|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 135, Part II, 14 July 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 135, Part II, 14 July 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 * POLAND WANTS EU TRANSITION PERIODS FOR LAND SALE * TALKS ON FUTURE OF YUGOSLAVIA BEGIN * DJINDJIC CALLS FOR 'MARCH ON BELGRADE' End Note: SLOVAK AUTHORITIES SUSPECT 'PLOT' BEHIND ROMANY EXODUS TO FINLAND xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE BELARUS NOT HURRYING TO ADOPT RUSSIAN RUBLE AS NATIONAL CURRENCY. National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich said after meeting with Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 13 July that the president instructed him to take "immediate measures to strengthen the national currency as a basis for the unification of the currencies of Belarus and Russia." At the same time, Prakapovich noted that the adoption of a single currency is a complex process that is currently only at the "conceptual" stage. "For several more years we will be receiving our salaries, pensions, and allowances only in Belarusian rubles," Belarusian Television quoted him as saying. Former National Bank head Stanislau Bahdankevich told Belapan that the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus without economic reforms will immediately result in economic collapse, mass bankruptcies, and soaring unemployment. JM BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO MARK LUKASHENKA'S FIVE YEARS WITH 'POPULAR FESTIVITIES.' Opposition parties intend to celebrate the end of Lukashenka's five-year term in office by organizing public protest actions, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 13 July. The United Civic Party will stage "popular festivities" in Minsk and other cities on 20 July. The next day, the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) plans a "popular holiday" on a square near the presidential administration building in Minsk. "The crowd will simply ask President Lukashenka what he has done for Belarus during his five-year rule," BNF Secretary Vyachaslau Siuchyk told RFE/RL. The Belarusian opposition does not recognize the 1996 constitutional referendum, which extended Lukashenka's presidency to 2001. It is demanding that he step down on 20 July. JM KUCHMA STRESSES FRIENDLY RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA. "There is and can be no alternative to the development of friendly, equal, and partner relations between Ukraine and Russia," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told an annual officers' gathering in Kyiv on 13 July. In his opinion, the two countries' mutual understanding is proved by the continued presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory and the nearly complete delimitation of the state border. Meanwhile, Moscow's "Segodnya" has suggested that the Kremlin will publicly question whether the Crimean port of Sevastopol belongs to Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 1999). According to the newspaper, this is a propaganda move intended to make political capital out of Russian sentiments toward Sevastopol and to undercut Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who is a staunch campaigner for returning Sevastopol to Russia. JM UKRAINE URGES KAZAKHSTAN TO ALLOW SPACE LAUNCH. The Ukrainian president has spoken by telephone with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, urging him to allow the launch of a Ukrainian-made Zenit rocket with a Ukrainian-Russian research satellite from the Baikonur cosmodrome, Reuters reported on 13 July. Last week, Kazakhstan banned space launches from Baikonur after a Russian rocket crashed, supposedly polluting soil and water with toxic fuel. "Each launch of Zenit rockets is a big political issue for us," Reuters quoted Kuchma as saying. Ukraine badly needs a successful launch after a Zenit crashed last September, destroying 12 satellites of the Globalstar consortium. Globalstar has said it wants to see at least one successful Zenit launch before it resumes cooperation with Ukraine. JM UKRAINE'S FOREIGN TRADE IN JANUARY-MAY SHRINKS BY 26 PERCENT. Ukraine's foreign trade from January to May 1999 totaled $8.8 billion, down by 26 percent on the same period last year, Interfax reported on 13 July, citing Ukraine's State Statistics Committee. The negative trade balance amounted to $236 million or 21.7 percent of the level in the same period last year. The committee attributes this reduction largely to lower prices of Russian gas supplied to pay for gas transit across Ukraine. Russia accounted for 49.3 percent of Ukrainian imports, followed by Turkmenistan (10.5 percent), Germany (6.9 percent), Belarus (2.8 percent), and the U.S. (2.7 percent). JM LITHUANIAN FARMERS STAGE NATIONWIDE PROTEST. Farmers held a one-day protest action on 13 July, blocking roads in 20 districts, ELTA reported. Parliamentary deputy Ramunas Karbaskis of the Peasants Party said the farmers will continue to protest until the government adopts a rural strategy and satisfies key demands. Sugar beet farmers have been blocking roads for several days in the Marijampole region, and both dairy farmers and fishermen have hinted at protest action. Government leaders criticized the protest and blamed local governments for allowing the legally questionable roadblocks. Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas called on the farmers to negotiate so that the dispute can be solved "in a responsible and civilized manner." MH GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN LITHUANIA. Visiting Vilnius on 11-13 July, Irakli Menagharishvili held talks with his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Saudargas, and with parliamentary speaker Vitautas Landsbergis, ITAR-TASS reported. Menagharishvili also met with President Valdas Adamkus to discuss bilateral relations, expanding trade and economic ties, and the prospects for increased cooperation, including in the transportation and communications sectors, between the Baltic and Black Sea regions. Menagharishvili told journalists that Lithuania and Georgia have identical views on world events and share the aspiration for integration into European and North Atlantic structures. In particular, he noted Lithuania's support for Georgia's recent entry into the Council of Europe. LF POLAND WANTS EU TRANSITION PERIODS FOR LAND SALE. Poland is to ask the EU to allow curbs on land purchases to remain in force after the country joins the union, Reuters and "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 13 July. Jan Kulakowski, Poland's chief EU membership negotiator, will inform Brussels that Warsaw wants a five-year transition period before permitting the free sale of land for investment purposes and an 18-year transition period for both agricultural land and housing plots. Many in Poland are afraid that rich Europeans, especially Germans, will buy up land in attractive regions, pushing its price beyond that the average Polish citizen could afford. Commentators say that in exchange for transition periods on land sales, Poland will have to accept a temporary ban on Poles' seeking employment in EU countries. JM CZECH ROMA CONSIDERING EXODUS. Roma from the north Bohemian town of Most are "seriously concerned about their security" and may start a "mass exodus abroad," the Association of Romany Regional Leaders said in a 13 July statement, CTK reported. The association said that the Romany population's security is being "seriously jeopardized by violent attacks by skinheads" who "increasingly terrorize them and attack their homes at night." It added that 20 Romany families have already left the country." MS EU SEES SLOVAKIA NEGOTIATING ENTRY AT YEAR'S END. The European Commission on 13 July said it expects Slovakia to be included in the "fast track" group by the end of 1999, Reuters and CTK reported. Outgoing EU Foreign Relations Commissioner Hans van den Broek said after meeting with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster in Brussels that he expects an October progress report on Slovakia's application to confirm that the country is ready to start admission talks. Van den Broek said that the new Slovak minority language law is an important step toward Slovakia's accession but noted that the commission will wait for the law to be evaluated by OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel. Earlier on 13 July, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana told Schuster that the further expansion plan approved by NATO at its April Washington summit should be applied to Slovakia to allow its rapid integration into the alliance. MS MECIAR CALLS FOR SLOVAK PREMIER'S RESIGNATION. Vladimir Meciar, leader of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), on 13 July called for the resignation of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet, which he accused of condoning corruption in connection with the privatization of the Nafta Gbely gas storage company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 1999). Meciar said the cabinet is endangering the credibility and functioning of state institutions. He told journalists that members of the Party of Civic Understanding and the Democratic Left Party have proposed that their formations leave the ruling coalition and form with the HZDS a new cabinet also backed by the Slovak National Party. He said, however, that the HZDS has rejected the offer "for now." Both parties denied that claim, and Dzurinda said Meciar's demand for his cabinet's resignation was "irresponsible and ridiculous." MS FINLAND REJECTS FIRST 150 SLOVAK ROMA APPLICATIONS FOR ASYLUM. The Immigration Office in Helsinki on 13 July turned down the first 150 applications for political asylum by Slovak Roma who arrived in Finland with the recent wave of exodus from their country. A Finnish official told CTK that none of the 150 applications examined so far has been approved (see also "End Note" below). MS U.S., EU UNWILLING TO SUPPORT VOJVODINA AUTONOMY. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Washington is "certainly not keen" to have Defense Secretary William Cohen's recent talks in Budapest expanded to include the issue of Vojvodina's autonomy, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 14 July, citing an AP report. "The last thing that the U.S. needs is yet another attempt at autonomy," he said. The daily also quotes a European Foreign Ministry official as saying "the Vojvodina issue will be at the bottom of the list of priorities" in talks aimed at achieving regional stability. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE TALKS ON FUTURE OF YUGOSLAVIA BEGIN. Representatives of the Montenegrin government and leading Serbian political parties began discussions in Belgrade on 14 July that are to focus on Montenegrin proposals to turn the federation into a loose confederation of two equal members. Zeljko Sturanovic, who heads the Montenegrin team, told AP that "we came here to feel the pulse of the Serbian parties." The previous day, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan warned his coalition partners that his Social Democratic Party will leave the cabinet unless the government reformulates its proposals to the Serbs in what he called a less ambiguous fashion. Burzan's party favors independence. Observers suggest that most Serbian parties will be unwilling to recognize Montenegro as an equal, if only because it has less than one-tenth of Serbia's population. Montenegrin officials have suggested that they will call a referendum on independence if Belgrade does not meet their demands. PM DJUKANOVIC EXCLUDES ARMY FROM CEREMONY. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic did not invite representatives of the Yugoslav army to ceremonies near Podgorica on 13 July to mark the anniversary of the Montenegrin uprising against the Italian and German occupation forces in World War II. The army held its own ceremony one hour prior to Djukanovic's. AP reported that this was the first time since the end of World War II that the civilian authorities did not invite the army to participate in the annual ceremony. PM G-7 FINANCE MINISTERS LAUNCH BALKAN DONORS' CONFERENCE... The finance ministers of the G-7 countries--together with several representatives from the EU, the World Bank, the IMF, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development--agreed on 13 July in Brussels to organize an international donors' conference in the Belgian capital on 28 July. The EU earlier announced that it will invest $500 million for the reconstruction of the Balkans. The World Bank pledged an initial contribution of $60 million, an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported. The conference will take place at the same time as a Sarajevo summit of governments participating in the Balkan stability pact. FS ...REJECT RECONSTRUCTION AID FOR SERBIA. The participants at the Brussels meeting agreed that they will not grant any reconstruction and development aid to Serbia as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other indicted war criminals are in power. World Bank Director James Wolfensohn said Serbia will receive support only once it has a democratic government that "respects the international norms and standards," an RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent reported from the Belgian capital. Wolfensohn made clear, however, that Montenegro is eligible for international aid. He added that experts are examining the details of how to make aid available to Podgorica. The participants agreed, moreover, that humanitarian aid can be given to Serbia. Wolfensohn stressed that rebuilding Kosova must not be funded at the expense of humanitarian and development aid programs in Asia, Africa, the Caucasus, and elsewhere, AP reported. FS DJINDJIC CALLS FOR 'MARCH ON BELGRADE.' Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said on 13 July in Jagodina, south of Belgrade, that "in 10 to 15 days, when the first round of rallies [in various Serbian towns] ends, we will embark on the biggest march in the history of the world. Some 1,000 people will start out for Belgrade from each of about 20 cities in Serbia. Each column will be headed by one opposition leader. We will give Milosevic five days until we reach Belgrade. We will tell him: Don't wait for us in Belgrade," Reuters quoted Djindjic as saying. He also told the crowd of some 4,000 people: "Get your shoes ready! See you on the squares of Belgrade." Police had tried to disrupt the rally by cutting off mobile phone links and diverting traffic through the center of town, where the protesters planned to congregate. Demonstrators responded by blocking traffic, and the rally went ahead. PM PROTESTS CONTINUE IN LESKOVAC. Zoran Zivkovic, who is a Democratic Party leader and mayor of Nis, led a march of about 1,000 through Leskovac to the jail where police are holding television broadcaster Ivan Novkovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 1999). The good-natured crowd chanted "We're going to jail" and "We're going to visit our friend in prison," Reuters reported. Police finally stopped the protesters near the prison. In Vranje, some 300 reservists continued their demonstrations to demand back pay. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands troops in southern Serbia, visited the town but did not meet with representatives of the reservists, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM UNIONS SEEK MILOSEVIC'S OUSTER. The Association of Free and Independent Trade Unions issued a statement to all other Serbian unions on 13 July calling on them to join in launching a general strike to force Milosevic to resign, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade. The private Beta news agency quoted representatives of farmers' unions as saying they will begin blocking roads and bridges in Vojvodina next week and continue their protest until Milosevic stands down. PM DID ARKAN TRY TO SURRENDER TO BELGIAN POLICE? The VOA on 14 July quoted an NBC television broadcast as saying that a lawyer for indicted Serbian war criminal Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" contacted Belgian police on 25 June with the message that his client wanted to turn himself in. Belgian police could not, however, find Interpol's warrant for Arkan's arrest. Police contacted the Hague- based war crimes tribunal only to find that top officials there had already left town for the weekend. The court's 1997 warrant for Arkan's arrest was issued for Yugoslavia, not for Belgium. Its text is in English, which is not valid under Belgian law. A court spokesman refused to comment on the story, adding that the court does not make statements about "rumors." PM ANNAN OUTLINES PLAN FOR KOSOVA. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a five-point plan to the Security Council in New York on 13 July. According to his proposal, the world body will soon take over "full authority" in Kosova and later devolve power to a local civilian administration, AP reported. He stressed that a crucial moment will come later this year, when a UN police force is slated to take over police functions from KFOR. Annan also pointed out the importance of setting up a new and impartial judiciary. Observers note that a major weakness of the Bosnian peace settlement was that it left police and judicial functions in the hands of the three leading nationalist parties. PM DISPUTE OVER RADIO PRISHTINA. UN spokesman Kevin Kennedy on 12 July said that the UN will not allow Radio Prishtina to resume full operations unless Serbian and Albanian journalists there agree to create "a mixed work environment," AFP reported. He said that Albanians returning to the station's building and Serbs already working there failed to agree on a "common platform" for broadcasting. He added that the station will resume work only after the UN has established a "media board" following consultations with the OSCE. Kennedy added that until then, the UN staff will start to prepare "some very, very limited programming, which should not be confused with bringing Radio Prishtina back on the air." Kennedy argued that "if we rushed too quickly to fill this vacuum, we may in fact be creating bigger problems down the road." Only private radio stations have so far resumed broadcasting in Prishtina, some of those with international assistance. FS ROW OVER PREVLAKA AT UN. Vladislav Jovanovic, who heads the Yugoslav delegation at the UN, presented a letter to the Security Council on 13 July arguing that Croatia's Prevlaka Peninsula is an integral part of Montenegro's Kotor Bay area and hence Yugoslav territory. Ivan Simonovic, who is Croatia's ambassador to the UN, responded that Jovanovic's letter constitutes an attempt at changing internationally recognized frontiers, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Prevlaka has been under UN administration for seven years. Annan recently recommended that the UN mandate be extended for another six months. At that time, Simonovic called Annan's proposal "nothing new" and stressed that Prevlaka must return to Croatian control. PM SLOVENIA TO INTRODUCE SCHENGEN CONTROLS. Foreign Minister Boris Frlec said in Ljubljana on 13 July that his government will soon require visas for citizens of countries who currently need such documents to enter EU- member states. The measure will take effect on 1 January 2000 and will affect citizens of Macedonia, Turkey, Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria, among others. PM CONSTANTINESCU ACCUSES WEST OF UNFAIR TREATMENT. President Emil Constantinescu told a 13 July meeting of the U.S.-Romania Action Committee that the West is treating his country unfairly, despite Romania's support for NATO during the Kosova crisis. "Every day an individual from NATO or the EU comes to Bucharest to congratulate us for the way we acted...but we have neither the security nor the advantages of NATO countries." The reward for such support, he said, is that Romania is suffering the consequences of the ongoing embargo on oil exports to Yugoslavia. In related news, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, in an interview with the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" on 13 July, said the process of NATO expansion "will not be accelerated," despite the help extended to the organization by Romania and Bulgaria during the Kosova crisis. MS/MSZ FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WANTS 'NEW DEAL'... Ion Iliescu told Reuters on 13 July that his country needs a "New Deal," like that launched by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to overcome the Great Depression of the 1930s. He pledged to launch a "social market" of the kind the Germans had in the late 1950s and early 1960s if his Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) returns to power. At the same time, he said he has not yet decided whether to run for another presidential term. MS ROMANIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS AGAINST HUNGARIAN 'REVISIONISM'... PDSR first deputy chairman Adrian Nastase on 13 July told journalists in Cluj that an "explosive situation" might develop in Transylvania in the fall against the background of the country's "increasing economic, political, and social vulnerability." Nastase said he has "information" on the "strategy" planned by "Magyar revisionists" to create such a situation, but he declined to elaborate, Mediafax reported. MS ...AS HUNGARIAN ETHNIC LEADER PROTESTS SURVEILLANCE. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania chairman Bela Marko on 12 July demanded an urgent investigation of an incident in Odorheiul Secuiesc two days earlier in which participants leaving a meeting in the town's city hall discovered they were being filmed from a van belonging to the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). The driver was surrounded by some 30-50 ethnic Hungarians and prevented from driving off. The local SRI head, who was summoned to the scene by the driver, admitted that the van belonged to his organization but refused to open up a locked compartment, claiming it contained military secrets. SRI director Mircea Gheordunescu July denied that the ethnic Hungarians were being filmed and said the van was there on another mission. MS LUCINSCHI, SMIRNOV MEET IN CHISINAU. A meeting between Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi and separatist leader Igor Smirnov in Chisinau on 13 July failed to bridge the gap between the two sides over the status of the Transdniester, Infotag reports on 14 July. A Tirsapol-drafted declaration on the "common state" amounts to a recognition of the Transdniester as a separate republic within a joint state, which is unacceptable to Chisinau. The two sides also failed to agree on ways of solving the problem of the $20 million debt owed by Chisinau for electricity supplies. However, they did sign several agreements on cultural cooperation, combating organized crime, and health. Lucinschi and Smirnov will meet again in Kyiv on 16 July at a summit also attended by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. MS BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES DRAFT JOINT PROGRAM. Leaders of four opposition parties on 13 July presented to journalists in Sofia an "alternative program" to that of the present government, BTA reported. Georgi Parvanov (Socialist Party), Alexandar Tomov (Euro-Left), Kristo Petkov (United Labor Bloc), and Petar Dertliev (Social Democratic Party) said the program envisages the decentralization of power, cutting red tape and reducing the size of the administrative apparatus, slashing central administration budget expenditures, and introducing tax cuts. A fifth opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Union, contributed to the program a chapter on ethnic relations, but no representative of that party attended the presentation. The chapter was drafted in collaboration with the ethnic Turkish Movements for Rights and Freedom. MS END NOTE SLOVAK AUTHORITIES SUSPECT 'PLOT' BEHIND ROMANY EXODUS TO FINLAND by Jolyon Naegele Last week, Finland began requiring all visitors from Slovakia to have visas. The move came in response to the growing number of Roma asylum seekers from Slovakia who have been arriving in Finland since March, particularly over the past several weeks. They now number more than 1,100. Slovak President Rudolf Schuster has welcomed the Finnish move. He said in Prague on 7 July that he has suggested to Czech President Vaclav Havel "a common conceptual proposal for resolving the Roma question in the Czech and Slovak Republics". Schuster said that despite a visit by Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jan Figel to Helsinki in a bid to stave off the imposition of visa restrictions on Slovakia, the Finns "did not wait for days but rather just hours" before deciding to impose visas. He