|Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. - Vladimir Nabokov|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 112, Part II, 8 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/ Listen to news for 13 countries RFE/RL broadcasts to countries in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia and the South Slavic region are online daily at RFE/RL's 24-Hour LIVE Broadcast Studio. http://www.rferl.org/realaudio/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * VILNIUS MEETING HIGHLIGHTS LUKASHENKA'S ISOLATION * SERBIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCH MEDIATES BETWEEN PLAVSIC, KRAJISNIK * ALBANIA MOURNS MOTHER TERESA End Note : "THE SPIRIT OF VILNIUS" xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE VILNIUS MEETING HIGHLIGHTS LUKASHENKA'S ISOLATION. The 10 East European presidents attending the European security meeting in Vilnius on 5-6 September were virtually unanimous in denouncing Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's authoritarian rule, an RFE/RL correspondent at the meeting reported. Estonian President Lennart Meri took the lead in criticizing Lukashenka, and his sharp words were echoed not only by the East European leaders but also by representatives of Belarusian public organizations. The meeting's attitude toward the Belarusian leader was summed up by one official who told RFE/RL that "Lukashenka is the Lysenko of today," a reference to the Stalin-era agricultural researcher who largely destroyed the science of genetics in the USSR (see also "End Note" below). BELARUS TO SEEK SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH NATO. Lukashenka told the Vilnius summit on 5 September that his country will seek to negotiate an agreement with NATO similar to the ones the alliance has signed with Russia and Ukraine. He said NATO's planned expansion should not be allowed to create tension in the region and that he wants an agreement to ensure the safety of Belarus. Lukashenka accused Western governments and alliances of "double standards," saying they view integration with the West as positive but integration with the East as negative. CHERNOMYRDIN DETAILS MOSCOW'S IDEAS ON BALTIC SECURITY. Addressing the Vilnius summit on 5 September, Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin stressed Moscow's view that the eastward expansion of NATO is the "largest strategic mistake since the end of the Cold War." He said that in order to keep the Baltic states a "non- bloc region, along with Finland and Sweden," Moscow is prepared to adopt a variety of confidence-building measures for the region. Those measures include a commitment that maneuvers in Kaliningrad Oblast will be "defensive" only, the opening of a hot line between the oblast and the three Baltic military commands, the establishment of a joint military airspace control zone also involving Poland and the Scandinavian countries, and the exchange of fleet visits between those countries and Russia. All three Baltic presidents responded by stressing that their countries remain committed to joining NATO. BALTIC-RUSSIAN BORDER AGREEMENTS IN OFFING? Following bilateral meetings with Chernomyrdin in Vilnius, all three Baltic presidents said on 5 September that they expect to sign border agreements with Moscow in the near future. The absence of such accords since the re-establishment of independence has been a major obstacle to developing good relations between the Baltic States and Russia and to integrating the three Baltic countries into the West. Most Western institutions insist that the countries to be integrated do not have outstanding border disagreements with their neighbors. MISSING NUKES IN BALTICS? Chernomyrdin dismissed as "absolute stupidity" a statement by former Russian national security adviser Aleksandr Lebed that Moscow may have left behind some 100 small nuclear weapons in the Baltic States or in other former Soviet republis, BNS reported on 5 September. Speaking in Vilnius, Chernomyrdin said that Lebed's claim, which was made on U.S. television, was "totally out of the question." The Russian premier repeated assurances that "all Russian nuclear weapons remain under general and perfectly reliable control of the Russian armed forces." LUKASHENKA SAYS SOROS MUST PAY TAXES. Lukashenka told journalists in Vilnius on 5 September that the Soros Foundation in Minsk can leave Belarus but must first pay taxes. The foundation, which promotes democratic reforms in former communist states, said on 3 September it was quitting Belarus in the face of demands for tax and threats of prosecution. It said the closure of its offices in Belarus was part of a campaign to destroy civil society in the former Soviet state. The foundation noted it invested $13 million in humanitarian projects in Belarus and said it was given assurances it was exempt from taxes. The Belarusian authorities, however, are claiming it owes $3 million in taxes. EU LEADERS URGE REFORMS IN UKRAINE... Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg and current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, said if Ukraine wants to get closer to the EU, the reforms that have taken place must continue and deepen. Juncker and European Commission President Jacques Santer headed a delegation that was in Ukraine for talks with President Leonid Kuchma and other officials. The EU leaders praised Ukraine for reducing inflation and stabilizing its currency but said the country must move ahead with further economic reforms. Juncker said after the summit that the EU has a positive view about the changes that have taken place in Ukraine since 1991. But he said there is still "much to be done." ...WHILE UKRAINE PROMISES REFORMS. Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko told journalists on 6 September that economic reforms will continue in Ukraine and that Kyiv hopes to further improve its economic performance. He made the comment after signing a tax agreement with Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. The EU signed a partnership and cooperation agreement with Ukraine in 1994, replacing a trade treaty with the former Soviet Union. More than 17 percent of Ukraine's imports originate in the EU. GERMANY TO BACK LITHUANIA FOR EU MEMBERSHIP. During a private visit to Vilnius on 7 September, German Bundestag speaker Rita Suessmuth told Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas and parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis that Germany will push for Lithuanian entry into the EU, ITAR-TASS reported. Suessmuth said "it is very important" that Lithuania have "concrete prospects" for EU membership. But she warned that Vilnius will have to work hard to merit inclusion. Up to now, she said, Lithuania has not done enough, especially "in the sphere of privatizing big economic projects." LATVIA RESTRICTS USE OF FOREIGN TEXTBOOKS. Education minister Juris Celmins issued a degree on 3 September limiting the use of textbooks published abroad in the country's classrooms, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 September. The decree is likely to have the greatest impact on Latvia's Russian-language secondary schools, few of which have enough textbooks published in Latvia. They had been using texts published in the Russian Federation. If fully implemented, the decree will limit such use. POLISH HEALTH DISPUTE SETTLED. Following agreements on wage increases, Polish doctors ended a protest that had threatened to disrupt the country's health service, PAP reported on 5 September. Some 200 doctors in the southwestern province of Opole returned to work after health officials agreed to a 3.5 zloty ($1) increase over the 4 zloty they were receiving for each hour of emergency duty. Anesthetists also returned to work after signing a separate pay agreement with the Health Ministry in Warsaw. Provincial authorities had been forced to call in military doctors and recruit several others from Africa to shore up local health services following Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's announcement that the 1997 budget has no resources for wage hikes. HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS MECIAR WANTS POPULATION EXCHANGE. Gyula Horn told Hungarian Radio on 5 September that at a mid-August meeting in Gyor, his Slovak counterpart, Vladimir Meciar, suggested the voluntary repatriation of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia and ethnic Slovaks living in Hungary. Horn said he had categorically refused to discuss the topic, adding that it evokes "very sad" and "tragic" historical memories. He said he had not mentioned the matter earlier because he himself had not brought up the topic and because he is unwilling to discuss it. At a rally in Bratislava on 4 September, Meciar said he had proposed to Horn that those people who do not want to be Slovak citizens go to Hungary and live there. HUNGARY'S CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS JOIN FORCES WITH YOUNG DEMOCRATS. The parliamentary caucus of the Alliance of Young Democrats--Hungarian Civic Party's (FIDESZ-MPP) voted on 7 September to admit 11 members of the Christian Democratic People's Party's parliamentary group, which was recently dissolved. FIDESZ- MPP is now the largest opposition party in the parliament, Hungarian media reported. The 11 new members can work within FIDESZ-MPP but will not join the party. The parliament's Constitutional Committee has yet to approve the move. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE SERBIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCH MEDIATES BETWEEN PLAVSIC, KRAJISNIK. Patriarch Pavle mediated between Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, the spokesman for hard-line leader Radovan Karadzic, in Banja Luka on 8 September. The outcome of the talks is not known. Earlier, five buses left the hard-liners' stronghold of Pale carrying Karadzic supporters from eastern Herzegovina. They plan to hold a rally in Banja Luka, where Plavsic's headquarters is located. On 7 September, Banja Luka police banned rallies in that town lest they lead to violence between Plavsic's supporters and her opponents. Police spokesmen told BETA news agency that the hard-liners from the Serbian Democratic Party have not asked for permission to hold a rally. A spokesman for Plavsic said that the rally is one more attempt by her enemies to oppose her with street actions rather than by political means. PLAVSIC WANTS U.S. HELP FOR BOSNIAN SERB ARMY. A military affairs spokesman for Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 6 September that she wants the U.S. to help train the Bosnian Serb army (VRS), just as Washington has already done for the Croatian-Muslim federation's military. She made the request to a visiting delegation from the U.S. Defense Department, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Banja Luka. Plavsic's spokesman added that U.S. assistance to the VRS would convince Bosnian Serbs that the international community is treating both sides in Bosnia equally. Observers noted that such aid would further link the international community to Plavsic and promote her program to help the Bosnian Serbs overcome international isolation. U.S. involvement with the VRS would also make the VRS a more professional organization and weaken the lasting grip on it of warlords and indicted war criminals opposed to Plavsic. IZETBEGOVIC REELECTED HEAD OF MUSLIM PARTY. Delegates to the 6-7 September convention of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in Sarajevo reelected Alija Izetbegovic chair of the leading Bosnian Muslim political organization on 8 September. The 72-year-old chairman, who ran unopposed, told the convention that the party needs younger leaders. Izetbegovic added that the SDA must devote more time to social issues and transform itself "into a Bosnian variant of a Social Democratic party," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. Izetbegovic also said that Bosnia needs more tolerance and less nationalism. Observers noted, however, that, since the end of the war, his SDA-led government has removed from office Serbs, Croats, and moderate Muslims who remained loyal to Izetbegovic's government throughout the conflict. The convention is part of the campaign for the 13-14 September local elections. ACCUSED CROATIAN WAR CRIMINAL WANTS TO DEFEND HIMSELF. Nationalist politician Tomislav Mercep said on 5 September that he is willing to appear before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to deny charges by a former subordinate that Mercep was involved in war crimes against ethnic Serb civilians in 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 1997). In other news, the government announced that the 60,000 citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina living in Croatia can cast their votes in the upcoming local elections at 80 locations across Croatia. MACEDONIA ARRESTS TWO ALBANIANS FOR KILLING POLICEMEN. The Interior Ministry announced on 7 September that police have arrested two ethnic Albanians in the Tetovo area for murder. Police spokesmen said the brothers Agim and Besnik Alili had gunned down two Macedonian policemen in the village of Dolno Palciste Tetovsko. The two policemen were attempting to search the home of one of the Albanians when the other Albanian opened fire with an automatic weapon. Macedonian TV said that the brothers were illegal immigrants from Albania. Armed gangs and smugglers have frequently crossed from Albania into Kosovo and Macedonia since early this year, when law and order collapsed in much of Albania. ALBANIA MOURNS MOTHER TERESA. Prime Minister Fatos Nano on 6 September announced that Albania will observe three days of mourning for the nun, who died in Calcutta the previous day. He also said a square in Tirana will be named after her. President Rexhep Meidani said she will remain a symbol of unity and humanity for Albania, which is deeply divided along religious, regional, and political lines. Mother Theresa was born Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia, to an ethnic Albanian merchant family. She is known in Albania as "the world's most famous Albanian" and was a welcome visitor even in late communist times. In Skopje, Mayor Risto Penov said on 6 September that the city is proud to have been her birthplace and will "preserve her spiritual heritage and transmit it to future generations." In Pristina, Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova called her death a "painful loss" for Albanians throughout the world. ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT FIRES 17 GENERALS. President Meidani signed an order on 6 September sacking 17 generals but allowing them to keep their rank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 1997). A Defense Ministry spokesman denied that the sackings are politically motivated. He charged that the 17 men had "destroyed the Albanian army" during the anarchy that gripped the country early this year. The spokesman said the generals are to blame for the collapse of military discipline and for the theft of many weapons and much equipment by looters. In other news, Meidani announced on 7 September that a "national assembly" of ethnic Albanians from Albania and abroad will discuss the Kosovo question. Observers said that the new Socialist government is likely to continue its predecessor's moderate line on Kosovo. ROMANIAN POLICE CHIEF FIRED. The government on 6 September fired Gen. Pavel Abraham from his post as head of the state police force, RFE/RL's Romanian service reported. Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu accused Abraham of showing a "lack of interest in solving cases whose perpetrator was unknown." Other reasons cited for the firing include "inefficiency" and "poor results in combating crime." Abraham was appointed to the post earlier this year.. The dailies "Ziua" and "Romania Libera" have reported that Abraham received preferential loans from the state-owned foreign trade bank Bancorex. That bank is at the center of an ongoing scandal linked to the previous former communist government. DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE ENDS IN BUCHAREST. A UN conference in Bucharest on "New or Restored Democracies" ended on 5 September with a call for continued assistance for social and economic reforms, RFE/RL's Romanian service reported. In a final communique, conference participants urged the World Bank and the IMF to remain active where reforms are helping to establish democracy and free market economics. The communique was forwarded to the UN General Assembly. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a video- taped message to conference participants that the UN has every interest in strengthening democracies and safeguarding peace. BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT SAYS MINE MANAGERS 'CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENT.' A government commission on 8 September published a report saying "criminal negligence" resulted in the deaths of 10 coal miners in a recent explosion, RFE/RL's Bulgarian service reported. The commission implicated 24 to 30 managers in the 2 September blast at the Bobov Dol coal mine, about 70 kilometers southwest of Sofia. No formal charges have been filed. Seven miners were killed instantly and three more have since died from their injuries. About 20 others were injured. RFE/RL reports that miners told investigators they were sent to work near the explosion site before a gas-filled chamber had been properly ventilated. The methane gas is thought to have built up in the chamber during a one-month holiday recess. President Petar Stoyanov and Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's government reportedly are considering the closure of the mine. LUKANOV'S ASSASSINATION ORDERED FROM WITHIN BULGARIA? Bozhidar Popov, the chief secretary of the Bulgarian Interior ministry says that former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov was killed on the order of someone within Bulgaria. On 7 September, the Sofia daily "24 Hours" quoted Popov as saying that the investigation into Lukanov's 2 October1996 assassination has uncovered evidence about who commissioned the killing. He added that investigators think there was no involvement or influence from forces outside Bulgaria. Lukanov, a former Communist Party Central Committee member who helped orchestrate the 1989 coup that ousted dictator Todor Zhivkov, had been involved in business deals with Russia's Gazprom and Bulgaria's powerful conglomerate Multigroup. As the leader of a faction within the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Lukanov was also engaged in an open feud with another BSP member--former Prime Minister Zhan Videnov. END NOTE "THE SPIRIT OF VILNIUS" by Paul Goble For the first time, the countries between the Baltic and the Black Seas have found a common voice, one that will help them to integrate into the West, even as they smooth their relations with one another and with Moscow. At a meeting in Vilnius on 5 and 6 September, the presidents of 10 countries in the region sharply criticized the retreat from democratic reforms in Belarus. They stressed they want to work with both Russia and the West. And they committed themselves to broader regional cooperation. As a result, a summit originally convened to help overcome bilateral conflicts among those states was transformed into something much bigger. That development would appear to justify the claims of some of the leaders present that they will be guided by the "spirit of Vilnius" in the future. The meeting, organized by the leaders of Poland and Lithuania, attracted the presidents of Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine, as well as the prime minister of the Russian Federation. The outcome of the meeting was defined less by the individual positions that each of those leaders took than by the collective spirit they displayed on three key issues. First, virtually all the presidents were sharply critical of the increasingly anti-democratic behavior of one of their numbers, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Their outspokenness violated the usual diplomatic niceties of such sessions and indicated that the countries of the region are at least prepared to take a hard line against those who retreat from democracy and a free market economy. It also largely dispelled the fears of those who had thought Lukashenka might be able to exploit the Vilnius summit to escape his regime's current isolation on the international scene. Instead, the Vilnius meeting underlined Lukashenka's isolation from his own people, from neighboring states, and from both Moscow and the West. Not only did the leaders of the other countries speak out, but representatives of Belarusian society directly challenged Lukashenka's claims. Second, the 10 presidents indicated they want to cooperate with both East and West rather than being forced to choose between one or the other. Part of the reasoning behind that position was clearly tactical. Several leaders said they are interested in improved relations with Russia in order to improve their standing with Western governments that have made good relations with Moscow a virtual requirement for inclusion in Western institutions. But at the Vilnius meeting, there were also strategic considerations. The Baltic presidents, for example, did not react as sharply as they have in the past to Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's latest elaboration of Russian suggestions that the three rely on Moscow rather than NATO. Each calmly reiterated the desire of his country to join the Western alliance, but each equally calmly said that his country did not want involvement with the West to preclude good relations with Moscow. This approach led to a remarkable breakthrough. Following bilateral meetings with the Russian premier, each of the Baltic presidents was able to announce that he would soon be signing a border agreement with the Russian Federation, thus laying to rest a long-standing sore point in relations with Moscow. Third, the 10 presidents asserted that they want to work together precisely so that they can take responsibility for themselves rather than waiting for one or the other outside power to decide their fate, as has happened so often in the past. Two countries -- Poland and Ukraine -- offered to host a follow-up regional summit in 1999. And the representatives of several other presidents indicated they were interested in much closer consultations across the region. In the past, efforts to promote such cooperation have foundered on tensions among those countries and on the fears in both Moscow and the West that such arrangements might become a barrier to the inclusion of Russia into European institutions. But precisely because the Vilnius summit was called to avoid setting up such a barrier, this latest drive toward cooperation among the countries of the region may be more successful than its predecessors before World War Two and in the early 1990s. It has already attracted less opposition and more support from outside. Not only did Moscow not denounce it, but U.S. President Bill Clinton said it could play a useful role in "erasing the old dividing lines in Europe." To the extent that the countries of the region continue to act as they did in the Lithuanian capital, the "spirit of Vilnius" may prove a turning point not only for them but for Europe as a whole. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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