|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 76 Part II, 21 April 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 76 Part II, 21 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 Headlines, Part II * HAVEL UNDERGOES THIRD OPERATION * KOSOVAR PARTY SAYS SITUATION IS SERIOUS IN DECANI * COUNCIL OF EUROPE REJECTS YUGOSLAV APPLICATION TO JOIN End Note: BALCEROWICZ REMAINS ENTHUSIASTIC FOR FREE MARKETS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE YOUNG BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST TO RETURN TO PRE-TRIAL CUSTODY. Belarusian authorities have rejected a request by Pavel Sevyarynets, the 21-year-old leader of the Belarusian Popular Front's youth branch, to be released from jail pending his trial, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Sevyarynets was arrested for participating in a rally protesting the Russian-Belarusian union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 16 April) and was released on 18 April for three days to attend the funeral of a relative. He told journalists he will return to prison, although he "absolutely feels no guilt on his part." He added that his case is politically motivated and that a decision on it will be made "at the top political level." JM FOOD RATIONED IN BELARUSIAN REGIONS. Foodstuffs are again being rationed in various regions of the country, Belapan reported on 20 April. A directive issued by the Minsk Oblast Executive Committee says the decision was made "to stop the unorganized and unauthorized export of goods outside the borders of the republic." Individuals are allowed to buy no more than 2 kg of meat and poultry, 0.4 kg of cheese, and 2 kg of bread at any one given time. In Mahilyou Oblast the purchase of potatoes, a traditional food, is also restricted. JM UKRAINE RAISES ELECTRICITY TARIFFS. The Energy Ministry on 20 April announced that electricity tariffs will increase by 22.5 percent as of 1 May, Ukrainian Radio-1 reported. "Low tariffs are in no way good for the population," Energy Minister Oleksiy Shebestov told journalists. In his opinion, low electricity tariffs lead in the long run to price increases and make domestic production uncompetitive, Ukrainian Radio-1 reported. JM UKRAINIAN PARTY LEADER DEPRIVED OF PARLIAMENTARY SEAT. Nataliya Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialists, has been deprived of her parliamentary mandate by a court in Konotop, Sumy Oblast, where she ran for the Supreme Council in the 29 March elections, Ukrainian Television-2 reported on 20 April. According to the court, Vitrenko gave information about the private life of her rivals and insulted state officials during the election campaign. The court also nullified the votes cast for the Progressive Socialists party list in Konotop, thus pushing the party's support below the 4 percent threshold for parliamentary representation. Vitrenko has called the court ruling a "revenge on the political leader and the opposition party," Ukrainian Television-2 reported. JM ESTONIA'S RULING COALITION, PEOPLE'S PARTY TO COOPERATE. The Coalition Party and the People's Party have signed a cooperation agreement, ETA and BNS reported on 20 April. The accord is aimed at securing the stability of the government until the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 1999. The two sides have agreed to hold regular consultations on important issues and to refrain from making hostile attacks on one another in the parliament. Prime Minister Mart Siimann, who is also chairman of the Coalition Party, said that the ruling alliance is counting on the support of the People's Party during voting in the legislature. Under the agreement, People's Party leader Toomas Hendrik Ilves retains his post as foreign minister. JC VILNIUS WILL NOT SEEK TO MEDIATE LATVIAN-RUSSIAN DISPUTE. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has said his country will not act as mediator to resolve the crisis in Latvian- Russian relations. Adamkus was speaking after a meeting with Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis in the northern Lithuanian town of Panevezys on 20 April. The two leaders called the meeting to discuss current relations between Latvia and Russia. Adamkus stressed that Latvia is capable of solving its own problems, while Ulmanis admitted that Riga has been slow to ease citizenship requirements for non-Latvians. The two presidents also discussed bilateral relations and their shared goals of joining the EU and NATO. JC RUSSIA REFUSING ENTRY TO LATVIAN DRIVERS WITHOUT LICENSE IN RUSSIAN? The Latvian daily "Diena" reports on 21 April that Russian border officials are refusing entry to Latvian drivers who cannot produce a notarized Russian translation of their drivers' license. Russian officials say that a law that went into effect at the beginning of this year stipulates this requirement. "Diena" says that such demands are not made on Estonian and Lithuanian drivers. The previous day, BNS reported that the Russian Transportation Ministry is threatening to limit the number of entry permits to Latvian truckers. According to the news agency, Latvian Transportation Minister Vilis Kristopans has received a letter from the Russian ministry threatening the cut-off in response to difficulties faced by Russian truckers in entering Latvia. JC POLISH GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO POSTPONE LOCAL ELECTIONS. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek is seeking to persuade President Aleksander Kwasniewski to postpone the June local elections until the fall, "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 21 April. The Solidarity-led government sees the elections as a part of a plan to reform the state administration system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 1998) and wants to hold them simultaneously with polls on the introduction of a middle tier of administration. Kwasniewski said such a postponement would violate the constitution, thus indicating he will veto the government's bill delaying the elections, Reuters reported. JM POLAND CONSIDERS CLOSING 24 COAL MINES BY 2002. The Polish Industry Ministry wants to close 24 of Poland's more than 50 coal pits within the next three years, Reuters reported on 20 April, quoting the ministry's spokesman. Deputy Industry Minister Jan Szlazak told PAP that by 2002, the number of jobs in the coal mining sector will be reduced to 126,000 from the current 237,000. The government's goal is to decrease the losses in the industry (more than $500 million in 1997) and reduce output to 114 million tons from last year's 137 million tons. The plan is firmly opposed by the country's trade unions, despite promised social security cushions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1998). JM HAVEL UNDERGOES THIRD OPERATION. President Vaclav Havel underwent another operation at the University Clinic in Innsbruck late on 20 April. Doctors at the clinic say they removed a "small abscess" from his abdominal wall, CTK reported. They also said the president's life "is not in acute danger." Since he underwent a second operation on 19 April to clean his bronchial tube, Havel has been kept in artificially-induced curative sleep at the clinic's intensive care unit. Last week, he underwent an emergency operation for a perforation of the large intestine. MS SHARP DROP IN CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY'S POPULARITY. An opinion poll released on 20 April by the independent STEM institute shows that while the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is leading the field ahead of the early elections scheduled for June, the party has suffered a sharp drop in its popularity, Reuters reported. The CSSD is now backed by 23.7 percent of the respondents, down from 29.5 percent in March. Support for Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODA), on the other hand, increased from 11 percent to 16 percent during the same period. The poll puts the backing of the Freedom Union, which was formed by dissenters from the ODA, at 13 percent, down from 18 percent in March. MS HUNGARIAN PARTIES END REGIONAL LISTS REGISTRATION. Fifteen political parties have registered regional lists in all 20 electoral district, Hungarian media reported. The deadline for registering was 20 April. 176 parliamentary deputies are elected in single-seat constituencies and 152 on regional lists, where representation is based on a proportional system. Regional list votes that are insufficient for a mandate are taken into account for the national lists, on which an additional 58 deputies are elected. The Socialist Party and the Free Democrats (which make up the outgoing coalition) fielded lists in all the districts, as did the opposition Young Democrats, the Smallholders' Party, the Christian Democrats, and the far right Justice and Life Party. In order to run regional lists, parties must compete in one quarter of the constituencies, and in order to gain eligibility for the national lists, they have to run at least seven regional lists. MS HORN COURTS PENSIONERS AHEAD OF ELECTIONS. The cabinet is working on an amendment to the existing legislation that would make possible paying pension increases retroactively, Prime Minister Gyula Horn announced on 20 April in Ferencvaros. He said the increase is expected to be 2 percent but did not mention how far back it will apply, Hungarian media reported. In another development, government spokesman Elemer Kiss on 20 April denied opposition accusations that the Socialists are unlawfully using the premises of the Prime Minister's office as the headquarters of their election campaign. The previous day, the press reported that Horn told Socialist Party members they can obtain help from his staff during the campaign. Kiss said a 10-member staff group has been set up, but it deals only with monitoring the press and is not involved in the election campaign. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE KOSOVAR PARTY SAYS SITUATION IS SERIOUS IN DECANI. The Kosova Democratic League, the leading ethnic Albanian party in the province, said on 20 April that an apparent build-up of forces in the western Decani region has made the situation there "dramatic," AFP reported. The party said in a statement that there are "indications" that Serbian forces in Decani are preparing for a "massive-scale attack." It said local residents have been "organizing themselves" because of the "absence of concrete measures to prevent a new massacre." There is no independent confirmation of those reports. Kosova Serb sources said the same day that gunmen shot and threw grenades at a Serbian refugee camp in Babaloc. The Serbian Information Center in Prishtina said armed ethnic Albanians are grouping in the region, particularly in the town of Glodjane, near the Albanian border. PB COUNCIL OF EUROPE REJECTS YUGOSLAV APPLICATION TO JOIN. Leni Fischer, the president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said on 20 April that Yugoslavia does not meet the standards needed for membership, an RFE/RL correspondent in Strasbourg reported. Fischer said the Yugoslav government must first seek a peaceful solution to the crisis in Kosova and stop rejecting demands calling for the protection of human rights of Kosovars as outside interference in its internal affairs. The assembly is meeting this week with a four-member delegation from Belgrade to discuss the Kosova conflict. Yugoslavia applied last month to join the Council of Europe. PB EXHUMATIONS BEGIN AT MASS GRAVE SITES NEAR SREBRENICA. Some 50 international forensic experts working for the UN found bones, clothing, and bullet casings after beginning exhumations at a mass grave in Bosnia-Herzegovina on 20 April, Reuters reported. A UN statement said the forensic experts, working near a dam at Brnice in eastern Bosnia, expected to find "significant evidence" to support current or potential indictments by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The former Muslim enclave of Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in summer 1995. Some 7,000 people from the area are still missing and are thought to have been executed. PB BOSNIAN SERB PLEADS NOT GUILTY 69 TIMES. Zoran Zigic told a court at the war crimes tribunal on 20 April that he is innocent of 69 charges of crimes against humanity, an RFE/RL correspondent at The Hague reported. He is accused of beating, torturing, and murdering civilians at a Bosnian Serb camp near Prijedor in summer 1992. The prosecution claims that Zigic was not a commander or guard at the camp but that he volunteered to "beat, murder, and abuse" people. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in Sarajevo the same day that NATO forces will remain in Bosnia until all indicted war crimes suspects go on trial at The Hague. Twenty-six are in custody there. Solana met with Alija Izetbegovic and Kresimir Zubak, the Muslim and Croatian members of the joint Bosnian presidency, but Serbian member Momcilo Krajisnik sent a substitute. PB CROATIAN JOURNALIST FOUND NOT GUILTY OF LIBEL. Davor Butkovic, the former editor in chief of the independent weekly "Globus," was acquitted of libel charges by a Zagreb court on 20 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Butkovic said he is happy with the verdict but said that the dire situation of independent media in Croatia is basically unchanged. All 23 members of the Croatian cabinet filed libel charges against Butkovic for a "Globus" article on government corruption. They were seeking 4.6 million kuna (about $733,000) in damages. Meanwhile, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced that Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic will be the new head of the country's intelligence service, replacing the president's son, Miroslav Tudjman, who had tendered his resignation. PB CROATIA INDICTS CAMP COMMANDER. The Croatian state attorney's office indicted former Jasenovac camp commander Dinko Sakic for war crimes and repeated a call for his extradition from Argentina, AFP reported. Sakic is wanted for his part in the deaths of many tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Muslims, and Roma at Jasenovac during World War II. On 19 April, some 2,000 people attended a ceremony at the concentration camp to mourn those who were killed there. Jewish, Romani, Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian representatives took part in the ceremony. PB ALBANIAN PRESIDENT APPROVES TWO MORE MINISTERS. Rexhep Meidani has approved two more ministers in Prime Minister Fatos Nano's coalition government, Reuters reported on 20 April. A government statement said Meidani appointed Bashkim Fino as deputy prime minister and local government minister and Ermelinda Meksi as economic cooperation and trade minister. The same day, Nano withdrew a statement he made on 18 April accusing Meidani of causing a political crisis in Albania. Meidani has now approved five of Nano's nine new cabinet members, who were announced in a government reshuffle made last week. Meanwhile, a NATO delegation arrived in Tirana on 20 April to instruct officials on how to manage internal and external crises, Albanian Television reported. NATO and Albanian officials said they are worried about Albania's ability to control its border with Yugoslavia's restive Kosova province. PB ROMANIAN PREMIER ADDRESSES COUNCIL OF EUROPE... In a speech to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 20 April, Radu Vasile said his new government's program offers a "one-way road to democracy and a market economy." He said his cabinet intends to pursue two main objectives: Romania's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and a "profound reform of society" leading to the "full assimilation of moral, democratic, and human values." Until his appointment as premier earlier this month, Vasile was the chief of Romania's parliamentary delegation to the assembly; his speech marked his departure from that position. MS ...REJECTS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL ACCUSATIONS. At a press conference in Strasbourg on 20 April, Vasile rejected accusations in an Amnesty International report published the same day saying that homosexuals continue to be imprisoned in Romania and the country's Roma are still subject to discrimination. The report also claimed that detainees are ill-treated and even tortured and that there of prisoners of conscience in Romania. In response, Vasile said that the penal code has been liberalized on homosexual offenses but Romanian society is "not yet ready for the change." The Parliamentary Assembly is to discuss at its present session whether Romania is meeting the obligations it undertook when it was taken off the assembly's special monitoring list last year. MS END NOTE BALCEROWICZ REMAINS ENTHUSIASTIC FOR FREE MARKETS by Robert Lyle The man who was the architect and driving force of Poland's radical shift to a market economy--Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz--says his biggest surprise during that process has been the pace of growth and the dynamism of the private sector. Balcerowicz, a former university professor, came to prominence in 1989 to push Poland into what was the fastest shift from central planning to a market-based economy among all countries in East-Central Europe and Central Asia. The road has not been easy, and Balcerowicz was out of government for a period when the pain of the radical reform process made him a less than popular figure in Poland. Now back in public life as both finance and deputy prime minister, Balcerowicz has lost none of his zeal for free markets, admitting that even he was not prepared for how dynamic the private sector proved in Poland and how well it has grown. "That was the most positive surprise of the whole thing," he recently told a few international financial journalists over breakfast at the Polish Embassy in Washington. Balcerowicz was in Washington for the regular spring leadership meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as well as to participate in a conference on redesigning and strengthening the architecture of the international financial system. Finance ministers and central bank governors from the 22 countries--including Poland and Russia-- took part in that conference, which tackled, among other things, improving the transparency and accountability of national financial systems and strengthening the ability of global institutions like the IMF to deal with crises such as the most recent one in Asia. Balcerowicz has clear ideas about what is wrong and how the global system can reduce the risk of future crises. First, there must be full information about what is actually going on in national economies and people must be willing to look at that information, he said. One question arising from the Asian crisis, he says, is whether bankers, lenders, and investors ignored much of the information they did have, preferring to look the other way while grabbing bigger profits. Second, once assuring that as much information is available as possible, there must be incentives to act on what is known--and that, said Balcerowicz, means "punishment for bad decisions." If major international banks keep pouring short-term loans into potentially dangerous situations as they did in Asia, he says, they ought to suffer the subsequent losses. All parties--borrowers and lenders alike--must "share in the consequences, both good and bad," he commented. Balcerowicz says that while he strongly supports liberal and open global trade in goods-- that is "beneficial to all sides"--he is willing to consider measures to have some controls available on the flow of short-term capital. Short-term capital refers to loans or investments for less than one year, often for as little as three months. Balcerowicz says the "size and speed" of the movement of this kind of money has become unbelievable in the growing global market place, a new problem for which he said he is open to "new ideas." Reforms for the global system will find Poland in the midst of its own continuing reform, Balcerowicz commented. Warsaw is preparing to speed up large-scale privatization, especially focusing on transportation, railroads, coal mining, and insurance as well as wrapping up the privatization of banks. The release last week of $415 million from the multi-national Polish Bank Privatization fund will spur that effort. But Poland needs to continue to expand all its reforms as it moves toward EU membership. "We must bring inflation down much further--it's currently around 11 percent annually--and we must reduce the budget and push ahead on privatization," he said. Experience has shown everywhere-- but especially in Poland--that "private owners are stronger" than public owners and work harder to produce economic growth. Poland's border with Belarus, which Balcerowicz noted will eventually become the eastern frontier of the EU, is of some concern to Warsaw. Balcerowicz said that Poland is considering ways to further open the border. New Polish consular offices are to be opened in Belarus to make visas far more readily available and Warsaw wants to work with Minsk on easing current restrictions. "We don't want to turn our backs on anyone," he noted. Balcerowicz sees an independent, market-oriented Ukraine as "absolutely strategic" to the success of the new relationship among East European countries. But at the same time, he is "concerned" about Kyiv's extremely slow pace of reforms and faltering economy. As for Poland's membership in NATO, Balcerowicz says everyone in the region knows it is not an "aggressive" alliance and that once Poland joins, the issue will be forgotten. "Russian officials tell me privately they don't really care about Poland joining NATO but can't say that publicly for fear of being attacked" by the nationalists. And polls of average Russian citizens show it is not of any concern to most people, he added. The cost of joining NATO is not prohibitive for Poland, Balcerowicz said. "We needed to modernize and revamp our military anyway," he commented. In the beginning, NATO is demanding only compatibility of systems, not massive upgrades. The author is RFE/RL's Washington-based economics correspondent. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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