|Monday, 9 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 1, No. 48, 97-06-09
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 1, No. 48, 9 June 1997
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA "ON BRINK OF WAR"...Participants at a conference in Tbilisi on 6 June expressed concern that failure to extend the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia will result in the renewal of hostilities, a spokesman for Britain's NGO Vertic, which organized the conference, told RFE/RL Newsline on 8 June. "We are balancing on the brink of war," according to Zurab Erkvania, chairman of the Abkhaz government in exile. Georgian Deputy Parliamentary Chairman Vakhtang Kolbaia said Tbilisi is ready to start negotiations with Sukhumi at all levels and in any form. Kolbaia reiterated Georgia's offer to give Abkhazia the broadest possible autonomy within a unified Georgian state. Meanwhile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, accused Russia of making its assistance in resolving the conflict contingent on Georgian help "to rebuild the Soviet Union."
 ...DESPITE HIGH-LEVEL TALKS IN MOSCOWOn 5-6 June, separate talks took place in Moscow between Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba and Russian Foreign Ministry officials and between Georgian ambassador Vazha Lortkipanizde and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov. Following his arrival in the Russian capital on 8 June, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba said again that he is prepared to sign a peace treaty with Georgia, similar to that concluded between Russia and Chechnya on 12 May, "if the Georgian side has goodwill," Interfax reported. He warned that the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force could lead to a resumption of hostilities. Addressing the Abkhaz parliament the previous day, Ardzinba had ruled out talks with Georgia on Abkhaz autonomy and reiterated his demand that Abkhazia and Georgia have equal status.
 GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR BRINGS CHARGES IN CONNECTION WITH SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTDzhamlet Babilashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 6 June that four men have been charged with treason in connection with the bomb attack on Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported. Babilashvili said that the assassination attempt was planned by former Georgian security service chief Igor Giorgadze and Mkhedrioni leader Dzhaba Ioseliani, who had worked with Russian intelligence agents to eliminate Shevardnadze and install Giorgadze as Georgia's leader.
 FIVE ARMENIANS RELEASED IN "25 SEPTEMBER" TRIALThe charges against five Armenians in connection with the attack on the parliament building shortly after the September 1996 presidential elections have been changed from inciting mass public disturbances to disturbing public order, Armenian agencies reported on 5 June. The five were subsequently sentenced to prison terms of between 18 and 30 months but were released under the terms of an amnesty proclaimed earlier this year. Dashnaktsutyun party member Kim Balayan still faces charges in connection with the incident.
 ARMENIAN DEPUTY PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DOES NOT RULE OUT JOINING RUSSIA- BELARUS UNIONAra Sahakyan told journalists in St. Petersburg on 8 June that "our society demands that we take more effective steps for rapprochement with Russia," Interfax reported. He added that for this reason, the possibility of Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union "deserves attention and an analysis of all possible consequences." Sahakyan is the first Armenian leader to comment publicly on the campaign launched to this end by the Armenian Communist Party and endorsed by the Russian State Duma (see "End Note," RFE/RL Newsline, 29 May 1997).
 TURKMENISTAN NOT READY TO RECOGNIZE TALIBAN GOVERNMENTTurkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov said during an official visit to Pakistan on 8 June that his country will not recognize the government of Afghanistan's Taliban movement until the UN does, international press reported. The previous day, Shikhmuradov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan to discuss the Afghan situation. Pakistan's The Nation reported that Posuvalyuk was interested in meeting with Taliban officials in Islamabad. According to unconfirmed reports, the meeting took place, but neither Russia or Pakistan have made an official statement about it. Foreign Minister Khan is scheduled to visit Moscow on 7 July.
 TAJIK PEACE AGREEMENT TO BE SIGNED ON 27 JUNEThe Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition have agreed to sign a final peace agreement on 27 June in Moscow, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Bureau. The accord was due to be signed on 13 June but was postponed for "technical reasons."
 NEW BOOK BY UZBEK PRESIDENTIslam Karimov's new book went on sale in Tashkent on 6 June, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Titled Uzbekistan on the Threshold of the 21st Century, the book describes Uzbekistan as a "front-line state with hotbeds of tension in Afghanistan and Tajikistan close to its borders." Karimov blames this tension on "religious extremism and fanaticism." However, he argues that Islam and Islamic culture should not be viewed as the "new evil empire." Such a view could lead to "a tragic mistake" on the part of Western industrial countries in evaluating the Central Asian states in particular, according to Karimov.
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 VRANITZKY LEAVES ALBANIAN MONITORING QUESTION UNRESOLVEDFranz Vranitzky, a mediator for the Operation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, paid a one-day visit to the Albanian capital on 8 June. He met with President Sali Berisha, Prime Minister Bashkim Fino, and OSCE field personnel. Vranitzky told a press conference that preparations for the elections topped his agenda, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. It nonetheless remains unclear in which regions OSCE monitors will be finally deployed. Fino said on 8 June that they might be limited to Tirana if the security situation outside the capital does not improve. Vranitzky noted the OSCE will not deal directly with local rebel chiefs in the south. Meanwhile, Berisha has extended the curfew by one hour to 10:00 p.m. and decreed that no curfew will be in effect on election day. The opposition, however, wants it abolished completely.
 ARMED ATTACK ON TIRANA PRISON HOSPITALIn the night from 6 to 7 June, a group of armed people attacked the prison hospital in Tirana. The shoot-out with police continued for about 30 minutes, but the unidentified assailants escaped. Two prominent prisoners were in the jail at the time, but it is unclear if the attack had to do with either of them. One of the prisoners is Ilir Ceta, who tried to assassinate President Berisha on 4 June. The other is Maksude Kademi, the owner of the collapsed Sudja pyramid scheme. No injuries were reported during the shoot-out, according to Dita Informacion on 8 June.
 ALBANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SLAMS ELECTION LAWConstitutional Court judge Rustem Gjata on 7 June ruled that the current system for allotting 40 legislative seats on the basis of proportional representation is unconstitutional. The law allocates 10 of those to the two largest parties, while the other 30 go to smaller parties. This could have led to scenarios in which small parties with just over 2% of the vote have more seats than the party with the second-largest number of votes, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. In reaction to the decision, nine small parties threatened to withdraw from the coalition government and to boycott the election. An all-party round table convened in Tirana on 8 June to deal with the dispute, but no results have been announced. President Berisha will either have to decree an amendment to the law or recall the parliament to amend the legislation.
 CROATIA'S TUDJMAN DELIVERS MIXED MESSAGE IN VUKOVARPresident Franjo Tudjman and 2,000 well-wishers went by train from Zagreb to Serb-held Vukovar in eastern Slavonia on 8 June. Tudjman said in the Danubian town that all ethnic Serbs who recognize Croatia as their home and obtain Croatian documents are welcome to stay, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the area. He stressed, however, that it is not possible for all Croatia's 150-200,000 Serbian refugees to return home lest "discord and war" break out once again. The president warned the remaining Serbs not to let themselves become instruments of Belgrade's policies. He added that while Croatia cannot forget what has happened since 1990, it must forgive. Eastern Slavonia is under UN administration but is slated to return to Croatian control in mid-July.
 LOCAL SERBS CRITICIZE TUDJMAN'S SPEECHVojislav Stanimirovic, the leading local Serbian political figure in Vukovar, said after Tudjman's departure on 8 June that the president's speech was not sufficiently conciliatory. Stanimirovic stressed that Tudjman's failure to welcome back all Serbs was particularly unhelpful. The Serbian leader emphasized that the key issues now are to ensure full respect for human and civil rights, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the area. UN administrator Jacques Klein, for his part, noted that all Croatian citizens must work together for reconciliation and that it would be "a great historical mistake" not to do so. As Tudjman's train passed through nearby Serb-held Borovo, some 20 men stoned it, breaking some windows. Journalists reporting from the area said Tudjman's speech should have been the most important one of his career but that he put electoral politics before statesmanship.
 CROATIAN OPPOSITION LEADER LEAVES HOSPITALVlado Gotovac, the Liberal and opposition coalition candidate for the presidency, left hospital in Zagreb on 8 June. He was being treated following a recent assault that left him shaken (see RFE/RL Newsline, 6 June 1997). Gotovac is now returning to the campaign trail, albeit on a reduced schedule, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. Authorities in Pula said on 6 June that the attacker was a drunken army captain who was subsequently arrested and suspended from duty. The local police admitted that security at the rally was lax. Meanwhile in Osijek, coalition leaders met on 7 June and slammed the attack on Gotovac as an "organized assassination attempt" that bodes ill for the future of Croatian democracy.
 UPDATE FROM FORMER YUGOSLAVIAEight presidents representing the Central European Initiative countries met in the Slovenian town of Portoroz on 7 June and called for the swift integration of ex-communist states into NATO and the EU. Slovene President Milan Kucan added, however, that peoples must not lose their identity in the rush for European unity. CEI foreign ministers met the same day in Sarajevo, where they pledged to send observers to cover the Albanian elections. Also in the Bosnian capital, a controversy broke out over the weekend over attempts by the Bosnian police to block the sale of the bi- monthly magazine Politika. The magazine's editors charged that the authorities do not tolerate criticism of President Alija Izetbegovic, while the police argued that the magazine was vulgar and insensitive. In Croat- held Stolac, the Onasa news agency reported on 7 June that 11 Muslim homes were torched recently, shortly before their owners were due to return. And in Washington, the State Department on 6 June criticized Serbia for threatening to close down 500 radio and TV stations unless they obtain new permits.
 ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTIONBy a vote of 227 to 158, a joint session of Romania's bi-cameral parliament rejected a motion of no-confidence in Victor Ciorbea's government on 6 June, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Before the vote, the opposition argued that the government has failed to keep its electoral promises to improve living standards, cut taxes, and help industry and agriculture. Ciorbea pointed to his government's achievements and said all the faults imputed to his cabinet were the lingering legacy of Nicolae Vacaroiu's government. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the Greater Romania Party, said the day marked the beginning of the Romanian people's "struggle of national liberation" against the ruling coalition. The parliament is due to debate a second no-confidence motion on 9 June.
 ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT REDUCES SENTENCES OF OFFICIALS, SECURITATE COMMANDERSThe Supreme Court on 6 June reduced the sentences of 16 former officials and secret police commanders who were involved in the killing and wounding of demonstrators in Timisoara during the December 1989 uprising against the communist regime. Among those who received lighter sentences are Ion Coman, a former secretary of the party, and Cornel Pacoste, a former member of the Executive Committee. Radu Tinu and Gheorghe Atudoraie, former high-ranking Securitate officers in Timis County, were acquitted. However, the court sentenced Ilie Matei, a former member of the Communist Party's Executive Committee, to 15 years in prison for the role he played in the incident. Matei had been acquitted by a lower court.
 ROMANIAN PARTICIPATION IN NEW REGIONAL FORMATIONSAustrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel has submitted his country's proposals for the mechanism of the Austrian-Romanian-Hungarian "trilateral." Schuessel met with his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, and Hungarian Deputy Foreign Minister Matyas Eoersi on 8 June in Sarajevo, where the three also attended a meeting of the Central European Initiative. The "trilateral" was officially launched when the three countries' foreign ministers met in Sintra, Portugal, one week earlier. Also in Sarajevo, Severin agreed with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko and Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Aurelian Danila to set up a "trilateral" of their countries. Meanwhile, it was announced in Bucharest that the presidents of Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania will meet in Izmail, Ukraine, in early July to officially launch the two "Euroregions" provided for in the recent Romanian-Ukrainian basic treaty, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 8 June.
 MOLDOVAN TRADE WITH CIS DECLININGMoldova's trade with CIS countries has dropped by 2.6% to $392 million since the beginning of 1997, a Ministry of Economy spokesman told journalists on 6 June. He added that Moldova now has a trade deficit with CIS countries totaling $52.2 million, saying that this poor performance was largely due to the tax deposits imposed by Ukraine for Moldovan exports transiting the country. The spokesman said the taxes--which are intended to guarantee that goods will not be illegally sold in Ukraine--have "paralyzed" trade with CIS countries for many weeks.
 BULGARIAN PREMIER WANTS TO STEP UP FIGHT AGAINST ORGANIZED CRIMEIvan Kostov told the parliament on 6 June that Bulgaria must tighten laws against organized crime and corruption, Reuters reported from Sofia. Kostov suggested amendments to the penal code to fight domestic arms trade and the setting up of organized criminal groups. He said some members of the former state security services now "play a key role in crime." The next day, Kostov met with top security officials to discuss the fight against organized crime. Boiko Rashkov, the Director of the National Intelligence Service, told the press before the meeting that the government and law enforcement officials need to work closely to achieve better results.
 CLINTON CONGRATULATES FORMER BULGARIAN PREMIERStefan Sofiyanski, who headed Bulgaria's interim cabinet before the April elections, says he has received a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton praising his government's contribution to restoring stability in Bulgaria. Sofiyanski said Clinton lauded the "remarkable achievements" of the interim cabinet, which ruled Bulgaria for 99 days after taking over amid a severe economic crisis, an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported on 8 June.
[C] END NOTE
 CZECH GOVERNMENT BRACES ITSELF FOR VOTE OF CONFIDENCEby Jiri Pehe
For the first time since the fall of communism, the Czech Republic is about to test one of the fundamental mechanisms of democracy: a vote of confidence in the government. The cabinet has called for such a vote to take place on 10 June, following changes in the government and the announcement of a stabilization package aimed at bolstering the weakening currency and curing the ailing economy. The package, which provides for austerity measures, is likely to result in belt-tightening for many Czechs after several years of economic prosperity.
The call for a vote of confidence came partly in response to the opposition Social Democratic Party's decision to propose a vote of no-confidence in the government. Under the Czech Constitution, a confidence vote initiated by the government passes if a simple majority of deputies present in the lower chamber vote in the government's favor. A no-confidence vote initiated by the opposition, on the other hand, requires an absolute majority of all 200 deputies in the lower chamber (101 votes).
The problems facing the government are both political and economic. The June 1996 parliamentary elections resulted in the narrow defeat of the right-of-center coalition led by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. The fragmented opposition allowed Klaus to form a minority government, which has been under constant pressure. Accustomed over the previous four years to ruling unchallenged by the opposition, the government found it difficult to seek a broader political consensus for its policies.
Moreover, the opposition Social Democrats have opted for a highly confrontational style that has made it increasingly difficult for the government to be conciliatory. After last year's elections, Czech politics quickly degenerated into constant battles between the opposition and coalition over minor questions. Major issues, such as completing privatization and reforming the educational, health, and housing sectors, had to be put on hold.
Most analysts agree that the ruling coalition's biggest failing is its inability to communicate with the public and the opposition. There have also been serious problems within the ruling coalition. The two junior coalition partners of Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS)--the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA)--have found it difficult at times to work with the prime minister and his party.
The constant political bickering both between the ruling coalition and the opposition and within the coalition itself has taken its toll. By the end of 1996, opinion polls showed that an increasing number of Czechs were disgusted with politics. The paralyzed government was unable to respond promptly to the growing number of negative developments, including banking and financial scandals as well as worsening macroeconomic indicators. Strengthened numerically by the expulsion of two Social Democratic deputies from their party, the coalition finally decided to act in April by announcing the austerity measures.
However, this step did not have the desired result, partly because the acknowledgment of past mistakes was not accompanied by a government reshuffle. By mid-May, opinion polls suggested that the public's confidence in the government had declined to an all-time low. Calls for its resignation and Klaus's replacement began to intensify. To make matters worse, currency speculators responded to the growing political and economic malaise by attacking the Czech currency. Although the Central Bank spent some $2-3 billion to defend the crown, it was eventually forced to abolish the 15% fluctuation band, paving the way for a significant decline in the crown's value.
The coalition's stabilization program, announced in the wake of the Central Bank's decision, can succeed only if it has the active support of all coalition parties and at least the tacit support of the trade unions and the opposition. Winning a vote confidence is a prerequisite for seeking such support.
But the latest developments show that the coalition is severely disjointed. Josef Lux, chairman of the Christian (KDU-CSL), has called for replacing Klaus. Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, who is also deputy chairman of the ODS, recently attacked the prime minister for allegedly failing to inform the government about a letter from the IMF enumerating what the fund considers to be the Czech Republic's main economic problems. Klaus and Zieleniec later announced they would put up a united front, but the ODS appears to be divided. The KDU-CSL has said it will support the government in the confidence vote only if the government approves the stabilization package--which is still a coalition document--beforehand. It has also urged the government to reconsider the rent and energy hikes announced earlier this year.
Given that the ruling coalition controls 100 seats in the 200-member parliament, the government is likely to survive the vote. But when the population begins to feel the impact of the austerity measures,.the country may experience renewed social and political tensions. The government's continued existence will then depend on whether it is able to forge a broader social consensus for its policies. If the government falls, President Vaclav Havel is likely to give the coalition one more chance to form a government--but most likely without Klaus as premier. If a new government cannot be formed, the country is headed for early elections. According to opinion polls, such a vote would result in victory for the Social Democrats.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty