|Change is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast. In the pool where you least expect it, will be a fish. - Ovid|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 233, Part II, 4 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 233, Part II, 4 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 * KWASNIEWSKI VETOES LAW ON ACCESS TO COMMUNIST SECRET FILES * NATO SAYS MILOSEVIC APPROVED RAPID REACTION FORCE * ROMANIA ADMITS COMPANY OFFICIALS NEGOTIATED WITH IRAQ End Note: THE STATE OF ECONOMIC EMERGENCY IN BELARUS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER ARRESTED IN SWITZERLAND. Pavlo Lazarenko was arrested in Switzerland on 3 December in connection with a money-laundering investigation, Western agencies reported. Lazarenko was prime minister from 1996-1997 and is currently a parliamentary deputy as well as leader of the opposition leftist Hromada party. In Ukraine, Lazarenko was accused of diverting to Switzerland some $20 million in state funds. Since February, Ukraine has sent 20 requests for legal assistance to Switzerland in the case. JM UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SENDS BACK 1999 DRAFT BUDGET FOR REVISION. The Supreme Council on 3 December voted by 312 to 10 to postpone the first reading of the 1999 draft budget until 9 December so that the Budget Committee can revise the document. Many lawmakers echoed the government's criticism that a budget with a zero deficit is unrealistic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998) and questioned some revenue sources proposed by the committee. In particular, the committee has proposed raising extra money by taxing commercial banks, imposing fees for using Ukraine's air space, and pressuring enterprises to repay loans received under government guarantees. Supreme Council Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko commented that Ukraine's economy is not yet ready for a balanced budget, Interfax reported. JM UKRAINIAN CABINET MOVES TO MEET MINERS' DEMANDS. In the immediate wake of the 2 December coal mining strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998), the parliament has passed a resolution ordering the government to speed up repayment of wage arrears to miners, AP reported on 3 December. The government responded to miners' protests by ordering mines to give the payment of wages a top priority. It also granted mines tax breaks for 1999 and included next year's expenditures for the coal sector on the list of budget items that cannot be reduced. JM LUKASHENKA SAYS MORE CABINET CHANGES IN OFFING. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has promised "more far-reaching" changes in the government following a reshuffle on 2 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998), Belarusian Television reported. The government should be filled with new people "who will introduce something new in our life and put our country, like a spaceship, into a new orbit," he commented. He promised that the government will focus on promoting Belarusian exports and gaining new markets. And he did not reject a journalist's suggestion that the Foreign Ministry, the Foreign Trade Ministry, and the Ministry for CIS Affairs may soon merge. Interfax reported that Lukashenka's adviser for foreign affairs, Ural Latypau, is likely to head the new consolidated ministry. JM RUSSIA WANTS LONG-TERM COOPERATION WITH ESTONIA. Russian Deputy Premier Valentina Matvienko told Estonian Premier Mart Siimann on 3 December that Russia is ready for long-term cooperation in regional, economic, and minority issues, ETA and BNS reported. Matvienko is in Tallinn for a two-day meeting of the Estonian-Russian intergovernment commission, which was established 10 months ago and of which she and Siimann are co-chairs. The 3 December session of the commission focused on cooperation projects between border regions. Tallinn is expected to push for a reduction of high Russian tariffs on imports from Estonia. Two bilateral agreements are to be signed on 4 December: one on recognizing academic qualifications and the other on cooperation in preserving cultural heritage. This is the first meeting of the commission. Previous contacts within the framework of the commission took place at the level of expert. JC LATVIA-RUSSIA INTERGOVERNMENT COMMISSION TO CONVENE SOON? On the sidelines of the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Oslo on 2 December, Valdis Birkavs and his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, agreed to prepare for resuming the work of the Latvian-Russian intergovernment commission and to organize the first session of that body. Birkavs told BNS by telephone from the Norwegian capital that the meeting took place in a "favorable, constructive atmosphere." He added, however, that it remains unclear when the commission will convene. The two ministers discussed EU and NATO expansion as well as several proposed bilateral agreements, including the border treaty. And they also touched upon the situation of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia, with Ivanov reportedly commenting that "Latvia, no doubt, has achieved progress." JC VILNIUS COURT SENTENCES FORMER NKVD EMPLOYEES FOR GENOCIDE. Three former employees of the NKVD have been found guilty for the second time of killing a family of four in 1945, including a pregnant woman, BNS and AP reported on 3 December. Kiril Kurakin and two of his former colleagues received sentences of six and three- and-a-half years in prison, respectively. Under the amnesty law, however, the sentences were reduced by one- third. All three men are in their mid-seventies and are physically handicapped. In 1997, the Vilnius District Court had found them guilty of killing the four-member family. Their case was then considered by the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court before being returned to the district court for a further ruling. The trial is the first in Lithuania in which a conviction has been made under the country's genocide law. JC LITHUANIA DELIVERS FOOD AID TO KALININGRAD. The first delivery of Lithuanian food aid reached Kaliningrad Oblast on 3 December, AP reported, citing Interfax. Earlier this fall, the exclave had declared an "emergency situation," warning that food and fuel supplies may soon run out. Lithuania delivered 100,000 cans of condensed milk, 100,000 cans of meat, and 40 tons of cheese, which are to be distributed among hospitals and kindergartens. JC POLISH FARMERS DEMAND PROTECTION FOR DOMESTIC AGRICULTURE. Some 5,000 farmers held a rally at the parliamentary building in Warsaw on 3 December, demanding government subsidies for farms and increased expenditures on agriculture in the 1999 budget, Polish media reported. The demonstration was organized by the radical Self-Defense Farmers' Trade Union on the eve of talks between farmers and Agriculture Ministry officials. Demonstrators called for the resignation of Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, who is widely regarded as promoting reduced state subsidies for the agricultural sector. JM KWASNIEWSKI VETOES LAW ON ACCESS TO COMMUNIST SECRET FILES. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 4 December vetoed a law on opening Communist-era secret police files (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1998), AP reported. The law stipulates the creation of an Institute of National Remembrance, which is to collect files compiled between 1944 and 1989, make them available to victims of the totalitarian regime, and reveal the names of secret informers. Kwasniewski argues that a court, not the institute, should decide who was a victim. He also believes that all citizens, not only victims, should have access to secret files. In order to override Kwasniewski's veto, the parliament needs a three-fifths majority. JM POLISH COURT ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR STALINIST PROSECUTOR. The District Military Court on 3 December issued a warrant for the arrest of Helena Wolinska, a Stalinist-era prosecutor now living in Great Britain, PAP reported. Wolinska is accused of illegally ordering the arrest of General August Fieldorf-Nil, who was a leader of the Home Army, Poland's wartime non-communist resistance movement. Fieldorf-Nil was sentenced to death on fabricated evidence in 1952 and hanged one year later. Wolinska was summoned to testify at the investigation but failed to show up. The arrest warrant allows the government to prepare an extradition order. If found guilty, 79-year-old Wolinska could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. She denies the charges against her and argues she will not receive a fair trial in Poland. JM KLAUS CALLS FOR ROUNDTABLE ON ECONOMY. Former Premier Vaclav Klaus issued an invitation to Premier Milos Zeman and his predecessor, Josef Tosovsky, to join him in a roundtable discussion on the country's worsening economic situation, CTK reported on 3 December. The invitation comes amid allegations that Klaus had not wanted to continue as head of the government because of an oncoming economic crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998). Tosovsky served as the caretaker premier after the Klaus government's fall and is currently the governor of the Central Bank. Neither Zeman nor Tosovsky has commented on the invitation. PB PETITION SENT TO CZECH PREMIER ON PIG FARM AT CONCENTRATION CAMP. Zeman received an open letter on 3 December signed by 100 Czechs and foreigners, including Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, calling for the removal of a pig farm from the former concentration camp at Lety, CTK reported. The letter says that the pig farm is a "desecration of a monument to the victims of the former concentration camp, as well as an insult to humanity." Lety began as a labor camp right before the establishment of the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in 1939. From 1942 to 1945, it was used exclusively as a concentration camp for Roma. PB DZURINDA SAYS BENES DECREES NOT TO BE REVOKED. Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda has dismissed opposition fears that ethnic Hungarians in the coalition government want to revoke the Benes decrees, CTK reported. Dzurinda said the issue "cannot be reopened because it was deeply anchored in our coalition agreements." The premier was responding to opposition deputies who claim that the Hungarian Coalition Party wants to redistribute land in southern Slovakia that was confiscated after World War II from Hungarians who were expelled under the Benes decrees. Jan Cuper of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, said "this is one of the ways in which landwill get into hands of people primarily of Hungarian nationality." PB HUNGARY WANTS MORE TIME BEFORE DECIDING ON DAM. The daily "Magyar Hirlap" reports that the Hungarian government will ask the International Court of Justice in The Hague for another six months to make a decision on the controversial Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydroelectric project. Slovakia sent the dispute back to The Hague after failing to agree with Budapest on an interpretation of the court's first decision, which was taken in September 1997. The case was originally brought to the court in 1994, five years after Hungary withdrew from the project. PB SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE NATO SAYS MILOSEVIC APPROVED RAPID REACTION FORCE. An unnamed NATO source told Reuters in Brussels on 3 December that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "fully agreed to the extraction force and its activities. This can be confirmed. There is no misunderstanding on this." Several Serbian officials have said recently that Belgrade regards as a threat the presence of a 1,700-strong NATO force in Macedonia to rescue endangered civilian monitors in Kosova. Serbian officials have added that they will view as "aggression" any incursion by the force into Serbian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998). Observers suggested that Belgrade has been using tough language over Kosova in recent weeks in order to press U.S. envoy Chris Hill for more concessions in his draft plan for an interim settlement in Kosova. PM HILL OFFERS BELGRADE NEW PLAN. In Belgrade on 3 December, Hill gave Serbian President Milan Milutinovic a copy of a "new version" of his plan for a settlement in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Neither U.S. nor Serbian officials provided any details of the proposal. In response to reporters' questions as to whether recent State Department statements that Milosevic is "the problem" have hampered his negotiating efforts, Hill said that he works "with the relevant people in this process and...will continue to do so" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 3 December 1998). Hill added that top Belgrade leaders "have never refused to meet with me." Hill is U.S. ambassador to Macedonia and was a member of special envoy Richard Holbrooke's team that negotiated the Dayton agreement. Western and regional press reports earlier this year suggested that he became Washington's chief diplomat for Kosova because Milosevic refused to deal with special envoy Robert Gelbard. PM SESELJ, PARLIAMENT BLAST WASHINGTON. In response to the State Department statements, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 3 December that "the Americans are brutally violating all norms of international public law. In a criminal way they are destroying entire peoples and states and in a most flagrant way they are interfering in the internal affairs of others." The Yugoslav federal parliament, for its part, passed a resolution giving "full support" to Milosevic "in his efforts to defend vital national and state interests." The text "rejected and denounced all pressure, threats, and gross interference [by Washington] in the internal matters of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." The resolution charged that the U.S. "supports terrorism" in Kosova, "misleads world opinion," and "seeks to remove" the province from Serbia. PM OSCE GETS STRONG SUPPORT FOR MONITORING MISSION. U.S. envoy William Walker, who heads the OSCE's 2,000-strong civilian verification mission to Kosova, told an OSCE conference in Oslo on 3 December that 34 member states have offered to supply personnel for the unarmed contingent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 1998). He said that largest groups will come from Italy (203), Germany (187), the U.K. (158), the U.S. (143), and Russia (121). The delegates approved a declaration expressing hope that the presence of the mission will contribute toward reaching a political settlement in the Serbian province. PM KILLINGS RAISE TENSIONS IN KOSOVA. Yugoslav troops have killed eight persons who were trying to illegally cross the border between Kosova and Albania, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 3 December. In Prishtina, the Kosova Information Center news agency, which is close to shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova, reported that Serbian security forces gunned down a guerrilla leader, a journalist, and a student leader in the center of the capital. Adem Demaci, who is the political spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army, called the three killings "a classic assassination." Police refused to give Reuters any information on the shootings. The news agency said that a "random roadside killing" of an Albanian on the Prishtina-Peja road in central Kosova and the wounding of a Serb nearby later that day have created a "climate of fear" among Serbs and Kosovars alike. PM WESTENDORP SETS GOALS FOR BOSNIA. A spokesman for the international community's Carlos Westendorp said in Sarajevo on 3 December that the high representative's goals for 1999 are "to make peace self-sustaining and to prepare the country to live without foreign aid," AP reported. Westendorp believes, moreover, that "any exit strategy of the international community...must be accompanied by an entry strategy for Bosnia-Herzegovina into European institutions," such as the EU and Council of Europe. A major international meeting on Bosnia's future is slated for 10 December in Madrid. Meanwhile, Westendorp sent a message to Dragan Kalinic, who is the Republika Srpska's hard-line parliamentary leader, to return to President Nikola Poplasen the mandate he gave Kalinic to form a government. Westendorp argued that Kalinic will not be able to put together a legislative majority and that current Prime Minister Milorad Dodik should have the opportunity to do so. PM CONCERN GROWS OVER HAJDARI CASE. Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi told the "Albanian Daily News" of 4 December that several witnesses in the murder case of controversial Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari refuse to cooperate with the investigators. He said that most of these witnesses are senior officials of Hajdari's party, but he gave no names. Rakipi argued that the officials are "obstructing the law for political reasons." He added that "few people [seem to feel] obliged to find out the truth but I hope that fear is not what is [keeping] them from testifying." Meanwhile, a Norwegian prosecutor arrived in Tirana on 2 December to assist in the investigation. And a recently established student group on 3 December threatened to hold a nationwide strike unless the investigation yields results by 8 December, the anniversary of the 1990 student protests that toppled communism. Hajdari was a leader of those protests. FS CONTROVERSY OVER ALBANIAN PARLIAMENTARY BOYCOTT. Speaking to journalists in Tirana on 2 December, representatives of two small parties belonging to the Democratic-led Union for Democracy coalition urged the coalition to end its intermittent parliamentary boycott. Teodor Laco from the Liberal Union and Remzi Ndreu from the Democratic Union stressed that the coalition needs a new strategy and that parliamentary participation would allow it to mount a more effective opposition, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 4 December. Laco argued that the boycott "works to the [Socialists'] advantage." He added that the new constitution allows the opposition to exercise political influence through the parliamentary process. Democratic Party Secretary-General Ritvan Bode, however, rejected the appeal, saying that "we are facing shocking events that do not lead toward rapprochement." He referred to Hajdari's killing and the recent imprisonment of several Democrats over their alleged role in crushing the 1997 unrest. FS ROMANIA ADMITS COMPANY OFFICIALS NEGOTIATED WITH IRAQ. The Defense Ministry on 3 December released details of the extent of its military cooperation with Iraq, AP reported. In a statement, the ministry said that officials from the companies Romtechnica and Giara traveled to Iraq in 1994 to discuss supplying raw materials and "subassemblies." Iraq also requested Romanian aid in the research, design, and production of parts for short-range missiles. The statement said there was an initial delivery to Iraq but gave no details of what was delivered. Later, a third company, Aerofina, signed a contract to deliver missile parts through a Jordanian company. The Defense Ministry says relations were broken off in December 1996. One month later, Defense Ministry State Secretary General Florentin Popa was sacked, along with the directors of Giara and Aerofina. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1998.) PB ROMANIAN, TURKISH PRESIDENTS MEET. Romanian President Emil Constantinescu and his Turkish counterpart, Suleyman Demirel, discussed bilateral relations and energy transport policy at a meeting in Bucharest on 3 December, Rompres reported. Constantinescu said good political relations were the basis for improved economic cooperation. He noted that Bucharest and Ankara's energy transport projects are not competing but are complementary, adding that Romania is helping to build an oil refinery in Turkey. Demirel, making his third trip to Romania in the last two years, praised the countries' strong ties and said he expects their trade turnover to soon total $1 billion annually. He added that Ankara strongly supports Romania's desire to join NATO. PB OSCE CALLS FOR INTENSIFIED TALKS ON TRANSDNIESTER. OSCE foreign ministers, meeting in Oslo on 3 December, called for reinvigorated talks on Moldova's Transdniester region, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. They said negotiations had "languished" but should be stepped up. They added that talks should seek to consolidate the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Moldova while reaching an understanding on the status of the breakaway Transdniester region. The OSCE also expressed concern at the lack of progress on the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transdniester. PB BULGARIAN POLICE CHIEF APPOINTED. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov issued a decree on 3 December appointing Vasil Vasilev as director of the nation's police, Bulgarian Radio reported. He replaces Colonel Slavcho Bosilkov, who was recently sacked along with Interior Ministry Secretary Nikolay Radulov. PB END NOTE THE STATE OF ECONOMIC EMERGENCY IN BELARUS by Jan Maksymiuk It seems as if suddenly things have started going wrong for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka . At least, that is the impression one gains from Belarusian official propaganda. As recently as in August, the Statistics Ministry reported a remarkable 12 percent growth in the country's GDP. When the financial crisis hit Russia that month, Lukashenka boasted that Belarus was the only oasis of economic stability on post-Soviet territory. In September, Lukashenka vowed to organize "centralized food supplies" to stave off famine in Russia and even offered to act as economic adviser to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. One month later, in October, with Belarus facing serious food shortages, Lukashenka's self-assuredness began to subside. And by November, Lukashenka himself began needing advice. "Why are our people becoming poorer and poorer every month while we are so dynamically developing industry and agriculture?" he asked his ministers at a televised cabinet meeting. None was able to provide an answer. Signs of a looming calamity in Belarus's Soviet- style economy began to appear in early September, when Belarusians launched a run on shops in a bid to use up their meager savings before they became completely worthless. Although the National Bank maintained the official dollar exchange rate below 50,000 Belarusian rubles, the street exchange rate plummeted to 120,000. And in noncash transactions between Russian and Belarusian companies, one dollar was equal to 220,000 Belarusian rubles. By the beginning of December, those figures had nearly doubled. Owing to the de facto insolvency of Russia, which accounted for 70 percent of Belarusian exports before the current economic crisis, Belarusian enterprises have been forced to reduce output and/or hoard products in storehouses. Experts estimate that Belarus's industrial production will continue to slump by up to 12 percent monthly at least for the next four months. Every month, Belarusian revenues fall short by some $100 million because of reduced exports to Russia. The acute shortage of foodstuffs, which has led to rationing in many regions, may be attributed to several factors. First, Belarus's grain harvest this year was down by 1 million tons, compared with 1997. Second, state-controlled food prices are too low to make food production profitable. Third, Belarus has to supply food to Russia to repay its $250 million gas debt. And fourth, it cannot be ruled out that, owing to much lower food prices in Belarus, some goods are smuggled into Russia and Ukraine, particularly since there are no customs controls on the border with those countries. To deal with the crisis, the Belarusian president in November set up a "national headquarters"--an emergency task force headed by his administration chief, Mikhail Myasnikovich. In this way, Lukashenka has prevented the cabinet from managing the economy. Prime Minister Syarhey Linh has been subordinated to Myasnikovich and charged with the task of normalizing food provisions in the Minsk region. None of the administrative measures taken by the authorities to improve food supplies--including the introduction of police and customs patrols on the Belarusian-Russian border--has proven effective, however. In November, the government was forced to increase food prices by an average of 30-40 percent. The price of vodka--which in the former Soviet Union continues to affect political and social trends among the electorate--went up by 75 percent in one fell swoop. Lukashenka publicly blamed the prime minister for that hike, accusing him of "hating the people." The president did not, however, reduce the price. In addition to price increases, the government has made some other moves toward liberalizing financial policies. National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich once again pledged to introduce a single exchange rate (to replace the current four) and limited the devaluation rate of the Belarusian ruble to 1,500 rubles per interbank currency-exchange session. Commercial banks have been allowed to sell and buy hard currency at rates exceeding the official one by up to 50 percent. And according to some reports, the National Bank promised the IMF in mid-November to considerably limit money emissions, until now the most popular method of stimulating production in Belarus. In other words, Belarus has tentatively resorted to some market economy tools. However, it is too early to say that Belarus has moved over to such an economy. Rather, it is the state of economic emergency and the urgent need to obtain a $100 million loan from the IMF that has prompted the Belarusian leadership to take such unorthodox (by Belarusian standards) and unpopular measures. At the same time, facing the threat of trade union mass protests, Lukashenka vowed to control prices after the November hike and not to increase them by more than 3-4 percent a month. And in a successful bid to avert a trade union rally on 2 December, the "national headquarters" pledged to increase wages. Since Belarus does not have large hard-currency revenues, that pledge can only mean printing more inflationary money. This week, the authorities were able to make the trade unions back down and thereby extinguish the incipient social unrest. But it is hardly conceivable that the government will be able to substantially increase the living standards of Belarusian workers, whose average monthly wage is equal to some $35. It is only a matter of time until workers start making demands again. The authorities, for their part, are finding it increasingly difficult to meet such demands as they continue to shy away from radically reforming Belarus's ineffectual and antiquated economy. 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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