|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 57, Part II, 23 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 57, Part II, 23 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 NATIONALIST LEADER TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT * HOLBROOKE, MILOSEVIC 'BREAK OFF' TALKS * CONFLICT IN KOSOVA 'ESCALATING BY THE HOUR' End Note: AFTER THE BOMBS FALL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES TO BE REGISTERED ON 31 MARCH. The Central Electoral Commission on 22 March announced that candidates in the opposition presidential elections will be registered in Minsk on 31 March, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Commission head Viktar Hanchar said that on the basis of the signatures that have already been collected in support of Mikhail Chyhir and Zyanon Paznyak, he predicts that they will have the necessary total to register as candidates. He added that he has invited foreign diplomats, heads of the OSCE and UN missions in Minsk, as well as "acting" President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to attend the registration ceremony. Meanwhile, the election teams of both Chyhir and Paznyak have reported they will be ready to submit the required 100,000 signatures on time, despite frequent arrests of campaigners and the confiscation of lists containing signatures. JM KUCHMA SIGNS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BILL. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed the law on presidential elections. Kuchma had vetoed the legislation last month, but the parliament recently overrode his veto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). According to the new law, the presidential campaign will officially begin on 4 May. The nomination of candidates will start 10 days after that date and will last 30 days. Candidates can be proposed by political parties or by at least 500 voters. To be placed on the ballot, the nominees must be at least 35 years old , must have resided in Ukraine for the past 10 years, and must collect the signatures of at least 1 million of Ukraine's 35 million eligible voters. The vote will take place on 31 October. JM UKRAINIAN INDUSTRIAL GIANTS TO UNDERGO RAPID PRIVATIZATION. The Ukrainian government has ordered that 12 industrial giants be prepared immediately for sale to private owners, AP reported on 22 March, citing the Ukrainian News agency. In particular, the government is offering a 53 percent stake in the Illich metallurgical plant, a 52 percent stake in the Odesa oil refinery, and a 29 percent stake in the Turboatom company, which manufactures nuclear power plant equipment. The offer is seen as the government's move to entice back foreign investors and raise revenues to pay off mounting debt obligations. JM MORE THAN 90 PERCENT OF UKRAINIAN FARMS LOSS-MAKING. The State Statistics Committee has said that 12,600 Ukrainian farms, or 92 percent of their total number, reported losses last year totaling to 4.3 billion hryvni ($1.1 billion). According to the committee, an average farm spent 29 percent more on production costs than it received from the sale of its produce. Last year's agricultural output decreased by 8.3 percent, compared with 1997. JM ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT ENDORSES LAAR AS PREMIER. Lawmakers on 22 March voted strictly along party lines to endorse Mart Laar of the Fatherland Union as prime minister. The vote was 53 to 48, reflecting the fact that the right- wing alliance of the Fatherland Union, the Moderates, and the Reform Party has 53 seats in the 101-strong parliament. The prime minister-designate said that the new government's most urgent task is to submit to the parliament a negative supplementary budget, although he added that there is a "slim chance" that such a measure will prove unnecessary. Some analysts have argued that this year's budget, which is balanced at 18.47 billion kroons ($1.28 billion), is too optimistic with regard to revenues. Under Estonian law, the budget must be balanced. JC LATVIAN PRESIDENT ON KAMALDINS'S REMARKS ABOUT SYNAGOGUE BOMBING. In an interview with Latvian Radio on 22 March, Guntis Ulmanis argued that Director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution Lainis Kamaldins may be able to stay in office even though his recent remarks violate "professional standards," "Diena" reported. "It is very important whether Kamaldins can cover his unprepared remarks with well thought-out apologies or argumentation. If he can do that, then, probably, everything will stay the way it is," Ulmanis commented. Kamaldins said last week that Latvian Jews may have been involved in the 1998 bombing of the Riga synagogue, although he later issued a statement stressing that his office has no information to back up such a claim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). He is due to appear before the Council for National Security on 24 March. JC LITHUANIA REVISES GDP GROWTH FORECAST. The Lithuanian Economy Ministry has revised its 1999 GDP growth forecast from 5.5 percent to 3.7-4.1 percent, BNS reported on 21 March. That estimate is largely in line with IMF and World Bank forecasts of 3.5 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The Economy Ministry also put this year's inflation rate at 4 percent, instead of 5.5 percent, as earlier predicted. JC LITHUANIAN BY-ELECTIONS DECLARED INVALID OWING TO LOW TURNOUT. By-elections in the Naujoji Vilnia, Nevezis, and Vilniaus Traku electoral districts on 21 March have been declared invalid owing to low voter turnout, ELTA reported the following day. JC POLISH AIRCRAFT-MAKER DECLARED BANKRUPT. The Economic Court in Rzeszow, southeastern Poland, has declared the Mielec Aircraft Plant bankrupt. The court said the Mielec plant has stopped paying its debts to some 300 creditors and is not in a position to accept further loans to continue production. Another company, the Polish Aviation Plant, will take over production at Mielec and offer employment to 1,200 of the 2,700 workers of the bankrupt enterprise. The enterprise, which formerly employed 20,000 people and produced up to 700 airplanes a year (including Soviet MiG-17 fighters), ran into problems after the collapse of communism and the loss of its Russian market. JM LICENSE GRANTED TO RADIO STATION INTENDING TO BROADCAST TO BELARUS. The Polish National Council for Broadcasting has granted a license to Radio Racja, which intends to broadcast in Belarusian from Bialystok, northeastern Poland. Council chairman Boleslaw Sulik told the 22 March "Gazeta wyborcza" that Communications Ministry will deal with the "technical coordination." He added that the station will broadcast programs of a "cultural- informative nature" rather than a propagandist one. Radio Racja is funded by the Belarusian Union, an organization of the Belarusian minority in Poland, and an unnamed partner. The station's 100-watt transmitter will enable its programs to be received in Minsk on short wave. Wiktor Stachwiuk, a candidate for the post of Radio Racja director, told "Gazeta wyborcza" that the station will cooperate with the Belarusian opposition. It is planned to initially broadcast for two hours a day. JM CZECH GOVERNMENT POSTPONES TEMELIN DECISION. The government on 22 March analyzed a report submitted by a special commission set up to evaluate the options of completing or not completing the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant. No decision was reached, but the cabinet asked Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart, Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr, Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda, Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla, and Deputy Premier Pavel Mertlik to draft a report on the economic impact of the two options, CTK reported. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan presented a report concluding that if the completion option is pursued, it will have "no considerable influence" on the country's international position, despite possible protests from abroad. MS SLOVAK NATIONALIST LEADER TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT. Jan Slota, leader of the Slovak National Party (SNS), is running for president in the elections scheduled for 15 May, honorary SNS chairman Vitazoslav Moric announced on 22 March. Slota told Radio Twist that if U.S. President Bill Clinton has a right to remain in office after lying under oath, his own right to become Slovak president is at least 200 million times greater. He added that in the "political emaciation" in which "Hungarians have a decisive say in our government," it is the duty of the SNS to do everything "for a nationally oriented Christian" to become head of state, CTK reported. MS INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS ACQUITTED IN HUNGARY'S 'BIRCH TREE' TRIAL. A military court on 22 March acquitted several former intelligence officers accused of violating state secrets in connection with the so-called "Birch Tree Operation." The operation was launched in 1995 to gather information on corruption and organized crime in the Hungarian-Romanian-Ukrainian border region. Several Hungarian politicians were mentioned in agents' reports. Laszlo Foldi, the former deputy head of the secret services, was dismissed in 1996 for "spying on politicians." The court acquitted him of that charge, saying "it would have been wrong for an intelligence officer to turn a blind eye if a politician's name turned up." MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE HOLBROOKE, MILOSEVIC 'BREAK OFF' TALKS. U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "broke off" talks on 23 March in Belgrade aimed at averting NATO air strikes against Serbian targets, the BBC reported. Holbrooke returned to the U.S. embassy. It is unclear if he will again meet with the Serbian leader. Referring to his first round of negotiations with Milosevic the previous day, Holbrooke told reporters: "I would be misleading you if I suggested that the talks resulted in any substantial and significant change of situation." In Paris, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said: "I am forced to say that this morning I don't see any opening which could interrupt the course of events" toward air strikes. In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman said President Boris Yeltsin received a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton about the crisis in Kosova, but the spokesman did not give details or say when Yeltsin received the missive. PM NATO 'WAITING FOR THE WORD.' Officials of the Atlantic alliance are "waiting for the word" from Holbrooke as to whether he has achieved a breakthrough in his Belgrade talks, the BBC reported from Brussels on 23 March. If Holbrooke leaves the Serbian capital without success, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana will discuss with the leaders of alliance member countries when to launch air strikes. The BBC also quoted British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook as saying "this is for real." The previous day, NATO ambassadors agreed to give Solana the authority to target army bases and concentrations of armored vehicles--as well as air defense units--in and around Kosova during the first wave of air strikes. PM CONFLICT IN KOSOVA 'ESCALATING BY THE HOUR.' In the Drenica region on 23 March, Serbian forces continued their offensive for the fourth consecutive day, Reuters reported. Prishtina is "swarming with police" and the atmosphere in Kosova's capital is "hair-raising," a BBC reporter said there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). She noted that police are "aggressively" manning checkpoints surrounding the city, which makes it difficult for most people to get in or out of Prishtina. Many residents are nonetheless considering whether to try to flee and join the ranks of the 25,000 people who became refugees or displaced persons in recent days. The conflict in Kosova is "escalating by the hour," she continued, and the Yugoslav army is "preparing for all- out war." One person died in a series of explosions in ethnic Albanian-owned restaurants in Prishtina on 22 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM WHAT HAPPENED IN SKENDERAJ? Several Kosovars from Skenderaj told AP on 22 March that masked Serbs "executed" at least 20 ethnic Albanians in that town over the weekend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). Other witnesses said that Serbian police arrested and beat an unspecified additional number of Kosovar civilians. One girl told "The Washington Post" that Serbian soldiers beat her mother and brother and threatened to "massacre you [and] burn you all." The stories could not be independently confirmed. In Prishtina, Colonel Bozidar Filic, who is a spokesman for the paramilitary police, said that "Albanian terrorists and separatists are trying [with made-up stories] about mass killings to provoke an international reaction and increase the pressure on Yugoslavia." PM SERBIAN FORCES LOOT, TORCH VILLAGES. Serbian forces systematically looted and torched ethnic Albanian villages in the Skenderaj area on 22 March, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) commander Suleyman Selimi said the Serbs "are using more modern weapons" than they did in the crackdown of 1998. He noted that "the kind of tanks [the Serbs are now using] are more sophisticated and they are using new mortars as well as ground-to-ground missiles." From the Vushtrri region, the "Los Angeles Times" quoted a witness as saying that the Serbian forces rob homes and destroy home appliances and other goods that they cannot carry off. The daily added that the Serbs apply "scorched earth tactics" to ethnic Albanian settlements but that "Serbian farmers' homes haven't been touched." PM SFOR INSPECTS BOSNIAN SERB AIR DEFENSES. NATO troops inspected air defense systems on Bosnian Serb military bases in Banja Luka "in conjunction with the crisis in Kosova," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 March. OSCE representative Robert Barry discussed the situation in Kosova with Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency. In Sarajevo, the U.S. embassy warned U.S. citizens in the Republika Srpska to be prepared to leave Bosnian Serb territory "on very short notice." PM ALBANIA WARNS OF 'GRAVE CONSEQUENCES.' Officials at the Foreign Ministry handed a note to the Yugoslav charge d'affaires in Tirana on 22 March to protest recent border violations by Yugoslav troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). The next day, the ministry said in a statement that border violations are continuing and that "these actions have grave consequences for stability on the border and beyond." The statement added that "the government calls on all Albanians irrespective of their political ideas to be ready to face this situation with determination and [firmness] in the interest of the fatherland and the nation." FS WASHINGTON TO CONSIDER ALBANIAN REQUEST. U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley told Reuters that NATO is considering an Albanian request to hold a special North Atlantic Council meeting focusing on Albanian security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). Foley said that "we understand that Albania is concerned about the problem of spillover of violence into their territory and coping with the possible influx of refugees." Albania currently is home to 18,500 refugees from Kosova. FS MAJKO AND THACI PLEDGE TO INCREASE COOPERATION. Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and the UCK's Hashim Thaci, who headed the Kosovar delegation to the Rambouillet talks, agreed in Tirana on 22 March to promote cooperation and to better coordinate policy between politicians in Albania and Kosova. Thaci and other UCK representatives, who arrived in Tirana from Paris on 20 March, will try to cross illegally into Kosova from Albania in the next few days, unnamed government sources told dpa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). Yugoslav authorities have issued warrants for their arrest. FS ALBANIAN COURT FREES 'ROBIN HOOD' FIGURE. A Tirana court on 22 March ordered that Vlora gang leader Zani Caushi be released from jail. The court sentenced Caushi for illegal arms possession but ruled he has served that sentence in pre-trial detention since his arrest in 1997. The court handed down the same sentence to four members of Zani's gang. Seven other members of the group received prison terms of between three and 15 years for crimes ranging from armed robbery to kidnapping. Some prosecution witnesses failed to appear in court during the trial, which began last fall, while others contradicted their previous testimony, ATSH reported. Observers suggested that Zani's friends in Vlora intimidated some of the witnesses. The opposition press, however, has repeatedly accused the ruling Socialist Party of having links to Caushi and seeking to ensure his release. FS ROMANIAN PREMIER INTENSIFIES ECONOMIC DISCUSSIONS. Radu Vasile on 22 March met with the World Bank's director for Romania, Andrew Vorking, to discuss the progress of negotiations between Romanian officials and a bank delegation that began last week in Bucharest. If the bank agrees to renew lending by granting Romania a $300 million loan, the IMF is likely to approve a $500 million loan. Vorking and Vasile agreed that the main priorities must be the restructuring of the bank system, the privatization of viable enterprises, and the closure of loss-making companies. The same day, Vasile met with the leaders of the main trade union confederations, which are threatening industrial action. A government team will continue negotiations with those union leaders on 23 March. Finally, the leaders of the parties represented in the ruling coalition decided on 22 March to submit to the legislature a law on speeding up privatization and to request a vote of confidence, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS CONSTANTINESCU MEETS LEADERS OF MAIN OPPOSITION. President Emil Constantinescu on 23 March met with his predecessor, Ion Iliescu, and other leaders of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) to discuss ways to overcome the country's economic and social crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said after the meeting that his party will support a government program that takes into consideration PDSR's views, but he noted that if the situation continues to deteriorate, the only solution will be early elections. A meeting chaired by Constantinescu and attended by representatives of all parties and organizations taking part in ongoing talks is scheduled for 31 March. Also on 22 March, the PDSR criticized Constantinescu's support of possible NATO intervention in Kosova, saying it amounts to "a declaration of war" on Yugoslavia. The opposition Party of Romanian National Unity said Constantinescu is "involving Romania in regional conflicts without the authorization of the parliament" and thus "threatening the country's territorial integrity. "MS LUCINSCHI CALLS REFERENDUM ON PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM. President Petru Lucinschi on 22 March issued a decree calling for a non-binding referendum on introducing a presidential system, Infotag and Reuters reported. Under the proposed constitutional change, the president would be responsible for the appointment of the premier (which is now a prerogative of the parliament) and for the government's actions. The decree explains that "inefficient management of public affairs" and the "evasion of responsibility" on the part of the government, the parliament, and the judiciary are "damaging political stability," the general public's interests, and Moldova's "international image." The decision on whether to amend the constitution rests with the parliament, which must pass the amendment by a two- thirds majority. The referendum is to be held on 23 May, simultaneously with local elections. MS TURKISH PRESIDENT IN BULGARIA. Suleyman Demirel on 22 March told journalists after talks with his Bulgarian counterpart, Petar Stoyanov, that "NATO without Bulgaria and Romania is unthinkable," pledging to lobby at the April Washington summit for both countries' admission to the organization. Demirel praised Bulgaria's treatment of its ethnic Turkish minority. With regard to the Kosova crisis, he said that "when diplomacy fails, there is an obligation to use force." Demirel also met with Premier Ivan Kostov to discuss economic cooperation in transportation infrastructure, power engineering projects, and customs. Foreign Ministers Nadezhda Mihailova and Ismail Cem signed an accord banning the use of anti-personnel mines. MS EU SAYS BULGARIA MUST FIX ECONOMY, CLOSE NUCLEAR PLANT. The European Commission on 22 March said Bulgaria must speed up economic reforms and abide by the promise to close down the Kozloduy nuclear plant if it wants to start talks on joining the EU by 2001, Reuters quoted Francois Lammoureux, who is in charge of the commission's relations with applicant states, as saying. Lammoureux is on a two-day visit to Sofia to review the country's progress in meeting membership criteria. He has rejected the Bulgarian government's plans to seek a revision of the 1993 agreement with the EU on closing the Kozloduy plant. MS BULGARIAN ARMY SIZE FURTHER CUT. The government on 22 March approved a blueprint providing for a reduction of the army to 45,000 troops within five years, BTA and Reuters reported. The previous day, a figure of 50,000 was named (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999), while an earlier plan envisaged cutting the army to 75,000 by 2010. Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev told journalists that the plan is in line with "the government's efforts to match admission criteria for NATO and the EU, provide stability in the region, and protect national security." MS END NOTE AFTER THE BOMBS FALL by Patrick Moore Top Western officials continue to make public statements to warn Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that NATO's "patience is at an end" and that "time is running out" for him to sign the Rambouillet accords. At the time of going to press, it remains unclear whether there will be air strikes or whether the current huffing-and-puffing will come to nothing, as has often been the case in recent months. It is equally unclear whether any NATO member states are prepared to send in ground troops if Serbian forces continue what appears to be a massive ethnic- cleansing operation in Kosova itself. The Serbian forces seem, in fact, to be taunting the West, as a Serbian soldier near Skenderaj suggested when he recently commented to reporters: "See what we're doing? When are the Americans coming?" Questions also remain as to what might happen were Serbian authority in Kosova actually to collapse and the Kosovars to take charge of their own fate. The Kosovar leadership has generally shown a remarkable degree of unity in public, but there is no guarantee that such discipline will continue once the immediate threat of a common enemy is removed. There are well-known rivalries both within the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and within the civilian leadership, as well as between the guerrillas and the politicians. One can well imagine, moreover, peacetime scenarios in which at least some of these rivalries might come to the surface in perhaps violent form. Such developments, which are rooted in traditional Balkan political cultures, could prevent a modern European political life from emerging. The polarization and even violence present in Albanian and Montenegrin politics suggest that the transition from post-communist to European norms is not proving easy in that part of the Balkans. But the Kosovars have friends who will try to help them maintain unity of purpose. By signing the Rambouillet accords recently in Paris, the Kosovars ensured that they will have the political support of the U.S. and other key Western powers as long as they adhere to the agreement. There is always a danger of a colonial-type "dependency syndrome" developing in Kosova--as has happened to some extent in Bosnia--if a postwar foreign civilian and military presence becomes preeminent in the affairs of the province. At the moment, however, that is the least of the Kosovars' worries. The Kosovar leaders are now bracing themselves for the new Serbian offensive and congratulating themselves on having cemented their new political bond to the Western powers. Members of the Kosovar delegation at Rambouillet recently told "RFE/RL Newsline," moreover, that the Albanian government provided constant and vital psychological support for the Kosovar negotiators during the peace talks. There is every reason to expect that Tirana will continue to be a reliable friend to the Kosovars. This is primarily because Albania is anxious for peace, stability, and democracy to come to Kosova, so that those same phenomena might better develop within Albania itself. Tirana's overall concerns, in fact, reflect those that can be found throughout much of the Balkans. One frequently hears from Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians, and Macedonians that Western countries have become so concerned with Bosnia and Kosova that they often neglect the rest of the post- communist Balkans and appear to lack a sound strategy to help the region shake the complex legacy of communism. People in the countries bordering the crisis regions of the former Yugoslavia often express bitterness that the international community has not sufficiently compensated them for the economic sacrifices they made while wartime sanctions were in force on Serbia and Montenegro. Romania's and Bulgaria's prospects for joining NATO and the EU, moreover, appear dim at best, while there is little serious talk anywhere that Macedonia or Albania might join either organization at any time in the foreseeable future. More than one observer has openly asked whether the countries of the post-communist Balkans might not in fact be condemned to a state of indefinite limbo between their communist past and a future firmly rooted in Europe, to which they aspire. It is of course true that many of the problems facing the countries of the region are largely of their own making. The Balkan countries themselves often raise artificial barriers--such as stringent visa requirements--that prevent a free exchange of people and ideas within the region. The educated elites in each of the countries of the region have almost always looked toward major international capitals for their foreign cultural, political, and economic links rather than to their neighbors. And crime remains endemic across much of the peninsula. With regard to the various countries bordering the former Yugoslavia, the Romanian political elite seems to be ever given to in-fighting, and the threat of extremism remains permanently on the horizon. Bulgarian politicians generally enjoy criticizing those in power but do not always become model public servants when they themselves take office. Perhaps the new coalition government in Macedonia will succeed in breaking the hold of corruption and cronyism on political life and the economy. If it does not, Macedonia may find itself locked into the traditional Balkan political pattern in which the "ins" and the "outs" take turn in office and help themselves to the rights and privileges of power. 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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