BELARUSIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS APPEALS BY WOULD-BE CANDIDATES. The Belarusian Supreme Court upheld a decision by district election commissions not to allow several candidates to register for the upcoming parliamentary elections, Belapan reported on 27 September. The court's press office said that of 63 appeals filed, 59 had been rejected, including those of human rights activists Oleh Volchek and Valery Shchukin; Yuliya Chyhir, wife of former Premier Mikhail Chyhir; Vladimir Honcharik, chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions; and Hennadi Hrushevoi, president of the For the Children of Chornobyl foundation. The reasons given for most of the rejections were invalid signatures in registration lists or inaccuracies in income and property statements. PB
SHARP GASOLINE, UTILITY PRICE INCREASES IN BELARUS. The Belarusian government announced a 10 percent hike in the price of gasoline on 26 September, the fourth increase since August. This makes gasoline in Belarus the most expensive among neighboring CIS states, Belapan reported. One liter of diesel in Belarus now costs $0.36, while in Moldova a liter costs $0.32, in Ukraine $0.27, and in Russia $0.21. Meanwhile, since August average utility rates have risen 80 percent for hot water and 21 percent for building maintenance and upkeep. PB
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS CHORNOBYL TO BECOME RESEARCH CENTER. Leonid Kuchma suggested on 27 September that the Chornobyl nuclear power plant be turned into an international atomic energy research center after it is shut down in December, ITAR-TASS reported. Kuchma's spokesman, Oleksandr Martynenko said the president has decreed that a committee be set up on the plant's closure to investigate such possibilities. Vladimir Litvin, the head of Kuchma's administration, is to chair the group, which is charged with creating jobs for those who will lose their positions as a result of the plant's closure. Meanwhile, a reactor at the Rovno nuclear plant was re-started on 27 September after being shut down two days earlier owing to a failure in its turbogenerator. Of Ukraine's 14 commercial nuclear reactors, only 10 are currently in operation. PB
UKRAINE WANTS INTERPOL TO HELP FIND JOURNALIST. Ukrainian police are seeking the aid of the international police force Interpol for help in locating missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, dpa reported. Gongadze was last seen leaving work on 16 September. A massive manhunt ordered by President Kuchma has not found any clues about his disappearance. News sources have suggested that articles on Gongadze's website (http://www.pravda.com.ua) accusing Ukrainian politicians and businessmen of corruption are connected to his disapperance. PB
Romania___________10_______4_______4_______18 Ukraine____________3_______7_______7_______17 Belarus____________2_______1_______10______13 Bulgaria___________5_______3_______2_______10 Poland_____________4_______4_______1_______9 Hungary____________3_______2_______1_______6 Czech Rep._________2_______1_______3_______6 Slovakia___________1_______3_______1_______5 Lithuania__________2_______0_______2_______4 Slovenia___________2_______0_______0_______2 Croatia____________1_______0_______1_______2 Latvia_____________1_______0_______1_______2 Estonia____________0_______0_______2_______2 Moldova____________0_______1_______0_______1 Yugoslavia_________0_______1_______0_______1 Albania____________0_______0_______0_______0 Bosnia-Herzeg._____0_______0_______0_______0 Macedonia__________0_______0_______0_______0
For Russia and its Baltic neighbors, a constructive dialogue is something that has been sorely lacking for much of the decade since Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia reclaimed their independence. Over recent weeks, communication with Moscow has degenerated to one of the lowest points in recent memory, in particular with regard to Latvia and Estonia. During this period, rhetorical shots have been fired from Moscow at Riga and Tallinn on a range of issues.
Accusations and recriminations have been steadily exchanged between Moscow and Tallinn over issues ranging from Russian allegations of Estonian support for the Chechen rebels to ongoing border disputes and Russian minority rights.
Among the issues drawing Russia's ire in its relations with Riga have been the recent language law regulations that came into effect in Latvia earlier this month. In fact, the state language law and respective government regulations represent the culmination of more than a decade of legislative effort on this issue. It was before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 that Latvia, along with Estonia and Lithuania, first enacted important legislative measures designed to protect its language. At that time, it had appeared that the local language and culture in Latvia would be extinguished. As a result of intensive Russification during the post-war period, Latvians, through no choice of their own, had shrunk to near minority status in their own homeland.
In Latvia, as in Estonia, Moscow has played the role of defender of the Russian minority. The rhetoric between Riga and Moscow in the post-Soviet era, a time during which Latvia amended and tightened the language law, has been acerbic. To get around the lack of bilateral dialogue, the language legislation, like a number of other high profile issues relating to national minorities, has been managed in consultation with third parties. In this case, the OSCE, along with the EU, played a vitally important role in this process.
The OSCE has been operating in Latvia since 1993. The mandate of the OSCE Mission to Latvia is to provide advice on citizenship issues and other matters concerning the integration of Latvia's non-citizen population into the mainstream of Latvian society. Indeed, the OSCE mission in Latvia has functioned as an indispensable tool for handling sensitive matters between Russia and the Baltic states. The missions have provided an important mechanism for responding to Russian accusations against the Baltic countries, especially with regard to questions of ethnic Russians residing in the Baltics.
On the language law in Latvia, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel has said he views the regulations "as being essentially in conformity with both the law and Latvia's international obligations." He noted that "virtually all of [his] recommendations were accepted by the government in the drafting process." Van der Stoel added that Latvia still needs to fine tune the regulations further in some areas, and he expressed the hope that the law will be implemented in the "spirit of an open and liberal democracy."
Following the approval of the language law regulations, Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that they constitute "yet another legislative enactment...in Latvia aimed at discrimination against and the assimilation of the national minorities." Undersecretary of State Ivars Pundurs of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs countered that "it is complete rubbish to say the Russian language will be assimilated [in Latvia]. Huge and influential Russia is right next door and Russian media plays a large role here."
Latvians are clearly frustrated by the relentless stream of criticism from Moscow. Pundurs, who describes Russia as an "unwilling partner," observes: "If you look back over the last 10 years, Moscow has been critical about language, education, citizenship, and other issues. Moscow has never been constructive. They only say that Russians have been treated unfairly."
Not content with devoting considerable attention to the Russian minority in the Baltics, Moscow has recently trained its rhetorical guns on Ukraine, a country where 11 million of the 25 million ethnic Russians now living outside Russia's borders reside. Following a meeting in Moscow with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities van der Stoel on 14 September, Russian Nationalities Minister Alexander Blokhin leveled criticism at Kyiv, complaining that Ukraine's treatment of Russian-speakers is the worst in the Newly Independent States.
Ironically, it was Moscow's own Soviet system of preference for placing ethnicity before citizenship that contributed heavily to the difficult state of affairs today in the Baltics and other post-Soviet states. Latvian diplomats, for their part, speculate on whether Russia's behavior toward the Baltics is a calculated policy of obstruction or a result of its inability to manage its own affairs.
At a time when Moscow is dealing with one crisis after another --the "Kursk" tragedy, the Ostankino fire, the Pushkin Square bombing, not to mention the ongoing horrors in Chechnya--and when President Vladimir Putin is making a monumental effort to regain control of far-flung Russian regions, it seems unlikely Russia will be prepared to deal with the Baltics with magnanimity anytime soon. Latvian Undersecretary of State Pundurs recently suggested that Russia has yet to get over its "post-Imperial hangover."
...ALLUDES TO MOLDOVAN FLEXIBILITY ON 'PRIMAKOV PLAN.' Braghis also told reporters that Moldova is ready to consider proposals submitted by Russia and Ukraine "as a package of agreements on the Transdniester's status, guarantees, and the presence of military formations in the security zone," according to Infotag. ITAR-TASS quoted Braghis as saying Yevgenii Primakov, the head of the Russian state commission on settling the Transdniester conflict, is "a major Russian politician who knows the details of the situation" and can make "a serious contribution" to solving the problem. MS