|A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. - Jonathan Swift|
Vol. 1, No. 39, Part II, 27 May 1997
Vol. 1, No. 39, Part II, 27 May 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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * SLOVAKIA'S REFERENDUM DECLARED INVALID * CZECH CROWN ALLOWED TO FLOAT, DEVALUATION EXPECTED * ALBANIAN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES ELECTION COMMITTEE LINEUP xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE SLOVAKIA'S REFERENDUM DECLARED INVALID. The Central Referendum Commission on 26 May officially told the parliament that the 23-24 May referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections was invalidated owing to faulty procedures, Slovak media reported. The commission said the referendum did not comply with election rules because four questions, including one on direct presidential elections, should have been included on the ballots. The commission did not confirm a Statistics Office announcement that fewer than 10% of registered voters participated. A member of the Central Referendum Commission denounced the ballot papers distributed by the Interior Ministry as a "massive swindle" after the question on direct presidential elections was dropped from ballots on the orders of Interior Minister Gustav Krajci. The Constitutional Court earlier ruled that the question on direct presidential elections could be included on the ballots but would not be legally binding. SLOVAK PRESIDENT, PRIME MINISTER ASK EACH OTHER TO RESIGN. President Michal Kovac said on 26 May that the failed referendum on Slovakia's NATO membership and direct presidential elections has ruined the country's chances of early entry into NATO and the EU. Kovac said Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia should seriously consider whether Slovakia would benefit from Meciar's complete withdrawal from political life. He also suggested that Interior Minister Gustav Krajci resign. The president argued that responsibility for the worsening international standing of the country lies mostly with Meciar. Meciar, for his part, blamed Kovac for the failure of the referendum and suggested that the president should resign. SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER RESIGNS OVER REFERENDUM. Pavol Hamzik resigned on 26 May, saying that the domestic political situation and the failed referendum on Slovakia's NATO membership had made it impossible for him to continue. In a statement, Hamzik said the circumstances surrounding the referendum have "to the greatest possible extent" limited his ability to achieve Slovakia's foreign policy goals. Hamzik said he wants his resignation to signal that Slovakia's "vital international interests" are being subordinated to domestic fights for power. Hamzik, a career diplomat who became foreign minister last August, was regarded as an ardent support of Meciar's government. UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ON PARTNERSHIP WITH NATO. Leonid Kuchma urged Ukrainians on 26 May to back his efforts for speedy integration with Western organizations, including NATO. But he stressed that Ukraine is not currently seeking to join the alliance. Speaking at a youth congress, Kuchma said the Ukrainian people must understand the importance of the special partnership expected to be signed this summer between NATO and Ukraine. He argued the agreement is crucial for the security of Ukraine and Europe. Kuchma noted that public acceptance will be difficult because "NATO was depicted by official propaganda as our main enemy for half a century." BELARUSIAN POPULAR FRONT REJECTS DEAL WITH RUSSIA. Lyavon Barshchevski, acting president of the opposition Popular Front, told journalists in Minsk on 26 May that his movement did not recognize the union charter signed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin last week. He predicted it would strengthen public support for the country's independence. Barshchevski said the charter threatened the independence gained by Belarus when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Popular Front, which admits it has only minority support among the population of 10 million, has staged a series of protests in recent months against Lukashenka's authoritarian rule. BALTIC PRESIDENTS URGE NATO TO KEEP DOORS OPEN. Lennart Meri of Estonia, Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia, and Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania have urged NATO to keep its doors open to countries not included in the alliance's first wave of expansion, BNS reported. The three Baltic leaders met on 26 May in the southern Estonian town of Otepaa. In a joint statement, they called on NATO to set up a Euro-Atlantic partnership council and to expand its Partnership for Peace program. They also said they would work toward establishing a Baltic customs union while seeking integration into the EU. The three presidents are scheduled to meet in Tallinn on 27 May with their Ukrainian and Polish counterparts, Leonid Kuchma and Aleksander Kwasniewski, to discuss economic cooperation, security, and integration with European structures, ETA reported. ESTONIA SCORES HIGHEST ECONOMIC FREEDOM RATING AMONG FORMER SOCIALIST BLOC. An international study of economic freedom puts Estonia in 52nd position among 115 countries worldwide and in top place among former socialist bloc countries, ETA reported on 26 May. The survey, entitled "Economic Freedom of the World 1997," was based on 17 indicators, including finance, tax collection, private property, inflation, and foreign trade. It notes that the strongest point of the Estonian economy is free trade and also mentions that foreign currency accounts can be opened, restrictions on business activity are few, and income tax is low at 26%. On a scale of zero to 10, Estonia was awarded 5.6 points. Of the former socialist bloc countries, Lithuania followed with 5.5 points, the Czech Republic with 5.2 points, and Hungary with 5.1 points. LITHUANIAN ROUNDUP. President Brazauskas sent a letter to Israeli parliamentary speaker Dan Tikhon on 26 May promising Lithuania will investigate all suspected former Nazis and prosecute those found guilty of crimes during World War II, Interfax and Western agencies reported. The letter followed Israeli requests to speed up the investigations. Meanwhile, parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis said Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov has no "historical memory," BNS reported. Landsbergis was responding to the minister's comments about possible NATO membership of the Baltic States, which Primakov called "ex-Soviet" (see RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 1997). Landsbergis recalled the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and suggested that, in evoking the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, Primakov revealed the "true mentality" of the current Russian government. POLISH CONSTITUTION APPROVED. Official final results of the 25 May referendum on a new Polish Constitution, released to the media the following day showed 52.7% of Poles backing the document. Some 46% were opposed. Voter turnout was 43%. The constitution was drafted by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance, its coalition ally, the Peasant Party, and two opposition parties in the parliament. It retains the current political system but weakens the presidency. CZECH CROWN ALLOWED TO FLOAT, DEVALUATION EXPECTED. The Central Bank on 26 May decided to abolish the 15% band in which the exchange rate for the Czech crown was allowed to fluctuate. The step was announced at a press conference by the bank's governor, Josef Tosovsky, and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. Klaus said the government will adopt measures to stabilize the crown. But economic experts predict that the bank will no longer be obliged to defend the band in which the crown fluctuated, the currency will quickly devalue by as much as 15%. Bank officials said that despite last week's massive interventions to support the crown, the bank still has about $10 billion in hard currency reserves, which it would use if speculators drove the crown too low. President Vaclav Havel said that in view of the latest developments, the ruling coalition should restructure the government rather than make only cosmetic changes. RUSSIA OFFERS MiG FIGHTER JETS TO HUNGARY. A visiting Russian delegation, led by Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak, has offered MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets to Hungary, the daily Nepszabadsag reported on 27 May. The previous day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Ogurcov told a Budapest press conference that Hungary is Russia's second largest trading partner in the region after Poland, with Russian-Hungarian trade totaling $2.5-2.7 billion annually. The delegation intends to negotiate the payment of the former Soviet Union's debt to Hungary and is expected to meet Industry, Trade, and Tourism Minister Szabolcs Fazakas and Prime Minister Gyula Horn. Last week, in a sales drive, U.S. aircraft producer Lockheed Martin Corporation displayed F-16 jet fighters in Kecskemet, saying purchase would allow the Hungarian air force to improve cooperation with NATO. Also last week, Defense Minister Ferenc Vegh said Hungary will have to buy new aircraft if it is invited to join NATO. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE ALBANIAN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES ELECTION COMMITTEE LINEUP. Sali Berisha on 26 May announced in Tirana the composition of the 17-member Central Election Committee. The chairman will be Kristaq Kume, a member of the president's Democratic Party and the deputy chairman Fatos Klosi, a Socialist. They will share responsibilities and validate election returns jointly. The secretary will be Democrat Thimio Kondi, the Interior Ministry's state secretary for local government. Socialist Prime Minister Bashkim Fino's government will challenge that appointment, since Fino nominated someone else. The Democratic Party and the Socialists have four seats each. Eight other parties share the remaining seats, the daily Indipendent reported on 27 May. OPPOSITION STILL CONSIDERS ALBANIAN ELECTION BOYCOTT. Following a meeting with Fino in Tirana on 26 May, eight parties in the broad-based coalition government announced they want the lifting of the state of emergency, strict international monitoring of the elections, and government control over the secret service. The parties said they still may boycott the ballot if Berisha does not meet their demands, Koha Jone reported. Meanwhile at a conference on Albania in Rome, Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini warned Albanians that future international aid to their country will depend on whether free and fair elections take place. OSCE special envoy Franz Vranitzky said that Operation Alba's mandate will have to be extended beyond the June elections (see RFE/RL Newsline, 23 May 1997). ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATES POLICE ATTACK ON HOSPITAL. The government on 26 May launched an investigation into the previous night's attack by members of Berisha's elite National Guard on the Tirana military hospital (see RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 1997). Hospital doctors threatened to walk off the job unless Berisha identifies the attackers. Defense Minister Shaqir Vukaj pledged "not to tolerate such banditry anymore." A spokesman for the National Guard also condemned the attack. Elsewhere, armed insurgents blocked a convoy of special police forces from entering Gjirokaster on 26 May, before a visit by Berisha. Several days earlier, on 23 May, shots were fired at the car of Leka Zogu, the claimant to the throne, near Tropoja, Koha Jone reported on 27 May. SERBIAN PRESIDENT REBUFFS U.S. DIPLOMAT. Slobodan Milosevic on 26 May told Robert Gelbard, the new U.S. special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, that Belgrade will not hand over indicted war criminals to the Hague-based tribunal. Gelbard had earlier told Milosevic that federal Yugoslavia's relations with the U.S., Western Europe, and international financial institutions will depend on Belgrade's cooperation with the court and on its willingness to solve the Kosovo question. Milosevic is obliged by the Dayton agreement to work with the tribunal. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported from London on 27 May that Britain's new Labor government will release its secret service documents on Bosnian war crimes, which many observers expect to cast light on Milosevic's own involvement in the atrocitiies. SERBIAN OPPOSITION COALITION BEYOND REPAIR? Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic and Serbian Radical Party chief Vojislav Seselj have called for the replacement of Belgrade Mayor Zoran Djindjic, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital on 26 May. Draskovic and Djindjic are partners in the opposition Zajedno coalition but have been feuding in public for weeks. Many moderates regard Seselj as a war criminal and as Milosevic's political stalking horse. It is unlikely that such people will back Draskovic as Zajedno's presidential candidate now that he has made common cause with Seselj. Belgrade press reports say that former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic is hoping to emerge from the imbroglio as the eventual joint opposition Serbian presidential candidate. NEWS FROM AROUND SERBIA. Federal Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovc returned from a four-day visit to Kuwait on 26 May and announced in Belgrade that Kuwait will buy $50 million-worth of Yugoslav military equipment. Across Serbia, 106 schools remain closed because of a teachers' strike, Nasa Borba reported. In Kosovska Mitrovica, an ethnic Albanian couple was found murdered in their home. The man was a retired employee of the Interior Ministry, BETA wrote. In Novi Pazar, Serbian government Minister without Portfolio Milun Babic warned the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) that "this is the first time in the history of the new Yugoslavia that a nationally-based party holds total power." He told the SDA that "it must show how democratic it is." The Serbian parliament is currently debating a bill that will guarantee Serbs and Montenegrins a power role in regions where they are in the minority. TENSIONS CONTINUE IN MACEDONIA. In the ongoing controversy in Macedonia's Gostivar over hoisting Albanian and Turkish flags at the town hall, police on 26 May moved in to break up armed clashes between Macedonians, on the one hand, and ethnic Albanians and Turks, on the other. In Debar, there was another violent incident near the Macedonian-Albanian border, BETA wrote. No details are yet available. ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ASKS FOR CONFIDENCE VOTE. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, in a letter to the chairmen of Romania's bi-cameral parliament, asked for a vote of confidence in his government, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 26 May. The parliament will vote on 3 June in a joint session of the two chambers. The government is asking the legislature to approve its entire reform program, including accords with international financial bodies. Under the procedure used for this purpose, known as "government assumption of responsibility," the opposition must move a vote of no-confidence within three days. If it fails to do so, the government's program is regarded as having been approved. The leader of the main opposition party, former president Ion Iliescu, on 26 May accused the government of failing to implement its electoral promises. His Party of Social Democracy in Romania will move a no-confidence motion this week. HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT CONTINUES ROMANIAN VISIT. Arpad Goencz and Romanian counterpart Emil Constantinescu on 26 May unveiled a monument commemorating Hungary's executed premier, Imre Nagy, in Snagov, near Bucharest. Goencz told a joint session of the Romanian parliament the same day that his country viewed Romania's joining an enlarged NATO as "vital" for its own interests. He said he hoped the Romanian parliament will approve draft legislation submitted by the government, which meets many of the Hungarian minority's demands, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Earlier, the two highest officials of the Council of Europe--Secretary-General Daniel Tarschys and Parliamentary Assembly President Leni Fischer, who are attending meetings of the council in Bucharest--held talks with the two presidents. They noted that Goencz's visit is an important step toward democratic stability in Europe. CE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY MEETINGS IN BUCHAREST. Walter Schwimmer, vice-chairman of the judicial and human rights committee in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, says Romania must further improve its human rights record. Schwimmer spoke on 26 May in Bucharest, where the assembly's committees are holding their summer meetings. He said the Penal Code's provisions on punishment for homosexual acts must be changed. He also said detention conditions must be improved in Romania's prisons, the passage of legislation on the return of property confiscated by the communists should be accelerated, and the government should launch a resolute campaign against racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The committee's chairman, Gunnar Jansson, said Romania has made progress in the treatment of ethnic minorities, but problems remain with the Roma minority. These, he said, are "all-European rather than specifically Romanian" problems. MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ON RUSSIA-BELARUS TREATY... Petru Lucinschi says it is up to Russia and Belarus to decide how far they will go toward integration. In an interview with RFE/RL on 26 May, Lucinschi reiterated that Moldova was a "neutral state" and had no intention to change its status or pursue the Russian-Belarus model. He added that Chisinau must nonetheless collaborate with other members of the CIS. The Moldovan president emphasized that the CIS was not an organization aimed at reconstructing the former Soviet Union but a "totally new organization aimed at achieving a new kind of regional community of interests." Lucinschi shrugged off a question concerning his image as "Moscow's man," saying it "would not be the first time in history that a foreigner had been called on to lead another country." He said what counted was to faithfully represent the interests of one's own country. ...AND ON MOLDOVA'S PRIVATIZATION DRIVE. Lucinschi is urging the parliament to pass as quickly as possible the privatization program for 1997-1998. At a government meeting, Lucinschi also said a national agency aimed at attracting foreign investors should be set up, BASA-press reported on 26 May. One of the conditions of a recent agreement with the World Bankfor a $100 million loan (see RFE/RL Newsline, 22 May 1997) is the speeding up of privatization. BULGARIAN SECURITY SERVICE CALLED TO BATTLE CLANDESTINE FINANCIAL GROUPS. Bulgarian Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev on 26 May called upon the National Security Service to investigate clandestine financial groups that he says are trying to undermine Sofia's new economic policies. Bonev said some groups, "especially among banking circles," are trying to place obstacles in the way of the proposed currency board before it is set up in July. The board is to link the Bulgarian lev to hard currency reserves in the National Bank. Bonev said that the currency board is being attacked by groups that are trying to siphon money from institutions like the State Savings Bank (DSK). Bistra Dimitrova, who was appointed head of the DSK by the previous Socialist-dominated parliament, resigned on 23 May under pressure from Prime Minister Ivan Kostov (see RFE/RL Newsline, 22 May 1997). Bonev said Dimitrova's activities at the bank are under investigation. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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