|Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. - Vladimir Nabokov|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 171, Part II, 3 December 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 * CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WANT NEW ELECTIONS * MILUTINOVIC REMAINS FIRM ON "SERB JERUSALEM" * ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLED End Note MISUSE OF MEDIA LAWS IN POST SOVIET STATES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WANT NEW ELECTIONS. Stanislav Gross, the parliamentary faction leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD), announced on 2 December that his group has worked out a draft providing for new elections no later than 30 June, CTK reported. CSSD leader Milos Zeman told Czech Radio that he will meet President Vaclav Havel on 5 December to inform him about the bill. He said he believes Havel will agree to new elections when he realizes that trying to form a new coalition government is "more difficult than trying to wake up Vladimir Ilich Lenin." Outgoing Finance Minister Ivan Pilip said that the chances of rebuilding the collapsed coalition are fading but that the possibility cannot yet be ruled out. MS HAVEL TO REPLACE KLAUS AT EU SUMMIT. A presidential spokesman announced on 2 December that Havel will head the Czech delegation to the EU summit in Luxembourg on 13 December in place of outgoing Premier Vaclav Klaus. The spokesman said Havel consulted his doctors before taking that decision. On 13-14 December, Klaus will be attending an extraordinary congress of his Civic Democratic Party, which is to decide on the future of the party's leadership. MS UKRAINE WON'T SIGN LAND-MINE CONVENTION--FOR NOW. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Viktor Nagaichuk said on 2 December that Kyiv will not sign the land-mine convention in Ottawa, Interfax reported. But he added that Ukraine's decision was motivated by a lack of money with which to comply rather than by opposition to the ban on land mines. Nagaichuk noted that Ukraine might accede to the agreement sometime in the future. PG BELARUS, RUSSIA AGREE TO INCREASE JOINT EXPENDITURES. Following a one-day summit in Minsk on 2 December, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Belarusian counterpart, Sergey Ling, announced they have agreed to spend $10.2 million in 1998 to promote the integration of their countries, ITAR-TASS reported. But they did not specify how those funds would be used. PG ESTONIAN OPPOSITION REJECTS GOVERNMENT OFFER. The opposition has rejected the government's offer to allocate 109 million kroons ($7.3 million) from next year's budget to finance a wage hike for teachers, ETA reported on 2 December. The two sides are due to meet again on 3 December in a bid to hammer out a compromise over the draft budget, which the opposition brought into imbalance by voting in a 200 million kroon allocation for the country's teachers. Under Estonian law, the budget must be balanced. JC RIGA AUTHORITIES QUERY REPORT ON STREET KIDS. Child protection and education authorities are calling into question a recent report claiming some 30,000 children live on the streets of the Latvian capital and engage in "begging, stealing, and prostitution," BNS reported on 2 December. Some officials suggest that a more accurate number would be 200 and say that nongovernmental institutions may have given inflated figures in a bid to receive funding. The report, published in mid-November in the Norwegian newspaper "Aftenpost," was drawn up by a group of parliamentary deputies from the Nordic states. JC LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 1998 BUDGET. Lawmakers in Vilnius have approved next year's budget, which foresees revenues totaling 6.89 billion litas ($1.72 billion) and expenditures 7.58 billion litas ($1.89 billion), BNS reported on 2 December. The budget deficit is estimated at 1.6 percent of GDP. Finance Minister Algirdas Semeta argued that the budget will be more socially oriented than in previous years. He also promised that corporate and income taxes will not be raised, although there will be increases in taxes on alcohol, fuel, and tobacco. JC WALESA PARTY REGISTERS IN POLAND. Lech Walesa, former Solidarity leader and ex-president, has officially registered his Christian Democratic Party of the Third Republic, PAP reported on 2 December. Walesa has said his party will seek to generate support among the nearly 50 percent of voters who did not participate in the last elections rather than to challenge Solidarity Electoral Action for the votes it received. The registration of his party suggests, however, that Walesa may in fact run in the next presidential elections. PG HUNGARY, BOSNIA CONCLUDE TRADE AGREEMENT. Hungarian Industry and Trade Minister Szabolcs Fazakas and Edham Bicakcic, the premier of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation, met in Budapest on 2 December and signed a trade agreement that could lead to Hungarian investments in Bosnia totaling several hundred million dollars, Hungarian media reported. Fazakas said the agreement would increase Hungarian exports to Bosnia from the current $100 million a year to $200 million or more in the future. The two leaders also discussed building a "superhighway" to connect Budapest and the Adriatic Sea via Sarajevo. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE MILUTINOVIC REMAINS FIRM ON "SERB JERUSALEM." Serbian presidential candidate and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic said in Pec on 2 December that Serbia will never give up Kosovo. "Kosovo is the Jerusalem of all Serbs, who will never be a minority in their own country. The [Albanian] separatists had better understand this. We will never allow anybody to interfere in the Kosovo issue or in our internal affairs. Kosovo is our land and will not be the subject of bargaining with anybody." Milutinovic is the candidate of a coalition led by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. France and Germany recently called upon Serbia to grant autonomy to the mainly ethnic Albanian province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 December 1997). PM SESELJ FEARS ELECTORAL FRAUD. Vojislav Seselj, the presidential candidate of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, said in Kosovska Mitrovica on 2 December that he expects to beat Milutinovic "without any problem." Seselj added, however, that he fears vote rigging in the 7 December vote, BETA news agency reported. He charged that the absence of a central body to coordinate voting lists has enabled some people to register in more than one place and that there are consequently 500,000 more names on the voting rolls than there should be. Seselj narrowly defeated Milosevic's candidate Zoran Lilic in the 21 September presidential vote, which was declared invalid because of insufficient turnout. PM KOSOVO KIDNAPPING NOT POLITICAL? The recent kidnapping of a high-ranking Serbian police official in Kosovo was the work of Serbian criminals who wanted to hold their victim for a large ransom, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). The criminals released their victim in Belgrade once they realized that he was not the man they had wanted to kidnap. Many observers had assumed the kidnapping was the work of ethnic Albanian guerrillas, who have claimed responsibility for an increasing number of acts of violence against Serbian officials and pro-Serbian Albanians this year. PM WEU WANTS NEW BOSNIA FORCE. The parliamentary assembly of the West European Union on 2 December called on WEU officials to set up a new peacekeeping force for Bosnia when SFOR's mandate runs out in June 1998. The legislators argued that the new force should have a mandate of at least three to five years and work together with U.S. and Russian peacekeepers, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The assembly also called on the WEU to set up a police force for Bosnia on the model of European police units that have served in Mostar and Albania. The legislators suggested that the WEU police unit could eventually replace the UN police currently serving in Bosnia. PM MUSLIMS, CROATS AGREE ON REFUGEE RETURN. Top officials of the mainly Muslim and Croat federation agreed in Sarajevo on 2 December that some 120,000 Muslim and Croat refugees may return to 156 villages in central Bosnia under the control of the other nationality. The federal government will make $3 million available for the project, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. In Mostar, a UN police spokesman said that Croatian authorities the previous week sacked three Croatian government officials who are married to Muslims. One of the three has since returned to work after proving that a close relative of his died fighting the Muslims in the Croatian army during the 1993 Croatian-Muslim war, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. PM CRACKDOWN ON MUSLIM EXTREMISTS IN BOSNIA. A UN police spokesman said in Sarajevo on 2 December that federal police arrested "a number" of people in central Bosnia the previous week. He added, however, that the purpose and scope of the apparent crackdown are unclear. Local media reported recently that the arrests are part of a crackdown on foreign and Bosnian Islamic militants allegedly responsible for several armed incidents against local Croats in recent months. Western news agencies added that police found two arms caches and are investigating possible links between the extremists and senior Bosnian government officials. PM SLOVENIA, EU LAUNCH $20 MILLION PROJECT. Representatives of the EU and Slovenia announced in Brussels on 2 December a $20 million program to help integrate Slovenia into the EU. The EU feels that Slovenia has made rapid progress in its transition to a market economy and no longer needs assistance to promote privatization or restructuring. The new project will focus on bringing Slovenian laws into line with EU standards as well as on promoting investments in small businesses and in environmental protection. Meanwhile in Ljubljana, electoral officials confirmed that President Milan Kucan was re-elected in the 23 November election with 55.5 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997). PM ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLED. Premier Victor Ciorbea on 2 December replaced one-third of the cabinet's members, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Daniel Daianu, chief economist of the National Bank, took over the Finance Ministry from Mircea Ciumara, who is now minister of industry and commerce. Valentin Ionescu, a former presidential counselor, is head of the newly established Privatization Ministry, while Ilie Serbanescu, a well known journalist specializing in economic affairs and a frequent contributor to RFE/RL's programs, is minister of reform. Andrei Marga, the dean of Cluj university, takes over the education portfolio. MS ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER WARNS NEW GOVERNMENT. Also on 2 December, Ciorbea told journalists in Bucharest that from now on, cabinet members will have to stop "acting like stars." He said differences of opinion must be solved within the government and not in the press, with ministers criticizing one another publicly. He added that those displaying "political infantilism" will either "find themselves out of the government" or he will submit his resignation, bringing down the entire cabinet. The failure to act as a unified team was one of the main reasons for the difficulties encountered by the government until now, Ciorbea commented. The premier noted that although he is not required to do so by the law, he will ask the parliament to approve the cabinet reshuffle on 4 December. UKRAINIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO TRANSDNIESTER? A Ukrainian peacekeeping unit will soon be stationed in the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 2 December, citing the Russian-language pro-governmental daily "Nezavisimaya Moldova." The daily said that Russia, which previously opposed the stationing of the Ukrainian troops, has changed its position following the recent visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol of Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Anatolii Adamishin. The newspaper also commented that separatist leader Igor Smirnov hopes that the presence of the Ukrainian peace-keepers will result in a competition for influence in the Transdniester between Moscow and Kyiv. Moldovan presidential adviser Anatol Taranu, who heads the Chisinau team in the parleys with Tiraspol, said Moldova is ready to accept the Ukrainian contingent in order to "once more demonstrate its good will and readiness to accept a compromise." MS BULGARIAN PREMIER SEEKS CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE. Ivan Kostov on 2 December said the constitution should be amended to make judges and prosecutors more accountable, Reuters reported. Under the present system, they are immune from prosecution and discipline even if they fail to fulfill their duties. Moreover, their appointment cannot be revoked. Kostov suggested that constitution be amended to make it possible for the Supreme Judicial Council to discipline magistrates if necessary. MS MISUSE OF MEDIA LAWS IN POST SOVIET STATES by Yasha Lange The countries of the former Soviet Union have all adopted constitutions that contain such pious phrases as "everyone is guaranteed the right to free expression of one's own views and ideas." In reality, media freedom remains a distant prospect in some of those countries. Laws alone cannot change that state of affairs. Worse, laws sometimes limit, rather than safeguard, freedom of expression. Laws on defamation--or "harming the reputation of citizens"-- are such examples. In addition, there are the provisions of the press law itself (on the obligations of journalists), of the civil code (on the protection of the dignity and reputation of citizens), and/or of the criminal code (on punishment for insulting officials or for slander). Azerbaijan has a special law "on the honor and dignity of the president," which provides for the punishment of those damaging the reputation of the head of state. The Ukrainian law "on the protection of the dignity and business reputation" of legal entities and individuals allows those subjects to appeal to a court to demand the retraction of, or compensation for, allegedly defamatory or inaccurate information. While adequate libel laws are clearly necessary, no country needs overly broad legislation protecting the reputation of officials or the head of state. On the contrary, the European Court for Human Rights has ruled that public figures (meaning politicians, among others) cannot expect the same protection as the public at large and will inevitably come under greater scrutiny. In the former Soviet Union, however, legislation on defamation has all too often been used by state bodies, officials, and individuals to sue local media outlets. Those outlets have regularly had to pay very high fines. Recent findings shows that the majority of legal proceedings against the media in the former Soviet republics are for defamation. Then there are legal provisions that place restrictions on the media in order to ensure the country's security. Such provisions typically state that the media are forbidden to disclose state secrets, to call for the overthrow of the existing state, or to propagate war or racial, national, or religious intolerance. True, the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10.2) also curtails the activities of the media in the interests of national security. However, those restrictions are not nearly as far-reaching as some in the former Soviet Union. Belarus, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, for example, have a special law on classified materials. The Ukrainian law states that all information pertaining to defense, the economy, foreign relations, national security, and the safekeeping of law and order constitutes a state secret. That law also lists various subjects that must remain classified in order not to endanger Ukraine's vital interests. In Azerbaijan, two decrees "on temporary military censorship" and a parliamentary resolution provide a long list of materials deemed to contain state and military secrets. In those four countries, as well as in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, such provisions have been subject to opportunistic interpretation and have resulted in hefty fines for some media outlets. Control has also been imposed over media output. At the same time, one law is conspicuously absent in the countries of the former Soviet Union, except for Moldova, Ukraine, and the Baltics: namely, one governing the electronic media, in particular, licensing procedures and frequency distribution. For want of such a law, some governments (including Russia's) have issued decrees on the licensing of private broadcasting outlets and the transmission of their programs. However, the lack of a sound regulatory framework remains an obstacle to the development of independent broadcasting in many post Soviet states. Independent media oversight bodies could play an important role, but as yet, they are markedly absent throughout the region. The relevant authorities are directly subordinated either to the president or the government, while the executive branch reserves for itself major decision-making powers over media issues. Regime loyalists are appointed to positions of power in ministries, on committees, and within the state-owned media. There are virtually no non-political appointments. An independent judiciary could also play a valuable role. However, most legal proceedings involving journalists or media outlets are libel cases in which the press is the defendant. Rarely do journalists or media outlets appeal administrative decisions (such as not to grant a license), undue interference by the authorities, or insufficient access to information. That state of affairs indicates a lack of confidence in the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary. It also suggests that most journalists in the former Soviet Union do not believe it is possible to successfully sue government officials or challenge their decisions. The author is project manager for the East-West Cooperation Program of the European Institute for the Media in Dusseldorf, Germany. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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