|The fool wonders, the wise man asks. - Benjamin Disraeli|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 136, Part II, 10 October 1997
A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part II, a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Part I covers Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * MOSCOW AGAINST ISOLATING BELARUS * UN POLICE ACCUSE BOSNIAN CROATS OF COVER-UP * SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WANTS JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE End Note : GAZPROM'S PLANS STRAIN RUSSIAN-BULGARIAN RELATIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE MOSCOW AGAINST ISOLATING BELARUS. Sergei Prikhodko, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's international affairs adviser, told Interfax on 9 October that "Russia categorically rejects all attempts to isolate Belarus from the rest of the world." Prikhodko said that Russian diplomats sought to have Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka invited to the Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg, even though Belarus lost its special observer status earlier this year. But some Russian newspapers appear to have taken a different stance. The weekly "Moskovskie novosti," for example, published a photograph of the Belarus president under the headline "An Undesirable Alien." BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON ORT... Alyaksandr Lukashenka lashed out at an Russian Public Television report that suggested Minsk released ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet as a result of pressure from Russian President Yeltsin, Interfax reported on 9 October. "If somebody's opinion was taken into consideration," Lukashenka said, "it was that of Patriarch Aleksii II." He added that Belarusian law enforcement agencies had also taken into account a request from Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, an influential figure at ORT. But while Lukashenka repeated that Sheremet will face trial, the Belarusian president found some common ground with ORT director-general Kseniya Ponomareva during a meeting in Minsk. Ponomareva told ITAR-TASS that Lukashenka assured her ORT will continue broadcasting in Belarus. Lukashenka also indicated that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry will not hinder the temporary accreditation of ORT correspondent Vladimir Foshenko to work in Belarus, according to Ponomareva. ...SEEKS GOOD RELATIONS WITH YELTSIN. Recent comments by Lukashenka and his spokesman suggest that Minsk may be ready to adopt a softer line in its dealings with Moscow. In an interview with the Russian magazine "Sobesednik," Lukashenka said he wants to remain friends with Yeltsin and to pursue Russian-Belarusian integration. Lukashenka's spokesman Valeriy Tolkachev told Interfax on 9 October that the Belarusians blame Yeltsin's aides rather than the Russian president himself for the recent tension in bilateral relations. UKRAINE CRACKS DOWN ON CRIME IN CRIMEA. Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko is heading a team of special criminal investigators currently in Crimea to seek the perpetrators of the recent series of high-profile, unsolved murders there, Interfax reported 9 October. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament declined to approve President Leonid Kuchma's candidate for Ukrainian prosecutor-general, Oleg Litvak, ITAR-TASS reported. Litvak, famous in Soviet times for his role as an investigator in the Uzbek "cotton case," received only 212 of the 226 votes necessary to be confirmed. ESTONIAN PRESIDENT ON EU ENTRY FOR BALTIC STATES. Addressing a Helsinki conference on EU expansion on 9 October, Estonian President Lennart Meri said he supports the rapid inclusion of the three Baltic States into the EU but is opposed to the three negotiating collectively with the union, ETA reported. Meri pointed out that EU accession negotiations have always been individual, not collective. At the same time, he stressed it is very important for Tallinn that Latvia and Lithuania begin negotiations as soon as they meet EU criteria. Meri also noted that the "development of relations with Russia is a priority for the EU," adding that "this is certainly true of Estonia, too," Interfax reported. ESTONIAN ARMY CHIEF DENIES BLAMING UNIT HEAD FOR TRAINING TRAGEDY. A defense forces spokeswoman said that, at the Riga meeting of Baltic army chiefs, Major-General Johannes Kert did not blame Jaanus Karm, the head of the ill-fated peacekeeping unit, for the September accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997), ETA reported. The spokeswoman said the press officer of the Latvian defense forces had given false information to journalists. Kert's position, she stressed, is that only the courts can convict someone for the tragedy. THREE REMAIN IN RUNNING FOR POLISH PREMIERSHIP. Jerzy Busek, Andrzej Wisznewski, and an unnamed third person are being considered by the Solidarity Electoral Action and Freedom Union coalition, Polish media reported on 9 October. In a move that will encourage Western investors, Leszek Balcerowicz, the leader of the Freedom Union and an advocate of free market reforms, has been named by many Polish media outlets as the likely deputy premier. Solidarity Electoral Action leader Marian Krzaklewski has promised to announce the new government line-up within the next few days. U.S. DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY CRITICIZES CZECHS. Frederick Pang said in Prague on 9 October that the Czech Republic has been too slow in drawing up army legislation that is essential if the Czech military is to make optimal use of its personnel. At the end of September, Czech Defense Minister Miloslav Vyborny presented the government with eight bills on the army, including one covering personnel. Pang said the U.S. will cooperate with the Czech army in the area of job descriptions, training, and wage scales in the interests of building a professional army. MOSCOW SAYS SLOVAKS TO BUY RUSSIAN ANTI-AIRCRAFT SYSTEM. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev told journalists in Moscow on 9 October that Russian experts believe Slovakia has opted for the "Russian variant" for re-equipping its military and is planning to buy the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft defense and six Ka-50 "Black Shark" combat helicopters. He said Slovakia is also interested in purchasing the Jak-130 military training plane. At least part of the military equipment is expected to be covered from the Russian (formerly Soviet) debt of $1.3 billion to Slovakia. Avdeev commented that "we expect to repay the debt to Bratislava completely in the next six to seven years, and we are planning to repay annually some $180 million." SLOVAK JUDGES QUIT IN PROTEST. The chairman and deputy chairmen of the Bratislava First District court have announced they are resigning as of 1 November, saying the independence of the courts is not ensured the way it should be," chief judge Miroslav Lehoczky told the daily "Sme." He denied that either he or his colleagues have come under direct political pressure but noted that the Justice Ministry and senior judges are dictating how the court should function. HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT APPROVES REFERENDUM. Arpad Goncz on 9 October approved the parliament's decision to hold a referendum on NATO membership and land ownership by foreign companies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997). The binding referendum is likely to be held on 16 November. The opposition criticized Goncz for not waiting for the Constitutional Court to rule on the opposition's appeal against the government-formulated questions or for verification that the 300,000 signatures opposing those questions are authentic. In other news, the government announced it is setting up a foundation to support research into the situation of ethnic minorities in Europe, Reuters reported. The foundation will start working on 1 January 1998 and will have a 50 million forints ($257,000) budget. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE UN POLICE ACCUSE BOSNIAN CROATS OF COVER-UP. The UN International Police Task Force (IPTF) in Bosnia said on 9 October that Bosnian Croat police in Mostar have withheld evidence about the 18 September bomb blast. The IPTF noted that as a result, it cannot certify the investigation into the bombing as correct. Police in Croatian-held west Mostar have not yet announced the results of their investigation into the explosion, which took place in the courtyard of the main Bosnian Croat police station, wounding dozens of people. UN spokesman Alex Ivanko said the IPTF believed that local canton Interior Minister Valentin Coric had ordered forensic evidence given to investigators from neighboring Croatia, which have no jurisdiction in the case. DRVAR POLICE SUPERINTENDENT BLASTS SFOR. Ivan Jurcevic has criticized the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) for allegedly failing to abide by a 9 October agreement between representatives of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina and local authorities in Drvar, which is administered by the Bosnian Croats. He said SFOR has refused to remove check-points outside the village of Martin Brod, near Drvar, Hina reported. As a result, he alleged, displaced Croats accommodated in Martin Brod are without food for the third day while Serbian returnees in the village are being regularly supplied with food by SFOR members. An attempt by the local church and the Red Cross to bring food to displaced Croats failed because barricades had been put up outside Martin Brod and SFOR patrols were controlling all roads leading to the village, Jurcevic said. BANJA LUKA EDITOR TARGET OF CAR BOMB. A bomb explosion destroyed a car belonging to Gordan Matrak, the editor-in-chief of the daily "Glas Srpski" in Banja Luka on 9 October in Banja Luka. No one was injured but two other cars were damaged and windows on a nearby building shattered. The Republika Srpska parliament condemned the attack in a statement saying "we do not approve of any terrorist actions against persons with different political views. We demand that political struggles be waged by political means and that all those who use force against persons with different views to theirs be dealt with by the law immediately." BANJA LUKA ACCUSES PALE POLICE OVER DERVENTA INCIDENT. The Public Security Center in Banja Luka, which is loyal to Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, has accused police loyal to Pale of causing the recent incident near Derventa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 1997). Pro-Pale police claimed to have thwarted an attempt by pro Plavsic police to occupy police stations in Derventa, Teslic, Bijeljina, and Brod. But the Banja Luka police said in a statement that it has "reliable information" that the Pale police wanted to take advantage of the "Autumn '97" military exercises for an "illegal assault into territory under the control of the Banja Luka police" between Derventa and Prnjavor, BETA reported. In a bid to prevent this, the statement continued, "strong police forces" loyal to Plavsic seized all roads west of Derventa. SERB DEMOCRATS CLAIM LOCAL ELECTION VICTORY IN BRCKO. The Pale-based ruling Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) said on 9 October that it has won in the majority of municipalities in the Republika Sprska in the recent local elections. Slobodan Kovac, the Bosnian Serb Republic member of the provisional election commission in Brcko, said 17 councilors will be from SDS, seven from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), and six from the Socialist Party of the Serbian Republic (SPRS). Of the non-Serbian parties, the Coalition for a Single and Democratic Bosnia-Herzegovina won 16 seats, the Party of Democratic Changes of Bosnia-Herzegovina seven, and the Croatian Democratic Union three. The SDS's main committee concluded that the party's greatest success was its victory in Brcko and some other municipalities where parties from the Muslim-Croatian Federation had hoped to win. SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WANTS JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. Opposition Civic Alliance of Serbia leader Vesna Pesic says she hopes discussions among opposition parties that boycotted the recent presidential elections will result in a common candidate, "Nasa Borba" reported on 10 October. She said a joint candidate would have a real chance of victory since voters cast their ballots in protest at the government rather than in support of a given party. Pesic added that the authorities must reach a clear agreement with the opposition to ensure democratic conditions in the next elections. Meanwhile, former Belgrade mayor and opposition Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told "Nais" TV that he no longer wants to be a candidate in the next presidential elections. He said he is the victim of a well synchronized campaign in the official media. U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY AUTHORIZES PARTIAL WITHDRAWAL FROM MACEDONIA. The U.S. Defense Department announced on 9 October that William Cohen has authorized that the withdrawal of 150 of the 500 U.S. peacekeepers in Macedonia start in October. The move follows a decision by the UN to decrease its peacekeeping force in Macedonia, which is composed of U.S. and Scandinavian troops, from 1,050 to 750 soldiers. CROATIAN PRESIDENT FOUNDS TRUST COMMITTEE. Franjo Tudjman on 9 October established a National Committee for the Realization of the Trust Establishment Program, Accelerated Return, and Normalization of Life in War-Ravaged Areas of Croatia, Tudjman's office said in a statement, reported by HINA The committee is to help "create a general atmosphere of tolerance and safety, establish equality and trust among all citizens of Croatia, create general social, political, security, and economic preconditions for the normalization of life, organize the return of refugees and displaced Croatian citizens, establish a democratic society and create a political framework for the implementation of legal norms in war-ravaged areas." Tudjman has nominated his deputy chief of staff, Vesna Skare Ozbolt, to head the committee. NORTH ATLANTIC ASSEMBLY MEETS IN BUCHAREST. The North Atlantic Assembly (NAA), the parliamentary arm of NATO, opened its fall session in Bucharest on 10 October--the first time the assembly has convened in a former Warsaw Pact country. At a press conference in Bucharest the previous day, NAA Secretary-General Simon Lunn said the assembly's choice of Romania for the session is "clear" recognition of that country's progress toward democracy and its will to be admitted into NATO, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana will address the meeting on 13 October. HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SUMS UP ROMANIAN VISIT. At a press conference in Budapest following his two-day visit to Romania, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said Bucharest does not consider it possible split the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj into separate Romanian and Hungarian sections but will not hinder the establishment of an autonomous Hungarian university elsewhere, an RFE/RL corespondent in Budapest reported on 9 October. At a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, in Bucharest, Kovacs said both governments are duty-bound to act against manifestations of extreme nationalism. In this connection, he mentioned "anti-Hungarian" positions in Romanian "political rhetoric" and in the media. Kovacs said the government in Budapest would take action if anti-Romanian reports were to appear in Hungary. ROMANIAN "REVOLUTIONARIES" CONTINUE PROTEST. Following their meeting with Senate Chairman Petre Roman, members of the "1989 revolutionaries" associations said they have launched a hunger strike in protest at the government's intention to change the law granting them benefits.(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 1997). Roman told the protesters he opposes the envisaged changes in the law. They agreed that a joint commission should be set up to examine the authenticity of claims about participation in the 1989 uprising. CHISINAU, TIRASPOL NEGOTIATORS REACH AGREEMENT. At the end of negotiations in Moscow from 5-9 October, experts from Moldova and the separatist Transdniester region reached an agreement, BASA-press reported. No details on the agreement were released, but observers believe it deals with the division of areas of competence. The agreement is to be forwarded to the respective leaders for final approval. MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES HOLDING REFERENDA. The parliament on 9 October debated the demands by the Socialist Unity- Edinstvo and the Communist factions for referenda on the laws on selling and purchasing land and on raising the retirement age from 60 to 65, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Socialist Unity-Edinstvo is also demanding a plebiscite on the law on the country's administrative division. Rejecting those demands, parliamentary deputy chairman Andrei Diaconu argued that the law on selling and purchasing land was passed in the summer and that the other legislation has still to be debated. He also said that the 245,000 signatures collected by the Communists in support of a referendum carry no weight since the constitution makes no provision for forcing a vote through popular support. BULGARIA TO PUNISH BAD DEBTORS. The parliament on 9 October approved a law stripping debtors of their right to bank secrecy in a bid to alleviate the country's bad loans problem, AFP reported from Sofia. The law gives Bulgarians one month to start repaying debts incurred after 1991 and sizable ones dating from 1987 to 1991. Otherwise, they face having their names made public by the National Bank. Fourteen banks crashed in 1996 under the weight of losses of $ 230 million, mainly incurred through bad loans to state and private companies. Also on 9 October, the parliament passed a law to allow government departments and the State Prosecutor's office to use phone-tapping and other monitoring techniques after receiving court authorization. A law adopted in June allows such information to be used as evidence in courts. END NOTE GAZPROM'S PLANS STRAIN RUSSIAN-BULGARIAN RELATIONS by Ron Synovitz A dispute over Gazprom's plans for a Balkan pipeline network has developed into a political crisis between Sofia and Moscow. Bulgarian officials accuse Moscow of letting Gazprom's economic agenda influence foreign relations. Bulgarian newspapers go further, charging that Moscow is using the Russian natural gas monopoly's economic influence to pressure Sofia on issues such as the Bulgarian desire to join NATO and the EU. At the root of the dispute is a battle for control of pipelines that carry Russian natural gas across Bulgaria to Macedonia, Turkey, Serbia, and Greece. The disagreement has stalled construction for years of a crucial pipeline