|Wednesday, 26 February 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 35, 98-02-20
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 35, 20 February 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 UN STAFF STILL HELD HOSTAGE IN WESTERN GEORGIAThe four members of the UN observer mission abducted on 19 February in Zugdidi are unharmed but all efforts to negotiate their release have been unsuccessful, Caucasus Press reported on 20 February. Supporters of the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia claiming to represent Georgia's "legal government" are holding the four men (two Uruguayans, one Czech, and one Swede), their Georgian driver, and five members of a Georgian family in the village of Djikhaskari, north of Zugdidi. They are demanding the release of seven men arrested in connection with the failed 9 February bid to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, the release of all Georgian political prisoners, and the withdrawal from Georgia of all Russian troops stationed there. They have threatened to kill their hostages if those demands are not met. LF
 UN CONDEMNS HOSTAGE-TAKINGUN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the UN Security Council condemned the UN officials' abduction and demanded their unconditional and immediate release, AFP reported. The UN Security Council termed the incident an attempt to undermine Georgia's international image and deter international organizations from their ongoing efforts to mediate a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. Liviu Bota, the UN secretary-general's personal representative in Georgia, met on 19 February with Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba to discuss the hostage-taking, according to Caucasus Press. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has condemned the failure of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia to prevent "terrorist actions" on Georgian territory. LF
 ARMENIA'S HAIRIKYAN HINTS AT ELECTORAL ALLIANCESelf-Determination Union chairman and Armenian presidential candidate Paruir Hairikyan told journalists in Yerevan on 19 February that he has held "quite promising" talks with other presidential hopefuls on the possibility of several of them withdrawing to back a single candidate, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hairikyan neither confirmed nor denied that Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan would be that single candidate. Earlier, Hairikyan ruled out an alliance with National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukyan, in favor of whom he withdrew his candidacy in the 1996 presidential elections. LF
 OSCE BLAMES AZERBAIJAN FOR SHOOTING INCIDENTOrganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representative Andrzej Kasprczyk told AFP in Baku on19 February that Azerbaijan bears responsibility for an incident on 17 February in which OSCE monitors patrolling the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontier were fired on. Noyan Tapan quoted two OSCE field aides as noting that both Armenia and Azerbaijan were informed in advance of the monitoring exercise and that the monitors had displayed a white flag. On 18 February, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry had issued a statement blaming Armenia for the shooting. LF
 KAZAKH STRIKERS BEATEN, JAILEDKazakh authorities on 17 February sent some 1,000 policemen and OMON troops to disperse striking workers from the Janatas Phosphorus plant who were blocking the tracks at the Taraz railroad station (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 18 February 1998), RFE/RL correspondents reported. Some strikers were beaten and thrown into rail cars destined for Janatas, while 11 others were taken into custody. Charges have been brought against three of the detainees. On 20 February, the opposition movement AZAT organized a rally in front of the former parliament building in Almaty to express solidarity with the strikers. Police dispersed the crowd. BP
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT ISSUES 'FLAG DAY' DECREESTurkmenistan celebrated National Flag day on 19 February, which is also the birthday President Saparmurat Niyazov. To mark the occasion, Niyazov signed several decrees, including one calling upon citizens to send letters to the government citing violations of their rights by members of law-enforcement agencies, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported. Another decree changes the official name of the "militia" to "police," reportedly in a bid to change the image of that body. Wages for state employees will be doubled and pensions tripled, but neither wages nor pensions will exceed the equivalent of $50 a month. In the past, however, such increases have been outpaced by inflation before payments are received. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 CROATIAN TRADE UNIONS TO DEFY POLICE BAN ON DEMOCroatian trade unions representatives are to proceed with a planned protest demonstration in Zagreb on 20 February, despite a police ban, Reuters reported. Up to 60,000 people are expected to participate in the protest against deteriorating social conditions. The organizers have stressed they have no intention of trying to overthrow the Croatian government. Interior Minister Ivan Penic appealed to potential participants not to convene for the demonstration, saying police will enforce the ban. LF
 CROATIAN GOVERNMENT DRAFTS JOB PLANThe governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) introduced legislation in the parliament on 18 February to promote economic growth by cutting labor costs, ridding firms of surplus workers, and supporting small businesses. An opposition spokesman said the plan is a political ploy. Unemployment currently stands at 18-23 percent and is particularly high among veterans of the 1991-1995 wars. PM
 SERBS CONTINUE TO LEAVE EASTERN SLAVONIAOrganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe spokesman Mark Thompson told journalists in Zagreb on 19 February that the OSCE is "concerned" about the continued exodus of Serbs from eastern Slavonia, AFP reported. Thompson said that hundreds of Serbs from that region have applied for political asylum in Western Europe. Formerly Serb-controlled eastern Slavonia reverted to Croatia's jurisdiction on 15 January 1998, after having been administered for two years by the UN. LF
 SECRET POLICEMAN MURDERED IN KOSOVOAn undercover Serbian policeman was shot dead in an ambush near Pristina on 19 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The victim was riding with other policemen in a car close to the town of Podujevo when three men ambushed the vehicle. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, though officials suspect it was carried out by the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army. Meanwhile in central Belgrade on 19 February, seven people were injured when bombs exploded in a popular cafe. Four people are in serious condition, Tanjug reported. No suspects have been named by police. PB
 OSCE HIGH COMMISSIONER ON MINORITIES IN KOSOVOMax van der Stoel met with Albanian Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova in Pristina on 19 February. Van der Stoel refused to reveal what the two men discussed. Rugova's main political rival, Adem Demaci, refused to meet with the OSCE official because Albanians in Kosovo "are a nation" not a minority, AFP reported. But Van der Stoel met later with representatives of human rights organizations. His visit was a private one, as Serbia and Montenegro have been excluded from the OSCE since 1992. PB
 ANOTHER BOMB EXPLOSION IN MACEDONIAA bomb exploded in an Albanian-owned butcher's shop in the mainly Albanian- populated western town of Gostivar on 19 February, Reuters reported. No one was injured in the blast, which was the second in Gostivar and the fifth in Macedonia during the past three months. LF
 DRASKOVIC UPSET BY PREMIER'S RE-APPOINTMENTVuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has denounced the naming of Mirko Marjanovic to continue as Serbian premier. In a statement on 19 February, the SPO noted it had not agreed to that decision, taken by Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. Draskovic reportedly had agreed earlier this week to join a coalition with the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), to which both Marjanovic and Milutinovic belong. But Draskovic had insisted that he be named prime minister in exchange for his party's support. If the SPO decides not to join the SPS in a coalition, the Socialists will most likely form a minority government. PB
 DODIK THREATENS TO QUIT OVER FINANCIAL BACKINGRepublika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Washington on 19 February that he will resign if previously promised foreign aid is not forthcoming. He noted that, despite having taken many steps to meet Western approval, financial aid was still being withheld. Dodik referred specifically to a promise by Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, that Dodik's government will receive some $6 million in aid, which, he said, is urgently needed to prevent a teachers' strike. The premier added that the goal of returning some 70,000 displaced persons to their homes by September is still a priority, even though the complexity of such a task is "beyond imagination." PB
 BOSNIAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS CALL FOR TOLERANCEThe leaders of Bosnia's main religions pledged tolerance and interethnic understanding in a joint message on 19 February in Sarajevo. Jakob Finci, head of Sarajevo's Jewish community, Roman Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic, Serbian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Nikolaj, and Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Muslim community, held a roundtable discussion on religious issues and the importance of implementing the Dayton agreement before issuing their statement. Westendorp said the religious leaders have a major role to play in the country's reconciliation process. PB
 ORGANIZED CRIME GROWS IN SLOVENIAParliamentary speaker Janez Podobnik told a government anti-crime conference in Ljubljana on 17 February that organized crime accounts for three-quarters of all criminal activity in the Alpine republic. Interior Minister Mirko Brandelj noted that Yugoslav citizens dominate the money laundering, extortion, and drug rackets, BETA news agency reported. Croats specialize in counterfeiting, gun-running, and illegal border crossings, while citizens of former Soviet republics concentrate on prostitution, money laundering, and stolen cars. Brandelj added that Slovenes can be found in all branches of criminal activity but that they tend not to be as brutal as some of the foreign gangs. PM
 ALBANIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTY DENIES CHARGESDemocratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari told journalists on 19 February that charges of intimidation and incitement to violence brought against him are politically motivated, dpa reported. The charges followed a 14 February confrontation between a group of parliamentary deputies led by Hajdari and police officers who searched the deputies' cars and found arms and ammunition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998.) In other news, the Democratic Party has issued a statement announcing that its national council will decide on 20 February whether to end its five-month boycott of the parliament, Reuters reported. The boycott was launched to protest an incident last year in which Hajdari was shot and wounded by Socialist deputy Gafur Mazreku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997). LF
 ROMANIAN-IMF NEGOTIATIONS ENCOUNTER DIFFICULTIESReferring to negotiations under way with the IMF on the 1998 budget, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said that it is an "aberration" to employ the term "Bulgarization" in connection with the development of the economy. His remark followed comments by Finance Minister Daniel Daianu and Reform Minister Ilie Serbanescu one day earlier. Ciorbea said chief IMF negotiator Poul Thompsen has prolonged his stay, at the end of which the government will sign an aide-memoir with the IMF stipulating measures to accelerate privatization and meet budget expenditures. Also on 19 February, Charles Frank, the vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said in The Hague that he is "somewhat disappointed" by the slow pace of Romanian reform. MS
 ROMANIAN OPPOSITION MOVES MOTION ON HEALTH SYSTEMAs paramedics continue their general strike, the Senate factions of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR),the Greater Romania Party, and the Party of Romanian National Unity have moved a motion opposing the government health-care policies, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. PDSR chairman Ion Iliescu said his party hopes the Democrats will support the motion, but Democratic Party deputy chairman Radu Berceanu said his formation will not do so. In other news, a commission mediating between the two chambers of the parliament has succeeding in bridging the gap over a law granting compensation to persons persecuted under the communist regime and those deported to or held war prisoner in the former Soviet Union. Romanian citizens who reside abroad will also be entitled to claim compensation. MS
 ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN CHISINAUAndrei Plesu met with his Moldovan counterpart, Nicolae Tabacaru, and Deputy Prime Minister Ion Gutu in Chisinau on 19 February, RFE/RL's bureau there reported. Talks concentrated on the pending basic treaty and on bilateral economic relations. Plesu told journalists that he prefers a "very good treaty" to a "very quick one" and does not know whether the accord will be concluded during his tenure as foreign minister. Romanian media reported recently that Bucharest agrees to no mention of the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact being made in the document but insists that the treaty be called a "fraternal" one and be written in the Romanian language. Plesu is also to meet with Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and by President Petru Lucinschi. MS
 RUSSIAN DUMA POSTPONES RATIFYING MOLDOVAN TREATYThe Russian State Duma on 19 February postponed debates on the ratification of the basic treaty with Moldova until next month, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev. The treaty was signed in September 1990 and ratified by the Moldovan parliament the same year. The separatist leadership in Tiraspol has called on the Russian Duma not to ratify the document and to negotiate a new treaty that takes into consideration the "new situation" that arose with the existence of the "independent" Transdniester state. MS
 GAZPROM INVOLVED IN BULGARIAN CD PIRACYThe chief of Bulgaria's National Security Service on 19 February said that the Multigroup conglomerate and Gazprom have been involved in smuggling pirated compact discs out of Bulgaria, AFP reported. Atanas Atanasov said more than 1.5 million pirated CDs were produced at the state-owned DZU-DMON factory in Stara Zagora and transported to Russia in five shipments aboard planes owned by the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom. He added that Multigroup's earnings from the operation totaled $500,000 a month. Multigroup is alleged to have been set up with funds from the communist-era secret police and to be owned and managed by former members of the nomenklatura who have links to organized crime. BTA reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office has received documents attesting to the smuggling. MS
 JAPANESE BANK WINS BID FOR BULGARIAN BANKJapan's Nomura International investment bank has won a bid for a 78.3 percent majority share in Bulgarian Postal Bank, AFP reported on 19 February, quoting Bulgarian officials. The deal is to be finalized by the end of May. Privatization chief Petar Jotev told BTA that the privatization of the Postal Bank is the first in the banking sector and will be followed by the privatization of four other banks. Postal Bank made a profit of 13.5 billion leva ($7.4 million) in 1997. MS
[C] END NOTE
 TEN YEARS SINCE START OF KARABAKH MOVEMENTBy Emil Danielyan
Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh will hold official ceremonies on 20 February to mark the 10th anniversary of the mass movement for the re-unification of the two territories. Politicians, prominent intellectuals, and the media will stress the significance of the occasion for the Armenian nation and call for the restoration of the national solidarity that reigned 10 years ago. They will also try again to evaluate the profound influence the movement for reunification has had on Armenia.
When the legislative body of the former Nagorno- Karabakh Autonomous Oblast declared its desire to split away from the then Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan and join the Armenian SSR, very few people foresaw what the consequences of that demand would be. Undoubtedly, the possibility of a war with Azerbaijan did not enter the minds of the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who took to the streets of Yerevan to support what they saw as the just cause of their Karabakh co-ethnics. But the nationwide campaign of rallies and petitions that ensued gave birth to perhaps the most intractable territorial dispute in the former Soviet Union.
The Kremlin rejected the Armenian demands as endangering the stability of the empire. That, however, did not prevent the Karabakh movement from gathering momentum as it progressed from the romantic idealism of the perestroika era to a solid anti-Communist platform and the emergence of a new political elite, the so-called Karabakh committee, which in the late 1980s enjoyed the virtually unlimited support of the population. The committee soon expanded the movement's agenda to include democratization and market reforms. A party created on the basis of the committee, the Armenian Pan- National Movement (HHSh), came to power in the 1990 elections to the Supreme Soviet.
The movement for the unification of Karabakh with Armenia also engendered nationalist sentiments in neighboring Azerbaijan, where anti-Communist groups not only opposed Karabakh's secession but also agitated for abolishing the region's autonomy. Increasingly, the attitudes of the two peoples became polarized. And as Moscow's control over the union republics eroded, sporadic clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani militias, the latter backed by Russian troops, developed into large-scale warfare. The collapse of the USSR in December 1991 signaled the beginning of war.
One of the questions Armenians will be asking themselves today is whether the Karabakh movement has achieved its aim. Owing to its decisive military victory over Azerbaijan in 1993-1994, the Republic of Nagorno- Karabakh is de facto independent, even though that independence has not formally been recognized by any other country. It has a powerful army and unfettered links with Armenia proper. To put it succinctly, it is now totally "Armenian."
Yet the conflict has also taken an appalling toll on Armenia: thousands of war casualties and hundreds of thousands of refugees, a dramatic drop in living standards, economic decline, and mass emigration. But, most important, the military victory did not bring a lasting peace. Despite the Armenian leadership's commitment to a peaceful solution of the conflict, the war threatens to resume at any moment. Moreover, Azerbaijan's and Turkey's blockade of Armenia stifles economic growth.
So was it worth all the trouble? Most of the Armenian elite would say "yes" and would advocate evaluating the Karabakh problem within the context of Armenia's 3,000- year history, rather than in terms of immediate economic interests. Indeed, despite all the suffering it caused, the war has helped Armenians overcome an inferiority complex acquired over centuries of defeat and foreign oppression. And, as regards a future peace deal on Karabakh, the bargaining positions of the Armenians are now incomparably stronger than 10 years ago.
Armenians in general tend to be more ambivalent. Years of hardship have generated war fatigue among them. But aspirations to a better life are offset by a deep distrust of Azerbaijan. Many people are convinced that Baku would guarantee neither the Karabakh Armenian population's security nor respect for its ethnicity, pointing to anti- Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan from 1988-1990. Moreover, Armenians did not rally behind former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, who promised prosperity in exchange for major concessions to Azerbaijan.
On the contrary, it seems that for the time being, Armenians will give Ter- Petrossyan's more hard-line opponents a chance. Two of those opponents, Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharian and former premier and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian, are the key contenders in the 16 March presidential elections. The two men agree that Karabkh's relationship with Azerbaijan must be on an equal footing, testifying to a consensus in Armenian society on both the Karabakh movement and the future of the peace process.
Armenia's Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian recently suggested that even if Armenians had known in 1988 what they know now, they would still have agreed to forfeit their relative prosperity for the sake of Karabakh. And all the signs today are that he is right.
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty