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Newsline - March 27, 1998




YELTSIN NOMINATES KIRIENKO, WARNS DUMA

President Boris Yeltsin has formally nominated Sergei Kirienko as prime minister and warned the State Duma against opposing him, Interfax reported on 27 March. Yeltsin said that he is appealing to the Duma "not to start new rounds of confrontation," an implicit threat that he will use his powers to dismiss the parliament and call new elections if deputies do not approve his nominee in the first three rounds of voting. Yeltsin added he will give full backing to Kirienko, who, he said,. will need that support as he seeks to eliminate wage arrears and presses for further reforms. Also on 27 March, Yeltsin signed the 1998 state budget PG

REACTION MIXED TO KIRIENKO NOMINATION

Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said Prime Minister-designate Kirienko must consult with Duma leaders before that body considers confirming him in office, Interfax reported on 27 March. Russian news agencies suggest that the first vote could take place on 3 April. First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov said Kirienko's nomination is "a very good decision, absolutely expected." He added that "the Russian government is now working at full speed," Interfax reported. Communist Party leader Valentin Kuptsov, for his part, said the nomination was "a hasty move and [Yeltsin's] latest mistake." Business magnate Boris Berezovskii suggested that it would be "unreasonable" for the Duma to fail to back Yeltsin's nominee. PG

YELTSIN PRAISES CHERNOMYRDIN

In his 27 March address nominating Kirienko, Yeltsin went out of his way to praise former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and to suggest that the latter will play a significant political role in the future, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin praised Chernomyrdin for his loyalty and hard work and stressed he has asked him "to concentrate on preparing" for the presidential elections in 2000. Chernomyrdin's "huge experience and ability to work with people," Yeltsin said, "will be an asset in this work. I am sure he will do a great deal yet for Russia." PG

WIDE RANGE OF ISSUES DISCUSSED AT "TROIKA" MEETING

Yeltsin, French President Jacques Chirac, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, meeting outside Moscow on 26 March, agreed that the "sudden application of pressure" in Kosovo is unnecessary at this point, and they reviewed Russia's ties with the EU and NATO. In discussions on a project to build a new generation aircraft, Yeltsin favored basing that project on the Russian-Ukrainian agreement on the An-70 airplane. Kohl spoke out strongly against Latvia's and Estonia's policies toward those countries' ethnic Russian minorities, saying Tallinn and Riga should not "overestimate the amount of support for them from Western European states." Chirac said he is against the Baltic States entering NATO. And Yeltsin stressed that an expanded Europe will become a major force in today's multipolar world. All three leaders underlined that their meeting poses no threat to any country. BP

MOSCOW SCRAPS TRANSPORT CHARGES TO SUPPORT OIL

First Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov has announced that the Russian government will not require Russian oil companies to pay for using the country's pipeline system. He added that the move is part of a broader program of supporting the oil industry in the face of falling world oil prices, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. But LUKoil and other Russian oil companies continue to press for $3.12 billion in tax relief because of declining world prices for oil, even as the government and LUKoil disagreed on whether to cut production. Meanwhile, Rosneft officials said on 26 March that they believe the $2 billion dollar price set by the government for a 75 percent stake in the oil concern is entirely fair, ITAR-TASS reported. And U.S. and Russian companies, meeting in Almaty on 26 March, discussed four options for pipe lines carrying Kazakh oil out of the Caspian basin, Interfax reported. PG

GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN REJECTS REPORTS ON DOWNSIZING

Igor Shabdurasulov said on 27 March that he is puzzled by First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's suggestions two days earlier that a special Finance Ministry commission is preparing cost-cutting measures to end chronic wage arrears to state employees, ITAR-TASS reported. Kudrin said the number of public employees will be reduced. For instance, regional branches of federal agencies will be downsized by a total of 70,000 employees. Jobs will also be cut in the health, education, and science sectors. The "Financial Times" on 26 March quoted Kudrin as saying a total of some 208,000 jobs will be cut, saving the federal government 40 billion rubles (some $6.7 billion). He said the plan will allow all other state employees to be paid on time, thereby reducing social tension. Shabdurasulov said that "no such official proposals" have been made. LB, PG

MOSCOW WELCOMES CONTACT GROUP STATEMENT ON YUGOSLAVIA

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Moscow regards the latest final document of the international contact group on Yugoslavia as a "balanced reasonable decision," at least "for the time being," Interfax reported. At the same time, the ministry expressed the hope that "the arrival of radical nationalists in the Serbian government will not have a negative impact on the settlement of the situation in Kosovo or on relations between Moscow and Belgrade." PG

RUSSIA, JAPAN PREPARE FOR SUMMIT

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin and Japanese Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi met in Tokyo 26 March to prepare for the 11-13 April summit between Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier, the two countries exchanged notes outlining plans to simplify the visa regime, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, a group of Duma deputies from the People's Rule group has sharply criticized recent statements by U.S. Ambassador James Collins backing Japanese claims to the Kuril Islands as "another gross interference" in Russian internal affairs, Interfax reported. And the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Moscow has not ruled out the possibility of attending a security summit with leaders of Japan, the U.S., and China, Interfax said. PG

LUZHKOV CALLS FOR ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST LATVIA

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov urged that Russia reduce the flow of goods through Latvia by exporting them through Kaliningrad and Leningrad, Interfax reported 26 March. The Russian government must do this in order to protect the "basic rights" of ethnic Russians living in that Baltic Republic. In other comments, Luzhkov said that he planned to support the new Russian government now being formed if it lives up to the promises the acting prime minister has given him. Meanwhile, Luzhkov launched 27 March a new national daily newspaper, "Rossiya," with an initial circulation of 100,000 copies. PG

RUSSIAN PATRIARCH WANTS ROLE FOR CHURCH IN ARMY

Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and All Russia told Interfax on 26 March that he has asked the Russian military to allow representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional religions to visit the troops and help improve their spiritual upbringing. He said he favors creating a special center for moral upbringing to prepare young people for the draft. But Aleksii used the occasion to stress again that he does not believe the military should allow representatives of other denominations access to soldiers because such missionaries are "overcrowding the country." PG

MILITARY PROSECUTOR URGES DESERTERS TO TURN THEMSELVES IN...

The Chief Military Prosecutor's Office and the Soldiers' Mothers Committee have organized a joint program to encourage army deserters to turn themselves in, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 March. Since 23 March, when the program was launched nationwide, more than 150 deserters have turned themselves in, according to Yurii Demin, the chief military prosecutor. There are an estimated 17,000 army deserters in Russia. Demin has promised that criminal charges will not be brought against first-time deserters who fled the army to escape "difficult circumstances," meaning brutal hazing. Deserters who give themselves up will be sent to complete their military service in other units. LB

...AS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL PROPOSES AMNESTY FOR DESERTERS

Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has submitted a proposal to the State Duma to amnesty army deserters, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 24 March. The newspaper said the proposal was drafted after prosecutors and investigators became convinced that commanders close their eyes to widespread hazing and that deserting is the only hope of survival for some soldiers. The current situation often prompts deserters to commit crimes to survive, since they are forced to live without documentation and are virtually unable to earn money legally. The constitution grants the Duma the sole right to declare amnesties. It is unclear whether Duma deputies would support an amnesty for deserters. The lower house has yet to adopt a law on alternative service for youths who do not want to serve in the army. LB

VLADIVOSTOK POLITICAL FEUD HEATS UP

The long- running dispute between Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherpkov and regional government Yevgenii Nazdratenko intensified on 26 March. Police raided the mayor's office to seize documents they said were needed for an audit, Interfax reported. Regional officials denied they were behind the raid, but the incident prompted 500 supporters of the mayor to stage a counter-demonstration and several local officials to start a hunger strike. Some of those officials blamed the Nazdratenko administration and asked for Moscow's intervention. Meanwhile, the Russian prosecutor general is considering whether to bring charges against Nazdratenko in connection with the beating of a World War II veteran in October 1997, ITAR-TASS reported. PG




ARMENIAN PREMIER COMMENTS ON ELECTION VIOLATIONS...

Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan told journalists in Yerevan on 26 March that he has documentary evidence that supporters of rival candidates committed procedural violations during the16 March presidential vote. He said, however, that he will not make that evidence public, Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharyan said he has dismissed the prosecutor of Yerevan's Mashtots Raion for failing to open criminal proceedings into cases of such violations. And he denied he intends to introduce "a militarized state" in Armenia. Also on 26 March, the Armenian Communist Party issued a statement saying it will endorse neither Kocharyan nor former Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan in the 30 March runoff because their programs do not take into account the "interests of the working people," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

...PREDICTS ROBUST ECONOMIC GROWTH IN 1998

Kocharyan also said on 26 March that the economic outlook for Armenia for 1998 is positive and that economic growth is expected to reach 8-10 percent, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said the presence of leftist political groups in his electoral coalition will not affect his determination to continue with economic reform if he is elected president. Kocharyan drew parallels with some European countries where the Left is currently in power. "There is no alternative to a market economy," he said. He also remarked that the country's new prime minister should be a politician whose duties are not confined to managing the economy, but he declined to say whom he might appoint to that post. LF

ARMENIA "CANNOT AFFORD" PROFESSIONAL ARMY

Addressing students in Yerevan on 25 March, Armenian Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian said the country cannot afford to maintain a professional army. But he denied rumors that the call-up period is to be extended from two to three years, Noyan Tapan reported. Sargsian said Armenia is currently militarily stronger than Azerbaijan and is likely to remain so for 2-3 years, although the two countries have equal amounts of armaments. But he warned that "if some day Azerbaijan feels it is stronger than we are, it will resume hostilities regardless of opportunities to find a political settlement to the Karabakh conflict." LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION SUBJECT TO THREATS, VIOLENCE

The Azerbaijani Ministry of Justice has issued a statement warning that legal action will be taken against people "who do not observe law as well as [against] parties and public movements not registered at the Ministry of Justice and engaged in illegal activities," Turan reported on 26 March. The statement charges that the Brotherhood, Evolution, and Modern Turan parties are engaged in illegal activities. The ministry also considers that the Democratic Congress, the Round Table, the Azerbaijan National Committee of the Helsinki Civil Assembly, the Youth Organization Turan, and the Society for Protection of Oilmen's Rights are illegal. Meanwhile, Sardar Jalaloglu, secretary-general of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, was hospitalized after he and two other ADP members were severely beaten near the party's headquarters the previous day by unidentified assailants. LF

CONFUSION OVER AZERBAIJANI AMBASSADOR TO IRAN CONTINUES

Alirza Bikdeli, Tehran's ambassador in Baku, has denied that the car of Aliyar Safarli, the Azerbaijan's ambassador to Iran, was stopped and searched at the Astara check point on 20 March, Turan reported. He also denied that Tehran had demanded that Safarli be recalled, saying the matter was "an internal affair of Azerbaijan." Iranian press reports claim that Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mortez Sarmadi and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev agreed to recall Safarli during talks in Baku on 17 March. LF

WHO KILLED ZVIAD GAMSAKHURDIA?

Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, widow of the former Georgian president, has accused former Georgian Finance Minister Guram Absandze of instigating her husband's murder, Interfax reported. Absandze was extradited from Moscow to Tbilisi last week on suspicion of having financed the 9 February attempt to assassinate current Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia originally claimed that her husband committed suicide. She later said that members of his bodyguard team had shot him on orders from Bessarion Gugushvili, who was premier under Gamsakhurdia in late 1991. LF

GEORGIA CLAIMS OWNERSHIP OF RUSSIAN WINERIES

Georgian Deputy State Property Minister Zurab Bakhtadze told journalists on 26 March that Tbilisi is claiming ownership of seven wineries and distilleries in Russian cities, ITAR-TASS reported. Moscow, for its part, has laid claim to 70 Georgian facilities, mostly at health resorts on the Black Sea coast. LF

TAJIKISTAN ENTERS CENTRAL ASIAN CUSTOMS UNION

Tajikistan has been accepted as a member of the Central Asian Customs Union, whose founding members are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Meeting in the Uzbek capital on 26 March, the presidents of the four countries also agreed to form an international hydroelectric consortium and reached accord on common principles for creating a securities market. Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov said Tajikistan's entry into the union makes it eligible for "concrete assistance" from the other three members. Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev commented that integration of the Central Asian states "does not distance those countries from the CIS." BP

KARIMOV LASHES OUT AT PAKISTAN, WAHHABIS AGAIN

Speaking to journalists in Tashkent on 26 March, the Uzbek president repeated his claim that Wahhabi militants are training in Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998), Interfax reported. Karimov also blasted human rights organizations for complaining about the treatment of those arrested in Namangan for their alleged role in violence there late last year. Those arrested had "killed people by cutting off their heads," Karimov said. He argued that human rights activists are "defending for the sake of defending." And he said that the trial of those arrested will be attended by journalists and observers from various countries. BP

TURKMEN PRESIDENT READY TO RELINQUISH SOME POWER

Saparmurat Niyazov told the parliament on 26 March that he is prepared to give up some of his powers following the 1999 elections to the legislature, Interfax reported. He noted that there would be changes in the cabinet over the next two years but gave no details. Interfax cites observers as saying this means the post of prime minister will be reinstated. Currently, Niyazov heads the government. Also on 26 March, the parliament approved the draft of a new civil code. BP




UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WON'T ENFRANCHISE TATARS

Leonid Kuchma said on 26 March that signing a decree allowing Crimean Tatars the right to vote would be unconstitutional. He commented that he cannot violate the constitution, even if such a move would relieve tension in Crimea. Thousands of Tatars in Simferopol clashed with police recently in protests demanding they be granted suffrage in time for the 29 March elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1998). Tatar leaders have called for more protests on the eve of the elections. Crimean police chief Hennady Moskal said on 25 March that a large police force would be brought into Crimea to maintain order on election day. PB

UKRAINE CLARIFIES POSITION ON JOINING NATO

Ukrainian officials said at a 26 March session of a NATO- Ukraine Commission that Kyiv "does not rule out" joining the alliance but that such a move is currently unrealistic, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. The Ukrainian delegation named three conditions for joining NATO: decisive public opinion in favor of accession; bringing the Ukrainian military in line with NATO standards; and the guarantee that joining the alliance will not hurt relations with neighboring countries, particularly Russia. The NATO-Ukraine Commission is meeting to discuss how to implement the partnership charter signed last year in Madrid. PB

BELARUSIAN COMMUNISTS TO BOYCOTT UNION TREATY CELEBRATIONS

The leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists said on 26 March that party members will not attend festivities marking the first anniversary of the signing of the Russian-Belarusian Union Treaty, BelaPAN reported. Party First Secretary Sergei Kalyakin said the treaty was the result of "integration games played by politicians" and that only the Russian and Belarusian presidents, Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, had benefited from the union. He said the treaty, signed on 2 April 1997, had led to the further separation of the two countries and that there is "nothing to celebrate." PB

STATE CONTROL COMMITTEE INSPECTS BELARUSIAN REGIONS

Nikolay Domashkevich, the chairman of the Commission for State Controls, was in Brest on 26 March to check on that region's adherence to state-imposed economic regulations, Belapan reported on 26 March. Vladymyr Zalomay, chairman of the Brest Regional Executive Committee, reported to the controls committee that local agencies have carried out 822 inspections in recent days and discovered 14 cases in which prices were raised illegally. Domashkevich said Brest and Grodno are the first two areas to be visited by the controls committee because they have experienced the lowest level of inflation during the country's recent economic crisis. PB

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT TO LAUNCH EXPANSION TALKS

The ruling coalition, composed of the centrist Coalition Party and a rural bloc, is to launch talks with opposition groups aimed at expanding the minority government before elections in spring 1999, ETA and Reuters reported. Mati Meos, head of the Coalition Party's parliamentary faction, said the government will ask the largest opposition group, the Reform Party, to participate in such talks. The Reformists quit the ruling coalition in November 1996 after then Prime Minister Tiit Vahi signed a cooperation deal with a major opposition party. Meos said another year of minority government rule would be a "waste" as the government would have to devote its energies to fending off opposition attacks. The ruling coalition currently has 37 seats in the 101-strong parliament. JC

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS AMENDED ELECTORAL LAW

Lawmakers on 26 March adopted amendments to the law on elections prohibiting party coalitions from submitting lists of candidates, BNS reported. Only parties and alliances of parties registered with the Ministry of Justice will be allowed to submit such lists. The parliament also rejected a provision that would have stipulated different thresholds for parties and party coalitions. Earlier this year, President Guntis Ulmanis had rejected that provision and returned the law to the parliament for revision. Under the amended law, both individual parties and coalitions will have to gain at least 5 percent of the vote to enter the parliament. JC

LITHUANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY FROWNS ON NEW MINISTER'S DECISION

The Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) disapproves of Mindaugas Stankevicius's decision to take up the health care portfolio in the reshuffled government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1998), BNS reported. Former Prime Minister Stankevicius resigned as a LDDP parliamentary deputy on accepting the new post. Povilas Gylys, an LDDP faction member, said Stankevicius's decision to join the right-wing cabinet was an "individual one" and was not coordinated with the party. JC

POLISH PRESIDENT VOICES CONCERN OVER EU PREPARATION

Aleksander Kwasniewski told the cabinet on 26 March that he questions the progress being made by the government in preparing documents needed for EU accession talks, Reuters reported on 26 March. Kwasniewski said "I see delay..., greater determination is needed" in the process. Ryszard Czarnecki, who heads the European Integration Committee, responded that Kwasniewski's comments are political and have no basis. He commented that European integration "should not be the playing field for a political match." And he also said Poland's national program for EU membership will be ready when accession talks begin on 31 March. PB

CZECH PRESIDENT CLEARS PATH FOR JUNE VOTE

Vaclav Havel on 25 March signed a constitutional amendment cutting the term of the Chamber of Deputies in half and thus clearing the way for early parliamentary elections, Reuters reported. Last week, the Senate approved the bill following its passage in the lower house. Havel must still officially announce the poll. Earlier this week, he said the date of the ballot is likely to be 19-20 June. MS

PRO-MECIAR MEDIA ON BRATISLAVA DEMONSTRATION

"Slovenska Republika," the mouthpiece of Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, reported on 25 March that the previous day's opposition demonstration was a "Goebbels-like nightmare" that "stupefied Bratislava square." The demonstrators had protested against the government's growing authoritarianism and its intention to change the electoral law to the opposition's disadvantage. They also demanded that the country's president be elected by popular vote. MS

SLOVAK CATHOLIC CHURCH APOLOGIZES TO JEWS

The Catholic Church in Slovakia has asked for forgiveness from the country's Jewish community for its role in the massacre of Jews during the Nazi German occupation, AFP reported. In a statement released in Bratislava on 26 March, the bishops said "We cannot deny that the deportation of Slovak Jews took place in our midst, that certain members of the nation took part, and that Slovaks looked on silently." The bishops, however, made no mention of Jozef Tiso, the Catholic priest who was executed after World War II for his role in the murder of thousands of Slovak Jews in Nazi concentration camps. In 1990, the bishops' conference of the former Czechoslovakia issued a similar expression of repentance. JC

HUNGARIAN CABINET SAYS NO DAM AT NAGYMAROS

The government on 26 March rejected building a dam at Nagymaros as part of the Slovak-Hungarian Danube hydropower plant project, Hungarian media reported. Government spokesman Elemer Kiss said studies will be carried out only on the effects and feasibility of constructing a dam at Pilismarot, some 8 kilometers from Nagymaros. He added that the cabinet's decision is based on environmental considerations. The government is setting up a committee under Environment Minister Ferenc Baja and Transport, Telecommunications, and Water Minister Karoly Lotz to oversee the effects and feasibility studies. MSZ




ALBANIA SAYS MILOSEVIC TRYING TO PROVOKE BACKLASH

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said in Stockholm on 26 March that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic hopes the current crackdown in Kosovo will provoke a strong reaction from the Kosovars, which, Milo said, would enable Milosevic to justify an even more massive military intervention in the province. The minister added that Albania is preparing to defend itself from possible attacks by the Yugoslav military. Milo also urged the six-member international Contact Group to agree on tougher measures against Belgrade than it has to date in order to increase pressure on Milosevic. PM

MILOSEVIC SNUBS GELBARD

Milosevic declined to meet on 27 March with Robert Gelbard, who is the U.S. special envoy to the former Yugoslavia. Gelbard told reporters in Belgrade that "if there is a failure to meet with us, that will tell us a great deal about [Milosevic's] position and his government's position." The previous day, Gelbard told Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic that the major powers are concerned over the lack of progress in solving the Kosovo problem and that they want the Serbs and Albanians to begin talks. Gelbard urged the 15-member Kosovar negotiating team in Pristina to begin negotiations with the Serbian authorities as soon as possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 1998). For several years, the Kosovars have been asking Belgrade for internationally mediated talks on the province's future. PM

COHEN CALLS RUSSIAN ARMS FOR SERBIA "COUNTERPRODUCTIVE"

U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said in Washington on 26 March that he hopes that recent media reports of a major Russian arms sale to Yugoslavia are not true (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 1998). Cohen added that any increase in the number of weapons in the region would be "counterproductive" and that the Dayton agreement bars Yugoslavia from significantly improving its military capabilities. PM

