The Week Ahead: Cossacks feel under threat

THE former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan holds its first multi-party elections today, and all the signs are that inter-ethnic disputes will eclipse everything else. The Russian Cossacks feel they are being treated as outlaws: they complain they are unable to organise and say their culture, traditions and customs are under threat.

Russians want their language to be a state language like Kazakh, a demand rejected by President Nursultan Nazarbayev. And many Russians want dual Russian- Kazakh citizenship - also denied by Mr Nazarbayev. Russians dominate Kazakhstan's industrial north while the Kazakhs are concentrated in the agricultural south, and the Russians are talking darkly about separatist tendencies in the north - something Mr Nazarbayev wants to stamp on.

The Cossacks led Russia's expansion into Kazakhstan more than 150 years ago, and the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of an empire they helped to build. Some Cossacks believe their future lies only in migrating back to Russia.

While the Cossacks salute a flag of St George on horseback, Nordic nations may soon fly a common flag bearing a white swan with eight wing feathers, to identify them as a coherent region in Europe. The idea will be put to a meeting in Stockholm that opens today and runs until Thursday of the Nordic Council - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the territories of the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Aland Islands. The council wants the swan flag to be flown at main entry and border crossing points in the region.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who is trailing in German opinion polls, is campaigning hard for Sunday's state elections in Lower Saxony. It is the first of 19 elections this year. Mr Kohl has been appealing to patriotism, family values and even joking about his weight. Still, his Christian Democrat party seems doomed to lose.

The trial of the Argentine football star Diego Maradona and his former manager Guillermo Coppola, charged with importing cocaine from Argentina, resumes in Rome on Friday. Also charged as a go-between is Pietro Pugliese, who admits he was a Mafia hitman.

From Sunday, Israel Radio will make duller listening. It will scrutinise pop songs and ban those deemed deficient in grammar, sentence construction and style.

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