said the official explanation for the

    fines was that the gathering had not been sanctioned by the

    authorities. LF

    [07] KYRGYZSTAN'S ECONOMY STABILIZES

    Prime Minister Amangeldi

    Muraliev on 28 December said in Bishkek that his cabinet

    managed to increase tax revenues in 1999, improved the

    situation in the agricultural sector, and held inflation at

    39 percent, Interfax reported. (The target for inflation was

    15 percent). In addition, the country's trade deficit has

    been reduced from $229 million in 1998 to $80 million. The

    government has paid off its entire pension arrears and

    reduced wage arrears to public sector employees, according to

    RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau. LF

    [08] FORMER KYRGYZ PREMIER DENIES ROLE IN BUSINESSMAN'S MURDER

    In

    a letter published on 28 December in the government newspaper

    "Slovo Kyrgyzstana," Apas Djumagulov denies any connection

    with the March 1997 murder in Bishkek of his distant

    relative, businessman Yusup Kolbaev, RFE/RL's bureau in the

    Kyrgyz capital reported. Djumagulov, who is currently

    Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany, said he will launch legal

    proceedings against those media outlets that implicated him

    in the killing. He is also suspected of involvement in a

    major corruption scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December

    1999). LF

    [09] TWO SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR TAJIK COUP ATTEMPT

    A court in the

    northern Tajik city of Khujand on 28 December imposed death

    sentences on two participants in the failed November 1998

    coup headed by former Tajik Army Colonel Mahmud

    Khudaiberdiev, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. A further 35

    Khudaiberdiev supporters received prison sentences ranging

    from 9 to 21 years. LF

    [10] TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER IN IRAN

    During a one-week official

    visit to Tehran, United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo

    Nuri met with President Mohammad Hatami and Foreign Minister

    Kamal Kharrazi, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 29 December. The

    talks centered on political developments in Tajikistan,

    including preparations for the upcoming parliamentary

    elections, bilateral economic ties, and the overall political

    situation in Central Asia. All agreed that the conflict in

    Afghanistan should be resolved by peaceful means and through

    the participation of all Afghan political forces. LF

    [11] 'AND HE SHALL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER...'

    Turkmenistan's

    parliament approved an amendment to the country's

    constitution on 28 December allowing incumbent President

    Saparmurat Niyazov to remain president for an unlimited

    period, Reuters reported. The previous day, Niyazov had

    rejected the proposed amendment, hinting that he might not

    run for a further term in the presidential poll due in 2002

    (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999). On 29 December,

    the U.S. State Department expressed regret at Turkmenistan's

    unwillingness to observe democratic norms, according to AP.

    Reuters quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as conceding that

    Niyazov can guarantee political stability but also noting

    that his continuation in office indefinitely will postpone

    both democratic and economic reforms in the country. Niyazov

    told law-makers on 29 December that no alternatives to the

    ruling Democratic Party will be allowed to exist during the

    next decade, according to Interfax. LF

    [12] TURKMENISTAN TO SWITCH TO LATIN ALPHABET

    Niyazov told

    parliament deputies on 29 December that the country will

    replace the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin one as of 1

    January 2000, Interfax reported. Niyazov also called for

    broader ties between Turkmenistan and Russia, and assured

    Turkmenistan's ethnic Russian minority that they will not be

    subjected to harassment on ethnic or religious grounds. LF

    [13] UZBEK ELECTION RESULTS PUBLISHED

    Following the second round

    of voting on 26 December, 249 of the total 250 seats in the

    new Uzbek parliament have been filled, Asia Plus-Blitz

    reported on 27 December. The People's Democratic Party has 48

    seats, the national democratic party Fidorkorlar 24, Vatan

    Tarakkiyoti 20, the Adolat social-democratic party 11, and

    the democratic party Milli Tiklanish 10. A further 110

    deputies represent governing structures, and 16 others

    represent initiative groups. LF


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [14] MILOSEVIC RESHUFFLES MILITARY COMMAND

    In an apparent effort

    to shore up his personal power, Yugoslav President Slobodan

    Milosevic on 28 December made significant changes in the

    military's high command, Reuters reported. Among those

    promoted was General Vladimir Lazarevic, who commanded the

    Pristina Corps until its withdrawal in June and who has

    recently said that Yugoslav forces will return to Kosovo. He

    will now be deputy head of Yugoslavia's Third Army. General

    Milorad Obradovic, commander of the Second Army, also was

    increased in rank. His area of responsibilities includes

    Montenegro. PG

    [15] OPPOSITION GROUPS TO DISCUSS COMMON STRATEGY

    The Alliance

    for Change, the Serbian Renewal Movement, and two smaller

    opposition groups on 28 December agreed to meet on 10 January

    to discuss a common strategy against what they called their

    "common adversary" -- Yugoslav President Milosevic, AP

    reported. Some 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in

    Belgrade on 28 December for a rock concert to mark the new

    year three days early. PG

    [16] YUGOSLAV LAWYERS PROTEST DISMISSAL OF JUDGES

    The Serbian

    Chamber of Lawyers on 29 December said that a 21 December

    decision by the parliament to fire three judges had

    undermined the independence and impartiality of the country's

    judiciary, Reuters reported. "Those decisions are

    unconstitutional and unlawful," the statement continued. The

    dismissed judges are Slobodan Vucetic, a Serbian

    Constitutional Court judge; Zoran Ivosevic, a Serbian Supreme

    Court Judge; and Bozidar Prelevic, a judge in a Belgrade

    municipal court. PG

    [17] RUSSIA WON'T SELL ADVANCED WEAPONS TO BELGRADE

    Yugoslav

    Defense Minister Predrag Bulatovic told the military weekly

    "Vojska" on 29 December that Moscow plans to upgrade its

    military cooperation with Belgrade but will not sell major

    new weapons systems to Yugoslavia "because of the

    internationally imposed arms embargo." In other comments,

    Bulatovic said that NATO was continuing what he called its

    "extended aggression against Yugoslavia" but said that

    Belgrade "will battle on the diplomatic as well as on other

    fields to persuade the international community that Kosovo is

    a part of Yugoslavia and Serbia." PG

    [18] CHINA MAY VETO EXTENSION OF KFOR BEYOND JUNE 2000

    Chinese

    Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said in Beijing on

    28 December that China will decide "depending on what happens

    in Kosovo" as to whether it will support an extension of the

    KFOR mandate, Reuters reported. PG

    [19] EU PLANS TO SEND MORE FUEL TO YUGOSLAVIA

    After appeals by

    the mayors of Nis and Pirot, the EU appears likely to

    increase deliveries of fuel to provide heat to Yugoslav

    civilians, Reuters reported on 28 December. The EU reportedly

    will send 38 fuel trucks rather than the eight earlier

    announced under the still controversial "Energy for

    Democracy" project. Jan Willen Blankert, deputy head of the

    European Commission delegation in Belgrade, said he hopes the

    EU will broaden the program further in January. PG

    [20] MONTENEGRIN AIDE SAYS 'FEDERAL STATE DOES NOT EXIST'

    Miodrag

    Vukovic, an advisor to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic,

    told Montenegrin television on 28 December that Montenegro

    will not participate in Yugoslav elections in the year 2000

    because "the federal state does not exist," AP reported.

    "Only if we agree on future restructuring of a federal state

    can we think about participating in federal institutions,

    including elections." On 29 December, Yugoslav Prime Minister

    Momir Bulatovic accused the U.S. of pushing Montenegro toward

    declaring its independence from Yugoslavia, something

    Washington has repeatedly denied. Bulatovic said that the

    "anti-Yugoslav, noisy band" in Montenegro "has one single

    conductor -- the U.S. administration, which is behind all the

    moves with an apparent desire to destabilize Yugoslavia and

    its legal leadership." PG

    [21] BELGRADE EXPLOITING MAFIA CHARGES IN MONTENEGRO

    Montenegrin

    officials told Reuters on 28 December that Belgrade is

    exploiting Italian displeasure over the involvement of some

    Montenegrins in the mafia to undermine Podgorica's reputation

    in the West. The officials said all 27 deputies of the pro-

    Milosevic party in the Montenegrin parliament had printed

    copies of Italian charges against the republic's foreign

    minister a week ago on the very day he resigned. PG

    [22] DETAILS OF MONTENEGRIN HARD CURRENCY OFFER

    Montenegrin

    Finance Minister Miroslav Ivanisevic on 29 December said

    Podgorica will pay Yugoslav army officers residing in the

    republic with hard currency if the army provides goods of

    equal value to Montenegro, Reuters reported. At the same

    time, Ivanisevic said that the Montenegrin government has

    decided "to pay salaries to all employees in Montenegro in

    German marks." Both steps are designed to protect Podgorica

    from the inflation now ravaging the Yugoslav dinar, but it

    remains uncertain whether the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro

    will accept. PG

    [23] UN CHIEF SAYS KOSOVA VIOLENCE UNACCEPTABLE

    In a report to

    the UN Security Council, Secretary General Kofi Annan said

    progress has been made in Kosova over the last six months but

    that the amount of both general violence as well as violence

    against ethnic minorities remains unacceptably high, Reuters

    reported on 28 December. He called for strengthening the

    judiciary and penal systems and urged a "strong response" to

    counter problems involving "unofficial law-enforcement

    actors." PG

    [24] ARRESTS AND RELEASES IN KOSOVA

    KFOR on 28 December arrested

    Sava Matic, an ethnic Serb who is charged with war crimes

    during the recent conflict, Reuters reported. Matic was

    arrested in Orahovac, where more than a dozen other ethnic

    Serbs have been arrested in recent weeks. The local Serbian

    Orthodox bishop condemned the arrest. Meanwhile, on the same

    day, KFOR released four people who had been detained in

    connection with a bomb attack on a Serbian cafe. PG

    [25] SFOR GOES ON HEIGHTENED ALERT IN BOSNIA

    The NATO-led SFOR on

    28 December announced that its forces have been put on

    heightened alert because of the possibility of terrorist

    attacks, Reuters reported. The SFOR command took this step

    after its soldiers found an unexploded bomb near an SFOR

    camp. PG

    [26] OSCE TO REMOVE 15 MUSLIM CANDIDATES FROM BOSNIAN ELECTORAL

    LIST

    The OSCE, which is in charge of organizing and

    monitoring elections in Bosnia, announced on 28 December that

    it has scratched 15 candidates of the ruling Muslim party

    from the list of candidates because of registration

    irregularities, AP reported. PG

    [27] BOSNIAN SERBS PLEAD NOT GUILTY AT HAGUE TRIBUNAL

    Two Bosnian

    Serbs charged with war crimes, retired General Stanislav

    Galic and paramilitary leader Zoran Vukovic, on 29 December

    entered not guilty pleas at the international court in The

    Hague, Reuters reported. PG

    [28] CROATIAN OPPOSITION FORMS OWN ELECTION COMMISSION

    Suspicious

    that the ruling party of late President Franjo Tudjman might

    "opt for manipulating election results," the leading

    opposition coalition announced on 28 December that it has

    formed its own electoral commission to monitor the upcoming

    vote, Reuters reported, citing bloc spokesman Tihomir

    Ladisic. PG

    [29] MACEDONIA SEIZED SERBIA-BOUND EXPLOSIVES

    The Macedonian

    police on 29 December seized 13 metric tons of explosives the

    authorities said were bound for Serbia, Reuters reported. The

    police also arrested eight Macedonians and seven Yugoslav

    citizens, who have been charged with smuggling. PG

    [30] ALBANIANS CHOOSE ENVER HOXHA 'MAN OF CENTURY'

    According to

    letters sent into Tirana's independent daily "Koha Jone"

    since September, Albanians believe that former dictator Enver

    Hoxha was the most important figure in Albania in the 20th

    century, DPA reported on 29 December. PG

    [31] ALBANIA CRITICIZES BELGRADE, SEEKS CLOSE TIES WITH PODGORICA

    Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on 28 December issued a

    public warning to Belgrade against any attempts to return its

    forces to Kosova, dpa reported. At the same time, Milo

    criticized Athens for failing to discuss the property rights

    of ethnic Albanians in Greece. Meanwhile, Albanian Prime

    Minister Ilir Meta told "Koha Jone" that he hopes for closer

    ties with Montenegro. PG

    [32] ROMANIA INTRODUCES NEW TAX SYSTEM...

    The Romanian government

    on 29 December decided at an extraordinary meeting to slash

    corporate taxes, increase VAT, and simplify the tax system.

    Corporate taxes will be reduced from 38 to 25 percent in

    order to stimulate the economy and ensure accurate tax

    returns. In addition, companies that can prove investments

    and exports will benefit from a 10 and 5 percent tax

    reductions, respectively. Romania's VAT is to be reduced from

    22 to 19 percent but will now apply across the board. At the

    same time, VAT will be increased on some consumer goods from

    11 to 19 percent. However, no VAT will be paid on energy

    deliveries for home consumption until April 2000. As of 1

    January, a global system of personal taxation on all earnings

    regardless of their source is to be introduced, bringing

    Romania into line with the system currently applied in the

    EU, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.

    [33] ...AND TAXES PENSIONS

    Under the new taxation system,

    pensions that surpass the average national salary of 1.7

    million lei ($94) are to be taxed, thus reducing the number

    of pensioners who receive their retirement benefits tax free.

    Labor and Social Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Simona

    Marinescu on 28 December said pensions will be increased by

    up to 60 percent in 2000. MS

    [34] ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RETURNS FROM MOSCOW

    On his return

    from a three-day visit to Moscow on 29 December, Defense

    Minister Victor Babiuc said he and his Russian counterpart,

    Igor Sergeev, discussed bilateral cooperation in the two

    countries' defense industries and a proposal that Russia

    repay its $90 million debt to Romania with military hardware

    deliveries. They also discussed the envisaged withdrawal of

    Russian troops from the Transdniester and Romania's

    preparations for integration into NATO. Babiuc said he did

    not "note opposition" from Sergeev to Romania's plans but

    added that "Russia is still a great power and I am under the

    impression that it is dissatisfied with the status that

    Western countries are conferring on her." MS

    [35] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY

    CIS

    Executive-Secretary Yurii Yarov met with Moldovan President

    Petru Lucinschi in Chisinau on 28 December to discuss ways to

    improve cooperation among CIS member-states, RFE/RL's

    Chisinau bureau reported. The meeting was part of the

    preparations for the CIS summit scheduled in January 2000.

    Lucinschi told Yarov that Moldova insists on the

    implementation of existing CIS agreements, and particularly

    on setting up a free trade zone that would eliminate trade

    barriers and double taxation. He said he "welcomes" the CIS

    Executive Committee decision to participate in the settlement

    of conflicts and sources of tension in the former Soviet

    Union. Lucinschi added that the committee's participation

    alongside the OSCE and other organizations in mediating

    Moldova's dispute with the Transdniester separatists would

    make an important contribution to finding a solution to the

    problem. MS


    [C] END NOTE

    [36] NEW ORTHODOXY?

    By Catherine Cosman

    A new post-Soviet orthodoxy emerged at a human rights

    seminar in Georgia in late November: The monopoly position of

    majority religious communities may take precedence over that

    of individuals protesting that monopoly.

    The seminar, organized by the Caucasus Institute for

    Peace, Democracy, and Development, also provided highlights

    of the human rights situation in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and

    Georgia. Georgia's active NGO community (at least that based

    in Tbilisi) has made the most strides in communicating its

    concerns to the government. Azerbaijan's parliament in

    December enacted a tough new law on the media. And in

    Armenia, the government maintains tight control over official

    information, resulting in a weak independent media that

    engages in wishy-washy journalism.

    Representatives from all three south Caucasus countries

    agreed that their elections are now mere "balloting

    charades." Georgian journalists, for example, told of the

    mayor's successful challenger in Kutaisi being wounded by

    mysterious assailants a few days before the elections and of

    wholesale vote buying. Nevertheless, foreign election

    monitors still spend a lot of time and treasure in what many

    local observers consider often academic exercises to gauge

    election fairness.

    Participants laughed bitterly at their judiciary

    "systems," with the Armenian representatives saying that

    "justice" is measured only by bags of money. All participants

    agreed that police brutality hits hard and that perpetrators

    are rarely, if ever, brought to justice. As for conditions in

    prison, the less said the better. While most speakers agreed

    there are few, if any, prisoners of conscience, today people

    are still imprisoned on political grounds--most flagrantly in

    Azerbaijan, where some 900 are held in appalling conditions.

    It should be added, however, that many political prisoners in

    Georgia and Azerbaijan were also implicated in coup attempts.

    As for the lamentable socio-economic situation in their

    countries, seminar participants estimated that more than half

    of their work force is unemployed. People are embittered at

    displays of ill-gotten gains by local elites and

    "businessmen" who stole state resources and now produce

    nothing. Despite staunch official opposition, teachers in

    Kutaisi have formed an independent trade union and gotten

    seven months of back wages. Many men, trying to earn a living

    wage, have left Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to find work

    in Russia. The money these workers send home often equals or

    surpasses these countries' official state budgets, giving

    Russia a potential major economic lever.

    Freedoms of speech, press, and assembly differ

    considerably among these three countries. Georgia is the most

    liberal on freedom of the press, although the government

    retains a potential repressive arsenal, particularly for

    slander of the president. Major demonstrations, however, are

    either not allowed in Georgia or are rapidly dispersed,

    perhaps because such protests brought down the previous

    government. Armenian journalists claimed there is no direct

    official censorship but admitted to much "wishy-washy"

    reporting. The new Azerbaijani media law empowers the

    government to close media outlets without going to court.

    Indeed, the Azerbaijani government recently closed the

    independent Sara TV station on the obscure legal grounds that

    it is owned by a foreigner.

    With regard to religion, the range of views was wider.

    Participants concurred that their governments disapprove of

    foreign missionary activity, especially by Jehovah's

    Witnesses, Krishnaites, Scientologists, and Adventists. Some

    activists, particularly from Armenia, seemed to share their

    government's view that such proselytizing goes against

    "national traditions." Azerbaijanis noted a Lutheran pastor

    had been expelled from their country this summer. And

    Georgian activists detailed repressive actions against

    Protestant groups, such as book burnings and a current court

    case to revoke the registration of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

    In all three countries, the issue of state registration

    of religious groups loomed large. Azerbaijani activists told

    how their country had moved away from the relative liberalism

    of the early 1990s toward increasing barriers to religious

    activity by restricting registration. These registration

    restrictions are also being applied to some Islamic groups.

    In addition, young women who wear head scarves for identity

    card photos are now being denied passports, even though this

    does not violate the law. Armenian participants described how

    the Armenian Apostolic Church played the role of government

    at various times in Armenian history, and now it is feared

    that the Church manipulates this tradition to gain monopoly

    power. In Georgia, only the Georgian Orthodox Church is

    exempt from the registration requirement, while other

    religious groups find it difficult to obtain.

    Disagreement peaked about whether to defend the legal

    rights of a young Moscow artist who protested what he

    considers the cultural monopoly of the Russian Orthodox

    Church by defacing icon prints. The artist faces three years

    in prison for the "incitement of religious discord." One

    young Russian Orthodox journalist from Azerbaijan said she

    was deeply offended by the artist's actions and saw no reason

    to defend his legal rights. Taking the opposite tack, a

    Georgian journalist from the Liberty Institute said, although

    he did not approve of the artist's actions, he would defend

    his right to do so. One Armenian participant said the artist,

    who happened to be an ethnic Armenian, had engaged in simple

    hooliganism. During the heated discussion, many journalists

    and human rights activists defended an emerging religious

    orthodoxy as fervently as the Soviet government had enforced

    atheism.

    The author is deputy director of the RFE/RL Communications

    Division.

    30-12-99


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