|Friday, 23 August 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 169, 98-09-03
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 169, 3 September 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CHANGES TO CONSTITUTION...Askar Akayev appeared on national television on 1 September to announce a referendum on changes to the constitution, Interfax and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The text of that decree was published in the 2 September "Slovo Kyrgyzstana." Under those amendments, the number of deputies in the Legislative Assembly would be increased from 35 to 67 and the number of representatives in the People's Assembly reduced from 70 to 38. Fifteen of the seats in the legislature would be given to representatives of parties that receive more than 5 percent of the vote in elections. Private land ownership would be introduced, as would the requirements that parliamentary candidates be resident both in the country and their constituency, immunity for deputies limited, and greater freedom for the media guaranteed. BP
 ...DRAWS CRITICISM FROM DEPUTIESAkayev's call for a referendum on amending the constitution took deputies by surprise, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. On 1 September, at the Legislative Assembly's first session following summer vacation, there was no mention of amending the constitution. Many members of the assembly comnsplained the next day that they had not been consulted and were unaware of Akayev's intentions. Deputy Abyt Ibraimov called Akayev's move "a slap in the face" to the parliament. Deputy Daniyar Usenov noted that Akayev himself had said there would be no more referenda until the year 2000. This will be the third time in four years that a referendum has been held to change the constitution. BP
 JOINT MILITARY EXERCISE IN TAJIKISTANA Russian- Tajik military exercise began in southern Tajikistan on 3 September, ITAR-TASS reported. The exercise, described as "large-scale," involves troops of the Tajik Defense Ministry and Russia's 201st Motorized Rifle Division, which is stationed in Tajikistan. The stated purpose of the maneuvers is to practice "rebuffing enemy attacks." There is no information on the exact site of the exercises or its distance from the Tajik-Afghan border. BP
 ARMENIAN CENTRAL BANK UNFAZED AS DRAM LOSES VALUEArmenian Central Bank Board member Nerses Yeritsian told journalists on 2 September that the bank does not plan any intervention to prop up the dram, which lost 4 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar the same day, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yeritsian attributed the drop from 502 to 520 drams to $1 to small- scale speculation, adding that Armenia has sufficient foreign-currency reserves to protect attacks on the dram. But he admitted that the national currency has been weakened by sales of short-term Armenian government bonds by Russian investors who are short of foreign exchange. Until recently, Russian investors were estimated to account for up to 60 percent of government bond sales in Armenia. LF
 OBSTACLES TO ARMENIAN-IRANIAN TRADEIn an interview with National Television, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian called for the liberalization of trade with Iran, Noyan Tapan reported on 2 September. Oskanian said that Tehran has imposed heavy import duties on imported goods in order to protect local producers. Armenia's trade turnover with Iran, which is its most important trading partner, fell by 9.6 percent in 1997 to $131.3 million, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 3 September. Oskanian also admitted that the financing of the planned gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia has not yet been resolved. In June, Greece indicated that it might contribute to the costs of that project. The foreign ministers of Iran, Armenia, and Greece are scheduled to meet in Tehran next week. LF
 KARABAKH CELEBRATES ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE DECLARATIONArmenian President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Armen Darpinian, and other government ministers attended celebrations in Stepanakert on 2 September to mark the seventh anniversary of the declaration of the Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Addressing a joint session of the Karabakh government and parliament, the president of the unrecognized republic, Arkadii Ghukasian, said Karabakh's existence has been a success, and he vowed to prevent its return to Azerbaijani rule in the future. Ghukasian called for direct talks between Karabakh and Azerbaijan, which he said is the "shortest way" to settle the decade-long dispute. The ceremonies included the formal opening of a further section of the reconstructed road linking Karabakh to Armenia via the strategic Lachin corridor across Azerbaijani territory. Reconstruction of the entire highway is being financed by the All-Armenian Hayastan Fund. LF
 ANOTHER AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST BEATEN BY POLICEBaku police on 1 September halted the car of Tali Hamid, editor of the independent newspaper "Mustagil," to prevent him entering a stretch of highway along which President Heidar Aliev was to drive 90 minutes later, Turan reported. The police verbally insulted Hamid and then dragged him from the car and beat him. Hamid subsequently lodged a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office, which has opened an investigation into the incident. LF
 COORDINATING COUNCIL DISCUSSES ABKHAZIAThe Coordinating Council for the Abkhaz conflict convened on 2 September for the first time since the fighting in Abkhazia's Gali Raion in May. Georgian and Abkhaz government delegations headed by Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh attended together with the UN Secretary-General's special representative, Liviu Bota, and the U.S., British, French and German ambassadors to Tbilisi. Bagapsh told Caucasus Press that no concrete decisions were adopted at the meeting. Russian envoy for Abkhazia Lev Mironov said at the meeting that the continuing low level terrorism in Gali and the construction of fortifications on either side of the River Inguri (which forms the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia) show that both sides are preparing for a new war. He said the UN and Russia should set a deadline for Tbilisi and Sukhumi to reach a mutually acceptable political settlement of the conflict. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 KOSOVA AGREEMENT IN THE OFFING?U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill, who is also Washington's chief envoy regarding the Kosova question, said in Prishtina on 2 September that "the two sides in general agreed what we can reach." He said that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, with whom he met the previous day in Belgrade, and Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova, with whom he met in Prishtina on 2 September, agreed in principle that Kosova should receive "a certain degree of self-administration" for a provisional period of between three and five years. After that period, the parties concerned would "review" the political status of Kosova. PM
 SOME NEGATIVE REACTIONS TO AUTONOMY PROPOSAL...Numerous commentaries in regional and international media on 2 September pointed out that Hill has yet to get the two sides to agree on details and that the "devil has been in the details" in previous attempts to negotiate an end to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia since 1991. Some commentaries noted that Hill gave no indication as to when his proposal might take effect, or whether the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) will agree to it. The UCK's long-standing position is that independence is the only possible solution. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said that he is skeptical about whether the proposal can lead to concrete results. PM
 ...AND SOME POSITIVE ONESSpokesmen for Rugova said the accord could lead to "stabilizing the overall situation in Kosova and assure the functioning of all [state] institutions." U.S. diplomats in Prishtina also stressed that the main goal of the agreement would be to "create a framework for democratic institutions and the functioning of the rule of law," AFP reported. Albanian Foreign Minister Pascal Milo said that Hill's project "promises the start of a dialogue which might lead to further positive developments.... [The agreement] might not be the best Albanians are asking for, but it is a basis to start negotiations and they can reach promising results." PM
 FIGHTING CONTINUES ACROSS WESTERN KOSOVASerbian and Kosovar sources reported clashes on 3 September in the Prizren area and near the Prishtina-Peja highway and the Gjakova-Klina road. The Kosova Information Center, which is close to Rugova, noted heavy Serbian attacks in the vicinity of Malisheva, Klina, Gjakova and Rahovec. No independent confirmation of either side's accounts of casualties or kidnapping victims is available. In other news, the Austrian Interior Ministry said in a statement the previous day that some 2,800 Kosovars have asked for political asylum in Austria since the beginning of August. The report added that only about 10 percent of the applicants have been able to prove they were victims of repression by the Serbian authorities. Those applicants are thus the only ones to receive asylum. PM
 RUEHE WARNS MOSCOW ON KOSOVAGerman Defense Minister Volker Ruehe on 2 September said that Russia must play what he called a more constructive role in resolving the Kosova problem. Ruehe suggested that Moscow is not applying sufficient pressure on Belgrade to seek a negotiated solution and that Russia is preventing the UN Security Council from taking effective action to end the crisis in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Ruehe and Kinkel both told the Bundestag that Milosevic must understand that NATO is ready and able to take military action in Kosova if the Atlantic alliance decides to do so, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" added. In Brussels, NATO ambassadors agreed to offer transportation and communications assistance to international relief organizations to provide aid to Kosovar refugees. In Bonn, the German government announced that it has made $4.5 million available for refugee relief work, primarily in Montenegro. PM
 GARROD APPEALS TO CROATSSir Martin Garrod, who is the international community's chief representative in Mostar, appealed on 2 September to the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to support the return of Croats to nearby areas under Muslim control. He called on HDZ leaders to distance themselves from recent remarks by Ivan Prskalo, who is the Croatian co-mayor of Mostar. Prskalo said that Croats should not return to their former homes in Grabovica and Dreznica until Muslim troops leave those areas. Meanwhile in Zagreb, a spokesman for the OSCE said that the Croatian government's commission for refugee return has not done enough to expedite the return of Serbs, especially in the Knin, Obrovac, and Vukovar regions. PM
 ALBANIAN GUNMEN FORCE POLICE TO WITHDRAW...Police on 2 September withdrew from the southern village of Lazarat after eight officers were injured while trying to recapture the village from armed gunmen (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 2 September 1998). Hundreds of special police had made two attempts to capture a group of armed villagers who halted traffic along a main north-south road the previous day, but they gave up those attempts after coming under heavy gunfire. Gjirokastra's police chief Edmond Stepa said all units have withdrawn to Gjirokastra, adding that "police forces will stay here until the situation calms down." He gave no further explanation for the withdrawal. In Tirana, Interior Minister Perikli Teta blamed the disturbances on "elements of anarchy and terror, who will be punished by all means," Reuters reported. He called on "the people of Lazarat to distance themselves from the bandits.... The Albanian police [will] not back down in face of crime," Teta said. FS
 ...WHILE GUNMEN'S MOTIVE REMAINS UNCLEARObservers noted that it is not clear whether the main motive for the gang's actions is political or criminal. OSCE representative Tim Isles said in Tirana that he has "no indication that it was political," adding that "I believe it was a gang doing hold-ups on the road, something which has happened before, and then things escalated." "Rilindja Demokratike," however, published a Democratic Party statement on 2 September accusing the Socialist-led government of conducting "communist persecution" against "the marvelous [sic] inhabitants of Lazarat." It added that "the clique of [Prime Minister Fatos] Nano with its anti-Lazarat behavior shows its true face of crime, political hatred, and unscrupulous hostility toward its political opponents." FS
 BOMB DAMAGES SOCIALIST PARTY OFFICESAn explosion during the night of 2 to 3 September badly damaged the headquarters of the Socialist Party in the northern town of Lezha, dpa reported. Four days earlier, a bomb went off near Socialist offices in Shkodra (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1998). Meanwhile in Tirana, Pandeli Majko, who heads the Socialist faction in parliament, said that "the developments in Kosova make it necessary [for all parties] in Albania to cooperate and [conduct a] dialogue." He accused Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha of trying deliberately to "increase tensions" between the governing coalition and the opposition. He charged that some of Berisha's recent statements calling for a confrontation with the government have "nothing to do with [the normal conduct of] a democratic opposition and are in contradiction to our national interests," ATSH reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1998). FS
 IMF CALLS FOR 'TOUGH MEASURES' IN ROMANIAThe IMF chief negotiator for Romania, Poul Thompsen, met with Finance Minister Daniel Daianu on 2 September to discuss envisaged cuts in the budget, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Thompsen said after the meeting that "very tough measures" are necessary in order to halt the "unprecedented" budget deficit and that Romania must also raise taxes. Daianu said that under current circumstances, a deficit totaling 3.6 percent of GDP cannot be achieved. Unless very strict additional measures are immediately introduced, Romania risks jeopardizing even its "small achievements" to date, such as low inflation, he commented. MS
 ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION REJECTS ETHNIC HUNGARIAN DEMANDS...The Chamber of Deputies' Education Commission on 2 September rejected the amendment to the education law, proposed by Victor Ciorbea's cabinet, that would have set up a Hungarian- language state university. Last December, the Senate's Education Commission rejected that amendment but endorsed setting up separate departments that would provide instruction in Romanian and Hungarian. The chamber's commission decided to allow only "sections and groups within multicultural universities," where teaching in ethnic minority languages is permitted. It also decided that instruction in just one of those languages can be offered only by private universities. Deputy Aureliu Emil Sandulescu of the ruling coalition's National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), who proposed the resolution, said the move comes to "emphasize that Romania is a unitary state, not a federal one." He added that a Hungarian-language state university would signify "a first step toward federalism." MS
 ...WHILE ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY WARNS OF CONSEQUENCESCsaba Takacs, executive chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), responded by saying that the UDMR will now have to "reconsider its participation in the ruling coalition" at the 5 September meeting of its Council of Representatives. The UDMR's coalition partners had promised that the Senate's decision would be amended by the Chamber of Deputies in accordance with the coalition agreement. Also on 2 September, George Pruteanu, who led the opposition to the amendment in the Senate and who has since been expelled from the PNTCD, was replaced as chairman of the Senate's Education Commission by PNTCD Senator Florin Bogdan. Meanwhile, the government commission set up to discuss ways of establishing a Hungarian state university convened for the first time on 2 September. MS
 BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WARNS PARLIAMENT AGAINST COMPLACENCYPetar Stoyanov on 2 September urged the parliament to press ahead with reforms and warned against complacency because of the financial stability achieved over the past 18 months, Reuters reported. In a speech to the legislature at the opening of its fall session, Stoyanov said he is "concerned" and does not want to "see our accomplishments wasted. They were achieved with a lot of suffering by the Bulgarian society." Stoyanov added that the state administration is still "full of bureaucrats who have a strong interest in slowing privatization and impeding the liberalization of the economy, since they had managed to turn their positions into a source of personal wealth." In his address to the legislature, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov pledged that the "toughest part" of the structural reform will be completed by mid-1999. MS
[C] END NOTE
 THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE'S APPRENTICEby Liz Fuller
In mid-August, the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) parliamentary faction elected 28-year-old lawyer Mikhail Saakashvili as its chairman. That move is not simply the latest in Saakashvili's meteoric career; it could also prove crucial in determining the role of the SMK in Georgian politics over the next decade.
Saakashvili, who spent several years studying in the U.S. after graduating from Kyiv State University in 1992, returned to Georgia in 1995 at the invitation of parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania. Since then, he has played a leading role in reforming Georgia's legal system and relentlessly criticized corruption within the upper echelons of power. (He is simultaneously chairman of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee and recently proposed the lustration of government ministers.)
Saakashvili is one of very few leading Georgian politicians who embarked on their political careers only after the collapse of the Soviet system. As "Kavkasioni" correspondent Ia Antadze points out, this puts him at a certain disadvantage vis-a-vis older politicians who are skilled in the art of behind-the-scenes intrigue. In addition, Antadze argues, Saakashvili is a "revolutionary" to whom compromise does not come naturally. At present, however, both those relative "weaknesses" are compensated for by Saakashvili's widespread popularity (he was named Georgia's "Man of the Year" in 1997) and the fact that he has the unqualified support of both Zhvania and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.
Zhvania and Saakashvili are the most prominent representatives of the progressive wing of the SMK, which Shevardnadze created in late1993 as a personal power base. The SMK is a marriage of convenience between disparate elements--the Greens, whom Zhvania originally headed; former Communist Party regional apparatchiks and bureaucrats-turned-businessmen, and youthful and ambitious scions of the former Communist intelligentsia-- all of whom chose to hitch their wagons to Shevardnadze's. Not surprisingly, this heterogeneity spawned major policy differences within the SMK's ranks following its victory in the November 1995 parliamentary elections. Those disagreements were exacerbated by personal animosities, for example between Zhvania and Minister of State Niko Lekishvili.
It is, however, the young, reformist wing of the SMK that has dominated and directed parliamentary debate. In the process, it has frequently demonstrated its independence, for example by rejecting presidential nominees for various official posts. Its members have also criticized Shevardnadze's failure to act more decisively in replacing representatives of the corrupt "old guard" who still occupy senior posts. Moreover, Zhvania has consistently been more outspokenly critical of Moscow than has Shevardnadze. (Whether his role is that of stalking-horse for the president or sorcerer's apprentice is unclear. Alternatively, Zhvania could simply be capitalizing on most opposition parties' shared antipathy and profound mistrust of Russia in order to secure a power base extending beyond his own party.)
Speaking on behalf of his fellow reformers within the SMK in July, Zhvania warned that failure to reform the local administrative system and the concomitant erosion of the leadership's authority had brought Georgia to the brink of catastrophe. He threatened to resign and assume the role of "constructive opposition" within the parliament unless radical measures were adopted to kickstart the stalled reform process. That warning effectively precipitated the resignation three weeks of both Lekishvili and the government. But some observers argued that Zhvania's statements were hypocritical and that neither he personally nor the SMK as a whole could disclaim a share of responsibility for the situation in the country.
Assuming that the new cabinet succeeds in implementing measures to cure the present malaise, Zhvania and Saakashvili will be vindicated and their positions strengthened. But their respective futures will hinge on two factors: first, whether the SMK retains its majority in the November1999 parliamentary elections and second, how the political situation evolves in the post- Shevardnadze era. Under the Georgian Constitution, the parliamentary speaker assumes the presidency in the event of the president's sudden death. But a pre-term presidential poll would inevitably be a hard-fought and ugly battle, and its outcome at this juncture is impossible to predict.
By the same token, there is no guarantee that the SMK would survive the departure of its founder from the political scene. On the contrary, it might split into rival factions--especially if Zhvania failed in his bid for the presidency. In such a case, Saakashvili would be better placed than Zhvania to head the reformist wing of the SMK in its next incarnation. Finally, Zhvania and Saakashvili may at some point cease to be allies. Saakashvili could conceivably regard Zhvania's less than spotless business reputation as reflecting badly on the SMK as a whole. Zhvania, for his part, may consider that Saakashvili's uncompromising approach makes him ill- suited to the political horse-trading that will be necessary if the SMK fails to secure a clear majority in the next parliament.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty