|Friday, 24 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 15, 98-01-23
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 15, 23 January 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ANTI-TERRORISM MEASURESLevon Ter-Petrossyan on 22 January called on Prosecutor- General Henrik Khachatrian and Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian to take "exhaustive measures" to preclude further attacks on senior officials, adding that he fears for the lives of senior government members. Presidential security chief Roman Ghazaryan, who escaped unhurt when shots were fired on his jeep on the night of 18 January, told ITAR- TASS on 22 January that additional security measures have been taken to protect Russian Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev during his two-day visit to Armenia, which began that day. LF
 ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DIFFER OVER SHOOTINGSParliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakian and Armenian Pan-National Movement board chairman Vano Siradeghian have both characterized the shootings over the past six days as "terrorist incidents." Prime Minister Robert Kocharian told Interfax on 22 January that it is premature to pass such a judgment. He said he does not believe the shootings are connected to internal differences of opinion within the Armenian leadership, which, he added, concern tactics rather than the long-term objective of achieving a settlement to the conflict acceptable to the Karabakh leadership. Sahakian , however, suggested a connection between the shootings and the discord within the country's leadership. He also commented that the current situation of "diarchy...cannot last long," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Siradeghian told AFP on 22 January that the movement does not want Kocharian to resign but does want the president to ensure the efficient functioning of the government. LF
 NEW MOVEMENT FORMED IN AZERBAIJANIlyas Ismailov, leader of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, told journalists on 22 January that he has reached agreement with former Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev on forming a new movement that will seek to prevent election fraud, Turan reported. Last month, Guliev confirmed his intention to contest the presidential elections, scheduled for October. The Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office recently accused him of planning a coup against President Heidar Aliev. LF
 CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL MEETS IN TBILISIGeorgian and Abkhaz delegations to the Consultative Council for regulating the Abkhaz conflict met in Tbilisi on 22 January, Caucasus Press reported. Vazha Lortkipanidze, the head of the Georgian delegation, rejected as "preposterous" allegations by his Abkhaz counterpart, Tamaz Ketsba, that Georgian intelligence is responsible for ongoing sabotage in Abkhazia. Revaz Adamia, the chairman of the Georgian parliamentary commission on defense and security issues, said the Abkhaz agreed at the meeting to unspecified measures to counter terrorism. But he added that the problem of terrorism and crime in Abkhazia "will not be solved" until all ethnic Georgians forced to flee the region during the 1992-1993 hostilities have been allowed to return. LF
 AZERBAIJAN TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTYPresident Aliev on 22 January announced he will amend the criminal code to abolish the death penalty and hopes that the parliament will endorse that decision. Azerbaijan imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in 1993. The 128 people currently sentenced to death in Azerbaijan will have their sentences commuted to prolonged prison terms. Abolition of the death punishment is one of the preconditions for full membership in the Council of Europe. Meanwhile, the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" on 22 January quotes International Red Cross officials as warning that the incidence in Azerbaijani prisons of a strain of tuberculosis resistant to several medications has risen dramatically and constitutes a "time bomb" that threatens the entire country. The disease has also spread to refugee camps and military barracks. LF
 TAJIK COMMISSION RESUMES WORKThe National Reconciliation Commission has met for the first time since United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri suspended his group's participation in the commission on 15 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. According to the news agency, representatives from the contact group, made up of guarantor nations of the Tajik peace accord, took part in the meeting. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov is scheduled to meet first with UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem and later with Nuri. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 ALBANIAN KILLED IN KOSOVO SHOOT-OUTSerbian police killed one man and wounded two women in Donji Prekaz on 22 January. Radio Pristina said the police were pursuing "terrorists" when the incident occurred. Spokesmen for a Kosovo human rights organization said the police cut off telephones and electricity to the village and then fired on it. The village is in the Srbica area, where the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) controls some communities. In Belgrade, Milomir Minic, a leader of the governing Socialist Party of Serbia, stressed the authorities "will not tolerate terrorism." He added that ethnic minorities in Serbia enjoy more rights than do minorities in many other European countries. A spokesman for the opposition Citizens' League of Serbia said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should urgently arrange a dialogue between Serbs and Albanians, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. PM
 FATWA ISSUED AGAINST MACEDONIAN MUFTISome ethnic Albanian Muslim religious leaders in Macedonia recently issued an edict calling for the death of Jakub Selimovski, the head of a rival Islamic organization. The imams charged Selimovski with misuse of funds. State- run media condemned the imams' decision as an attempt to put themselves above the law. Selimovski was the last head of the main Yugoslav- wide Islamic organization before it broke up in 1992. An ethnic Macedonian and a moderate who advocates religious and ethnic tolerance, he has frequently been at odds with Islamic fundamentalists and ethnic Albanian nationalists. PM
 SOLANA PREDICTS MORE ARRESTS IN BOSNIAA State Department spokesman said in Washington on 22 January that the arrest and extradition to The Hague of indicted war criminal Goran Jelisic was another step toward a lasting peace in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). The spokesman added that Jelisic's arrest should serve as a warning to other war criminals. In Warsaw, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana predicted that there will be further such arrests. PM
 EU GIVES $110 MILLION FOR REFUGEESEU officials have approved a $110 million aid package to facilitate the return of Bosnian refugees, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Brussels on 22 January. EU spokesmen said they hope that the money will enable "several tens of thousands" of people to go home. In Ankara, Turkish and Bosnian officials signed a $3.8 million agreement to improve agriculture and transportation in Bosnia. And in Bonn, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said in a 23 January statement that the international community should show its support for the moderate Bosnian Serb government of Prime Minister Milorad Dodik by speeding up economic aid to the Republika Srpska. PM
 MILOSEVIC WELCOMES DODIKYugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said in Belgrade on 22 January after meeting with Dodik and other Bosnian Serb officials that "Yugoslavia will support all efforts aimed at realizing the main objectives of the Republika Srpska, especially to reinforce its unity and overcome divisions which have led to a crisis." Milosevic last met with the top Bosnian Serb leadership on 16 January, one day before Dodik's election. In related news, outgoing Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic said he will hand over power peacefully to Dodik, even though he does not consider Dodik's election legal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998), the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported. PM
 STILL NO GOVERNMENT IN SERBIAVojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), said in Belgrade on 22 January that his party will not form a coalition Serbian government with Milosevic's supporters, nor will the SRS tolerate a minority cabinet, "Danas" reported. Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has demanded the Serbian premiership and several key ministries in both the Serbian and Yugoslav governments for the SPO as a condition for his participation in a Serbian coalition, AFP wrote. Milosevic's backers lost their absolute majority in parliamentary elections in September 1997. Serbian law does not set a deadline by which a government must be formed, "Nasa Borba" noted. PM
 BLIZZARDS WRECK HAVOC IN CROATIAStorms and gale-force winds crippled transportation and disrupted the electric power system across much of Croatia on 21 and 22 January. Bus services between Zagreb and the coast and ferry services between the islands were canceled. PM
 ALBANIAN DEPUTIES FACE INVESTIGATION OVER SHKODER VISITA spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office has said that the office will question legislators who were recently in Shkoder about their role in the disturbances there. He added that the office may ask the parliament to lift the immunity of some of those deputies. Parliamentary Vice Parliament Jozefina Topalli, who belongs to the opposition Democratic Party, tried to mediate between rebel policemen who occupied the local prefecture from 19- 21 January and special police forces from Tirana. Meanwhile, local police have reestablished control over the city. Local police have arrested two of the dozen or so rebel policemen and charged them with staging a rebellion, "Koha Jone" reported. In related news, the Council of Ministers has appointed Ali Lacej from the Democratic Alliance Party as prefect in the northern town. FS
 TURKISH ARMY TO REBUILD ALBANIAN PORTThe Turkish army will reconstruct the southern naval base of Pasha Liman, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 22 January. Investments totaling some $5 million will also be used to upgrade the naval academy in Vlora. Both the port and the school were largely destroyed during unrest in March 1997. Pasha Liman is Albania's oldest developed harbor, dating back to the Roman Empire. It became a military port during the Ottoman Empire and served the Soviet Union as its only base on the Adriatic before Albania's break with the Soviet bloc in the early 1960s. FS
 ROMANIAN COALITION CRISIS CONTINUESRomanian media reported on 22 January that Premier Victor Ciorbea has offered the Democratic Party the first deputy premiership in charge of reforms and Minster of Reform Ilie Serbanescu has resigned in protest. According to those reports, Ciorbea has not accepted Serbanescu's resignation. Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, the leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL), said he does not believe the offer to the Democrats will solve the crisis. On 22 January, the PNL Standing Bureau again delegated Ionescu- Quintus to mediate between the Democrats and the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, both of which say they want the coalition to continue. The next day, however, the PNL Standing Bureau announced it will withdraw its ministers from the government on 28 January if negotiations on Ciorbea's replacement have not begun by then. MS
 ROMANIAN INCOME TAX TO BE REDUCEDThe government on 22 January approved a draft regulation that will reduce the income tax imposed on wages from a maximum of 60 percent to 45 percent, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Incomes below 250,000 lei (some $30) a month will not be taxed. Also on 22 January, the Senate approved a banking law providing for the National Bank's increased control over the country's banks. The law differs in part from legislation approved earlier by the Chamber of Deputies. In line with parliamentary regulations, a mediation commission will now have to seek to reconcile those differences. MS
 MOLDOVAN CUSTOM AUTHORITIES ENGAGE IN 'LANGUAGE WAR'The Moldovan custom authorities are prohibiting the transit of trucks from CIS states unless the documents presented at the border are filled out in the Romanian language, which is Moldova's "state language." Radio Bucharest said on 22 January that similar measures have been instituted by Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. In other news, the authorities in the Transdniester breakaway republic have reduced electricity to Moldova by 10 percent, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Chisinau owes Tiraspol $15 million for energy supplied by the Dnestrovsk power station, which accounts for some 40 percent of Moldova's electricity consumption. The Tiraspol authorities rejected a Moldovan offer to pay 30 million lei (some $6.5 million) and insist on the full settlement of the debt. MS
 BULGARIAN PRESIDENT MARKS INAUGURATION ANNIVERSARYPresident Petar Stoyanov, marking first anniversary of his inauguration on 22 January, told Bulgarians they must continue to support market reforms. Stoyanov said on national radio that reform "is not a single act after which we can stop and rest." He said Bulgarians must make a permanent effort if they want to participate in global markets and take a share of prosperity, Reuters reported. Meanwhile in Bonn, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told visiting Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov that Germany wants Sofia to join the EU and NATO as soon as possible. But Kinkel rejected calls to lift visa requirements for Bulgarians who want to visit Germany, dpa reported. MS
 BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MOVES NO CONFIDENCE MOTIONThe Socialist Party on 22 January moved a no-confidence motion against Ivan Kostov's cabinet, blaming it for the rising costs of health care, Reuters reported. The motion is the first no-confidence move against the nine- month-old government, but is certain to be defeated owing to the Union of Democratic Forces' absolute majority in the legislature. MS
[C] END NOTE
 VARIED ECONOMIC FORTUNES IN VISEGRAD AND THE BALKANSby Michael Wyzan
Last year saw a large divergence in economic performance among the transition countries. That continued a long-established trend whereby the Visegrad countries and Baltic States are the leading performers and other countries struggle to carry out the most basic economic reforms and resume economic growth.
The big story in the Visegrad countries was the economic plight of the Czech Republic. The country experienced a currency crisis in the spring and a natural catastrophe--flooding--in the summer. Gross domestic product GDP grew by only 1.2 percent, down from 4.1 percent in 1996. The budget deficit increased, while foreign investment inflows fell by 35 percent.
A long period of political uncertainty and weak government culminated in the December resignation of Vaclav Klaus, prime minister since 1992, over a campaign-finance scandal. Both his and the economy's fortunes were tied to the premier's economic approach. In the early years of his tenure, his commitment to trade and price liberalization as well as to austere macroeconomic policy stood the country in good stead. Later, following his failure to comprehend such subtler issues as government regulation of the economy and the transparency of capital markets, Klaus became a liability.
Slovakia's economy performed respectably in 1997, even though GDP growth was down and inflation up slightly. However, serious problems are looming, including a ballooning current-account deficit largely caused by the strength of the Slovak crown, which is now worth more than its Czech counterpart. The budget deficit was about 5.7 percent of GDP and is expected to rise further this year. And the foreign-debt burden reached worrisome proportions.
As in the Czech Republic, the quality of political leadership is the main problem. Slovakia's incomplete democratization has alienated the EU to such an extent that it is only Visegrad land not invited to accession talks. Its insider-dominated privatization methods have scared away foreign investors. Moreover, matters are unlikely to improve this year, given the disincentives to sound economic policy that are likely to prevail until September's general elections.
The other three Visegrad countries registered sound performances. Hungary is reaping the benefits of the austerity measures introduced in 1995 and political stability under the Socialists. Virtually all its economic indicators are favorable and improving, although inflation remains stubbornly high. The economy is largely in private hands, and foreign investment inflows remain enormous.
Virtually the same could be said about Poland, although the budget situation is worrisome. Many major enterprises remain in state hands, and differences between the governing coalition partners may hinder progress. Slovenia continues to turn in respectable, if unspectacular, economic results but needs to speed up privatization (especially of banks) and rein in budget expenditure and wage growth.
The year 1997 was even more troubled than usual in the Balkans. In Albania, the entire social order imploded in the wake of the failure of pyramid schemes, and GDP declined by about 15 percent. In Bulgaria, the socialist government's failure to deal with festering structural problems and to reach agreement with the IMF led to a severe currency collapse in the winter that damaged the economy (GDP fell by 7.4 percent). Both countries have new leaderships; and particularly in Bulgaria, where a currency board was introduced on 1 July, there are grounds for optimism.
Romania's situation is similar to Bulgaria's: a government elected in November 1996 has embarked on radical reforms with IMF support. Unlike in Bulgaria, however, the regime is a weak coalition of feuding parties and the IMF has become increasingly standoffish as the government has had trouble meeting its commitments on structural reforms. Its economic indicators in 1997 were unimpressive: GDP declined by about 5 percent and inflation remained more than 100 percent.
The other former Yugoslav republics followed strikingly diverse patterns. Macedonia has enjoyed political stability under the same prime minister since 1992, but relations between Macedonians and Albanians have deteriorated while ties with Greece (its only never-communist neighbor) are disappointingly slow to improve. Still, GDP growth picked up slightly in 1997 and inflation remained among the lowest in the region.
Croatia is in a unique position, with progress on reform and the standard of living putting it among the leading transition countries in many respects. Foreign-policy problems, however, keep it in the EU's waiting room without even an association agreement. Its economy is growing rapidly, and it has extremely low inflation. But the current account deficit is large and restructuring of industrial enterprises and banks is slow.
Federal Yugoslavia, meanwhile, has rapid growth and moderate inflation, but will not emerge from the deep economic hole dug by its leadership until it overcomes its international isolation.
The author is an economist living in Austria.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty