|Как все-таки странно, что мелочи вдруг приходят на память, а то, что волновало когда-то, с годами забывается. - Мурасаки Сикибу|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 74, Part II, 16 April 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 74, Part II, 16 April 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 * LITHUANIAN, POLISH, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS IN VILNIUS * CLINTON: DEMOCRATIZATION OF SERBIA IS THE KEY * GLIGOROV SAYS SERBIA DESTABILIZING MACEDONIA END NOTE: Avoiding a Minefield in Estonia's Northeast xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER CONSIDERED PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE. Amnesty International said on 15 April that former Belarusian Premier Mikhail Chyhir is a prisoner of conscience who has been imprisoned by the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for running in the opposition presidential elections scheduled for 16 May. "He appears to have been targeted by the authorities solely because of his political beliefs and peaceful opposition activities," Amnesty International said in a statement. Chyhir is to stay in jail for three months under official charges of "abuse of office" and "grand larceny" in connection with a $1 million non-repaid credit he issued to a Canadian firm as head of Belagroprombank. Chyhir's wife told RFE/RL on 14 April that the Canadian firm has already supplied evidence that the former Belarusian premier cannot be blamed for non-repayment of the credit. JM UKRAINE PROPOSES PEACE PLAN FOR KOSOVA... In an interview with the 15 April "Uryadovyy kuryer," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma revealed a three-stage plan to end the conflict in Kosova. The first stage involves a simultaneous cease-fire by Yugoslav, Albanian, and NATO forces and a withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosova. The second stage calls for the return and resettlement of Kosova refugees under the protection of peacekeeping forces controlled by the UN or the OSCE. The third stage envisions a peace conference in a neutral capital. "Ukraine does not consider itself to have a monopoly on peacemaking. But the fact that our thoughts are now shared by many parties demonstrates that they were realistic from the very beginning," Kuchma said. JM ...CONDEMNS BELARUS-RUSSIA-YUGOSLAVIA UNION. Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists on 16 April that the creation of a union between Belarus, Russia, and Yugoslavia will not provide stability and security to Europe and will not end the crisis in Kosova. "It would threaten European stability, especially when one of these states has nuclear weapons," Reuters quoted him as saying minutes before Russia's State Duma voted in favor of letting Yugoslavia join the Union of Belarus and Russia. JM UKRAINE'S ECONOMY STILL FALLING. Ukraine's GDP decreased by 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 1999 compared to the same period last year, AP reported on 15 April, citing Ukrainian Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy. Rohovyy added that Ukraine's positive achievement in January- March was a low inflation rate of 3.5 percent. Meanwhile, the State Gas and Oil Committee has reported that Ukraine's gas and oil production dropped by 1.5 percent and 5 percent, respectively, in the first quarter of 1999. JM SWITZERLAND WANTS LAZARENKO EXTRADITED FROM U.S. Swiss judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet said on 15 April that he is asking the U.S. to extradite former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko to Switzerland for a money- laundering investigation. Lazarenko, who is currently seeking political asylum in the U.S., was arrested on money laundering charges in Switzerland last December, but subsequently released on bail of $3 million. Kasper- Ansermat said he had issued an international arrest warrant for Lazarenko after the latter failed to honor a summons to appear in a Geneva court on 1 and 2 March. JM SCANDAL OVER ESTONIAN POLITICIANS' SEYCHELLES JUNKET BREWING. A scandal involving a training course in the Seychelles for high-ranking Finance Ministry officials two years ago is under investigation, the daily "Eesti Paevaleht" reported. Though the trip was officially reported to have been to Sweden, 13 officials instead went to an exotic resort on the Seychelles--paid for by the Swedish software company Malstyrning. Upon the group's return, the ministry reportedly began using accounting software made by Malstyrning. Malstyrning was given a contract to implement a Swedish state grant in Estonia, but all payments to the company have been halted pending the outcome of the investigation. MH LATVIA OFFICIALLY ABOLISHES DEATH PENALTY. The Latvian Saeima voted on 15 April to ratify the 6th Protocol of the European Human Rights Convention, which effectively abolishes capital punishment. The vote was 64 to 15, with members from several parties voting against the measure, according to BNS and LETA. Several members of the opposition Social Democratic Alliance stated that public opinion should be considered when passing such a bill. Polls have indicated that a majority of Latvians support capital punishment, particularly following a killing spree in a nursery school in February that left four dead. However, President Guntis Ulmanis applauded the move, stressing the need for conformity with European norms. MH LITHUANIAN, POLISH, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS IN VILNIUS. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus hosted his Ukrainian and Polish counterparts, Leonid Kuchma and Aleksander Kwasniewski, for talks on 15 April at the seaside resort of Palanga. The three leaders discussed various issues of regional cooperation and the crisis in Kosova. Adamkus reaffirmed Lithuania's goal of joining NATO, saying the alliance is an inseparable element of European security, BNS reported. During the visit, Kuchma unveiled a proposed peace plan which has been circulated throughout the international community (see story above). The three presidents also hosted the conference "Regional Integration of Transportation" in Klaipeda the same day. Kwasniewski called for further development of the Baltic and Black Seas' transport systems as well as the "Via Baltica" project linking the Baltic states and Poland via a modern highway. MH POLISH PRESIDENTIAL AIDE ADMITS COLLABORATION WITH SECRET POLICE. The name of Aleksander Majkowski, an international affairs adviser to President Aleksander Kwasniewski, was published in the government mouthpiece "Monitor Polski" on 15 April in a list of confessed collaborators with the Communist-era secret services. It was the fourth list of collaborators published under Poland's lustration law. Jerzy Wierchowicz from the coalition Freedom Union said Majkowski should resign. Kwasniewki's lawyer, Ryszard Kalisz, said the president had known about Majkowski's positive lustration statement, adding that the lustration law does not call for any consequences for the person who admits collaboration. Meanwhile, Tomasz Karwowski, deputy head of the right-wing Confederation for an Independent Poland-Homeland, has said there is "serious circumstantial evidence" that Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek had contacts with the Communist security services in the past. JM POLAND'S LEFT-WING COALITION FOUNDS POLITICAL PARTY. Politicians from the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD)--a leftist electoral coalition of 32 political and trade union organizations--has signed a document founding a new political party under the same name. The SLD has decided to transform itself into a party since Poland's new constitution allows only political parties and party coalitions to run in parliamentary elections. The strongest participants in the new party are the Social Democracy of the Polish Republic (SdRP) and the National Trade Union Alliance. SdRP leader Leszek Miller does not rule out that the SdRP will be disbanded after the SLD party is fully established. JM WORLD BANK TO GIVE $300 MILLION FOR POLAND'S MINING REFORM. Deputy Finance Minister Rafal Zagorny said on 15 April that Poland will receive $300 million from the World Bank to finance coal mining reforms. The bank will lend Poland $70 million this year and $230 million next year to help cover the costs of closing mines, laying off workers, and cleaning up environmental damage. Coal mining was the most heavily subsidized industry during communist rule. According to official sources, the coal mining sector lost 3.4 billion zlotys ($850 million) last year. JM CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER LAUDS GERMAN KOSOVA INITIATIVE. Jan Kavan on 15 April welcomed the 14 April peace initiative of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, calling it a "welcome contribution to the discussion on finding the most suitable solution" for ending the conflict. He told CTK that it is important not to let Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "freeze the results of ethnic cleansing" and added that it is important to involve Russia in the search for a solution. In other news, Miroslav Grebenicek, leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), on 15 April said the KSCM will file a suit with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia against U.S. President Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President Vaclav Havel, Premier Milos Zeman, and Kavan for committing war atrocities in connection with the air strikes against Yugoslavia, CTK reported. MS CZECH ROMA AGREE TO BEING FENCED OFF. The Romany Rainbow organization, which represents rent defaulters in a Usti nad Labem town district, on 15 April agreed with the local council on the construction of a fence to separate Roma from houses opposite their apartments, CTK reported. The fence will be 1.8 meters high and made out of ceramics. In 1998, the town council announced plans to build the fence, ostensibly to protect residents from the noise and the rubbish produced by the Romanies. The district's mayor hailed the decision as a breakthrough reached without "any special mediators or human rights activists from outside Usti nad Labem"--a hint obviously aimed at Czech Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl, who said he will block any attempt to build the wall, a statement he repeated after hearing of Romany Rainbow's decision. MS LEXA TAKEN INTO CUSTODY. Former Slovak Counter- Intelligence Service chief Ivan Lexa was taken into custody on 15 April after the parliament approved a request by the Interior Ministry to detain Lexa in order to prevent him from interfering with the investigation on the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son and other crimes of which he is suspected, TASR reported. Also on 15 April, the government unanimously backed Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan against demands by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) that he resign for not having sufficiently informed legislators and the public on Slovak policy towards the NATO strikes. Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said that the HZDS "exploits the plight of Yugoslavia for its own political games," CTK reported. MS MECIAR 'EXPLAINS' CANDIDACY... "Sometimes you do not do what you want to, but what you have to," Vladimir Meciar told journalists on 15 April, explaining why he decided to accept the request of his HZDS to run in the 15 May presidential elections, CTK reported. Meciar said that without him, the HZDS "loses any political space." He also said the party has become the target of attacks, including the murder of former Economics Minister Jan Ducky and physical assaults on its representatives. He said that his own flat has been robbed three times. The former premier said that by running he wants to force the current government into a "dialogue" with the HZDS and that he wanted to seek out "among all political parties those forces that will be able to reverse" Slovakia's present economic and political development which, he said, will otherwise "only worsen." MS ...AND DEFENDS MILOSEVIC. Yugoslav President Milosevic is a man who does not want any more bloodshed in his country, Meciar said, adding that the NATO airstrikes in Yugoslavia are tantamount to an invasion and that the Serbs are now undergoing the "same thing as we did in 1968," when Czechoslovakia was invaded by Warsaw Pact countries. MS HUNGARIAN PREMIER RULES OUT NATO GROUND FORCES STRIKE. Viktor Orban, on a one-day official visit to the UK, told Premier Tony Blair and former Premier Margaret Thatcher that Budapest agreed with the need to step up the air strikes on Yugoslavia. Orban later told journalists that Budapest will not approve a NATO ground forces intervention. He said that Hungary faces a "hard decision" because it cannot assume "obligations that would further endanger" ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina. Defense Minister Janos Szabo said after meeting his British counterpart, George Robertson, that there is "no chance" for NATO ground forces to enter Yugoslavia from Hungary, Hungarian media reported. MS HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS AGREE TO DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. Smallholders' Party chairman Joszef Torgyan said on 15 April that his party will support the direct election of the state president, despite the fact that the coalition agreement gives the party the prerogative to nominate the presidential candidate, Hungarian media reported. Former Free Democratic Party chairman Janos Kis on the same day asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the decision of the National Election Committee on a possible referendum on the presidential election was not unconstitutional, since it would entail changes to the country's basic document (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1999). MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE CLINTON: DEMOCRATIZATION OF SERBIA IS THE KEY... U.S. President Bill Clinton told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in San Francisco on 15 April that peace and stability in the Balkans "will require a democratic transition in Serbia, for the region's democracies will never be safe with a belligerent tyranny in their midst." Clinton said that he does not think that an independent Kosova would be economically viable or contribute to regional stability. He added that "the last thing we need in the Balkans is greater balkanization. The best solution for [Kosova], for Serbia, for Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and all the countries of southeast Europe, is not the endless rejiggering of their borders, but greater integration into a Europe in which sovereignty matters but in which borders are becoming more and more open and less important in a negative sense." PM ...AS IS LONG-TERM WESTERN COMMITTMENT. President Clinton added that "we must follow the example of the World War II generation by standing up to aggression and hate and then by following through with a post-conflict strategy for reconstruction and renewal...[A peaceful future] "will take constant, steady American engagement together with our European allies, old and new...It will take money in the form of investment and aid," he added. Clinton also urged the U.S. and Western Europe to keep the doors of NATO and the EU open for new members. PM CLINTON WARNS SERBIA ON CHEMICAL WEAPONS. Several U.S. government agencies believe that Serbia has stocks of lethal and non-lethal chemical weapons, and that some forms of tear gas may have been issued to paramilitary forces carrying out the ethnic cleansing of Kosova, "The New York Times" wrote on 16 April. The U.S. agencies do not believe that the Serbian military have used such weapons or plan to do so. Clinton added in San Francisco that any use of chemical weapons on Belgrade's part will meet with a "swift and overwhelming" response. PM GLIGOROV SAYS SERBIA DESTABILIZING MACEDONIA. Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in Skopje on 15 April that they are expecting an additional 20,000 expellees from Ferizaj to arrive soon, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1999). President Kiro Gligorov told parliament that "we are again faced with a new huge wave of refugees...The fact remains that the state has a limited ability to accept more refugees." He accused the Serbian authorities of trying to destabilize Macedonia. Gligorov told the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that neither NATO nor the Macedonian authorities had expected so many refugees. He added, however, that he was not surprised by the brutality and violence used in the deportations. "Those are the methods that the Serbs used in Bosnia and Croatia, too," Gligorov concluded. PM NATO APOLOGIZES FOR HITTING REFUGEE CONVOY. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels on 15 April that the pilot of an F-16 aircraft mistakenly hit a tractor at the head of a column of refugees: "The pilot reported what he believed to be military vehicles in a convoy. The pilot reported at the time he was attacking a military convoy." Shea added: "Let us not allow one accident, no matter how tragic, to obscure the real stakes in this crisis, which is sometimes one has to risk lives of the few in order to save lives of the many." PM CONVOY MYSTERY CONTINUES. Observers noted that an attack on one vehicle would not account for the extensive carnage shown on Serbian state-run television (RTS) on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 1999). RTS said that NATO deliberately bombed the column to prevent the refugees from going home and in order to justify continuing air strikes. Some observers suggested that Serbian forces may have attacked the refugees after the F-16 struck and blamed the carnage on NATO. Several refugees later said in Albania that Serbian MiGs attacked them. Some observers suggested that several of the dead and wounded shown on RTS appeared to have been machine gunned. The question also remains open as to how many columns of civilians and Serbian forces were on the Gjakova-Prizren road at the time. PM YUGOSLAV FORCES SHELL ANOTHER NORTHERN ALBANIAN VILLAGE. Residents of Kolsh near Kukes told Reuters that Serbian forces fired four artillery shells into their village on 15 April. One person was wounded in the attack. OSCE representatives in Tirana confirmed the reports. ATSH added that Serbian soldiers fired with machine guns at the border village of Dobruna nearby. Elsewhere, another three shells fired from inside Kosova exploded in the Tropoja region, as did one near the border crossing of Morina linking Kukes with Prizren. The same day, some 3,000 refugees crossed the border at Morina into Albania. A local government spokesman in Kukes told ATSH that the Albanian authorities have evacuated many people living close to the border and reinforced border security with additional military units. FS OSCE AMBASSADOR PRAISES ALBANIA'S RESTRAINT. OSCE Ambassador Daan Everts told Reuters on 15 April that the border skirmishing is only the latest in "a long series of border incidents." He added that the fighting has "always been contained by the Albanian military restraint...There is also considerable restraint...on the other side." Everts said the shelling included sophisticated cluster bombs and was aimed largely at presumed positions of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). He added that the Serbian attacks are "limited in scope and distance." Everts acknowledged that Serbian troops in hot pursuit of UCK fighters are unlikely to stop at the unmarked border line. Everts stressed that "the vehemence with which Belgrade denied the Kamenica incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline 14 April 1999) shows you that they are aware of the international repercussions ...if they really attacked another state rather than attacking presumed guerrilla nests." FS FRENCH MINISTER PROPOSES FREEZE ON MACEDONIAN AND ALBANIAN DEBTS. Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn on 15 April proposed a two-year freeze on debt service charges for Macedonia and Albania, AP reported from Paris. Strauss-Kahn said the debt service charges for both countries amount to less than $600 million for the Paris Club of creditors and around $1.2 billion to global creditors. Strauss-Kahn said the proposal will be discussed at upcoming meetings of EU Finance Ministers and the International Monetary Fund. FS MONTENEGRO SLAMS ARMY FOR PROVOKING NATO. Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said in Podgorica on 15 April that no civilians were injured in the attack by NATO aircraft against Yugoslav army anti-aircraft installations. He also accused the military of provoking what was the biggest single NATO strike against targets in Montenegro to date, Reuters reported. "I can confirm there were absolutely no civilian casualties. My main concern is that the army is shooting like mad at the [NATO] planes," he added. Other Montenegrin officials noted that the anti-aircraft batteries have no chance of hitting high-flying Western aircraft. The officials added that the military's sole aim is to drag Montenegro into Serbia's war with the Atlantic alliance. On 16 April, NATO jets and missiles hit a military airfield and airport just outside Podgorica, AP reported. PM WESTENDORP SHUTS DOWN BOSNIAN SERB TV STATION. A spokesman for the international community's Carlos Westendorp said on 15 April that Westendorp endorses the decision of the Independent Media Commission, which controls broadcasting licensing, to take Pale-based Kanal S off the air. The spokesman argued that the broadcasts of what some call "Karadzic TV" are "inflammatory," the daily "Oslobodjenje" wrote. PM EU WARNS CROATIA OVER TIES TO U.S. Per Vinther, who is the EU's representative to Croatia, told an audience in Zagreb on 15 April that the question is not whether Croatia wants to join the EU but when it will do so. He said that a bilateral agreement is "inevitable," "Jutarnji list" reported. He stressed that the EU--and not the U.S.--is Croatia's "natural economic partner," even though Zagreb and Washington have recently forged closer links. Vinther noted that many Croats have high expectations regarding their country's relationship with the U.S. The diplomat warned that Croatia will need EU support in order to join NATO or the WTO. He was attending the formal presentation of the Croatian edition of the pamphlet "The EU in Ten Lessons." PM NATO PLANE FUEL TANKS FALL ON ROMANIAN TERRITORY. Two fuel tanks with English inscriptions were found on Romanian territory near Timisoara on 15 April. The fuel tanks apparently belonged to an F-15 fighter and Romanian defense officials cited by RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau said the plane might have jettisoned the tanks after being hit by Yugoslav ground fire. No one was hurt. The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 16 April demanded that the Defense Ministry report to the parliament on the incident. MS FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS ROMANIAN VISIT. Ending his visit to Romania on 15 April, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said it was "paradoxical" that the countries admitted to NATO are from a region without strategic problems, and promised that at the Washington summit later this month Romania's membership will be "considered with priority." In other news, Premier Radu Vasile will undergo a medical check up in Israel "in the next days," a government spokesman announced on 15 April. MS ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION MAKES PROGRESS ON PROTOCOL. A commission charged with working out a new protocol for the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) on 15 April reached an agreement on most points, including the participation of civic organizations in selecting candidates for the CDR lists of parliamentary candidates proposed by the parties' members of the CDR and in proposing their own candidates for those lists. The commission said that "additional efforts" must be made to secure the return of the Civic Alliance to the CDR. The commission failed to reach agreement on the proposal by the National Liberal party to allow the participation of parties' members in the CDR on separate lists in local elections. MS MOLDOVA NOT APPROACHED ABOUT TRANSITING RUSSIAN AID TO YUGOSLAVIA. The Moldovan Foreign Ministry's Department for Relations with the CIS States on 15 April told the Flux agency that Moldova has not yet been "officially or unofficially" approached about Russia's intention to transit aid to Yugoslavia through its territory. The question was posed after ITAR-TASS cited Russia's Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying that Russia is "examining the possibility of transiting the aid through Romania," which would only be possible if the convoys were to transit Moldovan territory as well. In other news, Flux reported that the joint Ukrainian- Moldovan Elektroalians has taken over the January-March $12.5 million Moldovan debt to Ukraine for electricity deliveries, following which Ukraine, which supplies 60 percent of Moldova's electricity, will resume deliveries through 1 May. MS BULGARIA, GREECE, CALL FOR EU-SPONSORED BALKAN PEACE CONFERENCE. Visiting Greek Premier Costas Simitis on 15 April told journalists after talks with his Bulgarian counterpart, Ivan Kostov, that Greece has proposed holding a Balkan peace conference sponsored by the European Union to strengthen stability in the region after a Kosova peace settlement has been negotiated, Reuters reported. He said that "21 days of air strikes" produced no results and have brought about "unforeseen dimensions, with hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced from their homes." Kostov backed the Greek proposal, saying that a "protracted conflict...will cause not only huge economic losses, but also lead to the further political and social destabilization of the Balkans." He said Bulgaria would welcome a peace initiative with the participation of the EU, the U.S., and Russia. MS END NOTE Avoiding a Minefield in Estonia's Northeast By Mel Huang Estonia's new government, led by Mart Laar, faces a potential political minefield in the country's northeastern quadrant. This predominantly Russian- speaking area has suffered more than any other part of the country from the recent economic crisis in Russia. And its economic position is worsening with each passing month. Some observers in Tallinn and elsewhere fear that these declines could trigger a new round of social and political instability. In recognition of this potential danger, the Laar government has already indicated that it will focus on problems in that region. Three ministers--Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja, Social Minister Eiki Nestor, and Minister without portfolio (for population affairs) Katrin Saks--visited the region to assess the situation and speak about initiatives during their first week in office. Local officials complained about unemployment, and lack of job training or access to the government. The visiting ministers emphasized that the new three- party coalition in government will do more than its predecessor to help. What coverage this region has received has focused either on ethnic issues or comparisons between the standard of living in towns on either side of the Estonian-Russian border. Relatively little attention has been devoted to underlying economic difficulties, except in the local Russian-language press, which in almost every case treats these as a reflection of ethnic difficulties. But the new Laar government recognizes that it cannot afford to ignore the structural economical problems there. Though the restructuring of many large industries in the region was painful and created significant social tension, it initially brought some stability and the region began to grow once more. The foreign press, such as the "Christian Science Monitor," featured success stories such as Kreenholm Textiles, as a testament to the success of the restructuring process. Though struggling, the rare-earth metals plant Silmet knows full well it has a near-monopoly on its industry in the entire world. Solid foreign investment stabilized many other industries and the region for awhile looked quite solid. But the August 1998 Russian economic crisis destabilized the region. Many analysts, both foreign and domestic, applauded the fact that the Russian crisis did not hurt Estonia as much as it did other countries in the region. The Russian downturn, however, has affected one part of the country profoundly: the northeast. The chemical giant Kiviter was declared bankrupt and 2,000 people were laid off. Though most of those workers were immediately placed in successor companies, a significant number remained unemployed. Successful fish processor Viru Rand went bankrupt and 800 people lost their jobs. Such was the trend, not the exception. The Estonian Labor Market Board announced that the March unemployment rate nationally was 5.3 percent, while the northeast Ida-Viru county's jobless rate was 9.5 percent. With an unemployment rate nearly double the national total, any further growth in the jobless rate could send the region into social chaos. This is why plans to close several oil shale mines and reducing the workforce of Eesti Polevkivi (Estonian Oil Shale) plans have been carefully scrutinized in consultations with the World Bank. Several hundred workers have already been let go in 1999 due to operational mergers, the closure of mines, and the company plans to pension off another 400 in the near future. As the Laar government appears to recognize, these economic problems could pose a serious challenge to Estonia unless Tallinn focuses more on the northeast. The previous government worked on the issues of integration and language teaching, but that was during the quietly prospering years. The situation is different now, and Laar must tread carefully--especially with local elections slated for the fall. After all, it was during his watch on Toompea years ago that the region voted for autonomy. 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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