|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 110, Part II, 4 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 * SOROS CLOSES OPERATIONS IN BELARUS * CROATIA STARTS PROCEEDINGS AGAINST WAR CRIMINALS * WESTENDORP SAYS BOSNIAN ELECTIONS WILL GO AHEAD End Note EU RETHINKS ITS FUNDING TO EAST xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE SOROS CLOSES OPERATIONS IN BELARUS. Hungarian-born U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros on 3 September said he is closing down the Soros Foundation in Minsk, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. In a statement, the foundation said the closure is the result of harassment by tax authorities in Minsk, including "politically motivated investigations, unjustified and exorbitant fines, and the seizure of its bank account." The statement accused Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of conducting a campaign to destroy civil society and independent mass media. Soros denies accusations by Belarusian authorities that the foundation has been involved in opposition political activities. Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich told state television on 3 September that the closure is an attempt to provoke a "sensational" political reaction. Soros's Open Society Institute has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to former Communist countries to promote democracy and a free press. EU COMMISSION PROPOSES $92.6 MILLION AID FOR CHORNOBYL. The EU's Executive Commission on 3 September proposed 100 million ECU in aid ($92.6 million) to help Ukraine repair the concrete sarcophagus around the damaged nuclear reactor at Chornobyl, RFE/RL reported. That sum is the EU's share of an aid package promised at the June summit of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations. An EU commission spokesperson told RFE/RL that safety precautions and the plant's eventual closure are expected to dominate talks between top EU officials and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 5 September. Disbursement of the EU aid requires formal approval from EU finance ministers. The cost of making the Chornobyl reactor safe in the aftermath of the 1986 explosion has been estimated at $750 million. G-7 countries have pledged support worth $300 million. LITHUANIAN PREMIER ON GENOCIDE SUSPECTS. Gediminas Vagnorius has requested that the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor-General's Office speed up the process of revoking the rehabilitation of persons suspected of involvement in the Nazi-led genocide of Jews, BNS reported on 3 September. "Neither at home nor abroad should there be any doubt about the resolution of the Lithuanian people to create a just state," Vagnorius commented. Shortly after Lithuania regained independence, a universal rehabilitation for those who had resisted occupying forces was declared. International Jewish organizations protested that hundreds of people who had assisted the Nazis in killing Jews were among those rehabilitated. Since then, the rehabilitation of several war criminals has been revoked, but the Supreme Court still has to make a ruling in 17 cases. CENTRAL EUROPEAN MILITARY COOPERATION. Polish and German military leaders are taking part in a two-day meeting at the Drawsko military training ground, some 500 kilometers north of Warsaw, to discuss cooperation between the Danish, German, and Polish armies. The meeting follows the recent decision by the three countries' defense ministers to establish a joint military force following Poland's entry into NATO in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1997). The joint unit will have three divisions of up to 10,000 troops each and may have its headquarters in Szczecin, on the Baltic coast near the German border. The joint force will aim, among other things, to improve cooperation on humanitarian missions, such as flood relief. ENVIRONMENT MINISTERS GATHER IN POLAND. Environment ministers from Poland, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine on 4 September gathered in the Polish city of Torun, RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent reported. The ministers are expected to sign a cooperation agreement on environmental preservation, waste processing, ecological education, and soil and air pollution. FORUM 2000 KICKS OFF IN PRAGUE. Leading intellectuals, writers, religious leaders, and politicians began gathering in the Czech capital on 3 September for informal discussions on humanity and its future. Forum 2000 is taking place at Prague Castle under the auspices of Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. In a recent statement, Havel commented that the "task of participants in Forum 2000 [is] to review what we have learned about ourselves and each other and to propose alternatives for the future." Among the eight other Nobel Peace laureates taking part are the Dalai Lama, former Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and former South African leader F. W. de Klerk. Other prominent participants include Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and former German President Richard von Weizsaecker. Forum 2000 closes on 6 September. SLOVAK PREMIER WANTS EARLY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. Vladimir Meciar told Slovak Television on 3 September that his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) will seek to hold presidential elections in December, some three months earlier than planned. He declined to name a candidate but said that the head of state "should not be a political president." Meciar also said that the HZDS is conducting talks about the next president with other parties. Incumbent President Michal Kovac officially ends his term of office in March 1998. He and the premier have been at loggerheads since 1994, when Kovac helped bring down a previous Meciar government. Kovac, who has the support of the opposition, has not yet announced whether he will seek re-election but has said he is considering it. Under the constitution, the president is elected by a three-fifths majority of the parliament. SLOVAK PRESIDENT NOT TO ATTEND VILNIUS CONFERENCE. A presidential spokesman told an RFE/RL correspondent on 3 September that Kovac will not attend the upcoming summit of heads of state in Vilnius because of a "very busy schedule that cannot be changed." Slovak officials have denied speculation that Kovac turned down the invitation because of the participation