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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 229, Part II, 30 November 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 229, Part II, 30 November 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 * UKRAINIAN CABINET FORECASTS INFLATION AT 20 PERCENT NEXT YEAR * GEORGIEVSKI ANNOUNCES CABINET LINEUP * ALBANIAN SECRET SERVICE DISCOVERS BIN LADEN NETWORK End Note: UKRAINE'S LACK OF DIRECTION JEOPARDIZES REFORM xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINIAN CABINET FORECASTS INFLATION AT 20 PERCENT NEXT YEAR... The government has increased its projected inflation rate for 1999 to 20 percent from 7.8 percent, AP reported on 26 November. The revision came after President Leonid Kuchma criticized the draft 1999 budget the previous day, saying it was based on figures worked out before Russia's financial crisis impacted on Ukraine. Kuchma also repeated his former proposal that the government allow the hryvnya exchange rate to float freely. JM ...WHILE CENTRAL BANK VOICES WARNING. The Ukrainian National Bank on 27 November warned that the economy and the currency will collapse if the government allows the hryvnya to float freely and inflation to reach the projected rate of 20 percent. A floating exchange rate will "cause the currency to devalue, trigger inflation, and ruin the economy," AP quoted a bank representative as saying. Bank chairman Viktor Yushchenko said the same day that he sees "no fundamental reasons" to devalue the national currency. "The hryvnya is in a strengthening trend," Ukrainian News quoted him as saying. JM KUCHMA ACCUSED OF INTERFERING IN MURDER TRIAL. Amnesty International has accused President Kuchma of violating the principle of the independence of the judiciary and the right of the accused to be presumed innocent. That accusation is in relation to the ongoing trial of a serial killer who has confessed to murdering 52 people. "As a human being I cannot see any punishment for him other than death," Kuchma said on 23 November. Amnesty International also said Kuchma's statement puts at risk the existence of a moratorium on executions in Ukraine. Kuchma's spokesman dismissed the criticism, saying that the president "has always considered Ukraine's judiciary to be independent," AP reported on 27 November. JM BELARUS ADMITS 'SERIOUS MISTAKES' IN RELATIONS WITH WEST. Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich told the 30 November "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that Belarus has made "serious mistakes" in its relations with the West and "deeply regrets" them. He added that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has assured U.S. President Bill Clinton in writing that these mistakes will not be repeated. The daily reported that "foreign observers" in Minsk reacted to Antanovich's statement skeptically, suggesting that it is the ongoing economic crisis, rather than remorse, that has forced Lukashenka to seek to normalize Minsk's relations with the West and the U.S. JM MOSCOW MAYOR LUZHKOV IN MINSK. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov visited Minsk on 26 November and met with President Lukashenka, Belarusian Television reported. "I think [Luzhkov] will remain my greatest friend because no one else in Russia has provided greater support to our people and to me," Lukashenka commented after the meeting. Luzhkov visited a Minsk plant and a cancer research institute. The trip was widely considered an attempt by Luzhkov, a leading presidential hopeful in Russia's next elections, to enhance his international reputation. JM EUROPARLIAMENT DEPUTY RECEIVES BELARUSIAN VISA. Belarus on 26 November granted an entry visa to Europarliament deputy Elisabeth Schroedter after initially ignoring her request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1998), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Schroedter told an RFE/RL correspondent that the Minsk OSCE mission chief and the Belarusian people must be credited with the reversal of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's decision since they had exerted "big pressure" on the government to allow her to travel to Minsk. JM MERI CALLS FOR SECURITY POLICY TO BE LEFT OUT OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN. Estonian President Lennart Meri has handed over to opposition leaders a document calling for security policy to be left out of the election campaign, BNS reported on 27 November. The document was given to the leaders of the Moderate Party, the Fatherland Union, and the People's Party. It also calls for a gradual increase in defense spending, a presidential spokeswoman told the news agency. Over the past two years, Estonia has spent 1.18 percent of GDP on defense. Also on 27 November, the 13th session of the Baltic Assembly opened in Tallinn, ETA reported. A draft declaration states that NATO's Washington summit in April 1999 would be the best opportunity to include the Baltic States in the second round of NATO expansion. Lithuania, which is considered the most likely of the three Baltic States to be invited to join, was the main force behind the declaration. JC LATVIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW GOVERNMENT. Almost two months after general elections, lawmakers on 26 November voted by 59 to 24 with no abstentions to approve the minority government of Vilis Kristopans. Kristopans's Latvia's Way has seven portfolios, including foreign affairs (Valdis Birkavs) and finance (Ivars Godmanis). The Fatherland and Freedom party also has seven portfolios, including defense (Girts Kristovskis) and internal affairs (Roberts Jurdzs). Outgoing Prime Minister Guntars Krasts, also of the Fatherland and Freedom Party, has been appointed deputy prime minister for European integration. The New Party has the Justice Ministry (Ingrida Labucka) and the Economics Ministry (Ainars Slesers), while the agriculture portfolio has not yet been filled. Speaking to reporters after the vote, President Guntis Ulmanis said he believes one of the new government's main tasks in the near future is to expand its ranks to include members of other parties, BNS reported. JC MOSCOW WELCOMES KRISTOPANS'S COMMENTS ON BILATERAL RELATIONS. Among the priorities outlined in the new government's program are seeking entry into the EU, the further privatization of state-owned monopolies, conservative fiscal policies, and improved relations with Russia. Kristopans has also said he himself intends to follow the political dialogue between Moscow and Riga, according to BNS. On 27 November, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told Russian news agencies that Moscow "positively assesses" Kristopans's comments about his intention "to actively help improve Latvian-Russian relations." Rakhmanin added that "we expect these words to be confirmed by concrete deeds in the nearest future--the more so since Latvia is well aware of our priorities and concerns." JC LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT TO APPEAL TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. The Lithuanian government is to appeal to the Constitutional Court to rule whether it needs new powers in order to continue in office, BNS reported on 27 November. That move follows the resignation last week of Transport Minister Algis Zvaliauskas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1998). More than half the members of the cabinet formed in 1996 have now been replaced. Ruling Conservative Party chairman and parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis said in a statement on 26 November that "we do not think new powers are necessary," commenting that "the Constitutional Court gave new powers to the cabinet at the beginning of this year, after the presidential elections." In a poll carried out earlier this month by the Vilmorius opinion and market research center, 61 percent of respondents were satisfied with the government, while 39 percent wanted it to be replaced. JC POLISH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS MINING RESTRUCTURING PLAN... The parliament on 26 November voted by 218 to 67 with 102 abstentions to approve a restructuring plan for Poland's coal mining sector, AP reported. The bill calls for reducing coal production from 137 million tons last year to 110 million tons in 2002. The number of jobs will be cut from the current 245,000 to 138,000 over the next three years. Of the 105,000 miners who will lose their jobs, only 30,000 will be laid off since the remainder will retire. Jan Kisielinski of the leftist opposition, which abstained from the voting, says the government failed to take into account workers in mining-related companies who will lose their jobs because of the reform. He estimates their number at 400,000. JM ...PASSES NEW PENSION BILL. By 194 votes to 123 with no abstentions, the parliament also approved a new bill that makes the size of pensions dependent on the duration of employment. The plan guarantees state pensions for workers over 50 and gives workers between 30 and 50 the option of splitting their pension contributions between state and private funds. Workers under 30 can choose between state, private, and mixed pension plans. Social security contributions will remain at the current level of 45 percent of the payroll, split evenly between employer and employee. The retirement ages are 65 for men and 60 for women. The new system is expected to ease the burden on the budget by eliminating subsidies for social security payments. JM CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES DEFICIT BUDGET. The Chamber of Deputies on 25 November approved a deficit budget of just over $1 billion, AP reported. The budget was supported by deputies from the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), the Christian Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. In other news, architect Jan Kasl of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has been elected Prague mayor, replacing Jan Koukal, also of the ODS, who gave up his bid for re-election after losing in the elections to the Czech Senate. Kasl was supported by the ODS and the CSSD. Mayors in the Czech Republic are elected not by direct vote but by their municipal assembly colleagues. MS CZECH REPUBLIC SETS UP COMMISSION TO RETURN JEWISH PROPERTY. The government on 26 November set up a commission that is to draw up a list of all unrestituted Jewish properties by March 1999, AP reported, quoting a spokesman for the Jewish community. The commission includes representatives of the government and of the Jewish community. The Czech Republic has already returned some 80 percent of confiscated Jewish properties that it held. The government now plans to return to surviving Holocaust victims all remaining property confiscated by the Nazis and to create a fund for compensation where restitution is impossible. The Federation of Jewish Communities is demanding the return of properties whose ownership has been passed to municipalities and individuals. MS SLOVAKIA TO INCREASE PRESSURE FOR NATO ADMISSION. Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda on 27 November said he plans to increase pressure on NATO for Slovakia to be admitted into the alliance, Reuters reported. Slovakia will "bang on the door as strongly as possible" after the April 1999 Washington NATO summit, he said. That day, Dzurinda met with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana in Brussels. Solana declined to set a date by which Slovakia might be admitted to the alliance but said that Bratislava will be well prepared for admission if it continues with reform. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE GEORGIEVSKI ANNOUNCES CABINET LINEUP. Macedonian Prime Minister-designate Ljubco Georgievski said in Skopje on 27 November that his 27-member cabinet will consist of 14 members of his own Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, eight of Vasil Tupurkovski's Democratic Alternative, and five of Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of the Albanians. The foreign minister will be Aleksandar Dimitrov of the Democratic Alternative. Georgievski added that "all coalition partners have the good will to resolve [Macedonia's] economic and interethnic problems," Reuters reported. The parliament is expected to approve the cabinet on 30 November and to elect at least three deputies to Speaker Savo Klimovski, MIC news agency reported. Elsewhere, a spokesman for the IMF welcomed Georgievski's recent statement that he will try to hold the exchange rate of the denar at 31.5 to the German mark. PM WALKER SEEKS EXPANDED ROLE FOR MONITORS. U.S. diplomat William Walker, who heads the international monitoring team in Kosova, said in Brezovica on 29 November that the Belgrade authorities interpret the agreement with the OSCE on the verification mission "in the narrowest possible way and we're reading it in the widest possible way," Reuters reported. He added that "the international presence, even in a feeble form, has had an impact and [as more monitors arrive] things will become more normal." Walker said that his group's mission will include preventing violations of human rights, reforming the police, preparing for elections, and giving the ethnic Albanian majority access to the electronic media. PM SERBIA SAYS NATO FORCE MUST NOT INTERVENE. On 27 November, the Frankfurt-based independent Serbian daily "Vesti" quoted unnamed Yugoslav military authorities as saying that Belgrade will regard any intervention by NATO's rapid reaction force on Yugoslav territory as an "act of aggression." The spokesmen added that there is no provision in the agreement between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke for a rapid reaction force to cross into Yugoslav territory. NATO's Klaus Naumann had earlier said that the alliance expects the Yugoslav military to ensure the verifiers' safety from attacks by Serbs and that the Macedonia-based rapid reaction force will protect the verifiers from threats to their safety by the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). PM PERISIC CALLS SACKING 'ILLEGAL.' General Momcilo Perisic said in a statement that Milosevic's recent decision to fire him as chief of the general staff was taken "without consultation, without preparation, and in an illegal fashion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1998). The general added that his dismissal shows that "the current authorities do not wish to have [military] leaders who have a high degree of integrity and who think for themselves," "Vesti" reported on 27 November. Spokesmen for the government and for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia called Perisic's removal part of a "routine rotation" of top officers. In recent years, Perisic has disagreed with Milosevic on a number of key issues and has refused to use the army against Milosevic's domestic enemies. PM BELGRADE BLASTS HILL PLAN... Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic said in Belgrade on 29 November that U.S. envoy Chris Hill's plan for broad autonomy for Kosova "is an indirect way to full succession" of the province from Serbia. Bojic added that the Kosova problem cannot be solved by what he called "chopping up Serbia" and that the Hill plan is "short-sighted and perfidious" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998). PM ...WHILE UCK MOVES CLOSER TO IT. UCK political spokesman Adem Demaci told Belgrade's independent Radio B-92 on 28 November that the UCK is willing to "temporarily" drop its demands for independence. He said the guerrillas would accept a gradual transition lasting three years, during which Kosova would have equal status with Serbia and Montenegro within federal Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1998). Demaci stressed that the Kosovars must be guaranteed the right to a referendum on independence at the end of the transition period. He called the Serbian 11-point program for Kosova, which reduces autonomy to the local level only and gives Belgrade the last word in the province's affairs, "something that not even a dog would swallow." Demaci told the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" that the "UCK will accept nothing less than what was demanded in the 1991 referendum," in which Kosovars voted overwhelmingly for independence. PM UCK FREES JOURNALISTS. Kosovar guerrillas on 27 November freed Tanjug journalist Nebojsa Radosevic and photographer Vladimir Dobricic in central Kosova in Walker's presence. The two Serbs said they had been well treated by the UCK, which captured them on 18 October. Uncertainty surrounds the fate of two other Serbian journalists, who went missing in August. Meanwhile in the Skenderaj region on 28 November, the UCK held a swearing-in ceremony for 300 fighters and a memorial