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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 164, Part II, 20 November 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 EUROPE: Has The West Embraced The East? -- a five-part series about Europe's multilateral organizations and whether and how they've aided the integration of Central and Eastern Europe with the West -- is online at the RFE/RL Web site. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/multilateral/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * LUKASHENKA TIGHTENS CONTROL OVER PRIVATE FIRM * SLOVAKIA MOVES TO MEET EU DEMANDS * ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TO CLAMP DOWN ON PYRAMIDS End Note LUKASHENKA PLAYS POPULIST CARD AT HOME AND IN "NEAR ABROAD" xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE LUKASHENKA TIGHTENS CONTROL OVER PRIVATE FIRMS. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a degree giving government bodies the right to intervene in the affairs of private joint-stock companies, Interfax reported on 19 November. The decree means that the government will be able to force firms to remain open even if they are unprofitable. As a result, Belarus will become even more unattractive for Western investors. PG KUCHMA SEES OFF UKRAINIAN COSMONAUT. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was in Florida on 19 November to watch the launch of a U.S. shuttle carrying the first Ukrainian cosmonaut, Leonid Kadenyuk, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Kadenyuk, who will conduct botanical experiments during the 16-day flight, is part of a growing U.S.-Ukrainian space cooperation program. Meanwhile, Ukrainian and U.S. military personnel began a computer simulation of peacekeeping in the imaginary republic of Govinia as part of the "Peace Shield 97" exercises between the two countries. PG UKRAINIAN GROUPS LAY CLAIM TO NAZI GOLD. Two Ukrainian organizations representing victims of the Nazi occupation of their country released a communique to Western journalists asserting their right to part of the Nazi gold deposited in Swiss banks. "Not all the stolen goods belonged only to Jews," the release said, asserting that "goods and jewelry from Ukrainian prisoners were confiscated and once dead, their gold teeth were torn out." PG PILOTS STRIKE CRIPPLES UKRAINE'S DOMESTIC AVIATION. Pilots of Ukraine Airlines, who have been on strike since early November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 1997), stepped up the pressure on 19 November by picketing the parliament, Ukrainian media reported. The pilots are demanding the payment of back wages as well as increased salaries and better pensions. Their strike has shut down virtually all domestic flights and some routes to Eastern Europe as well. PG ESTONIAN OPPOSITION SABOTAGES BUDGET DEBATE. Opposition deputies used their slim majority at the 19 November parliamentary session to vote into the 1998 budget bill several amendments that would result in a 220 million kroon ($15.7 million) deficit. Ethnic Russian deputies supported that move because one of the amendments provided more funds for Estonian-language teachers in Russian schools. The reading of the bill was suspended two hours after the session began. Under Estonian law, the state budget must be balanced. JC ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS STATE LANGUAGE LAW. Lawmakers on 19 November passed amendments to the language law requiring parliamentary deputies and local government officials to prove knowledge of the Estonian language if they do not have at least elementary schooling in Estonian. The amended law also allows the government to regulate the use of the state language in the services sector. All six ethnic Russian deputies voted against the amendments, claiming they contradict the constitution and international conventions. The law is to go into force on 1 January 1998. JC LATVIAN RULING PARTIES CLING TO COALITION ACCORD. Faction leaders of the coalition parties have rejected President Guntis Ulmanis's 18 November call to revise the government cooperation agreement, which, he said, is acting as a brake on the process of naturalizing non-citizens. They stressed, however, that they support discussing other ways to amend the citizenship law in order to speed up that process, BNS reported on 19 November. Under the government coalition agreement, the citizenship law can be amended only with support of all coalition parties. The Fatherland and Freedom party remains strongly opposed to such a move. JC LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS LAUNCH CAMPAIGNS. The seven candidates for the December presidential elections went on nationwide television on 19 November to present their election programs. Leading the field in recent polls are former Prosecutor- General Arturas Paulauskas and Valdas Adamkus, a U.S. citizen of Lithuanian origin. Parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis has placed a distant third, while incumbent President Algirdas Brazauskas is not running for re-election. All candidates are entitled to access to state-run media and to raise money for their campaigns. JC POLES SEEK SECURITY. Marek Siwiec, the chief of the Polish presidential National Security Bureau, met with Russian officials in Moscow on 19 November, Interfax reported. Polish Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz met with his visiting Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, the same day to seek closer military cooperation between their countries, Polish media reported. And Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek met with his German and French counterparts in Germany. The three agreed to a summit among the leaders of their countries in early 1998. PG WILL POLAND PAY ITS FOREIGN DEBTS ON TIME? Marian Krzaklewski, the leader of the Solidarity faction in the parliament, said Poland should renegotiate its debt repayments in order to finance the clean-up following the summer floods and to make necessary social reforms. His statement contradicts the positions of Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, the leader of Solidarity's coalition partner, Polish media reported. Balcerowicz and his Freedom Union say any suggestion that Poland may fail to pay what it owes would undermine foreign confidence in its economy. PG SLOVAKIA MOVES TO MEET EU DEMANDS. Lawmakers on 19 November voted to allow members of the opposition to sit on committees overseeing the country's intelligence services, thus meeting an EU demand. The previous day, the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee had sharply criticized Slovakia for its lack of democracy. It proposed that Slovakia should not be included in the first round of negotiations for EU membership until it makes a number of changes, including opposition participation in those committees. PG HUNGARIAN SCREENING PANEL CALLS FOR SPEAKER'S RESIGNATION. A panel of judges investigating the communist past of Hungarian top officials has called on parliamentary speaker Zoltan Gal to resign within 30 days. If he does not comply, his activities under the communist regime will be made public. The panel found that Gal received information from the notorious III/III domestic secret service while serving as deputy interior minister from December 1987, as state secretary from May 1989, and as acting interior minister from January 1990, Hungarian media reported. Gal has refused to resign, saying the ruling does not contain anything about which the public is not already aware. He added that he was twice elected to the parliament, although the country knew about his past. MSZ HUNGARY, CROATIA TO IMPROVE ECONOMIC COOPERATION. Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn and his visiting Croatian counterpart, Zlatko Matesa, agreed in Budapest on 19 November to step up economic cooperation. Horn expressed dissatisfaction with the small number of Hungarian companies involved in Croatia's privatization process and infrastructure development. He also said Budapest has a strong interest in using the port of Rijeka and in building a Rijeka-Zagreb-Budapest highway. Matesa told reporters that war refugees in Hungary can return to Croatia next summer. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE PLAVSIC "WELCOMES" BACK MUSLIMS, CROATS. Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, meeting with Sadako Ogata, the UN high commissioner for refugees, in Banja Luka on 19 November, said that Croatian and Muslim refugees are "welcome" to return. Ogata noted that "real peace will not come while people are still displaced." Plavsic's position in recent months has been that refugees may return once all Serbs living in temporary shelters have received homes of their own. During the war, Banja Luka was known as "the heart of darkness" because of the ruthlessness with which Serbs drove Croats and Muslims from the region. PM BOSNIAN SERB ELECTIONS SET TO GO AHEAD. Robert Frowick, the head of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission, which will supervise the 22-23 November Bosnian Serb parliamentary vote, said in Banja Luka on 19 November that he expects the elections to go ahead without any difficulty. In Sarajevo, an EU spokesman said the union will spend $1.4 million to help make the vote a success. The EU will fund the work of 600 short-term monitors as well as 134 longer-term personnel, who will stay on through mid-December to complete the final tally. PM CHARGES OF MASSIVE FRAUD IN BOSNIA. Muslim authorities may have diverted millions of dollars this year to illegal agencies, including an Iranian-trained spy network, the "Los Angeles Times" wrote on 20 November. European investigators called the diversion of funds through fraud and tax evasion "systematic and almost routine." Muslim officials deny the charges, which international officials in Sarajevo have also made (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 14 November 1997). Meanwhile in London, "The Guardian" reported that an official of the British charity Medjugorje Appeal sent troop carriers, hand-cuffs, and other military or police equipment to the Bosnian Croat militia during the war. PM MIXED SIGNALS ON CROATIAN TV REFORM. The parliament on 19 November rejected an opposition request to place a discussion of the television law on the legislative agenda, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. The opposition and a group of prominent radio and television journalists, known as Forum 21, recently called for the government to loosen its control over the electronic media. Meanwhile, top officials of state-run television (HTV) discussed reform with members of Forum 21. The reform-minded journalists said they were "pleasantly surprised" by HTV's receptiveness to their proposals, "Novi List" wrote. PM OSCE WANTS OPEN CROATIAN-YUGOSLAV BORDER. Spokesmen for the OSCE mission to Croatia said in Zagreb on 19 November that successful integration into Croatia of eastern Slavonia's Serbs will depend heavily on whether Croatia observes agreements allowing local residents free movement between Croatia and Serbia. UN authorities, which administer eastern Slavonia, said Croatian regulations on travel documents will go into effect on 1 December. After that date, Yugoslav citizens must have a Croatian visa or papers proving they live in the border area in order to enter eastern Slavonia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. PM CHINA DENIES YUGOSLAV MISSILE SALE. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing on 20 November denied reports in the Belgrade "Nedeljni telegraf" the previous day that China agreed to sell Yugoslavia an unspecified quantity of GSSM intermediate-range ballistic missiles and Red Arrow-8 anti-tank missiles during the recent visit of President Slobodan Milosevic. The spokesman said "the report on so-called sales of weapons by China in the Yugoslav media is not correct. China is not prepared to sell such kinds of weapons to Yugoslavia." The Belgrade newspaper said Milosevic agreed to pay for the weapons by spending $5.8 million to build a fruit processing plant near Beijing. PM SANDZAK MUSLIMS TO HAVE OWN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. Sulejman Ugljanin said on behalf of the List for Sandzak coalition in Novi Pazar on 19 November that Yugoslavia's Muslims will field their own candidate in the 7 December Serbian presidential elections. Ugljanin added that no Serbian candidate has a platform that addresses Muslim concerns. Ugljanin's announcement indicates that there is little chance that Serbia's Muslim minority will vote for an opposition candidate against Milosevic's candidate Milan Milutinovic or Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj. Kosovo's political leaders have already said Serbia's ethnic Albanians will boycott the vote. PM ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TO CLAMP DOWN ON PYRAMIDS. The parliament on 19 November amended the constitutional law to allow the government to audit and administer private companies if the government concludes that their activities "endanger or harm the economic interests of the citizens," Albanian Television reported. The move came after the Constitutional Court ruled that the new pyramid transparency law violates the right to private ownership of businesses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 1997). Some legal experts fear that the parliament's move may set a precedent for the legislature to change the constitutional law every time a conflict with the Constitutional Court arises. The court can strike down ordinary laws, but not a constitutional change approved by the parliament. FS BRITAIN REFUSES ALBANIAN DIPLOMATS ASYLUM. British authorities on 19 November turned down requests for political asylum by outgoing Albanian ambassador Pavil Mihal Qesku and his deputy Fillakti Piro. The BBC reported that London does not feel that the two will face political persecution if they return to Albania. PM MAJOR DONORS PRAISE ROMANIAN ECONOMIC REFORMS. Following a 19 November meeting with Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara and other government officials, the G-24 group and the World Bank praised Romania's commitment to economic reform and pledged continued financial support, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. Reuters the same day cited an IMF statement saying the IMF is ready to soon release the third tranche of the $415 million credit agreed on in April. Meanwhile, the Romanian National Bank on 19 November announced that the country's foreign debt is $7.7 billion. Of that sum, $2.8 billion is owed to international financing institutions and $3.2 billion to private banks abroad. MS ROMANIAN DEPUTY TO LOSE IMMUNITY? The Judicial Commission of the Chamber of Deputies on 19 November voted to recommend that the house lift the immunity of Gabriel Bivolaru, a deputy from the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR). Bivolaru is suspected of having forged documents to obtain bank credits for himself and for companies with which he is associated, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A similar request to lift Bivolaru's immunity was rejected by the chamber earlier this year, but the Prosecutor-General's Office says new evidence has emerged since then. The PDSR said it will not oppose lifting Bivolaru's immunity this time. MS MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SETS ELECTION DATE. Petru Lucinschi on 19 November signed a decree stipulating that the next parliamentary elections will be held on 22 March 1998. The decree follows the recent decision of the Constitutional Court ruling that the legislature's mandate ends on 27 February (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1997). Lucinschi's decision was welcomed by the pro-presidential Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova (PMPD), the opposition Democratic Convention of Moldova, and the Socialist- Unity-Edinstvo faction. In other news, the extra parliamentary Moldovan Civic Party on 19 November announced it has joined the PMPD, BASA- press reported. MS MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS BILL ON NATIONAL PROPERTIES REGISTER. The parliament on 19 November rejected a government- proposed draft law setting up a national properties register. The register is among the conditions for the IMF and the World Bank to continue extending loans to Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1997). Under house regulations, the draft cannot be debated again during the current parliamentary session because it was rejected in the first reading. MS END NOTE LUKASHENKA PLAYS POPULIST CARD AT HOME AND IN "NEAR ABROAD" by Christopher Walker While many in the West have focused on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's systematic crackdown on political opponents and independent media in Belarus, there is a potentially more destabilizing development that could create serious problems far beyond Belarus. As he holds back his own country's progress by ignoring the need for economic and social reforms, Lukashenka appeals to his countrymen's worst fears by using the difficulties posed by reform in other former Soviet republics, Russia in particular, to justify his course at home. Moreover, he is doing his best to peddle a similarly seductive and possibly explosive populist message to the economically disenfranchised within Russia. To this, he adds a dose of Soviet nationalism and pan-Slavic revisionism. Within Belarus, Lukashenka has used his overwhelming control of state-run media to make a simple, yet effective populist appeal to his core constituency outside urban centers. That constituency is, in fact, a "captive" audience. With only a handful of weakened independent or opposition newspapers publishing in Minsk, it is difficult for those outside the capital to receive alternative information. In Minsk, there is a palpable feeling of being cut off. Even at major hotels, one is unable to find a Western newspaper or magazine. According to Lukashenka's prescription for reform, changes are necessary but he himself will manage to make changes differently. Or, as Lukashenka himself puts it, Belarus is taking all of the "best things" learned from Russia's reform experience and discarding the "worst." But what he is unable to explain is how in the long term Belarus will function among its neighboring states that have advanced through the toughest stages of the reform process. With all of its warts, the Russian reform process has advanced to the point where most observers believe the results achieved to date have taken root. Clearly, a major shift in the Russian domestic political landscape may change that belief. By exploiting the anxieties of the Russian masses, Lukashenka is a politician who may make an impact in Russia. There has been significant speculation about Lukashenka's ultimate ambition on the Russian political scene and how he hopes to achieve his objectives. For Moscow, dealing with the peculiar reality of Russian- Belarusian integration is a delicate political issue. In many ways, Belarus, together with Armenia, is Russia's last genuine ally. Few politicians in Moscow are prepared to take on directly the charismatic Lukashenka for fear that it could be perceived by the Russian domestic constituency as a slap in the face of an ally. At the same time, the Russian leaders who suffer the brunt of Lukashenka's criticism are those who have led Russia's economic reform process, namely Boris Nemtsov and Anatolii Chubais. His attacks on those leading Russian reformers will only make the job of continuing reform in Russia more difficult. While in Belarus, the recent campaign against corruption may in fact be a tool for settling internal political scores, it also serves as a populist instrument to underscore the fact that many in the Russian business and political elite have been able to enrich themselves during the transition. Ironically, by accepting Lukashenka's unworkable prescription now, Belarusians will certainly face more painful economic and social dislocation in the foreseeable future, when the present approach proves no longer sustainable. Few Belarusians can imagine domestic political life without their autocratic president; some may not want to imagine it. But the house of cards Lukashenka is busy building may collapse more quickly than expected. In the meantime, he is pursuing domestic and international policies that may ultimately destabilize the region. By telling these economically and socially dislocated constituencies what they desperately want to hear, but not what is necessary to improve their material condition in the long term, Lukashenka is setting a trap into which unsuspecting Belarusians-- and Russians--may fall. While many Belarusians may be unable to imagine life without Lukashenka, Western observers may not fully appreciate the disturbing possibility of his influence becoming more pronounced in Russia. As one Belarusian journalist in Minsk put it, "Outside Belarus, people underestimate Lukashenka; inside the country, [Belarusians] overestimate him." The author is manager of programs of the Connecticut-based European Journalism Network. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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