|He who knows nothing is nearer the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. - Thomas Jefferson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 35 , Part II, 20 February 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 35 , Part II, 20 February 1998 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 SPECIAL REPORT: A quarter of Russia's labor force receives its wages late, in kind or not at all. This three-article series on the RFE/RL Web site examines why. Russia's Workers: Why They Go Without Wages http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rulabor/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * BELARUS DENIES PLANNING ARMS DEAL WITH IRAN * LEADER OF CZECH COALITION PARTY RESIGNS * CROATIAN TRADE UNIONS TO DEFY POLICE BAN ON DEMO xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE BELARUS DENIES PLANNING ARMS DEAL WITH IRAN. Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Nina Mazai has denied a "Washington Times" report that Minsk is preparing to sell tank parts to Iran, the RFE/RL Belarusian Service reported on 19 February. Mazai added that agreements on agriculture and education will be signed when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visits Tehran in early March. The "Washington Times" reported that Belarus is to sell tank engines and other spare parts in a deal to be signed in Tehran during the president's visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998). First Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Kozlov said relations with Tehran are "developing" and that "we do not wish to hang an iron curtain in front of Iran." PB UKRAINIAN, UZBEK PRESIDENTS SIGN FRIENDSHIP TREATY. Leonid Kuchma and his visiting counterpart, Islam Karimov, signed a friendship and cooperation treaty and several economic agreements on 19 February. Karimov said the friendship treaty is a "foundation for our future relations with Ukraine" and proclaimed Ukraine to be Tashkent's "most reliable and most-needed partner." Economic agreements focused on building transportation corridors for Uzbek gas and oil. In an effort to reduce dependence on Russian sources of energy, Ukraine has agreed to import 1 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Uzbekistan. PB RUSSIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ON UKRAINIAN VISIT. At a meeting in Kyiv on 19 February, Viktor Chernomyrdin and Ukrainian President Kuchma discussed Ukraine's natural gas needs and Kuchma's upcoming visit to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin said Moscow is not against Turkmenistan supplying gas to Ukraine, adding that Russia cannot guarantee fulfilling Kyiv's energy needs in any case. Natural gas from Turkmenistan to Ukraine would transit Russia. Kuchma is to visit Moscow on 26 February where he is scheduled to sign a 10-year economic cooperation agreement with President Boris Yeltsin. PB KYIV PROTESTERS DEMAND UNPAID WAGES. Some 6,000 miners, teachers, and pensioners gathered in Kyiv to protest months of wage arrears, Reuters reported on 19 February. Oleksandr Stoyan, spokesman for the Organization of All-Ukrainian Unions, which organized the protest, called for the government to use money raised last week in a Eurobond issue to address the arrears situation. The government made some $412 million in that issue. The state is reported to owe about 5.2 billion hryvna ($2.65 billion) in arrears. PB ESTONIA'S FOREIGN TRADE DEFICIT GROWING. According to Estonia's State Statistics Department, the foreign trade deficit reached 20.9 billion kroons (some $1.4 billion) last year, an increase of 7 billion kroons over 1996, ETA reported on 19 February. Exports totaled 40.4 billion kroons and imports 61.3 billion kroons. The Statistics Department said that the share of exports grew in 1997 but that this growth was largely due to a boost in re-exports. Russia was Estonia's largest export partner last year, accounting for 18.8 percent of total exports, followed by Finland (15.7 percent) and Sweden (13.5 percent). JC YELTSIN SENDS LETTER TO LATVIA'S ULMANIS. Russian President Boris Yeltsin has sent a letter to his Latvian counterpart, Guntis Ulmanis, on how to improve bilateral ties and achieve the integration of the Baltic state's large Russian minority. Ulmanis's office told Reuters on 19 February that the "tone of the letter is hopeful and positive," but it gave no details of the proposed measures. Yeltsin's letter was in reply to one sent by Ulmanis earlier this year confirming Latvia's readiness to sign all drafted agreements, including the one on borders, BNS reported. JC LATVIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS ELECTORAL LAW. Lawmakers on 19 February adopted amendments to the electoral law stipulating that political parties must receive 5 percent of the vote and alliances 7 percent in order to gain parliamentary representation, BNS reported. The vote was 52 to 22 with 12 abstentions. Some 35 members of the 100-strong parliament later appealed to President Ulmanis not to sign the amendments. They maintain that the thresholds will impede the consolidation of political forces in the country. Under the Latvian Constitution, the president must postpone proclaiming new legislation for two months if at least one-third of parliamentary deputies make such a request. JC LEADER OF CZECH COALITION PARTY LEADER RESIGNS. Jiri Skalicky, the leader of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), has resigned as ODA chairman and "probably" also as deputy premier and environment minister, Skalicky's adviser Katerina Lojdova told CTK on 19 February. Skalicky will formally announce his decision at the party's Central Assembly meeting on 20 February. Lojdova said Skalicky is "disgusted by party members trading accusations" over donations to the ODA and alleged tax evasion. She also said ODA Deputy Chairman Miroslav Toser was trying to find a way to discredit Skalicky over Toser's own involvement in contacts with businessman Kamil Kolek. Kolek claims he was forced to make a donation to ODA in 1996 or lose a department store he acquired through privatization at an advantageous price. MS HAVEL CALLS FOR HARSH PUNISHMENT OF CRIMINAL SKINHEADS. President Vaclav Havel on 19 February sent a telegram of condolence to the family of a Romani woman who was beaten unconscious and then drowned by three skinheads in Vrchlabi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998). Havel said he can find "nothing to explain this terrible evil and hatred" and that he hoped "neither institutions nor individuals" would tolerate the growing racially motivated violence any longer. He added that he expects the authorities to hand down harsh punishments to the culprits. MS SLOVAK MINISTERS RESIGN. Economics Minister Karol Cesnek and Social Affairs Minister Olga Keltosova on 19 February submitted their resignations to President Michal Kovac. Presidential spokesman Vladimir Stefko told Reuters that they gave no reason for resigning. Cesnek has no party affiliation, while Keltosova is vice chairwoman of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. The same day, the government asked the president to appoint Milan Cagala to take over the economics portfolio and Vojtech Tkac that of social affairs. Cagala is currently head of the Slovak Engineering Association, while Tkac is deputy minister of social affairs. MS SLOVAK GOVERNMENT WANTS TO AMEND ELECTION LAW. The Interior Ministry on 19 February announced it is drawing up a draft amendment to the electoral law requiring each party belonging to an electoral allianceto pass a 5 percent threshold to gain parliamentary representation. Under current legislation, electoral alliances of more than three parties must obtain 10 percent of the vote, while parties running on their own must obtain five percent. The Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), a loose alliance of five opposition parties, said the initiative is an attempt to thwart its chances in the elections scheduled for September, Reuters reported. Democratic Union deputy chairman Ludovit Cernak said the move is "clearly aimed at the SDK and even kills two birds with one stone, as it would also hit the coalition of ethnic Hungarian parties." MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE CROATIAN TRADE UNIONS TO DEFY POLICE BAN ON DEMO. Croatian trade unions representatives are to proceed with a planned protest demonstration in Zagreb on 20 February, despite a police ban, Reuters reported. Up to 60,000 people are expected to participate in the protest against deteriorating social conditions. The organizers have stressed they have no intention of trying to overthrow the Croatian government. Interior Minister Ivan Penic appealed to potential participants not to convene for the demonstration, saying police will enforce the ban. LF CROATIAN GOVERNMENT DRAFTS JOB PLAN. The governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) introduced legislation in the parliament on 18 February to promote economic growth by cutting labor costs, ridding firms of surplus workers, and supporting small businesses. An opposition spokesman said the plan is a political ploy. Unemployment currently stands at 18-23 percent and is particularly high among veterans of the 1991-1995 wars. PM SERBS CONTINUE TO LEAVE EASTERN SLAVONIA. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe spokesman Mark Thompson told journalists in Zagreb on 19 February that the OSCE is "concerned" about the continued exodus of Serbs from eastern Slavonia, AFP reported. Thompson said that hundreds of Serbs from that region have applied for political asylum in Western Europe. Formerly Serb-controlled eastern Slavonia reverted to Croatia's jurisdiction on 15 January 1998, after having been administered for two years by the UN. LF SECRET POLICEMAN MURDERED IN KOSOVO. An undercover Serbian policeman was shot dead in an ambush near Pristina on 19 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The victim was riding with other policemen in a car close to the town of Podujevo when three men ambushed the vehicle. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, though officials suspect it was carried out by the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army. Meanwhile in central Belgrade on 19 February, seven people were injured when bombs exploded in a popular cafe. Four people are in serious condition, Tanjug reported. No suspects have been named by police. PB OSCE HIGH COMMISSIONER ON MINORITIES IN KOSOVO. Max van der Stoel met with Albanian Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova in Pristina on 19 February. Van der Stoel refused to reveal what the two men discussed. Rugova's main political rival, Adem Demaci, refused to meet with the OSCE official because Albanians in Kosovo "are a nation" not a minority, AFP reported. But Van der Stoel met later with representatives of human rights organizations. His visit was a private one, as Serbia and Montenegro have been excluded from the OSCE since 1992. PB ANOTHER BOMB EXPLOSION IN MACEDONIA. A bomb exploded in an Albanian-owned butcher's shop in the mainly Albanian-populated western town of Gostivar on 19 February, Reuters reported. No one was injured in the blast, which was the second in Gostivar and the fifth in Macedonia during the past three months. LF DRASKOVIC UPSET BY PREMIER'S RE-APPOINTMENT. Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has denounced the naming of Mirko Marjanovic to continue as Serbian premier. In a statement on 19 February, the SPO noted it had not agreed to that decision, taken by Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. Draskovic reportedly had agreed earlier this week to join a coalition with the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), to which both Marjanovic and Milutinovic belong. But Draskovic had insisted that he be named prime minister in exchange for his party's support. If the SPO decides not to join the SPS in a coalition, the Socialists will most likely form a minority government. PB DODIK THREATENS TO QUIT OVER FINANCIAL BACKING. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Washington on 19 February that he will resign if previously promised foreign aid is not forthcoming. He noted that, despite having taken many steps to meet Western approval, financial aid was still being withheld. Dodik referred specifically to a promise by Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, that Dodik's government will receive some $6 million in aid, which, he said, is urgently needed to prevent a teachers' strike. The premier added that the goal of returning some 70,000 displaced persons to their homes by September is still a priority, even though the complexity of such a task is "beyond imagination." PB BOSNIAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS CALL FOR TOLERANCE. The leaders of Bosnia's main religions pledged tolerance and interethnic understanding in a joint message on 19 February in Sarajevo. Jakob Finci, head of Sarajevo's Jewish community, Roman Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic, Serbian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Nikolaj, and Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Muslim community, held a roundtable discussion on religious issues and the importance of implementing the Dayton agreement before issuing their statement. Westendorp said the religious leaders have a major role to play in the country's reconciliation process. PB ORGANIZED CRIME GROWS IN SLOVENIA. Parliamentary speaker Janez Podobnik told a government anti-crime conference in Ljubljana on 17 February that organized crime accounts for three-quarters of all criminal activity in the Alpine republic. Interior Minister Mirko Brandelj noted that Yugoslav citizens dominate the money laundering, extortion, and drug rackets, BETA news agency reported. Croats specialize in counterfeiting, gun-running, and illegal border crossings, while citizens of former Soviet republics concentrate on prostitution, money laundering, and stolen cars. Brandelj added that Slovenes can be found in all branches of criminal activity but that they tend not to be as brutal as some of the foreign gangs. PM ALBANIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTY DENIES CHARGES. Democratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari told journalists on 19 February that charges of intimidation and incitement to violence brought against him are politically motivated, dpa reported. The charges followed a 14 February confrontation between a group of parliamentary deputies led by Hajdari and police officers who searched the deputies' cars and found arms and ammunition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998.) In other news, the Democratic Party has issued a statement announcing that its national council will decide on 20 February whether to end its five-month boycott of the parliament, Reuters reported. The boycott was launched to protest an incident last year in which Hajdari was shot and wounded by Socialist deputy Gafur Mazreku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997). LF ROMANIAN-IMF NEGOTIATIONS ENCOUNTER DIFFICULTIES. Referring to negotiations under way with the IMF on the 1998 budget, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said that it is an "aberration" to employ the term "Bulgarization" in connection with the development of the economy. His remark followed comments by Finance Minister Daniel Daianu and Reform Minister Ilie Serbanescu one day earlier. Ciorbea said chief IMF negotiator Poul Thompsen has prolonged his stay, at the end of which the government will sign an aide-memoir with the IMF stipulating measures to accelerate privatization and meet budget expenditures. Also on 19 February, Charles Frank, the vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said in The Hague that he is "somewhat disappointed" by the slow pace of Romanian reform. MS ROMANIAN OPPOSITION MOVES MOTION ON HEALTH SYSTEM. As paramedics continue their general strike, the Senate factions of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR),the Greater Romania Party, and the Party of Romanian National Unity have moved a motion opposing the government health-care policies, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. PDSR chairman Ion Iliescu said his party hopes the Democrats will support the motion, but Democratic Party deputy chairman Radu Berceanu said his formation will not do so. In other news, a commission mediating between the two chambers of the parliament has succeeding in bridging the gap over a law granting compensation to persons persecuted under the communist regime and those deported to or held war prisoner in the former Soviet Union. Romanian citizens who reside abroad will also be entitled to claim compensation. MS ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN CHISINAU. Andrei Plesu met with his Moldovan counterpart, Nicolae Tabacaru, and Deputy Prime Minister Ion Gutu in Chisinau on 19 February, RFE/RL's bureau there reported. Talks concentrated on the pending basic treaty and on bilateral economic relations. Plesu told journalists that he prefers a "very good treaty" to a "very quick one" and does not know whether the accord will be concluded during his tenure as foreign minister. Romanian media reported recently that Bucharest agrees to no mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact being made in the document but insists that the treaty be called a "fraternal" one and be written in the Romanian language. Plesu is also to meet with Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and by President Petru Lucinschi. MS RUSSIAN DUMA POSTPONES RATIFYING MOLDOVAN TREATY. The Russian State Duma on 19 February postponed debates on the ratification of the basic treaty with Moldova until next month, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev. The treaty was signed in September 1990 and ratified by the Moldovan parliament the same year. The separatist leadership in Tiraspol has called on the Russian Duma not to ratify the document and to negotiate a new treaty that takes into consideration the "new situation" that arose with the existence of the "independent" Transdniester state. MS GAZPROM INVOLVED IN BULGARIAN CD PIRACY. The chief of Bulgaria's National Security Service on 19 February said that the Multigroup conglomerate and Gazprom have been involved in smuggling pirated compact discs out of Bulgaria, AFP reported. Atanas Atanasov said more than 1.5 million pirated CDs were produced at the state-owned DZU-DMON factory in Stara Zagora and transported to Russia in five shipments aboard planes owned by the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom. He added that Multigroup's earnings from the operation totaled $500,000 a month. Multigroup is alleged to have been set up with funds from the communist-era secret police and to be owned and managed by former members of the nomenklatura who have links to organized crime. BTA reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office has received documents attesting to the smuggling. MS JAPANESE BANK WINS BID FOR BULGARIAN BANK. Japan's Nomura International investment bank has won a bid for a 78.3 percent majority share in Bulgarian Postal Bank, AFP reported on 19 February, quoting Bulgarian officials. The deal is to be finalized by the end of May. Privatization chief Petar Jotev told BTA that the privatization of the Postal Bank is the first in the banking sector and will be followed by the privatization of four other banks. Postal Bank made a profit of 13.5 billion leva ($7.4 million) in 1997. MS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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