added that Helsinki made the right decision, noting that "time will confirm how these Roma were organized, in what manner, and why they were chosen." On returning to Bratislava, Figel said that the Finnish move is temporary and that other signatory states to the Schengen Agreement are not considering requiring Slovak citizens to have visas. He said the exodus was "organized and had a speculative background". Schuster has also said he does not believe that the sudden exodus was spontaneous. Similarly, Bela Bugar, the deputy speaker of the Slovak parliament and head of the ethnic Hungarians in the ruling coalition, says he suspects "anti-state activities" are behind the Roma exodus in a bid to harm Slovakia's chances of being belatedly invited to open membership talks with the EU. Moreover, he said the exodus is "an example of the total failure" of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS). The deputy chairwoman of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Olga Keltosova, said the SIS failed because it was too busy "constructing accusations against representatives of the previous government." She remarked that she fully expects the government to claim that "dark forces of the former coalition and the former secret police leadership are behind the Roma exodus." The Slovak government's designated official for resolving the problems of the Roma minority, Vincent Danihel, visited Slovak Roma asylum seekers in Finland last week. He said their uniform explanations for why they left bore striking similarities to comments by two deputies from Meciar's HZDS during a 6 July parliamentary debate on the Roma exodus. According to Danihel, "it is not possible that this occurred by chance." The independent Bratislava daily "Sme" quotes the head of passport control at Helsinki airport, Olli Kunnala, as saying many of the recent arrivals had previously unused passports issued six months ago with very similar identification numbers. He says the last batch of Slovak Roma to arrive was a group of 63 asylum seekers who flew in from Budapest on 6 July, seven hours before the visa requirement took effect. Deputy Prime Minister for Minorities Pal Csaky also suspects a plot. He noted that the cabinet last week discussed materials provided by the Interior Ministry concerning specific individuals and two Kosice travel agencies that helped arrange the departure of the Roma. He rejected the possibility of an economic motive for the Roma's decision to go to Finland. After the first meeting in Bratislava of the Coordination Committee for Resolving the Departure of Roma Abroad, Csaky announced last week that a group of Slovak civil servants will travel to Finland to meet with the asylum seekers. The deputy premier said the Slovak government is willing to provide them with new passports and charter flights home. Csaky added that the Interior Ministry is investigating the Roma Intelligentsia for Common Identity group, which appears to be behind the exodus and has defended it publicly. He accuses the group's chairman, Alexander Patkolo, of deceiving the news media and the public. Patkolo told reporters last week that Roma are leaving Slovakia owing to what he alleged is the country's poor economic and political situation, which, he argued, does not offer equal opportunities to all its citizens. He accused the government of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda of failing to resolve the build-up of problems involving the Roma community. Csaky denies Patkolo's claims, saying that never has so much attention been devoted to the Roma question as over the last eight months. "I approached Roma leaders, held round-table meetings," he said. "We are implementing a pilot program in the Spis region, we have put into effect a project costing 1.8 million euros." This is by no means the first outflow of Slovak Roma in the post-communist era. Two years ago, more than 1,000 Slovak and Czech Roma applied for asylum in Canada before that country reimposed visas. In the fall of 1997, Slovak and Czech Roma began applying for asylum in Great Britain, which responded by imposing visas for Slovak citizens. In March of last year, members of the Czech Roma Civic Initiative from Ostrava requested collective asylum in the U.S. for all Czech Roma. The U.S. State Department turned down their request. In the nearly 10 years since the collapse of Communist rule, numerous Roma organizations have sprouted at the local and national level. But Roma have become the frequent targets of wanton acts of violence and even murder, largely by skinheads. Observers of the Czech Republic and Slovakia often argue that many Czechs and Slovaks are racist in their attitude toward Roma, convinced that virtually all members of the Roma community are criminally inclined and mentally impaired. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague. 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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