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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 202, Part II, 19 October 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 202, Part II, 19 October 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 * ZEMAN WANTS TO BE REPLACED BY 2001 * MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION LEADS IN ELECTIONS * SERBIAN ASSAULT SENDS KOSOVARS FLEEING End Note: YET ANOTHER CAMPAIGN FOR SLAVIC INTEGRATION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINE HAS NO PLANS TO RAISE TRANSIT FEES ON RUSSIAN NATURAL GAS. Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Holubchenko told AP on 17 October that Kyiv does not plan to increase charges for the transport of Russian natural gas across its territory but will seek lower prices for the fuel Ukraine buys from Russia. He noted that Ukraine has succeeded in reducing its gas debt to Russian from $1.2 billion in January 1998 to $740 million now. And he added that Ukraine will reduce its debt still further by sending food to Russia. PG UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FEARS NEW DIVISION OF EUROPE. Following a 16 October meeting in Vienna with European Commission President Jacques Santer, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that the inclusion of Poland in the EU could lead to tighter visa restrictions against his countrymen and thus cut Ukraine off from Europe, Western agencies reported. Santer responded that the EU has no such intention and will support Kyiv's efforts to reform and join the World Trade Organization. He also announced an additional 150 million ecu balance-of-payments loan to Ukraine, adding that the EU is prepared to help complete two nuclear reactors in Ukraine if Kyiv closes the troubled Chornobyl by the year 2000. PG BELARUS TO PAY FOR RUSSIAN GAS WITH FOOD. The Belarusian government has agreed to pay off its $250 million debt for Russian natural gas by sending foodstuffs to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 October. The agreement was announced following a meeting in Moscow between Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Belarusian Premier Siarhiej Linh. The same day, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and his Belarusian counterpart, Aleksandr Chumakov, agreed to expand military cooperation in response to NATO's eastward expansion and the Western alliance's threat of force in Kosova. PG BELARUSIAN POPULAR FRONT MARKS 10TH ANNIVERSARY. Several hundred people marched through Minsk on 18 October to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Belarusian Popular Front, Reuters reported. Many carried the now banned red-and-white Belarusian flag or banners calling for Belarus to join NATO. BNF leaders denounced the country's authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and his pro-Russian policies. One BNF leader, Vinsuk Vyachorka told the crowd that "Belarusians are a full-blooded European nation. But we cannot be subject to any neighbor pretending to harbor motherly thoughts for us. Lukashenka is fed straight from the Kremlin." PG MERI SAYS ESTONIA IMMUNE TO RUSSIAN THREATS OVER NATO EXPANSION. Speaking at a dinner given by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel in Ankara, Estonian President Lennart Meri commented that "Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's recent critical remarks about the inadmissibility of NATO's enlargement to comprise territories of the former Soviet Union do not concern us as Estonia never belonged to the Soviet Union," ETA reported on 16 October. He added that Estonia has always been able to rely on the support of Turkey, which never recognized the Baltic States' annexation by the Soviet Union. The previous day, Demirel had stressed that Turkey backs Tallinn's aspirations to join NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1998). Meri returned to Estonia on 18 October. JC SOBCHAK COMMENTS ON INTERETHNIC RELATIONS IN LATVIA. Former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak told journalists in Riga on 16 October that he sees no evidence of hostility between Latvians and ethnic Russians living in Latvia, BNS reported. "I am starting to comprehend that [the problems of the Russian-speaking minority are] to a great extent an object of political speculation. The parties use it to raise their political capital. In real life, I did not find even a trace of hostility or opposition between Latvians and [ethnic] Russians." He added that the recent referendum on amendments to the citizenship law is a "colossal step forward" and that there is "no other way for Latvia." Sobchak, who currently lives in France, was visiting friends in the Latvian capital. An investigation under way in St. Petersburg has established his involvement in "four incidents of bribery," according to Russian Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). JC POLAND CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF JOHN PAUL'S PONTIFICATE. On 16 October, Poland launched a week-long celebration of the Polish pope's first 20 years on the throne of St. Peter. Polish newspapers featured headlines such as "Twenty Years of Service" ("Zycie") and "We Thank You, John Paul" ("Rzeczpospolita"). Adam Michnik, a leading dissident in the 1980s, spoke for many when he wrote in "Gazeta Wyborza" that "the choice of Wojtyla to become Pope changed Poland and the whole world in one second." The celebrations will culminate on 22 October with a special Church service in Warsaw. PG HAVEL SAYS CZECHS, ROMA MUST COEXIST. Czech President Vaclav Havel said on 17 October that the ability of Czechs and Roma to get along directly affects the country's reputation within Europe, CTK reported. Havel said if Czechs and Roma cannot coexist, then "we can forget about integrating into Europe and the European community." Havel said "everyone will pay" if they fail to live "alongside each other." Havel said the emigration of Czech Roma to Great Britain would be a major point of discussion during his trip to that country, which began on 19 October. PB ZEMAN WANTS TO BE REPLACED BY 2001. Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman said on 17 October that he wants to leave politics completely in three years, CTK reported. Zeman, who was speaking at an executive committee session of his Social Democrats (CSSD) in Hradec Kralove, said that by then, he will have accomplished his three political goals. The first two, to build the CSSD into the leading party in the country and to bring it to power, have been accomplished, he said. His third goal is for the CSSD to successfully govern, which, he commented, will have occurred by 2001. Zeman also warned fellow CSSD members that holding political office is not a "set of cushy jobs." PB JOURNALIST ASSOCIATION CRITICIZES ZEMAN'S REMARKS. The chairwoman of the Czech Journalists' Association, Irena Valova, has accused Zeman of trying to scare journalists by threatening to include them in his "clean hands" campaign, CTK reported on 18 October. Zeman said the previous day that "journalists can be corrupt" and that they could be included in his anti-corruption campaign. Valova said she would seek advice from the European Federation of Journalists regarding the alleged threat, for which, she said, there was no precedent in Western Europe. PB IRELAND INTRODUCES VISA REGIME FOR SLOVAKS. The Slovak Foreign Ministry said on 16 October that Ireland has decided to introduce visas for Slovaks, CTK reported. The ministry said the Irish Embassy in Vienna, which is responsible for Irish affairs in Slovakia, sent a note to the Foreign Ministry in Bratislava informing it of the decision. The note described the move as temporary, saying it is bound by an agreement with London to maintain a common border policy with the UK. PB FIRST RESULTS OF LOCAL ELECTIONS IN HUNGARY. According to official preliminary results, Free Democrat Gabor Demszky has been elected mayor of Budapest for the third time. He won 58 percent of the votes, ahead of the Federation of Young Democrats--Democratic Forum/Independent Smallholders joint candidate, Janos Latorcai, who tallied 39 percent. With some 91 percent of the ballots counted, the alliance of the Young Democrats and Smallholders won 39.8 percent of the vote for local councils, while the Socialists and Free Democrats took 34.6 percent, Hungarian media reported on 19 October. Turnout at the elections was the highest since the fall of communism, exceeding 48 percent (compared with 43.4 percent in 1994). MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION LEADS IN ELECTIONS. Early returns in the 18 October parliamentary elections give a comfortable lead to the coalition of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of Ljubco Georgievski and the Democratic Alternative of Vasil Tupurkovski. The coalition has already elected 19 deputies to the 120-seat legislature, while the governing Social Democrats have elected only seven. Some 19 VMRO-DPMNE candidates have already qualified for the second round on 1 November, as opposed to 15 Social Democrats. Final results are expected by 20 October. Georgievski and Tupurkovski promised to end corruption and promote economic development. They will probably need the support of one of the larger ethnic Albanian parties in order to form a government. Observers in Skopje noted that the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) of Arben Xhaferi, which previously made local power-sharing agreements with VMRO-DPMNE, is the most likely partner. PM SERBIAN ASSAULT SENDS KOSOVARS FLEEING. Several hundred Kosovars fled their homes in the Komoran area, west of Prishtina, on 18 October after Yugoslav army troops and at least 50 vehicles arrived from the provincial capital. Guerrillas of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) killed three Serbian policemen in the area the previous day. An unnamed Western diplomat told Reuters in Prishtina that "the Serbs are going to try to clean the area up." The Kosovar news agency KIC reported on 18 October that Serbian forces fired on several villages in the Mitrovica area. There has been no independent confirmation of the KIC account. The following day, Tanjug reported that its journalist Nebojsa Radosevic and photographer Vladimir Dobricic have gone missing on the Prishtina-Magura road. Two months ago, Radio Prishtina's journalist Djuro Slavuj and his driver, Ranko Perinic, disappeared and have not been heard of since. PM OSCE MONITORS ARRIVE IN KOSOVA. An advance team of 20 international monitors arrived in Prishtina on 18 October. Two days earlier, OSCE chairman Bronislaw Geremek signed an agreement in Belgrade that provides for 2,000 members of the international Verification Mission to deploy to the Serbian province. Elsewhere, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke told CNN that the international community must act more quickly to send the full contingent of monitors into the region. He added that NATO remains ready to launch air strikes if the Serbian authorities do not carry out the agreement he negotiated with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic the previous week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1998). On 16 October, NATO agreed to extend its deadline for compliance by an additional 10 days, until 27 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). PM TOUGHER MEASURES AGAINST SERBIAN MEDIA IN OFFING? Spokesmen for the independent media said in Belgrade on 18 October that the parliament will soon pass a law that will incorporate key parts of a recent government decree that shut down three independent dailies as well as Radio Index, Radio Senta, TV Pirot, Radio Kontakt, and Radio City (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). The law will make permanent the ban on rebroadcasting foreign radio programs in Serbo-Croatian, including those of RFE/RL, VOA, the BBC, and Deutsche Welle. Elsewhere, supporters of the Democratic Party collected 5,000 signatures in opposition to the ban. The previous day, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said that the authorities will soon take similar measures against independent Albanian-language media in Kosova. PM VOJVODINA CLAIMS AUTONOMY. Dragan Veselinov, who is president of the "Vojvodina" coalition of opposition parties, said that Serbia's northern province should receive the same autonomy that Kosova will have as a result of the recent Milosevic-Holbrooke pact, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 17 October. Veselinov stressed that the agreement opens the way for a complete restructuring of Serbia's political system, beginning with the restoration of parliamentary autonomy to Vojvodina. Milosevic forced the province's leaders from office in October 1988 and subsequently abolished its autonomy. Vojvodina has a large ethnic Hungarian minority and smaller groups of Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Romanians, and others. Vojvodina Serbs long lived under Habsburg rule and generally regard themselves as distinct from Serbs, who were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. PM CROATIAN BANK OFFERS REWARD IN TUDJMAN SCANDAL. Officials of the Zagrebacka Banka announced on 18 October that the bank will pay $170,000 to anyone providing information as to how the independent daily "Jutarnji List" recently obtained information about the account of Ankica Tudjman, who is the wife of the President Franjo Tudjman. The paper wrote that she has a bank balance of $160,000. Ms. Tudjman recently filed an official declaration in which she said that her property consists only of her car. PM MISS CROATIA STRIPPED OF TITLE. In the Croatian capital on 16 October, the director of the Miss Croatia pageant declared invalid the recent election of Lejla Sehovic. He charged that there were irregularities in the voting and that one ballot was invalid. Sehovic said that the real reason that the pageant organizers oppose her election is that she is a Muslim. Sehovic add that the organizers "will have to take the crown from me physically if they want it," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM TRIAL OF SUSPECTED ISLAMIST OPENS IN TIRANA. The trial of Claude Cheik Ben Abdel, a Muslim with French citizenship who in June killed his 22-year-old interpreter, has opened in the Albanian capital. Abdel says he murdered the interpreter because "that was the will of God." Abdel arrived in Albania early this year to join the UCK and posed as a journalist. He was one of a group of eight Muslim fundamentalists who acquired weapons but did not succeed in linking up with the guerrillas. He is believed to have killed his interpreter because the young man knew too much about the group's activities. In June, police began a crackdown on suspected Muslim fundamentalist