|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 38 , Part II, 25 February 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 38 , Part II, 25 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 SEARCH RFE/RL NEWSLINE BY REGION Use the RFE/RL Web site's new search engine to limit your search to a regional section of RFE/RL Newsline, e.g. Russia or Southeastern Europe: http://www.rferl.org:8080/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * BELARUSIAN YOUTHS SENTENCED * MONTENEGRO CALLS FOR KOSOVO AUTONOMY * BELGRADE, PODGORICA DENY ROLE IN ALBANIAN UNREST * End Note: ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADER COMPLAINS OF DISCRIMINATION IN MACEDONIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx REGIONAL AFFAIRS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA IMPROVING. On the eve of his trip to Moscow, Leonid Kuchma said in an interview published by "Izvestiya" on 24 February that relations between Kyiv and Moscow have greatly improved but are only at "B-minus" level. Kuchma said that he recently would have rated relations as a "C" but now the "toughest knots" in bilateral relations have been "unraveled." He compared Russia and Ukraine to a divorced couple that "only remember problems." Kuchma complained of low Russian investment in Ukraine, saying that its total was equal to investment from Cyprus. Acknowledging the economic and social problems in his country, Kuchma said he hoped a more reform-minded parliament would be elected when legislative elections are held on 29 March. Kuchma meets with President Yeltsin in Moscow on 26 February. PB IS KUCHMA GETTING COLD FEET OVER GUAM? Asked by "Izvestiya" to elucidate his reservations over the CIS, Kuchma said Ukraine has not succeeded in resolving any of its major problems within the framework of the CIS, whose members, he added, have concluded numerous agreements that remain on paper. For that reason, Kuchma said, Ukraine considers bilateral ties more productive. He nonetheless said Kyiv believes the CIS should be preserved but "we are against groups of two or four inside the Commonwealth." It is unclear whether Kuchma was referring to the Russia-Belarus union, the CIS Customs Union between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, or the Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova alignment that emerged last fall. LF RUSSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER IN KYIV. Yakov Urinson and several prominent Russian businessmen held talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko on 24 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Among those joining Urinson were Vladimir Gusinksii of the Media-Most conglomerate and Mikhail Khodorkovskii, head of the oil giant Yuksi. Urinson said he would discuss economic topics and issues related to President Kuchma's upcoming visit to Moscow. Pustovoytenko said before a gathering of Russian and Ukrainian businessmen that an economic agreement expected to be signed by the countries' presidents in Moscow would double trade between the two countries over the next several years. He also called on Russian companies to take part in the construction of additional nuclear reactors in Ukraine. PB EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE BELARUSIAN YOUTHS SENTENCED. In a much-publicized case, a Minsk court on 24 February found two youths guilty of vandalism. Alexei Shydlowsky, 19, was sentenced to 18 months in jail, while 16-year-old Vadzim Labkovich received a suspended sentence and was released from custody. Both men, members of the youth wing of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, have been held in jail since their arrest in August. They were convicted of writing graffiti on walls and throwing paint at Soviet-era statues in their hometown of Stouptsy. An official from Human Rights Watch called the event a "grotesque show trial" and said it had the "hallmarks of Soviet repression." The defendants were handcuffed and kept in a cage during the trial. The EU called last week for the youths to be released, and Amnesty International had described the two as "prisoners of conscience." At a press conference after the sentencing, Labkovich vowed to actively campaign for the release of Shydlowsky. PB ESTONIA'S MERI WARNS OF THREAT "FROM INSIDE." Speaking on the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Estonia, President Lennart Meri warned that threats to the country come not from outside Estonia, in particular Russia, but from inside, ETA reported on 24 February. Meri said there is an identity crisis in Estonia because the people are "not proud of their politicians, their parliament, [or] their political parties, and they distrust the legal system and the police." He argued that a way out of this crisis would be for politicians to consider the interests of the state, rather than their own personal interests. He repeated his call for like-minded parties to merge, saying "the instability of Estonian parties jeopardizes the stability of Estonia's political life [and] economic development and may influence the constitutional order." JC PROTESTS CONTINUE AGAINST PHONE HIKES IN LITHUANIA. Some 2,000 people surrounded the parliament building in Vilnius on 24 February to protest an increase in telephone rates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 1998), an RFE/RL correspondent in the Lithuanian capital reported. The protest coincided with a debate in the parliament about possibly rescinding the increase. The leaders of the rally, which was organized by the local unions, have called for another protest to coincide with the inauguration on 26 February of Valdas Adamkus as president. JC POLISH TRUCKS BLOCK BORDER WITH BELARUS. Some 500 angry Polish truck drivers blocked the Kukuryki checkpoint on the Polish-Belarusian border on 24 February to protest day-long delays at the crossing, PAP reported. Drivers have had to wait up to five days to cross the border, and a 40-kilometer line of vehicles heading to Belarus has formed at the Kukuryki crossing. When Poland tightened border controls earlier this year, small traders began pooling resources and putting their wares in trucks rather than trying to cross by car, greatly increasing truck traffic. Drivers have threatened to block the crossing for cars as well if the waiting time in not reduced. PB IN-FIGHTING CONTINUES WITHIN CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY... Vladimir Dlouhy, former deputy chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), on 24 February told journalists that the PPF, Philip Morris, and Vitkovice companies were only "mediators" for the party's real sponsors, which in 1995-1996 made donations to the ODA through a fictitious firm set up in the Virgin Islands. He said he did not know who the real donors were but added they were foreigners. Dlouhy said the entire ODA leadership at that time knew about his talks with the mediators, CTK reported. Dlouhy added he will leave the ODA. Meanwhile, three members of the party's former leadership, including Jiri Skalicky, said they knew only about the Virgin Island-based firm but not that the three companies had been only mediators. The identity of those companies was disclosed by Skalicky. MS ...WHILE PARTY FACES EXTINCTION. Pavel Bratinka, the founder of the ODA, announced on 24 February that he, too, is leaving the party. He is the fifth ODA deputy to take that step. A public opinion poll conducted by Sofres-Factum shows that support for the ODA has dropped below the 5 percent required to gain entry to the parliament, CTK reported on 24 February. The poll shows the ODA with only 4.9 percent support. The Social Democratic Party continues to lead (28.8 percent), followed by Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (10.8 percent), the Freedom Union (10.3 percent), and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (9.3 percent). MS CZECH 'NOSTALGIA' FOR COMMUNIST REGIME GROWS. The same Sofres-Factum poll shows that the number of Czechs who say they would prefer to live under the former communist regime is growing. Last year, 18.1 percent showed such a preference, while that figure has now risen to 28.7 percent. Most of the "communist nostalgics" are pensioners and manual workers. Meanwhile on 24 February, the Czech government decided to increase controlled rents for apartments in Prague by up to 41 percent and to between 15-25 percent elsewhere in the country, CTK reported. Electricity and gas prices will also increase by about 30 percent as of 1 July. Needy families will receive some compensation for that hike. MS SLOVAK PRESIDENT, PREMIER MEET AFTER THREE YEARS. Michal Kovac and Vladimir Meciar on 24 February met in what was their first meeting in three years, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. After the meeting, Meciar angrily walked away from journalists without making any statement. Presidential spokesman Vladimir Stefko said that "nobody raised his voice" during the meeting which he described as "peaceful and matter-of- fact." He said the two leaders discussed the recent resignation of the labor and economics ministers and the new appointments to the two portfolios (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 1998). Stefko said Kovac had accepted the resignations of the ministers and will swear in their replacements on 27 February. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE MONTENEGRO CALLS FOR KOSOVO AUTONOMY. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told state television on 24 February that Kosovo must receive a "certain degree of autonomy." He added that the province also needs its own economic development program to give people the opportunity to build a better life, BETA quoted him as saying. Djukanovic also called for a Serbian-Albanian dialogue because "without a dialogue in Kosovo, Yugoslavia cannot return to membership in the international community." The Montenegrin president noted that Kosovo has long been under an especially repressive police regime but added that the state cannot politically or economically afford to maintain such a control structure in the long run. He called on the Belgrade authorities to prepare a comprehensive program dealing first and foremost with Kosovo and aimed at returning Yugoslavia to the international community. Those remarks may constitute Djukanovic's most direct challenge yet to the policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM WESTENDORP APPEALS TO TUDJMAN. Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Zagreb on 24 February that President Franjo Tudjman and Foreign Minister Mate Granic have agreed to help secure the removal of Pero Raguz, the mayor of the Herzegovinian town of Stolac. Representatives of the international community hold Raguz partly responsible for a series of recent physical attacks on Muslim refugees attempting to return to Stolac (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 24 February 1998). According to Granic, however, Tudjman also told Westendorp that the main problem in Bosnia is the "legacy of history" and not the behavior of individuals. The Croatian president also urged Westendorp to address his complaints "primarily" to the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina themselves and not to Zagreb. PM THIRD BOSNIAN SERB TO HAGUE. Simo Zaric, one of six Bosnian Serbs from Bosanski Samac who is wanted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, turned himself in to the court's representatives on 24 February and was sent immediately to The Netherlands. Two other of the six men gave themselves up 10 days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has been active behind the scenes in recent weeks to persuade indicted Bosnian Serbs to surrender to the court voluntarily. PM MORE AID MONEY FOR BOSNIAN SERBS. Westendorp and Dodik signed an agreement in Banja Luka on 24 February on the allocation of $8.5 million in EU aid money to the Republika Srpska. The money will be used to pay the salaries of teachers, police, and customs officials as well as pensions. PM FAMILIAR FACES HEAD BOSNIAN SERB POLICE. Republika Srpska Interior Minister Milovan Stankovic named well-known policemen from both reformist and hard-liner camps to senior positions on 24 February. The appointees include Ljubisa Savic-- better known as "Mauser" and as the wartime paramilitary leader in Bijeljina--and Slavko Paleksic, who served as police chief in the last government loyal to Radovan Karadzic. Stankovic was an officer during the recent war and was praised by Croats and Muslims for his humane treatment of prisoners. At the end of the war, he founded an independent newspaper that was sharply critical of the Karadzic faction. PM SARAJEVO CHANGES PROPERTY LAW. The mainly Muslim and Croatian federal government on 24 February approved and sent to the parliament a draft law that gives refugees six months to reclaim their homes, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. The measure repeals a war-time law that confiscated the flats of people who fled their homes after April 1991. The international community has been urging the Muslim authorities to repeal that act to allow Serbs and Croats to return to Sarajevo. PM REFUGEE AGREEMENT FOR MOSTAR. Muslim Mostar Mayor Safet Orucevic, his Croat deputy Ivan Prskalo, and Kresimir Zubak, the Croatian member of the joint presidency, agreed in Sarajevo on 24 February on a program to enable Mostar refugees to go home "immediately," Orucevic told Reuters. He provided no details. West Mostar is currently mainly Croatian, and east Mostar is almost entirely Muslim. In Mostar itself, federal police closed off the main street dividing the two halves of the town in the wake of a series of violent incidents. Martin Garrod, Westendorp's deputy in Mostar, called on Croatian and Muslim leaders to put an end to the violence. Orucevic urged SFOR to start regular patrols along the main street. PM CROATIAN SERBS THREATEN TO QUIT JOINT BODIES. Milorad Pupovac, Vojislav Stanimirovic and Milos Vojnovic, who are leaders of Croatia's Serbian minority, said in statement in Zagreb on 24 February that they will leave joint bodies aimed at promoting the reintegration of eastern Slavonia into Croatia unless Serbs stop fleeing the region and unless incidents that the Serbs regard as provocative cease. PM BELGRADE, PODGORICA DENY ROLE IN ALBANIAN UNREST. The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry issued a statement in Belgrade on 24 February denying claims by Albanian Interior Minister Neritan Ceka two days earlier that Yugoslav secret service agents played a role in the recent unrest in Shkoder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 February 1998). The Belgrade statement noted that "Yugoslavia strongly rejects these false and spiteful allegations aimed