Accessibility links

Newsline - May 5, 1997




RADUEV ADMITS TO NORTH CAUCASUS BOMBINGS

Chechen maverick field commander Salman Raduev says he ordered last month's bomb explosions in Armavir and Pyatigorsk, which killed a total of five people, Western agencies reported yesterday. Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev the same day distanced himself from Chechen officials' claims that Russian police falsely identified two Chechen women arrested in connection with the Pyatigorsk bomb. Raduev also threatened to use chemical weapons in retaliation if the two women were harmed. The Russian Security Council discussed Chechnya yesterday but failed to set a date for a meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Chechen counterpart, Aslan Maskhadov. Spokesman Kazbek Khadzhiev told Interfax that Maskhadov plans a radical reorganization of the Chechen Interior Ministry to combat widespread crime more effectively.

OFFICIALS SAY PROGRESS MADE ON RUSSIAN-NATO CHARTER

U.S. officials say Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov made significant progress on negotiating a Russian-NATO charter during unscheduled talks on 2 May, Reuters reported. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns gave no details. The U.S. cannot negotiate on NATO's behalf. According to The Washington Post, Russia has dropped its demand that the charter set collective limits on NATO troops and equipment. Instead, it has been proposed that individual country limits on conventional weapons be agreed through separate negotiations on modifying the 1990 CFE agreement. Primakov is to hold another round of talks with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana tomorrow. Russia still wants a charter that prohibits NATO from deploying nuclear weapons or building military infrastructure in new member states. Western officials, however, have refused to meet that demand.

YELTSIN SIGNS LAW ON CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION

President Yeltsin on 2 May signed a law on the procedure for storing, transporting, and destroying chemical weapons, Russian news agencies reported. The law does not set a deadline for destroying Russia's chemical weapons arsenal of about 40,000 tons. On 25 April, the State Duma passed the law and postponed ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, citing a lack of funds (see RFE/RL Newsline, 28 April 1997).

FRENCH REPORT SAYS RUSSIA STOCKPILING NUKES

A French Defense Ministry report says Russia does not know the exact number of weapons in its nuclear arsenal and is not destroying as many warheads as it should, Reuters and dpa reported on 2 May. The report estimated that Russia has some 6,650 long-range nuclear weapons and between 18,000 and 20,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which is far larger than the U.S. tactical weapons stockpile. It suggested that Russian authorities do not know how many warheads have been brought to Russia from former Soviet republics. The report also said that because of funding shortages, many Russian warheads have not been dismantled but have been made temporarily inoperative. Last week, Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov said Russia has dismantled nearly half of its nuclear warheads, in accordance with international agreements (see RFE/RL Newsline, 28 April 1997).

PRIMAKOV ON RELATIONS WITH IRAN

Foreign Minister Primakov has assured his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Velayati, that Russia's "strategic relations" with Iran will remain unaffected by the German court verdict implicating Iranian leaders in the 1992 killings in Berlin of four Kurdish dissidents, Western agencies reported. EU member countries have since suspended ministerial contacts with Iran. Velayati has expressed "satisfaction" over the state of bilateral relations, according to ITAR-TASS.

LEBED SAYS LUZHKOV ONLY PRESIDENTIAL RIVAL

Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed says Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov will be his only real rival in the next presidential election, Interfax reported on 3 May. Lebed said he respected First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov but did not consider him a serious contender. He argued that Nemtsov has "no one to rely on" in the government and will lose popularity once planned reforms in housing and municipal services take effect (see RFE/RL Newsline, 29 April 1997). Luzhkov was one of the most vocal critics of the peace agreement Lebed negotiated in Chechnya last August, calling it "a bomb under the Russian Constitution." Over the last several days, Luzhkov has denounced plans to raise charges for rent and municipal services. He has also vowed that the Moscow city government will not carry out the government's housing reform program.

YELTSIN REJECTS AMENDMENT TO TAX LAW

Yeltsin has vetoed an amendment to the 1991 law on the fundamentals of the Russian tax system, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. The amendment would have exempted budget-financed organizations from fines for not paying taxes if they had not received enough funds to pay wages. The Duma and Federation Council passed the amendment last month. The State Statistics Committee announced recently that state- funded organizations owed their employees 11 trillion rubles ($2 billion) in back wages as of 14 April, Interfax reported. The committee said total wage arrears in Russia reached 52 trillion rubles ($9 billion) in mid-April.

ROMANOV TREASURES BOUND FOR HOUSTON

A moving van carrying priceless jewels and other artifacts from the Romanov dynasty has left for Houston, Texas, Reuters reported on 2 May. Former Congressman James Symington, the chairman of the U.S.-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, said he hoped Russia would eventually agree to let the exhibits be shown in Memphis, Tennessee, and San Diego, California. The artifacts were originally scheduled to be shown in four U.S. cities, but Russian officials demanded their immediate return after the first exhibition ended in Washington. Under a compromise agreement reached last week, the artifacts are to be returned to Russia after being shown in Houston. However, Mikhail Gusman, one of the Russian organizers of the tour, told Reuters that further negotiations are possible.




GEORGIAN PRESIDENT IN ARMENIA

Eduard Shevardnadze and his Armenian counterpart, Levon Ter- Petrossyan, have affirmed their readiness to broaden bilateral cooperation and to support multilateral regional cooperation in implementing the TRASECA "Silk Road" project. Shevardnadze was in Yerevan on 2 and 3 May for talks with Armenian officials. In a joint communique, the two presidents also affirmed support for cooperation within the CIS and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. The communique, however, did not mention the 200,000-strong Armenian minority in southern Georgia, which is lobbying for autonomy. Shevardnadze had told RFE/RL's Armenian service on 1 May that Georgia's relations with Armenia are "excellent." Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 3 May that Shevardnadze, who will be 70 next January, intends to run for president in 2000.

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY TRIED TO POSTPONE RATIFICATION OF TREATY ON MILITARY BASE

RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 2 May that the Armenian Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the parliament last month arguing that ratification of the 1995 treaty on a Russian military base in Armenia should be delayed. The letter, published in Molorak , argues that Armenian security would be at risk if the treaty were ratified before the conclusion of the ongoing Vienna talks on modifying the CFE flank limitations, which specify how much military hardware Russia can deploy in the Caucasus. Although some deputies voiced reservations, the treaty was ratified by an overwhelming majority on 29 April.

IMF CONFIRMS NEW LOAN TO AZERBAIJAN, SETS CONDITIONS FOR ARMENIA

IMF executive Tapio Saavolainen has confirmed the fund's December 1996 decision to lend Azerbaijan $230 million in 1997-1998 to underpin economic reform, AFP and Interfax reported. Saavolainen, who was in Baku on 2 May to meet with President Heidar Aliev, praised Azerbaijan's cooperation with the IMF. Meanwhile, an IMF delegation began talks in Yerevan on 1 May on conditions for disbursing the third tranche of a 1996 credit worth $150 million. Disbursement is contingent on improvements in tax collection and the reduction of Armenia's $580 million foreign debt.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL ON AZERBAIJAN'S MEMBERSHIP CHANCES

Leni Fischer, the chairwoman of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, says swift progress toward a settlement of the Karabakh conflict will facilitate the entry of both Azerbaijan and Armenia into the council, Reuters and Turan reported on 1 May. Fischer was speaking to Azerbaijani officials in Baku last week. She said a final decision on Azerbaijan's application for full membership will be made following a visit to Azerbaijan by a CE delegation of experts. Fischer met with Milli Mejlis chairman Murtuz Alesqerov, President Heidar Aliev, and Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov.

VIOLENT CONFRONTATION IN TAJIKISTAN OVER INVESTIGATION INTO PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Five people died yesterday in a violent confrontation when forces from the Interior and Security Ministries tried to arrest a gang in connection with the 30 April assassination attempt on President Imomali Rakhmonov in the northern city of Khujand, ITAR-TASS reported. The gang was offered the chance to surrender but declined. Three were killed in the shootout that followed, while one blew himself up with a grenade and the leader shot himself. RFE/RL correspondents in the area report that 10 people were wounded in the fighting. Two people were taken into custody immediately following the attack, and another 10 were arrested on 3 May.

ITALIAN PRESIDENT IN CENTRAL ASIA

Luigi Scalfaro and his Kazak counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, met in Almaty today and signed a friendship and cooperation agreement, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. Nazarbayev noted that trade with Italy totaled nearly $240 million in 1996. On 2 May, Scalfaro met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and leaders of the Uzbek business community in Tashkent, Russian media reported. Agreements were signed on cooperation in economics, trade, culture, and tourism. Trade between the two countries has grown from $45 million in 1993 to $142 million in 1996.

MUD SLIDES DAMAGE HOMES IN KYRGYZSTAN

Heavy rains and accompanying mud slides have damaged more than 700 homes in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported today. The area most affected was outside the city of Uzgen. Emergency measures are being taken to resettle those left homeless. Meanwhile, the rains threaten to spread typhoid in Tajikistan. An outbreak last year was never fully checked, and the country's water network is likely to be recontaminated.

UZBEKISTAN HAS LOWEST CRIME RATE IN CIS

The Interior Ministry has released figures showing that Uzbekistan has the lowest crime rate in the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. In 1996, there were 29 crimes per 10,000 people, compared with 97 per 10,000 in neighboring Kazakstan. Russia topped the list with 175 per 10,000 people.




UKRAINE, ROMANIA INITIAL FRIENDSHIP TREATY

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko and his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, met in Kyiv on 3 May to initial a friendship treaty proclaiming the current borders between the two countries "inviolable." Romania thereby renounced any claim to territory that was seized by the Soviet Union in 1940 and is now in Ukraine. Udovenko told journalists in the Ukrainian capital that neither country has any claims on the territory of the other. Severin, speaking at a press conference in Bucharest the following day, rejected criticism that Romania has made an "historical sacrifice." The treaty still has to be signed by the Ukrainian and Romanian presidents and ratified by the two countries' parliaments.

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION REACTIONS TO TREATY WITH UKRAINE

Teodor Melescanu, the deputy chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, said on 2 May that his formation supports the conclusion of the basic treaty with Ukraine but is opposed to its being "too hastily concluded" in a bid to influence NATO's decision on enlargement at the July summit in Madrid. Melescanu said the government should strive for provisions that better guard the rights of the Romanian minority in Ukraine. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the chairman of the Greater Romania Party, called the treaty "the most serious act of national treason in Romania's modern history," Radio Bucharest reported the same day. Valeriu Tabara, the leader of the Party of Romanian National Unity, said the PUNR was opposed to the treaty because it did not include a denunciation of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and did not satisfactorily clarify the issue of Serpent Island and the continental shelf around it.

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DELAYS TURKMENISTAN VISIT

Leonid Kuchma has postponed an official visit to Turkmenistan scheduled to begin today because of an ongoing dispute over payments for Turkmen gas. Interfax yesterday quoted Ukrainian State Minister Anatoly Minchenko as saying that Kuchma's decision follows a Turkmen Foreign Ministry proposal that his visit take place only after the two countries resolve the issue of the Ukrainian International Energy Corporation's debts for gas supplies and sign an agreement providing for direct gas shipments that exclude the involvement of government structures. Minchenko said that the Ukrainian government has nothing to do with the debt, which, he added, amounts to $205 million.

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER JAILED

Nikolai Statkevich, the leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, was sentenced on 2 May to 10 days in jail for violating a presidential ban on organizing unsanctioned rallies, Belapan reported. Statkevich was arrested the previous day after he persuaded participants in a trade union rally to join an opposition march against President Alyaksandar Lukashenka (see RFE/RL Newsline, 2 May 1997). It was the third time he had been arrested over the past six months.

BELARUSIAN, ALBANIAN LEADERS AMONG ENEMIES OF PRESS

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists says in its annual report that the leaders of Belarus and Albania are among the world's top 10 "enemies of the press," RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported on 3 May. According to the report, President Lukashenka "bullies the press with Soviet-era tactics, tightening his stranglehold by shutting down independent media and publicly denouncing journalists." Albania's President Sali Berisha was criticized for censoring the media, authorizing the intimidation and beating of journalists, and insisting on the seizure of publications critical of the government.

ESTONIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER TREATY TO BE SIGNED SOON?

Aleksandr Nikolaev, the head of the Russian Federal Border Guard Service, says the border treaty between Russia and Estonia is 98% ready and will be signed in the near future, BNS reported on 3 May. Nikolayev spoke after a meeting with his Estonian and Finnish counterparts on the Estonian island of Saaremaa. Estonia and Russia agreed on the text of the border treaty last November. Tallinn regarded the treaty as final, but Moscow insisted on further talks and its right to make changes to the text. Meanwhile, the three border guard chiefs agreed this weekend to increase cooperation, particularly in sea rescue and combating organized crime.

MISSING SWEDISH ELECTION MONITOR FOUND DEAD IN LATVIA

The body of Jan Oke Dellebrant was found by an angler in Lake Liepaja on 2 May, BNS reported. The 51- year-old professor from Stockholm University was reported missing some two months ago. He was in Latvia as part of a 15-member international monitoring team for the 9 March elections. An Interior Ministry spokesman said a preliminary examination of the body had not revealed any external injuries. Dellebrant was last seen alive at a nightclub in Liepaja.

LITHUANIA, TAIWAN TO BOOST TRADE

Visiting Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister Chien Jien-Chen and Lithuanian Minister for European Affairs Laima Andrikiene told reporters on 2 May that trade offices will be opened in Vilnius and Taiwan soon, AFP reported. The two sides agreed to open such offices in November 1991 but the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party, which came to power the following year, was anxious to maintain good relations with China. Chien, who is the first senior Taiwanese official to visit Lithuania, also met with Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius and other senior officials. He said he would like to see bilateral trade increase from its current annual volume of $8 million and expressed particular interest in the textile and wood-processing industries.

POLAND WILLING TO PAY ALL NATO MEMBERSHIP COSTS

Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz says Warsaw will assume all costs for joining NATO and accept arms restrictions to appease Russian security fears. Cimoszewicz told German TV yesterday that Poland estimates those costs at $100-150 million a year over the next 10 years but he stressed that taxes would not be raised. With regard to Russian concerns over NATO expansion, Cimoszewicz said Poland is ready to accept demands "never" to allow nuclear weapons or foreign troops on its soil. Meanwhile, President Aleksandr Kwasniewski arrived in France yesterday for an official two-day visit to press his country's case for membership in NATO and the EU.

CZECHOSLOVAK COMMUNIST LEADERS CHARGED WITH TREASON

Prague municipal prosecutor Jan Krivanek announced on 2 May that treason charges have been brought against former Czechoslovak communist leaders Milos Jakes, Jozef Lenart, and Karel Hoffmann. The prosecutor told journalists that Jakes and Lenart committed treason by attending a meeting at the Soviet embassy in Prague one day after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia on 21 August 1968. At the meeting, the two former Politburo members allegedly discussed creating a new leadership to replace the Czechoslovak government.

CZECH PRESIDENT ON COMPENSATION FOR JEWISH VICTIMS OF NAZISM

Vaclav Havel said yesterday in his regular radio address that he understands the "cautious attitude of people of Jewish origin toward developments in Czech-German relations." He remarked that Germany "could not or did not want to" address the issue of compensation for the victims of Nazism in the recently signed Czech- German declaration. He added that there would probably have been no declaration if Prague had insisted on the issue being included. Jewish organizations refused to attend German President Roman Herzog's speech in Prague last week and say that the declaration ignores the issue of compensating victims of the Nazi regime.

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER ON U.S. CRITICISM

Pavol Hamzik told Slovak TV yesterday that U.S. officials and institutions "paint a completely negative picture of the situation in Slovakia and challenge everything that has been done [there] over the past eight years." He said that such an attitude was "counterproductive" shortly before the referendum on NATO membership scheduled to take place in Slovakia later this month. According to Hamzik, Slovakia is going through a very difficult period, which, he said, "requires...understanding, confidence, and cooperation, not writing off the country." Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told reporters in Bratislava on 2 May that even if Slovakia is left out of the first round of NATO expansion, Bratislava should not consider this a rejection.

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER REFUSES TO RESIGN

Gyorgy Giczy, leader of the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP), says he is the legitimate chairman of the party and wants to run again for that position, Hungarian media reported. The Supreme Court recently annulled the results of the December 1996 elections to the KDNP leadership and reinstated Janos Latorcai as party chairman. But at a 2 May meeting of the party's regional and national representatives, Giczy rejected appeals that he should refrain from running again for the party's chairmanship. The meeting decided that new elections should be held by the end of June.




ITALY CALLS FOR HALT TO ALBANIAN EXODUS

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has demanded that Albanian President Sali Berisha and Prime Minister Bashkim Fino put a stop to the sea-borne exodus of Albanians to Italy (see RFE/RL Newsline, 28 April 1997). Prodi spoke on the phone yesterday with the Albanian leaders. A ship carrying more than 1,000 Albanians arrived in the Italian port of Bari yesterday, despite the Italian Coast Guard's appeals to the captain to turn back. Italian authorities say they will treat most of the Albanians as illegal immigrants and deport them soon. A well-organized and lucrative traffic in refugees has reportedly sprung up again in recent weeks. Professional smugglers buy old ships in Montenegro and charge those desperate to leave Albania $600 for passage.

ALBANIAN ROUNDUP

The Interior Ministry said in Tirana on 3 May that five people were killed in recent incidents in Permet, Berat, and Shkoder. In the Tirana area, Italian troops participating in Operation Alba made efforts on 2 and 3 May to identify ammunition and weapons dumps (see RFE/RL Newsline, 2 May 1997). Italian spokesmen denied that the soldiers were exceeding their mandate and said that the search was part of their mission to make the area safe for humanitarian aid shipments. The Albanian government wants the foreigners to secure the arms and ammunition depots and the country's borders, but French and Italian commanders say that is not their job.

SESELJ TO RUN FOR SERBIAN PRESIDENCY

Vojislav Seselj announced in Belgrade yesterday that he will be the Serbian Radical Party's (SRS) candidate for president in the Serbia-wide elections expected later this year. Seselj is a leader of the SRS and an ultra-nationalist whom the Croatian, Bosnian, and U.S. authorities have accused of war crimes. Recent polls show him to be the second most popular politician in Serbia after President Slobodan Milosevic. The only other candidates so far are the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic and the independent businessman Bogoljub Karic.

INDEPENDENT CROATIAN WEEKLY FINED

The Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija wrote yesterday that the Croatian authorities have fined Feral Tribune $7,000 for running a cover photo that the authorities called pornographic. Tomislav Mercep, a local kingpin in eastern Slavonia who recently broke with the ruling party and headed an independent slate in last month's elections, was featured in the photo-montage urinating. The authorities have frequently harassed Feral Tribune with lawsuits.

CROATIA'S TUDJMAN MEETS WITH BOSNIAN CROAT LEADER

President Franjo Tudjman and Kresimir Zubak, the Croatian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, met in Zagreb on 3 May, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. Zubak said afterward that Bosnian government ministers will meet with representatives of the international community soon to discuss the legislation on which the three Bosnian sides must agree if the frequently postponed international aid donors' conference is to take place. On 2 May, the office of Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the presidency, announced that a meeting between Izetbegovic and Tudjman slated for today has been indefinitely postponed. The pro-government Zagreb daily Vjesnik reports that the Muslims backed out of the talks because they do not think Tudjman is ready to compromise on key points of contention.

BOSNIAN ELECTION UPDATE

The Party of Democratic Action, the main Muslim political organization in Bosnia, said on 3 May that it will run in the September local elections in coalition with five smaller parties. The most important of those formations is the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina of Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim joint prime minister. Also in Sarajevo, the OSCE announced on 2 May that some 93 parties have said they will field candidates in the local elections. Only 48 of those parties ran in last year's vote; the other 43 are new. The OSCE also said that the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats have been unable to agree on election rules for the disputed strategic town of Brcko.

FORMER BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CLEARED OF ORDERING JANUARY CRACKDOWN ON DEMONSTRATORS

The military prosecutor's office on 2 May announced that former Minister of Interior Nikolai Dobrev, a member of the Socialist Party, did not issue orders to use violence against the siege of the parliament by demonstrators in January, an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported. The prosecution also cleared former Interior Ministry secretary Georgi Lambrov and former Sofia police chief Krassimir Petrov of committing any crime in connection with the demonstrations. Some 300 persons had to be hospitalized after police and special forces broke up the siege of the parliament. The prosecution said the excessive violence was the result of individual officers' behavior.

FAILED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON CONSTANTINESCU, STOYANOV IN SOFIA?

The Bulgarian daily Trud reported yesterday that visiting Romanian President Emil Constantinescu and his Bulgarian host, Petar Stoyanov, were the targets of an assassination attempt during Constantinescu's one-day visit to Sofia last week. The daily said a home-made device consisting of 700 grams of explosives and an army hand grenade were found near Sofia's airport, close to where the cars transporting the two presidents would have needed to slow down because of a road curve. The daily speculated that the attack might have been planned by Kurdish terrorists in retaliation for strict measures implemented in Romania against the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER IN BULGARIA

Richard Shifter, adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton, met with interim Prime Minister Stefan Sofiyanski in Sofia on 1-2 May to discuss issues related to intensified regional cooperation in the Balkans, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Sofiyanski stressed that the Balkan countries, especially Bulgaria and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, are important links between Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian government has resumed discussions over a long-delayed project to construct a pipe-line from the Black Sea port of Bourgas to the Greek Aegean port of Alexandropolis to transport Russian oil. The issue was raised again during Bulgarian Foreign Minister Stoyan Stalev's visit to Greece last week.

AGRICULTURE MINISTERS MEET IN BUCHAREST

Agriculture ministers from 19 East and Central European countries yesterday concluded a four-day meeting in Bucharest, Romanian media reported. The conference is also attended by experts from the UN. Delegates discussed ways of increasing agricultural output to match EU levels. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea told the conference that his government envisages amending agricultural legislation and providing for ownership of up to 200 hectares per family.




CROATIA CONTINUES TO GRAPPLE WITH PRESSING PROBLEMS


by Patrick Moore

Last month's elections in Croatia reinforced the governing Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) claim that it is the strongest political force in the country. The ballot also showed that Serb-held eastern Slavonia is well on the way to reintegration. The Croatian leadership nonetheless continues to face several pressing problems.

The HDZ clinched 42 out of 63 elected seats in the upper house and scored a similarly impressive victory in the local elections. The only blot on its performance was the opposition's gaining control over Rijeka, Split, Osijek, and some other municipalities. But, in the bitter contest for the Zagreb city council, the HDZ emerged much stronger than before. Appropriately, the independent weekly Globus, which has often crossed swords with President Franjo Tudjman, showed a picture of him grinning on the cover of its post- election issue.

The opposition has nobody but itself to blame for its poor performance. Many observers expected big losses for the HDZ, which, according to opinion polls, is increasingly regarded as authoritarian, ossified, and corrupt. But the parties that have dominated the opposition scene since independence paid the price once again for failing to promote leaders and develop programs that set those formations apart from the HDZ. In particular, the ex-communist Social Democratic Party had good reason to celebrate. It bounced back from near political oblivion to become the opposition party with the fastest-growing electorate. More and more voters seem to think that only the Social Democrats are addressing the electorate's key concern, which is making ends meet.

Meanwhile, the vote in eastern Slavonia gave grounds for optimism that the reintegration of the last Serb-held part of Croatia will go ahead peacefully when Croatian sovereignty is re-established in July. Serbs and Croatian refugees turned out in large numbers to vote. The HDZ emerged the strongest party, but the Serbian Independent Democratic Party (SSDS) took several counties and towns. The SSDS narrowly edged out the HDZ for control over the Vukovar town council, but the two may cut a deal in order to shut out a third party controlled by a local Croatian warlord, who is anathema to the Serbs and the HDZ alike.

International observers declared the vote both in eastern Slavonia and in Croatia proper to have been largely free and fair. One of the few flaws they discovered was the authorities' continued iron grip on the press in general and on the electronic media in particular. State-run TV, for example, provided free publicity to HDZ candidates. While the HDZ may assert that it won fairly in a free election, that claim will remain questionable until the authorities open up access to the air waves and stop harassing the independent press with dubious legal measures.

Many problems arise from the daunting task of reintegrating not just eastern Slavonia but also all former Serb-held areas retaken by the army in 1995. Money and resources must be marshaled to restore the infrastructure after years of war and neglect. Refugees must be resettled in their homes, many of which are in need of repair or have to be rebuilt. And ethnic Serbs and Croats have to be convinced that they have a place in society and should return to their old homes. Many observers feel that the government would be only too happy if no Serbs remained in Croatia. But Zagreb knows that its foreign partners can withdraw vital economic and diplomatic support if they think that Croatia is openly discriminating against ethnic minorities. The authorities will therefore try at least to give the impression that they are welcoming the Serbs.

Finally, Croatia's sometimes shaky relations with its allies in the U.S. and western Europe are also causing concern in some quarters. Opposition politicians and some foreign newspapers even talk of Zagreb's growing isolation. While Croatian Ambassador to the U.S. Miomir Zuzul told RFE/RL last week that such views are wrong and that Croatia's international standing is good, an RFE/RL correspondent in Zagreb called his viewpoint "too rosy." Croatian policy, the correspondent argues, is torn between reaping the benefits of economic integration with the West and refusing to subordinate Croatia's interests at home or abroad to the political considerations of its allies.


XS
SM
MD
LG