service for a schoolteacher whom the Serbs killed one year ago. The man's funeral marked a milestone in the Kosova conflict because uniformed UCK fighters made their first public appearance there. PM MONTENEGRO WANTS MONITORS. Miodrag Vukovic, who is a top adviser to President Milo Djukanovic, said in Podgorica that the Montenegrin authorities want an OSCE monitoring mission to come to the country, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 27 November. The following day, State Prosecutor Bozidar Vukcevic said that Montenegro recognizes the "legality and legitimacy" of the Hague- based war crimes tribunal and will actively cooperate with it. PM ALBANIAN SECRET SERVICE DISCOVERS BIN LADEN NETWORK. Secret Service chief Fatos Klosi told the "Sunday Times" of 29 November that the Albanian authorities have discovered a network of Islamist terrorists operated by Osama Bin Laden. Klosi confirmed earlier reports by a French terrorist suspect of Algerian origin that Bin Laden has tried to send units to fight in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 9 November 1998). He added that Bin Laden's agents include "Egyptians, Saudi Arabians, Algerians, Tunisians, Sudanese, and Kuwaitis...from several different organizations." Klosi also said that terrorists have already infiltrated other parts of Europe from Albania as illegal immigrants. Bin Laden visited Albania in 1994 as a member of a Saudi business delegation. FS ALBANIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS CONSTITUTION INTO LAW. Rexhep Meidani signed into law the country's first post- communist constitution on 28 November, which is Albanian Independence Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 25 November 1998). The final official results of the 22 November referendum showed 93.5 percent in favor of the law. Turnout, however, was only 50.57 percent. Representatives from the opposition Democratic Party, which boycotted the referendum and sessions of the parliamentary commission that drafted the constitution, claimed that the results have been falsified. They also refuse to recognize the new constitution, charging that turnout was only 39.6 percent. And they have recently urged their supporters to bring down the government through peaceful means. International observers say the referendum was carried out correctly. FS ROMANIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER FIRED. Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 27 November dismissed Agriculture Minister Dinu Gavrilescu. Government spokesman Razvan Popescu said Gavrilescu was dismissed because of slow progress in reforming the agricultural sector and in meeting demands to qualify for World Bank agricultural credits, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He is replaced by Reform Minister Ioan Muresan, whose ministry is to be abolished under the government restructuring program approved in September. The previous day, six members of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), including former Premier Victor Ciorbea, sent an open letter to PNTCD county organizations demanding that an extraordinary congress of the party be convened. The group wants to examine, among other things, relations with the PNTCD's Democratic Party coalition partner and the possibility of the PNTCD's withdrawing support for Radu Vasile's cabinet. MS MOST ROMANIANS BELIEVE LIFE WAS BETTER UNDER CEAUSESCU. A public opinion poll conducted by the Media Metro Institute on behalf of the Soros Foundation indicates that 51 percent of Romanians believe life before 1989 was "better than now." Nineteen percent are of the opinion that the country would fare better if ruled "by a single person with clear-cut opinions" rather than by people who have different opinions. Sixty-four percent believe Romania is "heading in the wrong direction." The Democratic Convention of Romania heads electoral preferences with 29 percent, followed by the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (26) and the Greater Romania Party (16 percent). In a presidential contest, 34 percent would back Emil Constantinescu, 22 percent Ion Iliescu, and 18 percent Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor. MS MEDIATORS SUBMIT DRAFT AGREEMENT ON TRANSDNIESTER'S STATUS. The international mediators in the Transdniestrian conflict have drafted an agreement for settling the conflict between Chisinau and the separatist region, Infotag reported on 25 November. John Evans, head of the OSCE permanent mission, and the Russian and Ukrainian presidential representatives on the mediation commission said they have submitted the draft agreement to President Petru Lucinschi and to Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov. They also said the document fully respects Moldovan sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, while envisaging a special status for the Transdniester region. The mediators stressed the two sides are free to submit their own proposals to improve the document. Addressing the parliament in Chisinau on 27 November, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe chairwoman Leni Fischer said the Council of Europe will support a summit aimed at solving the Transdniester conflict. MS BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TOWARD ABOLISHING DEATH PENALTY. The parliament on 27 November passed in the first reading amendments to the penal code abolishing the death penalty, Reuters reported. The amendments are part of the effort to harmonize Bulgarian legislation with that of the EU. The vote was 128 to 30 with 20 abstentions (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998). MS EU APPROVES AID FOR BULGARIA. The EU on 25 November approved humanitarian aid worth $1.7 million for Bulgaria to help the needy through the winter. The funds will help provide food and medicine to individuals as well as to clinics, hospitals, and social institutions. The funding will be channeled through humanitarian organizations, AP reported. MS END NOTE UKRAINE'S LACK OF DIRECTION JEOPARDIZES REFORM By Christopher Walker Seven years into its post-Soviet experience as an independent state, Ukraine has distinguished itself as much by what it has avoided as by what it has accomplished. On the one hand, the country has managed to escape the deep ethnic divisions many predicted and, for the time being at least, has sidestepped the near total economic and social collapse Russia has undergone. But at the same time, Ukraine has also avoided many of the critical reforms necessary to pave the way for long- term prosperity. Thus, Ukraine now finds itself at a crossroads, uncertain whether the belated implementation of strict reforms would generate Polish-style prosperity or Russian-style destabilization. The reluctance to proceed with an ambitious program of painful measures is in many ways understandable. Average Ukrainians have suffered enormous hardships since 1991. If asked to endure even more in a bid to achieve the promised, albeit theoretical prosperity, many Ukrainians would answer "no." A kind of symbiotic paralysis has developed between Ukraine's political decision-makers and the country as a whole. Each knows action must be taken, but neither is able to identify the force that could act as the catalyst for change. Recognizing this, the Communists, in cooperation with leftist forces in the parliament, point to Russia's difficult experience with Western-style reform to bolster their argument for taking a different course at home. The battle lines are visible in the current dispute over the state budget, in which members of the opposition are heavily attacking the government's proposed budget as endangering Ukraine's social safety net. While Russia's difficulties loom large on Ukraine's eastern border, a more constructive example is provided by Poland, to the West. Poland's success did not come easily. The economic recovery, which began in 1992, was preceded by nearly three years of economic suffering and social dislocation. After the fall of communism, Poland was indisputably in a better position than Ukraine to make the difficult post-Soviet transition, but despite the initial hardships, Poland has steadfastly stayed the reform course. It now is enjoying the rewards of its hard-fought efforts. Poland has achieved rapid private- sector growth, estimated at 10 percent annually from 1995 through 1997. Unemployment has been steadily declining and is now under 10 percent, down from a high of 16 percent in 1994. Moreover, Poland has attained positive GDP growth annually over the past six years. Foreign investors have acknowledged Poland's commitment to economic reform. >From 1990 to mid-1997, total foreign investment in Poland was $16.2 billion. By comparison, foreign investment in Ukraine from independence in 1991 through the third quarter of 1998 totals $2.6 billion. Of course, as long as the Ukrainian authorities dither over reform, foreign investors will be reluctant to commit significant resources to the Ukrainian market. Ukraine should also consider the implications of Poland's growing prosperity and its entry into the Western sphere of influence. To both countries' credit, they have worked assiduously to forge a balanced and constructive relationship. However, the EU is asking Poland to take firmer steps on a number issues related to Poland's eastern neighbors. For example, Warsaw is facing considerable pressure from Brussels to tighten border restrictions with Ukraine, but for the time being it has refused to impose visa requirements on Ukrainians. At home, Ukraine is beset by a host of other problems, including pension and wage arrears, rampant organized crime, and widespread official corruption. A burgeoning shadow economy has evolved in response to the dysfunction of the official market. The shadow economy, along with the many individuals and businesses that flout the law, accounts for a huge loss in desperately needed tax revenues. In fact, the authorities' frustration with widespread tax evasion payment was revealed last summer when Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko ordered 1,500 business executives to a tent camp outside Kyiv until they paid delinquent taxes. Other evidence of Ukraine's economic weakness is observable in the vast number of Ukrainians who travel abroad in search of employment. Large numbers of Ukrainians work as manual laborers in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, and other countries for periods of several weeks or months. Many of these jobs are run by Ukrainian gangs or criminal syndicates that claim to offer safe transport, employment documents, and a large amount of money by Ukrainian standards. After completing their terms of employment, many are disappointed to learn that they will receive only a bus ticket back to Ukraine, if that. By venturing westward to countries that already belong to the EU or are within striking distance of joining that organization, these Ukrainian workers are implicitly acknowledging the direction their own country should take. The author is manager of programs at the European Journalism Network. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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