When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary. - Anonymous
RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 97, Part II, 19 May 1999


___________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 97, Part II, 19 May 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

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Headlines, Part II

* PAKSAS CONFIRMED AS LITHUANIAN PREMIER

* CZECH COMPANIES TO HELP COMPLETE IRANIAN NUCLEAR POWER
PLANT

* FIRST BIG ANTI-WAR PROTESTS IN SERBIA

End Note: TOWARD CONSOLIDATION OF LATVIA'S BANKING SECTOR
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EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE

OSCE SAYS BELARUS'S SHADOW ELECTIONS DESERVE 'RESPECT.'
Former Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin, head of an
OSCE mission visiting Belarus, said in Minsk on 18 May that
the participation of "many citizens" in the opposition
presidential elections "deserves the respect of
democratically governed states." Severin added that Belarus
needs a "meaningful dialogue" to achieve a "nationwide
consensus on the legal provisions for free and fair
parliamentary and presidential elections." According to
Severin, the OSCE is planning to hold talks in Bucharest
involving the Belarusian authorities and the opposition "to
explore ways and means that could bring about such democratic
elections," AP reported. JM

CRIMEAN TATARS RALLY IN SIMFEROPOL. Some 35,000 Tatars
rallied in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, on 18 May to mark
the 55th anniversary of their deportation to Central Asia
under Joseph Stalin's regime and to demand improved civil
rights on the peninsula. "If the executive power does not do
anything to resolve our problems, we will be forced to fully
activate our national movement," Tatar leader Mustafa
Dzhemilev told the crowd. The same day, Ukrainian President
Leonid Kuchma created a presidential "Tatar advisory
committee," which Dzhemilev said will include all members of
the Mejlis, the Tatar assembly. After the rally Tatars set up
a tent camp in front of the Crimean government building.
Dzhemilev said some 250 people will remain in the camp until
the government makes progress on meeting Tatar demands (see
"RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1999). JM

ASPIRANTS ENTER PRESIDENTIAL RACE IN UKRAINE. The Central
Electoral Commission on 18 May registered Leonid Kuchma and
eight other challengers in the 31 October presidential
elections. The other eight were Hennadiy Udovenko, Petro
Symonenko, Oleksandr Moroz, Yuriy Kostenko, Vasyl Onopenko
(leader of the Social Democratic Party [United]), Nataliya
Vitrenko, Hennadiy Balashov (leader of the For a Beautiful
Ukraine party), and Oleksandr Rzhavskiyy (leader of the
United Family group). In order to become full-fledged
presidential candidates, the challengers have to collect by
13 July no fewer than 1 million signatures supporting their
candidacy. Moreover, those signatures must be gathered in at
least two-thirds of Ukraine's oblasts. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS MILITARY CHIEF'S RESIGNATION.
Lennart Meri on 18 May rejected the resignation of army
commander Lieutenant-General Johannes Kert in connection with
the alleged attempted robbery by the acting head of the
defense forces' Special Operations Group (see "RFE/RL
Newsline," 18 May 1999), ETA reported. Meri said that the
crime has seriously damaged the reputation of Estonia and its
defense forces, but he added that "after long deliberation"
he had decided not to accept Kert's resignation. He also met
with Defense Minister Juri Luik to discuss improving
procedures for checking the backgrounds of military
personnel. According to BNS, Luik has formed a special
commission to examine personnel policy in the defense forces
and to make recommendations about the future role of the
Special Operations Group. JC

ESTONIAN OPPOSITION FAILS TO DERAIL BUDGET. In what is seen
as foreshadowing the parliamentary vote on the negative
supplementary  budget,  deputies on 18 May rejected an
opposition proposal to delay the debate on the controversial
spending cuts, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tallinn reported.
The measure, proposed by the Center Party, was defeated by 54
to 42 votes, largely reflecting the balance of forces in the
legislature between the ruling coalition and the opposition.
The parliament is due to discuss the so-called austerity
budget on 26 May. JC

PAKSAS CONFIRMED AS LITHUANIAN PREMIER. The parliament on 18
May voted by 105 to one with 12 abstentions to confirm Mayor
of Vilnius Rolandas Paksas as prime minister. Paksas, a
member of the ruling Conservative Party, told deputies that
he will continue the tight fiscal policy of his predecessor,
Gediminas Vagnorius, noting that stable economic growth
should be the cabinet's main task. Paksas has said that
acting Finance Minister Algirdas Shemeta and acting Economy
Minister Vincas Babilius will not be part of his new
government, but observers say that most other posts are
likely to be unchanged. Paksas now has 15 days in which to
submit to the parliament his cabinet line-up and program.
Meanwhile, outgoing German President Roman Herzog told his
Lithuanian counterpart, Valdas Adamkus, in Vilnius on 18 May
that Germany will fully support Lithuania's bid to join the
EU. JC

