|Tuesday, 21 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 22, 98-02-03
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 22, 3 February 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 PRESSURE MOUNTS ON ARMENIAN PRESIDENTAn influential organization of Karabakh war veterans has joined opposition calls for the resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported 2 February. The group accused Ter-Petrossyan of pursuing a "defeatist policy" on Karabakh. Also on 2 February, Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian resigned, shortly after the Armenian parliament ratified the 1997 treaty of friendship with Russia. Arzumanian, a supporter of Ter-Petrossyan and his Karabakh policy in the past, has not yet made any public statement as to why he resigned, but his departure will certainly put additional pressure on Ter-Petrossyan over the issue of settling the Karabakh conflict. The Armenian president has accepted his resignation as well as that of Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghian. PG
 GEORGIA SEEKS RUSSIAN, ARMENIAN COOPERATION ON CORRIDORIn his weekly radio address on 2 February, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he hopes Russia and Armenia will join with Georgia and other countries in promoting a Eurasian corridor, Interfax reported. He noted that Russia would "acquire vast opportunities for transporting large streams of cargo from north to south" if the Abkhaz conflict were settled. That conflict, Shevardnadze suggested, "will be settled through compromises, external interference, or in some other way." Meanwhile, communist groups in Georgia' Ajaria region have begun a petition drive calling for Tbilisi to join the Russian-Belarusian union, ITAR- TASS reported. PG
 KARABAKH LEADER REJECTS SUBORDINATION TO AZERBAIJANArkadiy Gukasyan said on 2 February that he has ruled out re-subordinating his region to Baku, ITAR-TASS reported. "The Karabakh side cannot agree that the Nagorno-Karabakh republic is fiction and its powers are illegitimate," Gukasyan told the Karabakh legislature. Such subordination is part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group peace plan that Armenian President Ter-Petrossyan and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev have endorsed. But Gukasyan indicated that he has grave doubts about Baku's pledge under the accord to provide the region with the "highest degree of autonomy." Re-subordinating Karabakh to the authority of Azerbaijan, Gukasyan concluded, will only bring the "conflicting sides closer to warfare." PG
 AZERBAIJANI FORCES "LEAFLETTED" BY MORTARThe Azerbaijani Defense Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 2 February that units of the Azerbaijani army near the disputed Karabakh region had come under fire with mortar shells filled with propaganda leaflets. The ministry said Azerbaijan would take unspecified "retaliatory measures." PG
 TAJIK OPPOSITION FREES POWSSaid Abdullo Nuri, the leader of the United Tajik Opposition, was in the village of Tavil-Dara on 2 February to witness the release of 12 government soldiers who had been prisoners of war, Reuters and Interfax reported. They are the first of at least 50 POWs expected to be freed in the next few days. RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe could not confirm that any POWs had returned to the Tajik capital. Fighting took place in the Tavil-Dara area during most of 1996. The number of people killed and captured there is still unclear. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY URGES MUSLIMS TO LET REFUGEES RETURNCarlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard, and other representatives of the international community opened a conference in Sarajevo on 3 February to encourage all three sides to let refugees go home. The draft declaration calls on the Muslims to allow 20,000 Serbs and Croats to return to Sarajevo, which was multi-ethnic before the war but which is now almost 90 percent Muslim. The blunt language in the text reflects the international community's impatience with the reluctance of the Muslims to let others return to their homes on Muslim-controlled territory. Many of the new Muslim inhabitants of the capital are refugees from rural eastern Bosnia whose former homes are now under Serbian control. PM
 BOSNIAN AID MONEY LINKED TO REFUGEE ISSUEJ. Brian Atwood, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said in Sarajevo on 2 February that international aid money has helped revive the economy of the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation. He added that, with continued aid, the federation might reach 80 percent of Bosnia's pre-war gross domestic product by the year 2000. He praised Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and indicated that U.S. aid money will now be available to the Republika Srpska. Atwood warned the Muslims, however, that they must allow Serbs and Croats to return and quickly enact legislation to enable non-Muslims to reclaim their former homes. PM
 JOINT BOSNIAN LICENSE PLATES RELEASEDJacques Klein, who is Westendorp's deputy, distributed the first of the new joint Bosnian license plates in Sarajevo on 2 February. Those plates do not identify where the car comes from and are intended to facilitate freedom of movement across the former front lines. Klein stated that "where previously drivers had feared that the license plates on their car could--and did-- serve as an invitation for thuggery or worse, with the new plates drivers will be able to travel freely around the country without parading where they come from." Drivers who do not switch to the new plates by the end of July will be fined. Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the joint presidency, said in Sarajevo on 2 February that the introduction of joint plates is a "bad move," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. PM
 BRITAIN SEES KOSOVO, MONTENEGRO LINKBritish Junior Foreign Minister Tony Lloyd said in Podgorica on 2 February that the same people are responsible for the recent violence in Kosovo and Podgorica, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital. He did not, however, identify those people. Lloyd added that he hopes the new Montenegrin government will be democratic and multi-ethnic. The same day in Belgrade, Lloyd told Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic that the EU, whose presidency the U.K. currently holds, will help reintegrate Yugoslavia back into international institutions, provided that Belgrade "opens up the political process in Kosovo" and implements a 1996 agreement on restoring Albanian-language education there, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. PM
 SERBS WARNED OF LETHAL BRANDYPolice on 2 February arrested the director of the Zivadinovic Distillery in Nis and summoned three food inspectors for questioning following the death of 12 people and the poisoning of many more in recent days from drinking a local grape brandy made with methyl alcohol. Serbian government officials said the Zivadinovic company produced more than 40,000 liters of alcoholic drinks over the previous eight months and that some of those had been sold at cut- rate prices in various parts of Serbia. PM
 SLOVENIA BACKS SECURITY COUNCIL ON IRAQPresident Milan Kucan, whose country holds one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, wrote his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, on 2 February to say that Ljubljana will back any Security Council decision on Iraq. "Slovenia... will insist on Iraq's fully and unconditionally observing the Security Council resolutions on the destruction of chemical and biological weapons and others designed for mass destruction." Kucan added that the UN Special Commission must have a free hand to carry out its mandate. The president concluded that he hopes the current tensions can be defused by diplomatic means. PM
 SLOVENIA SAYS NO POLITICAL STATUS FOR GERMAN MINORITYPrime Minister Janez Drnovsek said in Ljubljana on 30 January that Slovenia's 765 native-German speakers will not be recognized in the constitution as a distinct ethnic minority. He had earlier met with Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel. Drnovsek noted that he and Schuessel agreed that the status of the German speakers "is a cultural question" and that "Austria does not expect us to change our constitution." He said they agreed that the German-speakers in Slovenia are not a homogenous group, but scattered. The constitution recognizes an Italian and a Hungarian minority, each of which is guaranteed one seat in parliament. The status of the German-speakers has been a thorny issue in relations between Ljubljana and Vienna. PM
 ALBANIA TO END TELECOM MONOPOLYA spokesman for the Economy and Privatization Ministry said on 2 February that the government has approved a law abolishing the current monopolies on telecommunications. Only the state company and the private company Albanian Mobile Telecommunications are currently allowed to operate, "Koha Jone" reported. The law would also put an end to the ban on private Internet providers. To date, the United Nations Development Project and the Soros Foundation offer e-mail services only to NGOs schools, universities, and government institutions. Private or commercial users have no access to e- mail. Also in Tirana, Deputy Sports Minister Kreshnik Tartari said that he hopes to privatize all soccer clubs this year. FS
 ALBANIAN PYRAMID AUDITORS PUBLISH REPORTNone of Albania's five largest pyramid investment companies is able to pay back its debts, according to the French auditing firm Deloitte & Touche. A report handed to the government on 2 February concludes that 56 individual businesses belonging to pyramid firms generate some income but that 273 do not. It notes that the pyramids as a whole continue to generate losses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1998). Meanwhile, 200,000 creditors have reported their claims to a government office. FS
 ROMANIA'S RIVAL COALITION CAMPS HOLD TALKS...The leaderships of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) and the Democratic Party met on 2-3 February to discussed how to cooperate in the future, Radio Bucharest reported. The new coalition protocol was not discussed, but on 2 February agreement was reached by the PNTCD and the coalition parties that did not withdraw from the government on the details of the protocol. That document is to be submitted for the Democrats' approval. The five Democrats who withdrew from the cabinet on 2 February have handed in their written resignation and also demanded the dismissal of the management of state television for interrupting broadcasts to air the 31 January press conference of the PNTCD in which Wim van Velzen also participated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1998). MS
 ...WHILE CONSTANTINESCU MEETS WITH OPPOSITION LEADERSPresident Emil Constantinescu on 2 February met with leaders of the main opposition parties represented in the parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Adrian Nastase, deputy chairman of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said he had handed the president a 10- point letter on how to improve cooperation in the legislature between the coalition and the opposition. He said the issue of the PDSR possible support's in the legislature of a minority government was not raised "because of the Democrats' still ambiguous position" on participating in the ruling coalition. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, said later that early elections are "unavoidable" and that he proposed to Constantinescu that those elections be organized either by a "government of technocrats" or by one of "national unity" in which all parties are represented. MS
 ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES RELEASE PRIVATIZATION FIGURESSorin Dimitriu, the chairman of the State Privatization Fund, told journalists on 2 February that 1,304 state companies were privatized in 1997. He said most of those companies were small or middle-sized and that in the previous year, some 1,450 companies had been privatized. Nevertheless, revenues from privatization last year were considerably higher than in 1996. The fund plans privatizing 1,600 companies this year. Dimitriu said the country's ongoing political crisis is affecting privatization because prospective investors are losing confidence in Romania's political and economic stability. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRIME MINISTER ON ECONOMYIon Ciubuc on 2 February said that since taking office one year ago, his cabinet has managed to fulfill all its objectives. Pensions arrears, which 12 months ago amounted to 315 million lei ($70 million), have been were reduced by 90 percent, and the government hopes to make all back payments by the end of this month. GDP grew 1.3 percent in 1997, marking the end of economic decline. Ciubuc also said Moldova reduced its debt to Gazprom by $140 million, of which $80 million was paid by means of goods. The remaining debt totals $91 million (not including the more than $200 million that the Transdniester authorities owe Gazprom). MS
 PART OF ARMS WITHDRAWAL FROM MOLDOVA COMPLETEDValerii Yevnevich, the commander of Russian troops in the Transdniester, said on 2 February that a train carrying 200 tons of dichloroethane left the region earlier that day. Yevnevich noted that the train's departure meant "we have implemented in full the [1993 Russian- Moldovan] agreement on withdrawing engineering technology from the region." He added that preparations have been completed for the withdrawal of arms and ammunition that belonged to the former Russian 14th Army. "If the Russian government and the Defense Minister order the withdrawal, we are ready to implement it, " he commented. That withdrawal is being obstructed by the authorities in Tiraspol, which consider the arms to belong either partly or fully to the separatists. MS
 MOLDOVAN OFFICIALS SUSPECT PLANE STOLEN IN AFRICAChisinau authorities suspect that a Moldovan-registered cargo plane that disappeared after a flight to Africa in December 1997 has either been stolen or "hidden somewhere" by the six-member crew. Iurie Armasu, general manager of the Civil Aviation Authority, said on 2 February that the AN-72 plane, owned by the Moldova Renan company, was chartered by a company registered in Congo. After delivering its cargo, the plane flew to the Ivory Coast for unknown reasons and landed in Angola. The Moldovan media speculates that the plane was involved in arms trafficking, but Moldovan officials are refusing to reveal the plane's cargo, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. MS
 BULGARIAN POLLS SUGGEST WIDESPREAD CORRUPTIONAn opinion poll conducted by the Center for Democratic Studies suggests widespread corruption among Bulgarian officials. Eighty-six percent of the respondents said bribes are essential to obtain proper medical treatment. Seventy-four percent said bribes are readily accepted by custom officers, while 63 percent named judges and 56 percent police as bribe-takers, AFP reported on 2 February. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents believe "it is a waste of time" to report cases of corruption, while 31 percent said paying bribes was "bad, but unavoidable." MS
[C] END NOTE
 TURKMENISTAN MAKES RAMAZAN BAYRAMI OFFICIAL HOLIDAYby Lowell Bezanis
As the Muslim holy month of fasting and atonement-- Ramadan --concludes, it will be marked throughout the Islamic world with three consecutive days of celebration. In Turkmenistan, for the first time, the beginning of this religious holiday on 30 January will be observed and officially sanctified as a day of rest. The change was ushered in by a 14 January presidential decree.
In accordance with the decree, the first day of the Festival of Breaking Fast, or Ramazan Bayrami, as it is known to Turcophone Muslims, as well as the beginning of the other Muslim canonical festival, the Feast of the Sacrifice, or Gurban Bayrami, have been declared non- working, national holidays.
Including the two new religiously-inspired ones, Turkmenistan celebrates 21 official holidays. This number has climbed steadily since Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty in October of 1991. Among the holidays, only three -- namely New Year, International Women's Day (8 March), and Victory Day (9 May) -- were celebrated in the Soviet era. The remainder represent newly-instituted holidays.
Most of them have a distinct national overtone. Two have a historical and solemn character. The first of these, observed on 12 January, refers to the slaughter of Turkmen tribesmen at Goek-Tepe by Russian forces in 1881. The other, which is marked on 6 October, commemorates those who died in the devastating earthquake which hit the republic in 1948. Among those who died in the earthquake were President Saparmurad Niyazov's mother and brothers.
Other holidays are less somber in character, but aim to strengthen national unity and pride in Turkmenistan, and in its present-day institutions. In this category are holidays commemorating, for example, Turkmen musicians, national development and unity, the republic's declaration of sovereignty, and its national flag. Others highlight some of the government's more innocuous policies, such as its declared commitment to good neighborliness and neutrality in international affairs.
Several of the new holidays belie the manner in which the nation-building process has gone forward in Turkmenistan. They take their inspiration from something important to, or closely associated with, Turkmen, but otherwise lack profundity or abstract value. Without denigrating the importance of water, Turkmen carpets, melons or Akhal Tekin horses, many observers were taken aback by official announcements that these items deserved to be commemorated as national holidays.
Some holidays, such as National Flag Day (19 February), were added to the calendar in a curious manner. The holiday was initially conceived by Turkmenistan's 50- member unicameral parliament (majlis) as a day of rest to mark Niyazov's (known as Turkmenbashi--the ruler of all Turkmen) birthday. Niyazov, ridiculed in international media for his cultivation of a personality cult, rejected his parliament's rubber-stamp offer, and turned the planned birthday celebration into National Flag Day.
The latest, religious additions to Turkmenistan's list of official holidays fall into a different category. They will undoubtedly be welcomed by many Turkmen as a gesture to the Muslim faith they esteem as a hallmark of their culture. Outsiders, particularly in the Muslim East, will also likely nod their approval.
Niyazov has also brought Turkmenistan into line with his Central Asian neighbors, such as Uzbekistan.
In making this gesture, Niyazov recognizes long- standing traditions; he does not create them, as has been attempted with all but the Soviet-era holidays Turkmen citizens now celebrate. Even for Muslims living in officially secular or in atheist socialist states, like Turkey, Albania or the former Soviet Union, Ramazan Bayrami remained a time of celebration.
Though many did not observe the fourth pillar of the Muslim faith, which forbids food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn-to-dusk during the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim lunar calendar, Ramadan, people remained in the habit of making visits, giving presents to children and offering congratulations at its conclusion, as the faith required.
The author writes regularly on Turkey, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty