|Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen to a man. - Leon Trotsky|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 108, Part II, 2 September1997
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/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA * BOSNIAN SERBS STONE U.S. TROOPS * ALBANIA TO CLOSE PYRAMID SCHEMES End Note : A STATE OUTSIDE A BLOC xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA. Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Interfax on 1 September that the detention of two Russian Public Television (ORT) film crews in Belarus and subsequent developments "have not affected in any way" relations between Russia and Belarus. Lukashenka said he is sure that ORT management and "political circles" supporting it were behind the crossing of the Belarusian-Lithuanian border by one crew and the attempted crossing by the other. He argued that there are "certain forces in Russia that badly need these provocations." He also commented that Belarus remains for Russia a "true window" to the West and that there are many people who would like Belarusian policy to change to close that window. Lukashenka said he intends to familiarize Yeltsin with materials confiscated from ORT correspondents Pavel Sheremet and Dmitri Zavadsky, which, he said, "will significantly change the Russian leader's view." ETHNIC RUSSIANS PROTEST UKRAINIAN SCHOOL. Pro-Russian citizens in Ukraine's eastern industrial city of Donetsk on 1 September staged protests against the opening of the first Ukrainian-language school in the city, Interfax reported. Dozens of activists picketed the school to protest what they called the "forceful Ukrainization" of their mainly Russian-speaking region. The Russian language is widely used in some parts of Ukraine, including Kyiv and the eastern and southern regions. It is predominantly used on the Crimean peninsula, where 75 percent of the 2.7 million population are ethnic Russians. Ukraine's pro-Russian parties are in favor of the equal status of the Ukrainian and Russian languages. Also on 1 September, the Crimean authorities opened the first Ukrainian school in the region, saying they planned to open more Ukrainian schools later this year. ESTONIA, CYPRUS SEEK CLOSER TIES. Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Kasoulides was in Tallinn on 1 September for the first visit by a high-ranking Cypriot official since the restoration of Estonian independence, BNS and ETA reported. Kasoulides met with Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann to discuss cooperation in the two countries' bids for EU membership. Following their meeting, Kasoulides told reporters that Estonia and Cyprus will scrap visas for each other's citizens within the next few months. Both countries were recommended by the European Commission to start accession talks with the European Union. POLISH PRESIDENT SUES PRESS OVER SPY ALLEGATIONS. Aleksander Kwasniewski on 1 September filed a civil lawsuit against newspapers that reported he had contacts with a Russian spy three years ago. A presidential spokesman described the recent reports as a "pack of lies" that harm the "good name" of the president. Kwasniewski is demanding that the opposition dailies "Zycie" and "Dziennik Baltycki" issue corrections, apologize, and pay the equivalent of $1.4 million to victims of the recent flooding. The spokesman said the allegations were part of a campaign to discredit Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's former communist alliance in the run-up to the 21 September parliamentary elections. Kwasniewski is a former leader of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance. CZECH PRESIDENT ON RE-ELECTION BID. Vaclav Havel said in an interview on Czech Television on 1 September that he is still not absolutely certain whether he will run for another term in office at the beginning of next year. He said that while he has officially declared he is prepared to run, he may still change his mind if he is not nominated by the four largest parties in the country. He added that he will not run if his popularity should drop sharply. Havel noted that his wife was right when she recently called for the minimal duties of the "first lady" to be defined by law. He argued that Dagmar Havel needs one to two secretaries and a political adviser for coping smoothly with her agenda. Havel also criticized journalists who invade the privacy of famous people. He said the death of Princess Diana should be a lesson to those journalists who had, in effect, hunted her down. ALBRIGHT IN CZECH REPUBLIC. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived for a one-day private visit to east Bohemia on 1 September, together with her sister Katy as well her two daughters and their husbands. Albright visited the towns of Letohrad and Kostelec nad Orlici, where the families of her father and mother had lived. Meanwhile, President Havel's office announced on 1 September that Britain's Prince Charles has canceled his planned visit to Prague following the death of his former wife, Princess Diana. Prince Charles and Havel were to have opened the restored Palffy Garden, located beneath Prague Castle on 9 September. The renovation was financed by the Prague Heritage Fund, which the prince and Havel jointly founded in 1992. SLOVAK PREMIER ON CONSTITUTION. Vladimir Meciar told Slovak Radio on 1 September that in assessing the Slovak Constitution, "we must be clear on the question of what type of political system would be most suitable for Slovakia" in the future. He listed three possibilities: a "perfected" version of the current system; a system that gave more power to the government; or a system such as the U.S. presidential one. Meciar said that he is personally convinced that "the sovereignty of the Slovak parliament must be confirmed" and the powers of the president be adjusted accordingly. Meciar also said it is necessary to determine how the decisions of the Constitutional Court should be implemented: whether legislation should be amended directly by the court or by the parliament after the court has ruled a law is unconstitutional. HUNGARIAN PREMIER REJECTS CALL TO RESIGN. A panel of judges examining the communist past of senior officials has called on Gyula Horn to resign after establishing that he served in the armed forces following the 1956 uprising and that, in his capacity as a senior Foreign Ministry official from1985-1990, he received secret service reports. Under the law, those notified by the panel should resign within 30 days, otherwise the panel's findings will be released. Horn himself made public the panel's ruling at a press conference on 1 September. "I see neither moral nor legal reasons to resign," Horn said, adding that all significant aspects of his past were known both by the voters who elected him as a deputy and by the parliament, which elected him prime minister. "With my present statement, I regard the case closed," he remarked. HUNGARY TO RETURN PROPERTY TO SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH. Parliamentary speaker Zoltan Gal on 1 September said that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Hungary will get back property confiscated by the Hungarian communist leadership. Of the 38 properties nationalized in the 1940s, 18 have already been returned to the Church and another 10 will be returned over the next 14 years. Hungary will pay annuities to the Church for the remaining 10 properties. In other news, the government coalition on 1 September ruled that a new law guaranteeing parliamentary representation of the country's 13 minorities will be adopted this fall. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE BOSNIAN SERBS STONE U.S. TROOPS. Some 300 Bosnian Serb civilians on 1 September surrounded and stoned SFOR soldiers who had taken control of a television transmitter at Udrigovo, near Bijeljina, in northeastern Bosnia. A NATO spokesman called the attack "orchestrated." Momcilo Krajisnik, Radovan Karadzic's spokesman, said in Pale on 2 September that SFOR will return the transmitter to Karadzic's TV Pale in the course of the day. News agencies added that Pale agreed to tone down its anti-NATO broadcasts if the transmitter is returned. SFOR spokesmen said that the Serbian crowds had withdrawn from the transmitter after reaching an agreement with the peacekeepers. The agreement provides for the state-owned transmitter to be used by rival stations. FRANCE WARNS PALE NOT TO USE FORCE. The French Foreign Ministry warned the hard-line Bosnian Serbs on 1 September that future attacks on NATO personnel will be met with force. The U.S. has already issued similar warnings. In Belgrade, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic repeated his proposal that early elections be held in the Republika Srpska. He argued that such a vote is the only way to solve the ongoing Bosnian Serb political crisis. Western officials have said that the proposal is not acceptable. And in Tuzla, victims of land mines mourned Princess Diana, who recently visited that city and Sarajevo to draw public attention to the plight of those injured by mines. NATO experts have said that there are tens of thousands of mines still buried across Bosnia and that the devices will pose a danger for generations to come. MASS GRAVE DISCOVERED IN NORTHWESTERN BOSNIA. Bosnian government officials began excavating a mass grave near Bihac on 1 September. Spokesmen said the pit may contain up to 300 bodies of Muslim civilians killed by Serbian troops during the war. Officials added that if that estimate proves accurate, the site would be one of the largest mass graves found in Bosnia to date. Meanwhile in Mostar, Vladimir Soljic, the president of the Croatian-Muslim Federation, protested the recent killing of two Croats in central Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1997). Soljic said that the murders were only the latest of several incidents directed against Croatian refugees who have returned to the Muslim- controlled area near Travnik, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. The Croatian government has also protested the killings and demanded that the murderers be found and punished. CROATIA ARRESTS EX-POLICEMAN FOR WAR CRIMES. The Croatian authorities on 1 September arrested Miro Bajramovic after he told a newspaper that he had personally killed 72 Serbs in the Gospic and Pakrac areas during the war. Bajramovic added that his victims included nine women. He stated that he and the other members of a special police unit were under orders to kill all Serbs they could find, including civilians, as part of an "ethnic cleansing" campaign. Bajramovic's commanding officer was Tomislav Mercep, who is now a politician in eastern Slavonia. Meanwhile, UN troops completed their mandate in eastern Slavonia on 1 September and began turning over their monitoring positions between Serbian and Croatian lines to UN police forces. YUGOSLAV UPDATE. In Podgorica, the Montenegrin government and opposition parties reached an agreement on 1 September to hold parliamentary elections by May 1998. The pact guarantees all parties access to the state-run media. In Kosovo, ethnic Albanian children and students began the school year by attending private schools run by the Kosovar shadow state. The private schools came into being several years ago to protest Belgrade's taking control of public schools from local authorities. On 1 September 1996, shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and his Serbian counterpart, Slobodan Milosevic, agreed to return autonomy to Kosovo's public schools and close the private ones, but the pact has remained a dead letter. And in Belgrade, the local authorities, which are opposed to Milosevic, protested that customs officials are holding up delivery of 10 buses given to Belgrade by the city of Berlin. Improving public transportation was one of Mayor Zoran Djindjic's key campaign promises in the 1996 elections. ALBANIA TO CLOSE PYRAMID SCHEMES. Following two weeks of negotiations, Albania and the IMF have drawn up a six-month economic recovery program, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 2 September. The Albanian government will close down pyramid investment companies, raise value-added tax from 12.5 percent to 22 percent, improve collection of customs duties, and guarantee the independence of the banking system. In exchange, the IMF will give the green light to an international donors conference and provide assistance to establish a social security net and rebuild the economy. A three-year agreement will be signed next March if Albania fulfills its obligations under the current plan. In related news, President Rexhep Meidani appointed Socialist Shkelqim Cani as the new governor of the National Bank, Cani replaces Qamil Tusha, whom former President Sali Berisha had appointed. ALBANIAN OFFICIAL SACKED AFTER FREEING "DANGEROUS CRIMINAL." Elbasan prosecutor Niko Duro was fired on 1 September for having released from prison a man whose subsequent behavior led to a series of violent incidents several days earlier, "Dita Informacion" reported. Following his release, the unnamed man killed one member of a family in Elbasan, whose murder the family then avenged by killing the freed criminal. Police surrounded the apartment house in which the family lived but were met with heavy armed resistance. During the subsequent shoot-out, police used anti- tank weapons. Three family members were killed and five policemen wounded in the incident. The Albanian media subsequently criticized the State Prosecutor's Office for having freed a man whom the press called a dangerous criminal. BUCHAREST HOSTS DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE. Representatives from some 75 countries have arrived in Bucharest for a three-day conference on "New and Restored Democracies," RFE/RL's Romanian service reported on 1 September. The conference, organized by the Romanian Foreign Ministry and conducted with technical and financial support from the United Nations Development Program, will focus on connections between a country's style of government and its democratic development. Among those attending are the foreign ministers from some 30 emerging democracies in central and eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. MIXED ECONOMIC INDICATORS IN ROMANIA. Romania's consumer price index rose by 0.7 percent in July, according to information released by the State Statistics Office on 29 August. The data show a marked decrease in the growth of prices since February and March, when monthly inflation reached 30 percent. The average net wage rose in July by 7 percent to 721,728 lei (about $88). But analysts say the full benefits of structural change have yet to be felt, as loss- making state firms are still a burden on the state budget. Industrial output in July was 10.7 percent below the July 1996 level. BULGARIAN MINERS BLAME DIRECTOR FOR COAL MINE DEATHS. Workers at the Bobov Dol coal mine, some 70 kilometers southwest of Sofia, have accused the director for the deaths of seven miners in a methane gas explosion on 1 September, BTA reported. The miners say a chamber adjacent to the explosion site was not adequately ventilated when workers were sent to work after a month-long shutdown for the summer vacation. More than 20 miners have been killed at Bobov Dol in the past eight years. The National Security Council and a special government commission are scheduled on 2 September to discuss whether the mine should be closed. Konstantin Trenchev, head of the Podkrepa trade union, told RFE/RL's Sofia bureau that technological improvements are needed at mines across the country. He said working conditions for Bulgarian miners are similar to those in the Middle Ages. BULGARIANS REQUEST TO SEE SECRET POLICE FILES. More than 1,000 Bulgarians registered on 1 September to find out whether the Communist-era state security service kept secret files on them, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Requests to see those files began to be accepted that day. Andrei Raichev, a sociologist and close ally of the late former Communist Prime Minster Andrei Lukanov, was among the first 100 people to register in Sofia. In July, the parliament passed legislation allowing citizens to see files compiled about them and their families during the communist era. Information is expected to be released after 22 September. END NOTE A STATE OUTSIDE A BLOC by Paul Goble Some fundamental shifts in the balance of power in Eastern Europe have made it possible for Ukraine to become a "state outside a bloc," as Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma recently put it. Speaking in Kyiv on 28 August following a meeting with visiting Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Kuchma announced two major changes in the direction of Ukraine's security policy. He said that "Ukraine does not intend to join NATO structures," even though he would not rule out future cooperation with the Western alliance. At the same time, he made clear that Kyiv no longer intends to be bound by the provisions of the collective security treaty signed in 1992 by seven members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Instead, he said, Ukraine will seek to improve relations with individual countries, including Russia, as a means of promoting its security and well-being. Kuchma's announcement that his country will not seek NATO membership undercuts earlier statements by Ukrainian officials that Kyiv's strategic objective is to join the Western alliance at some point in the future. But, just like his declaration about the CIS, his remarks about NATO reflect three broader changes across the region. First, Ukraine's shift represents a triumph, rather than a defeat, for NATO's policy of expansion. It was no coincidence that Kuchma's remarks came only one day after U.S. troops landed in Crimea as part of a NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace joint exercise. Much criticized by Moscow, those maneuvers have reaffirmed Western support for Ukraine but have also prompted the Russian government to shift its position both rhetorically and in practice. Russian criticism of the maneuvers and of Ukraine's participation have softened since the exercises began, and Russian relations with Ukraine have continued to improve, with the two sides announcing that Kuchma will make an official visit to Moscow early next year. That shift, in turn. has allowed the Ukrainians to stake out a position -- closer ties with NATO but no ultimate membership -- that allows them to seek to boost ties with Moscow without giving up continuing support from the West. Second, Ukraine's shift reflects the collapse of the CIS as an organization relevant to the security needs of Eastern Europe. On the same day that Russian foreign policy expert Sergei Karaganov declared the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is "dead" because of its failures in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kuchma took a step toward demonstrating that the CIS is close to its grave. He did so not by withdrawing from the organization as a whole but rather by underscoring that Ukraine will give preference to bilateral ties with Russia rather than multilateral arrangements with other former Soviet republics. Moscow will hardly object to improved relations with Kyiv -- indeed, Sergeev welcomed them -- but Kyiv is the winner in this round because its stance undermines Russian pretensions to domination over the entire territory of a country that no longer exists. Third, Ukraine's shift reflects a normalization of relations between Kyiv and Moscow. It also highlights a growing willingness on the part of the Russians to view Ukraine as an independent country and on the part of Ukrainians to see Russia as something other than an enemy. By staking out a position outside of any bloc, Ukraine is reaffirming its position as an important country within Eastern Europe, one that will act on its own interests rather than at the behest of any other country. And as ever more Russian officials accept Ukraine's new status -- something NATO's Partnership for Peace program has helped promote -- Ukrainians will find it easier to accept Russia as a potential partner rather than the inevitable enemy. Obviously, a single speech, even one as important as Kuchma's on 28 August, does not guarantee that the geopolitics of the region will develop without serious problems. But as an indication of fundamental shifts, Kuchma's remarks are an important milepost on the road to a better future for Ukrainians, for Russians, and for the region in which they live. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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