|Thursday, 23 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 36, 98-02-23
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 36, 23 February 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ABDUCTORS RELEASE ONE UNOMIG HOSTAGEThe 20 armed supporters of former Georgian President Zviad Gamasakhurdia who have been holding four UN military observers and six Georgians hostage in the west Georgian village of Djikhaskari since 19 February released two of the Georgians on 21 February and an Uruguayan captain the following day. But the kidnappers are now demanding that the Georgian Interior Ministry forces surrounding the village be withdrawn and that the Georgian authorities cease hounding Gamsakhurdia's followers. They also want talks between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and members of Gamsakhurdia's government. Shevardnadze agreed to this last demand on 22 February. The previous day, following appeals by Czech President Vaclav Havel and Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson, Shevardnadze ruled out the use of force to secure the hostages' release. He agreed that UN representatives should join the Georgian security officials engaged in negotiating the hostages' release. LF
 KARABAKH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONSSpeaking on Armenian television on 19 February, one day before the 10th anniversary of the Nagorno-Karabakh Oblast Soviet's appeal to the Soviet leadership to transfer the oblast to Armenia's jurisdiction, Armenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan criticized the Karabakh policy of former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan as counter-productive. Karabakh Prime Minister Leonid Petrossyan said on 19 February that Baku and the international community should recognize that the Karabakh Armenians' determination to build an independent state is unshakable. Former Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed said in Stepanakert on 20 February that the ongoing Karabakh mediation effort by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is "moving in the wrong direction," according to Interfax. Also on 20 February, the Azerbaijani parliament condemned the visit to Karabakh by Lebed and some 30 other Russian State Duma deputies as "open support for separatism" and an "example of double standards," Turan reported. LF
 CRIMINAL CHARGES FILED AGAINST HASANOVFormer Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov has been charged with abuse of power and with forgery, Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov (who is not related to Hasan) announced on 20 February. Those charges could carry a prison sentence of up to eight years, Interfax reported. Hasan Hasanov was fired on 16 February for misappropriating Turkish credits to finance construction of a luxury hotel and casino complex. He is also implicated in drug-trafficking, according to Turan on 21 February. LF
 IRAN DENIES ENDORSING CASPIAN AGREEMENTThe Iranian Embassy in Moscow has denied Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov's claim that President Mohammed Khatami wrote to his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, earlier this month approving the Turkmen- Azerbaijani agreement on delineating those countries' sectors of the Caspian, Interfax reported on 21 February. In an official press release, the embassy affirmed that Tehran continues to insist that all matters related to the Caspian should be resolved jointly by the littoral states. On the eve of a trip to Moscow, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi told "al Hayat" on 21 February that Iranian-Russian cooperation is in the interests of both countries and is not directed against the U.S., ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 CHANGES IN KAZAKHSTAN'S TOP ECONOMIC POSTSPresident Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed a decree dismissing Aleksandr Pavlov as finance minister and replacing him with his deputy, Sauat Mynbayev, ITAR- TASS and AFP reported on 20-22 February. National Bank Chairman Uraz Jandosov has been appointed first deputy prime minister and chairman of the State Investment Committee. He is replaced by his deputy, Kadyrjon Damitov, who is also adviser to the prime minister. Akhmetzhan Yesimov, until now first deputy prime minister, is to take over as head of the presidential administration. BP
 TROUBLES IN SOUTHERN UZBEKISTANUzbekistan's southwestern Surkhandarya Oblast was the scene of a shooting and a major narcotics bust last week, ITAR-TASS reported. Uzbek authorities revealed on 22 February that five days earlier, a dispute had broken out between Uzbek border guards over food rations. One of the guards shot dead eight of his colleagues before being disarmed. Meanwhile on 21 February, customs guards seized 444 kilograms of various narcotics from two citizens of Kazakhstan. BP
 KYRGYZ ORGANIZATION ENDORSES AKAYEV FOR THIRD TERMThe Assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan on 20 February endorsed President Askar Akayev as a candidate for the 2000 presidential elections, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" the same day carried an article by the group's chairman, Sopubek Begaliev, calling on Akayev to run again. But under the Kyrgyz Constitution, a president may serve only two terms in office. Akayev was elected president of the Kirghiz SSR in October 1990. He was elected president of Kyrgyzstan in October 1991 and again in December 1995. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 ARMED GANG FREES CRIMINALS IN NORTHERN ALBANIASome 15 masked and armed people stormed the police station in Shkoder on 22 February, after shooting at the building with machine guns and anti-tank weapons from surrounding buildings, Albanian Television reported. The attackers freed some 35 dangerous criminals, some of whom were doing time for murder, as well as an unspecified number of other criminals. They withdrew when police reinforcements arrived from neighboring districts. There were no reports of casualties. Two days earlier, unidentified persons threw two grenades into the courtyard of the police station, and an explosive device went off near Radio Shkoder. The unrest follows a series of arrests on criminal charges of supporters of the opposition Democratic Party, whose stronghold is in Shkoder. FS