of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Czech President Vaclav Havel is also unable to attend because of the Forum 2000 international conference. The Czech ambassador in Vilnuis will participate instead. TURKEY SUPPORTS HUNGARY'S NATO ACCESSION. Visiting Turkish President Suleyman Demirel told his Hungarian counterpart, Arpad Goencz, that his country backs Hungary's NATO membership, Hungarian media reported on 3 September. Earlier this year, Turkey hinted that it might veto the admission of new NATO members unless its own application to join the EU was not treated more favorably. Goencz told Demirel that Hungary supports Turkey's drive to join the EU. Accompanied by a 130-strong business delegation, Demirel said the volume of bilateral trade could reach some $100 million in the future. Demirel is scheduled to address the parliament on 4 September. HUNGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CRITICIZES ANTI-ROMA DECISION. Gabor Kuncze has criticized the Satoraljaujhely local council for its recent decision to expel a group of Gypsies on charges of endangering law and order in the town, Hungarian media reported on 4 September. In a meeting with Mayor Karoly Laczko, Kuncze said the council should pass a new resolution on the issue. He added that it is regrettable that an "ethnic debate has developed in public over a serious social problem." Laczko countered that "from a distance of 270 kilometers, the minister sees many things differently from how we see [them] on the spot." Meanwhile, the government's minority ombudsman has accused the town of "local apartheid." SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE CROATIA STARTS PROCEEDINGS AGAINST WAR CRIMINALS. The Zagreb District Court on 3 September opened war crimes proceedings against four former members of a special police unit who were recently arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1997). The four exercised their right to remain silent in response to the court's questions, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. The Split-based weekly "Feral Tribune," in which the story of the crimes against Serbian civilians first appeared, has received at least one bomb threat in connection with the article. Croatian independent media noted that Tomislav Mercep, a politician and the former commander of the police unit, has not been arrested. The independent journalists added that the four accused might be able to shed light on the role of some high-ranking officials in covering up war crimes. The war crimes tribunal in The Hague has requested that Croatia provide it with information about the case of the four policemen. WESTENDORP SAYS BOSNIAN ELECTIONS WILL GO AHEAD. Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, and his deputy Jacques Klein told Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on 3 September that the Bosnian local elections must go ahead on 13-14 September. The two diplomats rejected Milosevic's call for a presidential and parliamentary vote at the same time in the Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997). The same day, Milosevic told three of the leading Bosnian Serb hard-liners -- Bosnian joint presidency member Momcilo Krajisnik, Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic, and parliamentary speaker Dragan Kalinic -- not to boycott the local elections. BOSNIAN UPDATE. The U.S. State Department on 3 September announced that SFOR will retake the television transmitter near Bijeljina if the hard-line Serbs break the agreement whereby SFOR recently returned the facility to police loyal to Radovan Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997). In Bern, the Swiss government stated that Karadzic has no bank account in Switzerland. In Sarajevo, a bomb exploded near Roman Catholic Church offices, but no injuries were reported. And in the east Slavonian town of Vukovar, a bomb went off near the post office. ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES SWEEPING PRESS LAW. All parties in the parliament voted for the new press law on 4 September, Albanian state television reported. The new law states simply that "the press is free" and "the freedom of the press is protected by law." The October 1993 press law had restricted journalists' access to information, allowed for confiscation of publications on vague grounds, and provided for large fines on editors publishing "punishable material." Meanwhile, U.S. and Albanian jurists told RFE/RL that the recent changes in the statutes of state radio and television on regulating use of news air time are not clearly formulated and hence will allow much room for interpretation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1997). ALBANIAN FORMER PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER IN HOSPITAL. Pjeter Arbnori was taken to the hospital in a critical condition on 3 September, some two weeks after launching a hunger strike, "Dita Informacion" reported. Doctors said, however, that his life is not in danger. Arbnori is demanding that the opposition be legally guaranteed one-third of political news air time. Meanwhile, a bomb went off outside a lawyers' office in Tirana and destroyed a small shop on 3 September, but nobody was injured, "Koha Jone" reported. There is no information yet about the possible motive. Eye witnesses told RFE/RL that another bomb exploded later that day in central Tirana, but there are no reports of injuries or damage. Also on 3 September, police found a cache of arms, including machine guns and hand grenades, in the house of a former presidential guard who committed suicide after committing a murder, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. PURGES IN ALBANIAN MILITARY? The government has sacked a number of high-ranking officers and is expected to appoint replacements soon. Defense Minister Sabit Brokaj recently asked the country's 25 generals to resign. A NATO military adviser, however, told RFE/RL on 4 September that Western governments have urged the Albanian government not to conduct political purges in the military. The advisor added that the Albanian army is too large and that a similar-sized NATO country would have only one general. ROMANIA TO LIMIT DEBT PURCHASES BY FOREIGNERS? The "Wall Street Journal Europe" reported on 3 September that Romania may limit the amount of its debt that foreigners can purchase. The newspaper cited what it called an "advance copy" of a government decree. It said stockbrokers would have exclusive rights