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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 123, Part II, 24 June 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 123, Part II, 24 June 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 GOVERNMENT APPROVES MINORITY LANGUAGE DRAFT BILL * THREE SERBS KILLED IN PRISHTINA * MACEDONIA ARRESTS SERBIAN 'TERRORISTS' END NOTE: NATO INTERVENTION IN KOSOVA IMPACTS CROATIAN POLITICAL SCENE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE EAST EUROPEANS PUSH FOR NATO EXPANSION. At the end of a three-day meeting in Budapest, senior officials from the East European and Baltic countries that were left out of NATO's first wave of expansion said on 23 June that the alliance must expand further, Hungarian and international media reported. Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik said that NATO should ignore Russian warnings against further expansion, and added that "countries committed to defend common values should join together." Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said that aspiring NATO candidates "are ready and willing to assume their share of responsibility in ensuring the continent's stability." MSZ HEAVY FLOODS AFFECT LIVES IN EASTERN EUROPE. Fifteen people died in rainstorms in Romania, while severe weather also hit Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova. In Romania, seven villagers died in the eastern province of Buzau after torrents from surrounding hills flooded their homes. In the northeastern region of Maramures three farm laborers were killed by lightning, while in the northeastern province of Bacau lightning killed one man. Four others died in separate incidents. Romanian officials said that some 170 bridges were swept away by the floods and nearly 1,700 homes were damaged around the country. In Hungary, roads and railway lines were closed after rainstorms and gales caused heavy damage over the last two days. Storms also hit Ukraine and Moldova, and rivers arose sharply in Poland and Slovakia, AFP, Reuters, and dpa reported. MS BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEGISLATURE HOLDS SESSION ON THE STREET. Thirty-eight deputies of the opposition Supreme Soviet gathered on 23 June in a Minsk restaurant to hold a session, but were driven out by a special-purpose police detachment that claimed that a bomb had been planted in the restaurant. "The story with the bomb has been planned much earlier, and it is characteristic of the regime [of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka]," Supreme Soviet chairman Syamyon Sharetski told an RFE/RL correspondent. The session continued on the street near the restaurant. The Supreme Soviet adopted an appeal to Lukashenka for political dialogue in Belarus. According to the 1994 constitution, to which the Supreme Soviet remains loyal, Lukashenka's presidential term expires on 20 July. The Belarusian opposition expects that U.S. and European countries will cease to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader after that date. JM BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT REPORTS AVERAGE WAGE INCREASE IN MAY. According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, the average monthly gross wage of blue-collar and white-collar workers in May amounted to 18.5 million Belarusian rubles ($42 according to the unofficial exchange rate), up from $33 in April. The rise is due to the government's decision to double the minimum wage last month. One year ago the average amounted to $72. JM UKRAINE WANTS TO SEND 1,400 TROOPS TO KOSOVA. Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk on 23 June said the government will ask the parliament in one week to approve the deployment of a Ukrainian peacekeeping force in Kosova. The Ukrainian detachment will include a group of bridge builders, a helicopter squadron, a mobile hospital, and troops from the 760-strong Ukrainian-Polish battalion deployed along the countries' border. According to Ukrainian defense officials, Ukraine could send a total of 1,400 troops to Kosova. JM LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT AT BUDAPEST NATO SEMINAR. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus made a two-day visit to Budapest on 22-23 June to take part in a NATO seminar. In delivering his report, Adamkus said: "Our impression is that all NATO member countries support the membership of Lithuania in [NATO], but only a few of them speak for [its] membership now," ELTA reported. Praising NATO's efforts in Kosova, Adamkus said that "soon countries will start speaking of a post-Kosovo Europe as a community with [an] effective mechanism of deterrence and conflict prevention." He also reiterated Lithuanian support for the KFOR deployment. Adamkus also held meetings with top officials such as NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark. Clark told Adamkus that Lithuania's foreign policy is "a stability-increasing factor in the region." MH ROW IN LITHUANIA OVER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR. A political row has broken out in Lithuania over statements made by Israeli Ambassador Oded Ben-Hur. The press featured many articles concerning the statement Ben-Hur made at a Vilnius city function on 21 June, in which he accused Lithuania of being a paradise for war criminals and criticized the commission created by President Adamkus to investigate both Nazi and Soviet war crimes. Center Union leader Romualdas Ozolas sent a letter to Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas suggesting that Ben-Hur be replaced, adding that the Israeli envoy "did his best to have Jews and Lithuanians pitted against one another," ELTA reported. Both the Foreign Ministry and the President's Office decline to comment. MH POLAND SPEAKS FOR OPEN BORDER WITH UKRAINE. Following talks with his Ukrainian counterpart in Warsaw on 23 June, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said Poland wants to keep an "open and friendly" border with Ukraine even after Warsaw joins the EU. "EU standards will bind us, but I am convinced that we shall set the principles that will prevent the creation of a new curtain," PAP quoted Kwasniewski as saying. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is currently on a three-day trip to Poland. Both sides intend to discuss a variety of economic and political issues, including the participation of a joint battalion in the Kosova peace operation. JM POLISH NURSES BLOCK WARSAW IN PROTEST OVER PAY, HEALTH REFORM. Some 20,000 nurses blocked downtown Warsaw on 23 June to protest their poor salaries and the health reform which they say allocates limited resources for patient care. "It is impossible to live on 680 zlotys ($170), which is what we get [monthly] after 15 years of work," Reuters quoted a protesting nurse as saying. The government pledged to resume talks with the nurses trade union on 24 June. JM POLISH GOVERNMENT SELLS MAJORITY STAKE IN LARGEST BANK. Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz announced on 23 June that the government has sold 52.1 percent of some 75.7 million shares in Poland's largest commercial bank, Pekao SA, to the Italian-German consortium of UniCredito and Allianz for 4.2 billion zlotys ($1.1 billion). Wasacz added that the consortium pledged to raise the bank's capital by 1 billion zlotys and invest another 1 billion zlotys within five years. The Treasure Ministry called the sale "the biggest transaction with a strategic investor in the history of Polish privatization." Pekao SA earned 521 million zlotys in 1998 and reported a net profit of 133 million in the first quarter of 1999. Its assets are valued at 58.5 billion zlotys. UniCredito, which will hold all but 2 percent the total stake, provided 18-month employment guarantees for the bank personnel. JM CZECH PREMIER RESPONDS TO AUSTRIAN THREAT. Milos Zeman said on 23 June that the Czech government is pursuing Czech national interests. Zeman was reacting to a statement made earlier in the day by Karl Schweitzer, chairman of the Austrian parliament's Environmental Commission, who said that Austria will not approve the Czech Republic's accession to the EU unless Prague ratifies the union's Convention on Environmental Impact, CTK reported. Zeman said the government "does not react to statements that are rather meaningless" and added that there are no binding European rules for the safety of nuclear power plants. The only recognized norms are those of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Zeman said, and the Temelin plant is in line with those. MS CZECH COURT RULES PREMIER MUST APOLOGIZE. A court in Prague ruled on 23 June that Prime Minister Zeman must apologize for a statement made on TV Nova last year, but rejected the plaintiff's demand that Zeman pay 100,000 crowns (about $2,800) as compensation. Zeman said on television that the privatization of the Knizni velkoobchod book company is a clear case of "tunneling," meaning the illegal transfer of a state company's assets to companies owned by its managers or their families. Opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) deputy chairman Miroslav Macek, who became co-owner of the company after its privatization, sued Zeman for libel. The judge said in her verdict that Macek failed to prove that Zeman's statement has harmed him enough to warrant financial compensation. Zeman will have to publish his apology in three national newspapers, CTK reported. MS PRO-NAZI CZECH JOURNALIST BANNED. Tomas Kebza, deputy chairman of the nationalist Republican Youth