|A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. - Jonathan Swift|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 99, Part II, 21 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 99, Part II, 21 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * U.S. DEPLORES SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT IN BELARUS * ALBRIGHT SEES NATO, RUSSIA EDGING CLOSER * CACAK CITIZENS CALL ON MILOSEVIC TO END THE WAR End Note: SHADOW ELECTIONS IN BELARUS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE INTERNATIONAL 'PLANS' SEEN BEHIND BELARUS'S ECONOMIC WOES. Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Leanid Kozik told the National Assembly on 20 May that Belarus's economic crises in March and August 1998 resulted from deliberate efforts "conducted in accordance with plans worked out in some states of the world," Belapan reported. According to Kozik, those efforts were aimed at "undermining [Belarus's] people-oriented socio-economic policy." He added that in August 1998, the international forces behind those efforts "sacrificed even the interests of the Russian Federation...in order to destroy the economy of the Republic of Belarus and prevent the further integration of the two states." JM U.S. DEPLORES SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT IN BELARUS. The U.S. on 20 May deplored the Belarusian authorities' attempts to stop the opposition's efforts to hold alternative presidential elections. "[The elections] dramatized the constitutional and political impasse that President Lukashenka created by overthrowing the country's constitution in 1996 and by his suppression of human rights," the U.S. State Department said. The statement also accused Minsk of fabricating charges to jail former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir and of intending to close independent newspapers that reported on the opposition elections. The State Department called on the Belarusian government to change course and open an unconditional dialogue with the democratic opposition (see also "End Note"). JM UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TIGHTENS CONTROL OVER CENTRAL BANK. The Supreme Council on 20 May approved a law on the National Bank introducing a 14-member supervisory council that will draft monetary policy guidelines, AP reported. Half of the council will be appointed by the parliament and the other half by the president. If the National Bank and its chairman do not abide by the policies drawn up by the council, the president is authorized to ask the parliament to fire the country's chief banker. National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko criticized the law, saying the bank "may no longer be able to take responsibility for the stability of the national currency. If the council has the most authority, then logically it should bear the greatest responsibility." The law must be approved by President Leonid Kuchma. JM COUNCIL OF EUROPE BODY MOVES TO SUSPEND UKRAINE. The Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe on 20 May voted to suspend Ukraine's membership in the council owing to the country's poor human rights record, Reuters reported. The committee's decision opens the way for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to vote on Ukraine's suspension next month. The assembly had announced in January that it would suspend Ukraine unless the country made substantial progress on human rights. The abolition of death penalty was one of its requirements. JM ESTONIAN PROSECUTOR APPEALS RULING IN FINANCE MINISTER'S FAVOR. Prosecutor Jaan Naaber has appealed to the Supreme Court against the acquittal of Finance Minister Siim Kallas in the so-called $10 million affair, ETA reported. Last month, a second court upheld a ruling by the Tallinn Municipal Court clearing Kallas of fraud in his former capacity as governor of the Central Bank in 1993 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March and 14 April 1999). JC ESTONIA, SLOVENIA SIGN DEFENSE COOPERATION AGREEMENT. Meeting in Tallinn on 20 May, Slovenian Defense Minister Franci Demsar and his Estonian counterpart, Juri Luik, signed a framework agreement on defense cooperation, Baltic media reported. BNS quoted Luik as saying that the most important thing "Estonia should learn from Slovenia's experience is long-range planning of defense spending." JC LATVIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO CONFIDENCE VOTE. As expected, the cabinet of Vilis Kristopans has survived a vote of no confidence submitted by the People's Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 1999), Baltic agencies reported on 20 May. Twenty-four deputies voted in favor of the motion, while 60 voted against and 14 abstained. Also on 20 May, lawmakers voted to confirm Ingrida Udre of the New Party as economics minister. She replaces co- party member Ainars Slesers, who was ousted from that post last week. And four new state ministers--for health, higher education, forestry, and municipal issues--have been appointed, bringing the total composition of the cabinet to 14 ministers and six state ministers, LETA reported. JC KRISTOPANS SLAMS RUSSIAN DUMA BILL ON SANCTIONS. Latvian Premier Kristopans told Latvian Radio on 20 May that a Communist-sponsored bill passed by the Russian State Duma in its first reading earlier that day does not show "evidence of an understanding of democracy by the Russian parliament," Reuters