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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 25, 01-02-06

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 5, No. 25, 6 February 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS IRAN
  • [02] TURKISH AIRSPACE NOT CLOSED TO ARMENIAN PLANES
  • [03] RADICALS QUIT ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTY
  • [04] AZERBAIJANI WAR INVALID ATTEMPTS SUICIDE
  • [05] GEORGIA TO CHOOSE BETWEEN NATO, NEUTRALITY?
  • [06] KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TEHRAN...
  • [07] ...AND MOSCOW
  • [08] KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT PETITIONED OVER WORSENING SOCIAL CONDITIONS
  • [09] TAJIK DEFENSE MINISTER IN MOSCOW
  • [10] TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN SIGN TWO BILATERAL AGREEMENTS

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [11] MONTENEGRO'S PRESIDENT REMAINS FIRM ON REFERENDUM...
  • [12] ...CHALLENGES 'DOMINO THEORY'
  • [13] STATE DEPARTMENT CLARIFIES STAND ON MONTENEGRO
  • [14] KOSOVAR LEADER SAYS U.S., KOSOVARS HAVE 'UNDERSTANDING'
  • [15] GREEK PROTESTERS BLOCK KFOR CONVOY
  • [16] PRESEVO FIGHTERS SAY SERBIA WANTS 'MILITARY SOLUTION'
  • [17] KOSTUNICA SEEKS TO ELIMINATE PRESEVO DEMILITARIZED ZONE
  • [18] JANE'S: MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN GUERRILLA FORCE DOES NOT EXIST
  • [19] ORGANIZED CRIME AGAIN SERVES NOTICE ON SERBIAN REFORMERS?
  • [20] ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR HELP IN FIGHTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING...
  • [21] ...AS DOES CROATIAN PREMIER
  • [22] CROATIAN PREMIER GREETS 'EURO-REGION' PROPOSAL
  • [23] PETRITSCH NAMES IRISH JUDGE TO SETTLE BOSNIAN BORDER DISPUTE
  • [24] RULING PARTY SENATORS PROTEST AGAINST ROMANIAN LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW
  • [25] MOLDOVANS NEED PASSPORTS TO CROSS ROMANIAN BORDER
  • [26] NEW MOLDOVAN ORGANIZATION BACKS 'BRAGHIS ALLIANCE'
  • [27] MOLDOVAN PARTY LEADER SUES NEWSPAPERS

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [28] BULGARIA: THE RUSH TO BUILD COALITIONS

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS IRAN

    On a two-day working visit to Tehran on 3-4 February, Vartan Oskanian met with Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi, Majlis speaker Mahdi Karrubi, National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rowhani, and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Iranian media reported. Issues discussed included all aspects of bilateral relations, including construction of the Kajaran tunnel and the planned Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, which Oskanian said will contribute to "peace and security," trilateral cooperation between Iran, Armenia and Greece, regional security issues, and the Karabakh conflict. Khatami expressed approval of the ongoing dialogue between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict and said Iran is willing to assist in doing so. He said it is imperative for the countries of the South Caucasus to "resolve misunderstandings" and cooperate, "without relying on foreign forces" (by which he presumably meant Turkey and the U.S.) to ensure regional security. He added that all countries of the region, including Russia, should work towards creating appropriate mechanisms for ensuring regional development and security. LF

    [02] TURKISH AIRSPACE NOT CLOSED TO ARMENIAN PLANES

    The Turkish civil aviation authorities have assured Armenian Airlines that no restrictions have been imposed on Armenian civil aircraft entering Turkish air space, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau quoted an Armenian Airlines spokeswoman as saying on 5 February. But she also rejected a Turkish TV channel report of 4 February that the reason for a ban on two Armenian flights over Turkey on 3 February was that Armenian Airlines had failed to apply for clearance for those flights three days in advance as required by international regulations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian similarly told RFE/RL on 5 February that the 3 February incident was "a purely technical misunderstanding." LF

    [03] RADICALS QUIT ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTY

    The third stage of the 12th congress of the opposition center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM) ended on 4 February with an announcement by several of its most authoritative leaders of their intention to quit the party and form a rival party to be named the National People's Party, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. One of those leaders, Shavarsh Kocharian, told journalists on 5 February that he has formed an initiative group to prepare for the founding of the new party, which, he added, will be committed to "the principles the AZhM used to espouse." The radicals oppose any cooperation with the present Armenian authorities, while the more conservative members of the AZhM argue that such cooperation is essential to achieve the party's objectives. The AZhM is represented in Andranik Markarian's government by Minister for State Property David Vartanian. The congress on 4 February elected a new party board, seven of whose nine members are Vartanian loyalists. That board does not include the party's founder and chairman, Vazgen Manukian. LF

    [04] AZERBAIJANI WAR INVALID ATTEMPTS SUICIDE

    Rei Kerimoglu, press spokesman of the society representing Azerbaijan's Karabakh war invalids, was hospitalized on 6 February after slashing open his wrists in the foyer of the parliament building to protest accusations by Hady Rajabov, chairman of the parliament commission for social policy, that the invalids represent the interests of the former Azerbaijani population of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turan reported. Ali Kerimov, chairman of the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, had urged parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov on 5 February to take immediate action to preclude the death of any of the hunger-strikers, whereupon Alesqerov charged the parliamentary commission for social policy to rule on whether the strikers' demands for an increase in their pensions and allowances should be met. Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov met on 4 February with representatives of the Karabakh war invalids who declared a hunger-strike last month, Turan reported. The Islamic Party of Azerbaijan appealed to the hunger-strikers to abandon their action, saying that "it is not possible to defend human rights in a country where votes are stolen." LF

    [05] GEORGIA TO CHOOSE BETWEEN NATO, NEUTRALITY?

    Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 February that rather than aspire to NATO membership in 2005, Georgia may instead opt for neutrality, Caucasus Press reported. He said there is little likelihood that Georgia will be admitted to the Atlantic alliance in the near future. Shevardnadze had told the "Financial Times" in October 1999 that if he was re-elected the following year, Georgia would "knock vigorously on NATO's door" by 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1999). LF

    [06] KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TEHRAN...

    Erlan Idrisov held talks in Tehran on 3-4 February with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi and with President Khatami, Iranian news agencies reported. Those talks focused on bilateral relations, which Kharrazi characterized as positive, regional cooperation, the situation in Afghanistan, and the division and legal status of the Caspian Sea. According to a Kazakh Foreign Ministry statement summarized by Interfax, the two sides believe the latter problem should be resolved on the basis of a "mutually acceptable compromise." Idrisov passed to Kharrazi a letter from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, and gave Khatami an invitation from Nazarbaev to attend the first summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Asia, which is to be held in Almaty this fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). According to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, Tehran "unconditionally supports" that initiative. LF

    [07] ...AND MOSCOW

    Idrisov met in Moscow on 5 February with Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov to discuss cooperation between Russia and the states of Central Asia in combating terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking, and ensuring regional security, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov told journalists after those talks that last year Kazakh-Russian relations entered a phase of "new dynamics" and that the intensity of contacts has reached an unprecedented level that bodes well for long-term cooperation. He said the two countries will continue to deepen both political and military cooperation, the latter within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. According to Interfax, Idrisov brought to Moscow an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the OSCA summit, and hopes to "check positions and gain Russia's support" prior to that meeting. LF

    [08] KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT PETITIONED OVER WORSENING SOCIAL CONDITIONS

    Some 200 residents of Djalalabad Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan have signed a petition demanding that the government improve social conditions, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They note that electricity and heating tariffs and food prices have recently been raised while wages and pensions remain at the same level as last year. They suggest that people whose monthly income does not exceed 600 soms (about $12.5) should be charged lower rates for heating and electricity. They also stated their opposition to the planned privatization of the energy sector announced by Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 15 January 2001). LF

    [09] TAJIK DEFENSE MINISTER IN MOSCOW

    Meeting in Moscow on 5 February, Sherali Khairulloev and his Russian counterpart Igor Sergeev discussed bilateral military cooperation and the situation in Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. LF

    [10] TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN SIGN TWO BILATERAL AGREEMENTS

    Tajik Prime Minister Aqil Aqilov headed a government delegation to Tashkent on 3 February, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Two intergovernment agreements were signed, one on cooperation in the use of water resources in 2001 and the second on mutual payments for goods transport and Tajikistan's debts to Uzbekistan. Those debts total $129 million, but it is not clear whether the Tajik side had requested that they be rescheduled. During telephone conversations on 31 January and 1 February, Presidents Islam Karimov and Imomali Rakhmonov agreed on the need to expand mutually beneficial economic cooperation. Relations between the two countries are still overshadowed by Uzbek accusations that Tajikistan is harboring and abetting fighters of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Tajik fears that Uzbekistan is similarly sheltering rebel Tajik Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [11] MONTENEGRO'S PRESIDENT REMAINS FIRM ON REFERENDUM...

    Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Washington on 5 February that he remains committed to his pledge to seek a referendum on independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). "We believe that a clean, democratic, and transparent procedure for both processes clearly expresses the undoubted will of the citizens of Montenegro, and we believe that the international community will honor it," RFE/RL reported. "Members of Congress with whom I have met so far reacted very positively to our initiative. They think that the Montenegrin people have an unquestionable right to express their views on their future," Djukanovic added. The president stressed that "the genie is out of the bottle. It is irrational to shut one's eyes to the totally changed situation in our region." PM

    [12] ...CHALLENGES 'DOMINO THEORY'

    Refuting Belgrade's view that the continuing dissolution of the former Yugoslavia is sure to lead to regional instability, Djukanovic said in Washington on 5 February: "I think it's an unnecessarily overpoliticized argument to say that because of Kosovo, Montenegro cannot gain international recognition. First we had a six-member Yugoslavia, and a bad Kosovo situation. Then we had a two-member Yugoslavia, and an even worse Kosovo problem. Therefore, Yugoslavia is not a required framework or a necessary precondition for the resolution of the problems of Kosovo," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). Djukanovic added that he understands that "the international community has had a very bad experience with the Balkans over the past 10 years... It is logical that we should bear the burden of past instability in the Balkans. But we don't want to remain the slaves of...that heritage forever," dpa reported. PM

    [13] STATE DEPARTMENT CLARIFIES STAND ON MONTENEGRO

    State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 5 February that "we support the transparent democratic discussions between representatives of Montenegro, Serbia, and the federal government of Yugoslavia on the restructuring of the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. But in the end, how exactly that process should work, I think, is something that should be the subject of discussions between Serbia, Montenegro, and the federal government" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). PM

    [14] KOSOVAR LEADER SAYS U.S., KOSOVARS HAVE 'UNDERSTANDING'

    Moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova said in Washington on 2 February after talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell that he and his fellow Kosovars discussed independence with the secretary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000). "We did ask Secretary Powell for an early recognition of independence of Kosova because we believe that recognition of independence will calm down the whole region." Referring to Powell's response, Rugova said: "We have an understanding in general," AP reported. He did not elaborate. PM

    [15] GREEK PROTESTERS BLOCK KFOR CONVOY

    Communist-led protesters blocked a column of returning German KFOR troops outside Thessaloniki on 5 February, AP reported. The demonstrators demanded the return home of Greek KFOR troops and the testing of German equipment for evidence of uranium contamination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). German KFOR officials have told "RFE/RL Newsline" that their troops have sometimes been subjected to protests and physical abuse in the Thessaloniki area. PM

    [16] PRESEVO FIGHTERS SAY SERBIA WANTS 'MILITARY SOLUTION'

    Serbian forces and fighters of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) exchanged fire in the Presevo valley in the night of 5-6 February. Each side said the other shot first, but no independent assessment on the ground is available. Speaking in the name of the UCPMB, Tahir Dalipi charged that the Serbian authorities are seeking a "military solution" after local Albanians agreed on a common platform for talks with Belgrade, Reuters reported. "The Serbs were always ready to talk, thinking that the Albanians are not united. But now that we are united, they are trying to provoke a military solution," Dalipi added (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). PM

    [17] KOSTUNICA SEEKS TO ELIMINATE PRESEVO DEMILITARIZED ZONE

    Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told "Vesti" of 6 February that "the Yugoslav army and KFOR are no longer enemies, so there is no more need for a demilitarized zone between them." Ex-General and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic recently warned against such an approach (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). Some observers suggest that the Serbian authorities need to maintain a certain degree of unrest in the Presevo valley to demonstrate that they are the victims of Albanian "terrorism" and to maintain political pressure on KFOR. Belgrade's immediate goals, these observers believe, are first to modify and then to overturn the 1999 Kumanovo agreements on Kosova, which sealed Serbia's defeat in that conflict. Belgrade's longer-term goals are to obtain Western support for its position on Kosova and ultimately to overcome the negative political effects of starting and losing four regional wars. PM

    [18] JANE'S: MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN GUERRILLA FORCE DOES NOT EXIST

    "Jane's Intelligence Review" reported on 6 February that the alleged Albanian National Army (AKSh) in Macedonia is the creation of Belgrade's disinformation experts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). The article suggested that the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia are too well established in the republic's political life to resort to armed revolt. Recent violence in ethnic Albanian areas of Macedonia is more likely to be the work of criminal gangs that are taking advantage of NATO's preoccupation with Presevo to develop their trade in weapons, drugs, and humans, the article concluded. PM

    [19] ORGANIZED CRIME AGAIN SERVES NOTICE ON SERBIAN REFORMERS?

    For the second time in just over one week, it appears that Serbia's vast and powerful underworld has served notice on the government of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to think twice about its pledge to clean up organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). In the latest incident, a fire destroyed the jeep of government political leader and parliamentary deputy Cedomir Jovanovic in Belgrade in the early hours of 6 February, Reuters reported. Jovanovic declined to offer any suggestions as to who or what might be behind the incident. Police are investigating. PM

    [20] ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR HELP IN FIGHTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING...

    Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Milan on 5 February that his government is determined to combat human trafficking. He stressed, however, that his impoverished country needs Western help if it is to succeed. Meta told Reuters that "the Albanian government is very committed to fighting illegal trafficking. Over the last year, the extent of illegal immigration from Albania to Italy has been reduced by more than five times." He appealed for more training and equipment, adding that "it would not be useful" for foreign troops to be stationed in Albania, as they are in Bosnia, to help combat human trafficking. PM

    [21] ...AS DOES CROATIAN PREMIER

    Responding to a 4 February article by British and Italian Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Giuliano Amato in London's "The Observer," Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the next day that his government wants to help combat human trafficking. He argued that "the Croatian government and the public know very well how serious this problem is, not only from the European Union's position, but also from the standpoint of our national interest." Racan stressed, however, that Croatia needs financial and technical assistance to succeed. Like Meta, he ruled out any need for foreign personnel, Reuters reported. PM

    [22] CROATIAN PREMIER GREETS 'EURO-REGION' PROPOSAL

    Racan said in Zagreb on 5 February that he has nothing against regional cooperation. He added that he fears only isolationist tendencies within the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Commenting on a recent proposal by Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, Racan said that the idea of setting up a Euro-region in the area "might be interesting some day" once the political situation stabilizes in Yugoslavia and Croatia is sure that all of its neighbors are democracies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). He added that an additional precondition will be the solution of some unspecified problems with Bosnia and especially with the Republika Srpska. PM

    [23] PETRITSCH NAMES IRISH JUDGE TO SETTLE BOSNIAN BORDER DISPUTE

    The international community's high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch, said in Sarajevo on 5 February that "for nearly five years, the representatives of the Republika Srpska and the federation have procrastinated and have failed in their responsibility to the citizens of this area to resolve what actually should be quite a simple issue," namely defining the border between the two entities in Sarajevo's Dobrinja suburb. He added that he has intervened and asked former Irish High Court Judge Diarmuid Sheridan to issue a binding ruling within three months, Reuters reported. This is but the latest in a series of cases in which the high representative has had to intervene to end a dispute over what at first glance seems like a relatively simple problem. PM

    [24] RULING PARTY SENATORS PROTEST AGAINST ROMANIAN LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW

    Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) senators Adrian Paunescu and George Pruteanu protested on 5 February against the Local Public Administration Law allowing national minorities to use their own language, Mediafax reported. Paunescu told a meeting of the PDSR parliamentary group that this provision must be eliminated from the bill's final formulation, which is to be discussed by a commission mediating differences between the Senate's formulation and that approved by the Chamber of Deputies. Pruteanu said the right to officially use minority languages must be restricted to localities where minorities make up 50 -- rather than 20 percent -- of the population. PDSR parliamentary group leader Ioan Solcanu said the bill will be discussed again at a meeting of parliamentary groups with Premier Adrian Nastase, and added that President Ion Iliescu has been invited to that meeting. MS

    [25] MOLDOVANS NEED PASSPORTS TO CROSS ROMANIAN BORDER

    Romanian Ambassador Victor Barsan said in Chisinau on 5 February that Moldovan citizens will have to use passports to cross the border with Romania as of 1 July, Romanian Radio, citing Moldpress, reported. Until now, Moldovans could cross the border between the two states by showing their ID cards. Barsan emphasized that the measure is in line with EU procedures and added that Romania does not intend to restrict the free movement of people across the border. "Passports are the normal document one shows when crossing frontiers," he said. MS

    [26] NEW MOLDOVAN ORGANIZATION BACKS 'BRAGHIS ALLIANCE'

    The Congress of Moldovan Citizens on 4 February decided to back the Braghis Alliance in the parliamentary elections scheduled for later this month, the RFE/RL Chisinau bureau reported. The recently-formed "congress" was called at the initiative of the Republica organization, which was formed in early 2000 to back President Petru Lucinschi's failed initiative to change the country's political system into a presidential one, Infotag reported. The new organization includes 17 minor political parties and movements and the delegates welcomed Lucinschi's arrival with standing ovations. Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis also participated in the gathering, alongside 6, 000 delegates from different counties. The organizing committee said the organization might transform itself into a political party after the elections. MS

    [27] MOLDOVAN PARTY LEADER SUES NEWSPAPERS

    Iurie Rosca, leader of the Popular Party Christian Democratic, on 5 February announced he is suing three Moldovan newspapers for "calumny." The three publications -- "Comunist," "Tineretul Moldovei," and the Russian- language "Delovaya gazeta" -- last week reproduced documents allegedly proving that Rosca had been a KGB informer under the communist regime. Rosca said the documents were forgeries "produced on the orders of precisely those clans whom I bothered." He said that behind the three publications hide "those political formations that were utterly opposed to our attempt to make public the activities of the KGB as a political police." MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [28] BULGARIA: THE RUSH TO BUILD COALITIONS

    By Margarita Assenova

    Public support for the major political parties in Bulgaria continues to be both low and close. According to BBSS Gallup International, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's party, the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), is backed by 23.5 percent of voters compared to 19.8 percent for the Socialist Party (BSP). Although a date for the parliamentary and presidential elections due this year has not been set, the race for attracting coalition partners has started.

    The first battle was for the third major party in Bulgaria -- the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF). After unsuccessful talks with the ruling coalition, MRF leader Ahmed Dogan was almost ready to make an agreement with the Socialist Party. His plans were overturned by a documentary on the Communist assimilation campaign against ethnic Turks in 1984 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 January 2001). After the film was shown on national television, it became apparent that Dogan would have lost the backing of ethnic Turks if he agreed to enter a coalition with the former Communists, who were responsible for the forcible ethnic assimilation.

    The Turkish party decided to run alone, postponing any coalition decisions until after the elections. There is a possibility that the Turkish party may play the role of kingmaker in the next parliament, as it did in 1992.

    The UDF turned to its partners in the governing coalition to build more stable arrangements for the next elections. There are already indications that the People's Union (the Democratic Party and the Agrarian Union) may run on a single slate with the UDF. This means that the UDF must undertake and keep certain promises after the elections in order to maintain a coalition with its long-time allies.

    Encouraged by the success of the Socialists in neighboring Romania, the former Bulgarian Communists started consolidating their base by forming a broad coalition with 14 smaller leftist and nationalist groups. The newly formed "Coalition for Bulgaria" is a strange alliance of former and present Communists, nationalists, Social Democrats, anti-fascists, agrarians, trade- union activists, one women's union, and two Romany organizations.

    The differences between their platforms are significant. The basic differences have already resulted in the departure from the coalition of Velko Valkanov, leader of the Bulgarian Anti-Fascist Union, who wanted to be allowed to campaign against Bulgaria's accession to NATO. The Socialist Party leader and official representative of the "Coalition for Bulgaria," Georgi Parvanov, opposed such a campaign, because last spring the Socialists declared their support for Bulgaria's bid to join NATO after years of adamant opposition.

    Bulgaria's Socialist Party has tried to regain popular support ever since it lost power in 1997, when its government led the country to the brink of economic and financial catastrophe. The Socialists were severely discredited in the public eye and subsequently were not able to attract significant public backing. Their first chance came during the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which they vehemently opposed. However, only a limited number of people participated in the protest demonstrations in Sofia in 1999.

    The Socialists realized by then that they needed a different strategy in order to regain power. They now sought to open themselves up to EU and NATO integration, to attract diverse allies and thus overcome the isolation of 1997, and to enhance public dissatisfaction with the reforms implemented by the UDF.

    Nevertheless, support for the BSP remains approximately the same as in 1997. The party's approval of eventual NATO membership, though positive for the sake of establishing a national consensus, served primarily to alienate some of the Socialist hard-liners. The latest tactic of building a broad coalition with partners who have virtually no public support has only served to bring ridicule upon the 110-year-old party, which seems to have a problem finding its identity. But constructing an election campaign around the message that the UDF failed either to raise living standards or to fight crime may yet prove to be a successful strategy for the BSP.

    Over the last four years, public support for the UDF dropped by 30 percent and is now just four points higher than that for the BSP. This will make the race very close. The future government will likely depend on a broad and probably unstable coalition of several parties.

    Although the ruling United Democratic Forces managed to improve Bulgaria's financial and economic situation, achieve GDP growth for three consecutive years, privatize 70 percent of state enterprises, and launch negotiations for EU integration, the average income remains very low and the level of poverty is high. According to a survey conducted by ALPHA Research last December, 54 percent of Bulgarians said that they would advise their children to emigrate.

    The main task before the ruling coalition on the eve of the elections is to regain the trust of the people. In his recent annual state-of-the-nation speech, President Petar Stoyanov said that "until we raise living standards for real, we will disappoint three generations of Bulgarian citizens in their expectations of the advantages of democracy."

    The major reasons for disappointment among ordinary citizens have been alleged official corruption and nepotism among some UDF leaders, as well as their internal rivalries in jockeying for power. In recent months, accusations that the Interior Ministry was tapping the telephones of high- ranking politicians, prosecutors, and journalists has contributed to public disillusionment.

    Since last fall, several assassinations and bombings have taken place in Sofia and other big towns. Despite the fact that the victims were figures from the criminal underground, the unusually rapid rise in crime makes the population feel threatened and insecure. Some observers suspect that many of these cases are provocations aimed at destabilizing the country and discrediting the government on the eve of crucial elections. In this context, the Bulgarian security services and the government of Ivan Kostov were implicated in a spying scandal involving the telephone tapping of politicians in Macedonia.

    In such a climate of uncertainty and public frustration, the upcoming elections are becoming a worrisome event. Undoubtedly, with the start of the election campaign, Bulgaria's political tensions will further increase.

    Margarita Assenova is a consultant with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

    06-02-01


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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