|A host is like general: calamities often reveal his genius. - Horace|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 58 Part II, 25 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 58 Part II, 25 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 RUSSIAN MEDIA EMPIRES II Businessmen, government leaders, politicians, and financial companies continue to reshape Russia's media landscape. This update of a September report identifies the players and their media holdings via charts, tables and articles. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumedia2/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * TATAR PROTEST TURNS VIOLENT IN CRIMEA * SERBIAN ATTACKS NEAR ALBANIAN BORDER * ALBRIGHT URGES PRESSURE ON SERBIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE TATAR PROTEST TURNS VIOLENT IN CRIMEA. Several thousand Tatars clashed with police in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on 24 March, Interfax reported. The Tatars began their protest in the central Lenin square and then blocked railway tracks and a key highway after the Ukrainian parliament took no action on their request for suffrage rights. Police then intervened. Eight policemen were hospitalized and an unspecified number of Tatars were also injured in the confrontation. The protest ended when Tatar leader Refat Churbarov announced he had reached an agreement with President Leonid Kuchma's office to discuss the issue. Several hundred thousand Tatars have returned to the Crimea from Central Asia since 1991 but many have not been granted Ukrainian citizenship and therefore cannot vote in the 29 March elections. Crimean Tatar leaders fear that as a result, they will not be properly represented in the local, regional, or national legislatures. PB TWO POLITICIANS SHOT IN RUNUP TO UKRAINIAN ELECTIONS. Two candidates for the Ukrainian parliament were injured in separate attacks on 24 March, Reuters reported. Vasyl Koryak, mayor of the central city of Lubny, was seriously injured when his car was attacked by gunmen. Koryak, a member of the United Social Democratic party, is running for a seat in the national parliament. In the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Vasyl Kalytyuk, a top official in the Crimean branch of the Social Democrats, was also shot at while driving his car. He suffered light injuries. PB UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ON REFORMISTS' ELECTION PROSPECTS. Leonid Kuchma said on 24 March that the outlook for pro- reform parties in the 29 March parliamentary elections is "gloomy," ITAR- TASS reported. Kuchma, who is in Sofia for a two-day visit, fears that many Ukrainians are apathetic about the vote, which, he says, can only benefit the Communists and other parties on the Left. Kuchma said a return to Communist-era socialism is "comparable to attempts to get sick again." The Communist Party, which holds the largest number of seats in the parliament, tops all opinion polls. PB BELARUSIAN RUBLE CONTINUES FALL. New restrictions by the Belarusian Central Bank are being blamed for another devaluation in the Belarusian ruble, BelaPAN reported. The currency fell to 64,000-69,000 against the dollar on 24 March, one day after the central bank put restrictions on all payments by foreign economic entities. Banks, mostly Russian ones, are now prevented from exchanging their Belarusian rubles for a more stable currency. In response, the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange has halted trading in the Belarusian ruble. The currency was trading at 60,000 to $1 on 19 March and has lost about 30 percent of its value since the beginning of the year. PB SENTENCES UPHELD ON TV JOURNALISTS IN BELARUS. The Grodno regional court has rejected an appeal filed by Russian Television journalist Pavel Sheremet and his cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky, BelaPAN reported on 24 March. Both were given suspended sentences of 2 years and 18 months, respectively, for illegally crossing the Belarusian-Lithuanian border last summer. Defense attorneys said they will file an appeal with the International Human Rights Court based in The Hague. PB LUKASHENKA IN MURMANSK. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrived in the Arctic port of Murmansk on 24 March for talks with local political and business leaders, BelaPAN reported. Lukashenka met with Murmansk Governor Yurii Yevdokimov, Admiral Oleg Yerofeyev, the commander of the Northern Fleet, and Vladimir Grigoryev, Belarus's ambassador to Russia. Lukashenka told journalists that the union treaty between Belarus and Russia is more successful at the regional than the national level. The city of Murmansk is holding an exhibition called "Days of Belarus," which is aimed at promoting Belarusian goods. PB ESTONIA'S UNITED OPPOSITION EXPELS RIGHT-WINGERS. The United Opposition, the strongest opposition force in the parliament, has expelled the four members of the Right-wingers faction following their recent decision to merge with the Farmers' Party, ETA reported on 24 March. The United Opposition said the Right-wingers cannot participate in the work of the opposition because they have allied themselves with a party of which Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves is a leader. The departure of the four deputies means that the United Opposition now has 32 members in the 101-seat parliament. JC RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR SAYS NO CHANGE IN POLICY TOWARD TALLINN. Russian ambassador to Estonia Aleksei Glukhov told the daily "Postimees" on 24 March that Russian policy toward Estonia will not change after a new government is formed in Moscow, ETA reported. Glukhov said that Estonian-Russian relations "depend mostly on the work of the bilateral intergovernment commission," which is due to convene for the first time in June. He also commented that Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann's visit to Moscow requires "thorough preparations" will be probably not take place before summer or the fall. JC LATVIA EXTENDS VALIDITY OF SOVIET PASSPORTS. The cabinet has extended until 31 October the validity of former Soviet foreign passports for Latvian residents traveling to CIS states, BNS reported on 24 March. Under the amendments to government regulations, holders of former Soviet domestic passports will be entitled to return to Latvia by 1 July. Only 3 percent of the 700,000 or so non-citizens residing in Latvia hold former Soviet foreign passports, while 74 percent have Soviet internal passports. Some 15 percent have received non-citizens' passports from the Latvian authorities. JC SLOVAK POLL ON PRESIDENTIAL REFERENDUM. An opinion poll conducted by the independent Institute for Public Affairs shows that 62 percent of Slovaks would participate in a referendum on electing the country's president by popular vote. Of those, 92 percent would approve the direct election of the president, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported on 24 March. MS SLOVAK NATIONALISTS WANTS TO BAR NATO MEMBERSHIP. The Slovak National Party (SNS), a junior partner in the ruling coalition, says it has started collecting signatures for a petition on declaring Slovakia a neutral state and barring its possible membership in NATO. The petition is also to call for a return of the death penalty, which would be a breach of one of the conditions for EU membership. A spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia dismissed the SNS initiative as one aimed at "boosting its popularity before the elections," Reuters reported on 24 March. RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau added that the SNS also expressed "full brotherly support for the Serbian nation" and called on the international community to "revise its support of irredentist efforts of the Kosovo Albanians." MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE SERBIAN ATTACKS NEAR ALBANIAN BORDER. Serbian special police attacked at least four villages north of Djakovica with mortars, armored vehicles, and helicopter gunships on 24 March. Serbia's Tanjug news agency reported that the police action was in response to a "terrorist" ambush of a police patrol. Some of the dozens of local Kosovars who fled to nearby villages told Reuters, that they do not know why the police attacked them. The fighting left several persons dead, but exact figures are not available. In Tirana, "Koha Jone" reported that "hundreds" of soldiers were sent to northern Albania on 24 March to reinforce units along the border with Serbia. "Shekulli" wrote that the latest fighting in Kosovo is "only 10 kilometers" away from the Albanian frontier. PM/FS UN AGENCY SLAMS VIOLENCE. Jakob Selebi, who is chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, has criticized the violence in Kosovo and called on the Serbian authorities to stop human rights abuses there immediately. Speaking in Geneva on 24 March, Selebi said that the Commission "condemns the excessive and brutal use of force by the Serbian police." Selebi added that the Serbian authorities have a duty to protect the rights of all citizens and "to ensure that public security forces act with restraint and in full respect of internationally agreed norms and standards." Selebi also said the commission "calls on the leaders of the Kosovo Albanian community to make clear their total rejection of terrorism." PM ALBRIGHT URGES PRESSURE ON SERBIA. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Rome on 24 March that "Belgrade is still ignoring the Contact Group's key demands" that diplomats from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Russia, Italy, and France formulated on 9 March in London. Albright added that "Serbian security police are digging in, [and] not pulling out" as the Contact Group requested. She said the international community "will need to maintain credible pressure on Belgrade to end repression and restore autonomy" to Kosovo. U.S. diplomats accompanying Albright on her way to the 25 March Contact Group meeting in Bonn told Reuters, however, that she is unlikely to find support for additional sanctions on Belgrade. The diplomats noted that Russia supports Serbia and that the four Western European countries are reluctant to impose sanctions on Belgrade just two days after the Serbian government signed an agreement on education with the Kosovars. PM KOSOVARS SET UP NEGOTIATING TEAM. Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova announced in Pristina on 24 March that the Kosovar leadership has appointed 15 prominent persons to negotiate with the Serbian authorities if Belgrade agrees to unconditional talks. The members of the Kosovar team represent a wide variety of political views, RFE/RL reported. Negotiators include Rugova's adviser Fehmi Agani, shadow-state Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi, communist-era leader Mahmut Bakalli, and Parliamentary Party President Adem Demaci. PM RAMIZ ALIA CALLS FOR INDEPENDENT KOSOVO. Ramiz Alia, Albania's last communist-era president, told "Koha Jone" on 25 March that the major powers should recognize Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. He added that "Europe has been slow to act, as it was in the case of Bosnia," and that "now is the time for action and not for words. Kosovo needs solutions and not declarations and promises." Concerning the education agreement signed on 23 March between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials, Alia said that holding talks and signing agreements "are well-known tactics of [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic, which he also used in the case of Bosnia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). FS SESELJ JOINS SERBIAN GOVERNMENT. The Serbian parliament on 24 March approved a new 35-member government consisting of Milosevic's Serbian Socialist Party, United Yugoslav Left, led by his wife Mirjana Markovic, and Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party. Seselj becomes a deputy prime minister. Spokesmen for the opposition parties Vojvodina Coalition, Union of Vojvodina Hungarians, New Democracy, and the Muslim List for Sandzak said the government "will lead the country to disaster and to new conflicts with the international community," RFE/RL reported. PM KOSOVARS CONCERNED ABOUT SESELJ. Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic told the parliament on 24 March that his government's priorities include "preserving Kosovo as an inseparable part of Serbia." In Pristina, Milazim Krasniqi, who is a spokesman for Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, said the Radicals' participation in the government is a "bad sign" for the future of peace and stability in the Balkans. Krasniqi added that "the arrival of Seselj and his people could lead to an even further radicalization of the situation in Kosovo and to an upsurge in the anti- Albanian campaign in Serbia," RFE/RL reported. The ultranationalist Seselj led paramilitary forces in Croatia and Bosnia, where he is widely regarded as a war criminal. PM GARROD SAYS NO DEMILITARIZATION OF BOSNIA ALONE. Martin Garrod, the international community's chief representative in Mostar, said on 24 March that the international community cannot support the demilitarization of Bosnia, as Croatian President Franjo Tudjman recently proposed (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 25 March 1998). Garrod stressed that any regional demilitarization would have to include Croatia and Serbia as well as Bosnia in order to be effective. Meanwhile near Ploce, some 2,300 SFOR troops from six countries began a two-day exercise to "demonstrate the peacekeepers' military readiness," RFE/RL reported. PM CROATIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WANT EARLY VOTE. Social Democratic leader Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 24 March that early parliamentary elections are the only way out of what he called Croatia's general crisis. Racan also slammed Tudjman's rejection of Western criticism of Croatia's record on implementing democracy. The leader of the largest opposition party added that Croatia must meet Western democratic standards if it wants to be considered part of Europe. PM SLOVENIA DISGUSTED WITH YUGOSLAV SUCCESSION TALKS. A government spokesman said in Ljubljana on 24 March that Slovenia is withdrawing its permanent mission to the Brussels negotiations aimed at dividing the former Yugoslavia's debts and assets. The spokesman said Serbia has long obstructed the talks and hence made it "a waste of time and the taxpayers' money" for Slovenia to maintain a permanent mission there. The Foreign Ministry will assume direct responsibility for representing Slovenia at future negotiating sessions. PM PROBE INTO ALLEGED CORRUPTION AT ROMANIA'S GERMAN EMBASSY. President Emil Constantinescu has demanded that the government set up a commission to investigate German charges that Romanian diplomats in Bonn have been involved in issuing forged passports, dpa reported on 24 March. Earlier the same day, a German prosecutor said the diplomats issued the forged passports to gangsters who used them to bring children into Germany, where they were trained to work as pickpockets. German investigators say that some 100 children aged 8-13 were beaten up by their "keepers" if they did not bring in enough "loot." They add that the children are expected to make some 2,000-3,000 German marks a day. MS ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS OPPOSITION MOTION. By a vote of 77 to 51, the Senate on 24 March rejected an opposition motion to debate the privatization of the state-owned RomTelcom company. The motion was submitted by the Party of Social Democracy in Romania and supported by the Greater Romania Party and the Party of Romanian National Unity. The government envisages selling a 35 percent share in the company to a foreign investor that has not yet been selected, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS COALITION NEGOTIATIONS UNDER WAY IN MOLDOVA. The Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM), For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc, and the Party of Democratic Forces (PFD) are negotiating to establish a coalition government, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 24 March. PDF leader Valeriu Matei said that "at this stage, it is clear only that none of these parties will form a coalition with the Communists." A spokesman for the CDM said that the accession of the Communists to power would be tantamount to a "return to the totalitarian past." He said the three parties must now "set aside all differences" because "opposing the Communists is only possible by joining forces." President Petru Lucinschi held talks on 24 March with Matei and with CDM co- chairman Mircea Snegur. MS OBSERVERS EVALUATE MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS. The Helsinki Committee-Moldova says its observers have concluded there was widespread ignorance of electoral rules among many members of electoral commissions, observers sent to the commissions by competing political parties, and the electorate itself. It adds that this resulted in some irregularities. Committee chairman Stefan Uratu also said the authorities were unable to ensure conditions for the Transdniester Moldovan electorate to freely participate in the ballot, mainly due to obstacles set by the Tiraspol authorities, BASA-press reported. Observers from the European Institute for Media (EIM) also said Transdniester voters did not have free access to information and were thus unable to fully exercise their electoral rights. The EIM observers also criticized the political partisanship of the Moldovan mass media. MS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN BULGARIA. Visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Bulgarian counterpart, Petar Stoyanov, signed several agreements on 24 March, including a declaration on a "strategic partnership" for strengthening political and economic ties, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Kuchma also met with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. He said it is "sad" that trade turnover between the two states totals only some $300 million but noted that prospects have improved since the pro- reform government came to power in Bulgaria. MS BULGARIA REVEALS DETAILS OF RUSSIAN GAS SUPPLIES AGREEMENT. Deputy Premier Evgeni Bakardzhiev on 24 March said that under the preliminary agreement reached last week in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 23 March 1998), Gazprom has agreed to take over full control of the controversial Topenergy company, AFP reported. Topenergy had acted as an intermediary between Gazprom and Bulgaria. Also on 24 March, a consortium composed of Germany's Siemens, France's Framatom, and Russia's Atomenergoexport signed a $100 million contract for upgrading two reactors at the Kozloduy atomic power plant. The signing ceremony was attended by visiting German Economics Minster Gunther Rexrodt, who pledged continued German support for Bulgaria's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, Reuters reported. MS End Note ECONOMIC GROWTH IN BELARUS: FACT OR FICTION? by Lavon Zlotnikau Last year, the Belarusian government claimed the highest rate of economic growth in Europe--some 10 percent of GDP. That growth had nothing to do with genuine, market-economy factors such as job creation, increased investments, and price liberalization. Rather, it was artificially stimulated by Soviet-era methods of a command economy. State control over the Belarusian economy is virtually total. The private sector's share in industry is less than 1 percent and in trade and services 4 percent. Under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, private business is subject to constant regulation and steep taxation. Foreign investments in 1997 totaled only $40 million, and the per capita figure was 10 times lower than in the neighboring Baltic states or Poland. And while the employment situation looks deceptively good (official unemployment figure stands at 2.8 percent), many people without work choose not to register as unemployed, engaging instead in private commerce or trade. One of the reasons for the "Belarusian economic miracle" is the high level of Russian indirect subsidies. In March 1996, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Lukashenka signed an agreement on the "satisfaction of mutual claims of Belarus and Russia.". Under that agreement, Belarusian debts for Russian gas supplies totaling $1.3 billion (or 6.5 percent of Belarusian GDP) are converted into long-term credits. Moreover, Belarus imported Russian oil and gas at prices lower than those on world markets. Whereas Lithuania and Ukraine, for example, pay $80 per 1,000 cubic meters, Belarus pays only $50. Paying lower prices for energy resources results in indirect Russian subsidies totaling some $400-450 million a year. In addition, Belarus pays for some Russian goods by means of barter. Prices for bartered Belarusian goods are fixed at high or even world- market levels. For example, Russia imported sugar from Belarus in 1997 at a price of $513 per ton and from other countries at $307-320. Similar price differences exist for Russian imports of Belarusian butter, synthetic fibers, and other goods. Taking into account all forms of indirect Russian subsidies, Andrei Illarionov, former economic adviser to Yeltsin, concluded that those subsidies were equal to $1.52 billion in 1997. By comparison, the Belarusian state budget is only $3.5 billion. Another reason for the "Belarusian economic miracle" is the depletion of the country's national assets. Minsk inherited a large amount of arms from the former USSR, which are now being sold off. In 1996, armaments sales generated more than $400 million, and last year, Belarus gained a place on the list of the top 10 arms exporting countries in the world. Statistical data show that the total savings of the population are decreasing at a rate of $180-200 million a year. And last year, current assets of Belarusian enterprises decreased by 10 percent. With inflation rising, all enterprises were prohibited from increasing their prices by more than 2 percent a month. Last year witnessed an increase of production volumes at a large number of unprofitable enterprises. If capital turnover and inflation are taken into account, the share of unprofitable enterprises in Belarus is approximately the same as in Russia --47-50 percent. In Belarus, those companies were simply ordered to produce more and export (mainly to Russia) at prices below production costs. A final reason for Belarus's economic growth is protectionism. High import duties imposed within the framework of the Russia-Belarus customs union make certain Belarusian manufactured goods competitive on the Russian market. For example, Russian import of car tires from Belarus for the first nine months of1997 increased 2.6 times over the same period last year, while the production volume of Belarusian television sets increased by 60 percent and their export to Russia by 27.3 percent. Such trends are taking place at the expense of per capita consumption by the Belarusian population.. Thus rather than introducing genuine reforms, the Belarusian government artificially stimulates its economy by relying on Russian subsidies, the depletion of the nation's wealth, and trade protectionism. It also engages in increased deficit spending. The total budget deficit (including soft credits) was equal to 4.9 percent of GDP. That deficit is financed by credits from the Belarusian National Bank. Such soft-credit monetary policy leads to high inflation and to a redistribution of resources in favor of unprofitable enterprises. The author is an adviser to the 13th Supreme Soviet of Belarus and to the World Bank. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "subscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word "unsubscribe" as the subject or body of the message. HOW TO RETRIEVE BACK ISSUES VIA EMAIL (1) Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the letters "ls" as the subject or body of the message. This will retrieve a list of available files. 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