 INTERIOR MINISTER BLAMES "MONTENEGRIN TERRORISTS"...Neritan Ceka, in a televised speech on 22 February, claimed that "some of [the attackers involved in the Shkoder incident earlier that day] came from Montenegro." He added that "this cooperation between [local] terrorism and foreign secret services...shows that we have to deal with a group determined to destabilize Shkoder and Albania at a time when the Kosovo question has grown increasingly important. Precisely for that reason..., [the attackers] received no support from the people of Shkoder." Ceka pointed out that the attack came at a time "when the situation [in Albania] has quietened down [and] the fight against crime has produced successes." The minister had previously charged that Belgrade is financing terrorist networks in Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). FS
 ...AS SHKODER SPINS OUT OF CONTROLMeanwhile, during the night of 22-23 February, civilians burned down main government buildings in Shkoder. The courthouse, the prosecutors' office, and the main library were destroyed, while the town hall, several banks, and the university were looted and badly damaged. Armed groups took up positions on the main road leading to the city and in the city center, while gunmen attacked and robbed private businesses. The Interior Ministry has sent special troops to restore order. PM
 U.S. ENVOY CALLS FOR CALM IN KOSOVORobert Gelbard, the U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, urged both the Serbian authorities and the Albanian population to show restraint amid an atmosphere of growing violence. Speaking in Pristina on 22 February, Gelbard said that "the Kosovo Albanians have to avoid provocations and Belgrade and the government have to demonstrate maximum restraint because Belgrade is the government." He also condemned the recent armed actions by the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army: "I consider these to be terrorist actions and it is the strong and firm policy of the U.S. to fully oppose all terrorist actions and all terrorist organizations." PM
 SERBIAN-ALBANIAN TALKS BEGINKosovo shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Pristina on 20 February that talks between representatives of the Kosovars and the Serbian government have been going on in secret "for some days" at an unspecified place in Kosovo. The two sides are discussing implementing the 1996 agreement on the reintroduction of Albanian-language education in Kosovo, which, however, has remained a dead letter. The Italian NGO that mediated the 1996 agreement is also taking part in the latest talks. PM
 NINE INJURED IN CROATIAN PROTEST RALLYSome five police and four demonstrators were injured at a rally in central Zagreb on 20 February to protest deteriorating social conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 1998). Police prevented the 10,000 or so demonstrators from holding their rally on the capital's main square, but the protesters then moved to a nearby square, where the meeting took place peacefully. Government officials had banned the meeting, citing "security reasons." PM
 TUDJMAN RE-ELECTED HEAD OF RULING PARTYSome 1,700 delegates unanimously voted to keep President Franjo Tudjman as head of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) on 21 February at the party's convention in Zagreb. Gojko Susak, Ivic Pasalic, Mate Granic, Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, Jure Radic, Andrija Hebrang, and Ivan Aralica were elected as HDZ vice presidents. Tudjman criticized the previous day's protest rally as "politically motivated." He also attacked the domestic opposition and independent media: "Betrayal is as old as Jesus' times, but in our circumstances we need to inform the public who these anti-Croatian lackeys ready to destroy society are. We will not allow Croats to bicker and fight against one another any more." PM
 IZETBEGOVIC BLASTS TUDJMAN'S SPEECHSpokesmen for Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the joint Bosnian presidency, said on 22 February that the Bosnian embassy in Zagreb filed a protest with the Foreign Ministry against Tudjman's speech. Izetbegovic's spokesmen claimed that Tudjman called for a partition of Bosnia along ethnic lines, RFE/RL correspondents reported from Zagreb and Sarajevo. In the Bosnian capital, Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, who is a Croat and a member of the HDZ, said he knows nothing about the formal protest, which cannot be official without his signature. Prlic added that Izetbegovic is one member of the presidency and does not have the right to speak in the name of Bosnia- Herzegovina. PM
 IMF NEGOTIATIONS PROVOKE MORE BICKERING AMONG ROMANIAN COALITIONPetre Roman, the leader of the Democratic Party, said the difficulties encountered in the negotiations now under way with an IMF delegation are an indication that Romania needs "a [new] government, capable of adopting a new program for 1998." Roman spoke on 22 February after a joint meeting of the government and the leaders of the coalition. He said the current difficulties are the result of the "mistakes and failures" in implementing the reforms in 1997, which, he said, must "now be paid for." Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said he is sure the negotiations will be successfully concluded "within two to three days" and that Romania will receive the third tranche of the stand-by loan approved last year. MS
 EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADER CLAIMS LEAD IN POLLCorneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), on 20 February said a poll published in the weekly "Ultima ora" shows that 21.6 percent of the electorate back him for president, while incumbent President Emil Constantinescu is backed by 19.1 percent and former President Ion Iliescu by 18.3 percent. Tudor also said that the Democratic Convention of Romania enjoys the support of 19.5 percent of respondents, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania 17.1 percent, and the PRM 14.3 percent. He did not reveal who conducted the poll and when, Radio Bucharest reported.
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN ROMANIAMeeting with President Emil Constantinescu in Galati on 21 February, Petru Lucinschi said his country "cannot afford" to participate in the financing of a second reactor at the Cernavoda nuclear plant in Romania, Reuters reported. The two presidents also discussed plans for cooperating with Ukraine on the construction of a gas pipe-line and on setting up so-called Euro-regions. The previous day, Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, who accompanied Constantinescu, to Moldova said that the pending basic treaty between the two countries must be "mutually acceptable" not only to the two countries' governments but also to "public opinion in Moldova and Romania." This may be a hint that Bucharest is exercising pressure on Chisinau to accept a formulation emphasizing the countries' common history. MS
 GREEN LIGHT GIVEN TO GAGAUZ-YERI REFERENDUMThe Central Electoral Commission on 20 February approved holding a referendum in the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous republic. The plebiscite will ask voters if they are in favor of a "basic law" for the region. It will take place on 22 March, at the same time as the Moldovan parliamentary elections, BASA-press reported. MS
 BULGARIAN MINERS END STRIKEBulgarian miners have ended a 10-day strike following negotiations with the government, AFP reported on 22 February, citing BTA. Miners in Zlatograd began the strike on 12 February to demand a 200 percent wage hike. Miners from the Gorubso non- ferrous mining company joined the strike three days later. At talks between miners' representatives and Finance Minister Muravei Radev, it was agreed to reduce the number of administrative workers at mines and grant miners the freedom of negotiating wages. The minister also agreed to study the possibility of a $1.6 million interest-free loan to some of the mines undergoing restructuring. MS
[C] END NOTE
 WHEN POLITICS ISN'T THE ANSWERby Paul Goble
A recent poll in Moldova calls attention to a trend found in many post- communist states: Even those extremely dissatisfied with their living standards no longer assume that the political system will solve their problems.
According to a sample of 1,000 voters in Moldova by the Soros Foundation's Romanian Center for Urban and Rural Sociology, nine out of 10 Moldovans are unhappy with their lives. But despite this unhappiness, some 20 percent said they have no intention of taking part in the 22 March elections, while one-third said they have not decided whom they will support.
Some observers have suggested that these results reflect growing popular apathy, which they link either to a general sense of hopelessness or to the belief that individual voters can have little impact on government actions
While such negative factors obviously play a role in causing people to turn away from political participation, there are at least three other factors at work that suggest turning away from politics may reflect some more hopeful developments.
First, such declines in participation point to the emergence of a civil society--to a space between the population and the state in which individuals can achieve their goals without having to participate directly in the political process. Under communism, virtually everything was decided by the party-state. And with the collapse of communism, many citizens in the region continued to look to the political system to solve all their problems.
But both the inability of the political systems in those countries to do that and the growth of non-governmental institutions in society and the marketplace are leading ever more people to focus their hopes and energies elsewhere. Viewed from that perspective, declines in voting rates may be a measure of just how far these new arrangements have been accepted and institutionalized,. rather than a threat to the new democratic and free market system.
Second, these declines reflect the emergence of a broad consensus on many issues. While the poll tapped into popular differences on such questions as relations with Moscow or the West, its findings suggest that ever more people do agree on certain key issues such as the value of democracy and free markets.
The Soros Foundation poll found that Moldovan voters are deeply split on the question of which party they will support. It also indicated that nearly half of those surveyed favored closer relations with Moscow, while approximately one-third believed that Moldova should seek stronger ties with the EU and NATO.
While such divisions are obviously real, they have not succeeded in splitting society to the point that everyone feels he or she must take part in the vote. Instead, a relatively large proportion of the electorate appears to feel that such choices are at the margin, rather than at the center, of their lives. That, in turn, suggests that there may be a genuine consensus lying behind the differences.
And third, the declines in voter participation suggest that the voters may not actually be as unhappy with their lot as they have told the poll- takers. If the voters in Moldova were genuinely as unhappy as this poll suggests, the experience of established democracies suggests that they would be available for mobilization by one party or another. Unless one assumes that Moldovan politicians are incompetent, their failure to mobilize the electorate suggests that the reported unhappiness may be widespread but not nearly as deep as some might think.
To the extent that these three factors are at work-- and not just feelings of apathy or the lack of a sense of efficacy--declines in political participation in the post- communist countries may in fact be a measure of the institutionalization of democracy rather than a threat to it.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty