|Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. - Vladimir Nabokov|
Vol. 1, No. 10, Part II, 14 April 1997
Vol. 1, No. 10, Part II, 14 April 1997 This is Part II of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Newsline. 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 RFE/RL NewsLine are available through RFE/RL's WWW pages: http://www.rferl.org/newsline/search/ Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest are available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT * ITALIAN PREMIER SAYS FOREIGN TROOPS TO LEAVE ALBANIA IN JULY * FIRST ELECTION RETURNS FROM CROATIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT. Alyaksandr Lukashenka says no one "either in the West or in the East" has the right to give Minsk grades for political behavior. In his first address to the parliament since last November's constitutional referendum, Lukashenka on 11 April argued that Belarus's international isolation is "gradually disappearing." Lukashenka, who earlier this month signed a union agreement with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, said Belarus saw its security guarantees linked to that union. Also on 11 April, he told journalists that he is prepared to embrace the opposition argument that Belarus should retain its sovereignty within the union. He also called on Belarusian and foreign journalists and political parties to engage in an open dialogue. OSCE MISSION TO BELARUS AMID ONGOING INTERNATIONAL CRITICISM. Belarus has agreed to allow an OSCE "mission of enquiry" on its territory, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vienna reported on 11 April. The mission is due to arrive in Belarus tomorrow. Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of the three current governing OSCE member countries--Poland, Switzerland, and Denmark--met in Copenhagen on 11 April and expressed "grave concern" over the situation in Belarus. The same day, U.S. State Department's spokesman Nicholas Burns said that relations between Washington and Minsk will be very difficult as long as Belarus continues to be governed the same way as now. He was commenting on Lukashenka's statement, made earlier that day, saying he sees the possibility for improved relations with the U.S. NATAN SHARANSKY RETURNS TO UKRAINE. Former Soviet political prisoner and current Israeli Trade Minister Natan Sharansky has returned to his native Ukraine on a four-day visit, international agencies reported on 12 April. Sharansky, who is leading an Israeli business delegation to Ukraine, visited his former home and school as well as the cemetery where many of his relatives are buried. His campaign for the right of Jews to emigrate from the former Soviet Union to Israel landed him in Soviet prisons on treason charges in 1977. After nine years in the gulag, Sharansky was freed in a Cold War spy swap in 1986. His visit coincides with the first session of the Ukrainian-Israeli trade commission. UKRAINIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER ON CHORNOBYL. Yuri Kostenko told journalists in London yesterday that his country is meeting all its obligations for the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear facility, the 1986 site of the world's worst nuclear accident. Referring to a 1995 memorandum between Ukraine and the G-7 nations calling for Chornobyl's closure by 2000 and financial help totaling $2.3 billion, he said that if the terms for closing the station were to change, Kiev might reconsider its plans. Kostenko said Kiev disagreed with an international panel's findings that plans to complete two other nuclear reactors in Ukraine--Khmelnitsky 2 and Rovno 4--are uneconomic. He said it is wrong to think that the current low energy demand in Ukraine means no extra energy sources will be needed after Chornobyl's closure. Western money is earmarked to help build the two new plants. RUSSIA SAYS BORDER TREATY WITH ESTONIA NOT YET FINAL. Vasilii Svirin, Moscow's chief negotiator at Russian- Estonian border talks, says a final agreement has not yet been officially drawn up, BNS reported on 11 April. Speaking after two days of talks in Tallinn, Svirin said the two countries have not agreed upon the treaty's appendixes, which are an integral part of the document. Svirin said Estonia unexpectedly announced at the talks that since it has already endorsed the text, no more changes can be made. He said Russia has protested the announcement. Moscow still has the right to amend the document before approving it, Svirin commented. A draft text of the agreement and details on sea borders were agreed upon last October. LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN SAYS U.S. GAVE ASSURANCES OVER NATO ENTRY. Vytautas Landsbergis said that during his visit to Washington last week, he received assurances from U.S. officials that a planned treaty between NATO and Russia will not block Lithuania's admission into the alliance, BNS reported. Landsbergis told reporters on returning to Vilnius on 12 April that U.S. officials assured him nothing concerning Lithuanian membership in the alliance will be solved without Lithuania's participation. In other news, Landsbergis is scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn tomorrow and with Czech parliamentary leaders in Prague later this week. POLISH PARLIAMENT PASSES LUSTRATION LAW. The Sejm on 11 April passed a bill requiring all top officials and candidates for political office, including the president, to disclose their ties to the former communist security services. A special court would examine the statements and determine if their authors ever handed over information to the secret police. The governing post-communist Democratic Left Alliance is opposed to the bill, which still has to be approved by the Senate and the president. It says no "precise definition" exists of what constituted collaboration. Reuters on 11 April quoted aides to President Aleksander Kwasniewski as saying he supports the bill in principle but feels that, in its current form, it could harm the security services. CZECH PREMIER WANTS BETTER RELATIONS WITH SLOVAKIA. Vaclav Klaus says the Czech Republic and Slovakia should not allow "certain tensions" in their relations to intensify. Speaking on Nova TV yesterday, Klaus urged Prague and Bratislava to stop competing over the use of "strong and stronger words." Czech-Slovak relations should be considered a "valuable and fragile thing," he commented. Klaus was responding to the question of whether President Vaclav Havel should apologize to Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar over his statement in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro that Meciar is "paranoid" about Slovakia's exclusion from the first wave of new NATO members. The Slovak government has officially requested an apology. Meanwhile, Klaus has left for Brussels for talks with NATO and EU officials. SLOVAK OFFICIAL ON NATO EXPANSION. Deputy Foreign Minister Jozef Sestak told Slovak TV yesterday that regional tensions could arise between Slovakia and its three former communist neighbors (Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) unless all four join NATO at the same time. Sestak last week headed a delegation to talks with NATO in Brussels over Slovakia's membership aspirations. Sestak said the key issues at the talks were whether Slovakia could boost the alliance's defense capability, whether it shared the same values as NATO members, and whether it was carrying out reforms as fast as its neighbors. Slovakia will hold a referendum on NATO membership next month. Opposition leaders accuse the government of planning the referendum in a bid to cover up Slovakia's failure to be included in the first wave of new members. HUNGARIAN WELFARE MINISTER ORDERS INVESTIGATION INTO HEALTH INSURANCE SECTOR. Mihaly Kokeny has ordered an investigation into the country's health insurance sector following a row this weekend over whether Agnes Cser should be removed as head of the Health Insurance Fund, Hungarian media reported. Peter Simsa, deputy chairman of the Health Insurance Authority, has accused Cser of causing billions of forints in losses, but Cser says she uncovered those losses last summer. Simsa also says Cser has largely ignored decisions taken by the authority and has caused damage through her activities and statements. Some interest groups reportedly want to get rid of Cser because she has started to investigate several cases over the use of public funds. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE ITALIAN PREMIER SAYS FOREIGN TROOPS TO LEAVE ALBANIA IN JULY. Romano Prodi said in Tirana yesterday that the new multinational force arriving in Albania to secure aid deliveries will not interfere in domestic politics and will leave one month after the elections, which are now slated for June. Prodi met with his Albanian counterpart Bashkim Fino in Vlora, where he was given an enthusiastic welcome by crowds, and with President Sali Berisha in Tirana. Critics charge that the mission is headed for danger because the problem in Albania is not hunger but lawlessness. The Albanian authorities respond that comparisons with Bosnian conditions are unjustified. ALBANIAN PRESIDENT FIGHTS RIVALS IN OWN PARTY. Leaders of President Berisha's Democratic Party met late into the night yesterday to deal with a challenge to the president and his leadership. At least 20 legislators and former ministers have blasted Berisha, former Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi, and former Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu for their roles in the current crisis. The dissidents want a new leadership. Democratic Party officials have not yet commented on the results of the meeting. LEKA RETURNS TO ALBANIA. Exiled King Leka returned yesterday to his homeland and called for a referendum on the restoration of the monarchy. He told some 2,000 supporters at Tirana airport that he will start work immediately on such a vote, adding that has come to share "the suffering" of the people and plans to stay "as long as is necessary." Political parties and President Sali Berisha agreed in principle last week to a referendum but set no date. The pro-monarchy Legality Movement, which organized Leka's visit, polled about 5% in elections last year and helps govern Shkoder as part of a local government coalition. FIRST ELECTION RETURNS FROM CROATIA... Preliminary results of yesterday's elections show the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) leading in most of the 21 districts for the upper house of parliament. Voter turnout was estimated at around 54% shortly before polls closed. Early returns show an opposition coalition is closely challenging the HDZ for control of the Zagreb city council, where the HDZ has been in the minority since 1995. The HDZ may lose control of Split, where it has only 26% of the vote so far. ...BUT POLLS STAY OPEN IN EASTERN SLAVONIA. UN officials in Vukovar have ordered voting to continue today in the Serb-held region of eastern Slavonia to give all eligible voters the chance to cast their ballots. Many polling stations opened late on Sunday because of the tardy arrival of ballot papers. In addition, many ethnic Serb voters with valid Croatian documents could not find their names on the lists. UN officials criticized Zagreb for administrative incompetence and attacked the Serbian leadership for waiting until the last minute to decide to take part in the polls. U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith said there was a "certain pattern" to the problems with the voting lists. Croatian refugees who plan to go home once eastern Slavonia becomes Croatian again in July voted elsewhere. POPE IN SARAJEVO. Pope John Paul II paid a 25-hour visit to the Bosnian capital on the weekend to meet with the country's Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish leaders. Yesterday, he also spoke individually with each of the three members of the collective Bosnian presidency and celebrated mass in the city's open-air stadium. Some 50,000 people, many of whom had crossed Bosnian Serb lines, attended the mass. Security concerns overshadowed the visit, during which police found 23 land mines and a remote control detonator wired up under a road bridge. The visit had been frequently postponed because officials had deemed conditions in the Bosnian capital too dangerous. U.S. WANTS RIGHTS RESTORED IN KOSOVO. Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum, outgoing top U.S. envoy to the Balkans, has urged the full restoration of human rights in the Serb-controlled province of Kosovo. Kornblum and his successor, Robert Gelbard, met with Ibrahim Rugova, leader of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, in Pristina yesterday. Rugova said that "with the help of the United States, the problem of Kosovo will be solved." But Kornblum again ruled out support for Kosovar independence, noting that the restoration of human rights would mean a "Kosovo within Serbia." The two U.S. envoys later traveled to Macedonia, where they met with President Kiro Gligorov and other senior government officials. ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS PRIVATIZATION LIST IS FINAL. Victor Ciorbea says the list of the 10 state-owned companies facing imminent privatization will not be changed unless the State Property Fund (FPS) produces evidence that those companies are not loss-making, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 12-13 April. Ciorbea also wants to place the FPS under direct government control in an apparent attempt to discipline the fund, whose spokesman on 11 April denied that the list was final. Ciorbea said both the spokesman and other FPS staff would be dismissed. But he added that he has "full confidence" in FPS director Sorin Dimitriu, who had also said the list was tentative. The government released the list last week. ROMANIA SIGNS CEFTA AGREEMENT. Minister of Trade and Industry Calin Popescu Tariceanu has signed the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) on his country's behalf, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 12 April. The signing ceremony was attended by Tariceanu's counterparts from the five current member states --Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Romania will become the organization's sixth member on 1 July. ROMANIA BEGINS RESTITUTION OF JEWISH, GERMAN PROPERTIES. The government announced on 11 April that it will return six buildings confiscated from the Jewish community during and after World War II and one building confiscated from the German community. All the properties are in Bucharest. The decision, which still has to be approved by the parliament, does not extend to properties confiscated from individual members of either group. The Jewish community is to set up a non-profit organization to administer the returned properties. RUSSIA, UKRAINE TO GUARANTEE CHISINAU-TIRASPOL MEMORANDUM? Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told journalists in Chisinau on 11 April that Russia and Ukraine will be "guarantors" of the memorandum on settling the conflict with Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region. He added that Moscow will respect the accord signed with Chisinau on the withdrawal of Russian troops and that it is not considering an increase in the troops stationed in the Transdniester. Tiraspol's demand to bring Russian "peace- keeping forces" to the region is "not timely," he commented. BASA-press reports that the article recently added to the memorandum (see RFE/RL Newsline, 11 April 1997) stipulates that the two sides will develop relations "within the common state, within the borders of January 1990." IMF APPROVES LOAN TO BULGARIA. The IMF on 11 April approved a $657 million standby loan for Bulgaria to support economic reforms. Ivan Kostov, leader of the United Democratic Forces, said strict compliance with the IMF's tough conditions for the loan "will deal a blow to corruption, racketeering, and unfair competition" and "will stop the chasing away of honest foreign and Bulgarian investors," Reuters reported on 12 April. Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Alexander Bozhkov told the EBRD annual meeting in London yesterday that Sofia plans to privatize six top banks by mid- 1998 in order to restore confidence in the banking sector. KING SIMEON TO VISIT BULGARIA. A spokesman for former King Simeon II announced yesterday that the exiled Bulgarian monarch will visit Bulgaria on 15 April. In an interview with the Spanish daily ABC, Simeon ruled out returning to live in that country in the immediate future, saying he wants to "contribute something positive and not just add to the confusion," AFP reported on 13 April. Last week, members of the Alliance for National Salvation, composed of several small pro-monarchy parties, visited Simeon at his home in Madrid. His spokesman said Simeon was the king of all Bulgarians and did not support one party over another. OPERATION ALBA THREATENED FROM THE START? by Patrick Moore Troops from six countries begin Operation Alba tomorrow to secure humanitarian aid deliveries to lawless Albania. Many observers feel, however, that the success of the operation is threatened from the start because of the danger posed by armed gangs. On 11 April, the first Italian troops arrived at Durres as an advance party for the mission. Up to 6,000 soldiers from Italy, France, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Denmark, and Spain are scheduled to join them, and an Austrian contingent may take part later. Their aim will be to hold the ports of Durres and Vlora, together with Tirana's Rinas airport, for aid deliveries. The move comes in response to the armed anarchy that has gripped Europe's poorest country for more than a month. First, a series of pyramid schemes collapsed, wiping out the investments of a considerable part of the population. There followed mass protests against the government of President Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party, whom the demonstrators blamed for their losses. Then rebel committees took over villages and towns in the south. All semblance of order or authority evaporated, and people seized weapons from police stations and army bases. In central Tirana and in the pro-Berisha north, officials handed out guns to Democratic Party supporters. Across the country, armed gangs robbed at will, while crowds pillaged shops, homes, and institutions. To date, at least 200 people have died and hundreds more have been wounded in the armed anarchy. In early March, Berisha reluctantly agreed to an interim coalition government, headed by the Socialist Bashkim Fino, whose job is to restore calm and prepare for early elections in June. The rebels, for their part, refuse to give up their guns until Berisha resigns. But the president says he will not do so unless he is voted out of office. A catch-22 situation has thus emerged. As Fino himself put it: "If we say that the elections cannot be held because the population is armed, we must also look at the other side of the issue, which is that the weapons will not be surrendered until elections are held." Despite the breakdown of order and the proliferation of weapons among the civilian population, the Italian government, headed by Prime Minister Romano Prodi, proposed intervening in the hope of calming the situation in Albania and thereby stemming the flow of refugees across the Adriatic into Italy. Officials in Rome say it is the first time postwar Italy has had the opportunity to take the lead in organizing a European intervention force. Politicians and pundits across the continent argue that Albania has given Europe as a whole the chance to show it has learned from its mistakes in the Yugoslav wars and can now put things right in another turbulent Balkan country. But that may be easier said than done. Some observers, including some aid workers already in Albania, say the mission is flawed from the start. They argue that Albania needs order, not supplies. The aid workers say the country may be short of medicines and that some of the poor and elderly need help, but they also note there is no famine or even hunger. They are in favor of controlling the bandits and restoring state structures. "You don't fight anarchy with flour bags," commented one aid worker. That skeptical attitude has been echoed by at least one country, Portugal, to scuttle plans to participate in Operation Alba. Defense Minister Antonio Vitorino said in Lisbon last week that, "The involvement of forces should require a set of military and political conditions. We believe that the political conditions have not been satisfied. This is essentially an internal, civil, guerrilla-style conflict.... I believe it is a highly risky mission, and I have doubts it can reach its military objective." But part of the problem is that Operation Alba has no real military objective. Its members may fire back if fired upon, but they have no mandate to disarm or control the gangs and bandits. This recalls some earlier adventures of foreign troops in the former Yugoslavia, namely, the hapless UNPROFOR in Croatia and Bosnia. They, too, had no mandate to make peace. The result was that many simply sat around or joined the locals in developing a flourishing black market. 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