Today's Story Line:

Two big events have occurred within a week of each other: the 50th anniversary of the UN's declaration of human rights (Dec. 10) and NATO's arrest of a Bosnian Serb officer (Dec. 3) for the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. In a report from both The Hague and UN, we look at the way nations have made human rights more universal - even to the point of intervening in other countries (page 1).

In a little-noticed comment, the Russian prime minister said foreign banks might be allowed to do local banking (this page). More than just a triumph of world capitalism, such a move shows the desperate state of both the Russian economy and the government's credibility in playing fair with other people's money.

Is Hugo Chvez the Jesse Ventura of Venezuela? (story, next page) Democracy's return to Latin America in the 1980s has brought many surprises. Chvez's victory may be a revolution against the old elite.

The Oslo peace accords have already given Palestinians some independence. We illustrate and explain the state of a would-be "Palestine" on the eve of Clinton's trip there (page 8). Quote of note: "It's more of a state today than at least 20 states out there in the world which are recognized by international organizations." - Dr. Hillel Frisch, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


* LIKE PLAYING MONOPOLY: Living in Moscow for 12 years and being married to a Russian has given contributor Fred Weir some perspective on the history of official "robberies" of people's money. His mother-in-law told him Stalin more or less compelled people to buy state bonds, which were never redeemed. His secretary says her grandmother still has a drawer full of them. Then there was the Khrushchev currency reform, the invalidation of high-denomination bank notes in 1991, and hyperinflation in 1992. Fred had 1,000 rubles in the government's Sberbank, which, he says, would have been enough to take a two-week vacation in 1991 but was barely enough to buy a chocolate bar a year later. In 1993, the government withdrew all pre-1993 notes. Although people were given time to change old notes for new, there were limits to the amount you could change, and it meant reporting what you had to the state, so many people lost again.

Last August, the government let the ruble's value fall and defaulted on foreign loans. "What's amazing is that so many Russians opened accounts in private banks over the past two years or so and began to have some confidence that life was becoming normal. That's what's so devastating about the August crisis, and the state's subsequent prevarications." Fred now does his banking in London, but his family still goes the precarious Russian-banking route.

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