|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 231, Part II, 2 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 231, Part II, 2 December 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 PARLIAMENT REJECTS DEAL WITH WORLD BANK * BUZEK PLEDGES TO REMOVE CROSSES FROM AUSCHWITZ * U.S. SHIFTING POLICY ON SERBIA? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS DEAL WITH WORLD BANK... Lawmakers on 1 December voted by 167 to 74 to reject an agreement signed by the government and the World Bank, AP reported. That agreement would have allowed the cabinet to provide guarantees to foreign creditors and investors to protect them from possible losses or other risks linked to Ukraine's economic instability. The World Bank pledged to back the guarantees by a special fund amounting annually to $120 million. The vote came on the same day as a World Bank mission arrived in Kyiv to discuss new projects and loans. Valeriy Aloshyn, head of the parliamentary Finance Committee, commented that the failure to ratify the document stemmed from the "general negative attitude [among lawmakers] to any deals that have to do with foreign loans." JM ...PROHIBITS PRESIDENT FROM CHANGING TAX LEGISLATION. Also on 1 December, the parliament voted by 342 with one abstention to override President Leonid Kuchma's veto on a tax law that forbids the president from setting tax rates and granting tax exemptions. Kuchma had argued that the legislation could lead to lower budget revenues because it would not allow the president to change excise and import taxes if necessary. Serhiy Teryokhyn of the parliamentary Finance Committee urged lawmakers to override the veto, arguing that the country's constitution grants them the exclusive right to determine tax rates and breaks. Earlier this month, the parliament approved amendments prohibiting the president from limiting state spending on certain items in the budget. JM LUKASHENKA PLEDGES NO MORE PRICE HIKES... Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited the Minsk Tractor Plant on 1 December to discuss low wages and high prices in a "dialogue without intermediaries," Belarusian Television reported. He told plant workers that there will be no more price hikes in Belarus "even if it is very difficult in the country. If in Russia, to which we are tied, prices are increased by 5 percent, we will stick to a 3-4 percent increase," he said. He underscored that the government will not increase the price of vodka, adding that the authorities have made provision for food reserves so that people will not be left "without a slice of meat or bread" on New Year's Day. JM ...ADVISES WORKERS AGAINST STREET PROTESTS. Lukashenka told plant workers that a trade union protest planned for 2 December would only destroy the image of the country as stable and calm, Interfax reported. "Street action will not change anything," the agency quoted him as saying. He added that he is doing his best to alleviate the consequences of the Russian crisis. Lukashenka told journalists after the meeting that he does not intend to oust the cabinet over the current economic problems in Belarus. The government is "performing well. If some people have run out of steam and have to be replaced, this is a natural process, I think," he said. JM BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS POSTPONE PROTEST RALLY? Belapan reported that the protest rally planned by the Belarusian Trade Union Federation in Minsk on 2 December will "most likely" be postponed until January. The postponement followed the 1 December talks between presidential administration chief Mikhail Myasnikovich, cabinet ministers, and trade union leaders. According to the news agency, the government promised "to do everything possible" to meet trade unions' demands regarding the improvement of living standards. Belarusian Television also reported that the 2 December protest has been rescheduled "to some later date" but provided no details. JM BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION WANTS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN 1999. Syamyon Sharetski, chairman of the Belarusian Supreme Soviet dissolved by Lukashenka in 1996, wants presidential elections to be held in 1999, as required by the 1994 constitution, Interfax reported on 1 December. The current Belarusian Constitution, which was adopted in the controversial 24 November 1996 referendum, extended Lukashenka's term until 2001. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires on 20 July 1999. Sharetsky told journalists on 1 December that members of the Supreme Soviet regard themselves as representatives of a legitimate parliament and plan to meet to set a date for presidential elections. He added that he is ready to assume the powers of the head of state starting 21 July 1999 if a new president has not been elected by then. JM ESTONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS GENERAL ELECTIONS FOR MARCH. In a speech broadcast on national television on 1 December, Lennart Meri announced he has called general elections for 7 March. Under the Estonian Constitution, elections to the parliament must be held at least once every four years. The last such ballot was held in March 1995. Urging voters to use the opportunity to elect politicians with fresh ideas and policies, Meri said that the elections should be "against stagnation," according to ETA. "Bureaucracy, unoriginal solutions-- all this threatens a small country like Estonia," he commented. The last day for parties to submit their final list of candidates is 21 January, after which the official election campaign begins. JC ESTONIAN FARMERS STAGE PROTESTS. Farmers organized protests throughout Estonia on 1 December to express dissatisfaction with the government's agricultural policy and to demand measures to protect the domestic market, including the introduction of import tariffs, ETA and BNS reported. Addressing farmers who had gathered near the Polva County government building, where the cabinet was meeting the same day, Prime Minister Mart Siimann said that within the next two weeks, the Agriculture Ministry will submit to the government an aid package that includes proposals for implementing protective duties, payments of direct subsidies, and providing credit for export. JC MOSCOW SAYS ESTONIA, LATVIA STILL DRAGGING FEET OVER ETHNIC MINORITIES. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at a press conference in Stockholm on 1 December that despite progress by Latvia and Estonia toward integrating ethnic Russians and other minorities, Moscow still thinks both countries are not doing enough in this regard. Ivanov said he will discuss the issue in detail at a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers that opens in Oslo on 2 December. In October, Latvians voted in a referendum to approve amendments to the country's citizenship laws that provide for virtually automatic citizenship for stateless children under 16 who were born after the re-establishment of independence. The Estonian parliament is to vote on similar amendments in the third and final reading later this month. JC NEW LATVIAN CABINET CONVENES. Addressing the first session of his government on 1 December, Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans said that approving the 1999 state budget will be one of the cabinet's most important and "toughest" tasks, BNS and Reuters reported. "I see no major changes in the draft," he said, "but we have to discuss projected revenues. We will have to think how to act in case they prove to be lower." Finance Minister Ivars Godmanis has already indicated that revenues and expenditures may have to be decreased in order to deal with the economic slowdown in the wake of the Russian financial crisis. Also on 1 December, the Russian- language "SM" newspaper reported that the leftist National Harmony Party has reached agreement with Kristopans over supporting his minority government in the parliament. The cabinet has 46 seats in the 100- member legislature and the National Harmony Party 16. JC BUZEK PLEDGES TO REMOVE CROSSES FROM AUSCHWITZ. Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek has pledged to remove all crosses erected around the so-called Papal Cross outside the former Auschwitz concentration camp, Polish media reported on 1 December. A letter containing that promise was handed over to Jewish organizations in Washington on 1 December before the opening of a conference devoted to the issue of Jewish property seized during the Holocaust. Buzek stressed that the government will resolve the protracted Jewish-Polish cross controversy "without breaking Polish law." According to the 2 December "Gazeta Wyborcza," Jewish organizations were pleased with the letter. The newspaper added that the fate of the Papal Cross will be subject to further negotiation. JM CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER EXPECTS 'NATIONAL UNITY' GOVERNMENT. Pavel Rychetsky said on 2 December that he expects a majority government of "national unity" to come to power in the Czech Republic and warned of a severe economic downturn in the next year. In an interview in the daily "Pravo," Rychetsky said he considers a majority government to be the only way to cope with the economic and social problems that the government expects to face by mid-1999. Rychetsky said the government was informed of "a rapid decline in production" in the country, adding that there is "a danger that the Czech economy would seriously disintegrate." He also argued that the oncoming problems are the reason why former Premier Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) did not "attempt to maintain the responsibilities of a governing party." Rychetsky said the ODS "was probably better informed than we were about where the economy was heading." PB SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES CALL ON EU MEMBERS FOR SUPPORT. The Slovak parliament called on the European Parliament in Strasbourg and the parliaments of EU countries to back a flexible approach toward