|A host is like general: calamities often reveal his genius. - Horace|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 185, Part II, 24 September 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 185, Part II, 24 September 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 * KUCHMA READY TO TAKE 'TOUGHEST' MEASURES AGAINST CRISIS * UN SECURITY COUNCIL DEMANDS CEASE-FIRE * OSCE AGAIN POSTPONES RELEASING BOSNIAN ELECTION RESULTS End Note: SLOVAKIA'S RETURN TO EUROPE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE KUCHMA READY TO TAKE 'TOUGHEST' MEASURES AGAINST CRISIS... Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told a meeting of regional newspaper editors in Kyiv on 23 September that Ukraine is facing the worst crisis in its seven years of independence, Ukrainian Television reported. Stressing that the government is keeping the current situation under control, Kuchma said he is ready to take "the toughest and most unpopular" measures to fight the crisis. He added that although he intends to seek re-election, he gives priority to maintaining the course of reform over his own election victory. Kuchma argued that the Russian crisis has proven the CIS's inability to react to emergencies. Instead of working out a joint strategy, CIS countries have chosen "to die on their own," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. JM ...SAYS RUSSIA TO HELP BUILD NUCLEAR REACTORS. Kuchma also said Russia has promised to help Ukraine fund the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Rivnenska and Khmelnytska power plants to replace the only working reactor at Chornobyl, Reuters reported. "We fully agreed in Moscow [last week] that there will be $180 million in the Russian 1999 budget for this work," he said, referring to his meetings with President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. Ukraine promised in 1995 that it would close Chornobyl by 2000 with Western assistance. But it has recently grown impatient as the deadline approaches and only a fraction of the required $2 billion has been raised so far. "We will complete the reactors ourselves or together with Russia whether or not the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development assists us," the news agency quoted him as saying. JM LUKASHENKA REGRETS GIVING UP NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists on 23 September that the 1992 decision of the Belarusian leadership to allow the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the country was "a crude mistake, if not a crime," Interfax reported. Lukashenka said the withdrawal was under way in 1994 when he was elected president so he could not stop it. But he added that he "kept the process on the slow track for 18 months." Lukashenka commented that the withdrawal had an impact on Russian-NATO talks by making Russia more "pliable." He denounced NATO for installing "three powerful radar stations" on the Belarusian border, AP reported. "Slowly, slowly, this block is becoming more and more impudent," the agency quoted him as saying. JM LATVIAN DELEGATION BREAKS ISOLATION OF BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE? A delegation of the Latvian parliament headed by speaker Alfreds Cepanis paid a visit to Minsk on 23 September and held talks at the Council of the Republic, the upper house of the Belarusian legislature, ITAR-TASS reported. The current Belarusian legislature was appointed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after the controversial constitutional referendum in November 1996 and is not recognized by European parliaments. "We have always opposed the policy of isolationism, including in relation to the Republic of Belarus," Cepanis said. JM IVANOV SAYS RUSSIA EXERTING 'DIPLOMATIC PRESSURE' ON ESTONIA, LATVIA. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in New York on 23 September that Russia is exerting "diplomatic pressure on Estonia and Latvia to remedy the current situation with the legal status of the Russian- speaking population" of those countries, ITAR-TASS reported. "We have chosen a more complicated tack, yet the right one," Ivanov said, explaining that Moscow is pressing for "official respect for the rights of the Russian-speaking population not by means of threats, sanctions, or repressions but via our membership in international organizations, including the Council of Europe and the OSCE." He added that this approach was approved by the Russian State Duma. JC ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT OFFERS SOME HELP TO FIRMS HIT BY RUSSIAN CRISIS. ETA reported on 24 September that the government is ready to support producers and farmers who have been hit by the Russian financial crisis and this year's bad weather conditions but will not allocate any money for that purpose. Prime Minister Mart Siimann told a government session that the stabilization fund will not be touched and is to be used only in case of a "real crisis." But he said the government intends to help enterprises by extending the period for paying taxes and other financial obligations and by reducing the fine for delays in making such payments. At the same session, Finance Minister Mart Opmann said the government is unable to increase the stabilization fund to 1.9 billion kroons ($140.7 million) this year, as agreed on with the IMF. The volume of the fund is currently 1.83 billion kroons, and some 53 million kroons have been added so far this year. JC POLISH GOVERNMENT POSTPONES TAX REFORM UNTIL 2000. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek announced on 22 September that the government will postpone introducing major tax reforms until 2000. Buzek's statement concluded a three-week discussion between the coalition partners, Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW), over Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz's proposal to replace the current three- level tax system with a two-level one in 1999 and a flat tax in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1998). Balcerowicz, who is also UW leader, argued that the proposed reform will boost economic growth and create new jobs. But both the AWS and the former communist opposition reject the flat tax proposal, saying that it will hit primarily low- income earners. The government has only slightly changed taxes for 1999, reducing corporate tax from 36 percent to 32 percent and abolishing some tax exemptions. JM POLISH OPPOSITION LEADER CRITICAL OF OPENING COMMUNIST FILES. Leszek Miller, chairman of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, told Polish Radio on 23 September that the law on making communist secret service files available to the public (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1998) guarantees access to those files only to right-wing political parties. "The real idea behind [the law] is to allow the political opposition that existed in the Polish People's Republic to check who informed on whom within the opposition [at that time] and play some political game in relation to the present opposition," Miller commented. He added that the material gathered in the communist-era secret service archives is "problematic and often questionable." JM AUSTRIAN PRESIDENT MEETS HAVEL. Tomas Klestil on 23 September told journalists after meeting his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Havel, that controversy over bilateral issues will not undermine Austria's support for the Czech Republic's membership in the EU, AP reported. Klestil said that for Austria, which currently holds the EU rotating chairmanship, it is important to "carry the talks with all candidates as far as possible." The two presidents also discussed such thorny issues as the post-war expulsion of the Sudeten Germans and the controversial nuclear reactor at Temelin, near the Austrian border. In other news, Havel on 23 September said he would like Czech-born U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to succeed him. Havel said he has not discussed the idea with Albright because "it occurred to me on the plane on my way back" from his recent visit to the U.S. MS INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS CRITICIZE SLOVAK ELECTION PROCESS. The International Advisory Committee on 23 September accused the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar of bias and unfair practices in the run-up to the Slovak elections, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. In a letter to Meciar, the committee says a "climate of anxiety" has been created through acts of violence against independent journalists. The letter also accuses the government of deliberately hindering independent civic groups and media in their efforts to participate in or cover the election process. The letter's signatories include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former German Economic Affairs Minister Otto Graf Lambsdorff. The committee was formed by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs to monitor the Slovak elections. The election campaign officially closed on 23 September, 48 hours before the polls open. MS INDEPENDENT MONITOR REPEATS ACCUSATIONS AGAINST SLOVAK STATE TV. In a report issued on 23 September, Monitor '98 says that Slovak State Television "has completely failed to live up to its obligations to the Slovak public by substituting objective news coverage with biased and distorted stories advancing the interests of the ruling power and unscrupulously attacking any opposition activities" (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 1998). Reuters, reporting on the Monitor '98 findings, said STV is in a particularly powerful position because the new electoral law forbids campaign spots in private broadcast media. This, the agency said, means the opposition "can only put its message across in a context deeply hostile to its interests." Monitor '98 also criticized TV Markiza for pro-opposition bias but said this was less marked than the pro-government bias on STV. MS HUNGARIAN SENIOR SECURITY OFFICER DISMISSED. Laszlo Kover, secret services minister without portfolio, dismissed General Jozsef Vajda as deputy director-general of the National Security Office on 23 September. The private television station TV2 reported that Vajda was a board member of a security technology firm that deals with private investigations. "Magyar Hirlap" cited secret service circles as denying that his dismissal is connected with the ongoing scandal over the illegal surveillance of Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party leaders. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE UN SECURITY COUNCIL DEMANDS CEASE-FIRE. The UN Security Council on 23 September approved a resolution calling for a cease-fire and political dialogue in Kosova and warning that failure to comply will result in "further action and additional measures," an RFE/RL correspondent in New York reported. China abstained from voting on the measure, which passed 14-0. Russia's ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, said "no measures of force" are being introduced at this stage. But the resolution says military action in the province is "excessive and indiscriminate" and calls on the ethnic Albanian leadership to condemn all "terrorist action." On 24 September, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said alliance ambassadors, who are meeting in Vilamoura, Portugal, have issued an "activation warning" that includes both a limited air option and a phased air campaign for Kosova should the fighting there not cease. U.S. Defense Minister William Cohen said NATO members would commit forces for the possible military action. Germany and Holland officials committed specific numbers of planes before the NATO meeting. PB YUGOSLAV, SERBIAN OFFICIALS DEFIANT. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic described the UN resolution as "groundless" and "counterproductive," Tanjug reported. Jovanovic said the crisis in Kosova cannot be settled "with force." Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said in Prishtina on 23 September that "terrorists and their foreign helpers and supporters are mistaken if they believe that they can violate the integrity of our country without having to suffer the consequences." He said the Yugoslav army has acted "honorably, responsibly, and professionally." Milutinovic also accused Albania of training and arming "terrorists" to fight in Kosova. Meanwhile, heavy fighting continues in Kosova's central Drenica region and in the northwest of the province. Both sides reported casualties, although numbers were unconfirmed by independent sources. PB UCK RELEASES ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLITICIANS. Tanjug reported on 23 September that a delegation of ethnic Albanian politicians has been released by Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) forces. Djerdj Dedaj, the speaker of the unofficial Kosova assembly, said the group gained released with the help of the International Red Cross. It had been detained since 19 September. Dedaj said the politicians were told they had been detained for not alerting the UCK about their visit. The politicians represented several different ethnic Albanian political parties. PB OSCE AGAIN POSTPONES RELEASING BOSNIAN ELECTION RESULTS. Nicole Szulc, the Sarajevo spokeswoman for the OSCE, said on 23 September that technical problems have forced another delay in the release of the final results in Bosnian general elections, AP reported. Szulc said power outages and other technical problems are the reason for the postponement. She said the string of delays should not taint the "integrity of the process," adding that she did not believe it would hurt the OSCE's credibility. The Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje," reacting to comments by officials on presumed wins by two hard-line candidates to executive posts, said that "Bosnia took a step back from democracy...and came closer to the option of the final ethnic division, which represents a failure of U.S. policy." PB WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATORS SEARCH FOR EVIDENCE IN MOSTAR. International war crimes investigators, backed by 30 armored vehicles and a few hundred NATO peacekeepers, are searching for evidence in several buildings near the Herzegovinian town of Mostar, AP reported. NATO troops are said to have blocked access to several buildings, including the wartime headquarters of the Croatian Defense Ministry in Mostar, and retrieved several boxes of documents. The area around Vitez, the site of several alleged atrocities during the wars of Yugoslav succession, was also searched. PB BOSNIAN MINISTER WARNS OF ALARMING ECONOMIC SITUATION. Nikola Grabovac, deputy economy and foreign trade minister in the Bosnian Council of Ministers, said on 23 September that it could take two decades before the country's GDP reaches pre- war levels, Reuters reported. Grabovac said that the economic situation is "alarming" and that more funds will be needed in coming years to revive Bosnia's industrial capacity. Most aid donated so far has gone to infrastructure and housing, he noted. PB ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT WILLING TO TALK, BUT NOT TO BERISHA. Albania's ruling Socialist Party said on 23 September that it will begin talks with the opposition Democratic Party only if its leader, former President Sali Berisha, is kept out of such discussions, Radio Tirana reported. The Socialist Party has accused Berisha of leading a failed coup d'etat against the government last week. It has stripped him of his immunity as a parliamentary deputy but has not arrested him. The Democratic Party, likewise, has broken off all communication with the Socialists and continues with a campaign calling for Prime Minister Fatos Nano to resign. Some 2,000 people demonstrated in Tirana's Skanderbeg Square on 23 September demanding that Nano step down. PB EUROPEAN ORGANIZATIONS SLAM ALBANIAN POLITICAL PARTIES. A joint statement by the EU, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the Western European Union criticized both the Albanian government and the opposition for the renewed turmoil in the country and urged all parties to begin talks, Reuters reported. The statement said Nano's government has been lax in fighting crime and corruption and in reforming the justice system, the police, and the civil service. But they said "slow and unsatisfactory performance by the government does not justify all-out confrontation and use of violence by" the opposition. PB ALBANIAN COURT RELEASES MEDIA OFFICIALS. The Tirana District Court ordered the release of Alfons Zeneli of Radio Kontakt and Ilir Zhilla, the former director of the Albanian Telegraph Agency (ATA), on 22 September, ATA reported. The court ruled that the two men must report to the judicial police every week. They were detained the previous day for allegedly participating in the violence in Tirana on 14 September after the murder of deputy Azem Hajdari. PB ROMANIA REPLACES FINANCE MINISTER. The National Liberal Party (PNL) on 23 September announced that it has "withdrawn support" from Finance Minister Daniel Daianu for "failure to implement Liberal policies in public finances" and to restructure the ministry he headed. Daianu was politically non-affiliated and occupied in the cabinet a PNL slot. Prime Minister Radu Vasile the same day dismissed Daianu and replaced him with Traian Decebal Remes, who was sworn in as finance minister the same day. Remes, a PNL member, was chairman of the Budget and Finance Commission of the Chamber of Deputies until his appointment. He said he intends to reduce taxes and public spending and "bring the shadow economy into the open." Reacting to his dismissal, Daianu warned against endangering the country's "fragile macrostabilization" through "fiscal relaxation" that may have "dangerous consequences," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS ROMANIAN COALITION DEPUTIES PROPOSE AMENDMENT TO EDUCATION LAW. Deputies representing coalition parties on the Chamber of Deputies' Education Commission have asked the commission to amend the recently approved article on higher education included in the regulation that changes the education law. That article forbids the setting up of universities teaching in languages of the national minorities. The deputies want the legislation amended to make possible setting up such universities by special law, thus meeting the demands of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) The commission's chairman, Greater Romania Party deputy Anghel Stanciu, said the proposed amendment reflects "surrender to UDMR blackmail," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES BONDS TRANSFER TO GAZPROM. The government on 23 September approved the transfer of $90 million in state-guaranteed bonds to the Russian Gazprom conglomerate in settlement of the 1996-1997 debt. The bonds carry a 7.5 percent annual interest rate. The permanent representative of the IMF to Moldova, Mark Horton, said the measure will have a negative impact on the fund's decision (expected in October) on whether to release a $30 million tranche to Moldova. Horton said the government's decision was a "deja-vu phenomenon" that repeated the settlement of the debt to Gazprom two years ago. He continued that it also showed that the energy sector is not undergoing "real reforms" and that the burden of Moldova's external debt is growing, BASA press reported. MS BULGARIA TO CUT SUBSIDIES FOR STATE RADIO, TV. Under a broadcast media law adopted by the parliament on 23 September, the government will stop subsidizing state radio and television in 2008, AP reported. The subsidies will be reduced at the end of 2002, and viewers' fees will make up the difference until the end of 2007. No such fees exist at present. Households will be charged 0.6 percent of the government-set minimum monthly wage, while companies and institutions will have to pay 2.5 percent. All three opposition parties boycotted the debates and announced they will appeal the law. MS END NOTE SLOVAKIA'S RETURN TO EUROPE? By Christopher Walker Despite Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's recent claim that "talk in Europe about Slovakia's lack of democracy will definitely come to an end" after the upcoming elections, there is serious doubt whether Slovakia will be able to overcome its poor image in the longer term should Meciar's ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) retain power. Such a result could arguably result in Slovakia's losing a full decade in its effort to join NATO and the EU. On the other hand, if the assembled opposition parties manage to pull together an electoral victory, Slovakia will have the chance to restore its credibility rather quickly and realign itself with the West. Thus, in a fundamental way, the choice Slovaks make in these elections will determine if their country identifies with the West and is prepared to take part in its institutional structures or if it continues to orient itself toward less developed, slower reforming post-Soviet states to the East. Slovakia's dubious image abroad has been shaped principally by the Meciar regime's parochial, immature, and often brutal political leadership. This behavior, ranging from petty political subterfuge to outright thuggery, has saddled Slovakia with an unfavorable image that in any case may be hard to shed. Remarkably, it was not very long ago that Slovakia was considered to belong to the same "fast track" group of applicants for Western integration as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. No longer perceived as a member of the original "Visegrad" group, Slovakia now runs the risk of slipping still farther. This time, however, the stakes are much higher. The very possibility that Slovakia will become more closely associated with its Eastern neighbors has significant implications: it may reinforce the belief of the outside world--as well as Slovaks themselves--that Slovakia's place is in the East. That belief would effectively freeze Slovakia's candidacy for admission to the EU and NATO. While Slovakia's economy has proven resilient, its political development has been inconsistent with Western standards. In fact, as a result of its relative political immaturity, there is a larger question as to whether Slovakia can maintain its economic successes in the longer term without the necessary consolidation of democracy and international integration. It is difficult to gauge precisely the opportunity cost of the Slovak leadership's preoccupation with internal rivalries and political intrigue over the past six years. One may conclude, however, that dawdling during the crucial initial "courtship" of Western institutions has set back Slovakia at least several years and has prevented the country from achieving the necessary degree of political soundness to advance into key Western clubs. The window for first-round NATO admission is already closed. The EU sent a strong message to Bratislava last year when Slovakia--recognized by the European Commission for its strong economic performance-- was pointedly left off the first-round invitation list as a result of its underdeveloped democratic institutions. One of the most important, broad consequences of NATO and EU expansion is the salutary effect these institutions can have on relations among its member states. These clubs have been instrumental in forging a peaceful post-War transatlantic order and have contributed greatly to the prosperity enjoyed by its members. By remaining outside the positive influence of these institutions, Slovakia loses the opportunity to improve its own internal development and establish better working relationships with its neighbors. The Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary--which are not only among the first-round candidates for EU admission but are also the first three to receive invitations to join the NATO alliance--have broadly demonstrated their commitment to resolving difficult public-policy questions in a manner consistent with Western norms. One can already see these results. Poland is undertaking a number of important initiatives to improve regional cooperation, including difficult negotiations with Ukraine on border issues and steps toward deeper integration with Germany. The newly elected Hungarian leadership, while using rather heated rhetoric on minority issues, is not expected to deviate from acceptable political norms. That is in no small measure due to Hungary's accepted responsibilities in Western institutions. Slovakia's choice in the elections is of regional concern. The Czechs, for instance, face the prospect of having their Moravian frontier form a portion of the new East-West divide. For Poland and Hungary--not to mention Austria--an unanchored and unpredictable Slovakia will hinder the effort to build an integrated regional economic and security structure. Meciar has done a masterful job of dividing the opposition, but the political stunts and hardball tactics he has employed to maintain power have had a corrosive effect on Slovakia's political culture. During the period of HZDS control--where infighting and cronyism have been the rule, rather than the exception--there have been few steps taken to direct the young Slovak state toward political normalcy. On the contrary, the Meciar period has defined itself by its reliance on what it regards as foreign and domestic villains, thus limiting Slovakia's focus on more substantive matters and preventing the country from engaging in vital self- examination. That tactic is an integral part of a larger strategy aimed at blaming domestic deficiencies on foreign interference. Slovaks, through their vote in the elections this week, can decide for themselves whether Meciar's HZDS is best suited for advancing Slovakia's real interests and where exactly they believe Slovakia's proper place is in Europe. The author is manager of programs at the European Journalism Network. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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