|Friday, 13 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 209, 01-11-02
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 209, 2 November 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ARMENIA SHOULD BE COMPENSATED FOR BRAIN DRAINRomanian President Ion Iliescu said in Yerevan on 1 November that Armenia, along with Romania, should be compensated for educated people who go abroad to work in other countries, Noyan Tapan reported. He said the countries that take those individuals in should pay the countries from which they come "by analogy with soccer clubs." In other comments, Iliescu said the Karabakh conflict is part of the Soviet legacy, that it must be "resolved by political means not force," and that Romania understands what Armenia is going through because it lost what is now Moldova as a result of Soviet occupation in 1940, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the same day. PG
 ARMENIA'S NUCLEAR POWER PLANT WON'T RESUME OPERATION AS SCHEDULEDArminfo reported on 1 November that financial and technical problems will prevent putting the nuclear power plant at Medzamor back on line on 5 November as had been scheduled. PG
 DASHNAKS GET ANOTHER MINISTERIAL POSTPresident Robert Kocharian on 1 November named Levon Mkrtchian, a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), to be science and education minister, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He thus becomes the second Dashnak in the cabinet. Prior to his new appointment, Mkrtchian had been deputy foreign minister. PG
 AZERBAIJAN WORRIED BY GEORGIAN CRISISAli Karimli, the chairman of the People's Front of Azerbaijan Party, said on 1 November that the events in Georgia have as their "target" not Georgia so much as "the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline" and thus are ultimately aimed at destabilizing Azerbaijan, MPA reported. Meanwhile, officials in the President's Office expressed confidence that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze will "bring Georgia out of the current political crisis," while former presidential security adviser Vafa Quluzade said that the current situation in Tbilisi is "alarming," Turan reported. Quluzade added that "the most important thing is to avoid protracted destabilization that might lead to a change of the country's foreign policy." PG
 AZERBAIJANI OIL MAJOR SENDS NOVEMBER BATCH VIA BAKU-NOVOROSSIISK PIPELINEThe SOCAR oil company on 1 November resumed the shipment of oil via the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline, MPA reported. The same day, the agency said, Russia resumed the supply of gas to Azerbaijan after a pipeline leak was repaired. PG
 AZERBAIJANIS ANGERED BY ARMENIAN JOURNALISTS' COMMENTSThe Karabakh Liberation Organization and Azerbaijani women's organizations denounced comments of 10 visiting Armenian journalists about Nagorno- Karabakh, Turan reported on 1 November. The visiting journalists said that Karabakh should be independent. PG
 SHEVARDNADZE TRIES TO CALM GEORGIAAfter dismissing his entire cabinet on 1 November and accepting the resignations of the prosecutor-general and the speaker of parliament, and after facing charges in parliament that he is attacking freedom of the press, President Eduard Shevardnadze tried to calm the situation both by promising to continue to serve as president and by calling on demonstrators to disperse, Caucasus Press reported. He defended his actions in a television address the same day by arguing that what he had done was intended to protect democratic values. But some demonstrators continued to call for his resignation late on 1 November, and former Prosecutor-General Gia Meparishvili said that the current tense situation in Georgia reflects simply "a struggle for power," Georgian TV reported. PG
 EX-GEORGIAN SPEAKER CALLS FOR RADICAL CHANGES IN TBILISIZurab Zhvania, who resigned as speaker of the Georgian parliament and who said that President Shevardnadze has lost touch with the people, nonetheless said on 1 November that Shevardnadze should remain in office and that radical changes should be introduced in the composition and organization of the Georgian government, Russia TV reported. Zhvania also appealed for calm, arguing that Georgia must find civilized and legal methods to overcome the crisis, Caucasus Press reported. Zhvania said that his successor as chairman of the parliament will be elected next week. PG
 GEORGIAN OPPOSITION SEES CRISIS AS ORCHESTRATED BY RUSSIAIrina Sarishvili-Chanturia, the leader of the Georgian National Democratic Party, told Iprinda news agency on 1 November that "sadly, the first act of a show directed by the Russian special services has ended successfully" with the dismissal of the cabinet. Other Georgians who share her views picketed the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi, Interfax reported. PG
