|When in doubt, tell the truth. - Mark Twain|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 187, Part II, 30 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 Note to readers: "RFE/RL Newsline" will not appear on 31 December or 1 January, which are public holidays in the Czech Republic, or on 2 January. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * NEW CZECH PREMIER PROPOSES GOVERNMENT TO FORMER COALITION * SERBIAN RIOT POLICE END KOSOVAR PROTEST * EU ENDS TRADE BENEFITS FOR BELGRADE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE KUCHMA: UKRAINE TO PROMOTE SMALL BUSINESS. President Leonid Kuchma told a Kyiv conference on 27 December that he intends to issue a decree in the near future that will help to promote small business in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 29 December. He said that he would simplify registration procedures, taxation, and reporting to government agencies. And Kuchma added that he had directed the Ukrainian government to deregulate most business activities within 30 days. PG UKRAINIAN POPULATION CONTINUES TO DECLINE. As a result of rising death rates and falling birth rates, the population of Ukraine declined by approximately 400,000 people in 1997, the State Statistics Committee announced on 26 December. The country's population now stands at 50.48 million, down from 50.85 million a year ago. PG TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS IN BELARUS. A Minsk court on 29 December found two organizers of a 23 November demonstration guilty of violating a decree of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL Belarus Service reported. Supreme Soviet deputy Valeriy Shchukin was sentenced to ten days' imprisonment while Belarusian People's Front vice chairman Lyavon Barshchewskiy was fined 30 million rubles (approximately $1,000). Meanwhile, the trials of deputy Henadz Karpena and Lyudmila Hraznova on similar charges were postponed. Also postponed was the trial of ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet and his cameraman who are charged with illegally crossing the Belarus-Lithuanian border. Sheremet is ill. PG LUKASHENKA TO "SPONSOR" BELARUS ART. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 29 December that his government is prepared to finance culture and art but will not "sponsor mediocrity," Interfax reported. But in a speech to the country's leading cultural figures, he lashed out at the failure of some cultural groups to use state subsidies "properly" and noted that "artists,' writers' and composers' work has become less efficient. The Belarusian cultural elite more and more rarely causes the community to rejoice in their remarkable success." PG LATVIAN PRESIDENT: IMPROVED TIES WITH RUSSIA POSSIBLE. In a nationwide radio address 29 December, President Guntis Ulmanis said that he saw reason to hope for improved relations between the Baltic states and Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Ulmanis also said he would continue to promote discussions on the integration of residents of Latvia who are not citizens. And he said that Latvia needs to increase its military spending if it is to be taken seriously as a candidate for NATO membership. The Latvian leader acknowledged that life has not improved for many in his country, but he expressed the hope that the number of those who are nostalgic for the past would not increase in the new year. PG POLISH PRESIDENCY CALLS FOR BETTER COORDINATION WITH GOVERNMENT. Presidential advisor Ryszard Kalisz on 29 December called on the government to allow representatives of the presidency to participate in cabinet meetings. He pointed out that misunderstandings between the presidency and the government in drafting legislation could be avoided if there was better coordination between both institutions. Last week, President Aleksander Kwasniewski returned two government-sponsored bills to parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 29 December 1997). In November, Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek wrote to Kwasniewski that he saw no need for presidential representatives to attend cabinet meetings, ending a seven- year tradition. FS NEW CZECH PREMIER PROPOSES GOVERNMENT TO FORMER COALITION. Josef Tosovsky on 29 December proposed a list of government ministers to the three former coalition partners. Despite criticism from his predecessor and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus, Tosovsky included former Finance Minister Ivan Pilip, Deputy Foreign Minister Michal Lobkowitz and Ivo Sanc, the mayor of Kutna Hora, in his proposal. The three ODS members are outspoken critics of Klaus and are unacceptable to the ODS leadership. Several other proposed cabinet members are non-partisan. Tosovsky said he selected the group on the basis of their expert knowledge and ability to work as a team. Tosovsky invited the heads of the former coalition to talks on 30 December, but Klaus declined to attend, sending his deputy Libuse Benesova instead. FS PRAGUE, BONN LAUNCH RECONCILIATION FUND. Czech Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy and Germany's ambassador to the Czech Republic Anton Rossbach formally agreed in Prague on 29 December to launch a joint reconciliation fund on 1 January 1998. Germany will pay $80 million and the Czech Republic -- $14 million over the next four years. The fund will compensate Czech victims of the Nazi-regime and finance projects linking the Czech and German peoples. It will also provide for pensioners' homes and sanatoriums for about 8,500 Czech survivors of the Holocaust. Both sides had signed a declaration of reconciliation on 20 January 1997 and agreed to create the fund by the end of the year. Germany, however, delayed the move because of opposition from Sudeten German groups, who wanted to be included in the fund's administration. Prague rejected such participation, arguing that these groups never recognized the declaration. FS CZECHS INCREASINGLY IN FAVOR OF NATO MEMBERSHIP. Fifty-three percent out of 1,118 Czechs polled by the state statistical office IVVM, support NATO membership. The results, published on 23 December, indicate that support for the Czech Republic's military integration has risen considerably since November, when the last poll showed only 43 percent support. The number of undecided respondents fell from 28 to 20 percent over the same time period. It was the strongest pro-NATO result in an IVVM poll since Prague was invited to begin membership talks in July. FS ONE THIRD OF HUNGARY'S PRISONERS COMPLAIN ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES. One third out of 700 prisoners questioned in a survey said they were subject to police abuses. The results of the poll, conducted by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Institute of Juridical Politics and the Constitution, was published on 23 December. The poll also found that foreign prisoners, gypsies and young offenders were more often exposed to police violence than others. The human rights groups also criticized poor conditions and overcrowding of the prisons. FS HUNGARY ENDS ANONYMITY FOR AIDS SUFFERERS. A new law will take effect on 1 January, obliging people tested HIV-positive to give identification to the health authorities. The law covers altogether fifty contagious diseases. According to the World Health Organization, Hungary had 265 cases of full-blown AIDS in September. Human rights groups and former Health Minister Judit Csehak have expressed concern that the new law may be counterproductive and scare people away from AIDS tests, fearing stigmatization. FS HUNGARY'S GREENS ADVERTISE FOR ELECTION CANDIDATES. The Green Party has launched an advertising campaign in daily newspapers, seeking parliamentary candidates for the upcoming elections. The Greens, who gained less than one percent in the 1994 parliamentary elections, are short of members. Party chairman Zoltan Medvecki told Reuters on 29 December that "We don't think our members are the wisest people in the country so we would like to give a chance to the most suitable candidates." FS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE SERBIAN RIOT POLICE END KOSOVAR PROTEST. Hundreds of heavily-armed riot police, who were backed up by water cannon and armored vehicles, baton charged ethnic Albanian students staging a peaceful protest march in Pristina on 30 December. The students want the government to restore Albanian-language education, particularly at Pristina University. The Serbian authorities have frequently used force to break up Albanian protests in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997). The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 29 December that young people in Kosovo are increasingly becoming radicalized and sympathetic to the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army. This is the result of the continued failure of the moderate Kosovar leadership to achieve any of its basic goals aimed at restoring the province's autonomy. PM KOSOVARS TO VOTE IN MARCH. Kosovo shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova announced in Pristina on 24 December that parliamentary and presidential elections will take place on 22 March. Rugova added that the Kosovar leadership took the decision to hold the vote after consulting with what he called the Kosovars' foreign friends. He said that Kosovo's international position is stronger now than it was in 1992, when the last vote took place. Rugova pointed out that 14 seats in the 144-seat legislature are reserved for Serbs, who make up approximately ten percent of the province's population. Rugova called on local Serbs to take part in the vote. The Serbian authorities regard the shadow state and its activities as illegal. PM EU ENDS TRADE BENEFITS FOR BELGRADE. Officials of the EU announced in Brussels on 29 December that the EU will continue to extend trade benefits to Bosnia and Croatia in 1998 but not to President Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia. A statement said that Belgrade has failed to cooperate sufficiently in the regional peace process, to solve the Kosovo question, or to honor EU recommendations on democratization. Macedonia also will no longer receive the trade benefits, but this is because it recently concluded a bilateral agreement with the EU and hence moves into a better type of relationship with Brussels. PM RADICALS WALK OUT OF SERBIAN PARLIAMENT. The Serbian Radical Party's Vojislav Seselj and his supporters stormed out of the legislature on 29 December after that body refused to consider the Radicals' demand for an investigation of the 21 December presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997). The coalition, which lacks an overall majority, nonetheless agreed to an opposition demand that legislative proceedings be televised in order to receive opposition consent to convene parliament, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. PM YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT APPROVES BUDGET. The federal legislature also met on 29 December and passed a $1.6 billion budget for 1998. The sum represents 9.13 percent of the GNP and an increase of five percent over the 1997 budget. Some two-thirds of the 1998 budget goes to the military, mainly to pay salaries, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. The military had originally requested a larger sum. On 30 December, however, parliament did not meet as scheduled. Instead, its electoral commission looked into challenges to the validity of the election of numerous opposition deputies, BETA news agency reported. PM YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT "PLEASED" WITH MEDIA. Federal Information Secretary Goran Matic said in Belgrade on 29 December that no former Yugoslav republic has enjoyed such a "media boom" as have Serbia and Montenegro, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported. Matic called "tendentious" claims by the EU and others that there are restrictions on the media in Serbia. PM DJUKANOVIC TO BECOME MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT. Parliament decided in Podgorica on 29 December that President-elect Milo Djukanovic will take office on 15 January, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. Meanwhile in Belgrade, a spokesman for the pro-Milosevic federal prosecutor's office challenged the legality of Djukanovic's election. Djukanovic favors greater autonomy for Montenegro vis-a-vis Belgrade. PM A TECHNOCRATIC GOVERNMENT FOR BOSNIAN SERBS? Mladen Ivanic, Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic's nominee for prime minister, told RFE/RL on 29 December that the Bosnian Serbs need a national unity government of experts. He added that forming a government of professionals who stand above politics is the only way to bring the Republika Srpska out of its present crisis. Meanwhile in Podgorica, Plavsic told the daily "Pobjeda" that the Bosnian Serbs' main need is for unity. PM GANIC NEW BOSNIAN FEDERAL PRESIDENT. Ejup Ganic, a Muslim, will succeed Vladimir Soljic, a Croat, as president of the federation for 1998, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo on 29 December. The change comes as part of a normal rotation of the presidency between Croats and Muslims. PM BOSNIA HAS EVIDENCE OF ARKAN'S CRIMES. Smail Cekic, the head of Bosnia's war crimes commission, said on 28 December that the government has ample proof of the involvement of Serbian paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan, in war crimes against non-Serb civilians. Cekic added the recent theft of evidence against Arkan in Sweden will not affect the case against the warlord (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997). PM ALBANIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS VISIT OF GREEK DEFENSE MINISTER. Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha protested the visit of Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos on 29 December, Enter reported. Berisha claims that the presence of Greek troops on the territory of Albania constituted a violation of its sovereignty. The Albanian government rejected the claims. Albania hosts Greek soldiers as part of a bilateral cooperation accord. The Greek army is assisting Albania in the reconstruction of a military hospital as well as in training and equipment. Before arriving in Albania, the Greek minister said in Sarajevo that Greece will participate in future peacekeeping work in Bosnia and help with reconstruction. FS MORE BOMB EXPLOSIONS IN SOUTHERN ALBANIA. The tenth bomb explosion near Gjirokaster within one month destroyed a bridge over the Drinos River on 27 December. The blast also damaged a number of buildings, but no injuries have been reported. The previous day another explosion destroyed the office of a doctor who is a member of the Socialist Party, ATSH reported. Interior Minister Neritan Ceka called the recent series of bomb blasts "organized political crimes aimed at giving the impression that order has not been restored in Albania," according to AFP. He also claimed that "the opposition is conducting a policy of banditry and inciting the population to keep weapons and cause explosions." FS ROMANIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER RESIGNS. Transport Minister Traian Basescu handed in his resignation on 29 December after Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea asked him to take back critical statements or to step down. The move followed statements by Basescu published the same day by "Evenimentul Zilei," in which he implied that the government was incompetent. Basescu had said in an interview that the "government did not have the strength to take important decisions" and criticized the "useless 18-hour long sessions" of Ciorbea's cabinet. He added that "this cabinet is far away from making the reforms at the level that was requested by foreign institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF." Also on 29 December, new Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu was sworn in. Plesu replaces Adrian Severin, who resigned over unproven claims that several party leaders and newspaper editors were spies. FS ROMANIA HOLDS EUROPEAN RECORD FOR INFANT MORTALITY. Twenty-seven out of 1,000 live born children die in Romania, according to data presented by President Emil Constantinescu on public television on 23 December. Due to inadequate post-natal care, 70 percent of the deaths occur in the first 28 days of life. Romania has 2,605 AIDS infected children. Most of the AIDS cases are blamed on poor hospital hygiene, unscreened blood transfusions and lack of disposable syringes in the communist era. Most of the 100,000 children in state institutions are not orphaned, but abandoned. In 1997 alone, about 5,000 children were abandoned by their parents. There are an estimated 4,300 children living on Romania's streets, most of whom fled violence at home. Romania was a European leader in infant mortality before World War II. FS ROMANIAN AGRICULTURAL MINISTRY BANS FISHING IN DANUBE DELTA. The Agricultural Ministry banned fishing in the Danube Delta and surrounding lakes on 29 December to prevent over-fishing. Governor Andrei Svoronos said the move was intended to protect fish species in the ecologically endangered region. He estimated that 14,000 tons of fish were caught this year, 11,400 tons more than authorized. He blamed "mafia networks" for overfishing the region and thus endangering the survival of several other species, especially birds. In other news, painter and philosopher Corneliu Baba died in Bucharest on 29 December at the age of 91. FS FORMER ROMANIAN PROSECUTOR DENIES AUTHORIZING INCINERATING REVOLUTION VICTIMS. Communist-era deputy chief prosecutor Gheorghe Diaconescu has denied that the Romanian judiciary approved the incineration of the bodies of 40 anti-communist protesters killed in Timisoara on 16 and 17 December 1989. Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's wife, Elena, had ordered the disposal of the bodies, which had been left at the local hospital morgue on 18 December. Overnight they were loaded onto a refrigerated truck and taken to Bucharest for incineration and then disposed of via the drains. The head of the current military court Dan Voinea claims that Diaconescu authorized the incineration. Judicial officials had identified the bodies and issued individual certificates for each death. FS END NOTE 1997: Another Busy Year for the IMF in the Post-Communist World by Michael Wyzan The International Monetary Fund (IMF) continues to play the dominant role in providing financial support for the balance of payments of post-communist and developing countries. The fund has the dual role of providing such support and of encouraging economic reform by attaching stringent conditions to its loans. In 1997 the IMF approved new credits for Albania, Armenia (actually, the second annual loan under a three- year facility), Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia (an identical situation to Armenia's), Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Macedonia, Mongolia, Romania, Tajikistan, and Ukraine. Among the transition countries not listed, some - including Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Moldova, and Russia - attempted during the year to qualify for the release of tranches under existing loans. The Visegrad countries have had sufficiently strong private capital inflows not to rely on the IMF for balance-of-payments support, although Hungary was awarded a two-year loan in March 1996, which it has not drawn upon. The IMF suspended lending in1995 to Belarus and Uzbekistan out of dissatisfaction with their weak reform efforts, in the latter case citing the restrictive foreign exchange regime introduced that year. Two further striking cases are Federal Yugoslavia and Turkmenistan. The former has been under UN sanctions and is not yet a member of the IMF; the latter is a member, but has not been sufficiently reformist to quality for support. Bulgaria and Romania won large new loans in April (in this endnote, all agreements are dated based on when hey received approval from the IMF's Executive Board), as new, reformist governments vowed to put their predecessors' sluggishness behind them. The Bulgarian loan is supposed to provide $657 million over 14 months, while the Romanian one is slated to provide $414 million over 13 months. Subsequently, the fund pronounced itself satisfied with Bulgarian economic policy, and released additional loan tranches in July, August, and December. Romania's relations with the fund in1997 were problematic, however. In the summer the IMF criticized the size of the budget deficit, continuing high inflation, and price controls on energy and food products. It was especially concerned about the slow pace of liquidation and privatization of state enterprises, prompting the government to announce in August the closure of 17 enterprises. That move led to the Fund's releasing of the second tranche in September. The IMF remains concerned about slow privatization and high inflation in Romania. However, a privatization decree issued on 21 December, if passed by parliament in February, may help convince it to release the next tranche in early 1998. Albania received $12 million from the IMF in November for "emergency post-conflict assistance." In August, the IMF HAD set as conditions for renewed lending that the authorities close the remaining pyramid schemes, privatize or liquidate two of three state banks, reform the civil service, create an agricultural land market, improve tax collection, raise tax rates, and cut government spending. Agreement was held up until November by legal problems involving the closure of the pyramids. Tajikistan received a similar, $10 million, loan in December. At the other end of the spectrum are Estonia and Latvia, which both received standby loans late in 1997 - worth $22 million and $45 million, respectively - which they do not intend at present to draw upon. Relations between the IMF and Croatia made headlines in an unusual way in1997. Under pressure from the United States, the fund in July refused to release a $40 million loan tranche. The U.S. cited Zagreb's balking at releasing war criminals to the Hague. Those individuals were apprehended and dispatched to the Netherlands in October, and the IMF approved the release of the money, but Croatia then decided it did not need the funds after all. Russia and Ukraine, two of the IMF's biggest borrowers, experienced ups and downs in their relations with it IN 1997. In October, the fund, citing poor tax collection, announced that it would not release a $700 million tranche of a loan to Russia until early 1998. However, an IMF mission in December recommended releasing it, citing progress in that area. Ukraine received a one-year, $542 million standby loan in August. That is not as good news as it seems, since Kyiv and the IMF had been negotiating over a $2.9 billion, three-year loan, but in the end the fund decided that reform progress had been insufficient. Relations with the IMF mirror the overall direction of transition economies. Relations remain on track between the fund and the Transcaucasian states, even though Georgia and Azerbaijan were slow starters on reform. In contrast, the IMF, citing problems with privatization, energy pricing, and the budget deficit, postponed from June until July releasing one loan tranche to Moldova (an early CIS reformer); it then delayed until early 1998 releasing the next one. *Michael Wyzan is an economist living in Austria. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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