CENTER FOR CULTURAL DECONTAMINATION UNSEALED. The premises of Belgrade's Center for Cultural Decontamination, sealed by financial inspectors on 9 August, were open the next day. The premises had been sealed by a financial inspector, although the center was showing an exhibition of Ukrainian artists. Director Borka Pavicevic and other members of the center's management were not present because they were on holiday. Over the past few months, financial inspectors have audited the work of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, the Humanitarian Law Center, and the Forum for Ethnic Relations, but this was the first occasion when NGO offices were sealed. (ANEM Report, 11 August)
DEPUTY PREMIER STRESSES NEED FOR SINGLE ORTHODOX CHURCH. Mykola Zhulynsky said on 14 August that "Ukrainian Orthodoxy, which is today split into three branches, should be one and unified and should consolidate the Ukrainian people," Interfax reported. He added that the Russian Orthodox Church opposes the creation of a single Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Zhulynsky was commenting on the meeting of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, which condemned the attempts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchiate) and some Ukrainian politicians to create a church independent from Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church considers the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchiate) as the only canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine and regards the Kyiv Patriarchiate as "schismatics." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS UKRTELEKOM PRIVATIZATION BILL. Leonid Kuchma on 8 August signed the long-debated bill on the privatization of Ukraine's telecommunications giant Ukrtelekom, Interfax reported. The parliament approved the bill last month. The bill calls for the government to keep a controlling 50 percent plus one share stake and auction off at least 25 percent of the company's shares. The State Property Fund estimates that the budget may obtain $548 million from Ukrtelekom's privatization. Ukrtelekom's gross revenue in 1998 was 2.4 billion hryvni ($440 million at the current exchange rate). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August)
The 8 August explosion in Moscow has thrown into high relief the gulf that exists in Russia between those who are prepared to play on prejudices against the Chechens and those who recognize the dangers of demonizing an entire people.
Immediately after the blast, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said that there were "many indications" that Chechen rebels were responsible for the bombing. But less than 24 hours later, President Vladimir Putin backed away from such assertions when he noted on national television that "it is very wrong when we brand one nation, because criminals-- terrorists above all--do not have a nation or a belief."
This difference in approach reflects a longstanding difference
in the attitudes and calculations of the two men. Since at least
October 1993, Luzhkov has played on the prejudices of some Russians
against people from the Caucasus.
In the wake of the conflict between then-President Boris Yeltsin and the country's parliament, Luzhkov issued a decree expelling from the Russian capital "people of Caucasian nationality."
He has regularly invoked its provisions in the years since that time, most recently during what was called Operation Whirlwind at the start of Moscow's second campaign in Chechnya. And because his decree was enforced with the assistance of federal authorities, many other localities followed his lead and sought to deflect popular anger by moving against the Chechens.
And Luzhkov's playing to popular prejudice and extremist nationalist attitudes in this case appears to be part and parcel of his larger agenda, which has included demands that Moscow seek the return to Russia of all or part of Crimea from Ukraine.
Whatever his personal views, Putin, by way of contrast, has been
much more cautious in this regard. Part of the reason for that
appears to lie in his understanding that large-scale attacks on the
Chechens as a whole--or on Muslims as a group--could complicate
Russia's relationship with the
West and with Muslim countries as well as Moscow's ties with its own Muslim minorities.
When he launched the campaign in Chechnya last year, Putin initially made some sweeping statements about the Chechen nation, but he quickly backed away when it was pointed out that such remarks--which suggested that Moscow was interested in exterminating the Chechens as a group-were not playing well either in the Middle East or in Western Europe.
Another reason for Putin's caution appears to be his understanding that a sweeping attack on the Chechens as a whole has the effect of driving those Chechens who might be willing to cooperate with Moscow into the hands of pro independence Chechen groups and thus of complicating his efforts to end what he has called his campaign against terrorism.
Indeed, immediately after this week's explosion, Shamil Beno, an official in the pro-Moscow Chechen interim administration representative in the Russian capital, said publicly that comments like those of Luzhkov threaten stability both "in Chechnya and in Moscow itself." Beno's words were echoed by other Chechens, including those opposed to Moscow's rule in that North Caucasian republic.
And yet a third reason for Putin's relatively cautious approach is that many Russians are not persuaded by official charges that the Chechens are responsible for this or earlier terrorist acts in the Russian Federation.
A poll released two weeks ago, for example, found that 50 percent of Russians did not believe government claims that the Chechens were behind the attacks on apartment buildings in Russian cities a year ago. And a survey of more than 5,000 Russians the day after the bombing found that slightly more than one-third of them did not think that the Chechens were to blame for the latest explosion.
These poll results suggest that many Russians are not prepared to accept charges--like those made by Luzhkov--without evidence. Many appear to take this position because they believe that the authorities must offer real evidence first. Others do so because they fear, on the basis of past experience, that sweeping attacks on the Chechens could lead to attacks on other groups or to serve as the justification for a new authoritarianism.
For all these reasons, Putin's reaction to the explosion in Moscow this week is likely to prove more politically prudent than the dramatic comments of Luzhkov, evidence of both the Russian president's pragmatism and the increasing unwillingness of Russian citizens to accept in the absence of clear evidence whatever the authorities say about Chechnya -- or indeed, about anything else.
UKRAINE TO REVAMP EDUCATION SYSTEM. The Education and Science Ministry has adopted plans to reform the secondary education system, Interfax reported on 17 August. The ministry proposes that the current 11-year education system be replaced by a 12-year one. Other changes include the introduction of a 12- grade scale for evaluating students' performance, instead of the current five-grade one, and the division of the school year into two "semesters" instead of the current four "quarters." The ministry also decided to abolish as of 2001 the system of preferences in university entrance exams for the so-called medallists, that is, those students who graduate with the highest grades. JM
UKRAINE'S NAFTOHAZ NOT TO CREATE JOINT VENTURE WITH ITERA. Naftohaz Ukrayiny has said it will not create a joint venture with Itera, an international gas transport company that is believed to have strong links with Russia's Gazprom. Previously, the Ukrainian company had announced it would go ahead with such a venture. UNIAN quoted an Itera representative in Ukraine as saying that Naftohaz had come under pressure from other dealers in the oil and gas market that do not want the number of brokering companies to decrease. The planned join venture, according to that representative, would have eliminated several hundred small gas traders. However, the Moscow-based "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that Ukraine wants to buy Turkmen gas directly from Turkmenistan and needs Itera only as a shipping company, not as a broker. JM