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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 54 Part II, 19 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 54 Part II, 19 March 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 ALL BROADCASTS FOR SIX SERVICES LIVE ONLINE All programs of RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Kyrgyz, Russian and Ukrainian Services are online live in RealAudio. The Russian Service broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To tune in, go to: http://www.rferl.org/realaudio/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * LATVIA TO DRAW UP GUIDELINES FOR INTEGRATING RUSSIAN-SPEAKERS * BELGRADE PROPOSES 'SELF-RULE TALKS' WITH KOSOVARS * SREBRENICA SERBS AGREE TO SHARE POWER * End Note: MOLDOVA'S UPCOMING PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS (PART ONE) xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK REJECTS LUKASHENKA'S CLAIMS. The Russian Central Bank has rejected claims by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that it was to blame for the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble, AFP reported on 19 March. The bank said there is not "the slightest economic logic" in blaming it for the recent plunge of the currency, which has lost some 25 percent of its value. It added that many Russians "have suffered major financial losses" as a result of the drop. Russian First Deputy Premier Anatolii Chubais responded to Lukashenka's claims by saying that the crisis was due to "serious mistakes" in the economy by Belarusian officials. He urged them to make "constructive, professional decisions" rather than to "look for enemies." PB GAZPROM THREATENS CUTOFF TO BELARUS. The Russian gas giant Gazprom has warned the Belarusian government to pay its debt to the company or face a cutoff of gas supplies, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. Belarusian Prime Minister Serhei Ling said that Gazprom is insisting that Minsk pay 70 percent of its debt in hard currency and 30 percent in goods. Last year, he said, Gazprom accepted 70 percent payment in goods and 30 percent in hard currency. Ling said Belarus lacks the hard currency to repay the debt, which, he added, has reached $220 million. Ling said barter deals account for 80 percent of trade between Russia and Belarus. PB SOCIALISTS ATTACK KUCHMA'S ECONOMIC POLICY. Viktor Medvedchuk, the deputy leader of the United Social Democratic Party (SDPU) said on 18 March that his party would alter current economic policy if elected, the "Eastern Economist" reported. Former President and SDPU leader Leonid Kravchuk said President Leonid Kuchma's economic policy since coming to power has two major flaws: "the sacred belief in monetary policy" and the "abandonment of the state's regulatory role." Kravchuk said that Ukraine has a long history of government regulation and that it would be dangerous to cease such regulation. Ukrainian parliamentary elections are scheduled for 29 March. PB UKRAINIAN AIRLINE TO PAY RELATIVES OF CRASH VICTIMS. The Ukrainian airline Aerosvit announced on 18 March that it will pay some $7 million to the families of Greek passengers who died in a crash last December near Thessaloniki, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. At least 69 people died in the crash, and relatives of the victims have demanded compensation, even though a report on the cause of the crash has not been completed. PB POLAND, UKRAINE AGREE TO BOOST ECONOMIC TIES. Delegations to the Consultative Committee of the Presidents of Ukraine and Poland agreed on 17 March to increase economic relations, an RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw reported. After a two-day meeting in Warsaw, the sides released a joint statement that revealed plans for the creation of a transport corridor between the Black and Baltic Seas. The talks were chaired by Ukrainian Defense Council Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin and Polish National Security Office head Marek Siwiek. PB ESTONIA ABOLISHES DEATH PENALTY. Lawmakers on 18 March voted by 39 to 30 with 13 abstentions to ratify the sixth protocol to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, under which the country must scrap the death penalty. Previously, Estonia had adopted the convention without the sixth protocol. The last execution in Estonia took place in 1991, before the country regained independence. The Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional in 1996, and the following year the parliament passed a bill providing for life imprisonment, which was seen as the first step toward abolishing capital punishment. Opinion polls show that a majority of Estonians are in favor of the death penalty. JC LUKOIL CHIEF IN TALLINN. Vagit Alekperov, the head of the Russian oil giant LUKoil, was in Tallinn on 18 March, where he met with Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann, ETA and BNS reported. Siimann told journalists later that Alekperov's visit was linked to LUKoil's interest in Estonia as a transit country for oil. He said no concrete projects or plans were discussed, saying the meeting was rather "an expression of goodwill by the head of government to a company that want to invest in Estonia." Siimann also commented that the visits of both Alekperov and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev indicate an "improvement in Estonian-Russian relations." JC LATVIA TO DRAW UP GUIDELINES FOR INTEGRATING RUSSIAN-SPEAKERS. Valdis Birkavs told journalists in Riga on 18 March that Latvia will draw up guidelines by 30 June for integrating the country's Russian-speakers. One of the program's main goals is to "avoid the emergence of a two-community state on Latvian territory," he said, adding that this "long-term task" is linked to Latvia's "strategic foreign policy goal, integration into the EU." However, it is "unacceptable" to seek such goals "by coercion or volitional methods," Birkavs said. The previous day, the Latvian Foreign Ministry sent a note to Moscow asking the authorities there to assess the activities of "extremist organizations at Latvian diplomatic representations and ensure the safety of the representations," BNS reported. Earlier this week, some 100 protesters had gathered outside the Latvian embassy in Moscow in the wake of the Latvian SS Legion rally in Riga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1998). JC CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER DENIES CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS. The main opposition Social Democrats said on 17 March that they have asked the police to investigate allegations made on state television the previous day that Czech entrepreneurs living in Switzerland in 1995 bribed party chairman Milos Zeman, CTK reported. A letter showed Zeman's signature to an agreement promising the businessmen top civil service positions under a future CSSD government in exchange for preferential loans. Zeman admitted he had met the businessmen but said he "threw them out" when the offer was made by them. MS CZECHS FAVOR NATO REFERENDUM. A poll conducted by the STEM institute shows 59 percent of Czechs want the issue of Czech membership in NATO to be put to a referendum, as proposed by the Social Democratic Party. Support for the referendum, however, is not an indication of opposition to joining NATO, since 57 percent of respondents said they back entry to the alliance, AFP reported. In recent months, support for joining NATO has steadily risen. MS SLOVAKIA AGAIN REJECTS EU CRITICISM. In an official statement released on 18 March, the Slovak Foreign Ministry said EU criticism of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar since he took over some presidential prerogatives is "misplaced" and does not reflect the fact that Meciar acted "in full harmony with the provisions of the constitution" (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998), Reuters reported. MS HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER RECEIVES MORE BOMB THREATS. Jozsef Torgyan , chairman of the opposition Independent Smallholders' Party, has received two more bomb threats since a bomb exploded outside his home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998), Hungarian media reported. Torgyan accused Prime Minister Gyula Horn of not taking firm action against the "fascist attack" and thereby encouraging "terrorism." Torgyan is the first party chairman in Hungary to have requested and received secret service protection. In other news, the Smallholders on 18 March signed an electoral cooperation pact with the largest Romani organization in Hungary, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarian Roma. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE BELGRADE PROPOSES 'SELF-RULE TALKS' WITH KOSOVARS... Serbian President Milutinovic issued a statement in Belgrade on 18 March calling for the immediate and unconditional start of talks that would address the "issue" of "self rule" for Kosovo. This marks a reversal of Belgrade's previous insistence that negotiations on Kosovo must respect the Serbian Constitution. In an apparent bid at reconciliation with the Kosovar Albanians, Milutinovic's "declaration" did not mention Albanian "terrorism." Tanjug quoted Milutinovic as saying, "these talks should be based on the principle of preserving territorial integrity and include the issue of self-rule for Kosovo-Metohija within Serbia. The only way to resolve the Kosovo-Metohija issue is by political and peaceful means. Lasting solutions to all problems can be found only through dialogue, which should be based on the implementation of the principle of equality of all citizens." JN ...WHILE GELBARD SAYS RUGOVA READY TO TALK WITH BELGRADE. U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard announced on 18 March that Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leader, is now ready to talk to the Serbian government, adding that talks will probably take place next week. Kosovo Albanians had until now refused to discuss anything other than independence for the province. Gelbard said Rugova intends to form a broad-based advisory group for talks with Serbian officials. Rugova said Kosovo will designate its negotiating team for talks with Belgrade before parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 22 March. Gelbard threatened Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic with harsher sanctions against Serbia if he does not end the crackdown on Kosovo Albanians. In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also warned that Milosevic must "pay a price" for ordering the police into action against Albanian civilians. JN KOSOVO ALBANIAN KILLED IN PEC PROTEST. A 50-year-old Kosovar man was killed and at least five others injured on 18 March when Serbian police opened fire on a demonstration in Pec, the Kosovo Information Center reported. But Kosovo Information Secretary Bosko Drobnjak later denied allegations that the Serbian police intervened during the demonstration in Pec. Drobnjak told Radio B92 and BETA that "the police did not intervene anywhere in the province on 18 March, nor has there been any information that anyone was wounded today in Pec." JN HAGUE TRIBUNAL ASKS KOSOVARS FOR INFORMATION ON CRACKDOWN. The UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has asked Kosovo Albanians for information about the crackdown in the province. The tribunal told the Albanian Committee for the Defense of Human Rights that it is gathering information and evidence in relation to "the Kosovo incidents" to determine whether "crimes within the jurisdiction of this tribunal may have been committed," AFP reported on 18 March. The Albanian committee asked the tribunal on 9 March to investigate the Serbian security force operation against the Drenica region. Meanwhile, the tribunal refused to drop charges against three Muslims and a Bosnian Croat accused of anti-Serbian atrocities in 1992 at the Bosnian government-run Celebici camp. JN KOSOVO LIBERATION ARMY AGAIN CALLS FOR ELECTION POSTPONEMENT. The Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) has repeated its call for the postponement of the presidential and parliamentary elections in Kosovo's Albanian community. In a communique published in Kosovo on 18 March and broadcast on Albanian Television, the UCK said it "will accept elections only after the country's liberation." The UCK denounced Rugova's call for postponing the elections only in the Drenica region as divisive since "the state of emergency is throughout Kosovo." It also said it will continue "the liberation war by attacking the enemy in various parts of Kosovo." JN BUHA CONDEMNS BRCKO DECISION. Aleksa Buha, the chairman of the Bosnian Serb Democratic Party (SDS). told BETA on 17 March that the decision to postpone the ruling on the status of Brcko "intensely harmed" the Republika Srpska. Buha labeled the decision "political" rather than "legal," describing it as "blackmail" against the Bosnian Serb entity. He proposed that President Biljana Plavsic and Prime Minister Milorad Dodik resign, since the more Plavsic "gives in" to the international community, the less its behavior is "to the benefit of the Republika Srpska." Plavsic's Serb National Alliance issued a statement on 16 March calling the Brcko decision "another form of pressure" on the Bosnian Serb leadership to implement the Dayton agreement. It also said the more the SDS influences the Bosnian Serb leadership, the "smaller" the chance that Brcko would be awarded to Republika Srpska. JN SREBRENICA SERBS AGREE TO SHARE POWER. The chairmen of the municipal committees of the SDS and the Serbian Radical Party in Srebrenica said on 19 March that they accepted as "final and binding" an international arbitration ruling on the distribution of posts in the town, Tanjug reported. The municipal assembly will now consist of 20 Serbian and 25 Muslim deputies, based on the results of the local elections last September, which the Bosnian Serb side has never accepted because of irregularities. Under the arbitration decision, the Muslim side will hold the post of assembly president and four seats on the executive committee. The Serbs will have the post of executive committee president and three seats on the municipal government. The Srebrenica assembly secretary and his deputy, who cannot be of the same nationality, will rotate every two months. JN PRIMAKOV MEETS BOSNIAN TRIUMVIRATE IN SARAJEVO. Members of the three-member Bosnian-Herzegovinian Presidency met with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov in Sarajevo on 18 March. Primakov expressed Russia's readiness to grant Bosnia full cooperation and reconstruction aid to Bosnia. Russia is expected to grant Bosnia a $50 million reconstruction loan this year, BH Press reported on 18 March. Primakov reiterated that Russia supports the idea of an international military presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina after June 1998 and will be ready to participate in it if the peacekeepers remain. Primakov and Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic agreed that Yugoslavia's territorial integrity should be respected but that there should be more autonomy for Kosovo Albanians. JN BALKAN STATES DISCUSS MULTINATIONAL PEACE KEEPING FORCE. At a meeting in Ankara on 18 March, military experts from Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey discussed the setting up of a joint peace-keeping force for the region, Romanian media reported. Slovenia and the U.S. sent observers to the gathering. The force would be deployed in other regions if the UN or the OSCE so requested and would operate under NATO command. The experts will meet again in Bucharest at a date to be yet established to work out further details about the force. MS ROMANIAN POLITICAL INSTABILITY PEAKS AGAIN. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea told journalists on 17 March that the only solutions to the ongoing political crisis in Romania are early elections or a government of experts, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. Also on 17 March, the Steering Bureau of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic expelled from the party maverick Senator George Pruteanu. Pruteanu the previous day had supported the opposition and the Democratic Party in a vote in the Senate that rejected the government regulation amending the local government law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1998). An opinion poll commissioned by the Democrats shows that nearly half of the electorate would support an alternative government formed by the Democrats and the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania, Party of Romanian National Unity, and the Alliance for Romania. MS SHARP DROP IN VALUE OF TRANSDNIESTER RUBLE. The Transdniester ruble recently nose-dived from 650,000 rubles to 1.5 million rubles to U.S.$1, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The separatist government has put the blame on local private firms, but Aleksandr Karaman, the region's vice president, said he does not rule out that "outside forces" masterminded the fall as a "conspiracy." The separatist authorities has decided to postpone raising value-added tax by 20 percent. MS BULGARIA SEEKS TO RECOVER COMMUNIST-ERA DEBTS. Bulgaria is seeking to recover some $ 3 billion owed by countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, AFP reported on 17 March. Iraq has the largest single debt to Bulgaria, totaling nearly $2 billion. Libya, Nicaragua, Syria, Nigeria, Angola, Yemen, and Ethiopia have debts ranging from $44 million to $348 million. Finance Minister Muravei Radev said Sofia is willing to consider scheduling repayments "over an acceptable period," depending on the economic situation of the debtor. Bulgaria itself has a gross external debt of $10 billion. MS END NOTE MOLDOVA'S UPCOMING PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS (PART ONE) by Michael Shafir Fifteen political parties and electoral blocs, as well as some 70 independents, are competing in the Moldovan parliamentary elections scheduled for 22 March. As elsewhere in the former communist bloc, the Moldovan political landscape is somewhat fragmented and the political "supply" (that is, the number of aspirants to a seat in the legislature) far exceeds "demand." Judging by the 1994 parliamentary ballot, as well as by opinion polls conducted over the past few weeks, the electorate is significantly more mature than those political forces aspiring to represent it. Of the latter, only a handful are likely to gain representation. Four years ago, 13 lists and a plethora of independents ran for the parliament (where representation is obtained through a proportional system in a single countrywide electoral district) but only four lists gained parliamentary representation: the Democratic Agrarian Party, the Socialist Unity-Edinstvo Bloc, the Bloc of Peasants and Intellectuals, and the Christian Democrat-Popular Front Bloc. Such is likely to be the case, although some of the main actors will very probably be changed. Opinion polls in Moldova are notoriously unreliable. For this reason, more experienced pollsters from Romania--the Bucharest-based Center for Urban and Rural Sociology (CURS) and the Institute for Market Analysis and Research (IMAS)--recently conducted two surveys, whose findings were released on 18 February and on 17 March. Both those polls, along with surveys carried out by Moldovan pollsters (such as the one released on 13 March by the Opinia institute) put the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) in front. The first CURS-IMAS poll showed the PCM with19 percent support and the second 21 percent. The Opinia poll gave the Communists 20 percent backing. Should those polls prove accurate, there would be an electoral upheaval. The PCM, led by Vladimir Voronin, did not run in the February 1994 race because it was outlawed until later that year. But it would be wrong to assert that the Communists have been absent from the Moldovan political scene and to view their "resurgence" as a sudden occurrence. Two Communist ministers have posts in Ion Ciubuc's government, and the party gained post-1994 parliamentary representation owing to the splits and political migrations characteristic of the Moldovan political scene. In its electoral propaganda, the PCM seems to have been able to shift responsibility for the deterioration of the average Moldovan's daily life onto its adversaries--"washing its hands," as it were, of either progress in economic reforms or the stagnation of those reforms. While the "born-again" Communists present the Soviet Union in a light of near perfection and promise to restore it with full equality for all its members, their electoral success--if it indeed materializes--would have to be attributed to two factors: nostalgia among the electorate for a time of at least material security, and the Communists' rather special position on the Transdniestrian conflict. It is the latter of those two factors that distinguishes the Communists from the Socialist Unity-Edinstvo, which, unlike Voronin, favors the recognition of an independent Transdniestrian republic. For this reason, the separatists encourage support for Socialist Unity (Moldovan citizens residing in the separatists region will be allowed to cross the Dniester River and vote, but balloting on the territory of Smirnov's fiefdom has not been allowed) while seeking to thwart Voronin's attempts to take over local Communist Party organizations in the Transdniester. But despite those differences, the two formations have more in common than meets the eye--above all, their anti-reform stance. This is why a coalition government formed by the Communists and Socialist Unity (which , however, may fail to gain parliamentary representation if the opinion polls are accurate) would virtually signal an end of the reform process, which is already stalled. Somewhat close to the center but still on the Left of the Moldovan political spectrum is the Democratic Agrarian Party (PDAM). Having won the 1994 election with more than 43 percent of the vote, the PDAM is likely to be the great loser of this year's elections. Support for the party ranges from 8 percent (Opinia) and 4 percent (the second CURS-IMAS poll), meaning the PDAM may fail even to pass the 4 percent electoral threshold. If that proved the case, the party would thus pay the price for its failure either to decisively promote reform or to decisively oppose it. It would also fall victim to internal splits over the past few years. The PDAM was first deserted in 1995 by a group called the Party of Social Progress. Then former President Mircea Snegur left to form the Party of Revival and Conciliation. And other deputies migrated to other parties. A post-electoral coalition between the Communists and the PDAM cannot be ruled out but would doubtless prove an uneasy one. 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