Slovakia and its efforts to join the EU, CTK reported on 1 December. In a statement, the parliament proposed that the various EU legislatures recommend that the European Commission write an addendum to its report on Slovakia that would take into account the coming to power of the new government in Bratislava. The statement said such an action might enable Slovakia to join fast-track EU accession by the middle, rather than the end, of 1999. The parliament added that it is prepared to guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the protection of minorities. PB OPPOSITION WALKS OUT OF HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT. The opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) and Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) walked out of parliament on 1 December after deputies of the coalition parties defeated a measure to establish two committees that would investigate the activities of the Tax Office and the cabinet's appointment policies. SZDSZ parliamentary leader Gabor Kuncze said the coalition's actions contravened parliamentary regulations stating that the parliament is obliged to set up such committees if 20 percent of parliamentary deputies back such a move. Jozsef Szajer, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party, said the measure to establish the committees was voted down because the coalition objected to the proposed chairmen, Matyas Eorsi and Sandor Burany. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE U.S. SHIFTING POLICY ON SERBIA? State Department spokesman James Rubin said on 30 November that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is the root of "the problem" in the former Yugoslavia and cannot be a source of stability in the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Rubin added that Washington favors the democratization of Serbia and applauds the moves by the Montenegrin government aimed at promoting democracy. The following day, Rubin noted that the U.S. will not "lose any sleep if [Milosevic] passes from the scene." The spokesman declined to comment on unspecified press reports that Bill Clinton's administration is actively seeking Milosevic's overthrow in order to expedite an interim political solution in Kosova. Rubin added that the recent agreement between Milosevic and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke shows that Washington must "balance principle and pragmatism in a very complicated situation." On 29 November, London's "The Observer" wrote that the Clinton administration recently decided to work for Milosevic's downfall. PM BELGRADE SLAMS INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS VIS-A-VIS UCK. The Yugoslav government sent a strongly worded statement to the OSCE on 1 December blasting international efforts to draw the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) into the peace process as "legalizing the terrorists." The text said that the UCK is involved in "insolent, criminal activity and provocative actions, [which] present an obstacle to the peace process.... The aim of the terrorists and separatists is not a political solution...but terror, violence, and an attempt to change borders." The Yugoslav authorities warned against maintaining "contacts...with terrorists, killers, kidnappers, bandits and other criminals that call themselves" the UCK. The statement concluded that Belgrade "will not allow [the UCK to continue its attacks] no matter what the price." PM DEMACI SAYS UCK STILL SEEKS INDEPENDENCE. Adem Demaci, who is the UCK's political spokesman, said in Prishtina on 1 December that the guerrillas have not given up their goal of independence, even though they are willing to accept the status of a republic within Yugoslavia as part of an interim political settlement. He also denied unspecified press reports that the UCK has ties to internationally wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998). PM NEW COINS ARRIVE IN BOSNIA. A shipment of some 9 million coins arrived from the U.K.'s Royal Mint in Sarajevo on 1 December. The coins are in the denominations of 10, 20, and 50 fenigs and will replace the candies and chocolate bars that have been used as small change until now. This summer, the international community introduced the "convertible mark," which is pegged to the German mark at the rate of one-to-one, as the all-Bosnian currency. The Croatian kuna is also used in Croat- controlled parts of Bosnia, and the Yugoslav dinar is legal tender in the Republika Srpska. The German mark is the most widely accepted currency throughout the former Yugoslavia. Meanwhile in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb government revoked its earlier decision to devalue the Yugoslav dinar. The latest move is aimed at restoring normal business links with Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1998). PM SARAJEVO SERBS CHARGE DISCRIMINATION. Dusan Sehovac, who chairs the Democratic Initiative of Sarajevo Serbs, said on 1 December that Serbs are subjected to "quiet, subtle, and very effective" discrimination in the school system of the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation. Sehovac noted that text books show pictures of mosques and of Roman Catholic churches but not of Orthodox churches, "Oslobodjenje" reported. Political organizations representing Sarajevo Serbs, many of whom remained in the besieged city throughout the war or fought in Bosnian army ranks, seek full legal equality within the federation. PM CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER ALBANIAN MURDER INVESTIGATION. OSCE Ambassador to Albania Daan Everts has proposed that an unnamed Norwegian prosecutor take part in the investigation of the September murder of Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari, "Shekulli" reported on 2 December. The authorities have accepted the offer. Ongoing investigations have not produced any results, but Democratic leaders have repeatedly charged that the controversial Hajdari was the victim of a political murder orchestrated by the government. Parliamentary deputy speaker Jozefina Topalli (of the Democratic Party) said on 1 December that the Norwegian official should report to the Council of Europe or to the OSCE rather than to the Albanian government if he comes to help with the case. She added that if the prosecutor "comes as an adviser to the iron-fisted Albanian state [who is] against the opposition..., the opposition will consider his mission worthless and boding ill for the future rule of law." FS ALBANIA HEADED FOR AIDS EXPLOSION? Albanian Health Minister Leonard Solis told ATA news agency in Tirana on 1 December that a highly mobile labor force and widespread prostitution could lead to an AIDS explosion in Albania." He noted that there are only 38 registered AIDS cases but that health officials suspect the real number of those infected with HIV is as high as 3,000. Solis added that the authorities lack the facilities and experience to monitor the spread of the disease, and he commented that the population is poorly informed about how to prevent the disease and about the need to test for AIDS. Some 85 percent of the known cases involved transmission of the virus through sexual contact, while the remaining 15 percent contracted HIV through transfusions of contaminated blood or through sharing hypodermic needles. PM ROMANIA MARKS NATIONAL DAY. Romanian President Emil Constantinescu said in a speech marking the 80th anniversary of the return of Transylvania to Romania that "there is nothing more important for a people than its unity, independence, and sovereignty," Rompres reported on 1 December. An estimated 20,000 people watched a military parade in Bucharest. Some officials criticized the cost of the festivities--$900,000--at a time when the country is in such dire economic straits. Constantinescu added that "regional cooperation, seen as the central element for stability, is the country's pillar on which its present and future policies rest." PB DROP IN MOLDOVAN FOREIGN TRADE. In the first 10 months of this year, Moldova's foreign trade declined by 11.4 percent compared with the same period last year, BASA- press reported on 30 November. The Ministry of Economy and Reform said the total value of the country's foreign trade through October was $1.43 billion. Exports declined by 19.3 percent, while imports dropped by 5.7 percent. The bulk of the decline occurred in September and October as a result of the Russian financial crisis and Romania's imposition of a 6 percent tax on imports. In other news, Mark Horton, IMF permanent representative to Moldova, said on 30 November that the IMF and the World Bank will indefinitely postpone renewing loans to Moldova if the parliament procrastinates passing the 1999 budget. MS BULGARIAN OFFICIALS CONGRATULATE MACEDONIAN COUNTERPARTS. Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhaylova said they hope the election of a new government in Macedonia will "open a new chapter" in bilateral relations, Bulgarian Radio reported on 1 December. Kostov said in a telegram to newly confirmed Macedonian Premier Lyubco Georgievski that he is "filled with confidence...that an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding" will develop between Bulgaria and Macedonia. Mikhaylova also congratulated her Macedonian counterpart, Aleksandar Dimitrov, by telegram. PB BULGARIAN NUCLEAR PLANT GETS FAVORABLE RATING. An international team of nuclear reactor specialists said on 1 December that the safety standards at the controversial Kozloduy nuclear power station are "good," an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. The inspectors--from France, Switzerland, and Russia-- inspected the two oldest reactors at the station from 23-27 November. The EU has pressured the Bulgarian government to close the reactors, despite millions of dollars in upgrades and some positive inspections of the plant by Western officials. PB 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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