terrorists from abroad. FS ALBANIA CREATES SPECIAL UNIT TO PROTECT ARMY CAMPS. Albania's High Defense Council on 17 October approved the creation of a battalion of 150 professional soldiers to protect army bases and arsenals against looters, ATSH reported. The troops will be charged with foiling armed attacks against military installations. People suspected of smuggling arms to Kosova have tried to break into weapons depots throughout the country several times this year. Meanwhile, unknown attackers have blasted a main high-voltage electrical power line in northern Albania. The blast caused a serious power outage. FS OPPOSITION DEPUTIES RETURN TO PARLIAMENT TO DEBATE BASIC LAW. The opposition Democratic Party and its allies on 17 October ended their boycott of the parliament and attended their first legislative session in months. The parliament discussed the draft constitution and asked the drafting commission to review four of the document's articles, ATSH reported. Zef Bushati, leader of the small opposition Christian Democratic Party, proposed changing the draft to provide for the president to be elected directly rather than by the parliament. The head of the drafting commission, Sabri Godo, welcomed the opposition proposals, stressing that he is confident that "we will reach an agreement satisfying everybody, through a consensus between representatives of all parliamentary forces." FS ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, GOVERNMENT'S POPULARITY DOWN. A survey released on 18 October showed a decrease in the popularity of Emil Constantinescu and the Romanian government, Reuters reported. The poll, taken by the Life Quality Research Institute, showed Constantinescu with a 25 percent approval rating, down from 38 percent in June. Some 48 percent of respondents voiced dissatisfaction with the performance of Prime Minister Radu Vasile's cabinet, while 20 percent rated it "very bad." In other news, Constantinescu's political adviser, Zoe Petre, said the attempt at self-immolation by a homeless woman last week was "the most brutal expression of the deep economic crisis" in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 1998). She said "it has shocked us all." The woman was reported in critical condition on 16 October and was not expected to survive. PB ROMANIA OFFERS TO BARTER WITH RUSSIA. Romanian Agriculture Minister Dinu Gavrilescu said on 16 October that Bucharest had offered to trade food products to Russia for oil and gas, Reuters reported. Gavrilescu said the offer was being made because of the Russian government's hard currency shortage. Romania will offer 1 million tons of wheat along with some meat and edible oil in exchange for crude oil and gas. The food stocks are valued at some $200 million. PB BULGARIA'S RULING COALITION UNITES INTO PARTY. The ruling Union of Democratic Forces announced on 18 October that the 15-party alliance has become a single party, AP reported. Party leader and Premier Ivan Kostov said the UDF seeks to become a party similar to other Christian democratic parties in Europe and hopes to attract centrist voters. The alliance was formed by Kostov more than a year ago. Some 3,000 alliance members approved the change. PB NATO MONEY TO HELP UPGRADE BULGARIAN AIR BASES. Bulgarian General Ivan Bachev said on 16 October that three of his country's air bases will be upgraded with NATO funds, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. Bachev said the upgrades, mainly in communications infrastructure, will allow the bases to be used by NATO aircraft. The bases at Kamenets and Bezmer, in northern Bulgaria, as well as the Graf Ignatievo, in the south, will benefit from the funds. PB END NOTE YET ANOTHER CAMPAIGN FOR SLAVIC INTEGRATION by Jan Maksymiuk When the Russian economy began to melt down after the ruble's collapse in mid-August, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka launched yet another campaign for the closer integration of Belarus and Russia. The two countries have been unsuccessfully trying to consummate some kind of merger since Lukashenka came to power in 1994. But this time, the "third Slavic brother," Ukraine, has been drawn into the process. Kyiv has been wary of any initiatives aimed at closer integration not only with Russia and Belarus but also within the Commonwealth of Independent States. Ukraine stresses that in relations with post-Soviet states, economic issues should take precedence over political ones, while asserting that bilateral accords are more important than multilateral ones. Ironically, the event that sparked a renewed outburst of integration propaganda was Russia's financial crisis and subsequent economic slump. Addressing the Ukrainian Supreme Council on 29 September, Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev called upon Ukraine to form a Slavic union with Russia and Belarus. Some 50 deputies of the right-wing Rukh party jeered at Seleznev and branded his speech a "provocation." But 120 or so Communist deputies received Seleznev's appeal with loud applause. In what seemed to be an attempt at damage control, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma immediately responded that he "categorically opposes" such a union. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, pointing out that Russia is a multiethnic country, said the first consideration should be how "tens of millions of non-Slavs" in Russia would react if their state became part of a Slavic union. Nonetheless, the merger proposal was made by a high-ranking official and received much publicity in both Ukraine and Russia. In fact, it may well become a propaganda time bomb planted in Ukraine's fragile economic system. An impoverished population, large parts of which have not been paid for months, may eventually turn a deaf ear to Kuchma's promises to improve the situation in independent Ukraine and may begin to heed Lukashenka's nostalgic appeal to restore the former "unbreakable" union and state-regulated economy. Lukashenka had his moment of triumph when Russia's financial market collapsed in August. The IMF recommendations, he argued, aim at "disrupting the national economic system of post-Soviet republics" rather than "curing" it. Belarus, in his opinion, has a successful state-regulated economy that fares well without foreign advice and assistance. Lukashenka even went so far as to offer to act as consultant to Russian President Boris Yeltsin by showing him how Belarus's economic experience can be applied in Russia. A large amount of pro-Slavic union propaganda has come from other quarters within Belarus. The Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of the legislature, called on the Russian State Duma to urgently adopt bills on introducing a single Belarusian-Russian citizenship, joint state symbols, a Belarusian-Russian Union anthem, and direct elections to the Belarusian-Russian Union Parliamentary Assembly. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced that Minsk has "programs" to help Russia overcome its crisis, while Lukashenka vowed to supply foodstuffs to stave off famine in Russia. Lukashenka used the September visit to Minsk of the Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia to try to secure the support of the Orthodox Church for his integration cause. "Orthodoxy is the only barrier that protects us from falling into abyss" he said, pledging to make Christian values "the state ideology of Belarus." He also took advantage of the Kosova crisis to portray himself as a defender of the Slavic world as a whole, offering military help to Yugoslavia. And he strongly condemned Bulgaria and Romania for granting NATO the right to use their airspace in the event of military action against Yugoslavia and thus for "betraying Slavic [sic] unity." So far, there have been no signs that any of those proposals have been treated seriously by other statesmen or had the intended effect. At another level, however, their effectiveness is more difficult to ascertain. Lukashenka's actions and statements are primarily addressed to ordinary people, to collective farm and industrial workers who are suffering most on account of the crisis in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Such people elected him president in 1994, and a September poll showed that amid Belarus's worst economic crisis since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Lukashenka's popularity jumped to 55 percent, up 11 percent compared with last December. This measure of his popularity offers a clue to what Russian and Ukrainian workers may privately think about Lukashenka's idea of closer Slavic unity. At the same time, the appeal of such a union is not confined to the Slavic former Soviet republics. An Armenian initiative last year collected 1 million signatures in support for that country's accession to the Russia- Belarus Union. Similar, albeit more modest campaigns, have also been launched in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Belarus is the only post-Soviet republic that has made reintegration a sustained, long-term policy. Unable to use any economic levers to promote his policy of integration, Lukashenka makes use of his greatest asset: an almost hypnotic populist appeal to the man on the street. In fact, he appeals directly to the deeply wounded pride of people confronted with their humiliating economic misery and what they perceive as their political decline following the demise of the Soviet Empire. Wounded pride seldom responds in a friendly or creative manner. That is why Lukashenka-- although marginalized and isolated on the international scene--should be regarded with due concern as potentially one of the biggest troublemakers in the post-Soviet area. 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 of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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