to sell Treasury bills to non-resident foreigners and that the Finance Ministry could impose limits on the amount sold to them. The decree reportedly would impose a 1.5 percent tax on foreign purchases of Bucharest's three-month and six-month Treasury bills. The "Wall Street Journal Europe" said the decree is likely to be enacted within the next few days. CHISINAU CONDEMNS FOREIGN PRESENCE AT TIRASPOL ANNIVERSARY. The Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned parliamentary deputies from other countries who joined in Tiraspol's 2 September Independence Day celebrations. In a statement issued 3 September, the ministry said leftist politicians from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine have complicated the situation in the breakaway region by encouraging the idea of independent statehood for the self-proclaimed Transdniestr Republic. The statement singled out Oleg Mironov, a Communist Party deputy in the Russian State Duma, who was quoted by the Infotag news agency as saying that "Russia is interested in the Transdniestrian Republic's existence and will promote its international recognition." BULGARIAN BUSINESS BLOC EXPELS TWO MEMBERS. Two parliamentary deputies from the Bulgarian Business Bloc were expelled from the party on 3 September by party leader George Ganchev, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The Business Bloc now has 10 deputies in the National Assembly, the minimum stipulated by law for the existence of a parliamentary group. Ganchev accused one of the expelled deputies, Christo Ivanov, of having worked as a secret agent in the Soviet-era Security Service. Ivanov told a press conference after his expulsion that Ganchev had accepted a $100,000 campaign contribution earlier this year from the controversial business group Orion, which reportedly has close links to Socialist ex- Prime Minister Zhan Videnov. Ivanov and the other expelled member of parliament, Christo Petrov, have become independent deputies. END NOTE EU RETHINKS ITS FUNDING TO EAST by William Echikson The European Union set up its TACIS and PHARE programs five years ago to aid the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. When the two programs were launched, they focused on providing emergency food and transport aid. Since then, they have expanded and evolved to embrace hundreds of separate projects in 25 countries. Recent reports, however, criticize their effectiveness. Under a mandate from the European Parliament, independent consultants prepared so-called interim evaluations in August. At the same time, the EU's Luxembourg-based Court of Auditors carried out audits of the two programs. Significant overlap was uncovered in the two aid programs. In theory, PHARE helps Central and Eastern Europe, while TACIS is designed for the former Soviet Union, except for the Baltics. But in practice, the two often duplicate each other. Worse, almost two-thirds of the aid money goes to highly paid Western consultants, including wealthy multi-national consulting and accounting groups. Those expensive consultants do not even record their working hours, the Court of Auditors complained. In particular, consultants working in Ukraine did not bother "to warn their superiors of the alarming situation in the nuclear-power stations." The auditors found that, because of the heavy use of consultants, the aid money produced few concrete, lasting results. "About 80 percent of PHARE projects managed on a decentralized basis are spent on contracts for services, supplies, or work," the report concluded. Also, EU officials prefer to stay in comfortable Brussels rather than resettle in the countries receiving the aid. The supposed benefactors of the EU's are furious. One Russian member of parliament told EU investigators. "TACIS programs are supervised now by foreign specialists whose work is paid at the expense of funds allocated for our country.... In fact, TACIS [is helping solve] the problem of unemployment in the EU." Bureaucratic bumbling means that much money approved by the EU's political leaders is never spent. PHARE still has not managed to disburse $2.2 billion. Nonetheless, PHARE's budget is scheduled to rise from $1.4 billion in 1997 to $1.76 billion in 1999. TACIS's budget is about half that amount, even though the countries in TACIS are more backward than their neighbors in PHARE. But the EU Court of Auditors noted in its report that only a third of the $180 million allocated to improve Ukrainian nuclear safety has been disbursed. Months are needed to get EU programs up and running, but many of the countries receiving the aid are moving fast toward market economies. The EU's TACIS Interim Evaluation report acknowledged that "most projects are outdated even before the tenders make their bids and strategy proposals." At the same time, it notes that "poor projects are rarely terminated." Only 10 TACIS projects were canceled owing to poor performance. But 80 programs were able to run their full course, despite signs they had failed to reach their interim objectives. The two programs are funding too many separate projects, the report concluded. PHARE and TACIS official are pledging to change their ways in response to such criticism. "This is a wake-up call," an unnamed PHARE official admitted. "We realize that our program has to be revised." PHARE officials say that in the future only projects costing more than $2.2 million will be approved in the hope that fewer larger projects will be easier to control than numerous smaller ones. Instead of continuing to divide funds into 13 areas, PHARE will focus on funding infrastructures. For example, the main Berlin to Warsaw highway will be improved. Up to 70 percent of the overall program will be spent on such projects. A second priority will be preparing Central and Eastern European recipients to join the EU. Money will go toward computerizing customs facilities and upgrading other public institutions to meet EU standards. The poor -- or even nonexistent -- image of the two programs has also been sharply criticized. Some PHARE and TACIS officials would like to change the programs' names to something more recognizable, such as "Europa." When the Rowland Company's contract to promote the two programs ran out this summer, a new public relations firm was hired for the job. The author runs the Brussels-based East-West news agency. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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