KOSOVA REFUGEES LEAVE POLAND FOR GERMANY. Some 70 Kosova
Albanians have left special refugee centers in Poland and
illegally crossed the border with Germany, Polish Television
reported on 18 May. According to that report, most Kosova
refugees succeed in getting into Germany, where they have
families or relatives. "[Kosova refugees] have the right to
move freely around Poland and it is difficult to shut them in
a guarded center as there is no [legal] basis for this," an
Interior Ministry official commented. Polish Television noted
that Germany and other Western countries have tougher
regulations regarding refugees on their territory than
Poland, where, it said, these regulations are "exceptionally
liberal." JM

CZECH COMPANIES TO HELP COMPLETE IRANIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT.
Czech government authorities appear ready to allow local
companies to sell components and expertise to help Iran
complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant, "Mlada fronta Dnes"
reported on 19 May. A spokesman for the Czech Foreign
Ministry said the sales, worth an estimated $200 million,
would not involve items requiring a license. Deputy Prime
Minister Egon Lansky indicated that the money is the
government's top priority in the deal. Czech Prime Minister
Milos Zeman said the cabinet has not yet discussed the deal.
But he added that "Iran isn't the same thing as Iraq." The
deal would reportedly involve steam turbines and cooling and
ventilation systems from undisclosed Czech companies and
nuclear know-how from Skoda Plzen. The U.S. has several times
protested the Czech Republic's nuclear dealings with Iran,
according to a report in "The Washington Times," cited by
"Mlada fronta Dnes." VG

CZECH MAIN PARTIES AGREE ON ELECTORAL CHANGES. The parties of
Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Chamber of Deputies Chairman
Vaclav Klaus have agreed to alter the Czech Republic's
proportional representation system, "Mlada fronta Dnes"
reported on 19 May. The deal would involve increasing the
number of electoral districts in the country. Such a system
would make it more difficult for smaller parties to gain
parliamentary representation. VG

KLAUS INDIRECTLY ENDORSES MECIAR. In an interview with
"Narodna Obroda" published on 18 May, Czech Chamber of
Deputies Chairman Klaus appeared to indirectly support former
Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's candidacy in the Slovak
presidential elections. Klaus told the newspaper that the new
president of Slovakia should be someone who has the backing
of a group of people who have similar political views. "I
would vote for someone in that category.  Vladimir Meciar,
for example, definitely belongs in it," he added. He noted
that a politician who is isolated would not be able to
accomplish anything. VG

HAMZIK SAYS NATO CAMPAIGN TAKING TOO LONG. Slovak Deputy
Prime Minister for European Integration Pavol Hamzik said the
NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia is taking too long and
has so far failed to achieve its intended goals, TASR
reported on 18 May. Hamzik said politicians should take the
initiative and the UN should play an appropriate role. In
other news, the Slovak Defense Ministry announced it may seek
a foreign loan to deal with financial difficulties this year,
CTK reported on 18 May. VG

SCHUSTER LEADS IN SLOVAK POLLS. A poll conducted the day
after voting in the first round of the Slovak presidential
election found that 68 percent of respondents would vote for
Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster in the second round, scheduled
for 29 May, TASR reported on 19 May. Only 32 percent would
vote for Vladimir Meciar, according to the poll, conducted by
Polis Slovakia. In other news, some 3,000 civil engineers
staged a protest in Bratislava on 18 May, demanding that the
state pay its debts to civil engineering companies, TASR
reported on 19 May. The government stopped paying those debts
in September 1998. Thousands of civil engineers have been
laid off in the last two years. VG

YUGOSLAV PRISONERS RETURN THROUGH HUNGARY. Two Yugoslav
prisoners of war captured by the Kosova Liberation Army in
mid-April and held by U.S. forces were handed over to
Yugoslav authorities at the Roszke border station on 18 May.
A U.S. military plane flew the two prisoners to Budapest
airport from Germany. Nadya Kebir, a representative of the
International Red Cross, denied reports that one of the
prisoners asked for refugee status in Hungary. In other news,
parliamentary speaker Janos Ader was elected executive deputy
chairman of the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic
Party on 17 May, replacing Secret Services Minister Laszlo
Kover. MSZ

BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY MEETS WITH ORBAN. George Robertson
met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to discuss the
NATO campaign in Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 19 May.
Robertson praised the commitment of Orban's government in the
face of "fragile" public opinion. He stressed that NATO and
EU membership bring benefits as well as responsibilities to
those who join. Robertson also assured Orban that Hungary
will be a recipient of financial aid in the post-conflict
regional reconstruction effort. One survey found that the
bombing and blockage of the River Danube could cost the
Hungarians an estimated $500 million a year. VG

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

FIRST BIG ANTI-WAR PROTESTS IN SERBIA. At least 3,000 people
in Krusevac and a similar number in Aleksandrovac
demonstrated on 17 May for the return of Yugoslav soldiers
from Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Many of
the protesters were relatives of soldiers and carried signs
with slogans such as "We want our boys and not their
coffins." The following day in London, British Defense
Secretary George Robertson said that, "Yesterday there was a
crack that appeared in the facade of the Yugoslav regime." In
Krusevac, the Yugoslav army issued a statement saying that
the protests there took place on 17 and 18 May. The statement
charged that unnamed persons took advantage of soldiers'
parents' feelings in order to promote "treason, undermine the
defense of the country, and [promote] direct collaboration
with the enemy." The statement added that the organizers will
be prosecuted.  Observers noted that the demonstrations were
the first large ones against Belgrade's policies in Kosova to
be reported since the NATO air strikes began in March. PM

CACAK PROTESTERS CALL FOR DEMOCRACY IN SERBIA. Local
political leader Milan Kandic told the informal "citizens'
parliament" in Cacak on 18 May that the war in Kosova must
end and that the "true democratization" of Serbia must begin,
Montenegrin Television reported. Kandic called for an
investigation into the role of a local army colonel in
recently deploying an unspecified number of "tanks and [other
pieces of] military equipment...near civilian buildings, and
thus for causing, as Cacak Mayor Velimir Ilic said, the death
of four and the wounding of 12 citizens of Cacak." The
"citizens' parliament" issued a statement condemning NATO air
strikes and calling on Belgrade to negotiate a quick end to
the conflict. Anti-war protests also took place in Kraljevo
and Novi Sad, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM/PB

WHERE ARE 225,000 MISSING KOSOVARS? U.S. Ambassador David
Scheffer, whose responsibility is to investigate possible war
crimes, said in Brussels on 18 May that Serbian forces have
killed at least 5,000 civilians in Kosova since March. He
added that the number of men unaccounted for has reached
225,000, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. They are
among the approximately 550,000 people displaced within
Kosova. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea added that the Atlantic
alliance has evidence that Serbian forces have recently begun
digging up mass graves in several places in Kosova and
reburying the bodies in order to hide evidence of atrocities.
Two days earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen
said in Washington that the number of Kosovars killed by
Serbian forces may be as high as 100,000. PM/FS

ROBERTSON: VOJVODINA COULD BE NEXT. British Defense Secretary
Robertson told reporters on a 19 May flight from London to
Budapest that "we have a seen a unique savagery [in Kosova]
and there is no indication [Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic] will stop there." The secretary added: "I don't
think it is scare-mongering to say Vojvodina would be next in
the drive for ethnic purity. It would not stop [at Kosova].
Montenegro would be next." He did not elaborate. PM

RUGOVA: TALK TO MILOSEVIC. Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova told
the Hamburg-based weekly "Die Woche" of 19 May that the
international community must negotiate with Milosevic if it
wants a settlement in Kosova. Rugova urged that Western
countries not arm the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), which, he
said, should be disarmed when Serbian forces leave the
province. PM

UCK PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT URGES BLAIR TO ARM GUERRILLAS.
Unnamed officials from the provisional Kosova government, led
by the UCK's Hashim Thaci, told British Prime Minister Tony
Blair in Tirana on 18 May that the West should either arm the
UCK or send NATO ground troops into Kosova, Reuters reported.
They stressed that the UCK is doing "its utmost to ease the
suffering" of Kosovar civilians," noting that the UCK has
about 50,000 soldiers on the ground. They added: "We have
more volunteers than we can arm." Blair told a crowd of
thousands that NATO will continue its air attacks until it
achieves its objectives, an RFE/RL correspondent reported
from Tirana. The British leader stressed that NATO is
defending "democratic values" and added that "Milosevic and
his policy belong to the past--we belong to the future."
Blair also visited NATO troops and a refugee camp in Elbasan.
FS

COOK TO PRESS ON GROUND TROOPS... British Foreign Secretary
Robin Cook will use his visit to Washington on 20 May to urge
top U.S. officials to join U.K. leaders in calling for
deploying NATO ground troops to Kosova, the "Financial Times"
reported on 19 May. In London, Cook told Parliament the
previous day that the U.K. is "the only country facing up to
the hard choices" on Kosova. He added that "we are not going
to halt Milosevic from pursuing his violent repression by a
dialogue in which we...point out to him the error of his
ways. He will only abandon his plans if he knows that we are
determined to maintain the military campaign and prevail."
U.S. President Bill Clinton said in Washington that "we have
not and will not take any option off the table" regarding
possible military moves in the Kosova crisis. PM

...BUT FACES OPPOSITION. In Bari on 18 May, German Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder and Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema
repeated their opposition to sending in ground troops.
Schroeder called such a move "unthinkable." In Paris, Foreign
Minister Hubert Vedrine and his Canadian counterpart, Lloyd
Axworthy, "responded coolly" to the British position that
ground troops might be needed in Kosova in the near future,
"The Daily Telegraph" reported. In Belgrade, a Yugoslav
Foreign Ministry spokesman said that his government is ready
to "cut a deal" on Kosova, but he did not elaborate. PM

U.S. PLEDGES ADDITIONAL $15 MILLION IN REFUGEE AID. Hillary
Rodham Clinton said in Washington on 18 May that the U.S.
will provide another  $15 million to the UN, Red Cross, and
unspecified non-governmental organizations for humanitarian
relief in the Kosova crisis. She added that part of the money
will go to help the 20,000 Kosovar refugees expected to come
to the U.S. She noted that an internet information center
will be set up at Fort Dix, New Jersey, to help Kosovars find
missing relatives. The total U.S. aid package for Kosova now
exceeds $200 million, AP reported. PM

KOSOVARS FACE NEW HARDSHIPS. UN officials said in Geneva on
18 May that Serbian forces in Kosova are increasingly using
ethnic Albanian civilians as human shields. The officials
added that refugees who recently arrived in Macedonia told
aid workers that Serbian troops forced them to flee to the
mountains one day and then to come back down the next, the
"Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. In Skopje, aid
workers told Reuters that hunger has become a major factor
prompting Kosovars to flee abroad. In Podgorica, male
refugees recently released by the Yugoslav army said that
Serbian troops humiliated and badly beat them during their
brief captivity, AP noted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," l8 May
1999). PM

CONCERN OVER END OF REFUGEE INFLUX TO ALBANIA. No refugees
arrived in Albania via the Morina border crossing on 18 May,
AP reported. An OSCE official in Kukes said that "based on
what [some] refugees have told us, we think the Serbs are
probably stopping" Kosovars from fleeing to Albania. Some
refugees who arrived recently reported that "thousands" more
were behind them. In recent days, NATO heavily bombed Serbian
military positions along the valley of the White Drin River,
which links Prizren with Kukes, but refugees  said that the
air strikes did not deter them from fleeing. FS

ROMANIAN PARTY COMPLAINS ABOUT ETHNIC HUNGARIANS' COMMENTS.
The Romanian National Unity Party (PUNR) has lodged a
complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office against five
members of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR)
because of recent comments by the latter, Romanian Radio
reported on 18 May. PUNR argues that the five UDMR members,
including Laszlo Tokes, violated the Romanian Constitution by
disparaging the country and making statements against the
nation. At the UDMR congress on 15 May, Tokes said Kosova is
a model of autonomy for Romania's ethnic Hungarians and
called for the "end of the national Romanian state," AP
reported. VG

LUCINSCHI DISCUSSES TRANSDNIESTER WITH CIS SECRETARY.
Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi told visiting CIS
Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov that he believes the
Transdniester dispute can be resolved with the help of
Ukraine and Russia. He said the Transdniester could be
granted "broad autonomy." In other news, the Moldovan
parliament approved an amendment to the law on social
insurance that will allow the state to pay up to 50 percent
of pensions and benefits it owes with Moldovan-made
industrial goods and foodstuffs, Infotag reported on 18 May.
Such payments may be offered in lieu of cash only if the
recipient agrees. Moldova's pension arrears now total almost
300 million lei ($27 million). VG

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS CALL FOR NEW GOVERNMENT PROGRAM. The
Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has said the government
should come up with a new policy program because the war in
Yugoslavia has changed the situation in Bulgaria, BTA
reported on 18 May. BSP spokesman Angel Naydenov also said
government representatives are now touring the country to
prepare the public for a possible ground operation in
Yugoslavia. The previous day, the Bulgarian and Greek defense
ministers called for a diplomatic solution to the Kosova
conflict. VG

END NOTE

TOWARD CONSOLIDATION OF LATVIA'S BANKING SECTOR

by Jan Cleave

	Following last August's financial crisis in Russia, many
observers feared the fallout would be particularly damaging
to the Latvian banking sector. According to information
released by the Bank of Latvia, Latvian commercial banks had
invested 10.6 percent of their total assets in Russia (with
3.1 percent of all assets in short-term treasury bonds, or
GKOs). By comparison, the exposure of Lithuanian banks to
Russia was estimated at only 1.8 percent and that of the
Estonian banking sector at less than 1 percent.
	In the event, three out of a total of some 30 commercial
banks in Latvia have gone bankrupt since last summer. The
Latvijas Kapital and Viktorija banks, both conducting much of
their business in Russia, folded in late 1998, while the
Rigas Komercbanka--the country's third-largest commercial
bank, with the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development as main share-holder--was declared insolvent in
mid-March, having lost 29 million lats ($49 million) in
Russia last year. Since then, a rehabilitation plan for the
Rigas Komercbanka has been approved by the central bank.
	Despite concerns that Latvian banks remain at risk, many
in Riga are far more optimistic about the situation in the
sector than they were at the end of last year. While Latvian
commercial banks (including those declared bankrupt) posted
total losses of some 120 million lats in 1998, the annual
audit of those banks showed that only one that was still
operating last month--the Latvijas Kredit Bank--did not have
the required minimum capital of 2 million lats. Moreover, the
banks' combined paid-in share capital rose from 154 million
lats to 200 million lats. Those results, some analysts argue,
indicate that the sector has withstood the Russian crisis.
	Regardless of whether that assessment is correct
(reserve requirements, however high, offer no protection
against heavy investment losses), Latvian banks are now
facing new challenges as a direct result both of the Russian
crisis and of Latvia's desire for integration with the West.
First, there is increased competition at home following the
loss of the Russian market (as well as investing heavily in
Russia, Latvian banks have also relied on Russian
depositors). Commercial banks find themselves competing for a
smaller pool of customers, while no longer able to offer low-
price services covered by profits accumulated in neighboring
Russia. To be successful under such conditions, banks must be
able to improve services while keeping operating costs down.
	Second, by the end of this year, all commercial banks
operating in Latvia must have a minimum capital of 5 million
ecus (some 3.5 million lats). That requirement, announced in
1995 by the Bank of Latvia, is aimed at meeting European
banking norms as part of the country's overall bid to gain
entry to the EU. According to the central bank, some 10 banks
in Latvia currently do not meet that requirement.
	Ludmila Vojevoda, head of the Banking Regulations and
Analysis Division of the Bank of Latvia, told "RFE/RL
Newsline" that both challenges are forcing small banks to
consider merging with other small banks or being taken over
by larger partners.  She points out that while Latvia, with a
population of some 2.4 million, has no fewer than 26 banks
still operating, the top 10 banks account for 80 percent of
the sector's total assets. She predicts that by year's end,
the number of banks continuing to function will be cut by
about one-third as a result of consolidation.
	(Estonia, whose population totals 1.4 million, has
already witnessed the consolidation of its banking sector and
now has only six commercial banks. Lithuania, with some 3.7
million residents, has 10.)
	As an alternative to a merger or take-over, some banks
are reported actively seeking a foreign strategic investor.
Over the past year, several Scandinavian banks have entered
the Latvian market: Sweden's Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken
has bought nearly half of Latvia's largest bank, Unibanka,
while Swedbank is represented by  Hansabank and
MeritaNordenbanken recently bought out the small Latvian
Investment Bank. Vojevoda comments that judging by the number
of queries the Bank of Latvia has received from abroad, more
Western investments could be forthcoming.
	Such a development might help meet another, and possibly
even more difficult, challenge: regaining Latvian residents'
faith in the banking sector. That faith was shattered in 1995
when the country's largest bank--Banka Baltija--went
bankrupt, triggering a chain reaction throughout the sector.
Over the past several years, confidence had been slowly
increasing until the August 1998 crisis in Russia prompted a
run on Latvia's banks, with an estimated 14 percent of
Latvian residents withdrawing their money  for fear of a
repeat of the 1995 scenario.
	In an interview with "RFE/RL Newsline," Aigars Laizans,
the marketing manager of MeritaNordenbanken's Latvian
subsidiary, pointed to the importance of overcoming the
psychological impact of the Russian crisis. "Clients feel
insecure in the present environment," he said, "and therefore
one of the banks' main tasks must be to seek to boost
confidence" in the sector. Above all, he argues, banks must
assume the role of a "glass-house," showing the public that
they are both "stable and safe." At the same time, he admits
that many Latvian depositors are likely to have more trust in
a bank that has Western backers, even though this is no
guarantee against insolvency, as the case of Rigas
Komercbanka amply demonstrated.

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