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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 66 Part II, 6 April 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 66 Part II, 6 April 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 * METHANE GAS BLAST IN DONETSK MINE KILLS 63 * MOSCOW DEMANDS LATVIA ACT AGAINST EMBASSY BOMBERS * DJUKANOVIC CALLS KOSOVA DEMOCRATIC, NOT TERRITORIAL, ISSUE End Note: WHEN COMMUNISTS WIN ELECTIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE METHANE GAS BLAST IN DONETSK MINE KILLS 63. A powerful methane gas explosion occurred in the Skochinsky coal mine in eastern Ukraine's city of Donetsk on 4 April. A fire that followed the blast killed 63 people and injured 71. It was the worst mine accident since Ukraine gained independence in 1991. "It's scandalous," AFP quoted Deputy Coal Minister Dmytro Herasymchuk as saying. He said maintenance of mines has been neglected because of a lack of funds. The Skochinsky mine in Donetsk is notorious for its dangerous work conditions and gas emissions. The government has set up a commission to investigate the disaster. It proclaimed 5 and 6 April days of mourning. JM OPPOSITION FIGURES JAILED IN AFTERMATH OF UNION DAY RALLY. Belarusian authorities arrested about 50 people in Minsk on 2 April after a demonstration against the Union of Belarus and Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 1998), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Lyavon Barshcheuski, acting chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), was arrested even though he says he did not participate in the rally and informed the authorities that he would not. At his trial on 3 April, two police officers testified they saw him at the rally, but RFE/RL correspondents say he was attending a cultural reading at the time. Vyachaslau Siuchyk, a BPF secretary, was given a 10-day sentence and Yan Abadouski, a BPF activist from Mahilyou, was sentenced to 15 days. Other detainees received warnings or fines. Yury Khadyka, a BPF deputy chairman who was also arrested and interrogated on 2 April, said the authorities' reaction constituted "hysterics on the part of the regime." JM MAN WITH BOMB ARRESTED NEAR LUKASHENKA'S RESIDENCE. Belarusian police arrested a man they say was trying to detonate a homemade bomb near President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's office in Minsk on 3 April, Belarusian State Television reported. Police identified the man as Ryhor Byanchuk, an unemployed mechanical engineer from Homel. They said he threatened to kill himself in protest against corruption by government officials. Belarusian security officials said the bomb was made with World War II-era explosives. JM MOSCOW DEMANDS LATVIA ACT AGAINST EMBASSY BOMBERS. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 6 April blaming Latvia for encouraging a climate of opinion that the foreign ministry said had led to the apparent bombing attack on the Russian embassy in Riga earlier that day. The statement demanded that Riga take immediate action, Russian agencies reported. According to BNS, a bomb exploded at approximately 2:00 a.m. local time in a garbage bin some 50 meters from the embassy building. The explosion caused no injuries or damage except for the garbage bin itself. The Moscow statement said that "this terrorist act is the result of the spurring of anti-Russian hysteria in Latvia, of encouraging nationalism and extremism." It added that "blasts ring out, monuments are defiled, fascists are raising their heads. This has to be stopped. We demand that the Latvian authorities take decisive measures and punish those guilty." Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis also denounced the blast and called on his country's Interior Ministry to bring the perpetrators to justice," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said that "any manifestations of terrorism are utterly unacceptable" and added that "the executors of this cynical and outrageous crime will be unable to destabilize the situation in the country and discredit the prestige of Latvia in the eyes of the international public." PG ARMY COMMANDER MAY BE DISMISSED OVER PARADE IN RIGA. The National Security Council on 3 April called for the dismissal of Juris Dalbins, armed forces commander, for participating in a parade last month of veterans of the former Latvian Waffen SS Legion. Earlier last week, President Guntis Ulmanis criticized Dalbins and other senior officers for taking part in the parade. Under Latvian law, the head of the armed forces is appointed and can be dismissed by the parliament. The council also called for the firing of police chief Aldis Lieljuksis for failing to take the steps necessary to prevent the bombing the previous day of the Riga synagogue. Also on 3 April, the head of Riga's criminal police was dismissed over the explosion at the synagogue, and the chief of the national criminal police resigned, BNS reported. JC/PG LATVIAN PREMIER DISMISSES ECONOMICS MINISTER. Guntars Krasts on 3 April dismissed Economics Minister Atis Sausnitis, charging that Sausnitis had dragged his feet over privatization and had exaggerated the impact of possible economic sanctions by Russia. Several days earlier, Sausnitis had predicted that a further deterioration in Latvian-Russian relations might cause losses to Latvian companies of some 150 million lats (about $300 million). Krasts said those remarks were "hysterical" and had caused "ungrounded panic," BNS reported. He added that while it cannot be ruled out that prolonged tensions in bilateral relations would inevitably have an effect on Latvia's economy, he does not believe the damage would be as serious as Sausnitis predicted. On the same day, Russian Duma deputies played down suggestions that they were actually prepared to impose a complete sanctions regime on Latvia, Interfax reported. But Yaroslavl governor and head of the Central Russia Economic Association Anatolii Lisitsin said that he had asked all firms in his region to boycott Latvian goods, ITAR-TASS reported. JC/PG ULMANIS SAYS LATVIA MUST CHANGE COURSE. President Guntis Ulmanis acknowledged on 3 April that the way in which police handled a protest by ethnic Russians, and the participation of senior officials in a reunion of Latvian Waffen SS veterans, damaged Latvia's international reputation. He told Riga's "Diena" newspaper that Latvia must act decisively to correct the situation. He said that the government must do more to improve ties with Moscow. He called on the Latvian parliament to move quickly to amend the country's naturalization law so that more of the country's stateless population, much of which is ethnic Russian, can qualify for citizenship. PG LATVIA ASKS U.S. HELP TO INVESTIGATE SYNAGOGUE BOMBING. Latvian Prime Minister Guntars Krasts asked the United States to dispatch FBI agents to help investigate the bombing of the Riga synagogue, and U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said on 3 April that Washington would extend such assistance. Then, on 4 April, unknown assailants desecrated a monument to victims of the Holocaust in the Latvian city of Liepaja, Latvian Interior Ministry officials told BNS. PG ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ELECTED HEAD OF NEW PARTY. Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 5 April was elected chairman of the Estonian People's Party in Tartu, BNS reported on 6 April. The new party combines the Estonian Farmers' Party and the right wingers. The attitude of the new party toward the current government remains unclear. A week ago, the Estonian Farmers' Party announced that it would neither back the government nor support the opposition. But Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siiman said that it was "impermissible" for the party to "reap foreign policy laurels while refusing to take any domestic policy responsibility," an indication that Ilves may lose his current government position unless the party changes its position. PG POLISH LEFT-WING TRADE UNIONS MARCH AGAINST GOVERNMENT. More than 16,000 people from the OPZZ trade union federation, the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance, and pensioners' organizations marched in Warsaw on 3 April demanding to be consulted on key reforms in health, education, pensions, and the country's administrative division, Reuters reported. The protesters, displaying anti-government banners, handed a petition to parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski and ended their peaceful march at the government headquarters. Government spokesman Tomasz Tywonek told Reuters that "The issues mentioned by OPZZ -- health, education, pensions -- are problems which they themselves failed to solve, areas of negligence of the previous government of which OPZZ was part." JM CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER BACKED BY PARTY. Leaders of the opposition Social Democrats overwhelmingly voted at a meeting in Prague on 5 April to decline party leader Milos Zeman's resignation. Zeman had offered to resign two days earlier on charges of influence peddling during meetings with Czech-Swiss businessmen. Zeman admits attending the meeting in the German city Bamberg, but denies accusations he made any agreements in exchange for campaign donations. The Social Democrats lead all opinion polls and Zeman is a likely choice for prime minister after the mid-June elections. In other news, former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus said on 4 April that the parties that made up the coalition under his government should reform after the elections and rule again. He said this was necessary to avoid the "danger" of a Social Democratic-led government. PB NEW OPPOSITION PARTY FORMED IN SLOVAKIA. The Party for Civic Understanding (SOP) was founded in Bratislava on 5 April with the aim of defeating Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia in September elections. The SOP, to be headed by popular Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, said at its founding congress that it will work with other opposition parties. Schuster said he believes the party will take votes away from the HZDS as well as garner support from undecided voters. Pavlo Hamzik, a former foreign minister under Meciar, is the deputy leader. The SOP is sponsored by Jozef Majsky, one of Slovakia's wealthiest businessmen. PB OPPOSITION LEADER HUNGARY'S MOST POPULAR POLITICIAN. Viktor Orban, the chairman of the Federation of Young Democrats- Hungarian Civic Party, topped a list of politicians people would like to see play a leading role after the general elections in May, a poll said. According to a Gallup opinion poll taken in March, Orban has 21 percent support, followed by Prime Minister Gyula Horn, with 19 percent, and Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze with 17 percent. Another poll, conducted by Szonda-Ipsos, shows the Socialist Party as the most popular political party among decided voters, with 35 percent, ahead of the Young Democrats with 26 percent, Hungarian media reported on 6 April. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE U.S. SAYS MILOSEVIC 'GAMBLING WITH FUTURE.' The EU, NATO, the Kosovar leadership, the Albanian government and the United States quickly rejected as demagoguery and a delaying tactic Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's call for a referendum on international mediation in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 1998). A U.S. State Department spokesman said in Washington on 3 April that "President Milosevic's call ... is ... another in a long line of diversionary tactics, one that shows clearly that he remains defiant, unwilling to meet the minimum conditions set forth by the international community." The spokesman urged Milosevic to stop "gambling with his nation's future" and "put aside the dangerous games, put aside the diversionary tactics, and start focusing on what would improve the lives of his citizens and improve his nation's role in the world." Speaking in Prishtina, Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova called international mediation a necessity. PM DJUKANOVIC CALLS KOSOVA DEMOCRATIC, NOT TERRITORIAL, ISSUE... Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 3 April that the referendum "is a serious challenge to international factors and playing games with the destiny of the people." The next day he added that Milosevic follows a "policy of staying in power at any price... His only program is to isolate us even more from the world, and chained by the burden of sanctions, we will sink to the bottom." Djukanovic argued that "Kosova is a democratic, not a territorial issue" and warned the Yugoslav president that "playing with the emotions of citizens and inflaming national feelings ... is looking for trouble and can really lead to tragedy." Djukanovic said in response to Milosevic's assertion that isolation helps Yugoslavia retain its dignity: "We have already tasted how dignity looked on an income of $5 a month and we do not want to repeat the experience." PM ...AND UNVEILS REFORM PROGRAM. President Djukanovic, who took office in January on a platform of reform, autonomy, and good relations with the outside world, sent the Belgrade authorities a comprehensive reform proposal on 3 April, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. He stressed that Yugoslavia is "riding a train... that is rushing toward a wall." He said, "It will be smashed if we do not change the direction of the locomotive." His initiative centers on social and economic opening to the world, economic reform and privatization, respect for the rule of law, political democratization, social justice, and security. He urged Belgrade to join the Central European Free Trade Area (CEFTA) and the South East European Economic Integration Initiative (SECI). Djukanovic added that Yugoslavia should return to the Council of Europe and International Monetary Fund, apply to join the EU, and seek access to the EU's Phare aid program. PM SERBS RETURN FIRST HIGH SCHOOL TO ALBANIANS. The Serbian authorities in Podujeva on 4 April returned to Kosovar representatives the first high school in Kosova to be given back to the Albanians under the March education agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). The first building to change hands, Prishtina's Albanian Studies Institute, did so on 31 March. The process of restoring public educational