It is not enough to show people how to live better: there is a mandate for any group with enormous powers of communication to show people how to be better. - Mary Mannes
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

No. 5, Part II, 8 January 1997

This is Part II of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest.
Part II is a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and
Southeastern Europe. Part I, covering Russia, Transcaucasia and Central
Asia, is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues
of the OMRI Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are
available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html

CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE

EASTERN UKRAINIAN REGIONS ACT ON LANGUAGE. The eastern region of Kharkiv
voted to give the Russian language equal status with Ukrainian as of the
beginning of the year, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 January. At the same
time, the administration in the predominantly Russian-speaking eastern
region of Donetsk took the opposite position, deciding that the official
language in the region's administration and business would be solely
Ukrainian. Under the Ukrainian constitution, only Ukrainian has state
status as a language, but regions with sizable minorities speaking other
languages can grant official status to that language. -- Ustina Markus

GAZPROM WONT CUT GAS TO BELARUS. Gazprom has denied that it threatened
to cut gas supplies to Belarus because of unpaid debts, Belarusian TV
reported on 6 January. Citing ITAR-TASS, the report noted that Gazprom
officials are continuing to deliver regular gas supplies to Belarus
because the republic has started to pay its debts. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUS MAY BE EXPELLED FROM COUNCIL OF EUROPE. Belarus may lose its
observer status in the Council of Europe because Belarusian President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ignored its protests over the 24 November
constitutional referendum, AFP reported on 7 January. The referendum
gave Lukashenka sweeping new powers, but there were allegations of
irregularities in the voting and the conduct of the campaign to promote
Lukashenka's new constitution. The council's 40-member committee is to
meet later this month to consider the proposal to expel Belarus. Belarus
has had a special guest status in the organization since September 1992,
and applied for full membership in March 1993. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIAN RELATIONS WITH COUNCIL OF EUROPE. A law introducing life
imprisonment went into effect in Estonia on 5 January, ETA reported on 7
January. Although the law does not abolish the death penalty, it is seen
as the first step toward phasing out capital punishment, in accordance
with Council of Europe norms. The same day, Estonia's permanent
representative to the Council of Europe, Ambassador Karin Jaani, handed
over the instruments of ratification of the Council of Europe convention
for the protection of national minorities to the secretary general of
the organization, Daniel Tarschys. Apart from Estonia, the convention
has so far been ratified by seven states, and signed by six others. It
will go into effect after 12 states have ratified it. -- Ustina Markus

LITHUANIAN DAILY STOPS PUBLICATION. The daily Diena, formerly known as
Tiesa, stopped publication on 1 January without notifying its
subscribers, BNS reported on 7 January. The paper has come upon hard
times financially, and must either declare bankruptcy or sell a
controlling package of its stock. Diena staff refused to release
circulation figures for the paper, but other publishers believe it is
only 5,000, while major Lithuanian papers have a circulation of 42,000-
70,000. -- Ustina Markus

POLISH DOCTORS ON STRIKE. Polish doctors on 7 January launched a strike
by starting to refer simple medical cases for further examination in a
protest action aimed at securing higher pay and funding, Polish media
reported. But, according to Rzeczpospolita on 8 January, it is difficult
to distinguish doctors who are on strike from those who are not. The
strike is being organized by the All-Poland Doctors Labor Union (OZZL),
which groups together about one-third of Poland's 90,000 doctors. Jacek
Wutzow, deputy president of the OZZL, said that 650 hospitals and 1,000
medical centers are taking part in the protest. The doctors have called
for budget spending on the health service to rise to 6% of GDP, while
the government has allocated 4.5%. They are also seeking a collective
wage deal, which would increase doctors' monthly salaries to about 3,000
zlotys (more than $1,000), which is about three times the average
industrial wage. -- Jakub Karpinski

POLAND PREPARING TO JOIN NATO. Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz
Cimoszewicz said on 7 January that as Russian leaders stepped up
opposition to NATO enlargement, Poland was forging ahead with its own
preparations to join the alliance. Cimoszewicz was commenting on a
meeting this week in Moscow, at which President Boris Yeltsin and other
Russian politicians confirmed their objections to NATO's eastward
expansion. Cimoszewicz said that on 6 January Poland's National Defense
Committee, grouping the president, prime minister, key ministers, and
parliamentary and army leaders, agreed to set up a special body to
harmonize their actions concerning NATO. The body would be headed by
Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati. -- Jakub Karpinski

POLISH PARTY POLITICS. Four Freedom Union (UW) deputies, Wojciech
Arkuszewski, Bronislaw Komorowski, Zdobyslaw Milewski, and Jan Maria
Rokita, decided to leave the party after a two-hour meeting with the UW
parliamentary caucus, Rzeczpospolita reported on 8 January. UW spokesman
Andrzej Potocki called the decision "unwise." Komorowski said recently
that a new political party is to be created that would unite the
People's-Christian Party and the Conservative Coalition. Some UW
politicians have been invited to join the new political formation,
according to Komorowski. The UW is generally seen as encompassing
divergent political tendencies, from socialist to conservative. The four
were considered to have been a part of the UW's conservative wing. --
Jakub Karpinski

CZECH PRESIDENT RETURNS TO OFFICE. In a ceremony at the Prague castle,
Vaclav Havel on 7 January officially named Vlasta Parkanova the new
minister of justice, Czech media reported. This was the first time since
his lung cancer surgery in early December that Havel made a public
appearance in his capacity as president. Havel left hospital at the end
of December. At the beginning of January, he unexpectedly married
actress Dagmar Veskrnova. Havel has also announced that he has given up
drinking and smoking. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK REFERENDUM UPDATE. Christian Democratic Movement deputy Ivan
Simko on 7 January announced that the drive to hold direct presidential
elections would begin two days later, Slovak media reported. The
opposition hopes to gather 400,000 signatures over the next two months,
50,000 more than required. Currently, the president is elected by a
three-fifths parliamentary majority, but the opposition fears that when
current President Michal Kovac's term expires in March 1998, the
parliament will be unable to agree on a new candidate. In that case,
Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar would take over some presidential duties.
New parliamentary elections are scheduled for fall 1998. In other news,
the Slovak Helsinki Committee on 7 January backed calls for direct
presidential elections and expressed support for Kovac's re-election.
The group said Kovac has demonstrated considerable understanding for
democracy; perseverance and tenacity while defending humanitarian
principles; and patience, loyalty, and generosity in disputes that were
forced on him. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAKIA TO DISCUSS NATO MEMBERSHIP. Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik on 7
January said the cabinet will officially begin public discussions of the
implications of NATO membership this month, TASR reported. The
government has already announced plans to hold a referendum on NATO
membership, tentatively set for May of this year. Hamzik said Prime
Minister Vladimir Meciar and his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Klaus, will
meet in the near future for their first official bilateral meeting in
several years. Hamzik said he is also arranging visits by Meciar to Bonn
and by German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel to Bratislava, although
dates have yet to be finalized. Meanwhile, speaking on Radio Twist on 7
January, Association of Workers (ZRS) Chairman Jan Luptak asked why
Slovakia should enter NATO, Praca reported. "We do not want to wage a
war, we want to live in peace with our neighbors," Luptak stressed. The
ZRS is a junior partner in the ruling coalition. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN PENSION REFORM REJECTED. Hungary's Pension Insurance Authority
on 7 January rejected the draft pension reform program proposed by the
Finance and Welfare ministries, Hungarian media reported the next day.
The program would reallocate one-third of wage earners' pension
contributions away from the state pension fund to non-profit funds,
which would be able to invest the contributions. Pension Insurance
President Janos Vago described the reform program as "unacceptable"
since it would be most advantageous for young men with high incomes.
Finance Ministry State Secretary Tibor Draskovics responded that Hungary
needs a pension system that promotes economic growth as well as
providing security for retirees. The pension reform draft is the
government's most recent attempt to reform Hungary's overburdened social
welfare system, which is currently providing pensions to one-third of
the population. -- Ben Slay

