|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 194, Part II, 5 October 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 194, Part II, 5 October 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 * REGISTRATION OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER REVOKED * TRUCK DRIVER IN SERBIAN FATAL ACCIDENT REPORTED FOUND * SAKIC TO APPEAL VERDICT End Note: GENIE OUT OF THE BOTTLE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE REGISTRATION OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER REVOKED. Belarus's State Press Committee has revoked the registration of nine periodicals, including "Nasha svaboda," the successor to the opposition newspaper "Naviny," which closed down following the imposition of a heavy fine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 1999), Belapan reported on 4 October. The committee said the registration was revoked because the periodicals failed to produce documents confirming that the appropriate local authorities had approved the location of their offices. Mikhalay Khalezin, deputy chief editor of "Naviny"/"Nasha svaboda," told Belapan that the move is "a pretext to prevent our newspaper from coming out, and one should not look for any legal motive here." JM GERMAN JUDGES AWARD BELARUSIAN LAWYER HUMAN RIGHTS PRIZE. The German Association of Judges on 4 October awarded its human rights prize to Belarusian lawyer Vera Stremkouskaya for "her courage in supporting politically persecuted persons," dpa reported. Stremkouskaya is one of a handful of Belarusian lawyers who defend Belarusian dissidents and oppositionists in court. The Belarusian Justice Ministry has threatened to bar Stremkouskaya from practicing law, while the Belarusian Lawyers' Association has reprimanded her for what it calls her political involvement. JM BELARUS FAILS TO AGREE ON MONETARY MERGER WITH RUSSIA. Belarusian National Bank head Pyotr Prakapovich said on 4 October that negotiations with Russia's Central Bank on the unification of the Belarusian and Russian monetary systems have failed to yield results, Belapan reported. Belarus had proposed setting up a Currency Council (composed of Russia's and Belarus's Central Banks as well as their Finance and Economy Ministries) as a joint issuing center and gradually making the "Russian non-cash ruble" the union's currency. Russia proposed to make its central bank as the only issuing center and to switch "overnight" to the "Russian non-cash ruble" "within three to five years from now." Prakapovich noted that "it will be very difficult to find a compromise...because there is anarchy in Russia right now and it is difficult for the Central Bank to adopt fundamental decisions." JM UKRAINE'S PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS SEE ATTACK ON VITRENKO AS THEATENING ELECTIONS... Following the attempt on Natalya Vitrenko's life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999), other presidential candidates have commented on the incident and its possible consequences. Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz rejected allegations that he had anything to do with the attack, saying the incident was linked to "plans of the present regime to introduce a state of emergency and thwart the elections at any cost." Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said the attack was intended to "intimidate people" in order to dissuade them from attending campaign meetings. According to Tkachenko, the attack is "advantageous" only for President Leonid Kuchma. Yuriy Kostenko, one of Rukh's two presidential candidates, said the attack will boost Vitrenko's popularity and reduce Moroz's election chances. JM ...BUT KUCHMA VOWS THEY'LL TAKE PLACE AS PLANNED. President Kuchma commented on 4 October that the attack on Vitrenko was a "well-planned provocation" ordered by someone who wants to "exacerbate the social and political situation and derail the presidential elections." He stressed that the presidential ballot will be held on 31 October, as planned. Interior Ministry Yuriy Kravchenko confirmed the same day that the police are searching for Serhiy Ivanchenko, head of Moroz's regional election staff in Kryvyy Rih, who is suspected of masterminding the attack. Meanwhile, doctors at the hospital at which Vitrenko is receiving treatment said on 3 October that her life is not threatened (see also "End Note" below). JM LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT IN ESTONIA. During his state visit to Estonia on 4-5 October, Valdas Adamkus focused on improving bilateral ties and promoting Baltic cooperation at meetings with President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar, and parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi, ELTA and ETA reported. During a press conference held by the two presidents, Adamkus stressed that there is "healthy competition" between the two states, while Meri said that the three Baltic countries are integral parts of Europe and should become equal members of "the European community." Meri also suggested that "Eastern Europe begins at the eastern border of Estonia." MH LITHUANIAN EX-PRESIDENT LEADS ANTI-WILLIAMS CAMPAIGN. Former President Algirdas Brazauskas, along with a group of scientists and left-leaning politicians, has called on the government to cancel the deal to sell a majority stake in Mazeikiai Oil to the U.S. company Williams International. In an open letter to the government, Brazauskas and the other signatories stressed that the deal may cause "huge damage to Lithuania," ELTA reported. Among the signatories were members of the opposition Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party and the Women's Party, former Energy Minister Leonas Asmontas, Vilnius University rector Rolandas Pavilionis, and head of the Lithuanian Energy Institute Jurgis Vilemas. The Lithuanian government and Williams are continuing negotiations, having frequently postponed reaching a final agreement. MH EU COMMISSIONER BACKS POLAND'S ENTRY IN 2003. Guenther Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, said after his meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek in Brussels on 4 October that the EU will take enlargement decisions in 2002, PAP reported. "I fully support the Polish intention [and] the Polish ambition to become a member of the EU in 2003," Verheugen told reporters. He called Poland's desire to become a full-fledged EU member at the beginning of 2003 a "very ambitious but not unrealistic goal." JM POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER ANNOUNCES GENERAL PROTEST. Andrzej Lepper, head of the radical farmers' union Self- Defense, said on 4 October that a general protest involving "all social groups" and a "total blockade" of the country will take place in mid-November, PAP reported. According to Lepper, the goal of the protest is the dissolution of the parliament and early elections. He is currently organizing a new political alliance--the Peasant National Bloc "Self- Defense"--as an alternative to Solidarity Electoral Action and the Left Democratic Alliance. With regard to Poland's integration into the EU, Lepper stressed it must be based on partner-like relations. Poland must not be transformed into a "market for the West's production surplus," he added. JM CZECH TOWN BEGINS PREPARATIONS FOR ANTI-ROMA WALL. A metal fence separating Roma residents from their neighbors was dismantled in the northern Czech town of Usti nad Labem on 4 October to make way for a planned ceramic wall, AP reported, citing local newspapers. The wall is to be completed by the end of October. CTK quoted Roma representatives as saying that the wall is a "concrete expression of the clear persecution of Roma" and "a conscious and planned escalation of tension and confrontation." The regional Board of Romany Representatives said that many Roma are abandoning their homes and emigrating, adding that "it is essential to mobilize all Romany [forces], both at home and abroad, to collectively fight for human and civic rights." MS CZECH PREMIER SAYS AUSTRIAN ELECTION RESULTS "FOOD FOR THOUGHT.' Milos Zeman on 4 October said that the success of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party in the 3 October parliamentary elections demonstrates that a party representing "xenophobic and racialist thinking" can garner serious support even in one of the most [economically] prosperous EU countries. This, he added, must be "food for thought" for all democratic politicians, CTK reported. Parliamentary chairman Vaclav Klaus said that the Austrian "grand coalition" has lasted for too long. "The Austrians wanted a change and they implemented it," he said. Freedom Union deputy chairman Petr Mares said the attempt in Austria to "limit the electoral system to a two-party system...pushed 27 percent of Austrian voters" to the far- right. This should be "a warning" for the Czech Republic, where a similar process is ongoing and where "we have the Communist chairman Miroslav Grebenicek instead of [Joerg] Haider," he noted. MS MECIAR'S SECRECY OATH ABROGATED. Slovak Counter Intelligence (SIS) chief Vladimir Mitro has annulled former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's secrecy oath, thereby enabling him to give testimony on the role played by former SIS chief Ivan Lexa in the 1995 abduction of ex-President Michal Kovac's son, CTK reported on 4 October. Meciar has repeatedly said that the investigation into the abduction is illegal and unconstitutional and that he will begin a hunger strike if forced to testify. Lexa's former deputy, Jaroslav Svechota, who confessed to involvement in the abduction, said earlier this year that Meciar was the "architect" of the abduction. MS BELGIAN AUTHORITIES TO DEPORT SLOVAK ROMA. As of 5 October, the Belgian authorities are to deport Slovak Roma whose applications for political asylum have been rejected, SITA reported. Deputy Prime minister in charge of minority issues Pal Csaky said on 4 October that the cost of flights from Brussels will be covered by a Slovak fund supporting Roma. He said transportation by land would not be cheaper because "escorts" would have to be provided and "some Roma could get lost on their way home, which would be embarrassing." Csaky rejected human rights organizations' criticism of the decision to deport the Roma, saying that the step is in line with Belgian laws and international conventions. MS HUNGARIAN PARTIES REACT TO AUSTRIAN ELECTIONS. The opposition extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) has expressed satisfaction with the Freedom Party's success in the 3 October Austrian general elections. MIEP spokesman Bela Gyori said that Joerg Haider's party deals with genuine problems, such as globalization and international migration, and that MIEP's answers to these questions are very similar to those offered by the Austrian party. Istvan Simicsko of FIDESZ said the Austrian right- wing success "gives pause for thought from the point of view of Hungary's accession to the EU." Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs expressed concern over Austria's reputation abroad and said he doubts the country will have a stable government. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE TRUCK DRIVER FROM FATAL ACCIDENT IN SERBIA FOUND. The driver of the truck involved in the 3 October road accident involving members of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has been found, Reuters reported on 5 October. SPO leader Vuk Draskovic was slightly injured while the other four passengers in the two cars involved all died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). Draskovic and other party members have called the accident an assassination attempt. Draskovic's lawyer, Borivoje Borovic, said no details about the driver are known. He said an investigation will determine if the incident was "an attempted murder or a traffic accident." Memorial services are to be held on 5 and 6 October for those killed in the accident, including Draskovic's brother-in-law. Draskovic called on Serbs to turn out for the funerals. Some observers speculate that the accident was an attempt by the government to silence Draskovic's Studio B TV station, which has been showing extensive footage of the police actions against demonstrators in Belgrade. The station has been jammed continuously over the last month, Assistant Director Milos Rajkovic told the Beta news agency. He said that at times, the signal can be received by only one-third of Belgrade. PB SERBIAN POLICE AGAIN BLOCK PROTEST MARCH. Serbian riot police once again blocked the route of some 10,000 protesters taking part in an anti-government demonstration in Belgrade on 4 October, Radio Index reported. It was the 14th consecutive day of demonstrations around the country organized by the Alliance for Change (SZP). About 10,000 people were reported to have demonstrated in Nis and some 5,000 in Novi Sad. The Beta news agency reported that 25,000 rallied in the central town of Kragujevac, where SZP leader Zoran Djindjic told the crowd that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "wants to stay in power at any cost and we want to expel him at any cost." In the eastern Serbian town of Bor, the local branch of Draskovic's SPO joined an SZP protest for the first time. Draskovic has called the protests ineffective. PB UN HUMAN RIGHTS ENVOY TO PROPOSE LIFTING OF SANCTIONS. Special UN Human Rights Rapporteur Jiri Dienstbier said in Nis that he will propose that economic sanctions against Yugoslavia be suspended, Beta reported on 4 October. Dienstbier said that "the countries that introduced sanctions against the former Republic of Yugoslavia and bombed it will be responsible for deaths from exposure and starvation" if the sanctions continue. He added that "Milosevic and others [in power] will have enough food and heating." Dienstbier said he will make his recommendation to the UN General Assembly. He also condemned the police actions against demonstrators in Belgrade. PB SERBIAN DAILY RESUMES PUBLICATION. Following a two-day ban, the Belgrade independent daily "Glas javnosti" reappeared on newsstands on 4 October, Radio B2-92 reported. But Director Slavoljuib Kacarevic said that the newspaper's problems "are not over." He revealed that members of the state "financial police" were stationed in the editorial department and claim to be conducting a secret investigation. Kacarevic added that he signed a police statement declaring he was aware of his responsibility "regarding any possible and existing objection to our work." In other news, Yugoslav Telecommunications Minister Ivan Markovic said the state will take steps against media "aggression" in Yugoslavia. He said the rebroadcasting of foreign programs by domestic radio stations is part of this aggression. PB SERBIA FREES 54 KOSOVAR PRISONERS. The International Red Cross said on 4 October that Serbia released 54 ethnic Albanian prisoners who were arrested in Kosova, AP reported. The prisoners were being held in the Sremska Mitrovica prison in Vojvodina. The chairman of the Serbian Bar Association, Milan Vujin, said that the prisoners were released because "it had been established during the investigation...that there were no conditions for initiating criminal procedures (against them)." The Red Cross said it has access to some 1,900 prisoners who were arrested by the Serbs in Kosova but are now held outside the province. PB NATO PEACEKEEPERS REMOVE BARRICADES IN KOSOVAR TOWN. International peacekeepers in Kosova (KFOR) removed a barricade on a highway near the town of Kosova Polje on 5 October, Reuters reported. KFOR said it had met all Serbian demands--including the doubling of the number of troops in the mostly ethnic-Serb town and stationing more police there- -before removing the blockade. KFOR also removed a blockade set up by ethnic Albanians some 300 meters from a Serbian blockade. It had warned both sides the previous day that it would remove the blockades if they were not taken down voluntarily. PB KFOR SPOKESMAN CRITICIZES THACI. KFOR spokesman Roland Lavoie said on 4 October in Prishtina that remarks made by Kosovar Albanian leader Hashim Thaci were "factually incorrect" and "inflammatory," AP reported. Thaci had said the previous day that the newly formed Kosova Protection Corps will be headed by leaders from the disbanded Kosova Liberation Army and will eventually run a military academy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). Lavoie said that the corps must be apolitical, that Thaci will have no influence over the group, and that it will not have a military training academy. In other news, Tanjug reported that some 80 people returned to Kosova from Nis on 4 October. PB SAKIC TO APPEAL VERDICT. Defense attorneys for convicted war criminal Dinko Sakic said on 4 October that they will appeal the verdict against him, Hina reported. The lawyers said the verdict delivered by the presiding judge, Drazen Tripalo, was "vague and too general." Tommy Baer, the honorary chairman of the B'nai B'rith organization, commended the guilty verdict. He said Croatia has shown "that it does not fear facing its past and learning the lessons from a painful chapter in its history." Baer was invited by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to attend the trial as an international observer. The U.S. State Department also praised the decision, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. PB SLOVENIA CONCERNED ABOUT MINORITY IN AUSTRIA AFTER ELECTIONS. Slovenian Foreign Minister Boris Frlec said on 4 October that the success of Austria's nationalist Freedom Party in the 3 October elections could cause concern among the Slovenian minority living in Austria's Carinthia region, the Slovenian agency STA reported. Frlec said, however, that he is hopeful that good relations between Ljubljana and Vienna will continue and that the Freedom Party's opposition to further expansion of the EU will not hurt Slovenia's chances of joining the union. PB DISCORD OVER ROMANIAN-HUNGARIAN 'RECONCILIATION PARK.' Romanian Premier Radu Vasile will not attend the inauguration of the Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation park in Arad on 6 October and has delegated Deputy Premier and Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica to represent him, Romanian Radio reported on 5 October. No reason for this change of plan was given. Hungarian Radio reported that Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who was also to attend the ceremony, will decide on 5 October whether to be present in view of Vasile's decision. Meanwhile, the Arad local council on 5 October voted against making available the land earmarked for the projected park. MS ROMANIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC LEADER STEPS DOWN. Sergiu Cunescu, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR), will not seek re-election at the party's congress scheduled for 16 October, Mediafax reported on 3 October. The two main candidates for that post, Labor and Social Protection Minister Alexandru Athanasiu and PSDR first vice chairman Emil Putin, submitted their electoral platform to the party's National Council on 3 October. Putin wants the PSDR to withdraw from the ruling coalition and to resume talks on a merger with the Alliance for Romania and the Socialist Party. Athanasiu opposes forming any alliance before the 2000 local elections and is in favor of the PSDR's continuing membership in the coalition. MS MOLDOVA TO SET UP ETHNIC BULGARIAN COUNTY. The government on 4 October announced the setting up of a Taraclia county, thereby approving the recommendations of a commission headed by Deputy Premier Nicolae Andronic, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The former Taraclia district became part of Cahul county following the recent local administration reform, prompting protests by its mostly ethnic Bulgarian residents and causing tension in relations with Sofia. Government spokesman Nicolae Chirtoaca said that Premier Ion Sturza is "aware" that the decision will trigger "negative reactions" from some "political formations" wanting to make election capital out of the decision and intending to "use radicalism" for this purpose. He said the new county cannot be viewed as "setting a precedent" because it will not enjoy any sort of "administrative, territorial, cultural, or other form of autonomy." MS BULGARIAN VICE PRESIDENT THREATENS TO LEAVE RULING COALITION. Vice President Todor Kavaldzhiev says his small Agrarian National Union (BANU) may pull out of the ruling coalition because it is dissatisfied with the role its senior partners have assigned it in the upcoming local elections, AP reported on 4 October, citing BTA. Kavaldzhiev said BANU representatives were placed at the bottom of candidate lists for the 16 October elections and were not included in the electoral commissions that will monitor vote counting. BANU has eight seats in the United Democratic Forces parliamentary group. MS END NOTE GENIE OUT OF THE BOTTLE? by Jan Maksymiuk At about 8:00 p.m. on 2 October, two assailants threw two hand grenades into a crowd surrounding presidential hopeful Natalya Vitrenko following a campaign meeting in Inhuletsk, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The blast reportedly injured more than 30 people, including Vitrenko and her aide Volodymyr Marchenko. The motives for the attempt on 48-year- old Vitrenko's life remain unknown. Meanwhile, the incident may have an impact on the election campaign as a whole as well as voters' preferences in the 31 October ballot, given that the public tends to sympathize with the assailed, rather than the assailants. Vitrenko, the only woman candidate in the 31 October elections, heads the Progressive Socialist Party. In 1996, she quit Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party, accusing Moroz of "bourgeois views." She went on to launch her own party and win 14 parliamentary seats in the March 1998 elections. Vitrenko's platform for the presidential elections combines fierce populism, nostalgia for the Soviet era, and strong anti-Western sentiments. Polls in Ukraine, which many believe to be unreliable and biased, consistently put her in second or third place, after President Leonid Kuchma and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko. In the mock presidential elections held among more than 100,000 Ukrainian students on 28 September, Vitrenko won 12.57 percent backing to come in second after Kuchma. It appears that Vitrenko's election appeal is not limited to any specific social or professional group. As the support she won among students shows, her rhetoric is appealing to various social strata. And all press reports about her campaign meetings--regardless of whether reporters are favorable or hostile toward her--underscore the fact that those meetings are usually well attended and animated. Vitrenko is not only a populist but also a popular candidate. Many Ukrainian commentators have suggested that the presidential administration initially supported Vitrenko's political career and her current presidential bid in an attempt to split Ukraine's leftist electorate--especially that of Moroz--and pave the way for Kuchma's re-election. To support that argument, those commentators note that several months ago Vitrenko was seen on Ukrainian state-controlled television almost every day, while other left-wing leaders were granted only rare coverage. They also believe that in exchange for those official favors, Vitrenko's parliamentary caucus has on several occasions blocked anti-Kuchma legislation in the parliament. It is revealing that Vitrenko has now virtually disappeared from the state-controlled electronic media. In fact, if the Kuchma-Vitrenko collaboration theory holds water, her disappearance from that media may mean she has already fulfilled her mission of splitting the leftist vote. It may also mean, however, that the presidential entourage senses an "electoral danger" to Kuchma from Vitrenko herself. Some observers have already voiced the opinion that by promoting Vitrenko's political career, Kuchma has let the genie out of the bottle and may now face a powerful challenge from the candidate he apparently wanted to use as a mere tool against his political foes. The case of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus provides an interesting parallel to that of Vitrenko in Ukraine. In 1993, then Prime Minister Vyachaslau Kebich used Lukashenka, an unknown lawmaker at that time, in the power struggle against Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich. Kebich gave Lukashenka the go-ahead to deliver a parliamentary report on corruption, which resulted in Shushkevich's ouster. But that report simultaneously placed Lukashenka in the nationwide spotlight and made him a popular hero. In July 1994, Lukashenka won a landslide victory on an extreme populist ticket in the country's first presidential elections. Among the losers were both Shushkevich and Kebich. Moreover, during the 1994 presidential campaign in Belarus, Lukashenka's election team claimed that someone had made an attempt on Lukashenka's life by shooting at him when he was travelling by car to a campaign meeting. Investigators found neither assailants nor convincing evidence that Lukashenka's life had been threatened, but the incident was widely reported. Some commentators continue to assert that Lukashenka staged the assassination in order to boost his popularity. In any case, Lukashenka garnered almost 80 percent support in the 1994 ballot. The 2 October grenade attack on Vitrenko will likely reinforce her already relatively strong standing as a presidential hopeful and within the political arena as a whole. Simultaneously, it may weaken the position of the incumbent president and, possibly, some other hopefuls. There have already been many allegations and complaints that during the presidential campaign in Ukraine, the authorities have violated election legislation and harassed Kuchma's rivals. The armed attack against one of the candidates will only add to the general atmosphere of distrust, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction in a country plagued by economic inefficiency and endangered by political authoritarianism. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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