YELTSIN ADDRESSES RUSSIANS ON NATIONAL HOLIDAY. President Boris Yeltsin addressed Russians on national television on 12 June, the anniversary of the 1990 declaration of sovereignty by the Russian Congress of People's Deputies. He argued that Russia is "moving forward on a path of real political and economic transformation" and hailed recent accords signed with Belarus and Ukraine. Yeltsin said that for the first time in 80 years, world recognition of Russia's importance was not based on fear. He noted that NATO is taking Russia's interests into account and that the G-7 group of industrialized countries will move toward including Russia at an upcoming summit. While acknowledging that the people have many "fair complaints" about himself and the authorities in general, he commented that "no one can say that the voice of the discontented in Russia is not heard." Yeltsin also renamed the 12 June holiday from Russian Independence Day to the Day of Russia.

FLAGS CHANGED ON BLACK SEA FLEET. In line with a recent presidential decree, Soviet flags on the Russian ships of the Black Sea Fleet were replaced on 12 June with the tsarist-era blue-and-white flags, RFE/RL's correspondent in Sevastopol reported. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Navy Commander in Chief Feliks Gromov, and Black Sea Fleet Commander Viktor Kravchenko attended the ceremonies. Sergeev said joint Russian-Ukrainian naval exercises might be held later this year, Interfax reported. However, he confirmed that Russia will not take part in the NATO-led "Sea Breeze" naval exercises scheduled for August off the Crimean coast. Meanwhile, Moscow First Deputy Mayor Oleg Tolkachev told reporters in Sevastopol that the Moscow city government will finance construction of a 300-apartment building for Black Sea Fleet sailors, as well as a school in Sevastopol, ITAR-TASS reported.

FIRST SESSION OF RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY. The Russian-Belarusian Parliamentary Assembly, composed of deputies from both chambers of the Russian and Belarusian parliaments, convened for the first time in the Belarusian city of Brest on 12 June, Itar-Tass reported. The assembly was set up under the union treaty recently signed by the two countries. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is attending the session, while the Russian delegation is led by Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who is also chair of the Russian-Belarusian parliamentary assembly. Seleznev proposed to the assembly that the former anthem of the Soviet Union be given new lyrics and become the national hymn of the Russian-Belarusian union. He also suggested that the "fraternal nation" of Ukraine may want to join the union.

UKRAINIAN-RUSSIAN TRADE DECREASES. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Serghiy Tighipko told journalists on 12 June that trade between Ukraine and Russia dropped 20% in the first four months of 1997, compared with the same period last year. In Tighipko's opinion, Ukraine and Russia will have to be more pragmatic in their approach to boost trade between the two countries. Tighipko, who is in charge of economic reforms, is heading a delegation to Moscow for talks on how to improve the situation. Ukraine relies heavily on the Russian market. In 1996, 40% of Ukraine's exports, worth $14 billion, went to Russia.

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN ROMANIA. Dariusz Rosati and his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, announced on 12 June that their countries will establish a "close partnership" of regional collaboration and that Ukraine may also join. Romania and Poland will also examine the possibility of setting up a joint military unit. The foreign ministers said Romanian-Polish relations will remain very close, despite U.S. President Clinton's 12 June announcement excluding Romania from the first wave of NATO expansion. Rosati pledged Polish support for changing that decision before the Madrid July summit, Romanian media reported.

A conference in Prague of justice ministers from the Council of Europe's 40 member states ended on 11 June with an appeal for greater support for the international community's fight against growing corruption and organized crime. In a final declaration, the ministers emphasized that corruption among state officials poses an increasing threat to the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. They noted this is particularly true of the 16 Council member states from Eastern Europe and the former republics of the Soviet Union that joined the organization after 1989.

Reports and speeches by several Eastern European ministers reflect great awareness of the moral corrosion and subversion of democratic values currently posed by widespread corruption in former Communist states.

In their reports to the conference, both Czech Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova --who chaired the proceedings-- and her Hungarian counterpart, Pal Vastagh, underlined the trans-national character of crime and corruption in former Communist states. Parkanova said that corruption was now a serious problem in the Czech Republic extending not only into many areas of public administration but also into the political and law-enforcement communities. Vastagh said the same problem existed in his country, noting that some corruptive practices that had developed under Communist rule continued to flourish in post-Communist Hungary. He commented candidly that "at the time of the change of [the Hungarian] regime, it was believed corruption would no longer pose a big problem in an emerging market economy, since the reasons for it would have ceased to exist. This expectation, unfortunately, proved to be wrong."

The bluntest comments about widespread corruption in Eastern Europe, however, came from Ukraine's Justice Minister Serhiy Holovaty. Holovaty told the conference that the spread of corruption and organized crime in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics threatens "to undermine the fragile foundations of their emerging civil societies." Former Soviet elites in those countries, he said, "continue to cling to power. Having wielded tremendous administrative control over the lives and activities of their citizens [under Communism], the members of the 'nomenklatura' are now the virtually uncontrolled arbiters of the distribution and use of state property.... Today, because of the absence of accountability within hierarchical power structures, the scope for fraud, corruption, and self-aggrandizement is broad, to put it mildly. The nomenklatura is not interested in serious economic and administrative reform because its members profit handsomely from the existing unregulated environment."

Holovaty found that in the former Soviet republics, the link between organized crime and corruption--a phenomenon noted by most speakers at the meeting--has a "special character." He defined that character as follows: "The distinction between organized crime and certain aspects of government activity is often indistinguishable." As a result, he argues, there is an "increasing institutionalization of corruption, enormous losses of revenue to state budgets, retardation of the development of the private sector, the monopolization of certain aspects of economic activity, and pervasive unjust enrichment."

The same point was made, but far more diplomatically, by the chief Council of Europe official at the meeting, Deputy Secretary-General Peter Leuprecht. He told the meeting that the Council's four-year-old drive to aid international efforts at combating corruption has been considerably hampered by some member governments making verbal, rather than real, commitments to its efforts. At a press conference at the end of the two-day meeting, Leuprecht said that what is lacking in those states is "political will." Asked by the author to define the reasons for the absence of such will, he replied: "the penetration of criminal organizations in government."

Leuprecht and many other participants said they are convinced that the concrete proposals agreed upon by the ministers for increasing intra-European and international cooperation in combating crime and corruption will be adopted at the Council of Europe's second summit meeting in October. But neither he nor many of the Eastern ministers present at the meeting were optimistic about stemming crime and corruption in Eastern Europe, and particularly in the former Soviet republics, without a complete transformation of their societies and public attitudes. That goal, they stressed, will not be achieved in the foreseeable future.