link from Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas to Greece's Aegean Sea port at Alexandropolis. Gazprom insists that the project's joint venture, Topenergy, should be given control of Bulgaria's gas pipeline network for nearly 50 years. That would essentially give Gazprom control of pipelines on Bulgarian territory because the Russian firm owns 50 percent of Topenergy and has the allegiance of the largest Bulgarian partner, the private conglomerate Multigroup. Gazprom also wants a Multigroup-owned distributor, Overgas, to be an intermediary for most Russian gas deliveries in Bulgaria. The demands have angered Sofia's pro-market government, which controls only 20 percent of Topenergy through the state- owned Bulgargaz. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's cabinet complains that a private monopolist intermediary like Multigroup would force impoverished Bulgarians to pay 30 percent more than German consumers now pay for Russian gas. Instead, Kostov wants gas deliveries in Bulgaria to be handled by Bulgargaz. Sofia also wants Multigroup subsidiaries to sell their Topenergy shares to Bulgargaz, thus raising the state holding to 50 percent. Bulgaria depends upon Russia for oil and gas, and Gazprom is the largest and perhaps most politically influential company in Russia. Allegations that Gazprom has a powerful say in Moscow's political decisions are based on the fact that Viktor Chernomyrdin headed the firm from its creation in the late 1980s until he became Russian prime minister in 1992. Meanwhile, many companies under the Multigroup umbrella are reported to have been started by Sofia's totalitarian-era ruling elite in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Headed by alleged Soviet-era Bulgarian Intelligence Service agent Iliya Pavlov, Multigroup has been accused of draining the Bulgarian economy by plundering assets of state firms through hidden privatization schemes. The late Andrei Lukanov also has been closely linked to Multigroup. Lukanov, a former Communist Party Central Committee member, became Bulgaria's first post-communist premier after helping orchestrate the fall of dictator Todor Zhivkov in November 1989. Some three years earlier, Lukanov's friendship with Chernomyrdin helped him negotiate a cheap gas supply contract that continued until early this year. The contract benefited firms like the state steel maker Kremikovtzi, by far the largest Bulgarian consumer of Russian gas, and the private Intersteel Ltd., a Multigroup subsidiary that has profited from conducting Kremikovtzi's trade operations. Lukanov was also Topenergy's first board chairman, a position that he held until a few months before his assassination by an unknown gunman in Sofia on 2 October 1996. His successor at Topenergy was Multigroup's Pavlov. Recent editorials in the Sofia press have exacerbated tensions by charging that Gazprom is trying to retain a monopoly on the gas market for both itself and its Multigroup partners in order to give Moscow leverage over the political situation in Sofia. Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Leonid Kerestedjiantz has called the articles "organized harassment." But Prime Minister Kostov and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova have both said they are feeling pressure from the Russian government. Mihailova has urged Moscow not to confuse economic disputes with political relations. Ivan Krastev, a political scientist in Sofia who sometimes advises the government, says Gazprom is trying to implement a calculated plan that threatens Bulgarian independence on issues like NATO and European Union membership. He argues that a Gazprom- backed intermediary would allow Russia to limit the sovereignty of small countries by raising gas prices or refusing to deliver supplies. He calls the scenario the "doctrine of Vyakhirev," in reference to current Gazprom Chairman Rem Vyakhirev. Gazprom and Bulgargaz have so far failed to reach agreement on a new gas contract. The Bulgarian Interior Ministry has accused Gazprom of trying to "blackmail" Sofia with high prices. Moreover, relations have been strained further by Sofia's recent refusal to invite Russia to talks with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and defense officials from eight southeastern European countries. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov refused to meet Mihailova in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. Primakov's spokesman said Bulgaria tried too late to arrange the meeting. But Mihailova's spokesman says Sofia tried repeatedly to confirm a meeting that had been agreed in advance. The author is an RFE/RL news editor. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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