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PRESIDENT SAYS 2001 TO BE 'BREAKTHROUGH' YEAR IN UKRAINE. In a televised address to the Ukrainian people, President Leonid Kuchma said that he will seek to make 2001 "a year of breakthrough in the social sphere," Interfax reported on 3 January. Kuchma said that "one would like to believe that Ukraine has already overcome the most difficult transition stage" and he viewed Ukraine as "a mature state" in the tenth year of its modern independence. The Ukrainian leader used this speech to reiterate his demands for constitutional changes to end the deadlock between himself and the parliament. PG

JOURNALIST'S DEATH SAID BECOMING 'POLITICAL CHERNOBYL.' Writing in Moscow's "Argumenty I fakty" on 3 January, Aleksandr Kondrashov said that the murder of Heorhy Gongadze is now known in Ukraine as "Kuchmagate" and that it is rapidly becoming a "political Chernobyl" for President Kuchma. And he added that this explosion is likely to extend to Russian political figures as well. PG

MOSCOW PROTESTS UKRAINIANIZATION OF TV RADIO. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 3 January issued a press release saying that it is surprised by Ukrainian efforts to ban Russian-language programming on that country's television and radio channels, ITAR-TASS reported. It said that "the squeezing out of the Russian language from Ukrainian mass media is a policy underlying derussification of all sides of Ukraine's social life." The ministry added that it creates the impression that "somebody in the Ukrainian political establishment does not like the improvement of Russian-Ukrainian relations, including in the humanitarian field which gained significant momentum during the recent visit of Leonid Kuchma to Russia." PG

UKRAINE'S STATE DEBT FALLS. The state debt of Ukraine fell from 64.9 billion hryvna ($11.8 billion) in January 1999 to 54.6 billion hryvna now, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko said that 72.1 percent of this indebtedness is domestic, while 27.9 percdent is to foreign lenders. He added that Ukraine's debt now is "in any case less than 50 percent of GDP." PG

KYIV PLEDGES TO MAKE PRIVATIZATION MORE TRANSPARENT. The Ukrainian government has announced that it plans to increase the pace of privatization and to make that process more transparent in 2001, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 January. It has already compiled a list of enterprises to be privatized during the next 12 months and has prepared a draft bill that would end a ban on the privatization of approximately 200 firms. PG

UKRAINE STEPS UP DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITIES. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatolii Zlenko said that Ukrainian diplomats will become more active in 2001, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 January. Indications of that include the announcement of President Kuchma's plans to visit Belgrade on 9 January and the scheduling of a visit to Kyiv by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi for 30-31 January, the agency reported on 3 January. PG

SLOVAK ROMA SAY PLANNED CENSUS DISCRIMINATING. Romany activists in Slovakia sent an open letter to President Rudolf Schuster, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and to the parliament, protesting against the fact there will be no Romany -language version of the questionnaire to be used in the population census planned for 26 May, CTK reported. The activists say the census is therefore "discriminatory" and that it will be impossible for members of the Roma minority to understand the questions. The cabinet on 20 December 2000 decided that the questionnaires will be printed in Slovak-Hungarian, Slovak-Ukrainian and Slovak-Russian versions. Government commissioner for Romany affairs Vincent Danihel said he believes the cabinet will reconsider its decision. "I think some mistake has been made, as a Slovak-Romany version was also originally considered," he said. MS

The United Georgian Communist Party has voted to rehabilitate former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, a man whom the group describes as "the most gifted politician of the twentieth century" and an obvious role model for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at a party conference last week in Tbilisi, Georgian Communist leader and retired General Panteleimon Giorgadze said that this decision, which delegates to the congress adopted unanimously, reflected the party's desire to boost the reputation of Georgia's most famous native son. But they added that its timing was the result of Putin's decision to resore the Soviet national anthem -- albeit with new words.

Indeed, People's Patriotic Movement leader Vakhtang Goguadze, a close ally of the Georgian Communists, added that the Russian leader had inspired them because of his self-evident commitment to rebuilding a strong state: "Not genetically, not biologically, of course, but politically, because [Putin's] besotted with this brilliant man and it shows in what he does."

Even though they suffered as much or more from Stalin's actions, Georgians typically have had their own and more positive view of the late dictator. When Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's crimes in 1956 and launched his de-Stalinization campaign, some Georgians tried to keep his memory alive by maintaining a museum in Stalin's memory in his native town of Gori and marking his birthday every 21 December. In the late 1980s, a local Georgian Komsomol official spoke for many of his fellow countrymen when he publicly affirmed that "As long as I live, my gods will be Jesus Christ and Stalin."

Because of this national history, many both in Georgia and elsewhere may be tempted to view this latest decision as a uniquely Georgian affair. But in fact, it both reflects and raises three larger issues of post-Soviet history.

First, it calls attention to a new break with the politics of the first post-Soviet decade. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, few leaders, except for the Communists, were prepared to look back to the Soviet past with anything but anger. And most explicitly cast their policies in terms of breaking from or overcoming that past.

Across the CIS and beyond, most people viewed politics as a struggle between democrats and communists, one that they believed time would resolve in favor of the former rather than the latter. Throughout his term in office, Yeltsin routinely exploited this conviction to gather support for himself. But now that has changed.

As political observers Antonina Lebedeva and Ilya Bulavinov point out in the current issue of Moscow's "Kommersant-Vlast," politicians in Russia no longer can be "simplistically divided into democrats and communists as they could be through almost the entire Yeltsin era." Instead, they argue, the dividing line runs between those politicians who are with Putin and those who who are against him, with the latter being "infinitesimally few."

Second, the Georgian Communists' decision, like Putin's promotion of the old-new national anthem and of Soviet-era military flag, inevitably opens the way for the reconsideration of issues that many had believed were settled. When the discussion of Stalin was anathema, few people could consider supporting any of his ideas or try to mobilize political support for any return to what he represented. Now, at least some will be willing to try to do just that.

By rehabilitating Stalin in this way, the Georgian Communists have thereby opened the door to such discussions and such attempts at mobilization. Neither they nor others who follow them may succeed in winning that political struggle, but their decision last week at least permits them to reenter the political fray, a development that inevitably will change the political scene not only in Georgia but in other post-Soviet states as well.

And third, this decision highlights just how little progress some in the region have made over the past decade and how ardently at least a few want to return to the past. Even as the Georgian Communists were singing the praises of Stalin as Putin's role model, Moscow pollsters were reporting that a majority of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians support the restoration of a single state among them.

According to a poll taken by the Moscow Humanitarian Academy, 61 percent of Russians, 53 percent of Ukrainians, and 69 percent of Belarusians want to live in a single state, with 38 percent of the Russians, 43 percent of the Ukrainians and 57 percent of the Belarusians saying they favored the restoration of a unitary state of the kind which existed in pre-1917 Russia.

Again, even these widespread attitudes are not necessarily going to be translated into a new-old political reality, but both they and the rehabilitation of Stalin are a reminder that in many post-Soviet countries, the politics of the 21st century are likely to be defined by those of the 20th and the battle between those who want these countries to move toward democracy and those who do not seems certain to continue.