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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 53, Part II, 17 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 53, Part II, 17 March 1999 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 * IMF INCLINED TO RESUME LENDING TO UKRAINE * PENTAGON SAYS SERBIA 'BRACING FOR WAR' * BOSNIAN CROAT OFFICIAL FIGHTS FOR LIFE End Note: APATHY SETTING IN AMONG ESTONIANS? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE IMF INCLINED TO RESUME LENDING TO UKRAINE. The IMF on 16 March praised Ukraine for its progress in fiscal and structural reforms. An IMF statement said the fund's board is scheduled to meet by the end of March to discuss resuming its $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine. "IMF management has decided to propose to the executive board to resume financial assistance to Ukraine," the statement added. The IMF approved the loan in September 1998, but after disbursing $300 million it suspended further tranches because of the slow pace of reform and poor economic performance. JM UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO LAUNCH IMPEACHMENT OF KUCHMA. The 450-seat Supreme Council on 16 March voted by 160 to 57 to begin impeaching President Leonid Kuchma but fell 66 votes short of the majority required for the bill to pass, AP reported. The Communists, who initiated the impeachment motion, said Kuchma should be ousted for his refusal to sign a law on local government that lawmakers passed one year ago by overriding a presidential veto. Kuchma argues that the parliament violated house voting procedures in overriding his veto. Commentators say Kuchma is reluctant to approve the law because it would reduce the authority of presidential representatives in the oblasts. JM KUCHMA CALLS FOR SUMMIT ON MOLDOVA'S TRANSDNIESTER REGION. The Ukrainian president on 16 March called for Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova to take part in a summit later this year to discuss the normalization of relations between Moldova and its separatist Transdniester region, Reuters reported. Kuchma proposed the summit during a meeting with Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov in Kyiv. Kuchma's spokesman said Ukraine hopes that Russian President Boris Yeltsin will also take part in the summit. JM BELARUSIAN PARTIES WARNED AGAINST PURSUING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. The Justice Ministry has warned two leading opposition parties, the Belarusian Popular Front and the United Civic Party, as well as a human rights group, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, against taking part in the presidential election campaign organized by the opposition Supreme Soviet, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 16 March. The ministry cautions that the groups may be denied registration if they continue their "anti-constitutional activities" in the campaign. JM RUSSIA URGES ESTONIA TO TRY ALLEGED NAZI CRIMINALS. Following the second conviction in Estonia on charges of involvement in Stalin-era deportations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 1999), Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin has urged Tallinn to try Nazi war criminals as well, in order to avoid "the politicization of trials and double standards," BNS reported on 16 March. "In this connection, I would like to recall that members of SS units who took part in repressions against the civilian population during World War II are still walking around free in Estonia," Rakhmanin said. Estonian law-enforcement agencies have said there are no Nazi war criminals in Estonia. The dozens of veterans of the Waffen SS units who still live in Estonia were conscripted to fight on the Russian front alongside German troops toward the end of the war. The Nuremberg Military Tribunal branded the SS, together with the Waffen SS, "a criminal organization" but exonerated those men who were forced to join the Waffen SS and did not commit crimes against humanity. JC 16 MARCH EVENTS PASS WITHOUT INCIDENT... Several hundred veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion marched through Riga on 16 March, Latvia's Soldiers Day. A crowd of up to 5,000 onlookers was composed largely of supporters, RFE/RL's Latvian Service reported. At a counter- demonstration organized by mainly Russian-speakers in downtown Riga, a group of extreme Russian nationalists who had spontaneously joined the demonstration attached a large portrait of Josef Stalin to balloons and sent it soaring above the city. There were no reports of violence, and only two people were arrested for minor offenses. Last year's march, which came on the heels of a Riga demonstration at which police used force to disperse mostly ethnic Russian pensioners, prompted sharp criticism from Moscow and led to a worsening of relations between the two countries. JC ...WHILE PREMIER SAYS DAY WILL BE CHANGED. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans told foreign journalists in Riga that the day commemorating Latvian soldiers will be changed from 16 March, LETA reported. Kristopans said that both he and his party, Latvia's Way, have always felt that 16 March is an "inappropriate date" to remember Latvian soldiers. He pointed out 11 November is recognized as Veterans Day in Latvia and "symbolizes the fight for freedom." Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rakhmanin said in Moscow that the decision to commemorate 16 March as Soldiers Day in Latvia "can be assessed only as blasphemy toward those who fought fascism and [toward] the memory of the many millions of victims of that criminal ideology," ITAR-TASS reported. The Latvian Waffen SS Legion marks 16 March as the day their unit first fought against the Red Army in 1943. JC PROSECUTOR-GENERAL INVESTIGATES THREATS AGAINST LANDSBERGIS. The Lithuanian Prosecutor-General's Office has launched an investigation into death threats made against parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, ELTA reported on 16 March. The office said that the letters containing the threats, which were signed by non-registered organizations and delivered to the buildings of various Vilnius dailies, constitute an attempt to disturb "constitutional statehood and public order." Landsbergis himself, meanwhile, has sought to downplay the threats, saying they are attempts to "excite people, disrupt...the functioning of the state, and waste time." JC POLISH FARMERS DEMAND SUBSIDIES, BAN ON FOOD IMPORTS. Some 6,000 farmers marched in Warsaw on 17 March to press for government subsidies and a ban on food imports, AP reported. "In the EU, subsidies bring prosperity to agriculture," the agency quoted one demonstrator as saying. The protest was the first since farmers lifted their road blockades on 9 February after entering negotiations with the government on alleviating farmers' debts and subsidizing meat, grain, and dairy products. JM POLISH ARMY CRITICIZED FOR POOR HYGIENE, HAZING. The Supreme Audit Chamber on 15 March issued a report saying that the Polish military suffers from poor hygiene, hazing, and low intelligence among conscripts. The report was based on a study of eight military units conducted from October 1997 to August 1998. It lists common problems such as a lack of hot water and functioning showers and washrooms. Some members of the navy reportedly change their underwear only once a month, while 62 out of 110 members of one naval unit were found to have personality disorders or below- average intelligence. According to the report, older soldiers often force younger ones to smoke cigarettes in gas masks, crawl on the floor, and do hundreds of push- ups. Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz has blamed the problems on negligence. "Dirty but in NATO" ran a headline in the 16 March "Gazeta wyborcza." JM ZEMAN CONFIRMS OFFER TO SEND FIELD HOSPITAL TO KOSOVA. Speaking at a press conference following the hoisting of flags of the new NATO members in Brussels on 16 March, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said the probability of an armed NATO action against Yugoslavia has increased after the Kosova Albanians approved the Rambouillet agreement and the Serbs refused to do so, CTK reported. Zeman said the Czech Republic is ready to send to Kosova "humanitarian aid in the form of a field hospital, although it has not been officially asked to participate in a NATO operation" there. The government has already approved the field hospital, which would be stationed in Macedonia, and the parliament is expected to follow suit next week, Zeman said. MS SLOVAKIA RESPONDS TO ALBRIGHT STATEMENT. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 16 March said he understands U.S. Secretary of State's Madeleine Albright's statement two days earlier to be not a "crushing criticism" of Slovakia but rather "an appeal to Slovakia to proceed more resolutely ahead," CTK reported. In an interview with Hungarian Television on 15 March, Albright said Slovakia is not yet prepared for NATO membership, which, she added, is "sad." Kukan said Albright's statement reflects the fact that Slovakia could have been a NATO member by now, "had it not been for the previous four years of Vladimir Meciar's government." The U.S. embassy in Bratislava clarified that Albright's statement was "made in the past, not in the present tense." MS SLOVAKIA TO REDUCE TROOPS BY MORE THAN ONE THIRD. Pavel Bartak, director of the Defense Ministry's planning directorate, on 16 March told CTK that Slovakia intends to reduce its military forces by more than one-third as part of the reform of its army. He said the army will have 25,000-30,000 soldiers by 2002. He added that the army needs only 26,000 conscripts, while some 35,000 are eligible for compulsory service. The cut in the defense budget from 2.2 percent of the GDP in 1995 to 1.7 percent this year, the need to have a professional army, and improvement of Slovakia's "geo-political situation" and security as a result of its neighbors' accession to NATO are the three main reasons for the planned reduction of troops, he said. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE PENTAGON SAYS SERBIA 'BRACING FOR WAR.' Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon said in Washington on 16 March that Belgrade is "bracing for war" in Kosova. He noted that up to 18,000 Yugoslav troops are in the province and that as many as 21,000 are in Serbia proper near the border with Kosova. Bacon pointed out that the army has moved seven of its modern T-72 battle tanks into Kosova. On 15 March, the Defense Ministry extended the term of service for army conscripts by one month. PM SERBIAN PRESIDENT CHARGES MEDIATORS WITH 'FRAUD.' Milan Milutinovic criticized international mediators at the Paris conference on Kosova for rejecting Serbian proposals to change the Rambouillet plan for a political settlement for the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). Milutinovic said that the mediators "would like to have just a fraud" rather than discuss the Serbian proposals. An unnamed European diplomat told AFP that "the Serbs are backtracking and opening up new issues. These are delaying tactics." The mediators--U.S. envoy Chris Hill, the EU's Wolfgang Petritsch, and Russia's Boris Mayorskii--say that they will accept minor "technical" changes to the plan but will not renegotiate it. PM SERBIA ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR NEGOTIATOR. The Yugoslav authorities sent an arrest warrant for chief Kosovar negotiator Hashim Thaci to Interpol officials in France, Tanjug reported on 16 March. Belgrade has charged Thaci, who is a leader of the Kosova Liberation Army, with terrorism and murder. PM RELIGIOUS LEADERS FROM KOSOVA MEET. U.S. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who heads the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, urged Islamic, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic leaders from Kosova to "find a way to end the bloodshed." Schneier, who is a Vienna-born survivor of the Holocaust, said to a group of religious leaders from Kosova and Austrian dignitaries in the Austrian capital on 16 March that "peace has to be promoted from the top down, but it grows and it is nurtured from the bottom up." Schneier told the BBC that he recognizes that the conflict in Kosova is not religious in nature, but he stressed that religious leaders can influence their followers' attitudes toward questions of war and peace. He noted that this is the first time that the leaders of the three communities have met face-to-face. The conference will end on 18 March, "Die Presse" reported. PM ALBANIA POLITICIANS WELCOME KOSOVARS' DECISION TO SIGN AGREEMENT. Albanian opposition leader Sali Berisha issued a statement in Tirana on 16 March calling the Kosovars' decision to sign the Rambouillet accord a "great turning point in the history of all Albanians" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). He added that if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic does not sign the agreement, he will have to face "the entire potential of NATO because he has caused many great tragedies in the Balkans." Socialist Party Secretary Gramoz Ruci told a press conference that "with the signing of the agreement, the future of Kosova is not in the hands of [the Kosovars but in those of the international community. The Kosovars] have done their job." Presidential adviser Prec Zogaj stressed that "the ball is now in the Serbs' camp." Parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi expressed hope that "the agreement [will] also contribute to the relaxation of tensions in Albania," dpa reported. FS ALBANIA REPORTS NEW BORDER INCIDENTS. Yugoslav soldiers shot and injured an Albanian shepherd about 60 meters inside Albanian territory on 16 March, Albanian Television reported. The broadcast added that the situation in the area is still tense. Army and police forces remain on high alert along the border with Kosova. In a separate incident, a group of Yugoslav soldiers entered about 50 meters inside Albanian territory in the same area and then withdrew, dpa reported. FS U.S. CRITICISES ALBANIAN LAW ENFORCEMENT AS 'LACKING.' The annual U.S. State Department human rights report on Albania, released in Tirana on 16 March, said that in 1998 "the gains in human rights were largely offset by the government's stubbornly passive approach to basic law enforcement." The study stressed that "in too many instances crime, corruption and vigilantism undermined the government's efforts to restore civil order," adding that members of the police and the judiciary are often involved in corruption. The report noted that the opposition Democratic Party is frequently justified in complaining about police harassment of its members, Reuters reported. FS BOSNIAN CROAT OFFICIAL FIGHTS FOR LIFE. Jozo Leutar, who is the Bosnian federation's deputy interior minister, remains in critical condition after brain surgery on 16 March following a car bomb explosion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic described the attack on the ethnic Croat leader as "terrorist." Jacques Klein, who is a deputy for the international community's Carlos Westendorp, said it is "too early" to determine the likely motive for the bombing. Klein stressed that Leutar is known as a tough opponent of organized crime, which flourishes in both parts of post-war Bosnia. But Ante Jelavic, who is the main political leader of the Croats of Bosnia- Herzegovina, said in Mostar that the "highest political leaders among Bosnian Muslim people" were behind other recent attacks on Croats. He added that the bombing of Leutar's car indicates that the Croats are not welcome in the Muslim-led federation or its capital. PM BOSNIAN SERBS PROTEST BRCKO DECISION. Some 5,000 Serbs in Banja Luka and 3,000 in Brcko staged a peaceful demonstration on 16 March to protest the decision by Robert Farrand, who is the international community's administrator for Brcko, to remove the strategic town from Serbian control and make it a "neutral district" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999), Reuters reported. Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen, whom the international community's Carlos Westendorp recently fired but who refuses to step down, told protesters in Banja Luka that "there is no justification for removing Brcko from the Republika Srpska and there is no justification in replacing legitimate, elected officials." "Oslobodjenje" of 17 March quoted Biljana Plavsic, who is Poplasen's predecessor, as saying that the decision on Brcko will play into the hands of Bosnian Serb hard-liners. PM ROMANIAN SENATE MAKES IT EASIER TO LIFT PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. The Senate on 16 March voted by 81 to two to change regulations on lifting the parliamentary immunity of its members, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A "simple majority" of half of the house's members plus one, instead of the "special" two-thirds majority stipulated until now, can lift a senator's immunity. The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the Greater Romania Party (PRM) boycotted the vote in protest against the fact that the move came before the pending vote on lifting PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor's immunity. Once in force, the new regulations will enable the coalition majority to lift Tudor's immunity without the support of the opposition. The PRM also announced it will boycott the Senate's debates "indefinitely." MS MOLDOVAN PARTIES BRACE FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS. Parliamentary chairman and For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMPD) leader Dumitru Diacov on 17 March announced that the PMPD and three extraparliamentary formations have formed the Moldovan Centrist Alliance (ACM) ahead of the 23 May local elections, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The PMPD, the Party of Progressive Forces, the New Force Party, and the wing of the Moldovan Social Democratic Party led by Gheorghe Sima (which was recently denied registration by the Justice Ministry) will run on joint lists in that ballot. On 11 March, the Party of Moldovan Communists reached an agreement with the Agrarian Democratic Party (PDAM) and the Socialist Party to run in the elections on joint lists. The PDAM was the major parliamentary formation from 1993-1997 but failed to gain representation in the legislature in the last election. MS BULGARIAN PREMIER URGES KOSOVA SETTLEMENT. Ivan Kostov on 16 March told the Bulgarian parliament that the Kosova crisis affects Bulgaria's national security because of the immediate vicinity of the region, BTA reported. Kostov said Sofia will support the dispatch of an international mission of peacekeepers to Kosova if all sides involved are agreed to such a mission. Bulgaria is ready to participate in such a mission under NATO command, he noted. Preliminary talks on offering "logistic support" for the transit of NATO personnel across Bulgarian territory took place on 11-12 March, Kostov said, adding that if Belgrade continues to object to a NATO peace-keeping mission and if NATO is forced to mount an operation without Yugoslav consent, the government will use the mandate approved by the parliament in October 1998 to allow NATO air forces to use Bulgarian airspace. MS BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN GERMANY. "We expect that the upcoming NATO summit in Washington will identify Bulgaria as one of the serious candidates for membership" in a second wave of integration, "whenever that will be," Nadezhda Mihailova told journalists in Bonn on 17 March. Her host, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Germany supports Bulgaria's NATO candidacy as well as its bid for EU membership, BTA and dpa reported. Fischer praised Bulgaria's contribution to finding a solution to the Kosova conflict. MS END NOTE APATHY SETTING IN AMONG ESTONIANS? by Mel Huang Lost among the coverage of the 7 March Estonian parliamentary elections was the surprisingly low number of people who voted. While some commentators sounded alarm bells over the turnout, which was officially put at 57.43 per cent, the press focused on seat distribution and coalition-building. Why was turnout more than 10 percent down on the 1995 elections? Did voter apathy set in for Estonia's third general election since the restoration of independence? There are several reasons why turnout was significantly lower than four years ago: confusion over the complex electoral system; the similarities of the political parties' platforms; disenchantment after the long and lackluster campaign; and even the beautiful spring-like weather on polling day. But the main reason was doubtless the dominant theme of the campaigns pursued by the large parties: namely, Savisaar or no Savisaar. The controversial leader of the populist center- left Center Party, former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar, has polarized Estonian politics more than any other single personality. With regard to both policy and political behavior, Savisaar has earned the strong adoration or intense vilification of a significant segment of the population. In the 1999 election campaign, it appears that the other segment of the population may have been put off by this polarization and decided not to cast a vote. The Center Party was essentially the only main political force to advocate significant policy changes. In the name of social justice, it proposed scrapping the much-vaunted flat-tax system and introducing a progressive tax. And in contrast to all the other main political parties, including the closely aligned Country People's Party, it advocated the relaxation of citizenship rules. These two issues put Savisaar in sharp opposition to all other parties, especially the strong center-right United Opposition, composed of the Fatherland Union, the joint list of the Moderates/People's Party, and the Reform Party. While the parliament voted to outlaw election alliances last fall, the signing of a cooperation agreement among these forces on 31 December 1998 consolidated the opposition against Savisaar's Center Party. When President Lennart Meri issued his warning against electing "authoritarian" politicians in his Independence Day speech last month, most commentators immediately pointed an accusing finger at Edgar Savisaar. The United Opposition took advantage of the press obsession over the presidential warning by launching further attacks on the trustworthiness of the Center Party leader. In a scathing commentary, former Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves of the People's Party strongly criticized Savisaar directly, attacking his "Big Brother" persona. To his credit, Savisaar did not seek retribution by slamming the personalities competing in the elections. There had been fears of a possible mud-slinging campaign, not least because Savisaar is thought to be party to secrets about many of the country's top politicians. In 1995, he was forced to resign as interior minister because of his links to illegal phone- tapping and the recording of conversations between prominent politicians. But by focusing on party policies, Savisaar managed to deflect some of the attacks on his personality. In the end, Savisaar gained a larger-than-expected plurality of seats, 28. As support for him was consistently high throughout the country's 11 electoral districts, Savisaar's proposals for a progressive tax system and softer citizenship policies clearly found resonance among a large chunk of the electorate. The United Opposition also won a larger number of votes than expected, gaining a combined total of 53 seats. As a result of its cooperation agreement and anti-Savisaar campaign, the alliance commands a majority of seats and is most likely to form the new government. But as the prospective new government enjoys its victory, it should not lose sight of the fact that less than 27 percent of the total electorate voted for the coalition parties and that many did so just to keep Savisaar out of office. It should also bear in mind that nearly 43 percent of the total electorate did not vote at all. With local elections due later this year, the winners of the 7 March parliamentary elections should work fast and hard to establish some credibility within the country's political environment. Otherwise, turnout in the fall local elections could be even lower. The author is a contributor to RFE/RL based in Tallinn. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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