facilities to majority ethnic Albanian control is slated to end on 30 June. PM NGO'S SEEK PROTECTIVE FORCE. The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and its affiliates from Kosova, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, and Greece issued a statement in Vienna on 3 April calling for an international preventive force for Kosova on the model of the Macedonia- based UNPREDEP. The statement dubbed Milosevic's call for a referendum "an ominous signal, recalling similar gestures that preceded ethnic aggression in Croatia and Bosnia. " It said, "We consider that such a proposal is aimed at kindling flames of nationalistic hysteria and xenophobic confrontation, as a prerequisite for increasingly autocratic policies." PM SERBS WARN OF DESTABILIZATION IN VUKOVAR. The leading Independent Democratic Serbian Party, the Joint Township Council, and the Serbian People's Council condemned the arrest of three ethnic Serbs in Vukovar on 3 April. The three groups said in a statement there the following day that arrests for crimes allegedly committed during 1991 will only serve to destabilize the delicate political balance in the region, RFE/RL reported. The statement added that none of the three appears on a list of 25 persons formally charged with wartime offenses. PM CROATIAN BANKING SCANDAL GROWS. Croatian police arrested Neven Barac, the former director of the scandal-plagued Dubrovacka Banka, in Zagreb on 3 April. He is wanted in conjunction with losses totaling $250 million through questionable business practices, to which press reports have linked some officials of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). The independent weekly "Globus" wrote on 1 April that the bank at one point transferred $150 million to HDZ loyalists in Herzegovina. In recent days, spokesmen for the Croatian National Bank have issued a series of statements aimed at restoring consumer confidence in Dubrovacka. PM "FERAL TRIBUNE" CHARGES CAMPAIGN AGAINST IT. The editors of the independent weekly "Feral Tribune" said in a statement issued in Split on 3 April that the paper is the victim of an ongoing campaign by state-run television and other HDZ- controlled media. The editors charged that the HDZ "wants to liquidate the weekly financially and physically." PM ALBANIA'S NANO THREATENS CABINET WITH DISMISSALS. Prime Minister Fatos Nano hinted in a press release on 3 April that some government ministers may soon lose their jobs in a reshuffle. He admonished them to improve their performance. Nano said there is a lack of coordination among ministers and added that "I do not doubt some of you are acting from interests other than our mandate and the responsibilities we have undertaken." President Rexhep Meidani said he hopes that the five-party coalition will remain intact following the expected reshuffle. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Neritan Ceka from the small Democratic Alliance Party told a party assembly in Tirana on 4 April that he has proof that some -- unnamed -- politicians are involved in smuggling, "Koha Jone" reported. He pledged to investigate all allegations and threatened to leave the coalition if he faces opposition from within the government. FS TWO POLICEMEN KILLED IN SHKODER. Unknown assailants killed two off-duty policemen in the night of 4 April in Shkoder near the police headquarters, "Koha Jone" reported. In a separate incident, an unidentified man shot dead one man and wounded another in Tirana's central Skanderbeg Square. FS ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER-DESIGNATE DISCLOSES POLICY-CHANGE PLANS. Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 3 April made public his plan for boosting Romania's lagging reforms. Vasile, chosen last week to form a government, said he will lower income taxes, raise import duties, and subsidize the country's farmers. Vasile said that a decrease in salary taxes would lead to greater foreign investment. Vasile led negotiations with probable coalition parties on 4 April. Valeriu Stoica, the deputy president of the National Liberal Party, said he hoped talks on forming the cabinet would be finished and announced early this week. Under the constitution, Vasile has 10 days to submit a government to parliament. Vasile said he also will ask the parliament to reduce the number of ministries in an effort to streamline the government. PB MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT, DNIESTRIAN LEADER, IN HOSPITAL. President Petru Lucinschi is in a Chisinau hospital for treatment of lumbago, AFP reported on 3 April. Lucinschi was admitted last week and is reported to be working while in the hospital. In Tiraspol, the capital of the separatist Transdniester region, secessionist leader Igor Smirnov has been hospitalized for several days after reportedly suffering a heart attack, INFOTAG reported on 4 April. In other news, the parliament in Tiraspol fired central bank President Oleg Natakhin and his deputy, Vladimir Kharchenko, INFOTAG reported on 3 April. The firings come on the heels of a three-fold devaluation in the Transdniestrian ruble, followed by crippling inflation. PB END NOTE WHEN COMMUNISTS WIN ELECTIONS by Paul Goble The impressive showing of Communist Party candidates in the Ukrainian and Moldovan parliamentary elections has prompted some observers to make apocalyptic predictions about the future of those countries. The day after the Ukrainian vote, one Kyiv newspaper asked whether the results constituted a new "red dawn." Other commentators suggested that the vote for the Communists meant a return to the past and a reorientation toward Moscow. But an examination of both the returns in those countries and what actually happened in the elections suggests that the future of the two states is unlikely to proceed in that direction. On 23 March, the Communist Party in Moldova received 30 percent of the vote, far more than any other party but also far less than a majority in the parliament. Not surprisingly in such a situation, the party's leader, Vladimir Voronin, indicated that the Communist deputies would seek to form a coalition with the country's main centrist bloc and would not demand that a Communist be named prime minister. And while Voronin said that his party would seek to promote the economic "rebirth" of the country, he also said that the Moldovan Communists would not oppose privatization, a key part of the reformist program. Six days later, on March 29, the Communist Party in Ukraine received approximately one vote in four, giving it 25 percent of the 225 seats allocated by party list, far more than any other political party in that election. But the Communists triumphed in fewer than 40 of the 225 parliamentary seats chosen in single-member districts and thus will be forced to seek allies among other parties if they hope to participate in the government or determine policy outcomes. More to the point, in both countries, there are three important reasons to think that this increase in the vote for Communist deputies does not presage a return to the past, either domestically or internationally. First, the Ukrainian and Moldovan Communists won in competitive elections rather than through the use of revolutionary methods. As such, they are far more like leftist parties in Europe than their Bolshevik predecessors. They have had to make promises to voters. They have not won a majority that would allow them to run roughshod over others. And they are forced to seek coalitions to be effective. Second, the Communists won as the result of a protest vote by those who have suffered owing to social and economic dislocations of the past decade. As one of the more thoughtful Ukrainian newspapers said earlier this wee, "Ukraine voted in protest -- not for the Greens or other colors of the spectrum but against the way we are living." Pensioners and many workers there have not been paid for months. Many people are suffering from the decline in public services. And still more are frightened about what will happen next. Not surprisingly, they voted for Communist candidates who promised to ease their situation. If those making promises cannot keep them any better than the parties they defeated, they too will lose at the next election. And third, the vote for the Communists was not necessarily a vote for closer ties with Moscow, let alone a return to some kind of revived Soviet Union. While some people in both countries may have voted communist out of a misplaced nostalgia for the past, most voted the way they did out of domestic considerations rather than foreign policy calculations. And even if some Communist candidates did promise to improve ties with Moscow, they also spoke out in favor of strengthening the national governments they hoped to be elected to. Indeed, precisely because of the legacy of the past, many of the Communists adopted campaign rhetoric as nationalist as any of the other candidates. To say all this is not to welcome the votes for the Communists in either Moldova or Ukraine. On the one hand, the vote for them represents a repudiation, at least for a time, of those who have sought to promote democracy and free markets. On the other hand, Communist deputies in both countries are likely to be able to block or at least water down further efforts toward those two goals. Rather, it is to suggest that this pattern of voting may be part of the birth pangs of a democratic system in Moldova and Ukraine, instead of its death knell as some fear. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word "subscribe" as the subject or body of the message. 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