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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 36 , Part II, 23 February 1998


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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 36 , Part II, 23 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
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Headlines, Part II

* RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS INITIAL ECONOMIC PROGRAM

* SHKODER SPINS OUT OF CONTROL

* U.S. ENVOY CALLS FOR CALM IN KOSOVO

* End Note: WHEN POLITICS ISN'T THE ANSWER

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REGIONAL AFFAIRS

RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS INITIAL ECONOMIC PROGRAM. Viktor Chernomyrdin
and Valery Pustovoytenko, meeting in Kyiv on 20 February, initialed a
10-year economic cooperation program, AFP reported. Chernomyrdin, who was
in the Ukrainian capital to prepare for President Leonid Kuchma's trip to
Moscow, said the program "deals with all main aspects of economic relations
between our two countries." The agreement is to be signed by Kuchma and his
Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin. Chernomyrdin said the program will more
than double bilateral trade in the next decade. Last year, the volume of
trade between the two countries was some $15.3 billion. Chernomyrdin also
extended a $180 million technical credit to Ukraine toward the construction
of two new nuclear reactors needed to enable Kyiv to permanently close
Chornobyl, the "Eastern Economist" reported on 21 February. PB

YELTSIN HAILS IMPROVEMENT IN RELATIONS WITH UKRAINE. Russian President
Yeltsin announced on 20 February that Russia and Ukraine left  behind "the
most difficult phase" in their relations last May, when the two countries
signed a wide-ranging friendship treaty and an agreement on dividing the
Black Sea Fleet, Russian news agencies reported. He added that Moscow has
since made some concessions to Kyiv, such as the bilateral agreement not to
charge value-added tax on each other's imports. But Yeltsin said such
concessions were worth making in order to protect the "friendship" between
the two countries. He attributed the progress in bilateral relations to
more frequent meetings and telephone conversations between himself and
President Kuchma. Kuchma paid an informal visit to Moscow in late January
and is to make a state visit to Russia on 26-27 February. LB

LUZHKOV WANTS RUSSIAN JURISDICTION OVER SEVASTOPOL. Moscow Mayor Yurii
Luzhkov promised on 21 February to demand "that Sevastopol be placed under
Russia's jurisdiction again," Interfax reported. Addressing a group of
Sevastopol residents and Black Sea Fleet sailors, he again denounced the
"forced Ukrainianization" of ethnic Russians and warned that "relations
between Ukraine and Russia will never be transparent or sincerely fraternal
if injustice continues with regard to Sevastopol and Crimea." Luzhkov came
to Sevastopol for the opening of a new apartment block for families of
Black Sea Fleet sailors, which was funded by the Moscow city government.
Russia renounced all territorial claims on Ukraine in a treaty signed last
May, but Russia has not yet ratified that treaty. LB

EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE

EU RESOLUTION WARNS BELARUS OVER 'ARBITRARY ARRESTS.' The European
Parliament has adopted a resolution condemning what it considers arbitrary
arrests in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 February.
The parliament cites the case of two youths currently standing trial on
hooliganism charges, who were held in pre-trial detention for six months
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1998). The resolution calls for the
boys to be released. It also cites the beating of film director Yury
Khashchavatsky and claims that Belarusian officials routinely intimidate
independent media. The resolution reiterated that there will be no further
cooperation between the EU and Minsk until the government introduces legal
reform and improves the human rights situation in the country. PB

OSCE ACCUSES UKRAINE OF CURTAILING PRESS FREEDOM. The head of an
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe delegation in Kyiv has
accused the Ukrainian government of violating press freedom, the "Eastern
Economist" reported on 23 February. Kare Vollan, who leads an OSCE team of
election observers in Ukraine, said "the forced closure of one newspaper
and the potential imposition of an extraordinarily severe payment on a
second are highly disturbing." Vollan was referring to the closure of
"Pravda Ukrainy" over an alleged registration irregularity (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 29 January 1998) and the levying of a 3.5 million hryvnya ($1.84
million) fine against "Vseukrainskiye Vedomosti" for a mistaken report
about a soccer player transfer. Both newspapers support opposition
candidate Pavlo Lazarenko and his Hromada party. PB