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LAUNCHES CHRISTMAS "CHARM OFFENSIVE." Tens of
thousands of Serbs attended public demonstrations on 7 January, which is
Serbian Orthodox Christmas, AFP and CNN reported. In a new tactic,
people kissed the riot police, who are President Slobodan Milosevic's
last bastion of defense. Opposition leader Vuk Draskovic appealed to the
police: "Even Tito's communist regime did not make its police turn out
onto the streets for Christmas. The young people in police uniforms are
also part of the people. It's Christmas for you too, do you know that?
[The authorities] are sending you here today to provoke bloodshed. But
Christmas is the biggest Christian festival ... and therefore, I say to
the police, divine peace, Christ is born." -- Patrick Moore

BELGRADE PROTESTS CONTINUE. Opposition representatives and other
observers suspect that the explosion at the headquarters of a tiny party
run by President Milosevic's wife was a provocation by the authorities
themselves (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 January 1997). Opposition leader
Vesna Pesic likened it to the Reichstag fire incident of 1933, Nasa
Borba reported on 8 January. Protest plans for today center on a
campaign to block government telephone lines by calling officials and
then leaving the phone off the hook. Lists of government phone numbers,
including Milosevic's, have been distributed. Draskovic also appealed to
citizens to stage another protest by traffic jam. In other Serbian news,
a new law has come into effect that allows employers to fire workers at
their own discretion, thereby removing some job protection rights. --
Patrick Moore

SERBIAN OPPOSITION SEEKS INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT. Zoran Djindjic of the
opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition has appealed to foreign
countries to put more pressure on President Milosevic to recognize the
17 November local election results. He told a German radio station:
"This is at the moment probably the only thing that can make [Milosevic]
move," AFP reported. EU and U.S. flags are prominent at opposition
rallies, which reflects popular appreciation for foreign support. The
independent media closely follow foreign coverage of Serbian affairs,
and opposition leaders frequently give interviews in English or German
to Western media. All of this is in stark contrast to the xenophobic
tone of the Milosevic regime and its media, which were particularly
anti-U.S. and anti-German in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, in Bonn,
Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel endorsed opposition demands and called for
continuing the suspension of EU financial benefits for Serbia, Nasa
Borba wrote on 8 January. He nonetheless warned against any expectations
that Milosevic himself could be ousted soon, AFP noted. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN FEDERATION PRIME MINISTER THREATENS MINERS WITH "REPRESSION."
Edhem Bicakcic, the newly-appointed prime minister of the mainly Muslim-
Croat Federation, said on 6 January that the federation's coal miners
are free to go on strike, but they are prohibited from blocking the
movement of traffic through the country, Oslobodjenje reported the next
day. At a meeting with representatives of coal miners from central
Bosnia and Tuzla, Bicakcic said the Tuzla miners receive their salaries
regularly thanks to revenues from production and reserves, which is not
the case in central Bosnia, Onasa reported. He said the mines must
secure their own resources through the commercial sale of coal. -- Daria
Sito Sucic

TEAR GAS THROWN DURING ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS SERVICE IN SARAJEVO . . . The
Interior Ministry of the Bosnian Federation said on 7 January that tear
gas was thrown into a Sarajevo church by an unknown person during a
Christmas day service for Orthodox Serbs the same day, AFP reported.
There were no casualties among some 40 people who attended the service.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, the Roman Catholic archbishop, joined
a group of Orthodox Serbs celebrating Christmas in Sarajevo's oldest
church in a show of ecumenical unity. His visit follows that of Serb
Archbishop Nikolai to Sarajevo's Catholic cathedral for the Catholic
Christmas service. In other news, a mosque in the Sarajevo suburb of
Hrasnica was sprayed with machine-gun fire on 6 January by an unknown
person, AFP reported. In news from Mostar, another Muslim has been
evicted from the Croat-held part of the town. The elderly woman, who was
illegally evicted from her home, was found dead in an abandoned
building, while a Croat soldier moved into her apartment. -- Daria Sito
Sucic

. . . AND EXPLOSION DAMAGES CATHOLIC CHURCH IN EASTERN SLAVONIA. UN
spokesman Philip Arnold said on 7 January that a Catholic church was
damaged by an explosion a day earlier in the town of Ilok in eastern
Slavonia, the last Serb-held part of Croatia, AFP reported. No one was
hurt in the blast. The same church was besieged by Serb demonstrators
from the area on 24 December as some 200 Croat returnees celebrated
Catholic Christmas eve (see OMRI Daily Digest, 30 December 1996). --
Daria Sito Sucic

