|Monday, 27 March 2023|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 1, No. 172, 97-12-04
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 1, No. 172, 4 December 1997
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN IN STEPANAKERTThe U.S., Russian, and French co-chairmen of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group were in Stepanakert on 3 December to meet with Naira Melkumian, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Prime Minister Leonard Petrosian, and Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. President Arkadii Ghukasyan, who is reportedly sick, did not attend the meeting. A senior Nagorno-Karabakh diplomat told an RFE/RL correspondent in Stepanakert that the Minsk Group's plan "predetermines a status full of dubious ambiguities" for the disputed region, adding that even the plan's authors cannot explain how it would be implemented. In an interview with Turan on 3 December, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov condemned what he termed "bellicose and unconstructive" statements by unnamed Armenian and Karabakh officials. He also said the Karabakh Armenians' position is "illogical." LF
 ARMENIAN MEDIA STAGE ONE-DAY STRIKEAlmost all major newspapers, nine news agencies, and one radio station staged a strike on 3 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. Among the newspapers taking part was the state-owned daily "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun." Editors issued a joint statement demanding tax exemption for the press, the free-of- charge handover of state-owned premises to the media currently leasing them, and the restructuring of the state agency for newspaper distribution. They also demanded a meeting with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan and Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan. The strike was precipitated by the surprisingly high number of unsold newspapers in recent weeks. The strikers blamed that development on the allegedly inefficient work of the Haymamul state agency, which has a monopoly on newspaper distribution. LF
 GEORGIAN TERRORISM TRIAL AGAIN POSTPONEDThe trial of Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani and 14 of his subordinates has again been postponed, Caucasus Press reported on 4 December. The reason for this latest postponement is that one of the defense lawyers is unwell. All 15 men face charges related to the August 1995 attempt to assassinate parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. The trial was adjourned shortly after it began on 1 December because the defendants protested having to sit in steel cages. National Security Council Deputy Secretary Rusudan Beridze told Caucasus Press that the caged defendants "were not a pleasant sight," but she insisted that the requirement does not violate the prisoners' rights. LF
 GEORGIANS PROTEST RUSSIAN MILITARY PRESENCESome 100 members of the youth organization of the Union of Citizens of Georgia, the majority party within the parliament, staged a demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Tbilisi on 3 December to demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. The UCG had staged a demonstration on 29-30 November in protest at Russian border troops' unilateral decision to move a control post from Russian to Georgian territory. Also on 3 December, some 200 residents of the village of Muganlo, southeast of Tbilisi, demonstrated outside the Russian military base at Vaziani to protest the deaths of three villagers on 1 December. The three, including a small child, were killed trying to dismantle a mine they had found in a nearby field. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PASSPORT SCANDAL CONTINUESJean- Luc Viala, the head of the French national printing office, has denied Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry claims that his office delivered 4 million passports to Baku, which the Azerbaijani authorities then rejected as substandard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1997). Viala told AFP on 3 December that his office signed a contract with Azerbaijan in 1994 and delivered 19,000 specimen passports the following year. Later, he said, the contract "was broken for commercial reasons." LF
 AZERBAIJAN TO PRIVATIZE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRYAzerbaijani President Heidar Aliev on 3 December issued a decree privatizing six state-owned construction companies and another three related enterprises, Interfax reported. The construction branch is one of the last still under state ownership, along with the oil and petro- chemical industry, road maintenance, and medical services (see "End Note," in "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 1997). LF
 UZBEK OPPOSITION PARTY ASKS PRESIDENT TO ALLOW LEADER'S RETURNAt a plenary session in Tashkent at the end of November, the banned opposition party "Erk" drew up a letter to Uzbek President Islam Karimov asking that Erk chairman Muhammed Salih be allowed to return from self- imposed exile in Turkey. Salih told RFE/RL's Uzbek service on 2 December that he would like to return and that Erk Secretary-General Otanazar Oripov is discussing with the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent on ways to facilitate that process. Erk also asked the Uzbek president for permission to re-register the party. BP
 KARIMOV DECREES AMNESTY ON ANNIVERSARY OF CONSTITUTIONMeanwhile, Uzbek President Karimov has decreed an amnesty for some criminals, RFE/RL correspondents in Tashkent reported on 3 December. The decree coincided with the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Uzbek Constitution. Women who either have children or are expecting a child, people over 60 years of age, and those convicted of some non-violent crimes are covered by the amnesty. Those who do not qualify for may be eligible for a 25-50 percent reduction in their sentences. A special commission has been formed to decide who qualifies for the amnesty. The commission's report is due within three months. BP
 INFLATION IN KAZAKHSTAN LOWER THAN EXPECTEDKazakhstan's National Statistics Agency reports that annual inflation for this year will be lower than predicted, Interfax reported on 3 December. Monthly inflation stood at 1.5 percent in November, up from 1.2 percent the previous month. Consumer prices increased by 9.8 percent from to January and November 1997, compared with 24.8 percent in same period last year. The government is now predicting annual inflation will not exceed 12 percent. Earlier forecasts put the annual rate at 17 percent. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 TOMIC IS ACTING SERBIAN PRESIDENTThe Serbian legislature chosen in the 21 September elections re- elected Dragan Tomic as speaker in its opening session on 3 December. Tomic, who belongs to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, will serve as acting president of Serbia until that office is filled. Most opposition parties boycotted the session, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. Spokesmen for those parties criticized the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement and Serbian Radical Party for attending the meeting. PM
 YUGOSLAVIA WANTS RUSSIAN ARMSFederal Prime Minister Radoje Kontic signed a series of economic and cultural agreements with his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, in Moscow on 3 December. Russia will grant Yugoslavia a credit of $150 million to purchase Russian goods. Kontic said Belgrade wants trade between the two countries to reach a total volume of $2.5 billion by the end of the decade. He added that Yugoslavia is especially interested in buying advanced Russian weaponry as well as spare parts for Russian-made arms currently used by the Yugoslav military, RFE/RL reported. PM
 RUSSIA TO JOIN NEW BOSNIAN FORCESenior NATO officials told Reuters in Brussels on 3 December that Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev agreed with his NATO counterparts on what the multi-national peacekeepers have achieved in Bosnia and on what remains to be done. The officials added that Russia feels that a continued international military presence will be necessary in Bosnia when SFOR's mandate runs out in June and that Russia wants to take part in such a force. Meanwhile in Washington, former Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman urged the U.S. to keep troops in Bosnia after June 1998 to help prevent a renewal of fighting. He said that "people with fresh scars of war are not going to be ready for reconciliation." PM
 CROATIA TRIES NINE FOR WAR CRIMESA district court in Zagreb on 3 December charged nine men with murder, attempted murder, extortion, and unlawful arrests in conjunction with the torture and death of dozens of Serbs in Pakracka Poljana in 1991. This is Croatia's first trial of Croats suspected of having committed war crimes in 1991. Previous Croatian trials of Croats have dealt with atrocities committed against Serbs during and after the Croatian army's 1995 offensive against rebel Serb enclaves. PM
 MACEDONIA HAS PROBLEMS WITH BELGRADE...The Yugoslav members of the Yugoslav-Macedonian border commission want frontier changes made in Belgrade's favor at three strategically important points, BETA news agency reported from Skopje on 3 December. The proposed changes would violate the commission's guiding principle that the new international frontier should be the one between Serbia and Macedonia detailed on former Yugoslav army maps. BETA quoted Macedonian media as saying Belgrade has proposed the changes in an effort to delay a final border agreement. Yugoslav army troops loyal to Belgrade occupied several strategic points on the Macedonian side of the frontier at the time of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. PM
 ...BUT RAPPROCHEMENT WITH ALBANIAForeign Minister Blagoj Handziski launched a new policy of rapprochement with Albania by hosting talks with his Albanian counterpart, Paskal Milo, in Debar on 3 December. The meeting follows the conclusion of an informal agreement between Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov and Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano at the Balkan summit on Crete to improve bilateral relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1997). Milo told the Skopje daily "Nova Makedonija" that Macedonia's ethnic Albanians should be allowed to "manifest their national identity and participate in the leadership and administration of the Macedonia state." Milo added, however, that Albania does not encourage separatism and has no territorial ambitions in Macedonia. PM
 ITALY DEPORTS HUNDREDS OF ALBANIANSBrindisi authorities on 3 December sent some 500 Albanian migrants back to Albania by sea. Those Albanians are the first group of a total of some 5, 000 migrants slated for repatriation once their residency permits expire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1997). Italian aircraft also repatriated some 54 Albanian men from the temporary shelter at Teramo after the Albanians tried to resist deportation by staging a hunger strike and barricading themselves in the shelter. PM
 ROMANIA DENIES REPORT ON NAZI GOLD...A spokesman for the Romanian National Bank has said documents in the bank's archive "prove beyond doubt that the banks' treasury does not have and never had even a single gram of gold" that belonged to Jewish Holocaust victims, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 3 December. Adrian Vasilescu was responding to a report prepared by a group of Swiss historians, which says that between 1939 and 1944, Romania purchased from the Reichsbank gold valued at more than $54 million and worth some $540 million today. Vasilescu said that Romania accepted only gold for its deliveries of oil and cereals to Germany but that the ingots received from Berlin date from 1934-1935. Meanwhile, another report based on an archive discovered in Austria reveals that in 1943, the Reichsbank transferred 1,510 gold bars to Romania. MS
 ...AS ROMANIAN GOLD IN MOSCOW THREATENS TREATY WITH RUSSIAIon Diaconu, Romania's new ambassador to Moscow, says the problem of the Romanian treasury sent to Russia for safekeeping during World War I must not become an issue hindering the conclusion of the basic treaty with Russia, Radio Bucharest reported on 3 December. Diaconu recently told ITAR- TASS that the wartime treasury might be raised in parleys on the treaty, which prompted strong reactions in Moscow. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told the BBC on 28 November that it was Russia, rather than Romania, that could raise financial claims for military deliveries to Romania during the war and for Russian army assets confiscated after the end of hostilities. The daily "Segodnya" on 1 December published documents from the archives of the Russian Finance Ministry attesting to the transfer of Romanian gold in total value of 117.3 million rubles at 1916-17 prices. MS
 BULGARIA WANTS SOVEREIGNTY WITHIN EUROPEForeign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told the Vienna daily "Die Presse" of 4 December that Bulgaria wants to consolidate its political and economic integration into European structures by joining the EU. She said that Bulgaria has often been the junior partner of a major power in the course of history and that it does not want to enter into such an unequal relationship again. Mihailova added, however, that Bulgaria welcomes the opportunity to join NATO because the alliance functions as a team in which there is a division of labor. Asked about her country's traditional friendship with Russia, Mihailova replied that friendship may play a role between individuals but that states conduct their relations based on interests. She added that Bulgaria's interest is to preserve its independence and sovereignty. PM
[C] END NOTE
 ANOTHER STEP BACKWARD IN BELARUSby Christopher Walker
Though not wholly unexpected, the Belarusian authorities' decision to shut down the independent newspaper "Svaboda" demonstrates its desire to extinguish any remaining pluralistic impulse in Belarus. Citing recent articles deemed to violate the press law, the Supreme Commercial Court ordered the immediate closure of the publication. That action is not isolated; independent media in Belarus are constantly subject to official pressure to a degree unmatched in neighboring post-Soviet countries. A larger issue for observers of Belarusian media and for Belarusians themselves is whether the majority of the Belarusian people acquiesce in this kind of action.
In Belarus, harassment of independent media--and, for that matter, virtually any independent organization--is the rule rather than the exception. In typical Soviet fashion, the Belarusian authorities devote substantial time and taxpayer money toward badgering non-state media, despite manifold domestic troubles.
Since taking power in 1994, President Alyksandr Lukashenka's regime has closely monitored the content of "Svaboda." But interference in the newspaper's activities predates Lukashenka's ascension to the presidency. "Svaboda" faced a series of libel suits from government officials during the administration of Lukashenka's predecessor, Vyacheslau Kebich. That indicates the depth of the difficulties confronting the Belarusian media today.
A host of presidential edicts have consolidated authority over the press within the president's office. Most printing facilities are state- controlled. An August 1994 decree brought the state printing house in Minsk under the direct control of the presidential administration. Printing facilities elsewhere in the country had to receive the authorization of the presidential administration to conclude printing contracts with non-state media. In October 1995, "Svaboda," along with several other independent publications, was denied the right to publish at the state printing house in Minsk. Those newspapers were then compelled to use printing facilities in Lithuania in order to continue publishing.
Moreover, non-state media have to rely on the state- controlled postal service and distribution network, making it difficult for independent publications to be distributed to towns and villages. "Svaboda," though available in larger cities the same day as it was published, reached distribution points in the countryside one day later. Summary evictions of independent news organizations from state-owned office space is also not unheard of.
Owing to regulatory harassment and economic obstacles, between 35,000 and 50,000 copies of each issue of "Svaboda" were printed at the time of its closure, roughly half of its 1995 level. In a country of 10 million, the newspaper reached only a fraction of the adult population.
In practical terms, the shutdown of "Svaboda" may not have a major impact on the Belarusian media landscape. But, symbolically, the opposite may be true. Already pushed to the margins by the regime, independent media are operating under strained conditions. The irony is that with the existing financial, administrative and political obstacles, there is already substantial control over independent media. Shutting down a weakened "Svaboda" is essentially a gratuitous political act.
Free press advocates and those working in independent media in Belarus view the shutdown of "Svaboda" as the latest in a series of outrages against the independent press. But for the many Belarusians who still have a Soviet orientation and support Lukashenka, the closure of "Svaboda" does not constitute an outrage. Ultimately, the Belarusian population itself must decide that the state of domestic affairs is unacceptable.
Western observers and Belarusian activist groups recognize that the current condition of the country's independent media is unsatisfactory. Ironically, the average Belarusian, receiving inadequate information from limited news sources, ultimately may not have the information necessary to recognize this for himself.
The author is based in Prague and is manager of programs at the European Journalism Network.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty