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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 139, Part II, 15 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 * SLOVAKIA'S RADIO TWIST BACK ON AIR * CROATIAN, BOSNIAN TALKS DEADLOCKED * ALBANIAN AUTHORITIES PURGE DEMOCRATS End Note : LITHUANIA'S ECONOMY SLIGHTLY LAGS BEHIND BALTIC NEIGHBORS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE SLOVAKIA'S RADIO TWIST BACK ON AIR. Independent Radio Twist resumed broadcasting on 15 October following protests by the opposition and the payment of what the Slovak Telecommunication agency said the station owed, Slovak media reported. Radio Twist co- owner Andy Hryc joined opposition parties in saying that the shutdown was politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October). Hryc promised, however, that the action will have no impact on the radio's independent stance, which has been criticized by Premier Vladimir Meciar. BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CUTS FORD'S TAX EXEMPTIONS. Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 14 October issued a decree limiting the tax exemptions for Ford Motor Company investments there to five years, Belarusian Radio reported. Earlier, Lukashenka has issued a decree, approved by the parliament, granting those exemptions without any cut-off date. In other news, Lukashenka's government has found itself in another dispute with Moscow. Minsk wants to impose highly restrictive "security fees" on the transit of cars from the West to Russia, but Russia opposes that measure, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 October. The new regulations are likely to be discussed when Lukashenka meets with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on 22 October at a summit that will also include Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev and Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akayev. UKRAINE HOPES TO SELL METAL FROM CHORNOBYL DEAD ZONE. According to Kyiv's Studio One Plus One television on 14 October, Kyiv hopes to attract private capital to pay for the retrieval and sale of thousands of tons of metal now lying in the contaminated zone around the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The television station did not indicate how the metal would be cleaned or where the funds for the project might come from. ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL LAW ON CUSTOMS TARIFFS. The parliament on 14 October approved by 61 to 21 votes the law on customs tariffs, ETA and BNS reported. In a compromise between the opposition and the governing coalition, the law allows the government to levy customs duties on specified goods for six months. Initiated by the coalition rural parties, the bill has long been a source of controversy. Advocates maintain the legislation will protect local producers and is necessary (even if the tariffs themselves are not) for Estonia's membership in the EU and World Trade Organization. Opponents say the bill will cause the price of foodstuffs to rise and will harm Estonia's image abroad. Estonia imports roughly half of its foodstuffs, of which two-thirds come from the EU. Since Tallinn has free trade agreements with Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine, the tariffs will most likely impact on food imports from the U.S., Russia, and Poland. LITHUANIA CRITICIZES BELARUS OVER ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS. Lithuanian Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Romas Kilikauskas has sharply criticized Belarus for not preventing illegal immigrants from Third World countries from crossing into Lithuania, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 14 October. Kilikauskas was speaking at an international conference in Prague on measures to prevent illegal migration to and within Europe. He noted that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka recently backed out of signing a cooperation agreement with Lithuania and other countries to prevent illegal migration across Belarus. Kilikauskas said the "vast majority" of illegal immigrants enter Lithuania from Belarusian territory. Vilnius demands the right to send them back to Belarus, he said. SOLIDARITY NAMES CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER. Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) has named the 57-year-old academic Jerzy Buzek as its candidate for prime minister, Western news agencies reported on 15 October. The previous day, the AWS and the Freedom Union denounced as "illegal" a contract signed on 12 October by the outgoing Polish government calling for the purchase of missiles from Israel worth $600 million. The two parties said they will reverse the deal after they assume power. The U.S. has strongly opposed that deal. CZECH, HUNGARIAN PRESIDENTS PLEDGE COOPERATION ON NATO. Czech President Vaclav Havel and his Hungarian counterpart, Arpad Goncz, declared in Prague on 14 October that there are "many good reasons" for their countries and Poland to expand cooperation as they move toward NATO membership, CTK reported. NATO REFERENDUM POSTPONED IN HUNGARY. The parliament on 14 October rejected the government's proposal that the 16 November referendum include only the question on NATO accession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 1997), Hungarian media reported. The opposition is insisting that the plebiscite include both the question on accession and two questions on land ownership by foreigners. Also on 14 October, the government announced it will ask the Constitutional Court to clarify whether the court's 13 October decision excludes the possibility of conducting the referendum on NATO accession alone. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter said in Budapest that it is Hungary's internal affair to choose how to demonstrate its commitment toward NATO membership. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE CROATIAN, BOSNIAN TALKS DEADLOCKED. Croatian and Bosnian negotiators failed on 14 October in Zagreb to reach an agreement on Bosnia's use of Croatia's Adriatic port of Ploce. Croatia rejected a U.S. proposal for Bosnia to have a long-term free-trade zone in the port, which is Bosnia's natural outlet to the sea. The issue has bedeviled relations between Zagreb and Sarajevo for several years. Croatian authorities fear that Bosnia may seek to annex Ploce, which Croatian politicians cannot accept. The Bosnian authorities, for their part, will not cede transit rights to Croatia through Bosnia's coastal fishing village of Neum, which bisects Dalmatia, without concessions by Zagreb over Ploce. MOSTAR CROATS REJECT ELECTION RESULTS. A spokesman for the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) said in Mostar on 14 October that his party does not accept the results of the September local elections. The spokesman said it is "absurd" that the HDZ received a majority of the total votes cast but won only a minority of the seats on the city council. Officials from the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which supervised the vote, have promised a recount. But U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Richard Kauzlarich said in Mostar that he does not expect the recount to produce different results from the first tally, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. Meanwhile in Split, "Feral Tribune" on 13 October published what it called new evidence that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman agreed with the Belgrade leadership in 1991 to partition Bosnia. U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY SAYS BOSNIAN SERBS STILL HAVE MILITARY EDGE. James Pardew told Worldnet Television in Washington on 14 October that the Bosnian Serb army (VRS) remains stronger than the Bosnian Federation's military, despite Washington's "Equip and Train" program to aid the latter. Pardew denied charges made in the former Yugoslavia and in some Western media that the U.S. program has tipped the balance in favor of the Muslims and Croats. He charged that the VRS remains superior to its rivals because it is "just an extension" of the Yugoslav military, on which it can call for assistance at any time. RUSSIA TO SUSPEND GAS DELIVERIES TO YUGOSLAVIA? Officials of the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said in Moscow on 14 October that they may suspend deliveries to Yugoslavia if that country does not pay at least part of its $250 million debt to Gazprom, Belgrade media reported. Observers noted that the suspension of gas deliveries would coincide with the onset of winter. Meanwhile, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic and Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic held talks in Moscow with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, but no details of the discussions have been released to the press. KOSOVO POLICE STATION ATTACKED. The Serbian Interior Ministry on 14 October announced that "Albanian separatists mounted an armed terrorist attack" with automatic rifles and grenades on a police station near Pec, in Kosovo. Property was damaged but no one injured. This is the third attack on that station this year and one of many armed assaults since January on Serbian government buildings in various localities across Kosovo. The Kosovo Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for most of the incidents. ETHNIC ALBANIANS SENTENCED IN MACEDONIA. A local court in Tetovo on 14 October sentenced both Mayor Alajdin Demiri and City Council President Vehbi Bexheti to two-and-a-half years in prison. The court ruled they had violated a Constitutional Court order in July by refusing to remove an Albanian flag from the city hall. The Constitutional Court had earlier ruled that only the Macedonian flag could be flown from public buildings under most circumstances. In September, ethnic Albanian officials in Gostivar were sentenced on similar charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 1997). Ethnic Albanians make up about 20 percent of the total population of Macedonia but form a compact majority in the western part of the country. SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT WELCOMES ELECTION TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL. Milan Kucan said in Ljubljana on 15 October that his country's election the previous day to a seat on the UN's most important body is a form of international recognition for what he called Slovenia's achievements in world affairs. Kucan added that his country now has both an opportunity to present its views to the world and a responsibility for international crisis spots. In the 14 October vote in New York, Slovenia beat out Macedonia for the non- permanent seat held by a country from Eastern Europe. ALBANIAN AUTHORITIES PURGE DEMOCRATS... The Democratic Party on 13 October issued a declaration condemning the sacking of university rectors and their alleged replacement by Socialist Party loyalists, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported. The Democrats claim that Prime Minister Fatos Nano himself fired the rectors in violation of the principle of university autonomy. It is unclear how many of Albania's seven rectors are affected by the apparent purge. At the National Opera and Ballet, Director Agron Xoxe began a hunger strike on 15 October to protest his dismissal, which, he says, is politically motivated. At the State Control Commission, 41 commission members were dismissed on 13 October. Meanwhile, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office has launched proceedings against some 300 people involved in recent anti- government protests. ...DROP CHARGES AGAINST FORMER COMMUNISTS. Prosecutor-General Shkelqim Gani on 14 October dropped charges against communist-era President Ramiz Alia, former Interior Ministers Hekuran Isai and Simon Stefani, and former Prosecutor-General Qemal Lame. The previous Democratic government had charged the four with genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the persecution and killing of dissidents who tried to flee the country illegally. Gani said he based his decision on a recent Supreme Court verdict pardoning all other 32 senior ex-Communists whom the Democrats had sentenced on the same charges. The Court ruled that the ex- Communists cannot be sentenced on such charges because their actions were not criminal under the law in force at the time. ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT EXTENDS INVITATION TO FORMER LEADER. Former President Sali Berisha on 14 October accepted an invitation from Nano to participate in the international aid donors' conference on Albania, scheduled to take place in Rome on 17 October. Observers said Nano extended the invitation to help offset the bad impression the government made in September when President Rexhep Meidani refused to let Berisha on the plane carrying Meidani and Italian leaders to the funeral of Mother Teresa in Calcutta. ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ON TENSIONS IN COUNTRY. President Emil Constantinescu, in an 14 October address on nationwide radio, urged the country to overcome "misunderstandings, confusion, and unnecessary tensions," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Constantinescu said Foreign Minister Adrian Severin would have to resign if his allegations on foreign agents in political parties and the media proved inaccurate. Constantinescu also referred to the ongoing hunger strike of " 1989 revolutionaries," who are protesting the government's intention to amend the law granting them various privileges. Constantinescu, who met with the protesters on 13 October, said their situation is critical and must be tackled "with maximum seriousness." He said society is indebted to the protesters and must honor their past deeds as well as help them out of their difficult economic situation. ROMANIAN PREMIER MEETS PROTESTING 'REVOLUTIONARIES.' Following Constantinescu's appeal, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea met with the protesters, Radio Bucharest reported. A spokesman for the "revolutionaries" said Ciorbea had pledged to withdraw the amendment to the law submitted earlier that day to the Chamber of Deputies. Dan Iosif, a counselor to former President Ion Iliescu and a leader of the protesters, said the protesters will end their strike only if they receive assurances that a joint commission of representatives of the "revolutionaries" and the government will examine the case of each "revolutionary" to verify that he qualifies for the privileges. Four protesters have so far been hospitalized during the nine-day hunger strike. TRADE UNIONISTS PROTEST IN BUCHAREST. Several thousand members of the Alfa trade union confederation marched in Bucharest on 14 October to protest declining living standards. Former President Iliescu and other leaders of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania joined the protest. Union leader Bogdan Hossu told Vlad Rosca, chief of the government's office for relations with the unions, that the government must take immediate measures for social protection. He said the unionists are "fed up with theoretical discussions" and with the incompetence of some ministers. Hossu handed Rosca a long list of demands, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MOLDOVAN PREMIER IN MOSCOW. Ion Ciubuc met with his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, in Moscow on 14 October to discuss the 22-23 October CIS summit in Chisinau and bilateral economic relations, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported, citing an official government press release. Meanwhile, opposition leaders accused President Petru Lucinschi of attempting to make Moldova politically and economically subservient to Russia. Former President Mircea Snegur said the holding of the CIS summit in Chisinau is proof of Lucinschi's goal. Iurie Rosca, the leader of the Christian Democratic Popular Front, said the Chisinau CIS summit and the CIS security heads' recent meeting in the Moldovan capital show Lucinschi is trying to bring about the country's " incorporation into a Russian- dominated economic, political, military, and informational sphere." MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS TRANSDNIESTER LEADER. Valeriu Pasat on 14 October met in Tiraspol with Igor Smirnov, the leader of the breakaway Transdniester region, ITAR-TASS reported. The two leaders discussed confidence-building measures in the security zone separating the two sides' troops. According to the news agency, the talks concentrated on the agreement mediated by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov during his September visit to Moldova, whereby the security zone set up in 1992 would be reduced in size. ITAR-TASS noted this would do away with the need to bring Ukrainian peacekeepers to the security zone, despite the accord with Kyiv on the presence of those troops. BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION. Bogomil Bonev told RFE/RL on 14 October that his country has developed a strategy for combating illegal immigration. Bonev, who is attending the international conference in Prague on illegal immigration, said Bulgaria has already implemented the recommendations of earlier meetings of European interior ministers on the issue. He said Sofia has harmonized the country's legislation with that of other states and introduced visa restrictions for nationals of countries considered to be sources of illegal immigration. Bonev expressed the hope that the Czech Republic will not take "hasty measures" to introduce visa restrictions for Bulgarian citizens. This was a reaction to Czech Interior Minister Jan Ruml's earlier statement that his country is considering introducing restrictions for citizens of some East European states. END NOTE LITHUANIA'S ECONOMY SLIGHTLY LAGS BEHIND BALTIC NEIGHBORS by Michael Wyzan The European Commission's decision to recommend that Estonia, rather than Latvia or Lithuania, be among those countries invited to begin EU accession negotiations has been criticized by Lithuanian officials, who claim the decision was based on outdated data. While Lithuania's economy is in some respects lagging behind those of the other two Baltic States, Vilnius is beginning to close the gap, especially with Latvia. At the end of 1996, Lithuania's economy was growing faster than Latvia's, its inflation was almost identical to Latvia's (and below Estonia's), and its unemployment rate lay between those of its two Baltic neighbors. However, it remained poorer and more dependent on trade with the CIS. And it also had a substantial budget deficit (about 3 percent of gross domestic product), while Estonia had a tiny surplus and Latvia only a small deficit. In 1996, Lithuania's GDP grew by 3.6 percent, compared with 4.3 percent in Estonia and 2.3 percent in Latvia. Consumer prices rose by 13.1 percent from December 1995 through December 1996; the equivalent figures were 15 percent in Estonia and 13.2 percent in Latvia. Unemployment in Lithuania in December 1996 was 6.2 percent, compared with 4.1 percent in Estonia and 7.2 percent in Latvia. In the same month, Lithuania had an average monthly wage of $173, Estonia $260, and Latvia $242. In 1996, 40.5 percent of Lithuania's imports came from the EU and 36.2 percent from the CIS; the equivalent figures for exports were 33.4 percent and 45 percent. By contrast, only 17.5 percent of Estonia's imports in 1996 originated in the CIS, while 25.2 percent of its exports went there. Lithuania received only $41 in cumulative foreign direct investment per capita from 1989 to 1996, compared with $516 in Estonia and $310 in Latvia. There has been little change in the countries' performance so far this year. During the first quarter of 1997, Lithuanian GDP was 2.4 percent above the level in the same period of1996--similar to Latvia's growth rate, but well below Estonia's. Lithuanian inflation in the 12 months to August 1997 was 8.7 percent, compared with10.8 percent in Estonia and 8.6 percent in Latvia. The most recent unemployment figures available are 5.4 percent in Lithuania and 7.3 percent in Latvia in August and 4.7 percent in Estonia in July. The average monthly gross wage in July was $215 in Lithuania, $250 in Estonia, and $230 in Latvia. Lithuania shares with Estonia large and growing trade and current account deficits. In the first quarter of 1997, Lithuania had a $232 million current account deficit, compared with $134 million during the same period in 1996. Through the first two quarters, the trade deficit was $825 million, whereas it was $500 million during the first half of 1996. One way to assess a country's economic development is to examine the foreign reserves of the central bank: if those funds are rising, inflows elsewhere in the balance of payments are more than making up for unbalanced current transactions. At the end of August, the Bank of Lithuania's reserves (including gold) were at a post- independence high: $1.09 billion, or the equivalent of three months of imports. Estonia has also experienced foreign-reserve growth this year, despite an even faster increase in its current account deficit. The growing current account imbalance is one of the main reasons why the Lithuanian government has decided to jettison its currency board and fixed exchange rate. IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus, visiting Vilnius on 3 October for the Bank of Lithuania's 75th anniversary celebration, described the board as a "useful straight jacket" and called for tight monetary policy once a more flexible regime is in place. If economic performance does not markedly distinguish Lithuania from Estonia, what about progress on structural reform? In assessing Lithuania's merits as a potential candidate for EU membership, the European Commission stressed poor financial discipline at enterprises, a backward agricultural sector, and a weak banking system. It also cited the need for further progress on price liberalization, large-scale privatization, enterprise restructuring, and bankruptcy proceedings. The government, for its part, stresses that privatization of all but the biggest enterprises is complete and that the financial system weathered the banking crisis in mid-1995. As a report card on the areas in need of further improvement in Lithuanian economic policy, the European Commission's assessment is useful. Less convincing, however, is its argument that Estonia is so far ahead of Lithuania (and Latvia) in those areas that the EU should begin negotiations only with the former. The author is a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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