GDP DECLINES IN UKRAINE. The State Statistics Committee reported on 20
February that GDP fell 0.8 percent and that inflation was 1.3 percent in
January. The Ukrainian government has predicted a rise in GDP in 1998 after
several years of decreases. The monthly drop was blamed on a devastating
11.7 percent decrease in industrial production in January. PB

BALTIC STATES SUPPORT POSSIBLE GULF STRIKE. Latvia has said it is ready to
send non-combat assistance for a possible U.S.-led military strike against,
BNS and Reuters reported on 20 February. A Latvian Foreign Ministry
spokesman said any Latvian involvement would not include troops or weapons.
The following day, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry announced it is putting
together a team of specialists in humanitarian aid and unspecified
technology to support a possible strike. And in Tallinn, Estonian President
Lennart Meri's office said in a statement that he has ordered a medical
team to be ready to join a Gulf coalition force within 48 hours of such a
request. Last week, the Baltic presidents issued a joint statement backing
the UN resolution on destroying chemical and biological weapons in  Iraq
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). JC

RUSSIAN DUMA DELEGATION IN TALLINN. At the end of its four-day visit to
Tallinn, a delegation from the Russian State Duma told journalists in the
Estonian capital that it regards the establishment of citizenship
requirements as Estonia's internal affair, ETA and BNS reported on 20
February. Yelena Mizulina, head of the delegation, recommended that all
individuals born in Estonia be granted citizenship of that country. At the
same time, she noted that the situation of ethnic Russians is "not quite as
dramatic" as suggested by the Russian media. Oleg Mironov, a member of the
Communist Duma faction, said that the signing of a Estonian-Russian border
agreement should not be tied to the issue of Estonia's ethnic minority. He
added that those ethnic Russians who have sought neither Estonian nor any
other citizenship are "to a certain extent to blame for their problems." JC

LATVIAN RIGHT-WING PARTY STANDS FIRM ON CITIZENSHIP LAW. The Fatherland and
Freedom Party, a member of the ruling coalition, announced at its
conference on 21 February that it will exert "all political efforts" to
ensure that the citizenship law remains unchanged during the current
parliament's term, BNS reported. Delegates to the conference stressed their
commitment to ensuring that Latvian citizenship is not granted to those
children born to non-Latvians since 1991, as proposed by the Harmony party.
Under the coalition agreement, no changes are to be made in the citizenship
law by the current legislature. JC

KOHL, CHIRAC IN POLAND FOR WEIMAR TRIANGLE TALKS. German Chancellor Helmut
Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac have expressed their hope that
Poland will quickly join the EU and NATO, Reuters reported on 21 February.
Their meeting in the western Polish city of Poznan with President
Aleksander Kwasniewski was the first time the leaders of the three
countries had attended the so-called Weimar Triangle talks, begun in 1991
to include Poland in the Franco-German alliance. Warsaw's accession to
Western organizations and the prospect of buying European hardware to bring
the Polish military up to NATO standards were the main topics of discussion
at the one-day meeting. PB

HAVEL ACCEPTS SKALICKY'S RESIGNATION. Czech President Vaclav Havel on 20
February accepted the resignation of Deputy Premier and Environment
Minister Jiri Skalicky, CTK reported. Previously, Skalicky had resigned  as
chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA). On 22 February he said he
might also leave the ODA, though not politics.  ODA Deputy Chairman Daniel
Kroupa will head the party until a national conference elects a new
chairman. Kroupa said Skalicky does not consider Miroslav Toser--another
ODA deputy chairman, who is involved in the donations scandal--to be
"trustworthy." Kroupa added that he has asked Toser to resign "by the
national conference." Also on 22 February, Justice Minister Vlasta
Parkanova announced she is resigning from the ODA but will retain her
cabinet post. And ODA spokesman Mojmir Hampl resigned as party spokesman,
saying the party "has nothing to tell the voters" and is "paralyzed by
personal disputes and personal hatred." MS