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO COMBAT CORRUPTION. Emil Constantinescu on 7
January vowed to combat rampant corruption and organized crime, saying
they pose a direct threat to national security, Romanian media reported.
Constantinescu, who was speaking at an extraordinary meeting of
Romania's Supreme Defense Council, proposed the creation of a national
council to deal with the problem. Also on 7 January, the president's
office rejected the accusations of nepotism that have been leveled
against Constantinescu in the media. A statement said that the prefect
of Arges is not Constantinescu's brother-in-law, as assumed by some
newspapers. The accusations multiplied after the son of Constantinescu's
counselor for foreign and internal affairs, Zoe Petre, was appointed to
the post of presidential counselor. -- Dan Ionescu

CONTROVERSY AROUND ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER'S VISIT TO BUDAPEST.
Independent and opposition newspapers have accused Adrian Severin of
allegedly giving in to Hungarian requests for the re-establishment of
the former Hungarian Bolyai University in Cluj and the reopening of a
Hungarian consulate in the same city during his recent visit to Hungary.
Former President Ion Iliescu said the opening of the Cluj consulate
would be a sign of the "weakness of Romanian diplomacy." According to
President Emil Constantinescu, Severin was not mandated to discuss the
university problem or the issue of bilingual inscriptions in minority
areas. Severin said those topics were not on the agenda of his talks
with Hungarian officials. In other news, Constantinescu urged Serbian
President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the opposition's local election
victories and defuse the crisis in that country, Reuters reported. --
Zsolt Mato

UPDATE ON BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT FORMATION. The Bulgarian Socialist Party
(BSP) and its tiny coalition partners -- the Bulgarian Agrarian People's
Union "Aleksandar Stamboliyski" and the Political Club Ekoglasnost -- on
7 January continued to discuss the formation of a new government. The
BSP that day nominated Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev for prime
minister, and the leaderships of all three parties are expected to vote
on the proposal today. An unnamed BSP leader said Ekoglasnost will
support Dobrev and not parliamentary speaker Blagovest Sendov, whom they
proposed originally. In return they demand the Interior Ministry for
Ekoglasnost leader Stefan Gaytandzhiev, Duma reported. According to
Trud, Sendov may also stand in today's election at the insistence of the
BSP's partners. BSP Chairman Georgi Parvanov did not rule out such a
possibility, Standart noted. The daily also noted that the ruling
coalition will not be enlarged. The opposition Union of Democratic
Forces said a new BSP-led government will be a "tragedy for Bulgaria."
-- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT, ARMY CHIEF DISCUSS CORRUPTION. Zhelyu Zhelev and
the chief of staff of the Bulgarian army, Gen. Tsvetan Totomirov, met on
7 January to discuss recent charges of corruption in the armed forces,
RFE/RL reported. No details about their meeting were released. It was
prompted by a letter published earlier in Bulgarian newspapers and
signed by "a group of officers from Sofia." The authors complained that
the Defense Ministry is spending large sums of money on lavish foreign
trips for top military officials, expensive cars, and new German-made
computers, while at the same time "hungry, ill-dressed soldiers" are
forgotten and wages are not paid. The letter praised Totomirov, a Zhelev
appointee. Analysts believe the letter is linked to the split between
hardliners and reformers in the BSP and may aim at preventing the
renomination of current Defense Minister Dimitar Pavlov. -- Stefan
Krause

DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE CHARGES ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT . The Democratic
Alliance Party on 7 January accused the government of misusing
investments of Albanians in pyramid schemes to finance its campaign in
May 1996 parliamentary elections. The statement said that "the collapse
of such pyramid schemes has started," adding that "the government and
the one-party state of the Democratic Party should bear responsibility
for the losses incurred by Albanians," Reuters reported. The governing
Democratic Party's (PD) public relations chief, Arben Cejku, described
the accusations as "vile slander," Reuters reported. Cejku said the PD
had obtained its share of campaign money from the state budget, in line
with an Albanian law that allocates funds for political campaigning
based on the parties' share of parliamentary seats. He also pointed out
that the PD's parliamentary group had sponsored the creation of a
parliamentary commission last November to investigate the pyramid
schemes. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by

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