ARMENIA, BULGARIA REAFFIRM SUPPORT FOR EURASIAN TRADE CORRIDOR
Visiting Yerevan on 1-2 December, Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov reached agreement with his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, on boosting trade and economic cooperation within the framework of the EU's TRACECA project, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That project envisages a transport corridor linking Central Asia and the Caucasus with Europe. The two presidents both underscored that Bulgaria's geographic location enables it to serve as a gateway to Europe for Armenia. They signed a series of agreements, including a joint statement in which bilateral relations are positively assessed and Bulgaria pledges to promote Armenia's acceptance into full membership of the Council of Europe. A number of other inter-governmental cooperation agreements were also signed. LF
ABKHAZ PRESIDENT, NEW UN REPRESENTATIVE MEET...
During talks in Sukhumi on 2 December with Dieter Boden, the new UN Special Representative for Georgia, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba called for the immediate signing of the agreement on peace and the non-resumption of hostilities, Caucasus Press reported. That draft agreement, together with a protocol on the repatriation of displaced persons, was prepared in June 1998 by Abkhaz and Georgian representatives, but Tbilisi repeatedly declined to sign them. Ardzinba said the signing of the peace agreement would end the deadlock in relations between Abkhazia and the central Georgian authorities. Ardzinba also reaffirmed that he will not sign any constitutional power-sharing agreement with Georgia, according to Interfax. LF
...AS FIVE KILLED IN ANOTHER TERRORIST ATTACK
An Abkhaz police colonel and four civilians were killed on 1 December when the car in which they were travelling hit a radio- detonated landmine in Abkhazia's Ochamchira Raion, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported the following day. Such incidents, for which the Abkhaz authorities say Georgian guerrillas are responsible, occur frequently in Gali Raion, south of Ochamchira, but only occasionally in Ochamchira itself. LF
RUSSIAN, U.S. OFFICIALS DISCUSS KAZAKH OIL EXPORT PIPELINE
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met in Moscow on 2 December with leading members of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, including LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov and Chevron Oversea President Richard Matzke, Interfax reported. Alekperov told the meeting that construction of the 1,580- kilometer pipeline from Tengiz to Novorossiisk will be completed on schedule in June 2001 and that it will be able to handle all Kazakhstan's current and export requirements. Kazakhstan currently produces some 25 million tons of crude per year. Kazakhstan has expressed interest in shipping some oil via the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline if new reserves discovered exceed the anticipated capacity of the Caspian pipeline. LF
NEW EXODUS OF RUSSIANS FROM KYRGYZSTAN
More than 3,000 ethnic Russian have left Kyrgyzstan in recent months, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 2 December quoting a Russian embassy official. As reasons for the renewed outmigration, Russia's Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Georgii Rudov cited deteriorating economic conditions, the hostage-taking in southern Kyrgyzstan in August-October, and moves by the Kyrgyz leadership to strengthen the use in public life of the Kyrgyz language. Of some 900,000 Russians living in Kyrgyzstan in the early 1990s, some 650,000 remain. LF
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY SUES MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
Leading members of the El (Bei-Bechara) Party told journalists in Bishkek on 2 December that they have brought legal proceedings against the Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice for violating the constitution and the law on political parties, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The ministry last week advised the Central Electoral Commission not to register the party to contend the 20 February parliamentary election on the grounds that the party's founding documents do not explicitly state its intention to do so. LF
TAJIK PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREES ON DEMOCRATIZATION, ECONOMIC REFORM
Imomali Rakhmonov on 1 December signed two decrees "on expanding the process of democratization of socio- political life in the republic" and "on Measures for the further development and enhancing the effectiveness of economic reforms," Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. The first of those decrees is intended to guarantee political pluralism and the free participation of all political parties in elections and in the state administration. The second is intended to expedite and expand privatization. It also charges the government with taking steps to improve the investment climate and with drafting legislation on the state treasury and national social security measures to protect the most vulnerable groups of the population. LF
TURKMENISTAN TO PUBLICIZE POLICE CRIMES
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurad Niyazov on 2 December issued a decree on mandatory media coverage of crime committed by police officers, Interfax reported. National media are also instructed to give broad coverage to the trials of police officials on criminal charges. The decree is intended to deter police, military, and customs and tax officials from accepting bribes. LF
U.S. URGES BELARUS TO FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS
State Department spokesman James Rubin on 2 December welcomed the release of Belarusian oppositionist and former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, whom he said had been arrested on politically based charges. Rubin urged the Belarusian government "to drop all charges leveled against Chyhir, release other political detainees, and account for disappeared opposition figures." The same day, Belarusian Television reported that Chyhir will stand trial for negligence and abuse of power, which reportedly caused losses to the state totaling more than $4 million. According to Belapan, OSCE representative Adrian Severin, who is to visit Belarus on 11 December, will urge the Belarusian authorities to ensure that Chyhir's trial is an open one. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES PUSTOVOTENKO AS PREMIER FOR NEW TERM
Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko told deputies on 2 December that President Leonid Kuchma has proposed Valeriy Pustovoytenko for the post of prime minister, Interfax reported. Pustovoytenko submitted his resignation as premier following Kuchma's inauguration on 30 November and is now acting head of the cabinet. Pustovoytenko told Interfax the same day that if he is confirmed as prime minister for Kuchma's new term, he will "certainly" implement "more radical reforms." Pustovoytenko must win at least 226 parliamentary votes to retain his post. In 1997, he was approved with 227 votes. JM
WORLD BANK BLASTS UKRAINE FOR BAD INVESTMENT CLIMATE
"The investment climate in Ukraine is one of the worst in the region," World Bank director for Ukraine and Belarus Lily Chu told journalists in Kyiv on 2 December. Chu added that foreign investors in Ukraine are faced with too many licensing regulations and inspections as well as a complicated tax system. The World Bank said Ukraine can count on a $800 million loan next year if the government meets its pledges to carry out reform. The bank's main lending terms for Ukraine include administrative reform, the creation of a friendly environment for business, and $1 billion proceeds from privatization. Meanwhile, IMF official John Odling-Smee said the same day in Kyiv that the continued cooperation between the IMF and Ukraine is conditional "on the government's willingness to implement all reforms that were planned," according to Interfax. JM
UKRAINIAN EX-PREMIER'S WIFE LOCKED OUT OF HOME
Tamara Lazarenko, the wife of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko who is seeking political asylum in the U.S., returned to Ukraine on 2 December but could not enter her apartment. According to her lawyer, Tamara Lazarenko returned to demonstrate that she is innocent of money laundering, for which her husband is currently being investigated, but was locked out of her apartment by prosecutors. "This contradicts the constitution and is a groundless ban," her lawyer commented. There was no immediate comment from the Prosecutor-General's Office, according to AP. JM
ESTONIAN SHIPPERS COMPLAIN TO EU ABOUT FINNISH BOYCOTT
Director of Estonian Shipping Viktor Palmet told "Postimees" on 3 December that they have appealed to the EU over the Finnish boycott of their shipping activities. The Finnish Maritime Workers Union have been refusing to unload ships from Estonian Shipping since December 1998, complaining that longshoremen's wages in Estonia are lower than those in Finland. On filing complaints to both the European Commission's Foreign Affairs Directorate and Competitions Directorate, Palmet claimed that the boycott directly benefits Finnish companies that have taken over the lucrative lane formerly held by Estonian Shipping. Earlier, lower courts in Finland upheld the boycott, while the Finnish Supreme Court will rule on the matter only in a few months. Taking the side of the Estonians, Finnish Transport Workers Union leader Risto Kuisma said the boycott is "totally braindead." MH
ESTONIAN MILITARY REPRIMANDS CIVIL GUARDS
The Estonian Defense Force's acting commander, Colonel Urmas Roosimagi, severely reprimanded several members of the national guards for getting involved in a dispute between private companies. National guard Commander Captain Benno Leesik and the Harju regional acting commander, Captain Paul-Indrek Rajamae- Volmer, were both given verbal reprimands, while the latter was also demoted, BNS reported on 2 December. On 18 October, an armed national guard group patrolled a construction site that was the subject of a dispute between oil transit firms. MH
LATVIAN PRESIDENT IN SWEDEN
During a two-day visit to Sweden on 1-2 December, Vaira Vike-Freiberga met with King Carl XVI Gustav, Prime Minister Goran Persson, and parliamentary speaker Birgitta Dahl to discuss topics ranging from EU integration to women's issues. Vike-Freiberga also delivered a speech at the prestigious Executive Club of the newspaper "Svenska Dagbladet," in which she emphasized Latvia's role in the Baltic Sea region. She called on Europe to ensure there are no ideological boundaries or borders, LETA reported. And she also urged the restoration of the ferry service from Riga to Stockholm, which was discontinued owing to debts accumulated by operators. MH
POLISH PARLIAMENT IN TUMULT OVER TAX BILL VETO
The 2 December parliamentary debate of the presidential veto on the personal income tax bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999) resulted in commotion after parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski had criticized President Aleksander Kwasniewski for imposing that veto, Polish media reported. According to Plazynski, Kwasniewski's explanation was of "a moralizing nature and not a legally justified one." He added that the parliament cannot be subjected by the president to "instruction, invectives, and moralizing remarks." Leftist deputies reacted to Plazynski's statement with shouts, whistles, and foot-stamping. Rightist deputies responded with applause and shouts of "Put this rabble to tribunal!" and "Commies out!" On 3 December, only 225 deputies supported a motion to override the veto, falling well short of the required two-thirds majority in the 460-seat parliament. JM
DID WALESA INSULT KWASNIEWSKI?
The prosecutor's office in Stargard Gdanski, northern Poland, is conducting an investigation into whether former President Lech Walesa insulted the incumbent president, Kwasniewski, PAP reported on 2 December. Mariusz Zielinski of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance has filed a complaint alleging that during a meeting with Stargard Gdanski residents in October, Walesa twice referred to Kwasniewski as "cad." The punishment for publicly insulting the president in Poland is up to three years in prison. Walesa, currently abroad, was reported to be unavailable for comment on 2 December. JM
CZECH PARLIAMENT LIFTS STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON COMMUNIST CRIMES
The Chamber of Deputies on 2 December voted 137 to 34 to lift the statute of limitations on crimes committed by public officials against individuals or groups of citizens between 25 February 1948 and 29 December 1989. The bill, proposed by Freedom Union deputy Vaclav Krasa, was supported by the Civic Democratic Party and the Freedom Union. The Social Democrats were divided in their support, while the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia opposed the bill. The legislation extends from 10 to 12 years in prison the maximum penalty for crimes covered by the law, AP and CTK reported. Also on 2 December, the chamber rejected a bill that would have given same-sex partners all the legal benefits of a common-law marriage. MS
EU ENDORSES SLOVAK TIMETABLE FOR NUCLEAR PLANT CLOSING
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen sent a letter to Slovak Deputy Premier in charge of integration Pavol Hamzik on 2 December saying that at its Helsinki summit this month, the European Council will "positively receive" the new Slovak timetable for closing down the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear plant, Reuters reported. The Slovak government has announced it will close down the plant between 2006 and 2008, instead of 2010. MS
HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCES CABINET RESHUFFLE
Viktor Orban on 2 December told "Vilaggazdasag" that he intends to reshuffle the cabinet before the end of the year. He said that both structural and personnel changes will be made, stressing at the same time that the move is linked neither to the controversy over next year's budget nor to the nomination of the head of the state next year, Orban explained. Under the existing coalition agreement, the Smallholders' Party must be consulted on budget issues and that party has the right to nominate the ruling coalition's presidential candidate, who must then be approved by FIDESZ. MSZ/MS
KFOR COMMANDER WANTS CONCRETE HELP
General Klaus Reinhardt told NATO defense ministers in Brussels on 2 December: "I asked for funds. All we have to date are pledges, but not a single dollar," AP reported. He noted that $120 million will be needed to develop a functioning civil service in the province. Some civil servants have not been paid since June. An additional $10 million will be required for the police force, he added. Only the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany have offered money or materiel for the police. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said that of the 13,000 former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) members who have applied to join the police force, only 1,700 have passed the qualifying test. He added that "this is a difficult mental transformation" for the former guerrilla fighters to make. PM
ARTEMIJE SAYS SERBS LIVE IN 'CONCENTRATION CAMPS'
Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, who is one of the two top leaders of the Serbs in Kosova, told Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan in Gracanica on 2 December that members of Kosova's dwindling Serbian minority live in "concentration camps" from which they cannot move freely. He charged that representatives of the international community have turned a blind eye toward violence against Serbs. Artemije stressed that UCK hard-liners play a major role in the province and that the Serbs "have been deprived of all human rights, including the right to live, to work, and to enjoy freedom of movement," AP reported. PM
ALBANIA SEES KOSOVA'S FUTURE IN REGIONAL INTEGRATION
Speaking in Tirana on 2 December, Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta told Bernard Kouchner, who is the UN's chief administrator in Kosova, that "Albania sees Kosova's future in the new Europe, in a Europe in which processes of regional integration are under way." He added that Albania will continue to use its influence in Kosova in the interests of promoting "peace and tolerance." Deputy Foreign Minister Ben Blushi said that "security and stability in Kosova are closely linked to security and stability in Albania and in the entire region," dpa reported. PM
NUMBER OF MILITARY POLICE IN MONTENEGRO ON THE RISE
Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 2 December that Belgrade has increased the number of military police in Montenegro in recent months without the permission of the Podgorica authorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1999). He added that the Montenegrin authorities are nonetheless "in full control of the situation" and that there is "no reason for alarm." The prime minister also said that the government has not made any decision on calling a referendum on independence. He stressed that Montenegro already has "economic sovereignty." In Belgrade, a spokesman for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia said that recent Montenegrin proposals to redefine the nature of the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro are "ten times worse" than Slovenian proposals that preceded the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. PM
SERBIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES DEMAND DECISION ON ELECTIONS
Officials of 13 Serbian opposition parties agreed in Belgrade on 2 December to demand that the government decide within one week whether to launch talks with the opposition on holding new elections for all levels of government, "Danas" reported. Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) did not join the agreement. Observers note that many Serbs suspect the SPO still hopes to strike a deal with the ruling coalition. Elsewhere, a spokesman for the Socialists said the governing party sees no reason for early elections except for those for local government. The opposition currently controls the administration of over 30 municipalities. PM
SERBS RETREAT FROM BOSNIAN COOPERATION AGREEMENT...
Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian representative on the three- member Bosnian joint presidency, has distanced himself from a recent agreement he made with Muslim Alija Izetbegovic and Croat Ante Jelavic in New York (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1999). Radisic said in Banja Luka on 2 December that the declaration on increasing cooperation between the three ethnic groups was not signed and remains a statement of intent rather than a binding agreement. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik previously said he does not accept some aspects of the agreement. Many Serbs object in particular to setting up a multiethnic border police force, which they regard as a threat to the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska, AP reported. PM
...BUT WILL THEY GET AWAY WITH IT?
In New York, a spokeswoman for U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke said on 2 December that he considers the agreement to be binding, despite what she called pressure on Radisic by "hard-liners in Belgrade." In Sarajevo, a spokesman for the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch said that "we are all sick and tired of local politicians and officials who sign up to declaration after declaration and then fail actually to live up to the obligations." He noted that Petritsch has the power to sack officials whom he considers to be obstructing implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. PM
CROATIAN GOVERNING PARTY AGREES ON TOP CANDIDATES
Leaders of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) agreed in Zagreb on 2 December on the persons who will head the HDZ's list in each of the 11 districts in the 3 January parliamentary elections. They are Foreign Minister Mate Granic, party Deputy Chairwoman Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, parliament speaker Vlatko Pavletic, deputy speaker Vladimir Seks, Ivan Jarnjak, Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, Ivica Kostovic, Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa, Nikica Valentic, Jure Radic, and Milan Kovac. "Jutarnji list" reported that two leading politicians received second-place listings although they wanted top spots. They are Ivic Pasalic and Zlatko Canjuga. The main opposition coalition is expected to announce its slates on 3 December. Candidates from the Social Democratic Party will head the lists in seven districts, while the Social Liberals will take first place in the remaining four, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
BALKAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN BUCHAREST
The foreign ministers of the Southeastern Europe Cooperation Group, meeting in Bucharest on 2 December, called for the rapid restoration of democracy and human and minority rights in Yugoslavia and expressed concern over continuing acts of intolerance in Kosova, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Absent from that meeting was the Yugoslav foreign minister, who had not received an invitation to attend because a consensus could not have been reached in his presence, according to Romanian Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu. The chief diplomats of Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey, along with a Greek deputy foreign minister, adopted a joint declaration calling for rapid implementation of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe and for a charter on good neighborly relations to be signed at a summit in Bucharest in February. The meeting was also attended by representatives of 22 other countries. MS
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT VOIDS COMMUNIST PRISON SENTENCES
The government on 2 December approved a regulation granting the status of "fighter in the anti-communist resistance" to people sentenced by the former regime for political reasons. A commission will decide to whom that status will apply. Those eligible for such a status and whose properties were confiscated by the former regime when they were sentenced will have those properties restored or will receive compensation, Mediafax reported. Their sentences are to be declared null and void. MS
MOLDOVAN LEADERS AGREE ON 'GOVERNMENT PROFESSIONALISM'
President Petru Lucinschi and Premier-designate Vladimir Voronin agreed on 2 December that the main criterion for future ministers must be "professionalism" rather than party affiliation, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. They said the cabinet's main task is to continue reforms. Alexandru Mosanu, leader of the Alliance for Democracy, which includes the parties that formed the previous cabinet, said on 2 December that the alliance will not support a cabinet headed by Voronin. "Responsibility for the attempt to restore communism...falls squarely on the president and on the Communist Party," Mosanu argued. MS
WORLD BANK APPROVES LOAN FOR BULGARIA
The World Bank on 2 December approved a $100 million loan to help Bulgaria close its budget gap, Reuters reported. The loan is contingent on the country's making "substantial progress" in reforming its financial, business, and energy sectors. Also on 2 December, the parliament raised the retirement age in an effort to cut the costs of supporting pensioners. The retirement age for men is to be raised incrementally from 60 to 63 and for women from 55 to 60, AP reported. The country's state pension fund is registering a deficit and may be unable to pay pensions beginning next year, Bulgarian media reported earlier this week. MS
OBSERVERS EXAMINE UKRAINE'S MEDIA AFTER PRESIDENTIAL POLL
By Lily Hyde
Ukrainian presidential elections, which took place in two rounds in late October and mid November, focused world attention on the country's media. International watchdogs from the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the European Institute for Media all concluded that Ukraine's television, radio, and print media were overwhelmingly biased toward one or another candidate. Thus, they argued, Ukrainians were denied access to objective information.
Observers condemned government intimidation of the media in the form of tax and fire inspections and law suits. They also lamented the fact that oligarchs own most media outlets and use them for their political ends.
Some observers, however, think the several reports produced by human rights and freedom of speech watchdogs were exaggerated.
The latter view is held by Taras Kuzmov of Internews, an internationally-funded training project for television and radio journalists. Kuzmov told RFE/RL that reports focused overwhelmingly on Kyiv-based media and ignored Ukraine's extensive regional media outlets. Most broadcasting outlets, he added, were approached neither by government officials nor by presidential candidates: "Without question there were some precedents of pressure on TV companies, but there were many stations that didn't experience any such pressure."
Vadym Denysenko, chief editor of the national television channel STB, argued that the reports did not provide sufficient explanation of their monitoring results, which recorded the airtime accorded to each candidate and whether the coverage was positive or negative.
"Basically, Channel X is 99 percent positive about [incumbent President Leonid] Kuchma and 70 percent negative about [the challenger, Petro] Symonenko," he remarked. "I don't see the mechanism, they didn't explain how they calculated these numbers. It's like I'd say this woman is beautiful and this woman is not beautiful--it's my personal subjective view, nothing more, until I explain my conclusions. And for this reason, I can't absolutely trust all these reports."
While few would deny that the state of the Ukrainian media leaves much to be desired, many say that to blame only government interference is an over-simplification. According to Denysenko, the single biggest problem facing STB is the country's economic decline. Prior to the elections, however, STB complained loudly of what it called government repression when its bank accounts were frozen by tax inspectors. Its cause was taken up by the Committee to Protect Journalists and was cited as an example of state coercion by the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
After a management reshuffle at STB, and the unfreezing of bank accounts, the complaints have disappeared. Denysenko is now keen to downplay any problems with the government. He told RFE/RL all difficulties have now been solved and that STB was able to continue objective coverage of news in the month before the election and since.
But others see STB's new tone as a form of self- censorship. Kuzmov of Internews says that it is a tactic that allows Kyiv-based media like STB to remain in business. He says these media outlets are overwhelmingly dependent on big business, and the interests controlling them usually back the ruling power. He says if journalists tried to be completely objective in their coverage, the outlet would simply go out of business, so Ukrainian journalists choose pragmatism over idealism.
"I think the Ukrainian mass media doesn't know what direct political censorship is," Kuzmov argues. "Instead, self-censorship exists. One journalist got to the heart of it when he said Ukrainian journalists have freedom of speech, but they have the wisdom not to use it."
IREX ProMedia is a sister organization to Internews, also promoting free media in Ukraine. IREX ProMedia's Tim O'Connor advocates ownership by foreign media companies as one possible way of improving standards because a foreign company is more interested in profit than politics and can bring international experience. He says two newspapers in regions of Ukraine have already been bought by a Norwegian company and are doing well.
O'Connor says that the poor pay given most journalists is another problem. He says Ukrainian journalists receive such low wages that some take extra money to write articles in favor of political candidates. But O'Connor says the professionalism of many journalists in Ukraine is also undermined by Soviet press traditions: "[Journalists] very often see their role as someone who is responsible for sifting through information and then telling their readers or viewers what to think about it. They don't actually give them the information and let them make up their own minds, they see themselves as the analysts...which is very much a continuation of the old traditions."
According to O'Connor, Ukrainian journalists "absolutely did not try to be independent" during the elections. But he adds the Ukrainian public needs to become more discerning too and make greater demands on its media.
Kuzmov of Internews, meanwhile, says a lot of talented young people are working in the Ukrainian media but says the level of professionalism is still low. He predicts that in time, there will be so many young journalists that they will be able to change the whole system. The author is a Kyiv-based RFE/RL correspondent.