MONTENEGRINS SAY KOSOVO IS SERBIAN

Members of a Montenegrin parliamentary delegation told a press conference in Washington on 26 March that Kosovo is historically Serbian and should remain so, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the U.S. capital. The U.S. Congress invited parliamentary speaker Svetozar Marovic and his delegation as part of Washington's efforts to promote reform in Yugoslavia. PM

CROATIA ACCUSES INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OF DOUBLE STANDARDS

A spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 26 March that Croatia has not observed its agreement to allow ethnic Serbs currently living in Banja Luka to visit their former homes in Croatia. Meanwhile in Zagreb, Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa told a delegation from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe that the international community has not done enough to enable Croatian refugees to return to their homes in eastern Slavonia. Matesa added that the international community applies different criteria to the return of Croatian refugees than it does to refugees of other nationalities. PM

JOURNALISTS SENTENCED IN CROATIA

A court in Zagreb on 26 March sentenced Vlado Vurusic, who is a journalist for the independent weekly "Globus," to two months in prison and his former editor-in-chief Davor Butkovic to four months for slander. Vurusic wrote in an article in the fall of 1997 that an indicted Bosnian Croat war criminal was living openly in Split and working for the Croatian Defense Ministry. PM

TURKEY, ALBANIA SIGN NAVAL BASE AGREEMENT

Officials from the Turkish and Albanian Defense Ministries signed an agreement on 25 March in Ankara providing for the reconstruction of the southern Albanian naval base of Pashaliman (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 23 January 1998). Turkey will contribute $7 million to the upgrading of training facilities and modernization of the Albanian navy, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Pashaliman was the Ottoman Empire's main port on the Adriatic and the former USSR's only base on that sea during the early stages of the Cold War. FS

ITALIAN POLICE ARREST ALBANIAN ARMS GANG

Police in Bari on 25 March arrested 36 suspected arms smugglers, most of whom were Albanians, "Koha Jone" reported. Italian investigators found an arms cache containing hundreds of Kalashnikov machine guns. Police spokesmen said the gang had sold arms to four Italian Mafia organizations over the previous eight months. FS

ROMANIAN PREMIER WAGES WAR ON ALL FRONTS

In a televised address to the nation on 26 March, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea demanded that ministers who are members of the National Liberal Party's (PNL) Executive Bureau either resign from that body or leave the government. Ciorbea was responding to a resolution, proposed by Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica and approved by the bureau, saying Ciorbea must be replaced to solve the current political crisis. The premier said the ministers must resign by 28 March, when a PNL congress is scheduled to take place. He added that if the Democratic Party votes against the draft budget, all its representatives at local government level and at the head of state government structures such as the State Property Fund will be dismissed. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT MARKS UNIFICATION WITH BESSARABIA

A special joint session of Romania's bicameral parliament on 26 March marked the 80th anniversary of the Bessarabian parliament's decision to unify the province (present-day Moldova) with Romania. Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said his formation would like to use the occasion to pay "particular homage" to wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu. Tudor remarked that "those who condemned him to death" in 1946 do not let him rest in peace even now. And he argued that Romania must not hurry to sign the basic treaties with Moldova and Russia. Speaking for the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, Dezideriu Garda said that what happened in "Russified Moldova" demonstrates that "no nation can be de-nationalized." MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS COURT PRESIDENTIAL PARTY

Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), said on 26 March that his party is ready to set up a coalition with the pro- presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMDP). He added that the Party of Democratic Forces (PFD) could also join such an alliance but noted such a development was "unlikely." Voronin said the only possibility the PCM rules out is a coalition with the Democratic Convention of Moldova. And he noted that his party would agree to have the PMDP appoint the premier in exchange for the chairmanship of the parliament. He also reminded the PMDP that the PCM supported President Petru Lucinschi in the late 1996 presidential race, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

CONFUSION OVER ODESSA MEETING

Igor Smirnov, leader of the Transdniestrian separatists, claims that at the 20 March meeting in Odessa, Moldova, the Transdniester, Russia, and Ukraine reached an understanding on how to solve the conflict between Chisinau and Tiraspol, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported on 26 March. None of the other participants in the 20 March meeting has made public reference to such an understanding. Smirnov also said that the dismissal of Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin-- who represented Moscow at the meeting-- "must not be dramatized." But he said that if the documents "signed at the four-side meeting are revoked," Tiraspol will not hesitate "to start afresh" its drive for recognition of Transdniester independence. MS




ECONOMIC DIVERSITY OF THE FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLICS


by Michael Wyzan

A popular joke in the former Yugoslavia asks, if one returned to Europe at some distant point in the future, how many countries would one find? The answer: nine, namely, the EU and the eight regions of the former Yugoslavia.

So far, only five new states have emerged from socialist Yugoslavia. But Kosovo and Montenegro are increasingly restive, and some Vojvodina politicians are demanding that the province receive as much autonomy as Belgrade grants Kosovo (although Kosovo's autonomy may in itself be negligible).

Despite similarities stemming from their shared inheritance, the four escapees and Federal Yugoslavia have little in common economically. Each bears a certain resemblance to one or more transition economies elsewhere. Their analogs run the gamut from the most developed Central European countries to the poorest, most strife-ridden, and least reform-friendly lands of Central Asia.

Slovenia is a stable and prosperous Visegrad country and member of the Central European Free Trade Area. Even so, its economic policy and performance are distinct from its Central European neighbors. External imbalances are modest and declining: the trade deficit reached $767 million in January-November 1997 (less than 4 percent of GDP and down from $1.04 billion in January-November 1996) and the current account surplus $70.1 million in 1997. A manageable external account distinguishes Slovenia from the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia and makes it compare to Hungary in this respect.

However, unlike Hungary in 1995 and the Czech Republic in 1997, independent Slovenia has never experienced an economic crisis. Also, unlike most other Visegrad lands, Slovenia has not attracted significant amounts of foreign investment (less than $1 billion through October 1997), although its attractiveness for investors is increasing.

Slovenia will probably maintain its slow but steady economic growth and cautious economic policy. It lacks Poland's or Hungary's dynamism but at the same time has eschewed Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's propensity for ideologically-inspired policy mistakes and the Czech Republic's fundamental disagreements over policy among political parties.

Political factors have isolated Croatia from the EU. Despite its relatively advanced and reformed economy, it is not even considered a candidate for accession, a distinction it shares only with the Federal Yugoslavia. Like Slovakia, it is isolated from Europe for political reasons. And it also has in common with that country a rapid GDP growth (5.5 percent in Croatia and 5.9 percent in Slovakia last year) and worrying external imbalances (projected at about 11-12 percent of GDP in both in 1997). Another similarity is privatization methods that favor enterprise insiders and those connected to ruling political elites.

However, Croatia has a more diversified economy than Slovakia's, with more world-class firms, such as drug- maker Pliva, which in April 1996 became the first company in the region to be listed on the London Stock Exchange. Croatia's economy is inextricably tied to Europe, while Slovakia's tendency to drift eastward in its economic relations is hardly possible in a country never part of the Soviet trading bloc.

The other three former Yugoslav republics have features in common with certain former Soviet republics. Macedonia, like Moldova, has generally exhibited sound macroeconomic policies and has taken unusually long to resume economic growth. Macedonian social product increased by 1.4 percent in 1997, following 0.7 percent growth in 1996 (the first year it registered a positive figure). Moldova's GDP rose last year for the first time, by 1.3 percent.

On the other hand, Macedonia remains in the good graces of international financial institutions--unlike Moldova, whose parliament voted in December to double the budget deficit over that agreed with the IMF.

Federal Yugoslavia's anti-reform orientation can be compared only to that of Belarus (and perhaps Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), while its isolation from international institutions is unsurpassed. It shares with Belarus respectable economic growth from a low base: Federal Yugoslavia's GDP rose by about 6 percent and Belarus's by 10 percent in 1997.

Like Russia, Federal Yugoslavia has regions where federal institutions are irrelevant for day-to-day life (Chechnya and Kosovo) and often displays hostility toward secessionist republics that colors its economic policies. It quarrels over border demarcation and succession questions, while Russia hassles its neighbors over their treatment of ethnic Russians, pipeline routes, shares of oil deals, and customs issues.

Bosnia bears some similarities to similarly civil-war- ravaged Tajikistan. Both states, along with Albania, have received funding from the IMF's Emergency Post Conflict Assistance. Bosnia's economic recovery has been under way longer than Tajikistan's and appears stronger; the former's GDP grew by 50 percent in 1996 and about 30 percent last year, while the latter's first positive figure was in 1997 (1.7 percent). Bosnia's dependence on the world community is unrivaled in recent world history; the IMF has even gone so far as to appoint foreigners to head its central bank. The author is an economist living in Austria.


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