|We are all apt to believe what the world believes about us. - George Eliot|
No. 24, Part II, 2 February 1995
This is Part II of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. Part II is a compilation of news concerning East-Central and Southeastern Europe. Part I, covering Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, and the CIS, is distributed simultaneously as a second document. The Daily Digest picks up where the RFE/RL Daily Report, which recently ceased publication, left off. Contributors include OMRI's 30-member staff of analysts, plus selected freelance specialists. OMRI is a unique public-private venture between the Open Society Institute and the U.S. Board for International Broadcasting. EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE COUNCIL OF EUROPE MEMBERS SIGN MINORITIES CONVENTION. Twenty-one of the 33 members of the Council of Europe signed an agreement on 1 February to develop a framework for protecting national minorities, Western agencies report. Signatories included Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, and Slovenia. However, some council representatives called the document too weak and demanded an additional protocol permitting discrimination victims to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. UKRAINIAN NAVY MUST PROTECT UKRAINIAN SHIPS. The first deputy chief of staff of the Ukrainian Navy told Interfax on 1 February that the joint Black Sea Fleet command has relieved itself of any responsibility for Ukrainian vessels at sea. Yuri Shalyt charged that the fleet command has shown "indifference" toward the safety of Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea and elsewhere. He said work was under way to create a centralized system for controlling Ukrainian merchant shipping. "The resolution of the issue of ensuring the safety of vessels' navigation depends not on the number of vessels capable of fulfilling this task but on the desire of the corresponding command," Shalyt commented. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. BELARUS ADOPTS LAW ON PRESIDENCY. The Belarusian parliament on 1 February adopted a law on the Presidency recognizing the president as the head of state and executive power, Interfax reports. The law stipulates those presidential powers stated in the Law on the Election of the President, adopted on 29 March 1994. It says the president must be at least 35 years old and a citizen of Belarus and must have resided in the country for a minimum of 10 years. The president can neither be a deputy, nor hold posts in state or public organizations, nor be involved in private business. The president is also head of the Belarusian Security Council and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The parliament may dismiss the president by a two-thirds vote if the president violates the constitution or commits a crime. The law also denies the president the right to dismiss parliament or other legally elected state bodies. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc. CONFERENCE ON "COOPERATION BETWEEN THE BALTIC STATES AND EUROPE." Speaking on 1 February at the two-day conference in Paris, Foreign Ministers Juri Luik (Estonia), Valdis Birkavs (Latvia), and Povilas Gylys (Lithuania) said the Baltic States' membership in NATO and the European Union would make their democracies more stable and thus benefit all countries, including Russia, Western agencies report. The three ministers noted that economic reforms in their countries were surging ahead and significant progress had been made toward reducing inflation. French European Affairs Minister Alain Lamassoure sought to reassure the Baltic States--without offering security guarantees--by saying "Your security is our security. If you are under threat, we are under threat." -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc. NEW ESTONIAN CITIZENSHIP LAW SIGNED. President Lennart Meri on 1 February signed the new citizenship law, passed by the parliament on 19 January, Western agencies report. The new law raises the residency requirement to apply for citizenship from two to five years. Criticism by Russia's Foreign Ministry that the new legislation "would strip a significant part of the Russian speaking population of the possibility of receiving Estonian citizenship" was rejected by Estonian officials. They said Russia failed to understand the law and was issuing a "routine statement." The new law applies only to current arrivals to Estonia and does not affect Soviet-era immigrants, who can still apply for citizenship under the old legislation. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc. THREE LITHUANIAN FACTIONS MOVE TOWARD CLOSER COOPERATION. In a joint statement issued on 1 February, the Lithuanian Democratic Party, the National Union of Lithuania, and the Union of Political Prisoners and Deportees said they would cooperate more closely on a parity basis, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reports. With three, four, and five parliament deputies, respectively, the factions realize that the larger Homeland Union and Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party do not consider them equal partners as regards making decisions but expect them to vote how they have decided. The three factions hold weekly meetings to coordinate activities and will run joint candidates in the 25 March local elections. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc. WALESA SAID TO BE "DETERMINED" TO DISSOLVE SEJM. After meeting with the president on 1 February, the leaders of Poland's largest opposition party indicated to reporters that "Lech Walesa is determined" to dissolve the parliament. Freedom Union (UW) Chairman Tadeusz Mazowiecki said that while he agrees with Walesa that the government has "exhausted its possibilities," his party would support an impeachment move should the president attempt to dissolve the parliament. The UW proposed the creation of a nonparty government of experts as a way out of the crisis. Citing unofficial sources, Gazeta Wyborcza reports that Walesa told the UW leaders: "I want to dissolve the Sejm. I will use force if the deputies do not submit. We can have new elections on 3 May." Mazowiecki told reporters that UW deputies were considering spending 4-5 February (the anticipated dates for a move by the president) in the Sejm. Leaders of the ruling coalition generally interpreted Walesa's words as rhetorical excess rather than real threats. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc. CONFUSION PREVAILS IN PAWLAK'S ABSENCE. According to UW leaders, President Lech Walesa confirmed on 1 February that he had sought and received Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak's approval to name the controversial right-wing politician Romuald Szeremietiew to the vacant post of defense minister. Gazeta Wyborcza reports that Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leaders are in a state of shock and are considering withdrawing from the governing coalition if the report proves true. But it is reported that Pawlak telephoned SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski from the U.S. on 1 February and denied having proposed Szeremietiew. Asked about the nomination, Pawlak commented that "this question seems already to be closed." SLD leaders said they would refrain from any action until Pawlak returns on 3 February. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc. POLISH-RUSSIAN DEBT SETTLED. An agreement signed in Moscow on 30 January seals three years of negotiations on mutual debt arising from the Soviet era, Gazeta Wyborcza reports. The two sides settled on the "zero plus" option, which cancels Poland's debt to Russia of an estimated 4.4 billion transfer rubles and $2 billion and Russia's debt to Poland of roughly 7 billion transfer rubles and $366 million. The "plus" refers to the debts of Russian and Polish firms originating in the first years of hard currency trade (1991-92), which will be settled by Russia's paying Poland $20 million in cash and Poland's transferring to Russia securities worth $150 million. The two sides also agreed on a timetable for the construction of the gas pipeline intended to connect Russia with Western Europe via Poland. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin is now scheduled to make his oft-postponed visit to Warsaw in February, Polish officials said. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc. BUDGET PROBLEMS LIMIT POLAND'S INVOLVEMENT IN PFP. Budget constraints will limit Poland's involvement in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, Reuters reported on 1 February. Colonel Zdzislaw Czekierda, speaking for the Polish General Staff, said the 1995 budget provides for only 40% of the funds requested for taking part in PFP. Some projects, such as a field hospital and a sea rescue unit, will need to be delayed, he noted. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. CZECH STUDENTS TO PAY FOR HIGHER EDUCATION. Students entering higher education in the next school year will have to pay for their courses but will be able to obtain state-guaranteed bank loans, the Czech government announced on 1 February. Fees will vary from institution to institution but are expected to be between 2,600 and 10,400 koruny annually, Czech media report. Until now, higher education has been free in the Czech Republic. Students already at university or other institutions of higher education can complete their courses without paying. The government also decided to raise pensions by an average of 12.1% from July, bringing the midpoint pension to 3,783 koruny--about half the average monthly wage. Finally, the Czech Statistical Office reports that for the first time since 1945, deaths exceeded births last year. For every 1,000 people in the country, 11.7 babies were born and 12 people died. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc. SLOVAK PARLIAMENT INVESTIGATION BEGINS. The Slovak parliament commission investigating the alleged constitutional crisis of March 1994--when the government of Vladimir Meciar was removed from power in a no-confidence vote--met for the first time on 1 February, Pravda reports. Five deputies from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and two from the Slovak National Party make up the seven-member commission, headed by MDS member Dusan Macuska. The commission plans to invite representatives of parliament and extraparliament parties to its weekly meetings. Its discussions will be kept secret until the investigation is completed. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc. SLOVAKIA'S PRELIMINARY 1995 BUDGET. Speaking on Slovak TV on 1 February, Premier Vladimir Meciar said the preliminary 1995 state budget, which takes effect after the provisional budget expires at the end of March, provides for a budget deficit totaling 19.3 billion koruny or less than 5% of GDP. Preliminary figures released by the Finance Ministry show the 1994 budget deficit totaled 22.854 billion koruny (5.76% of GDP) or 14 billion koruny (3.5% of GDP) when trade clearing payments from the Czech Republic are taken into account, TASR reports. Meanwhile, Sme reports that consumer prices in Slovakia rose at a monthly rate of 0.6% in December. Annual inflation in 1994 was only 11.7%, one of the lowest rates in the region. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE IZETBEGOVIC GIVES WARNING ABOUT SERBIAN ATTACKS. News agencies on 1 February quoted Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic as saying that his army could attack Serbian forces in Bosnia if the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs do not end their attacks on his troops in the Bihac area. A UN spokesman suggested that tensions are building up in the "Bihac pocket" because Krajina Serbs are bringing up whole units in apparent preparation for a new offensive. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, Serbian forces partly reopened a road to eight UN-related relief agencies but not to civilian traffic, as the Bosnian government had wanted. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc. BOSNIA AND US ARE COOL TOWARD FRENCH PROPOSAL. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe's proposal for a new international conference on the Bosnian conflict has met with a cool response from the Bosnian government and the Clinton administration. The State Department suggested this is not the time for such a gathering, which, in any event, would require much preparation. News agencies on 2 February also quote Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic as saying that such a meeting would only be fit for "public relations" and that it would only give the Serbs more time to expand their conquests "by genocide and force." Juppe is meeting with his British and German colleagues in London. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc. BOSNIAN MUSLIMS AND CROATS SIGN TOP-LEVEL MILITARY AGREEMENT. Hina reported on 1 February that Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic, Croatian- Muslim federation President and Bosnian Croat leader Kresimir Zubak, and their respective military commanders, Rasim Delic and Tihomir Blaskic, met in Kresevo in central Bosnia to discuss Croatian-Muslim tensions in the Usora and Vares areas. The towns were Croatian centers until the 1993 internecine conflict led to Muslim occupation and the flight or expulsion of many Croats. Remaining Croats have complained of second- class treatment and pressure to leave. Blaskic called the talks "exceptionally successful," and Muslim representatives promised to reopen the road linking Vares with the Croatian center at Kiseljak. Both sides pledged to prevent new incidents and agreed to move their joint military command from Sarajevo to central Bosnia. The BBC reported, however, that Croatian and Serbian members of the Bosnian Presidency, together with one Muslim, have protested about TV footage that showed a Bosnian army brigade wearing Islamic green headbands and carrying flags with Arabic inscriptions. They said that the openly Islamic character of the brigade violated the principle of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a multiethnic, secular state. Fellow Presidency members Izetbegovic and Ganic dissented, saying that freedom of religion extends to the military. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc. EUROPEAN COURT PROCEEDINGS ON MACEDONIAN EMBARGO. The European Court on 1 February heard the positions of the EU Commission and Greece on the Macedonian embargo, international news agencies reported the same day. The commission says the blockade violates Article 225 of the European Treaty, which protects freedom of trade. Greece responds that its action is backed by Article 224, which allows an EU member to take measures in case of internal unrest, war, or serious international tension constituting a threat of war. The proceedings are taking place behind close doors. Nova Makedonija reports on 2 February that the EU Commission presented new documents to the court to bolster its position. The embargo was imposed by Greece in February 1994 to force Macedonia to change its name, flag, and constitution--which, Greece maintains, imply territorial claims. Greece is the first EU member to be taken to court by the commission. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc. ROMANIAN, HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET. Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu described the meeting in Strasbourg on 1 February with his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, as "very open, good, and constructive," Radio Bucharest reports. The two leaders also discussed bilateral relations, including the recent tension caused by what Kovacs called "the anti-Hungarian campaign staged in Romania by some political parties." Melescanu said the two sides were determined to step up negotiations on concluding a much-delayed bilateral treaty. Meanwhile, Romania's large Hungarian minority continued to be a subject of dispute in Romania. The extreme nationalist Party of Romanian National Unity accused the Democratic Convention of Romania of betraying national interests by offering "irresponsible cover" to the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, the country's main Hungarian political organization. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc. BULGARIAN SOCIALIST DEPUTIES STAGE WALKOUT. Most deputies of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party walked out on 1 February when an opposition deputy suggested one minute's silence to honor politicians executed 50 years ago, Demokratsiya and Standart reported the following day. Krum Slavov, deputy chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces, branded the Socialists' behavior as "political cynicism." Former regents, prime ministers, ministers, and deputies were shot on 1 February 1945 after having been sentenced to death by a so-called People's Court. The court, set up after the Communists took power in 1944, passed more than 2,000 death sentences from 1944-1946. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc. BULGARIAN AIRLINE SEEKS STATE LOAN. Valeri Doganov, executive director of state-run Balkan Airlines, said on 31 January that the company will apply for a $67 million state credit, Reuters reported the same day. Balkan Airlines lost $20 million in 1992 and almost as much in 1993 and 1994. Doganov said a plan has been drawn up for a long-term investment credit from the State Fund for Reconstruction and Development. Owing to financial problems, Balkan Airlines will temporarily suspend flights to various destinations. It currently has nine leased Boeing and Airbus planes and more than 50 Soviet-made aircraft with an average age of 19 years. Doganov said that in the long term the company will buy planes from one producer only in order to reduce maintenance costs. The state carrier has not been subsidized by the government since 1989. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc. ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT DECIDES NOT TO LIFT JUDGE'S IMMUNITY. The parliament on 1 February voted by 53 to 49 not to lift Chief Supreme Court Judge Zef Brozi's immunity, Gazeta Shqiptare reported the following day. Chief Prosecutor Alush Dragoshi, who asked the parliament to strip Brozi of his immunity in late December, started criminal investigations against the judge for releasing a jailed Greek citizen involved in a drug case. The parliament decided in early January that it had no mandate to lift Brozi's immunity, but it had to take another vote after the supreme court ruled that the parliament is allowed to do so. Brozi, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, was nominated by President Sali Berisha to stamp out corruption in the judiciary. He later accused Berisha of abandoning him in his fight. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc. [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Jan Cleave The OMRI Daily Digest offers the latest news from the former Soviet Union and East-Central and Southeastern Europe. It is published Monday through Friday by the Open Media Research Institute. The Daily Digest is distributed electronically via the OMRI-L list. 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