at diverting attention from the real causes of Albania's internal problems." Montenegrin Interior Minister Vukasin Maras told the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 25 February that Ceta's allegations are "baseless." In Tirana, Albanian National Police Chief Sokol Bare said he has no evidence of any Montenegrin involvement in the unrest, "Shekulli" reported. PM/FS POLICE SACKINGS AFTER SHKODER UNREST... National deputy police chief Ilir Cano said in Tirana on 24 February that more than 150 policemen in Shkoder will be fired as a result of the unrest in the northern city, "Koha Jone" reported. He said that about one-third of the city's policemen did not return to work on 23 February, after special forces retook control of the city from an armed gang. He added that the policemen's behavior constituted desertion. Meanwhile, a special team appointed by Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi has opened investigations into the unrest, "Republika" reported on 25 February. The daily quotes unnamed sources within the prosecutor's office as saying the investigations focus on the role of organized crime in the disturbances but will also examine the possibility that political rivalries played a part. FS ...WHILE CRIMINALS TRY TO FLEE WITH LOOT. The Albanian and Italian coast guard have stopped a speedboat with 10 escaped criminals trying to flee Shkoder, "Shekulli" reported on 25 February. The daily quotes Albanian police as saying the criminals were heavily armed and were in possession of some $350,000 believed stolen from a bank in Shkoder during the night of 22-23 February. A total of 22 people have been arrested in connection with the riots. A spokesman for the Prefecture of Shkoder said that the material damage from the unrest amounts to $1 million, "Koha Jone" reported on 25 February. FS ROMANIAN PREMIER OFFERS ALTERNATIVES. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea on 24 February said that either the ruling coalition accepts his repeated offer to resign or the Democratic Party stops its continued attacks on him. Ciorbea was speaking before a meeting of the coalition's Political Council, at which party leaders discussed the ongoing negotiations with the IMF over the 1998 budget. While the Democrats pledged to back the budget in the parliament, they are still insisting that a new premier be appointed, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. On 25 February, Ciorbea met with IMF chief negotiator Poul Thompsen, saying later the positions of the two sides are drawing closer. He noted that the budget will provide for a deficit of 3.6 percent of GDP. The fund still considers the government's projection of privatization revenues to be overly optimistic. MS ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY CRITICIZES PRESIDENT. Adrian Nastase, the deputy chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said on 24 February that President Emil Constantinescu has met with PDSR members of the parliament's economic commissions on the 1998 budget without informing the PDSR leadership of his intention to do so. Nastase said this is a "flagrant infringement of the principle of division of powers" between the executive and the legislative and an "attempt to side-step the process of the rule of the law." MS ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST GOVERNMENT. The Supreme Court on 24 February ruled that amending the education law and the law on public administration by government regulation is unconstitutional, Romanian radio reported. The ruling followed an appeal by the Party of Romanian National Unity, which pointed out that both laws are so-called "organic laws" and therefore cannot be changed by government regulation. That category of legislation requires the approval of an absolute majority of all deputies and senators in order to be passed or changed. The court ruling may trigger a new government crisis, since the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania has made its participation in the coalition conditional on amending the education and public administration laws. MS ITALIAN PREMIER IN BULGARIA. Romano Prodi on 24 February met with President Petar Stoyanov, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, and other Bulgarian officials. According to an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia, Rome is interested in participating in the construction of a trans-Balkan highway linking the Black Sea port of Burgas with Albania's Adriatic port of Durres. It would also like to take part in building an oil pipeline between Burgas and the Albanian port of Vlora. MS BULGARIAN PATRIARCH REFUSES TO STEP DOWN. Patriarch Maxim on 24 February told President Petar Stoyanov that he will not step down "for the good of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church" and that the president must stop interfering in the internal affairs of the Church, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Stoyanov has called on both Maxim, who was appointed patriarch by the communist regime, and his rival, Patriarch Pymen, who set up another synod in 1991, to resign in order to bring about an end to the split in the Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 1998). MS END NOTE ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADER COMPLAINS OF DISCRIMINATION IN MACEDONIA by Anthony Georgieff Arber Xhaferi, the leader of the Albanian Democratic Party (PDSA), which has its stronghold in the Macedonian region of Tetovo, says that ethnic Albanians are bracing for trouble in the former Yugoslav republic. According to official estimates, between 400,000 and 500,000 ethnic Albanians live in Macedonia. But Xhaferi says they number at least 800 000, although virtually all decided not to participate in the only census to have taken place in the country since independence. In the western regions of Tetovo and Gostivar, ethnic Albanians make up the majority. Xhaferi, an independent deputy in Macedonia's parliament who founded the PDSA eight months ago, .recently told RFE/RL that his party is demanding the formal recognition of the right to use the Albanian language in schools and in dealings with official bodies. Xhaferi said that ethnic Albanians will not settle for a minority status because they constitute up to 80 percent of the local population in areas such as Tetovo and Gostivar. Instead, he says, they would like to be considered a constituent nation in Macedonia or a "people of the state" coequal to Macedonians. The Macedonian Constitution of 1991 describes the state as "Macedonian" and gives "minority status" to some ethnic groups. The Albanian language is not banned in Macedonia and is even taught in some primary schools. But the authorities request all official documents to be in Macedonian. Moreover, the public hoisting of the Albanian flag is banned, except at sports and cultural events. "Skopje uses the so-called international factor in order not to give us what we want," Xhaferi said. He was alluding to the widespread belief among ethnic Macedonians, including moderate President Kiro Gligorov, that the Albanians' real goal is union with Albania. "There is a lot of confusion. The majority [of Macedonian citizens] want to be Slavs and call themselves Macedonian but that is not acceptable to either Greece, Bulgaria, or Serbia, with which the former Yugoslav republic has no final border. This makes for a potentially lethal cocktail," according to Xhaferi. Xhaferi said his party will accept Macedonia's borders if the Skopje government recognizes what he calls the "political realities," namely, that one-third of the country's total population is ethnic Albanian. "Macedonia is a multi-ethnic state, like Bosnia, but the Slavic politicians will not admit this," he noted. "We must have an agreement with the ethnic Macedonian community to define our rights and obligations," Xhaferi said.. "We must re-write the constitution, and we must ensure that all citizens are loyal to the state." Xhaferi complained that the current constitution defines Macedonia as a Slavic state. "They ask us to be loyal to a state that does not protect us," he commented. "But this is a vicious circle, as they want dialogue within a system that is governed by a law that we object to." Xhaferi cited various international documents and agreements concluded during and/or after the Yugoslav wars that secure the protection of ethnic communities living outside their "mother states." But he argued that the government in Skopje refuses to implement those accords. . The Macedonian authorities have refused to register Xhaferi's PDSA on the grounds that its basic principles are unconstitutional. "We want the law changed but how can we change it peacefully if we are not allowed to form a political party?" Xhaferi asked. Currently, seven parliamentary deputies belong to the party but because the PDSA is not registered, they present themselves as independents. Xhaferi says that 11 local mayors also belong to the party and the organization has a considerable following among ethnic Albanians. Xhaferi confirmed he has close connections with Kosovo, with Albania proper, and with the Albanian diaspora. "Everyone [ in the international community] says it's better to have bad peace than a good war. They tell us we must be calm and patient. But we are losing ground step by step because this is a repressive system that uses the police and the military against us. We live under occupation," Xhaferi said, referring to the bloody riots in Gostivar last summer. During that unrest, ethnic Albanians clashed with police while protesting a new law on the display of minorities' flags and other national symbols. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent who specializes in Balkan affairs. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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