To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else. - Emily Dickinson
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 172, Part II, 4 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

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Headlines, Part II

* BALTICS WELCOME PROPOSED TROOP REDUCTIONS IN
RUSSIA'S NORTHWEST

* CZECH COALITION PARTNERS CRITICIZE KLAUS

* TOMIC IS ACTING SERBIAN PRESIDENT

End Note
ANOTHER STEP BACKWARD IN BELARUS

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EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE

BALTICS WELCOME PROPOSED TROOP REDUCTIONS IN
RUSSIA'S NORTHWEST. The Foreign Ministries of the three Baltic
States have welcomed President Boris Yeltsin's announcement in
Stockholm that Russia is ready to unilaterally cut by more than 40
percent its ground and naval forces in the northwest of the country
(see Part I and "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1997), BNS reported.
Yeltsin said that the move is intended to promote confidence in the
Baltic region, while Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov
commented at a  press conference in the Swedish capital that
Moscow is "reaching out" to the Baltics and  "now almost everything
depends on them." This latest initiative follows Yeltsin's October
offer of security guarantees for the Baltics, which Estonia, Latvia,
and Lithuania all rejected. JC

REPORT BLAMES FAULTY DESIGN FOR "ESTONIA" SINKING. The
long-awaited final report on the 1994 sinking of the "Estonia"
passenger ferry concludes that faulty design and weak locks on the
bow door were primarily to blame for the tragedy. The report, drawn
up by an Estonian-Finnish-Swedish commission  and released on 3
December, argues that the locks should have been five times
stronger. It also suggests that the Estonian crew did not respond
quickly enough to signs of trouble and that rescue operations were
inadequate. The "Estonia" capsized off the coast of Finland en route
from Tallinn to Stockholm when high waves ripped off its bow door,
killing 852 people. The final report on the sinking was repeatedly
delayed owing to bickering within the commission and the
resignations of some of its leading members. JC

LATVIA TO CLOSE DOWN UNSAFE REACTOR. Latvian authorities
will  close down the nuclear reactor at Salaspils, some 20
kilometers from Riga, by the end of the year, BNS reported on 3
December. Safety concerns and a  lack of nuclear fuel prompted that
decision.  Antons Lapenas, the director of the Salaspils nuclear
research center, said the reactor, built in 1961, is now unsafe and
should be closed in line with International Atomic Energy Agency
recommendations. He added that $50 million will be needed for the
shutdown. JC

KUCHMA CRITICIZES EU PASSIVITY TOWARD UKRAINE.
Speaking in The Hague on 3 December, Ukrainian President Leonid
Kuchma sharply criticized the EU and most of its member countries
for failing to do more to integrate Ukraine, Ukrainian media
reported. He said this "passive" approach would have negative
consequences for both sides. Meanwhile in Moscow, parliamentary
speaker Aleksandr Moroz called for closer ties with Russia and for
the ratification of the friendship treaty between the two countries,
ITAR-TASS  reported. PG

MORE STRIKES, CORRUPTION CHARGES IN UKRAINE. Some
15,000 Ukrainian coal miners at seven mines went on strike on 3
December to press for the payment of back wages and improved
safety conditions, Ukrainian media reported.  Meanwhile, Deputy
Prosecutor-General Olga Kolinkova told Interfax the next day that
the authorities have opened 900 investigations into officials
suspected of various forms of corruption. PG

U.S. CONDEMNS BELARUS FOR MEDIA CRACKDOWN. In his regular
press briefing on 3 December, U.S. State Department spokesman
James Rubin said that Minsk's decision to close the "Svaboda"
newspaper was not an isolated incident but rather reflects a
"pattern of actions aimed at suppressing freedom of speech and
freedom of the press" there (see also "End Note" below). PG

CLASHES OVER POLISH BUDGET, EU MILK BAN. The Polish
government and its parliamentary opponents on 3 December clashed
over a new proposed 1998 austerity budget, PAP reported.  The new
budget calls for tax increases on cigarettes and fuel and
significantly cuts the size of the state budget deficit. Parliamentary
deputies were not the only ones unhappy with the new austerity
budget.  Some 1,000 farmers protested against that budget at a
Warsaw rally organized  to denounce the EU's ban on the importation
of Polish dairy products. PG

CZECH COALITION PARTNERS CRITICIZE KLAUS. Josef Lux,
leader of the Christian Democratic Union, and Jiri Skalicky,
chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance, have issued a statement
criticizing outgoing Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus for his decision to
seek re-election as leader of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). They
said the decision is likely to hamper the formation of a "functioning
government."  Lux noted Klaus's decision is "not very wise, nor
worthy of a statesman," while Skalicky complained that time is
"needlessly wasted" by the ODS contest. Meanwhile, Klaus told
reporters he is "forced by circumstance" to seek re-election. He also
announced he will sue the private Nova Television station over a
report alleging he owns a villa in Switzerland. MS

CZECH LOWER CHAMBER WANTS TO SUSPEND BANK
PRIVATIZATION. The Chamber of Deputies on 3 December approved
a resolution calling on the government to suspend the privatization
of three major banks until the government crisis is solved, CTK
reported. The resolution was submitted by Communist deputy
Svatomir Rencman and backed by the opposition Social Democrats. A
plan to privatize the three banks was approved on 19 November. But
Klaus said work on the privatization program should continue, while
noting the final decision will probably be in the hands of the next
government. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION TO  COOPERATE WITH HUNGARIAN
ETHNIC PARTIES. Five opposition parties and the Slovak
Democratic Coalition, formed by three Hungarian ethnic parties, have
issued  a joint declaration saying they will "join efforts" in
cooperating against Vladimir Meciar's government. The declaration
says the Hungarian ethnic alliance "will not push for ethnic
autonomy in either its political program or in practice," RFE/RL's
Bratislava bureau reported. President Michal Kovac told journalists
in Bratislava on 3 December that a lack of communication between
the government and the country's ethnic Hungarians is hurting
Slovakia's international reputation. He added, however, that in some
respects, the observation of rights of minorities in Slovakia is
"above standard." MS

SLOVAK PREMIER ANGRY AT MEDIA. Meciar on 3 December
announced that press conferences after cabinet meetings are to be
discontinued. That move came after  a journalist had queried the
recent appointment of Blazena Martinkova as an  adviser to Meciar,
CTK reported. Meciar also said government officials will no longer
grant interviews to journalists during state visits abroad, unless
those journalists are included in the teams accompanying them.  He
complained of the "very low cultural level of some Slovak
journalists" and of the "very low level in some Slovak media." MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT IN SLOVAKIA. At a joint press
conference in Bratislava on 3 December, visiting Bulgarian President
Petar Stoyanov and his Slovak counterpart, Michal Kovac, emphasized
that their quest for joining Euro-Atlantic structures will not impede
close cooperation with Russia. With regard to EU membership,
Stoyanov said entry talks should start simultaneously with all
associate members in order to provide an incentive for
democratization and economic reform. He also said Bulgaria will
seek Slovakia's support for joining the Central European Free Trade
Agreement. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN COALITION PACT.
Viktor Orban, chairman of the Alliance of Young Democrats-
Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP), and Democratic Forum (MDF)
chairman Sandor Lezsak have formally concluded the agreement to
run joint candidates in the spring 1998 parliamentary elections,
Hungarian media reported on 3 November. Orban said his party wants
a broad cooperation of "middle-class forces" in an effort to
guarantee freedom and welfare. Lezsak told reporters that the
alliance will seek to restore a "healthy confidence" to society.  A
"peaceful co-existence" among the different opposition forces will
foster the likelihood of removing the present coalition, he added.
Under the agreement, FIDESZ will field 42 of the 63 joint candidates
and the MDF 21. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE OBJECTS TO LAND
REFERENDUM.   The parliamentary Constitutional Committee on 3
December recommended  that the legislature vote against approving
a referendum on foreign ownership of land, despite the fact that
opposition parties have collected more than 200,000 signatures
supporting the petition, Hungarian media reported. The committee
said that if voters were to approve the opposition recommendation
to reject foreign land ownership, the parliament would have to pass
a law that was not in line with  Hungary's international
commitments. The Constitutional Court on 2 December refused to
rule whether a decision against holding the  referendum would  be
unconstitutional. MSZ

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

TOMIC IS ACTING SERBIAN PRESIDENT. The Serbian legislature
chosen in the 21 September elections re-elected  Dragan Tomic as
speaker in its opening session on 3 December. Tomic, who  belongs to
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia,
will serve as acting president of Serbia until that office is filled.
Most opposition parties boycotted the session, an RFE/RL
correspondent reported from Belgrade. Spokesmen for those parties
criticized the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement and Serbian
Radical Party for attending the meeting. PM

YUGOSLAVIA WANTS RUSSIAN ARMS. Federal Prime Minister
Radoje Kontic signed a series of economic and cultural agreements
with his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, in Moscow on 3
December. Russia will grant Yugoslavia a credit of $150 million to
purchase Russian goods. Kontic said Belgrade wants trade between
the two countries to reach a total volume of $2.5 billion by the end
of the decade. He added that Yugoslavia is especially interested in
buying advanced Russian weaponry as well as spare parts for
Russian-made arms currently used by the Yugoslav military, RFE/RL
reported. PM

RUSSIA TO JOIN NEW BOSNIAN FORCE. Senior NATO officials
told Reuters in Brussels on 3 December that Russian Defense
Minister Igor Sergeev agreed with his NATO counterparts on what
the multi-national peacekeepers have achieved in Bosnia and on what
remains to be done. The officials added that Russia feels that a
continued international military presence will be necessary in
Bosnia when SFOR's mandate runs out in June and that Russia wants
to take part in such a force. Meanwhile in Washington, former
Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman urged the U.S. to keep
troops in Bosnia after June 1998 to help prevent a renewal of
fighting. He said that "people with fresh scars of war are not going
to be ready for reconciliation." PM

CROATIA TRIES NINE FOR WAR CRIMES. A district court in
Zagreb on 3 December charged nine men with murder, attempted
murder, extortion, and unlawful arrests in conjunction with the
torture and death of dozens of Serbs in Pakracka Poljana in 1991.
This is Croatia's first trial of Croats suspected of having committed
war crimes in 1991. Previous Croatian trials of Croats have dealt
with atrocities committed against Serbs during and after the
Croatian army's 1995 offensive against rebel Serb enclaves. PM

MACEDONIA HAS PROBLEMS WITH BELGRADE... The Yugoslav
members of the Yugoslav-Macedonian border commission want
frontier changes made in Belgrade's favor at three strategically
important points, BETA news agency reported from Skopje on 3
December. The proposed changes would violate the commission's
guiding principle that the new international frontier should be the
one between Serbia and Macedonia detailed on former Yugoslav army
maps. BETA quoted Macedonian media as saying Belgrade has
proposed the changes in an effort to delay a final border agreement.
Yugoslav army troops loyal to Belgrade occupied several strategic
points on the Macedonian side of the frontier at the time of the
breakup of the former Yugoslavia. PM

...BUT RAPPROCHEMENT WITH ALBANIA. Foreign Minister Blagoj
Handziski launched a new policy of rapprochement with Albania by
hosting talks with his Albanian counterpart, Paskal Milo, in Debar on
3 December. The meeting follows the conclusion of an informal
agreement between Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov and Albanian
Prime Minister Fatos Nano at the Balkan summit on Crete to improve
bilateral  relations  (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1997). Milo
told the Skopje daily "Nova Makedonija" that Macedonia's ethnic
Albanians should be allowed to "manifest their national identity and
participate in the leadership and administration of the Macedonia
state." Milo added, however, that Albania does not encourage
separatism and has no territorial ambitions in Macedonia. PM

ITALY DEPORTS HUNDREDS OF ALBANIANS.  Brindisi authorities
on 3 December sent some 500 Albanian migrants back to Albania by
sea. Those Albanians are the first group of a total of some 5,000
migrants slated for repatriation once their residency permits expire
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1997). Italian aircraft also
repatriated some 54 Albanian men from the temporary shelter at
Teramo after the Albanians tried to resist deportation by staging a
hunger strike and barricading themselves in the shelter. PM

ROMANIA DENIES REPORT ON NAZI GOLD... A spokesman for the
Romanian National Bank has said documents in the bank's archive
"prove beyond doubt that the banks' treasury does not have and never
had even a single gram of gold" that belonged to Jewish Holocaust
victims, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 3 December. Adrian
Vasilescu was responding to a report prepared by a group of Swiss
historians, which says that between 1939 and 1944, Romania
purchased from the Reichsbank gold valued at more than $54 million
and worth some $540 million today. Vasilescu said that Romania
accepted only gold for its deliveries of oil and cereals to Germany
but that the ingots received from Berlin  date from 1934-1935.
Meanwhile, another report based on an archive discovered in Austria
reveals that in 1943, the Reichsbank transferred 1,510 gold bars to
Romania. MS

...AS ROMANIAN GOLD IN MOSCOW THREATENS TREATY WITH
RUSSIA.  Ion Diaconu, Romania's new ambassador to Moscow, says
the problem of the Romanian treasury sent to Russia for safekeeping
during World War I must not become an issue hindering the
conclusion of the basic treaty with Russia, Radio Bucharest reported
on 3 December. Diaconu recently told ITAR-TASS that the wartime
treasury might be raised in parleys on the treaty, which prompted
strong reactions in Moscow. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman
Valerii Nesterushkin told the BBC on 28 November that it was
Russia, rather than Romania, that could raise financial claims for
military deliveries to Romania during the war and for Russian army
assets confiscated after the end of hostilities.  The daily "Segodnya"
on 1 December published documents from the archives of the Russian
Finance Ministry attesting to the transfer of Romanian gold in total
value of 117.3 million rubles at 1916-17 prices. MS

BULGARIA WANTS SOVEREIGNTY WITHIN EUROPE. Foreign
Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told the Vienna daily "Die Presse" of 4
December that Bulgaria wants to consolidate its political and
economic integration into European structures by joining the EU. She
said that Bulgaria has often been the junior partner of a major
power in the course of history and that it does not want to enter
into such an unequal relationship again. Mihailova added, however,
that Bulgaria welcomes the opportunity to join NATO because the
alliance functions as a team in which there is a division of labor.
Asked about her country's traditional friendship with Russia,
Mihailova replied that friendship may play a role between
individuals but that states conduct their relations based on
interests. She added that Bulgaria's interest is to preserve its
independence and sovereignty. PM

END NOTE

ANOTHER STEP BACKWARD IN BELARUS

by Christopher Walker

        Though not wholly unexpected, the Belarusian authorities'
decision to shut down the independent newspaper "Svaboda"
demonstrates its desire to extinguish any remaining pluralistic
impulse in Belarus. Citing recent articles deemed to violate the
press law, the Supreme Commercial Court ordered the immediate
closure of the publication. That action is not isolated; independent
media in Belarus are constantly subject to official pressure to a
degree unmatched in neighboring post-Soviet countries. A larger
issue for observers of Belarusian media and for Belarusians
themselves is whether the majority of the Belarusian people
acquiesce in  this kind of action.
        In Belarus, harassment of independent media--and, for that
matter, virtually any independent organization--is the rule rather
than the exception. In typical Soviet fashion, the Belarusian
authorities devote substantial time and taxpayer money toward
badgering non-state media, despite manifold domestic troubles.
        Since taking power in 1994, President Alyksandr Lukashenka's
regime has closely monitored the content of "Svaboda." But
interference in the newspaper's activities predates Lukashenka's
ascension to the presidency.  "Svaboda" faced a series of libel suits
from government officials during the administration of Lukashenka's
predecessor, Vyacheslau Kebich. That indicates the depth of the
difficulties confronting the Belarusian media today.
        A host of presidential edicts have consolidated authority over
the press within the president's office. Most printing facilities are
state-controlled. An August 1994 decree brought the state printing
house in Minsk under the direct control of the presidential
administration. Printing facilities elsewhere in the country had to
receive the authorization of the presidential administration to
conclude printing contracts with non-state media.  In October 1995,
"Svaboda," along with several other independent publications, was
denied the right to publish at the state printing house in Minsk.
Those newspapers were then compelled to use printing facilities in
Lithuania in order to continue publishing.
        Moreover, non-state media have to rely on the state-controlled
postal service and distribution network, making it difficult for
independent publications to be distributed to towns and villages.
"Svaboda," though available in larger cities the same day as it was
published, reached distribution points in the countryside one day
later. Summary evictions of independent news organizations from
state-owned office space is also not unheard of.
        Owing to regulatory harassment and economic obstacles,
between 35,000 and 50,000 copies of each issue of "Svaboda" were
printed at the time of its closure,  roughly half of its 1995 level. In
a country of 10 million, the newspaper reached only a fraction of the
adult population.
        In practical terms, the shutdown of "Svaboda" may not have a
major impact on the Belarusian media landscape. But, symbolically,
the opposite may be true. Already pushed to the margins by the
regime, independent media are operating under strained conditions.
The irony is that with the existing financial, administrative and
political obstacles, there is already substantial control over
independent media. Shutting down a weakened "Svaboda" is
essentially a gratuitous political act.
        Free press advocates and those working in independent media
in Belarus view the shutdown of "Svaboda" as the latest in a series
of outrages against the independent press.  But for the many
Belarusians who still  have a Soviet orientation and support
Lukashenka, the closure of "Svaboda" does not constitute an outrage.
Ultimately, the Belarusian population itself must decide that the
state of domestic affairs is unacceptable.      Western observers and
Belarusian activist groups recognize that the current condition of
the country's independent media is unsatisfactory. Ironically, the
average Belarusian, receiving inadequate information from limited
news sources, ultimately may not have the information necessary to
recognize this for himself.

The author is based in Prague and is manager of programs at the
European Journalism Network.

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