Party and editor of the weekly "Republika," was banned by a court of justice in Prague on 23 June from publishing for ten years, CTK reported. The court also sentenced Kebza to three years in prison but suspended the sentence for five years. The judge said he is guilty of supporting and propagating a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens because he wrote two anti-Semitic articles that displayed pro-Nazi views. Kebza appealed the sentence. MS SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES MINORITY LANGUAGE DRAFT BILL. Without the support of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), the government on 23 June approved the draft bill on minority-language use in contact with official authorities, CTK reported. The debate on the bill in the parliament is to begin on 29 June. The bill includes the recommendations made by the OSCE but does not meet the SMK's demands. The SMK want minorities to be allowed to use their mother tongue in contacts with the authorities in localities where they make up 10 (not 20, as provided by the bill) percent of the population and want it to be extended to education and culture. MS SLOVAKIA TO SEND ENGINEERING UNIT TO KFOR. Defense Minister Pavol Kanis on 23 June told journalists that Slovakia will send a 40-strong engineering unit to serve with the peacekeeping forces in Kosova, ITAR-TASS reported. The unit will stay in the region at least five years. Kanis said this participation is "rather symbolic" and reflects Slovakia's economic difficulties. MS SLOVAK OPPOSITION JOURNALIST CHARGED WITH PUBLISHING STATE SECRETS. Jaroslav Reznik, editor in chief of the opposition daily "Slovenska republika," which is owned by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, was charged on 23 June with violating the law on the press by having published state secrets, CTK reported, citing Radio Twist. In an article published in late January, Reznik informed readers about the reorganization of the Counter-Intelligence Service (SIS) and printed the names of new SIS division directors. Chief investigator Jaroslav Ivor said "Slovenska republika" is distributed in ten countries, and is also available on the Internet. If found guilty, Reznik faces a ban on publishing or up to three years in prison. MS HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL OUTLINES VOJVODINA PROPOSAL. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath on 23 June told reporters that the recent Cologne conference has accepted Hungary's proposal to include the protection of Vojvodina Hungarians in a Southeast European Stability Pact. "The implementation of personal autonomy must take priority now," Horvath explained, adding that the establishment of a territorial local government and the restoration of provincial autonomy for Vojvodina will constitute the next steps in implementing a three-tiered autonomy concept in the province. Meanwhile, Istvan Csurka, chairman of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party said that "a corridor should be drawn in Vojvodina in order to prevent Serbs fleeing from Kosova from invading the largely Hungarian-inhabited towns." Csurka also called for a referendum in which Vojvodina Hungarians will decided whether they want the region to be annexed to Hungary. MSZ/MS HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION SLAMS FIRST YEAR OF ORBAN RULE. The opposition Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), in a statement released on 23 June, accused Prime Minister Viktor Orban of "pursuing an arrogant policy that seeks conflict at any price." The statement said the first year of the Orban government was characterized by a "concentration of power, efforts to divide society, lack of dialogue and interest coordination and renewal of the media war." MSZP chairman Laszlo Kovacs said that "the cabinet has no economic policy and there is a great danger that the country will slip back into the debt trap." Assessing the performance of his cabinet, Orban said "I imagined something else, as not even the most pessimistic person could have envisaged floods on such a scale or that the Yugoslav conflict would become a genuine war." MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE THREE SERBS KILLED IN PRISHTINA. KFOR peacekeepers on 24 June found the badly beaten bodies of three Serbs in the economic faculty of Prishtina University. The three were a professor, a guard, and the cafeteria manager. Elsewhere, KFOR troops prevented some 40 ethnic Albanians from breaking into the Radio-Television Prishtina building. In Zegra to the southeast, U.S. Marines the previous day killed one local Serb and wounded two others who had fired on the Marines with an automatic weapon, "The New York Times" reported. Reuters noted that other local Serbs have organized a convoy to leave the area. In Peja, Italian peacekeepers arrested four ethnic Albanians whom a Serbian woman said had raped her, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM SWISS FREEZE MILOSEVIC'S ASSETS. The Federal Police Agency said in a statement in Bern on 23 June that "as a precautionary measure, the...Agency today ordered that assets of the Yugoslav head of state Slobodan Milosevic and the four other people charged [with war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal] be frozen." The four are Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, Army Chief-of-Staff General Dragoljub Ojdanic, and Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic. Observers note that many of Belgrade's leaders are widely believed to also have substantial funds in Russian, Cypriot, and South African banks. PM A QUARTER MILLION REFUGEES BACK IN KOSOVA. UNHCR officials said in Geneva on 24 June that more than 250,000 refugees have returned to Kosova since NATO forces entered the province, AFP reported. This is almost one-third of all refugees who fled the region. On 23 June alone, 34,500 refugees went home, including 15,200 from Macedonia, 16,500 from Albania, and 2,800 from Montenegro. An estimated 524,000 refugees are still in neighboring countries. There are still some 294,500 refugees in Albania, 142,100 in Macedonia, 65,700 in Montenegro, and 21,700 in Bosnia-Herzegovina. About 69,500 Serbs have recently left Kosova, of whom 19,500 fled to Montenegro and 50,000 to Serbia. On 22 June, a UNHCR spokeswoman said in Prishtina that Kukes is almost deserted and there are only 800 refugees left from among the 100,000 the city sheltered in recent weeks. FS BUKOSHI SAYS UCK MUST BECOME POLITICAL PARTY, NOT MILITARY FORCE. Kosovar shadow-state Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi, who is a rival of the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, told the "Berliner Zeitung" in Prishtina on 23 June that the UCK must not be allowed to take over the police forces of Kosova or to form a National Guard. Bukoshi said that the new police forces could nonetheless include former UCK fighters. He stressed, however, that the UCK also has political aspirations and is facing a conflict of interest if it intends to be an armed force at the same time. Bukoshi warned that using the existing UCK structures to build up an armed force will endanger democracy. Bukoshi said he is currently working to build civilian structures in Kosova. He added that "we must make our presence known lest the UCK steal the whole show." FS DID RUSSIAN PARATROOPERS SHIELD YUGOSLAV ARMY FROM NATO? "Komsomolskaya Pravda" on 24 June reported that the 200 Russian paratroopers who entered Kosova before NATO on 11 June had orders to stop British forces from gaining access to a Yugoslav military storage area with classified equipment, including radar devices belonging to an air force unit. The article says that the Yugoslav forces did not have enough time to evacuate all of the equipment in time and therefore appealed to the Russians to block the storage area off, allowing them to withdraw the classified hardware. Other materiel stored at the site reportedly included air-to-air and surface-to- surface missiles, and laser-guided bombs. FS EU FOREIGN MINISTERS VISIT KOSOVA. France's Hubert Vedrine, Germany's Joschka Fischer, the U.K.'s Robin Cook, and Italy's Lamberto Dini visited Kosova on 23 June. They were the first high-ranking Western officials to go to the province since its recent occupation by KFOR troops. The ministers met Kosovar Albanian leaders Hashim Thaci and Veton Surroi, as well as representatives of the local Serbs, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. After visiting the site of the alleged massacre of Kosovars by Serbs at Velika Krusa, Cook called the place "a vision of hell." Fischer and German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping appeared visibly shaken after seeing the site. The four countries' ministers appealed to all people in Kosova for reconciliation and reiterated their determination to bring war criminals to justice. On 24 June, NATO commander General Wesley Clark and NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana arrived in Prishtina. Clark said that the growing evidence of atrocities vindicates NATO's bombing campaign against Serbia. PM FRENCH FIND MASS GRAVE SITE. French KFOR troops on 23 June found a mass grave in northern Kosova that may contain the remains of up to 180 victims. David Scheffer, who is the chief U.S. envoy dealing with war crimes, said in Gjakova that the Serbian forces "violated so many different laws of war that they were almost the perfect model of how not to conduct warfare." He added that "there's a profusion of atrocity sites throughout [the province]. They are popping up every day." PM SCHROEDER NAMES AIDE TO BALKAN POST. A spokesman for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in Bonn on 24 June that Schroeder has proposed Chancellery Minister Bodo Hombach to be the EU's coordinator for the Balkan stability pact. Observers noted that Hombach's departure from the cabinet is expected to lead to Schroeder's first significant cabinet shake-up. PM KUCAN CALLS MILOSEVIC 'MAN OF THE PAST.' Slovenian President Milan Kucan said in Ljubljana on 24 June that Milosevic is "a man of the past for the international community, definitely, and it's only a question of time when he will become a man of the past for the Serbs. Objectively, his policies caused the most damage to the Serbian nation itself. The question is when will the Serbian nation understand this," Reuters quoted him as saying. In Belgrade the previous day, a poll showed that Milosevic's popularity is down from as much as 40 percent to just over 15 percent. Some 70 percent of the respondents said he is mostly or completely responsible for Serbia's present situation. The poll also showed, however, that there is no clearly recognized alternative to Milosevic. PM MACEDONIA ARRESTS SERBIAN 'TERRORISTS.' The Macedonian authorities on 22 June arrested 10 ethnic Serbian citizens of Macedonia in conjunction with recent attacks on NATO forces in Macedonia. Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov added the following day that Interpol has issued an arrest warrant for two unnamed Yugoslav army officers in conjunction with the "terrorist" acts. PM PROFESSORS CALL FOR MONTENEGRIN INDEPENDENCE. Some 74 Montenegrin professors and academics signed a declaration in Podgorica on 23 June in which they called on the country's leadership to declare independence from Yugoslavia. The professors argued that "Montenegro cannot be truly equal unless it is sovereign and internationally recognized," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM STILL OVER ONE MILLION BOSNIAN REFUGEES. The office of the Bosnian joint presidency issued a report in Sarajevo on 23 June in which it said that some 1.25 million people live in Bosnia as refugees or displaced persons. More than half of them lived before 1992 in what is now the Republika Srpska, to which very few Muslims or Croats have returned since the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1995. PM ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PRESENTS NEW SECURITY STRATEGY IN PARLIAMENT. Emil Constantinescu on 23 June presented in the parliament the country's new security strategy, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 1999). He said it is the first time that security is not viewed as a concept that stems "from the state, but from citizens and from their fundamental interests and rights." Also on 23 June, the coalition commission examining land restitution agreed that up to a maximum of 50 hectares of land will be returned to any individual former owners. A compromise seems to be emerging on the restitution of forests, with the upper limit for individuals being set at 10 hectares (as demanded by the Democratic Party) and at 30 hectares (as demanded by the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic) for churches and monasteries. MS ROMANIAN PREMIER TO RUN FOR PNTCD CHAIRMANSHIP? Prime Minister Radu Vasile, in an interview with the private radio station Pro FM, said on 22 June that he "does not rule out" the possibility that he will run for the chairmanship of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) at its next congress in January. Reacting to the declaration on 23 June, PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu said he thought Vasile is "well placed" to run for the post and that he will "react favorably" to Vasile's candidacy, but added that the PNTCD has "not yet entered the period of electoral campaign." But party spokesman and PNTCD vice chairman Remus Opris said he considers it "abnormal" for the premier to think of the succession at a time when "his hands are otherwise full" with the government's business. PNTCD vice chairman Nicolae Ionescu-Galbeni also criticized Vasile's declaration, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS ROMANIAN MINORITIES' COUNCIL WARNS AGAINST XENOPHOBIA. The Council of National Minorities on 23 June said it must "regretfully note" that publications propagating "xenophobic, personal, and collective aggression against members of ethnic minorities" are "proliferating every week." The council said the weekly "Atac la persoana," which propagates such views, is being increasingly emulated by other publications, which "distort reality and hinder the harmonization of normal interethnic relations, as well as dangerously contribute to the perpetuation of prejudice, hatred, and divisions, thereby greatly harming democracy in Romania," Mediafax reported. MS MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT BLAMES UNIONS FOR RIOTS. A spokesman for the government on 23 June said the trade unions must be blamed for the riots in which two people were injured and several detained after clashing with the police earlier that day, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 1999). Nicolae Cirtoaca said that the cabinet is ready to negotiate with the National Trade Union Federation on paying off the $85 million in salary arrears, but the negotiators must be "realistic" and take into consideration the poor state of the economy. Cirtoaca accused the unions of politicizing their demands, saying it is not a matter of chance that the protest had taken place on the eve of Prime Minister Ion Sturza's presentation of a report to the parliament on the government's record after 100 days in office. MS MOLDOVAN CABINET RESTITUTES SYNAGOGUE TO JEWISH COMMUNITY. The government on 23 June decided to return to the Jewish community a synagogue and two religious schools that were confiscated by the communist authorities in 1940, AP reported. The synagogue, built in 1835, is one of the oldest in Eastern Europe. The decision coincides with the end of a two-day gathering of Jews of Moldovan origin in the capital. MS BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WANTS END TO YUGOSLAV CONFLICT POLARIZATION. Addressing the Consultative Council for National Security on 23 June, President Petar Stoyanov said the Yugoslav conflict has "polarized political opinions in Bulgaria" and the time has come to "put an end to disputes and concentrate on identifying national priorities." He said Bulgaria must now concentrate on getting a "fair share" from the process of southeast European reconstruction. At the same meeting, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov called on Bulgarian companies wishing to participate in regional reconstruction projects to "display initiative." He said that "nobody invites bids for projects expecting governments to win the contract," but added that this does not mean that the cabinet will not lobby in favor of Bulgarian interests, BTA reported. MS BULGARIA SUBMITS DRAFT RESOLUTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE IN YUGOSLAVIA. Luchezar Toshev, head of the Bulgarian delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on 23 June submitted a draft resolution denouncing human rights abuses in Yugoslavia, BTA reported. The draft says the situation of the Bulgarian minority in that country has deteriorated and condemns the mobilization to the Yugoslav army of ethnic Bulgarian minority leaders, the arrest and conviction of Marko Shukarev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 10, 16, 18 June 1999), and the campaign against activists of the Helsinki Committee for the Protection of the Bulgarian Minorities' Rights and Freedoms, BTA reported. MS WORLD BANK LOAN TO BULGARIA APPROVED. The World Bank on 23 June approved a $75.7 million loan to Bulgaria for structural adjustments in agriculture, BTA reported. The agreement was signed in Washington by the bank's director for Bulgaria, Andrew Vorking, and Deputy Premier Alexander Bozhkov. The board approved increasing the originally envisaged loan by $25 million to compensate Bulgarian farmers for losses suffered during the conflict in Kosova. MS END NOTE NATO INTERVENTION IMPACTS CROATIAN POLITICAL SCENE By Andrej Krickovic The NATO intervention in Yugoslavia has had a noticeable impact on the Croatian political scene. Croatia's relationship with the international community has improved and the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) is showing a willingness to comply with the conditions that the international community has set for expediting the democratization of the country. But the HDZ may be ready to go back to its old intransigence now that the Kosova crisis is over, though the West's new willingness to play the decisive role in the region may give them no other choice but to adhere to Western demands if the HDZ wants to bring Croatia into Euro-Atlantic structures. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's support for Croatian separatists in Bosnia-Herzegovina and his refusal to implement democratic reforms have often put him at odds with the international community in the past. But the government's unconditional support for the NATO air campaign in Kosova has significantly improved relations with both the U.S. and Europe. In April, U.S. President Bill Clinton lifted an arms embargo on Croatia and negotiations have recently begun on the purchase of an advanced military radar system from Washington. The postwar stability pact for southeastern Europe may also speed up the country's integration into the EU. Western diplomats have let the HDZ know that there will be no free rides towards Western integration and Zagreb will still have to fulfill the same conditions that have been laid out in the past. The West still insists on a reform of the election law, increased freedom of the press, the return of Serbian refugees, cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, and the dismantling of separate ethnic- Croatian government institutions in the para-state of "Herceg-Bosna." Thus far the HDZ has been willing to cooperate. Serious talks with the opposition on a new election law and media freedom are under way. The ruling party is in desperate need of foreign loans. The country faces a severe recession. Experts expect GDP will shrink by 1 to 2 percent this year--a troubling statistic considering that the country is still engaged in postwar reconstruction. Recent scandals that implicate top members of the ruling party threaten the very collapse of the financial system. They have also helped discredit the HDZ's economic model, which is largely based on patronage and political connections. The HDZ is hopeful that now that the war in Kosova is over they will be given access by foreign lenders to reconstruction funds that they hope to be able to use to buy some social peace. The country will hold parliamentary elections by the end of the year and HDZ politicians have tried to present the newfound warming with the West as a foreign policy triumph. But voters seem unimpressed--the popularity of the opposition has grown during the two months of NATO bombing. Most recent polls indicate that the HDZ will only receive around 20 percent of the vote and will have to yield control of parliament to the opposition. Croatian voters are much more concerned with economic issues. The real buying power of citizens has fallen by 10 percent since the beginning of the year. There is also great anxiety about the tourist season. According to government estimates, Croatia will lose between $500-600 million in tourism revenues as a result of the NATO intervention. Such economic issues and the animosity that most people feel towards the HDZ have overshadowed any foreign policy gains the country has made since the NATO intervention. There have also been indications that the HDZ may continue with its authoritarian ways. The opposition has accused the HDZ of deliberately maintaining an atmosphere of political violence and fear that could reduce the chances that the upcoming parliamentary elections will be free and fair. In recent speeches, President Tudjman has railed against internal enemies and claims that 20 percent of Croatian citizens are against an independent Croatia. Last month, fascist thugs led by extremist right-wing groups attacked peaceful protesters at an antifascist rally in downtown Zagreb. Right-wing toughs have also attacked opposition and union leaders. Many believe rising violence is inspired and even organized by hard-liners in the ruling party. The recent arrest of former intelligence service chief Miroslav Separovic for divulging state secrets to the investigative weekly "Nacional" has awakened fears about the misuse of the intelligence services. The intelligence services routinely spy on the opposition and independent media. There have even been allegations that they have rigged the outcome of the national soccer championships to ensure the victory of Tudjman's favorite team. Opposition and independent media fear that the intelligence services may be willing to use similar tactics to influence the outcome of the upcoming elections. Tudjman may also still be committed to his plans of partitioning Bosnia-Herzegovina along ethnic lines. Western diplomats politely ignored his Kosova peace plan, which envisioned a partition of Kosova between Serbs and Albanians. But Croatian observers believe Tudjman's peace plan was inspired by hopes that a partition of Kosova along ethnic lines will set a precedent for a future solution in Bosnia. Tudjman may hope that the West will again divert its attention from the Balkans once the Kosova crisis is over. But NATO's victory in Kosova and the Southeast European Stability Pact have sent a signal that the West has increased its commitment in the region. Irregularities in the upcoming elections or open support for Bosnian Croat separatists will be met by a stiff reaction from the U.S. and EU. In the end, Tudjman and the HDZ may have no other choice but to abandon their Bosnian adventures and go ahead with real democratic reform. The author is a free-lance journalist based in Zagreb. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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