RUML ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF FREEDOM UNION. Former Interior Minister Jan Ruml
has been elected chairman of the Freedom Union,  CTK reported on 22
February. That party was formed, among others, by deputies who broke away
from former Premier Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party at the end of
1997. MS

CONSTITUTIONAL DEADLOCK OVER SLOVAK REFERENDUM. President Michal Kovac on
20 February called for a repeat of the March 1997 referendum,  following
the Constitutional Court's ruling that the  failure to include a question
on direct presidential elections had infringed the basic law, Reuters and
AFP reported. The referendum is to be held on 19 April and will be
non-binding. Kovac said that if the parliament elects a new president on 5
March,  a new voting procedure would affect only future presidential
elections and would not nullify the results of next month's ballot. Prime
Minister Vladimir Meciar told state radio on 20 February that the decision
was a "Trojan horse for the Slovak people." He added that when Kovac leaves
office on 2 March "the confrontation between the government and the head of
state will be over." MS

MECIAR DECIDES AGAINST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY--FOR NOW Olga Keltosova,  the
deputy chairwoman of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, has
announced that the premier will not  run for president in the 5 March
ballot, TASR reported on 20 February . She said opposition support
necessary to ensure Meciar's election has not yet been obtained and that
the party will try to enlist that support for another round. Meanwhile, the
Party of the Democratic Left announced the candidacy of writer Ladislav
Ballek, while an independent parliamentary deputy nominated Milan Fogas,
Reuters reported. Neither is considered to have a chance of achieving the
necessary three-fifths support. MS

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

ARMED GANG FREES CRIMINALS IN NORTHERN ALBANIA. Some 15 masked and armed
people stormed the police station in Shkoder on 22 February, after shooting
at the building with machine guns and anti-tank weapons from surrounding
buildings, Albanian Television  reported. The attackers freed some 35
dangerous criminals, some of whom were doing time for murder, as well as an
unspecified number of other criminals. They withdrew when police
reinforcements arrived from neighboring districts. There were no reports of
casualties. Two days earlier, unidentified persons threw two grenades into
the courtyard of the police station, and an explosive device went off near
Radio Shkoder. The unrest follows a  series of arrests on criminal charges
of supporters of the opposition Democratic Party,  whose stronghold is in
Shkoder. FS

INTERIOR MINISTER BLAMES "MONTENEGRIN TERRORISTS"... Neritan Ceka, in a
televised speech on 22 February, claimed that "some of [the attackers
involved in the Shkoder incident earlier that day] came from Montenegro."
He added that "this cooperation between [local] terrorism and foreign
secret services...shows that we have to deal with a group determined to
destabilize Shkoder and Albania at a time when the Kosovo question has
grown increasingly important. Precisely for that reason..., [the attackers]
received no support from the people of Shkoder." Ceka pointed out that the
attack came at a time "when the situation [in Albania] has quietened down
[and] the fight against crime has produced successes."  The minister had
previously charged that Belgrade is financing terrorist networks in Albania
(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). FS

...AS SHKODER SPINS OUT OF CONTROL. Meanwhile, during the night of 22-23
February, civilians burned down main government buildings in Shkoder. The
courthouse, the prosecutors' office, and the main library were destroyed,
while the town hall, several banks, and the university were looted and
badly damaged. Armed groups took up positions on the main road leading to
the city and in the city center, while gunmen attacked and robbed private
businesses. The Interior Ministry has sent special troops to restore order.
PM

U.S. ENVOY CALLS FOR CALM IN KOSOVO. Robert Gelbard, the U.S. special envoy
for the former Yugoslavia, urged both the Serbian authorities and the
Albanian population to show restraint amid an atmosphere of growing
violence. Speaking in Pristina on 22 February, Gelbard said that "the
Kosovo Albanians have to avoid provocations and Belgrade and the government
have to demonstrate maximum restraint because Belgrade is the government."
He also condemned the recent armed actions by the clandestine Kosovo
Liberation Army:  "I consider these to be terrorist actions and it is the
strong and firm policy of the U.S. to fully oppose all terrorist actions
and all terrorist organizations." PM

SERBIAN-ALBANIAN TALKS BEGIN. Kosovo shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova
said in Pristina on 20 February that talks between representatives of the
Kosovars and  the Serbian government have been going on in secret "for some
days" at an unspecified place in Kosovo. The two sides are discussing
implementing the 1996 agreement on the reintroduction of Albanian-language
education in Kosovo, which, however, has remained a dead letter. The
Italian NGO that mediated the 1996 agreement is also taking part in the
latest talks. PM

NINE INJURED IN CROATIAN PROTEST RALLY. Some five police and four
demonstrators were injured at a rally in central Zagreb on 20 February to
protest deteriorating social conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February
1998). Police prevented the 10,000 or so demonstrators from holding their
rally on the capital's main square, but the protesters then moved to a
nearby square, where the meeting took place  peacefully. Government
officials had banned the meeting, citing "security reasons." PM

TUDJMAN RE-ELECTED HEAD OF RULING PARTY. Some 1,700 delegates unanimously
voted to keep President Franjo Tudjman as head of the Croatian Democratic
Community (HDZ) on 21 February at the party's convention in Zagreb. Gojko
Susak, Ivic Pasalic, Mate Granic, Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, Jure Radic, Andrija
Hebrang, and Ivan Aralica were elected as HDZ vice presidents. Tudjman
criticized the previous day's protest rally as "politically motivated." He
also attacked the domestic opposition and independent media: "Betrayal is
as old as Jesus' times, but in our circumstances we need to inform the
public who these anti-Croatian lackeys ready to destroy society are. We
will not allow Croats to bicker and fight against one another any more." PM

IZETBEGOVIC BLASTS TUDJMAN'S SPEECH. Spokesmen for Alija Izetbegovic, the
Muslim member of the joint Bosnian presidency, said on 22 February that the
Bosnian embassy in Zagreb filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry against
Tudjman's speech. Izetbegovic's spokesmen claimed that Tudjman called for a
partition of Bosnia along ethnic lines, RFE/RL correspondents reported from
Zagreb and Sarajevo. In the Bosnian capital, Foreign Minister Jadranko
Prlic, who is a Croat and a member of the HDZ, said he knows nothing about
the formal protest, which cannot be official without his signature. Prlic
added that Izetbegovic is one member of the presidency and does not have
the right to speak in the name of Bosnia-Herzegovina. PM

IMF NEGOTIATIONS PROVOKE MORE BICKERING AMONG ROMANIAN COALITION. Petre
Roman, the leader of the Democratic Party, said the difficulties
encountered in the negotiations now under way with an IMF delegation are an
indication that Romania needs "a [new] government, capable of adopting a
new program for 1998." Roman spoke on 22 February after a joint meeting of
the government and the leaders of the coalition. He said the current
difficulties are the result of the "mistakes and failures" in implementing
the reforms in 1997, which, he said, must "now be paid for." Prime Minister
Victor Ciorbea said he is  sure the negotiations will be successfully
concluded "within two to three days" and that Romania will receive the
third tranche of the stand-by loan approved last year. MS

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADER CLAIMS LEAD IN POLL. Corneliu Vadim Tudor,  the
leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), on 20 February said a
poll published in the weekly "Ultima ora" shows that 21.6 percent of the
electorate back him for president, while incumbent President Emil
Constantinescu is backed by 19.1 percent and former President Ion Iliescu
by 18.3 percent. Tudor also said that the Democratic Convention of Romania
enjoys the support of 19.5 percent of respondents, the Party of Social
Democracy in Romania 17.1 percent, and the PRM 14.3 percent. He did not
reveal who conducted the poll and when, Radio Bucharest reported.

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN ROMANIA. Meeting with President Emil Constantinescu
in Galati on 21 February, Petru Lucinschi said his country "cannot afford"
to participate in the financing of a second reactor at the Cernavoda
nuclear plant in Romania, Reuters reported. The two presidents also
discussed plans for cooperating with Ukraine on the construction of a gas
pipe-line and on setting up so-called Euro-regions. The previous day,
Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, who accompanied Constantinescu, to Moldova
said that the pending basic treaty between the two countries must be
"mutually acceptable" not only to the two countries' governments but also
to "public opinion in Moldova and Romania." This may be a hint that
Bucharest is exercising pressure on Chisinau to accept a formulation
emphasizing the countries' common history. MS

GREEN LIGHT GIVEN TO GAGAUZ-YERI REFERENDUM.  The Central Electoral
Commission on 20 February approved holding a referendum in the Gagauz-Yeri
autonomous republic. The plebiscite will ask voters if they are in favor of
a "basic law" for the region. It will take place on 22 March, at the same
time as the Moldovan parliamentary elections, BASA-press reported. MS

BULGARIAN MINERS END STRIKE. Bulgarian miners have ended a 10-day strike
following negotiations with the government, AFP reported on 22 February,
citing BTA. Miners in Zlatograd began the strike on 12 February to demand a
200 percent wage hike. Miners from the Gorubso non-ferrous mining company
joined the strike three days later. At talks between miners'
representatives and Finance Minister Muravei Radev, it was agreed to reduce
the number of administrative workers at mines and grant miners the freedom
of negotiating wages. The minister also agreed to study the possibility of
a $1.6 million interest-free loan to some of the mines undergoing
restructuring. MS

END NOTE

WHEN POLITICS ISN'T THE ANSWER

by Paul Goble

        A recent poll in Moldova calls attention to a trend found in many
post-communist states: Even those extremely dissatisfied with their living
standards no longer assume that the political system will solve their
problems.
        According to a sample of 1,000 voters in Moldova by the Soros
Foundation's Romanian Center for Urban and Rural Sociology, nine out of 10
Moldovans are unhappy with their lives. But despite this unhappiness, some
20 percent said they have no intention of taking part in the 22 March
elections, while one-third said they have not decided whom they will
support.
        Some observers have suggested that these results reflect growing
popular apathy, which they link either to a general sense of hopelessness
or to the belief that individual voters can have little impact on
government actions
        While such negative factors obviously play a role in causing people
to turn away from political participation, there are at least three other
factors at work that suggest turning away from politics may reflect some
more hopeful developments.
        First, such declines in participation point to the emergence of a
civil society--to a space between the population and the state in which
individuals can achieve their goals without having to participate directly
in the political process. Under communism, virtually everything was decided
by the party-state. And with the collapse of communism, many citizens in
the region continued to look to the political system to solve all their
problems.
        But both the inability of the political systems in those countries
to do that and the growth of non-governmental institutions in society and
the marketplace are leading ever more people to focus their hopes and
energies elsewhere. Viewed from that perspective, declines in voting rates
may be a measure of just how far these new arrangements have been accepted
and institutionalized,. rather than a threat to the new democratic and free
market system.
        Second, these declines reflect the emergence of a broad consensus
on many issues. While the poll tapped into popular differences on such
questions as relations with Moscow or the West, its findings suggest that
ever more people do agree on certain key issues such as the value of
democracy and free markets.
        The Soros Foundation poll found that Moldovan voters are deeply
split on the question of which party they will support. It also indicated
that nearly half of those surveyed favored closer relations with Moscow,
while approximately one-third believed that Moldova should seek stronger
ties with the EU and NATO.
        While such divisions are obviously real, they have not succeeded in
splitting society to the point that everyone feels he or she must take part
in the vote. Instead, a relatively large proportion of the electorate
appears to feel that such choices are at the margin, rather than at the
center, of their lives. That, in turn, suggests that there may be a genuine
consensus lying behind the  differences.
        And third, the declines in voter participation suggest that the
voters may not actually be as unhappy with their lot as they have told the
poll-takers. If the voters in Moldova were genuinely as unhappy as this
poll suggests, the experience of established democracies suggests that they
would be available for mobilization by one party or another. Unless one
assumes that Moldovan politicians are incompetent, their failure to
mobilize the electorate suggests that the reported unhappiness may be
widespread but not nearly as deep as some might think.
        To the extent that these three factors are at work-- and not just
feelings of apathy or the lack of a sense of efficacy--declines in
political participation in the post-communist countries may in fact be a
measure of the institutionalization of democracy rather than a threat to it.


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