|The fool wonders, the wise man asks. - Benjamin Disraeli|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 55, Part II, 19 March 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 55, Part II, 19 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 * SLOVAK PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS * CONTACT GROUP 'SUSPENDS' PARIS TALKS * SERBIA DENOUNCES AGREEMENT, REMAINS DEFIANT End Note: EASTERN CANDIDATES UNRUFFLED BY EU ROW xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINIAN MINERS STRIKE OVER BACK WAGES. Some 20,000 miners held a one-day warning strike on 18 March over unpaid wages. "Our task is to show our government our power and to force them to pay wage arrears worth 2.5 billion hryvni [$665 million]," Reuters quoted an activist from the Coal Industry Workers' Trade Union as saying. Another miners' organization, the Independent Miners' Union, has said it is planning a complete halt of coal production and marches from mining regions to Kyiv. Meanwhile, employees of Ukraine's nuclear power plants have postponed a planned strike over unpaid wages pending a Constitutional Court ruling on whether their protest would be legal. JM STATEMENTS URGING UKRAINE'S IMMINENT NATO ENTRY DEEMED 'PROVOCATIVE.' Volodymyr Horbulin, secretary of Ukraine's National Council of Security and Defense, said in Kyiv on 18 March that statements urging Ukraine's imminent NATO entry are "provocative in nature," Ukrainian Television reported. The Rukh parliamentary caucus, headed by Yuriy Kostenko, recently called for Ukraine to be admitted to the alliance soon. Horbulin said such statemnts are aimed at altering Ukraine's balanced foreign policy and at directing it along an "anti-European" line. Commenting on Russia-NATO relations, Horbulin said he is surprised that the "influential part of Russia's political elite" opposes contacts between NATO and Ukraine, while opting for cooperation between the alliance and Russia. JM BELARUS WANTS SECURITY GUARANTEES FROM NATO. Foreign Minister Ural Latypau on 18 March urged NATO to offer Belarus security guarantees following neighboring Poland's admission to the alliance. "We mean measures aimed at building up mutual trust, which would be put in writing and contain a promise not to deploy nuclear weapons next to our borders," Reuters quoted Latypau as saying. JM WORLD BANK TO REOPEN PERMANENT MISSION IN BELARUS. Paul Siegelbaum, the World Bank official in charge of Ukraine and Belarus, said in Minsk on 18 March that the bank will re-establish its permanent representative office in Belarus this summer. The bank froze aid to Belarus in 1994 and recalled its permanent envoy to Belarus last fall to protest Belarus's refusal to conduct market reforms and introduce a single exchange rate. Siegelbaum told journalists that "some progress on a number of issues" has been achieved in negotiations with Belarus, but he noted that the bank's main requirement for resuming assistance--the liberalization of the exchange rate by the National Bank--has not been fulfilled. JM 'EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES' TO FOIL OPPOSITION ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN BELARUS? Citing "sources worthy of respect" Belapan on 18 March reported that the Belarusian authorities have worked out "extraordinary measures" to thwart the campaign for the presidential election launched by the opposition. According to the news agency, the Justice Ministry has been ordered to draw up a decree on "counteracting political extremism" and to deny registration to "radical and extremist" organizations. The Foreign Ministry is to prepare a decree tightening control over contacts between foreign diplomats and the opposition. And the KGB has been charged with the tasks of intimidating and compromising opposition leaders as well as preventing financial support from reaching the Belarusian opposition. JM ESTONIA'S NEW LAWMAKERS RE-ELECT SPEAKER. At its first session, the new parliament re-elected Toomas Savi of the Reform Party as its speaker, ETA reported on 18 March. In the secret ballot, fifty-five out of the 101 lawmakers voted in favor of Savi's re-election. The three-party right-wing alliance composed of the Reform Party, the Moderates, and the Fatherland Union have a total of 53 seats. Also on 18 March, the outgoing government of Mart Siimann resigned but will continue to perform tasks until the new cabinet has been formed. JC OUTGOING TRANSPORT MINISTER SIGNS FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT WITH NRG. Raivo Vare on 18 March signed the framework agreement under which negotiations will begin with the U.S. company NRG Energy on the privatization of Estonian power stations, ETA reported. Under that document, the first stage of the negotiations is to be completed by 30 June, provided the government has made a decision on the restructuring of the oil-shale industry. The second stage, in which a final accord and contracts are to be drawn up, is to end by 30 November. JC LATVIAN DEPUTIES PASS STATE LANGUAGE LAW IN SECOND READING... The parliament on 18 March passed the law on the state language law in the second reading "virtually without debate," according to "Diena." Only the For Equal Rights in a United Latvia faction voted against the bill, under which, among other things, private-sector employees would be required to be proficient in the Latvian language. The bill is to be examined by the OSCE and is expected to be submitted to a third and final reading in May. JC ...AGAIN REJECT FREE ACCESS TO INFO ON OFFICIALS' INCOME. Lawmakers on 18 March passed in the final reading amendments to the anti-corruption law whereby state officials are required to reveal the sources of funds for purchases whose value exceeds an official's annual income, LETA reported. Those amendments are to take effect on 1 July. Also on 18 March, deputies voted by 42 to 23 with five abstentions to reject once again the People's Party's proposal to grant free access at any time to information on the income and assets of a state official, "Diena" reported. Under current legislation, deputies are required to submit declarations on their assets once a year; those declarations are made available to the public. JC TURKEY SUPPORTS LITHUANIA'S NATO BID. Meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart, Valdas Adamkus, in Ankara on 19 March, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel made it clear that Turkey, as a member state of NATO, "is backing and will [continue to] back Lithuania's entry into the alliance without any reservations," ELTA reported. Adamkus is on a three-day state visit to Turkey. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, on returning from a four-day visit to the U.S. during which he met with several high-ranking U.S. officials, said that the "U.S. is giving a signal that Lithuania is a real candidate to NATO." JC LEFTIST DEPUTIES CHALLENGE FINANCE MINISTER. Thirty deputies from the leftist opposition in the parliament have submitted an interpellation against Finance Minister Algirdas Semeta, ELTA reported on 18 March. The deputies accuse Semeta of inaccurate budget planning, unjustified tax increases, and the improper use of money from the Privatization Fund. Under house rules, the chancellor of the parliament must forward the interpellation to the challenged minister, who, in turn, must submit a written answer to the parliamentary leader within two weeks. JC POLAND, VIETNAM PLEDGE TO DEVELOP ECONOMIC TIES. Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, pledged in Hanoi on 18 March to boost economic cooperation. Kwasniewski, who is paying the first- ever visit to Vietnam by a Polish head of state, said he sees many opportunities for Polish investments in Vietnam, particularly in the mining, energy, food processing, and shipbuilding industries. The two presidents signed a letter of intent under which Poland will build two power plants in Vietnam worth $100 million each. JM POLAND TO INTRODUCE VISAS FOR SOME NON-EU CITIZENS. Poland is to introduce entry visas for citizens of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, and 10 other states no later than on the day of its accession to the EU, PAP reported on 18 March. The announcement was made by Polish Deputy Interior Minister Piotr Stachanczyk during so-called screening talks with EU officials, which aim at determining whether Polish legislation complies with that of the EU. JM CZECH POLICEMAN CHARGED IN RACIAL INCIDENT. A policeman in Ostrov, some 150 kilometers west of Prague, has been charged for hurling racial abuse at a group of Roma. CTK reported him as saying "Black scum," "Black bastards to the gas chambers," and "Nigger lips." The policeman was recently given a one- year suspended sentence for wearing a swastika armband in public in November 1998 but was not dismissed from the force. He has been now suspended from duty. MS SLOVAK PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. The parliament on 18 March passed the law on direct presidential elections by a vote of 89 to one, CTK reported. Under that law, a run-off is to be held if no candidate obtains a majority in the first round. Candidates are to be nominated by at least 15 deputies or by a petition signed by at least 15,000 citizens. A candidate cannot spend more than 4 million crowns (about $98,300) on the campaign. The names of individual sponsors donating more than 10,000 crowns and companies donating more than 100,000 crowns have to be made public. MS SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ALLOWS ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN IN PRIVATE MEDIA. The Constitutional Court on 18 March ruled that the provision in the electoral law banning radio and television campaigning in electronic media other than public- owned outlets is unconstitutional, CTK reported. Court chairman Milan Cic said that the provision breached the public's right to information as well as the rights of holders of private radio and television licenses to freedom of speech. The previous parliament, which was dominated by Vladimir Meciar's supporters, passed that law. In another ruling, the court declared illegal a provision stating that political parties have the right to nominate a replacement if a vacancy comes up in its parliamentary group, regardless of preferences expressed at the time of the elections. The court said the legislature's composition is "based on the will of the citizens, not that of parties." MS SLOVAK COALITION OVERCOMES CRISIS. The coalition has managed to overcome a crisis that postponed by one day the passage of the law on direct presidential elections (see above) and threatened the passage of the 1999 budget. Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) deputies had boycotted the parliament's session for two days to protest both this year's budgetary allocations for financing minority cultures and Agriculture Minister Pavel Koncos's refusal to appoint a SMK member as head of the Slovak Land Fund. The SMK claims funds allocated this year to minorities are half those earmarked previously. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE KOSOVARS SIGN RAMBOUILLET ACCORDS. Four members of the ethnic Albanian negotiating team signed in Paris on 18 March the international Contact Group's proposal for a political settlement for Kosova. Hashim Thaci, who is heads the delegation and represents the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said that "we have signed an agreement to bring peace to Kosova. We hope that the force of the international community will make Yugoslavia sign. We say that the violence must stop." PM CONTACT GROUP 'SUSPENDS' PARIS TALKS. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and his British counterpart, Robin Cook, who are co-chairs of the Paris conference, issued a statement on 19 March praising the Kosovars for signing the document and accusing the Serbs of trying to "unravel the Rambouillet accords." The ministers added: "The negotiations are adjourned. The talks will not resume unless the Serbs express their acceptance of the accords. We will immediately engage in consultations with our partners and allies to be ready to act. We will be in contact with the secretary-general of NATO." The ministers concluded by "solemnly warning the authorities in Belgrade against any military offensive on the ground and any impediment to the freedom of movement and of action of [international peace monitors], which would contravene their commitments. Such violations would have the gravest consequences." PM SERBIA DENOUNCES AGREEMENT... Serbian President Milan Milutinovic said in Paris on 18 March that the Rambouillet accord is a "fake document that the Albanians signed with their American friends." He accused Western mediators of using "deceit and manipulation" in conducting the peace talks, adding that the West "can't force us to sign under the threat of bombs." Milutinovic pledged that Serbian forces will resist any attempt by NATO forces to intervene in his country and commented, "Che sera, sera." The previous day, the Serbian delegation signed their own document, which, they said, is the only one they accept (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). PM ...AND REMAINS DEFIANT. Serbian forces continued their offensive in the Drenica region of Kosova on 18 March. In Nis, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands the Third Army in the region that includes Kosova, vowed that his troops "will have no problem confronting the remaining terrorists in [the province], and we will do it the moment our country is attacked, irrespective of whether it will be an air or ground attack There is a realistic danger that all the pressure on our country will lead to a war that our country will certainly not lose." Observers noted that "terrorists" is Belgrade's term for the UCK. PM YUGOSLAV ARMY PUTS PRESSURE ON MONTENEGRO. In Podgorica on 18 March, Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic formally asked the Montenegrin parliament to lift the immunity of Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda. Bulatovic has filed charges against Kilibarda for urging Montenegrin conscripts not to obey call-up notices and for asking the Montenegrin government to prevent the Yugoslav air force from using Montenegrin territory in responding to possible NATO attacks, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, Montenegrin Interior Minister Vukasin Maras said on state-run television that he met with the top Yugoslav army and navy commanders who are responsible for Montenegro. He did not provide details. PM RUSSIAN NEGOTIATOR DOES NOT SIGN AGREEMENT. Boris Mayorskii said in Paris on 18 March that he will not sign the Rambouillet accords because they do not constitute a proper settlement unless the Serbs' signatures, as well as those of the Kosovars, are added to them. Mayorskii added that he nonetheless understands why his Western colleagues--U.S. envoy Chris Hill and the EU's Wolfgang Petritsch--signed the texts, namely in order "to underline the importance" of the Kosovars' acceptance of them. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Moscow, "We urged our Belgrade colleagues to show the most constructive approach, taking into account the fact that the Albanian side has already consented to sign the document." PM ALBRIGHT WARNS BELGRADE. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright praised the Kosovars for signing the accord. She also said in Washington on 18 March that the Serbs have "gone backwards" in the peace process. Albright added: "I would like to remind [Yugoslav] President [Slobodan] Milosevic that NATO stands ready to take whatever measures are necessary." Elsewhere, the State Department issued a warning to "U.S. citizens against travel to Serbia-Montenegro and strongly urged U.S. citizens to depart the country due to the possibility of military intervention by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization." The following day, Germany and Britain issued similar warnings to their citizens. PM ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT WELCOMES SIGNING... The Albanian government issued a statement on 18 March saying that "the signing of the draft agreement...constitutes an outstanding historical, civilized, and patriotic act that will have positive effects for the Albanian people of Kosova," Reuters reported. The government added that the Kosovars' signature "encourages international partners to show the same spirit of cooperation and unity in exercising pressure on Yugoslavia to sign the agreement or face the alternative of military force." The government thanked the Contact Group for taking the lead in the negotiations and especially the U.S. "for the decisive role in starting and continuing the peace talks." It expressed hope that the signing will help reduce tension in the Balkans. The government added that "it was Milosevic and not the Albanians" who are responsible for the crisis in Kosova. FS ...AND URGES NATO INTERVENTION. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko sent a letter to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on 18 March urging NATO to send troops to Kosova as soon as possible, AP reported. Majko expressed concern that "Belgrade may start a general offensive in Kosova. If such a development is not brought under control, this could have catastrophic consequences for my country and the entire region." He stressed that "the Albanian government strongly believes that NATO is the only institution that can prevent a catastrophe in Kosova." Meanwhile, President Rexhep Meidani met with a delegation of the Russian Duma in Tirana and urged them "to influence Belgrade to accept [NATO's] military presence" in the province to implement the Rambouillet accords. FS ALBANIAN MINISTER ORDERS FORMER OFFICIALS TO SURRENDER ARMS. Albanian Interior Minister Petro Koci ordered all former government officials to surrender by 31 March the weapons they have been issued for their personal protection, "Koha Jone" reported on 18 March. He warned that those who fail to do so face arrest. The order also includes other persons who received arms from the Democratic Party-led government for personal protection during the anarchy in 1997, including lawyers, businessmen, and former police officers. The order also says that current officials who legally carry weapons must hand them in within 72 hours of changing jobs. Koci's predecessor, Perikli Teta, issued a similar order in 1997 but failed to implement it. FS BOSNIAN CROATS LAUNCH BOYCOTT. Officials of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) said in Sarajevo on 18 March that the party will not participate in the work of any federal or local government or legislative bodies from 22 to 28 March. The move is to protest the recent assassination attempt against Deputy Interior Minister Jozo Leutar, who is a prominent member of the HDZ (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 March 1999). PM ROMANIAN NATIONAL BANK GOVERNOR EXPLAINS CURRENCY DEVALUATION. Mugur Isarescu told the Senate on 18 March that the recent sharp decline of the national currency is partly a result of market speculation and that he expects the leu to stabilize soon. Isarescu said the depreciation reflects the general state of the economy and the downgrading of Romania's country risk by rating agencies that have doubts about Bucharest's ability to service its foreign debt. He acknowledged that the National Bank's has encouraged the depreciation in order to promote exports in view of "fierce competition" from Asian markets, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The bank set the rate for 19 March at 15,115 lei to $1, reflecting a further 1.4 percent drop in one day. MS ZEMAN, KLESTIL VISIT ROMANIA. Visiting Czech Premier Milos Zeman on 18 March told his Romanian counterpart, Radu Vasile, that Prague will continue supporting the further enlargement of NATO and the EU, CTK reported. Vasile said that they discussed the Kosova problem and that their views were "in many ways similar." Also on the agenda were bilateral economic cooperation and illegal immigration. The same day, visiting Austrian President Thomas Klestil and his Romanian host, Emil Constantinescu, attended the signing of an agreement on combating organized crime, terrorism, and drug trafficking. MS MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVED THROUGH FORGERY? Transdniestrian television on 17 March broadcast a statement by Ilie Ilascu in which the parliamentary deputy said he did not write the letter used as an absentee ballot on 12 March, when the parliament approved Ion Sturdza's cabinet. Parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov said the next day that the statement was made "under pressure." Ilie Matei, chairman of the Party of Democratic Forces, on whose lists Ilascu was elected to the legislature, said that a graphological expertise comparing the letter with others sent by Ilascu from prison can prove its authenticity. Matei added that Ilascu has been "physically and mentally tortured" following the dispatch of his ballot. Party of Moldovan Communists leader Vladimir Voronin said he will challenge the parliamentary vote before the Constitutional Court and will ask the Prosecutor- General's Office to investigate "the forgery," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS END NOTE EASTERN CANDIDATES UNRUFFLED BY EU ROW By Breffni O'Rourke The Central and East European candidate countries appear to be taking in their stride the surprise resignation of the entire Executive Commission of the EU. The 20-member commission- the executive arm of the EU-- stepped down earlier this week in an unprecedented move following sharp criticism in a report for mismanagement, corruption, and nepotism. Fears have been raised that this move will lead to a loss of direction in EU affairs at a time when the 10 candidate countries are impatient to make further progress in their bids to join the union. Selection of a new commission by member states--including a senior political figure to replace outgoing President Jacques Santer--could drag on until the falls. However, Brussels-based Central and East European diplomats are expressing cautious optimism that the enlargement process will not be severely damaged. One of them--Vesselin Valkanov, counselor at the Bulgarian mission to the EU-- told RFE/RL that "it's business as usual for us, but we are keeping a watchful eye on developments in the EU and hope they will find a way to settle the problem as fast as possible and to the benefit of all the candidate countries, as well as themselves." At the Lithuanian mission to the EU, counselor Rytis Martikonis told RFE/RL he believes that, at least in the short term, the enlargement process--particularly from a technical point of view--is still on the right track. He said he does not believe the blow to the commission as an institution will influence the process substantially. He says that--on the contrary--the union's institutions seem to work better in times of crisis and the whole affair might have a positive influence on next week's key summit of EU leaders in Berlin "I think that the resignation of the commission has [increased] pressure [on the summit] to resolve the problems more swiftly, so as to demonstrate the capacity to act and not to let the crisis escalate," Martikonis commented. The current president of the EU, Germany, wants the summit to agree on a package of sweeping internal financial reforms that are considered essential if the EU is to be capable of absorbing new members. German officials say they believe the reform package has now developed such momentum that it cannot be derailed by the events in Brussels. However, given the probable delay in appointing a new commission, the presidency of Finland--which begins in July-- could be more heavily impacted. A Finnish spokesman in Brussels, Reijo Kemppinen acknowledged that the situation could become complicated. But he told RFE/RL that if the Berlin summit can clear the way for reform--and if other factors fall into place, such as the timely nomination of a replacement for Commission President Santer--then the focus will stay on eastward expansion. "The priorities in our presidency," he said, "would be the enlargement of the union, giving new impetus to the enlargement negotiations, plus enhancing the role of the EU externally, be it the trade policy or the foreign and security policy, and questions relating to the strengthening of EU institutions vis-a-vis the upcoming enlargement." It is unclear whether the commissioner in charge of relations with Central and Eastern Europe, Hans van den Broek of The Netherlands, wants to stand as a candidate for the new commission. Sources in the commission say his candidacy is unlikely because he's from a political party now in opposition in his homeland, rather than in government. In addition, the report on mismanagement--although it singled out only a few commissioners by name--was critical of the entire outgoing team. This, too, makes holdovers from among the outgoing commissioners improbable. The author is an RFE/RL editor based in Prague. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 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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