Switzerland took a significant step toward ending its isolation from the European Union last week when an unexpectedly large majority of Swiss voters approved bilateral accords with the 15-nation bloc. Although not designed to lead to immediate membership in the E.U., the seven-part package will boost the economy by eliminating almost all commercial barriers between Switzerland and its European neighbors. Negotiations on the treaties, which must be approved by E.U. member states before taking effect in January 2001, were launched after Switzerland opted out of joining the European Economic Area in 1992.
A professor was fined $4,775 by Vienna's Criminal Court for making statements critical of Austrian far-right leader Jörg Haider. Haider filed suit against Anton Pelinka after the political scientist told Italy's RAI television last year: "In his career, Haider has repeatedly made statements which amount to trivializing National Socialism. On the whole, Haider is responsible for making certain National Socialist positions and certain National Socialist remarks more politically acceptable." The International Helsinki Federation condemned the ruling, noting that it would have a chilling effect on public debate and that it was "in effect helping Haider's political program." The lawyer who first represented Haider in the case, Dieter Böhmdorfer, is now Austria's Justice Minister.
In a series of saber-rattling statements, Russian officials last week raised the specter of possible military strikes on alleged training bases for Islamic fighters in Afghanistan. The Kremlin's chief spokesman on the war in Chechnya accused the Taliban militia, who control most of Afghanistan, of aiding Chechen militants and warned that Russia could launch "preventive strikes" on the purported bases. The warning was echoed by other senior officials, including Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. But Ivanov later hastened to say that it had been "a misunderstanding." In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, he assured her that Russia has no intention of attacking Afghanistan.
Humiliated by February election results, which gave reformists three quarters of the seats in the Majlis, conservative former President Hashemi Rafsanjani last week resigned his parliamentary seat. When the hard-line Guardian Council alleged widespread fraud in the voting that gave reformists 29 out of 30 seats in the capital, the recount they insisted on gave an extra two seats to conservatives. The decision prompted public incredulity, reformist outrage and student protests. Despite his resignation, Rafsanjani is expected to remain a powerful figure in the struggle between the reformist parliament and the Guardian Council.