|Sunday, 19 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 87, 01-05-07
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 87, 7 May 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 LEADER OF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN INSISTS HE ACTED ALONENairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen currently on trial for the 27 October 1999 murder in the Armenian parliament of eight senior officials, told the court on 4 May that there is no truth to persistent speculation that the shootings were masterminded by other more influential persons, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hunanian said that he had originally planned to seize the parliament without bloodshed and force the resignation of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and the formation of a new cabinet, but came to the conclusion in August 1999 that terror was the only way to improve the situation in Armenia, which he compared to the "antinational nightmare" that preceded the demise of the First Republic in 1920. LF
 ARMENIA DENIES PURCHASING AMMUNITION FROM KYRGYZSTANThe Armenian Embassy in Moscow on 4 May rejected as "disinformation" a report published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" the previous day that Armenia purchased over 3 million machine-gun cartridges from Kyrgyzstan last fall at a cost of $180,000 in violation of an international embargo, Caucasus Press reported. General Bolot Djanuzakov, who heads the Kyrgyz National Security Council, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 5 May that the "Moskovskii komsomolets" article had been written and published with the explicit aim of creating tensions between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. He stressed that, as cosignatories of the 1992 CIS Collective Security Treaty, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have "special relations." LF
 ARMENIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH RELEASED ASALA MEMBERMeeting in Yerevan on 4 May with Varoujan Garabedian, a former member of ASALA (the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia), Prime Minister Andranik Markarian expressed his "joy" at Garabedian's release from a French jail where he served almost 18 years of a life sentence for his alleged role in the 1983 bombing of the Turkish Airlines Office at Ory airport, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Garabedian, who was born in Syria, was released on the condition that he be expelled to Armenia. The French daily "Liberation" reported at the time of Garabedian's release last month that Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian had pledged to provide him with employment and accommodation. LF
 ARMENIA, RUSSIA INAUGURATE NEW JOINT AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMRussian air force commander General Anatolii Kornukov and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian presided on 4 May over the first joint air patrols by Russian and Armenian military aircraft, AP and Interfax reported. Speaking at a ceremony in Gyumri to mark the occasion, Kornukov stressed that the joint antiaircraft units, which are equipped with S-300 air defense missiles, "do not threaten anyone" and are purely defensive in nature. Sarkisian for his part said they "will considerably increase Armenia's security." LF
 MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTCarey Cavanaugh, the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, met in Baku on 5 May with President Heidar Aliev to discuss preparations for the planned meeting in Geneva in June between Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian, Turan and Reuters reported. Speaking in London on 4 May, Cavanaugh noted "a dramatic acceleration of both the speed and intensity" of the talks aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to Reuters. He said the outlines of the draft settlement are already clear and that "most" of it is now on paper. He added that "we have seen a lot of signs" that both presidents are preparing public opinion for a settlement based on "serious compromise." Cavanaugh also praised Russia's role within the Minsk Group, saying that Moscow no longer seeks to profit from continued instability in the South Caucasus. LF
 INTERCEPTED ARMAMENTS DELIVERED TO GEORGIAA consignment of six howitzers, spare parts, and ammunition was to be flown to Tbilisi on 5 May, a Georgian Defense Ministry official told Caucasus Press that day. The Ukrainian aircraft transporting the armaments, which the Georgian military had purchased from the Czech Republic, was intercepted in Burgas in late April and found to be carrying 30 tons of weaponry that the crew said was destined for Eritrea (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 2 and 3 May 2001). Tbilisi denied any knowledge of those arms. LF
 TOP SECURITY OFFICIALS RESHUFFLED IN KAZAKHSTANKazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree on 4 May appointing National Security Council Secretary Marat Tazhin to head that agency, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Tazhin, who is a civilian, replaces Alnur Musaev, who was named to head the presidential bodyguard service. Reuters quoted Nazarbaev's press secretary, Asylbek Visenbaev, as saying the president attached particular importance to naming a civilian to head the council. Minister of Culture, Information, and Social Concord Altynbek Sarsenbaev was named to succeed Tazhin as National Security Council secretary. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN PROPOSES BILATERAL CASPIAN AGREEMENT WITH AZERBAIJANKazakhstan's Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov has proposed to Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev that Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan should sign a bilateral agreement demarcating their respective sectors of the Caspian Sea bed and subsoil along a median line that may later be modified, Turan and Interfax reported on 4 May. Idrisov recalled that Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan agreed in 1997 to adhere to the existing borders based on the median line until the five Caspian littoral states reach a consensus on the legal status of the sea, but that such a consensus still requires "additional efforts and time." LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER SAYS DEMOCRATIZATION 'IRREVERSIBLE'Toqaev assured visiting OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin in Astana on 4 May that the processes of democratization and economic liberalization in Kazakhstan are irreversible, Interfax reported. Acknowledging the concerns of the Central Asian states over possible incursions by radical Islamist fighters, Severin stressed that democratization should not be sacrificed in the name of national security. He also told Toqaev that during talks the previous day with President Nazarbaev, he had stressed the need for "improvements and modernization" in Kazakhstan. Toqaev also greeted the plans to establish an OSCE Trans-Asian parliamentary forum. LF
 RADIOACTIVE CARGO INTERCEPTED IN KAZAKHSTANKazakh customs officials on the border between Russia and northern Kazakhstan intercepted a shipment of almost 33 tons of niobium-tantalum concentrate worth approximately $1.5 million that was being transported from the Netherlands to the Ulbinsk metal works in East Kazakhstan Oblast, Interfax reported on 4 May. The radiation level of the concentrate is between five and 10 times higher than the permitted maximum. LF
 TAJIK PRESIDENT DISCUSSES ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH IRAN, PAKISTANDuring talks in Dushanbe on 3 May on the sidelines of a meeting of Economic Cooperation Organization foreign ministers, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi agreed on the need to expand bilateral economic cooperation, primarily by encouraging Iranian investment in Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The two sides also reviewed the implementation of previous bilateral agreements and discussed regional security and the situation in Afghanistan. Rakhmonov also discussed bilateral economic ties and Afghanistan with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar, expressing the hope that Pakistan will intensify its efforts to end the civil war in Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 4 May. Rakhmonov also met the same day with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, Vilayat Quliev and Muratbek Imanaliev respectively. LF
 TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY PROTESTS OFFICIAL REPRESSIONThe leadership of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) has issued a statement accusing the Tajik leadership of persecuting and arresting its supporters under the guise of a crackdown on the banned radical Islamist Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 2 May. The IRPT warned that such reprisals risk undermining the ongoing peace process and destabilizing the political situation in Tajikistan. On 4 May, Asia Plus-Blitz reported that in Tajikistan's Khatlon Oblast there are 1, 480 functioning mosques, many of them unregistered, but only 1,215 secondary schools. LF
 UZBEKISTAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS ECONOMIC, MILITARY COOPERATIONDuring his state visit to Moscow on 3-5 May, Uzbek President Islam Karimov met with top Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Both presidents characterized bilateral relations as being on the rise following Putin's visit to Tashkent last year, and vowed to increase economic and trade ties with the aim of doubling last year's bilateral trade turnover of $1 billion, Interfax reported. The two presidents also discussed Afghanistan and the security situation in Central Asia, which Putin said will be decisive in shaping future military cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan. In that context he noted that Moscow "is doing much" to provide Uzbekistan with up- to-date arms. Karimov for his part dismissed rumors of alleged major differences between the two countries, noting that while each country has its own interests, those interests do not clash. He added that Uzbekistan supports Russia's policy in Central Asia and termed Russia's presence "a fundamental guarantee of security and stability in the region." LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 MACEDONIA CONTINUES OPERATIONS AGAINST INSURGENTSThe Macedonian military continued to use artillery, tanks, and helicopter gunships against positions held by ethnic Albanian rebels around the town of Kumanovo from 5-7 May, AP reported. Military spokesman Blagoje Markovski said on 7 May that the army is conducting "clean-and-sweep operations" and that there have been no casualties among Macedonian soldiers. The government held two unilateral cease-fires over the weekend in an effort to allow civilians to leave the area. International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Annick Bouvier said it appears there has been some intimidation by the rebels in an attempt to keep people in the villages, but that other civilians don't want to leave because they are afraid of separating their families. Commander "Hoxha," a rebel leader who says he is the commander of the National Liberation Army's (UCK) 113th brigade, said "those who have stayed did so of their own will, we did not force them," AFP reported. But some villagers told reporters they were forced to pay exorbitant fees or give jewelry to the rebels before being allowed to leave. Ethnic Albanian officials claimed on 5 May that 10 rebels had been killed during the government's offensive up to that point, and that six civilians had died. PB
 ARE REBELS OPENING SECOND FRONT?Ethnic Albanian rebels fired on 6 May upon Macedonian troops in Sipkovica, a mountainside village near Tetovo, AP reported. One ethnic Albanian man was reported killed in the fighting. Exchanges of gunfire were reported in other villages in the area as well, as government officials vowed to crack down on any insurgents in the area to prevent a second front from developing in the conflict. Macedonian state radio said "rebels have taken positions in the villages above Tetovo." That area was the scene of intense fighting in March. PB
 NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL TO URGE SKOPJE NOT TO DECLARE STATE OF WAR...Lord George Robertson arrived in the Macedonian capital on 7 May to discuss the latest outbreak of violence between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Macedonian forces, dpa reported. Robertson joins the EU foreign affairs and security chief, Javier Solana, who arrived the previous day. The two are to urge the Macedonian government not to declare a state of war in the country. "Rather than talk about a state of war, we should discuss a state of peace," Solana said. Premier Ljubco Georgievski said on 6 May that the government will consult with other political parties about the possibility of requesting that parliament declare a state of war. A two-thirds majority is required for such a declaration. PB
 ...AS GOVERNMENT SAYS IT WILL MAKE OWN DECISIONThe Macedonian government said in a statement that "terrorist activities...severely deteriorated the security situation and jeopardize Macedonia's territorial integrity and sovereignty." A government spokesman emphasized that Skopje will decide itself whether to declare a state of war, something that could be sent to parliament as early as 8 May. He added, however, that the government will listen to "suggestions made by Western countries." PB
 SERBIAN PARLIAMENT DEMANDS MORE RIGHTS FOR SERBS IN KOSOVAThe Serbian parliament unanimously adopted a resolution on 4 May demanding greater rights for Serbs and other nonethnic Albanians in Kosova and a rejection of the legal framework being drawn up for the province, AP reported. The resolution calls for "equal rights of all non-Albanians in Kosovo, as well as basic provisions for their security." Yugoslav President Kostunica said he backs the resolution, which states that "the legal framework (being drafted for Kosova) does not offer guarantees for a multiethnic Kosovo." Serbian representatives in Kosova's interim government refused last week to accept the draft, saying that it will open the door to independence for the province. Two Kosovar Serbs were killed in Kosova last week; one was shot to death and the other was strangled. PB
 KOSTUNICA TO BE HONORED AS 'STATESMAN OF THE YEAR'Yugoslav President Kostunica flew to New York on 7 May to receive an award for his leadership in promoting peace and democracy in his country, AP reported. Kostunica, who is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and Deputy Premier Miroljub Labus, said before leaving Belgrade that he also hopes to meet with top U.S. and international officials during his visit. The award as "statesman of the year" is being given to him by the New York-based EastWest Institute for steering Yugoslavia "...through a peaceful transition of power after ousting one of Europe's last dictators." Kostunica is expected to hold talks at the UN on the much discussed legal framework for Kosova. PB
 MESIC JEERED AT SPLIT CEREMONYCroatian President Stipe Mesic, taking part in a ceremony in the southern city of Split to honor the 10th anniversary of the Split brigade, was jeered and booed by veterans and their supporters, AP reported on 5 May. The veterans then walked out in protest when Mesic began to address them. He later told Croatian television he was "surprised" by their reaction and blamed veterans' organizations in Split for organizing it. Also in Split, up to 20,000 people gathered to protest the dismissal of Josip Jovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001), the editor in chief of "Slobodna Dalmacija, " who was known for leading attacks on the reformist government of Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan for prosecuting war crimes against Croats in the 1991-95 war with Yugoslavia. DW
 SEVEN CROATIAN SERBS ARRESTED ON WAR CRIMES CHARGESPolice in eastern Croatia arrested seven ethnic Serbs suspected of war crimes in the war with Yugoslavia, AP reported on 4 May. Milorad Pupovac, a Croatian Serb leader, accused the pro-Western government of continuing the nationalist policies of the previous government of late President Franjo Tudjman and said that the arrests "represent the continuation of ethnic cleansing of Serbs, this time by legal means." Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica also condemned the arrests, saying they "certainly do not contribute to a normalization of relations" between Croatia and Yugoslavia. DW
 SERB MUSEUM CURATOR CONVICTED BY CROATIAN COURTA former Croatian Serb museum curator was convicted in absentia for the removal of 156 Orthodox icons to Serbia during the 1991-95 war, AP reported on 5 May. The court in Benkovac sentenced Milorad Savic to four years in prison and ordered Serbian Orthodox Church and the Belgrade National Museum to return the icons to the Orthodox Church in Croatia. However, since the Orthodox Church in Croatia is part of the Serbian church, the Serbian church may claim ownership of the icons. DW
 TREBINJE CEREMONY TO REBUILD MOSQUE BROKEN UP BY BOSNIAN SERBS...A ceremony on 5 May to break ground for the reconstruction of a mosque in the Bosnian Serb town of Trebinje, which included the Bosnian Muslim member of the presidency, Beriz Belkic, was broken up by a stone-throwing mob of hundreds of Serbs chanting nationalist slogans, news services reported. Daniel Ruiz, a senior aide to High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, was one of the delegation to be beaten by protesters, and other members were trapped in the local Islamic community office. A UN statement accused the Trebinje police of failing to "take adequate measures soon enough to ensure security for the ceremony or prevent the assaults," while Petritsch said such a "display of uncivilized and brutal behavior" was an "embarrassment for the Serb republic." DW
 ...AS IS BANJA LUKA MOSQUE CEREMONYAt a groundbreaking ceremony in Banja Luka on 7 May, with up to 1,000 former Muslim residents of the Republika Srpska capital in attendance, hundreds of Serbs throwing stones and bottles and waving nationalist flags broke through police cordons and attacked the ceremony, AP reported. UN officials Jacques Klein and Werner Blatter were trapped in the local Islamic community center as protesters climbed the roof and burned its flag, replacing it with the Bosnian Serb flag. Local police head Vladimir Tatus said he had deployed 300 police, "but the mass overwhelmed them." DW
 ALBANIAN POLICE ARREST MAIN SUSPECT IN HAJDARI KILLINGThe Albanian Interior Ministry announced on 6 May that police had arrested the main suspect in the 1998 killing of Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari, AP reported. Jaho Salihi was arrested on 6 May in his hometown of Tropoje, where police found him in his father-in-law's apartment, the ministry statement said. The trial of Salihi and others suspected of the murder has already begun (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2001), though it was delayed while the court appointed a lawyer to defend Salihi in absentia, as he is believed to have fled the country to Kosova. DW
 ROMANIAN, LEBANESE PRESIDENTS DISCUSS BILATERAL RELATIONSLebanese President Emile Lahoud on 4 May ended a two-day visit to Bucharest, Mediafax reported. Romanian President Ion Iliescu said bilateral relations are "good" and that the parties have agreed to intensify those relations, especially economic ones. He added that Lebanon would like to use Romania as its "connecting point" for Southeastern Europe. After his meeting with Lahoud, Premier Adrian Nastase said that bilateral relations could be improved, particularly regarding construction and tourism. ZsM
 ROMANIAN TRADE UNION DENOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH GOVERNMENTThe "Cartel Alfa" trade union confederation on 4 May denounced a 19 February social pact agreement signed with the government, Mediafax reported. The leaders of the trade union, one of Romania's largest, decided to denounce the agreement and resort to protest actions, on the grounds that the government had failed to respect its promises. They particularly resent the new Public Pension Law, the delay in resetting tax levels, and the decrease of VAT values for basic products. Premier Nastase is to meet trade union leaders later this week to discuss trade union complains. ZsM
 PRM TO COUNTER EFFECTS OF LAW ON HUNGARIANS ABROADExtremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor on 4 May said that if the Hungarian Parliament approves a pending bill on the status of Hungarian minorities living beyond Hungary's borders, his party will elaborate a bill to "counter the Hungarian IDs," Mediafax reported. According to the bill now being debated in Budapest, on the recommendation of local Hungarian organizations in surrounding countries, Hungarian authorities will issue IDs to ethnic Hungarians granting them several advantages in Hungary, as well as financial aid. Tudor said the bill will make the "Hungarian IDs" ineffective in Romania. The Romanian government set up an ad hoc commission to examine possible effects of the bill, while Premier Nastase on 23 April said the bill might create discrimination among Romanian citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 24 April). ZsM
 ILASCU RELEASED FROM TRANSDNIESTER JAILThe leader of the breakaway Transdniester region, Igor Smirnov, commuted Ilie Ilascu's death sentence on 5 May and the Tiraspol authorities released him from jail, Flux reported. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said Smirnov pardoned Ilascu in response to his 12 April letter asking for Ilascu's release. However, Prime Minister Nicolae Cernomaz said on 27 April in Moscow that he spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who phoned Smirnov and asked for Ilascu's release. Smirnov said Moldova must admit its own responsibility for the Transdniester conflict. Voronin denied allegations that, in exchange for Ilascu's release, Chisinau is to recognize the independence of the Transdniester region. The three other detainees who were being held with Ilascu have not yet been released, but Voronin said this is the first step in freeing the whole group. The four, who have been detained since 1992, were sentenced by Tiraspol authorities on charges of terrorism under which Ilascu was given the death penalty and the others handed heavy prison terms. ZsM
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS ILASCUMeeting with President Voronin on 5 May, Ilascu thanked Voronin for his release. He said Moldova can only be considered an independent country with the Transdniester region as part of it. Voronin stressed that 40 percent of Moldova's economic potential is concentrated in that region, but currently economic relations are blocked. Ilascu said the Transdniester conflict is, in fact, a "war" between Moldova and the Russian Federation. He said that as soon as the other members of the group are released, he will leave for Romania. Ilascu, now a Romanian citizen, is a member of the Romanian Parliament, having been elected last year on the Greater Romania Party's list. In related news, Romanian President Iliescu said on 5 May that Ilascu's release opens the path for a political solution to the Transdniester conflict. ZsM
 ILASCU ON FUTURE PLANSIn his first interview with Flux news agency, Ilascu said he still considers Moldova to be part of Romania and as a Romanian senator he will continue to work for the two countries' unification. He said he thanks Voronin for his release, but added that he will continue to "fight against the communist ideology." Ilascu said time was his main ally during his detainment and that former Moldovan presidents Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi didn't really want his release. He also thanked the Romanian authorities for their help. ZsM
 BULGARIAN PREMIER CRITICIZES KING SIMEON IIIvan Kostov said on 5 May that the political movement headed by King Simeon II does not "have the political will to lead Bulgaria in the right direction," Reuters reported. Speaking at a two-day Union of Democratic Forces conference in Sofia, Kostov said that Simeon's coalition "has not announced its position on Bulgarian policy priorities," and said the former king has thus far not made a solid stand on the country's attempts to gain NATO membership. He added that "I am not convinced that by seeking disappointed voters this national movement would be able to take responsibility for difficult decisions." Whereas Simeon has promised to improve the plight of Bulgarians within 800 days of taking office, Kostov told some 5,000 delegates at the conference that "a further four to five years of persistent efforts are needed for the country's success to be felt by all Bulgarians." PB
[C] END NOTE
 BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT GETS U.S. BLESSINGBy Kathryn Mazur
Nearing the end of his current term in office, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov received a clear acknowledgement of his pro-Western reformist policy from the White House during his visit to Washington in late April.
In meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the Bulgarian delegation discussed the situation in Southeast Europe, further NATO enlargement, and the election campaign in Bulgaria.
The White House's attention to Bulgaria stems from three major developments. The most important of them being the continuing unrest in the Balkans, especially the recent fighting in neighboring Macedonia. Second, Bulgaria has on several occasions opposed Russia's attempts to retain its influence in the region. Third, Bulgaria has arguably remained the only comparatively stable and predictable democracy in Southeast Europe and has also proven to be a loyal NATO ally.
During his visit, Kostov stressed the important role Bulgaria played during the 1999 bombing of Serbia in preventing Russian troops from preemptively deploying to Kosova by refusing to allow Russian planes to fly over Bulgarian territory. He also emphasized Bulgaria's dedication to fostering security and stability in the region by cooperating with NATO. At the onset of the Macedonian crisis in March, Sofia signed an agreement with NATO to allow it to transit and deploy forces in the country. Bulgaria became the first non-NATO country to sign such an agreement and hopes to be invited at next year's summit in Prague to join the Atlantic alliance.
During his meeting with the Bulgarian delegation, Vice President Cheney said that the Balkans must be free from external political influence. He also pointed out that the activities of foreign secret services, mafia groups, and organized crime should not be allowed to further destabilize the region and create problems for European security. Powell spoke with Kostov on another important issue: two important deals involving U.S. investments in Bulgaria's energy sector that are still awaiting the final decision of the Bulgarian government. The Bulgarian press has suggested that the Russian lobby in the energy sector is preventing these deals from going through.
During the past decade, Russian interest groups have penetrated Bulgaria through corporate and often mafia-style organizations using techniques including bribery and energy blackmail. Last year, the Bulgarian authorities expelled five Russian businessmen, some of them former Soviet intelligence officers, for money laundering and other illegal activities. In March, the Bulgarian authorities went further in their effort to reduce the activities of Russia's intelligence service by expelling three Russian diplomats for spying on the Defense Ministry. This was the first such incident in the history of Bulgarian-Russian diplomatic relations.
Kostov's high-profile reception in Washington suggests that the new U.S. administration regards his government as democratic, reformist, and successful. His cabinet became the first one to complete a full term of office in post-communist Bulgaria. Kostov, who is the leader of the center- right Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), implemented tough policies of monetary restraint, reconstruction and privatization of the major industries, and decollectivization of agricultural lands. But although the cabinet laid the foundations for a free-market economy and the GDP is gradually increasing for a third consecutive year, the reforms have not improved social conditions, and most people live in poverty.
Regardless of his image abroad, Kostov now has to deal with domestic attitudes -- and his support among Bulgarians is only about 23 percent. The SDS is running a close race against the ex-communist Socialist Party (BSP), and the party of former King Simeon II, who returned to Bulgaria as a political leader in April. After a Bulgarian court refused to register his National Movement Simeon II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001), the former king did not withdraw from the race but joined two small political parties and registered with the electoral commission.
Simeon's party has attracted the so-called "protest vote" of those dissatisfied with politicians from both sides of the SDS-BSP divide (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 April 2001). It has also changed the bipolar political space by presenting a third formation to challenge the major political contenders and bring in new ideas.
Paradoxically, however, the appearance of Simeon's party could mean that the SDS theoretically has a better chance to continue in office -- as part of a broader coalition government. Although such an outcome may help reduce the sharp political divisions within Bulgarian society, it would present a significant challenge to the SDS, which would have to become a more flexible and accommodating political partner.
Kathryn Mazur is an independent analyst based in the U.S. (KathrynMazur@hotmail.com)