reported. The bill imposes economic sanctions against Latvia in a bid to put a stop to what its authors see as the violations of the rights of ethnic Russians living there. It would ban any foreign trade deals with the Latvian government and with legal or private entities who are not Russian citizens. And it would prohibit exports to Latvia and non- humanitarian imports as well as credit operations. Also on 20 May, outgoing German President Roman Herzog stressed Germany's unconditional support for Latvia's bid to join the EU. Herzog was speaking in Riga on his last scheduled official visit before his term expires in six weeks. JC RUSSIAN OIL SUPPLIES TO LITHUANIA DRY UP--AGAIN. According to a spokeswoman for Lithuania's Mazeikiai Nafta oil refinery, operations at the refinery will be halted on 21 May owing to the interruption in oil supplies from Russia, ELTA reported on 20 May. AFP quoted outgoing Economics Minister Vincas Babilius as claiming the move was a Russian response to Lithuania's plan to sell 66 percent of the refinery to the U.S. company Williams International. Earlier this year, deliveries from Russia were halted, prompting speculation at the time that some circles in Russia were seeking to put pressure on Vilnius over the privatization of the refinery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 February 1999). JC POLISH PARLIAMENT AMENDS LUSTRATION LAW. The parliament on 20 May passed an amendment to the lustration law that will grant authorized employees of the Lustration Prosecutor's Office access to the archives of the communist secret services. Until now, such access was restricted to Interior Ministry and State Protection Office officials. Meanwhile, more than 30 television and radio station heads and newspaper chief editors in Poland have agreed to stop commenting on allegations by some parliamentary deputies that Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek was a communist-era secret service collaborator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 1999). "It is not our duty to provide rostrums for slanderers," they wrote in an open letter. JM HAVEL IS HOSPITALIZED. Czech President Vaclav Havel was admitted to the Central Military Hospital in Prague on 20 May suffering from a fever and bronchitis, Czech media reported. Doctors are concerned that the president might contract pneumonia. Havel has had three life- threatening illnesses since 1996 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 1999). VG KLAUS INDIRECTLY CRITICIZES SCHUSTER. Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus has rejected suggestions that he indirectly supported Vladimir Meciar's candidacy in the Slovak presidential elections, "Lidove noviny" reported on 21 May, citing a BBC interview (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 May 1999). However, he added that he could also discuss other candidates "with sarcasm." Klaus continued: "I could be extremely surprised that everyone is bothered by Meciar and nobody is bothered by the fact that the other candidate [Mayor of Kosice Rudolf Schuster] was a member of the [Central Committee of the Communist Party of Slovakia] for several years." In other news, Jan Zahradil, the foreign minister in Klaus's shadow cabinet, said the politicians who decided to give the green light to the "unsuccessful" NATO operation in Yugoslavia should resign once the conflict is over, "Pravo" reported on 21 May. VG CZECH COURT RELEASES MAN CONVICTED OF SEX CRIMES IN U.S. A Czech court has released a man convicted of committing sex crimes against children in the U.S. because of a faulty translation, AP reported on 20 May. U.S. prosecutors failed to gain the extradition of Charles Bronson Jones because of a difference between the Czech and English versions of a 1925 extradition treaty. While the English version states that people can be extradited for "sex crimes against children," the Czech version states that people can be extradited for "sex crimes against girls." Jones's crimes were against boys. VG SLOVAK GOVERNMENT INTRODUCES AUSTERITY MEASURES. The Slovak government on 20 May unveiled several measures aimed at helping the economy and shoring up the weakening Slovak crown. The measures include budget cuts and increases in the price of natural gas, electricity, rents, telecommunications, postage, and water. The government measures, as well as intervention by the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS), helped stabilize the Slovak currency on 20 May at about 44 Slovak crowns to $1. Earlier in the week, the koruna had fallen to record lows. NBS Chairman Vladimir Masar said the fall of the crown was not caused by economic factors but rather by the market's reaction to the first round of presidential elections on 15 May. VG FIDESZ STATE SECRETARIES OFFER RESIGNATION AFTER U.S. LETTER SCANDAL. The two FIDESZ political state secretaries who signed a letter lobbying for the appointment of Steven M. Jones, a Lockheed Martin executive, as the next U.S. ambassador to Hungary have tendered their resignations, Hungarian media reported on 20 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 1999). Neither Gabriella Selmeczi nor Istvan Balsay denied press reports that they are linked to Lockheed Martin. FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Jozsef Szajer said that the party's leadership has approved the resignations but that Prime Minister Viktor Orban will make the final decision on 21 May. According to "Vilaggazdasag," current U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Peter Tufo confirmed the letter's existence and said it was delivered to the U.S. Meanwhile, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have confirmed Tufo in his post, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 21 May. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE ALBRIGHT SEES NATO, RUSSIA EDGING CLOSER. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on 21 May that there is a "narrowing of gaps" between Brussels and Moscow on resolving the Kosova crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. Albright made that comment after speaking with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who is in Moscow for talks with Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the EU's Kosova envoy (see Part I). Albright said the biggest remaining differences are over the makeup of the peacekeeping force for Kosova as well as the scale of the Serbian military's withdrawal from the province. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said after talks with Albright that greater preparations need to be made for a force to escort the refugees back into Kosova. In London, British Premier Tony Blair and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana pledged to press on with the air campaign. PB AIR STRIKES CONTINUE... NATO air strikes continued on 20- 21 May, with the largest attack on Belgrade since the Chinese embassy was accidentally hit two weeks ago. Fuel depots in Belgrade as well as military barracks outside the capital were struck. The effects of one blast broke the windows at several foreign embassies and residences, including the Swiss ambassador's, which is in the same neighborhood where a hospital was damaged the previous day. Yugoslav officials say three people died and several were injured in the hospital incident. Fuel storage facilities in the northwestern towns of Sombor and Smederovo were also hit, as were ammunition depots in Vrdnik and Sremska Mitrovica. The British Defense Ministry said the air campaign has destroyed a significant amount of Serbian military hardware. It also dismissed an article in "The Times" that said Serbian forces have suffered only light casualties, though the bombardment has severely restricted their movement. PB ...AS MORE REFUGEES CROSS INTO MACEDONIA. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that between 2,000 and 3,000 Kosovar Albanians fled to Macedonia on 20 May, AFP reported. The UNHCR said many of them arrived by train and were from the suburbs of Kosova's capital, Prishtina, while others came from Urosevac. Some said they left because of miserable conditions, while others said they were forced to leave the province by Serbian forces, the UNHCR said. PB CACAK CITIZENS CALL ON MILOSEVIC TO END THE WAR. The self-proclaimed Citizens' Parliament of Cacak on 20 May urged Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to "stop the war immediately," the Serbian news agency Beta reported. The parliament, formed by 20 prominent citizens of the town on 18 May, said in a letter to the president that "at this moment, you are deciding the fate of all people of Yugoslavia." It asked him to end the "terrible suffering of all the people...whom you lead." NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said the setting up of the parliament is evidence of "an expanding mood of war weariness." Anti-government protests have also taken place in the nearby towns of Krusevac and Alexandrovac. The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, has denied reports that more than 1,000 troops deserted after hearing of the protests in the towns. PB ANNAN APPEALS TO BELGRADE TO WITHDRAW ITS FORCES. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 20 May urged Yugoslavia to withdraw its forces from Kosova and allow the rapid deployment of an international military force that would permit the Kosovar refugees to return before winter, AP reported. Annan made that appeal while visiting Kosovar refugee camps in the northeastern Albanian town of Kukes together with Albanian President Rexhep Meidani and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo. Annan said the "breathtaking stories" he had heard from refugees "puts pressure on all of us to intensify our efforts to find a political solution." He also noted that all sides in the Kosova conflict have agreed that the UN Security Council should play a major role in resolving the crisis. Annan is to meet with Finnish President Ahtisaari in Stockholm on 22 May. PB DJUKANOVIC SAYS BELGRADE PLANNING COUP. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said on 20 May in Podgorica that Belgrade is planning a military coup against his government, Reuters reported. Djukanovic said Yugoslav soldiers have set up checkpoints on all main roads leading into Montenegro. They also have halted aid convoys and prevented raw materials from being imported. Djukanovic said Belgrade wants to install the army as a dictatorial power in Montenegro. He said his government will refrain from opposing the army. The Second Yugoslav Army has some 25,000 troops stationed in Montenegro, while the government claims to have some 12,000 armed police ready to prevent an armed coup. PB INTERNATIONAL DONORS AGREE TO BILLION DOLLAR TRANCHE FOR BOSNIA. International donors representing some 45 countries and 30 organizations pledged $1.05 billion in aid to Bosnia-Herzegovina for 1999, Reuters reported on 20 May. The conference was co-sponsored by the World Bank and the EU. Carlos Westendorp, the international community's high representative to Bosnia, said he is "very happy because we got more than we expected." It was the fifth donors' conference held since the signing of the Dayton agreement in 1995, bringing the total amount donated to $5.1 billion. In other news, some 50 bodies were exhumed on 20 May near the village of Zijemlje, about 40 kilometers east of Mostar. In the last 10 days, a forensics team has found the bodies of 124 people, mostly civilians, believed to have been killed in 1992 by Bosnian Serb forces. More than 20,000 people are still officially missing. PB CROATIA SAYS OSCE CRITICISM UNACCEPTABLE. The Croatian government said in a statement on 20 May that an OSCE report criticizing Zagreb for a lack of will to move toward democracy makes conclusions that are "insufficiently corroborated," Reuters reported. The government issued the statement after a closed cabinet session. The OSCE report cited a lack of progress on the return of Serbian refugees to Croatia, stagnation in Croatia's fulfillment of international commitments, and failure to liberalize the media or reform electoral laws. PB ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO CONFIDENCE VOTE. The cabinet survived a no confidence vote in the parliament on 20 May. Parliamentary deputies voted by 286 to 147 to reject a censure motion proposed by three opposition parties in response to the government's package of IMF- inspired economic reforms. Meanwhile, Romania's four largest trade unions announced on 20 May that they will stage a 24-hour general strike on 24 May to demand an easing of austerity measures and changes to legislation. The unions said that if their demands are not met by 31 July, they will launch a full general strike, according to a Romanian Radio report monitored by the BBC. Also on 20 May, metal workers at the Resita steel mill in Transylvania launched an all-out strike, Reuters reported, citing Romanian Radio. VG MOLDOVA DEPRIVED OF UN VOTING RIGHTS. Moldova has been deprived of its voting rights at the UN because of its failure to pay membership fees for the past few years, Infotag reported on 20 May. The country owes $200,000 for this year alone and its total debt to the UN stands at more than $3 million. In other news, Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Sturza said on 20 May that Germany supports his country's bid to be included in any post-Kosova conflict stability pact for the Balkans, BASA-Press reported. GAGAUZ ASSEMBLY CRITICIZES MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. The Gagauz Popular Assembly has criticized a recent Moldovan Constitutional Court decision that local court appointments can be made without the input of local authorities, Infotag reported on 20 May. The assembly adopted a statement describing the decision as a "gross violation of [the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region's] constitutional status." VG BULGARIAN OFFICIAL SAYS NUCLEAR PLANT IS SAFE. Bulgarian Atomic Energy Commission chief Georgi Kaschiev said "serious measures" have been taken to reduce the risk of damage to the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in connection with NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 20 May. Kaschiev was responding to concerns expressed by Greenpeace on 19 May that stray NATO missiles are falling dangerously close to the plant and that oil slicks on the Danube River could block the plant and cause a meltdown. Meanwhile, Bulgarian Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev dismissed reports that two German television journalists and one Bulgarian environmentalist had got into the plant without authorization, according to a 20 May BTA report monitored by the BBC. Bonev said the journalists were accompanied by a security official. VG BULGARIA, GREECE AGREE TO FORM FREE TRAVEL ZONE. Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov announced on 20 May that his government has approved an agreement with Greece on creating a 25-kilometer-wide free movement zone for permanent residents on either side of the Bulgarian-Greek border, according to a BTA report cited by the BBC. Kostov also said his government will provide $50 million leva ($27,000) worth of humanitarian aid to the ethnic Bulgarian minority in eastern Yugoslavia, BTA reported. Also on 20 May, Bulgarian Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev and his visiting Romanian counterpart, Victor Babiuc, said in Sofia that their countries both support the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia but would like to see it end as soon as possible. VG END NOTE SHADOW ELECTIONS IN BELARUS by Jan Maksymiuk Originally, it seemed like a good idea to hold an alternative presidential poll in Belarus. From a legal point of view, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's term expires on 20 July 1999. A new constitution introduced by the November 1996 referendum extended his term for another two years and authorized him to disband the democratically elected Supreme Soviet. That referendum was conducted and enforced with such flagrant violations of the law and democratic norms that no European organization has recognized its outcome. All European countries, except Russia, recognized the 50 deputies of the Supreme Soviet who have remained loyal to the abolished 1994 basic law as Belarus's legitimate parliament. Indeed, it was the Supreme Soviet that decided to hold presidential elections on 16 May and to empower the Central Electoral Commission, another body that was democratically and legitimately elected before the 1996 referendum, to organize them. The man in charge of the elections was Viktar Hanchar, head of the commission. Highlighting the extraordinary character of these elections, neither of the two candidates was physically present during either the election campaign or the voting. Zyanon Paznyak, who was granted political asylum in the U.S. in 1996, did not make an appearance in Belarus. The other hopeful, Mikhail Chyhir, was jailed by the authorities six weeks before election day on charges of issuing a dubious bank loan in 1994. As widely expected, the authorities declared the elections illegal and warned the opposition not to "conspire" to depose the legal government. But they seemed to be at a loss about how to respond as the opposition election initiative gained momentum. By mid- April, some 14,000 people had volunteered to take part in regional electoral commissions, most of them from Paznyak's Belarusian Popular Front (BNF). European organizations, including the OSCE, had reservations about the opposition election initiative. Even before NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia, which shifted European attention away from Belarus to the Balkans, it became clear that the OSCE would not send its observers to the elections, nor would the ballot provide an internationally recognized new president for Belarus. But the elections nevertheless offered the opportunity of a "vote of no confidence" in Lukashenka and of dispelling the widespread belief that his regime has strong popular support. Owing to the impossibility of setting up stationary polling stations, Hanchar's commission decided to send pollsters with ballot boxes to voters' homes over the 10 days preceding election day. While the law does not provide for such a method of voting for the electorate as a whole, it was nonetheless deemed expedient and effective, given the unique character of the elections, However, heavy criticism of the voting stemmed not from the authorities but from Paznyak, who argued that the voting procedures were illegal and that the turnout figures had been falsified. Paznyak also accused Hanchar and Chyhir of seeking to implement a Moscow-sponsored plan to replace the "true opposition"--that is, the BNF- -with one subservient to the Kremlin. According to Paznyak, Hanchar intended to falsify election results in favor of Chyhir in order to install him as a new opposition leader and eliminate the BNF from Belarus's political scene. Paznyak withdrew his candidacy from the elections on 14 May. While the BNF decided to continue the election initiative, some activists began calling on their regional colleagues to withdraw from the ballot. Hanchar's commission pronounced a somewhat contradictory verdict on 19 May. The elections were deemed valid with regard to turnout: just over 4 million voters, or 53 percent of the total electorate. But Hanchar cited pressure from the authorities, the absence of conditions for free election campaigning, and Paznyak's "violation of the election law" as reasons for declaring the election as a whole invalid. The commission announced it will organize another presidential poll within three months. In the end, the shadow election initiative, which was intended to weaken the autocratic regime in Belarus has significantly damaged the opposition. Many oppositionists have already branded the elections "scandalous." First, it is highly probable that the BNF--the most influential opposition group in Belarus--will split and become mired in mutual recriminations. Second, it seems that the efforts of many thousands of regional election activists--who risked arrest, the loss of their jobs, and other official retributions-- have been squandered. It is unlikely that in the near future, the opposition will be able to re-mobilize such a large number of "field operators." Third, Hanchar's political career seems to have ground to a halt. One Belarusian independent newspaper speculated that the "scandalous" outcome of the election was deliberately planned by Hanchar and Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski. It claimed that after 20 July 1999, Sharetski intends to become head of state (in accordance with the provision of the 1994 constitution dealing with the situation where the country does not have a legitimately elected president) and offer the post of prime minister to Hanchar. A major flaw in this scenario, however, is how Hanchar and Sharetski will persuade Lukashenka to make room for them. Moreover, without the support of the BNF, Hanchar may find there is even less room for him in the Belarusian political arena than there was before the election. Finally, the vote has weakened, rather than strengthened, the opposition's position that the authorities should enter a dialogue with the opposition. Lukashenka has been given a powerful and scathing argument to fend off such a dialogue--namely, that oppositionists should agree among themselves first before seeking to talk to him. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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