 NAZARBAEV SAYS KAZAKHSTAN CAPABLE OF DEFENDING ITSELFPresident Nursultan Nazarbaev said on 1 November that his country "has everything necessary to respond to any external threat," Interfax- Kazakhstan reported. He added that the Kazakh people, as the titular nationality of the country, "have the high responsibility of maintaining peace and accord in the country." But the same day, the news agency reported, officials said they lacked the funds to pay the salaries of Interior Ministry officers or even to purchase uniforms for them. PG
 U.S. TO PURCHASE $6 MILLION IN GRAIN FROM KAZAKHSTAN FOR AFGHAN AIDU.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Larry Napper said on 1 November that the United States plans to purchase $6 million worth of grain from Kazakhstan for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. PG
 KAZAKH WORKERS SET TO STRIKE AT CANADIAN OIL FIRMKazakh Commercial TV on 31 October reported that workers at the Canadian Hurricane oil firm plan to strike if the company goes ahead with plans to dismiss the staff of all the subsidiary services that support the company's activities. PG
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IMPROVINGAskar Akaev on 1 November said that the human rights situation in his country is improving, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Indeed, he said, OSCE officials have told him that "Kyrgyzstan has been a model country in learning from criticism lodged against it." But in September 2001, the Sakharov Foundation cancelled plans to hold a congress in Bishkek to protest continuing human rights violations there. Meanwhile, on 1 November, a court in Jalal-Abad sentenced journalist Samagan Orozaliev to nine years in prison on weapons charges. PG
 KYRGYZ SECURITY FORCES ARREST MORE ISLAMISTSA spokesman for the Kyrgyz National Security Service told Kabar news agency on 1 November that there are some 2,500 to 3,000 followers of the Hezb-e Tahrir Islamist movement active in Kyrgyzstan and that Kyrgyz officials have arrested 288 of them. Meanwhile, journalists in Bishkek complained to the news agency on 31 October that some new Christian groups active in Kyrgyzstan are insulting Kyrgyz national traditions and values. PG
 TAJIKS RETURN HOME FROM RUSSIASome 1,500 Tajik citizens who wanted to return to their homeland are on a train from Astrakhan to Dushanbe, Asia-Plus reported on 1 November. They had been unable to return earlier because Kazakh authorities had suspended Tajik trains and vehicles from passing through the territory of Kazakhstan as of 25 October. PG
 TURKMEN LEADER CALLS FOR 'SOONEST POSSIBLE' PEACE IN AFGHANISTANPresident Saparmurat Niyazov said on 1 November that he wants to see the "soonest possible" peace in Afghanistan and the establishment of a government there that represents all the ethnic communities of the country, Turkmenistan.ru reported. PG
 FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER BLASTS TURKMENISTAN'S GOVERNMENTBoris Shikhmuradov, the former deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Turkmenistan who had been Ashgabat's ambassador in Beijing until 30 October, on 1 November issued a statement denouncing the regime of President Niyazov as "a primitive police state" that combines "the worst methods of the Soviet style of leadership" with methods drawn from "the technology of the administration of a traditional Eastern society." Niyazov, Shikhmuradov continued, has isolated the country, committed crimes and allowed crimes to be committed, and persecuted people on religious and ethnic bases. PG
 UZBEK GENERAL READY TO HELP RUSSIA AID AFGHANISTANMajor General Ravshan Khaydarov, the Uzbek Emergencies Minister, said on 1 November that Tashkent is ready to help Russia provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti reported the same day that up to 8,000 Uzbek militants are fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. PG
 UZBEKISTAN DEVALUES ITS CURRENCYThe Uzbek Central Bank on 1 November announced that it has set the exchange rate of the som to the U.S. dollar at 680.90 to one, down from 433.7 to one two days earlier, Uzbek TV reported. In setting the new rate, the bank announced that it "is not committing itself to buying or selling currency at that rate" in the future. PG
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 KOSOVA SERBS BAFFLED BY RUSSIAN, MACEDONIAN REPORTS OF AL-QAEDA BASE...The London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) wrote on 2 November that recent Russian and Macedonian media reports about an alleged Al-Qaeda base in the village of Ropotova in Kamenica municipality in the U.S. sector have local residents baffled. The reason is that Ropotova's 150 homes are all occupied by Serbs. One of them told IWPR: "What sort of mujahedin would dare to come to our village? Ropotova is surrounded from all sides with Serb villages." Shaip Surdulli, who heads the municipality -- where Serbs and Albanians still work side by side -- said he believes that the reports are disinformation aimed at "creating tension between Serbs and Albanians ahead of the upcoming elections, branding Albanians 'allies of the 'terrorist' Osama Bin Laden,' and discrediting U.S. troops operating in Kosovo." PM
 ...AS ARE TROOPS ON THE GROUNDThe report by IWPR on 2 November adds that "claims of mujahedin activity have also been rubbished by U.S. KFOR units patrolling the area." KFOR spokesman Randy Martin noted that "the regular air and ground patrols conducted by the Russian and American troops in close cooperation with the Serb and Albanian communitieshave not discovered such information." Tales of Albanian involvement in terrorism with U.S. support are long-standing themes in disinformation from Moscow, Belgrade, and Skopje (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July and 28 September 2001). On 1 November, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" ran a guest commentary alleging that Bin Laden has an extensive network in the Balkans. The article contained terms favored by Serbian and Russian publicists such as "Albanian separatism" and "Kosovo and Metohija." PM
 MEETINGS CONTINUE OVER KOSOVA SERBS' PARTICIPATION IN VOTEHans Haekkerup, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, is scheduled to meet with top Yugoslav and Serbian leaders in Belgrade on 2 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2001). The previous day, Dragoljub Micunovic, the speaker of the lower house of the Yugoslav parliament, said there is no consensus in Serbia's governing coalition to call on Kosova's Serbian minority to vote in the 17 November general elections in the province. He nonetheless urged Serbs to vote lest they put themselves at a disadvantage by not doing so. Several officials of the international community and Kosovar political leaders have recently told the Serbs that they face a choice between joining in a democratic process or risking political isolation. A recent survey suggests that some 82.5 percent of Kosova's Serbs are registered to vote. PM
 MONTENEGRO, ALBANIA TO LAUNCH JOINT WATER PROJECTRFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica on 1 November that Montenegro and Albania will soon launch a joint project to regulate Lake Scutari, which forms part of their border region, as well as two rivers that flow into it at Shkoder, the Drin and the Buna. The project is part of the EU's Stability Pact. PM
 MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER THREATENS TO BLOCK RATIFICATION VOTEStojan Andov told reporters in Skopje on 1 November that he may refuse to call a vote to ratify the constitutional reform package unless one of the two main ethnic Albanian parties, the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD), ends its opposition to recent changes in the package, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 1 November 2001). Andov said: "I'd stop the procedure immediately. Not one constitutional reform will be adopted unless they vote in support of them... The point of the constitutional reforms is to have solutions that would satisfy the Albanians, so there is no reason to have them if they don't agree." Andov added that Macedonia is expecting generous support from the EU once the package is enacted: "The only way we can implement these reforms is with aid, especially financial, from the European Union." PM
 MACEDONIAN POLICE WOUND AUSTRIAN NATIONALMacedonian police opened fire on a van with Austrian license plates near Tetovo on 1 November after it failed to stop at a checkpoint, dpa reported, citing a police statement. Andreas Mulner, an employee of the OSCE- sponsored Tetovo University, was injured in the incident. In an earlier statement, the police claimed that occupants of the van fired on them. Much about the incident remains unclear. PM
 MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT RAISES MASS GRAVE CLAIMPresident Boris Trajkovski wrote to The Hague-based war crimes tribunal from Skopje on 1 November asking the court to investigate reports of an alleged mass grave near Tetovo containing the remains of 12 Macedonians, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2001). Local Albanians say no such grave exists and that some Macedonian politicians invented the story as an excuse to deny a promised amnesty to Albanian guerrillas. PM
 BOSNIAN CAPITAL HONORS U.S. TERROR VICTIMSSome 6,000 people attended a concert in Sarajevo on 1 November to honor the victims of the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, AP reported. Sponsors said the concert was proof of "an active stand against terrorism." That same day, however, the daily "Oslobodjenje" published a commentary critical of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan because it has led to the deaths of innocent civilians. PM
 NURSE ARRESTED IN SWITZERLAND ON CROATIAN WAR CRIMES CHARGESThe Croatian Interior Ministry said in a statement on 2 November that Swiss police have arrested Zorana Banic, a former Serbian paramilitary who holds Croatian citizenship, in connection with the 1991 killings of 43 Croatian civilians in the Adriatic village of Skabrnja, dpa reported. She was in transit at Zurich airport from Dubai to an unnamed third country at the time of her arrest. The Croatian authorities have asked Switzerland for her extradition. If returned to Croatia, she faces a 20-year prison sentence, to which a Croatian court has sentenced her in absentia. PM
 ROMANIAN PREMIER MEETS BUSH, TALKS TO CHENEYAdrian Nastase met on 1 November at the White House with President George W. Bush, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Nastase called the encounter "a historic turning point" in Romanian-U.S. relations. He said Bush told him he is "a friend of Romania" and that to the extent that Bucharest meets the conditions for NATO accession, it can expect "a positive answer from the alliance." Nastase said they discussed Romanian and international developments and ways in which Romania can contribute to the current struggle against international terrorism. Nastase's scheduled meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney was conducted via a video conference because Cheney had been taken to a secure location following this week's alert over the possibility of a new terrorist attack. They mainly discussed ways to boost U.S. participation in the process of Romanian privatization. MS
 ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TESTIFIES BEFORE U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSIONForeign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is accompanying Nastase on his trip, testified on 1 November before the U.S. Helsinki Commission in his capacity as OSCE rotating chairman, Mediafax reported. Helsinki Commission Co- Chairman Christopher Smith said that despite "misgivings" he has had in the past about Romania's OSCE chairmanship, he is "profoundly impressed" by Geoana's performance. But Smith also said Romania has made "insufficient progress" in ensuring respect of human rights toward Roma and in extending official recognition to religious groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses. Smith also criticized "the toleration" by the Romanian authorities of statues erected in the memory of Marshal Ion Antonescu and the fact that the Penal Code is still punishing journalists for "defamation and calumny." MS
 ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY PROPOSES OUTLAWING STATUS LAWDemocratic Party Chairman and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu told journalists on 1 November that his formation will initiate a draft law prohibiting the implementation of the Hungarian Status Law on Romanian territory, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Basescu said the draft will be submitted to the parliament if negotiations with the Hungarian side produce no results "by December." Cosmin Gusa, the secretary-general of the ruling Social Democratic Party, said Basescu's initiative "does nothing but repeat what the government itself has said on numerous occasions." MS
 ROMANIAN EXTREME NATIONALISTS TO MOVE MOTION ON MOSCOW-HELD STATE TREASURYThe Greater Romania Party (PRM) announced on 1 November it will move in the Chamber of Deputies a motion to hold a debate on "the principles" to be included in the ongoing negotiations with Russia on the basic treaty between the two countries. PRM First Deputy Chairman Corneliu Ciontu said his party wants to "ring an alarm bell" about the danger that Romania will forego its right to demand the return of the treasury, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Democratic Party Chairman Basescu said his party will not cosponsor any motion with the PRM, but "might vote in favor" of such a motion. Meanwhile, Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Executive Chairman Laszlo Borbely called the initiative "a demagogic initiative with obvious electoral objectives." National Liberal Party Deputy Andrei Chiliman said the motion "should be addressed to the Russian government, rather than moved in the Romanian parliament." MS
 ROMANIAN SENATE APPROVES LAW BANNING SEXUAL HARASSMENT, GENDER DISCRIMINATIONThe Senate approved a law on 1 November banning sexual harassment and any form of gender discrimination, Romanian television reported. MS
 ROMANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER BELIEVES SOLUTION FOR BRASOV TRUCKMAKER IN OFFINGAfter meeting in Brasov with trade union leaders, Interior Minister Ioan Rus said on 1 November he believes an interministerial commission will be able to come up with a "viable solution" to the problems of the troubled Brasov Roman truckmaker within three weeks, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. But Marius Stinghe, a leader of the trade unions at Roman, said the unions cannot agree with the government's restructuring plans for the plant and will reject any layoffs. MS
 ROMANIAN SENATOR ILASCU INVOLVED IN MANSLAUGHTERAn automobile driven by PRM Senator Ilie Ilascu struck and killed a crossing pedestrian in a village near Bacau, Mediafax reported on 2 November. MS
 ROMANIA PROHIBITS HAMMUD'S ENTRYInterior Minister Rus on 1 November signed an order prohibiting the entry in Romania of Mahmud Ahmad Hammud, the former Lebanese honorary consul in Chisinau who is suspected of being a prominent member of the terrorist Hizballah organization, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Rus said in Brasov that the order was issued at the request of the Romanian Intelligence Service to "uphold national interests and strengthen national security." MS
 DIACOV SAYS 'HAMMUD AFFAIR' IS REVENGE OF MOLDOVAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE CHIEFDemocratic Party Chairman and former parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov told journalists on 1 November that the "Hammud affair" is nothing but an attempt staged by Moldovan Intelligence and Security Service head Valeriu Pasat to take revenge on Diacov for having tried to bring about his dismissal, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. "Nobody wanted Hammud until he married my daughter," Diacov said, claiming that Pasat is also being assisted by Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca. Diacov denied media reports that he intends to leave Moldova, saying the country must find "a reasonable alternative" between Rosca's unionists and the communists. Hammud, who was expelled from Moldova after his Moldovan citizenship was revoked by President Vladimir Voronin, said he planned to leave for Lebanon on 2 November "to inform his government on the allegations against him," and will tour other Arab states for the same purpose, Mediafax reported. MS
 TIRASPOL SUPREME SOVIET APPROVES WITHDRAWAL OF RUSSIAN ARSENALSupreme Soviet Chairman Grigorii Marakutsa on 1 November told the parliament that the Russian Defense Ministry has requested the State Duma to allocate 298 million rubles ($100 million) for the costs of withdrawing the Russian arsenal from the Transdniester and that, in line with the earlier understanding reached with the Tiraspol authorities, the money will be used to cover the separatists' debt for Russian gas deliveries, Flux reported. The Supreme Soviet subsequently approved by unanimous decision a 26 October agreement reached with the Russian Defense Ministry on the withdrawal of the arsenal and the destruction of depleted equipment. The resolution pledges Transdniester cooperation beginning on 5 November in "withdrawing the arsenal without any hindrance." MS
 SMIRNOV 'PRESIDENTIAL RIVAL' LEAVES BENDERY 'TO AVOID PHYSICAL VIOLENCE'The former chief of the Bendery-Tighina administration Tom Zenovich said during a stopover in Chisinau on his way to Moscow on 1 November that he will describe to "prominent Russian politicians the atmosphere of fear and lies stirred up by the current Transdniester leadership," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Zenovich, who intends to run against Smirnov in the 1 December "presidential" elections, was dismissed by the authorities in Tiraspol. He said that immediately upon announcing his candidacy he and his family received threats of physical violence, the secret services spied on him, and his telephone was tapped. Zenovich also said that before he departed for the airport an attempt was made to arrest him. MS
 MASS PROTEST RALLY MARKS BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT'S FIRST 100 DAYS IN OFFICEThousands protested on 1 November in Sofia, marking 100 days in office of the cabinet headed by Simeon Saxecoburggotski, international agencies reported. The rally was called by the two main trade unions, which issued 17 demands, including tax cuts to encourage business and create more jobs, and a 20 percent pay raise for state employees. Confederation of Independent Trade Unions leader Zhelyazko Hristov told the protesters that the government's pre-election promises have not been honored. He urged the government to either begin discussions with the unions or face strikes. Deputy Premier Lidia Shuleva said the government has already raised the minimum monthly salary to 100 leva ($46) from 85 leva, and that it plans to increase social welfare spending by 20 percent in 2002. MS
 POPE TO VISIT BULGARIA IN MAYForeign Minister Solomon Pasi told journalists on 1 November that he has received confirmation that Pope John Paul II will visit Bulgaria in the second half of May 2002, AP reported. The information was passed on to the ministry by Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Mennini. Pasi expressed the hope that the visit will help "erase from Bulgaria's image the blemish of...[its alleged 1981] involvement in the attempt on the pope's life." Three Bulgarians suspected of complicity in the assassination attempt carried out by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca were acquitted by an Italian court for lack of evidence. MS
 CORRECTION:"RFE/RL Newsline" erroneously reported on 1 November that the Bulgarian draft budget for 2002 envisages a zero deficit. In fact, the budget is projecting a 0.8 percent of the GDP deficit.
[C] END NOTE
 BATTLE OF THE BREWS COMES TO A HEAD IN SLOVENIABy Donald F. Reindl
A takeover of Slovenia's Union Brewery is imminent, and speculation is growing as to whether the Belgium-based multinational company Interbrew or the Lasko Brewery -- Union's Slovene archrival -- will be successful in acquiring a majority stake in the 137-year-old Ljubljana brewery. Lasko currently controls slightly over half of the beer market in Slovenia.
The Slovene daily "Delo" reported on 23 October that Interbrew acquired an additional 3 percent of Union shares the previous day, giving it a share nearly as great as the 24.9 percent currently held jointly by Lasko and its subsidiary Radenska. Lasko merged with the popular Slovene soft drink company Radenska in a friendly takeover in September last year. Traders reported that Union employees likely sold the stock to Interbrew in an attempt to prevent a Lasko takeover. The outcome now depends on which company acquires the remaining shares, which are held by a state fund and small shareholders.
The potential international consolidation of Slovenia's beer market is a reflection of broader trends from the Baltics to the Balkans. Despite frequently intense loyalties to local brews, independent hometown breweries have become increasingly rare anachronisms in Central and Eastern Europe. The privatization of formerly state-owned breweries, coupled with the need for Western capital, has made breweries a ready target for international firms. Indeed, Interbrew is active in other parts of post-communist Europe, and operates breweries in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and elsewhere. Nor is it alone. The South African Breweries corporation boasts holdings in Slovakia, Russia, Poland, and -- perhaps most prominently -- has had a controlling interest in the Czech brewing combine Pilsner Urquell-Radegast since 1999, when it beat out Heineken by meeting the $321 million asking price set by the combine's Japanese owner, Nomura. On the other hand, the Dutch company Heineken counts breweries in Macedonia and Poland among its 110 worldwide, and holds a range of labels in Slovakia.
The rare exceptions to this trend are represented by cases such as the well-known Czech Budvar brewery, which remains state-owned in order to prevent a hostile takeover by the American Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. -- although this has not prevented a series of court cases and even criminal prosecution involving marketing rights in various countries over the "Budweiser" label. The two companies have been contesting the matter since 1911, when Budvar first tried to sell its Budweiser on the American market, and they appear no closer to a compromise now than they did 90 years ago (see "RFE/RL Weekday Magazine," 31 July 2001).
However, it is not only Western multinationals that are engaged in buying up the breweries of Central and Eastern Europe. Lasko is also engaged in takeover bids outside Slovenia. Although the company does not command as much capital as the large multinational brewing consortia, it has acquired a 40 percent share in the Jadranska brewery of Split, Croatia, and recently competed -- albeit unsuccessfully -- with Interbrew for Bosnia's Banja Luka brewery.
These international takeovers are not so much a reflection of an inability to maintain domestic control over the beer market as they are a sign of the modernization of the brewing industry in Central and Eastern Europe. After all, several decades ago the American brewing industry went through similar growing pains associated with massive consolidation. The developments also indicate the attractiveness of these breweries to international investors. Despite falling beer sales across Europe, many breweries continue to operate successfully. Last year, for example, Lasko reported a net profit of approximately $6.2 million. This is explained in part by the diversified products of modern breweries. Whichever company eventually acquires Union will also acquire production facilities for a variety of soft drinks and spring water. In addition, Union is Slovenia's only producer of baking yeast, producing some 3,800 tons annually.
Slovenes remain relatively unconcerned about the changing ownership of the Union brewery. The general attitude seems to be that business is business. As an article in the weekly financial paper "Delnicar" commented on 28 September after Interbrew confirmed its intention to enter Slovenia's beer market, the real regret is that it is only Belgian money -- and not Belgian lambics and other celebrated Belgian brews -- that will be coming to Slovenia. And, in any case, there are no plans to close the landmark brewery on the edge of Ljubljana's downtown.
Connoisseurs of irony might note that Union and Lasko were locked in fierce market competition three-quarters of a century ago. The outcome was Union's secret purchase of most of Lasko's stock in 1924, and the closure of the brewery three months later. Union then marketed its own beer under the Lasko label, to the indignation of loyal Lasko drinkers. If Lasko is successful in acquiring a majority stake in Union, many may well remark that turnabout is fair play.
Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate based in Ljubljana. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty