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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 217, 01-11-15

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. 217, 15 November 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS PLEDGE TO BOOST ECONOMIC TIES
  • [02] FORMER ARMENIAN DISSIDENT RELEASED AFTER ONE-DAY TRIAL
  • [03] TWO NEPHEWS OF EXILED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST ARRESTED
  • [04] NEGOTIATIONS ON RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN TREATY SUSPENDED
  • [05] GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SAYS NEW BOMBARDMENT OF KODORI UNLIKELY
  • [06] SLOVAK PRESIDENT BEGINS OFFICIAL VISIT TO KAZAKHSTAN
  • [07] KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES WANT PRESIDENT'S SON-IN-LAW TO RESPOND TO ACCUSATIONS
  • [08] KYRGYZ PRESIDENT DISCUSSES COOPERATION WITH EBRD CHIEF
  • [09] INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS CONCERNED BY IMPRISONMENT OF KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, JOURNALIST...
  • [10] ...APPEAL TO KYRGYZ PRESIDENT OVER JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER
  • [11] TURKMEN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES, SACKS BORDER GUARD OFFICIALS
  • [12] BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS UZBEKISTAN

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [13] KOSOVA PREPARES TO VOTE
  • [14] MACEDONIAN SITUATION REMAINS TENSE
  • [15] SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER MOVES TO DISCIPLINE ELITE POLICE...
  • [16] ...WHO RELAUNCH THEIR MUTINY
  • [17] SON OF EX-SERBIAN LEADER CHARGED WITH ASSAULT
  • [18] CHARGES AGAINST BOSNIAN SERB EX-MINISTERS
  • [19] ROMANIAN PREMIER HOPES FOR BREAKTHROUGH ON STATUS LAW
  • [20] ROMANIAN POLL HAS NASTASE LEADING IN PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST
  • [21] FITCH UPGRADES ROMANIAN RATINGS
  • [22] MAJOR ROMANIAN TRADE UNIONS DENOUNCE AGREEMENT WITH GOVERNMENT
  • [23] PROMINENT ROMANIAN JEWISH INTELLECTUAL DEAD
  • [24] RUSSIA COMPLETES TRANSDNIESTER WITHDRAWAL
  • [25] MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN U.S.
  • [26] GAGAUZ-YERI DISSATISFIED WITH ENVISAGED MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
  • [27] BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS EU REPORT 'REFLECTS PROGRESS TOWARD ACCESSION'
  • [28] BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES TREATY WITH U.S. ON TROOP TRANSITS, STOPOVERS
  • [29] TRIAL OF BULGARIAN PREMIER'S ASSASSINS BEGINS IN SOFIA

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [30] CLUJ MAYOR'S ULTRANATIONALIST BEHAVIOR GIVES GROUNDS FOR CONCERN

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS PLEDGE TO BOOST ECONOMIC TIES

    Following talks in Yerevan on 14 November, Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his visiting Polish counterpart Aleksandr Kwasniewski told journalists that they are determined to raise the level of bilateral economic cooperation to that of the "political dialogue" between the two countries, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian also said that while Armenia is interested in studying Poland's experience of economic reform and integration into European structures, the two countries also respect each other's diverging "choice of security priorities." The two presidents also signed a joint declaration affirming their readiness to continue cooperation within the framework of international organizations, to continue dialogue on political, economic, and security issues, to develop economic ties, and to cooperate within the parameters of the EU's INOGATE oil and gas export program. LF

    [02] FORMER ARMENIAN DISSIDENT RELEASED AFTER ONE-DAY TRIAL

    Azat Arshakian, a Soviet-era dissident and leader of the former paramilitary Independence Army, was given a two-year suspended sentence on 14 November on charges of illegal possession of weapons following a four- hour court hearing, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Arshakian was taken into custody in September after quantities of weapons and ammunition were found at the Independence Army's Yerevan headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 18 and 19 September and 9 October 2001). Arshakian maintained he was unaware of their existence, and that the group surrendered its weapons in the early 1990s when it transformed into an NGO that aids the families of war veterans. LF

    [03] TWO NEPHEWS OF EXILED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST ARRESTED

    Two nephews of former Azerbaijani parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, who has lived in the U.S. since resigning that post five years ago, have been arrested, Turan reported on 14 November. One has been charged with embezzling property worth over $1 million, and the other with involvement in organized crime and illegal possession of arms. LF

    [04] NEGOTIATIONS ON RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN TREATY SUSPENDED

    The Russian Foreign Ministry informed its Georgian counterpart in a note on 14 November that the planned visit to Tbilisi by Russian State Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chair Boris Pastukhov to continue talks on a new framework bilateral treaty has been postponed until a new Georgian head of the delegations charged with conducting those talks is appointed, Caucasus Press reported. That position was previously held by outgoing Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili. On 12 November, Interfax and ITAR-TASS both quoted unidentified senior Russian government officials as saying that Georgian officials are "naive" to think that such an agreement can be signed as long as Tbilisi continues to harbor and protect Chechen "separatists." LF

    [05] GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SAYS NEW BOMBARDMENT OF KODORI UNLIKELY

    Intelligence Department head Avtandil Ioseliani told journalists in Tbilisi on 14 November that he considers further air bombardments of the Kodori gorge unlikely, Caucasus Press reported. Ioseliani pointed out that the bombardments were directed primarily at locations close to the border between Georgia and the Russian Federation where the "North Caucasus fighters" might seek to cross into Russian territory, and there are now no longer any such groups left in Kodori. Also on 14 November, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists in Tbilisi that the Georgian troops currently deployed in the Kodori gorge will remain there at least until the spring of 2002, Interfax reported. In a statement released the previous day, the Russian Foreign Ministry had called for their immediate withdrawal in order to defuse tensions between the Abkhaz and Georgian leaderships (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). LF

    [06] SLOVAK PRESIDENT BEGINS OFFICIAL VISIT TO KAZAKHSTAN

    Rudolf Schuster arrived in Astana on 14 November on an official two-day visit, CTK reported. Schuster and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a Declaration on the Basis of Relations and discussed the potential for bilateral cooperation. Nazarbaev expressed particular interest in acquiring arms and ammunition from Slovakia and modernizing its air force with help from Slovakia. Schuster also met with Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov, who stressed Kazakhstan's interest in Slovakia's experience of economic and financial reform. Idrisov also said Kazakhstan wants to see the Druzhba and Adria oil pipelines linked in order to permit the export of Kazakh crude via Russia to Western Europe. He further noted that Kazakhstan has no objections to NATO expansion eastwards, according to TASR. LF

    [07] KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES WANT PRESIDENT'S SON-IN-LAW TO RESPOND TO ACCUSATIONS

    A group of nonpartisan deputies to the Mazhilis (the power chamber of Kazakhstan's bicameral parliament) headed by Erlan Nighmatullin issued a statement on 14 November demanding that President Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, who is vice chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, appear before the legislature to respond to charges by Mazhilis deputy Tolen Toqtasynov that he abuses his official position, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11,12, 15 and 19 October 2001). LF

    [08] KYRGYZ PRESIDENT DISCUSSES COOPERATION WITH EBRD CHIEF

    On the second leg of his tour of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) President Jean Lemierre met in Bishkek on 14 November with Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and with President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Lemierre told journalists after those talks that the EBRD plans to increase its activities in Kyrgyzstan, advising the government on the ongoing privatization process and on attracting foreign investment to develop the Jerui gold deposit. On 12 November, presidential advisor on foreign investments Dzhoomart Otorbaev complained that U.S. and European businessmen are wary of investing in Kyrgyzstan because if the country's geographic proximity to Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. At present, Otorbaev said, only Kazakhs and Russians are "not afraid" to invest in the Kyrgyz economy. LF

    [09] INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS CONCERNED BY IMPRISONMENT OF KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, JOURNALIST...

    Two international human rights watchdogs have reported that Ravshan Gapirov, who headed a human rights organization in the town of Kara-Suu in southern Kyrgyzstan, was arrested in late October and tried and sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment on charges of drug trafficking, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. One of those organizations also reported on 13 November that a court in Djalalabad sentenced journalist Samagan Orozaliev on 1 November to nine years' imprisonment on charges of blackmail, falsification of documents, illegal possession of arms, and resisting the police. Orozaliev was arrested in May shortly after he arrived in Djalalabad to make a documentary on official corruption. LF

    [10] ...APPEAL TO KYRGYZ PRESIDENT OVER JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER

    The New York-based International League for Human Rights sent a letter on 9 November to President Akaev expressing concern at the Constitutional Court's refusal to consider an appeal by jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov against the seven-year prison sentence handed down to him in January 2001, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2001). LF

    [11] TURKMEN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES, SACKS BORDER GUARD OFFICIALS

    President Saparmurat Niyazov issued a decree on 14 November severely criticizing border guard service head Lieutenant General Tirkish Termeev for serious shortcomings and a cavalier attitude to his work, and fined him one month's wages, AP and Interfax reported. Niyazov warned Termeev that he will be dismissed if his performance does not improve within one month. Niyazov also dismissed two of Termeev's subordinates and stripped them of their military rank for having reportedly accepted bribes to cover up criminal offenses and intimidated innocent persons. LF

    [12] BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS UZBEKISTAN

    On a one-day visit to Tashkent on 14 November, Geoff Hoon met with Uzbek Defense Minister Kadyr Gulamov, Security Council secretary Mirakbar Rakhmankulov, and President Islam Karimov, Interfax reported. Hoon and Karimov discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the prospects for military-technical cooperation. Hoon said Britain may supply military equipment to Uzbekistan, train officers for the Uzbek armed forces, and provide assistance in teaching English to Uzbek military personnel. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [13] KOSOVA PREPARES TO VOTE

    Voters in Kosova are scheduled to elect a 120-member assembly on 17 November in what Reuters on 15 November called "the most important event in the...province since NATO bombing ended Serb rule in 1999." The moderate Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) of Ibrahim Rugova is expected to win the most seats, followed by two parties that emerged from the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). The assembly will choose a president and a seven-member presidency of the legislature. The president will name a prime minister, who will have a nine-member cabinet. Some 20 parliamentary seats are reserved for minorities, including 10 for Serbs. It is not clear how many Serbs will vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 November 2001). Belgrade has encouraged them to cast their ballots, and Serbia's governing coalition is fielding candidates. But many local Serbs have difficulty adjusting to the fact that they no longer control the province and plan to boycott the vote. All parties of the 90 percent Albanian majority want independence for the UN-administered protectorate. PM

    [14] MACEDONIAN SITUATION REMAINS TENSE

    Ethnic Albanian villagers and Macedonian paramilitary police face each other in a standoff near several villages in the Tetovo area, "The New York Times" reported on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 2001). The villagers have set up sand-bagged barricades, while the police have established checkpoints in an effort to find the killers of three of their colleagues in a recent incident. The villagers say they will not allow the police into their communities until the parliament passes a long- delayed amnesty for former guerrillas. The police belong to the Lions and Tigers elite units. The Lions are close to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. An unnamed international monitor said of the police operation: "It was not what you would call a confidence-building measure." PM

    [15] SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER MOVES TO DISCIPLINE ELITE POLICE...

    Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 14 November that he will not allow Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic to resign as demanded by rebellious Red Beret paramilitary police, "Danas" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 2001). Djindjic stressed that "no individual group will be able to take to the streets to oust ministers as long as I'm the prime minister." He accepted the resignations of the security chief, Goran Petrovic, and his deputy, Zoran Mijatovic, who sided with the Red Berets in their opposition to the government's cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Djindjic said that he is transferring the Red Berets to the Public Security department, where they will be integrated into antiterror structures. Former President Slobodan Milosevic made the Red Berets into an elite unit of his Praetorian guard. They were reportedly involved in bloody campaigns in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. Many of them are said to fear extradition to The Hague under the government's policy of cooperating with that body. PM

    [16] ...WHO RELAUNCH THEIR MUTINY

    Members of the Red Berets set up roadblocks near their base at Kula, north of Belgrade, on 15 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. They had dismantled their barricades the previous day. PM

    [17] SON OF EX-SERBIAN LEADER CHARGED WITH ASSAULT

    The public prosecutor's office in Pozarevac, which is the hometown of the Milosevic family, filed assault charges against the ex-leader's son, Marko, on 15 November, AP reported. He is said to have threatened to kill opposition activist Zoran Milovanovic in March 2000 with a power saw by "cutting him into pieces" if he did not reveal information about opposition activities. Marko fled Serbia following his father's ouster in October 2000 and is widely believed to be somewhere in the former Soviet Union, where he allegedly has mafia connections. Milovanovic said that he nonetheless still receives phone calls threatening his life if he does not withdraw charges against Marko. If convicted, young Milosevic would face up to five years in prison if he ever returns to Serbia. The current government has sought to put members of the former regime behind bars by charging them in concrete, easily provable cases in what is called the "Al Capone option" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2001). PM

    [18] CHARGES AGAINST BOSNIAN SERB EX-MINISTERS

    The Banja Luka police have filed charges against former Republika Srpska Justice Ministers Milan Trbojevic and Cedo Vrzina for allegedly embezzling money budgeted for subordinates' social benefits in 2000, RFE/RL reported on 14 November. PM

    [19] ROMANIAN PREMIER HOPES FOR BREAKTHROUGH ON STATUS LAW

    Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 14 November that he hopes a solution "in the European spirit" will be found to the dispute over the Hungarian Status Law when he meets his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban at the CEFTA summit in Bucharest on 16 November. Nastase said the recent report of the European Commission echoes the Venice Commission recommendations on the law, and those recommendations, in turn, are in line with Bucharest's views. He said Hungary will have to choose between "European standards" or "viewing Europe future's in ethnic terms," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 14 November, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met in Washington with leaders of the Hungarian Foundation for Human Rights and of the American Hungarian Coalition and received from them a list of demands concerning the rights of members of the Hungarian minority in Romania, Mediafax reported. MS

    [20] ROMANIAN POLL HAS NASTASE LEADING IN PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST

    A public opinion poll published by Metromedia Transylvania shows that Premier Nastase is the leading candidate to become Romania's next president, with the support of 40.1 percent of respondents. In second place is Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor (16.6 percent), followed by National Liberal Party (PNL) National Council Chairman Theodor Stolojan (14.8) and by Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu (13.4 percent). If elections were held this week, the ruling Social Democratic Party would garner 54.1 percent of the vote, the PRM 13.8, the PNL 10.8, the Democratic Party 8.5, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania 6.2 percent. MS

    [21] FITCH UPGRADES ROMANIAN RATINGS

    The British rating agency Fitch on 14 November upgraded Romania's country risk from B to B+ for long-term debt and from "stable" to "positive" for its foreign debt, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. As grounds for the decision the agency mentioned the drop in the internal debt from 13.1 percent in 1999 to 9.3 percent of GDP in 2000 and Romania's improving economic performance. Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu announced Fitch's decision in the parliament during the debates on the 2002 budget, saying he does so "proudly" and that the decision "demonstrates the correctness of the government's policy." MS

    [22] MAJOR ROMANIAN TRADE UNIONS DENOUNCE AGREEMENT WITH GOVERNMENT

    The National Syndicate Bloc (BNS), one of Romania's main trade union federations, announced on 14 November that it has nullified the social accord signed on 19 February with the government and with employers and will launch street protests, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. As grounds for the decision the BNS mentioned the 2002 austerity budget and the government's failure to solve demands to increase pensions. The BNS said the first large protest will take place in Bucharest on 29 November. MS

    [23] PROMINENT ROMANIAN JEWISH INTELLECTUAL DEAD

    Zigu Ornea, the most prominent contemporary cultural historian of Romania, died on 15 November, Romanian radio reported. He was 71. Ornea authored numerous volumes on 19th and 20th century Romanian political history and its impact on the country's cultural life. For many years, he was director of the Minerva publishing house, which specialized in the dissemination of the Romanian cultural heritage. In the last years of his life he became director of the Ha'sefer publishing house of the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities. Ornea was frequently attacked in the media for having produced volumes and articles dealing with the legacy of the Romanian far right and its impact on postcommunist political life. When his 70th birthday was celebrated, some of his peers criticized the Romanian Academy for not having made Ornea a member, and pointed out that many writers and historians less deserving than Ornea have been given that honor. MS

    [24] RUSSIA COMPLETES TRANSDNIESTER WITHDRAWAL

    The commander of the Russian contingent in the Transdniester, General Valerii Yevnevich, said on 14 November that Russia completed the withdrawal of its military hardware from Transdniester earlier that day, and an OSCE spokesman said Moscow has thus "fulfilled its international obligations" assumed at the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul, Infotag reported. Reacting to the withdrawal, separatist "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay said the withdrawal of the equipment was a "very negative factor." He said that "the hasty removal...upsets the entire system of guaranteed security, whose main component are the Russian peacekeeping forces and the Russian military contingent." Litskay said that now "the possibility emerges of violent outbreaks with Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabach serving as examples" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 2001). MS

    [25] MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN U.S.

    Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau met on 13 November in Washington with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, discussing relations between the two countries and the evacuation of the Russian contingent from the Transdniester, Infotag reported. Armitage welcomed Russia's compliance with the Istanbul summit accords. He also said the U.S. supports the "energetic actions" by the Moldovan authorities to "reinstate customs controls" on the whole of the country's national territory and to "consolidate its eastern border." Armitage also said the U.S. is ready to continue rendering technical and humanitarian assistance to Moldova and assist it in "democratic development and implementing economic reforms." Dudau handed Armitage a message from President Vladimir Voronin to U.S. President George Bush. MS

    [26] GAGAUZ-YERI DISSATISFIED WITH ENVISAGED MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

    Peter Zlatov, adviser to the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly, said on 14 November that the Moldovan government's proposed amendments to the constitution have been drafted "without taking into account Gagauz interests" and disregarding the proposals of the assembly. The envisaged amendments were published the same day in the Moldovan official gazette. In them, the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly is granted the right to initiate legislation, and the existence of a Gagauz legislature and an executive are recognized. The amendments also stipulate that the Gagauz assembly and its executive power are to be elected in line with legislation passed in the autonomous republic, and Gagauz-Yeri is recognized as having a special status within the Moldovan Republic. The amendments also stipulate that if Moldova loses its independent status, the region will have the right to "self-determination." Zlatov, however, said the envisaged bill intends to split Gagauz-Yeri into "districts, and thus deprive us of the self- determination achieved in 1994" when Gagauz-Yeri was granted special status. MS

    [27] BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS EU REPORT 'REFLECTS PROGRESS TOWARD ACCESSION'

    The Foreign Ministry on 14 November released a statement saying the European Commission's 13 November report (which said Bulgaria and Romania do not meet the economic criteria for membership) "reflects Bulgaria's progress toward membership and the steps undertaken by the government to speed up" the accession process, BTA reported. In reaction to criticism included in the report, the ministry said Bulgaria "accepts the challenges" and will speed up preparations for accession. The ministry also drew attention to the fact that for the first time a report by the Commission said Bulgaria is very close to a "functioning market economy" and assessed the country's economic prospects as good. The ministry said the report's conclusions "confirm Bulgaria's timetable for completing negotiations in 2003 and achieving full membership by 2006." MS

    [28] BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES TREATY WITH U.S. ON TROOP TRANSITS, STOPOVERS

    The parliament unanimously ratified on 14 November a treaty signed with the U.S. which allows U.S. forces to transit through Bulgaria or stop over in that country as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, dpa reported. The treaty also allows the use of Bulgarian airspace for over flights and the storage of military equipment in Bulgaria for the duration of the campaign against international terrorism. MS

    [29] TRIAL OF BULGARIAN PREMIER'S ASSASSINS BEGINS IN SOFIA

    Five men went on trail in Sofia on 14 November on charges related to the assassination of former Premier Andrei Lukanov in October 1996, AP reported. Ukrainian national Alexander Rusov is charged with having shot Lukanov and Alexei Kichatov, another Ukrainian, is charged with complicity to murder, by allegedly providing Rusov with a gun. Ukraine extradited both men last year at Bulgaria's request. Also charged with complicity are Bulgarian construction entrepreneur Angel Vasiliev, his nephew Georgi Georgiev and Yurii Lenev, a former employee of Vasiliev. Vasiliev is accused of ordering the assassination and his two associates of hiring the assassin. All five deny the charges. If found guilty, they face life imprisonment without parole. Vasiliev was extradited last year from the Czech Republic. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [30] CLUJ MAYOR'S ULTRANATIONALIST BEHAVIOR GIVES GROUNDS FOR CONCERN

    By Eugen Tomiuc

    Gheorghe Funar, the eccentric ultranationalist mayor of Cluj, one of the largest cities in the Romanian region of Transylvania, last week ordered the sidewalks of some of the town's main streets decorated in Romania's national red, yellow, and blue colors, after previously having roadside poles, traffic lights, and benches painted in the same palette.

    Funar said the tricolor sidewalks are part of a project to brighten the town. He told local media he was inspired by a visit to the South Korean town of Suwon, where he saw sidewalks painted in the Korean colors. Cluj -- a city of some 330,000 -- has been the historical capital of Transylvania, a region that was part of Hungary before World War I. An academic town, Cluj is home to much of Transylvania's ethnic Hungarian and Romanian intellectual elite.

    Funar, who became mayor in 1992, has gained notoriety for his eccentricities and anti-Hungarian rhetoric in a town where one-fifth of the population is ethnic Hungarian. In June 2001, Funar was briefly detained by police after placing cow bones fresh from a slaughterhouse and red, yellow, and blue toothpicks on the city councilors' desks. He said at the time that his actions were "a contemporary art exhibition" and complained to the police that the "exhibits" had been stolen.

    Eccentricity may run in the family. Funar's father caught the attention of local and national media earlier this year when he created a red, yellow, and blue homemade wine.

    But Gheorghe Funar is also secretary-general of the country's ultranationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), which came second in last year's general election with 20 percent of the vote and whose leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, made it into the runoff presidential ballot before being beaten by ex-communist Ion Iliescu.

    Some analysts say Funar's ability to keep his mayoral job for a third consecutive term in a town renowned for its ethnic tolerance is based on his administrative skills rather than on his anti-Hungarian views. But local politicians -- ethnic Hungarian and Romanian alike -- have repeatedly accused Funar of mismanagement. They point to the fact that the mayor this year has been constantly at odds with the local council, and say Cluj lacked proper local leadership for months.

    Romania, a country of 23 million, is home to a 1.7 million Hungarian minority -- Europe's largest -- which is mostly concentrated in Transylvania. Peter Eckstein-Kovacs, a senator and a prominent member of Romania's ethnic Hungarian party (UDMR), who lives in Cluj, says the local economy is down and unemployment is high because Funar's bizarre behavior has chased away substantial foreign investment. He suggested that Funar's re-election could be based on some Romanians' latent fear of an imaginary Hungarian danger, a fear that he said is completely unfounded.

    Eckstein-Kovacs also said Funar has refused to implement a new public administration law allowing ethnic minorities to use their native language in local administrations in areas where they account for more than 20 percent of the population.

    Horatiu Crisan, who is a spokesman for Funar, told RFE/RL the mayor believes that ethnic Hungarians now account for less than 20 percent in Cluj, despite a 1992 official census that puts the number at almost 23 percent. He said Funar thinks the 1992 census was falsified in favor of ethnic Hungarians and that he plans to wait until next year's census to see whether the law is locally applicable. Crisan further denied accusations of mismanagement and said the mayor has managed to attract millions of dollars in foreign investment.

    However, some residents of Cluj, while accustomed to Funar's behavior, say that walking on Romania's national colors is an insult. They also fear Funar's actions threaten generally good inter-ethnic relations.

    Local radio journalist Gabriela Pentelescu told RFE/RL that Funar's behavior has the potential to destroy decades of inter-ethnic harmony. "People learned to live together -- neighbors who have known each other for decades and speak either Romanian or Hungarian; Romanians who speak Hungarian with the neighbor across the street; or Hungarians who speak Romanian. Romanian and Hungarian kids play together. I do not think there is a conflict, it is just a different mentality and culture. But over the decades, a compromise was reached. However, if you want to manipulate, you can always find motives for discontent."

    Analysts point out that ultranationalist rhetoric could hamper Romania's efforts toward integration into the European Union and NATO and, at the same time, harm relations with neighboring Hungary.

    Romania, one of the poorest European countries, lags behind the other 11 EU candidates, and its relations with more prosperous Hungary have become strained since June of this year when Budapest adopted a law granting certain economic, social, and cultural rights to ethnic Hungarians living abroad.

    Professor Zoe Petre, a political analyst and former top adviser to former Romanian President Emil Constantinescu, pointed out that xenophobic and chauvinistic behavior such as Funar's could cause further tension in relations with Hungary and isolate Romania internationally. But Petre admitted that some Romanians do tend to blame Hungary and the West for their country's failures. She warned that the PRM is trying to hijack national symbols and squeeze political profit out of popular frustration.

    Petre says many Romanians do not understand that actions such as Funar's could do more harm to the country's European aspirations than decisions made by world leaders. She believes authorities and opinion leaders are failing to tell people that ultranationalists such as Vadim Tudor and Gheorghe Funar aim to isolate Romania. Petre says politicians, the mass media, and academics alike should go to greater lengths to explain the harm ultranationalism could do to Romania.

    Funar, however, appears to pay little attention to outside criticism. The town hall of Cluj has already announced it has pledged some $10,000 -- a considerable amount for the impoverished local budget -- to large-scale celebrations on Romania's 1 December national holiday, including an impressive display of fireworks.

    But once the pyrotechnics are over, Romanians will still wake up the next morning to the same lives -- lives often marred by poverty, a lack of positive expectations, and the specter of ultranationalism.

    Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.

    15-11-01


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


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