|Saturday, 27 February 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 42, 01-03-01
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 42, 1 March 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS TRIAL AGAIN ADJOURNEDJudge Samvel Uzunian on 28 February adjourned for 25 days the trial of 13 men charged in connection with the Armenian parliament shootings on 27 October 1999, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That postponement, which was protested by lawyers representing the families of the eight victims of those killings, is to allow Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen who actually committed the murders, to familiarize himself with the 48- volume case. Hunanian has refused legal help, saying he will conduct his own defense. A senior prosecutor dismissed as unfounded Hunanian's complaint that investigators violated the law by keeping him in pre-trial detention for over one year. LF
 KARABAKH PRESIDENT MEETS OSCE CHAIRMAN-IN-OFFICEArkadii Ghukasian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, met in Yerevan on 27 February with visiting Romanian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Mircea Geoana, Noyan Tapan reported. Ghukasian reportedly told Geoana that any attempt to resolve the Karabakh conflict should proceed from "current realities" rather than "far-fetched models." Armenian National Television, as cited by Groong, quoted Ghukasian as saying that he and Geoana discussed Karabakh's "security, its subordination to Azerbaijan...and its links with Armenia, the more the better." Ghukasian also met on 28 February with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian to discuss economic issues, and with President Robert Kocharian to evaluate the most recent international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF
 WAR VETERANS KARABAKH HQ DESTROYED BY FIREThe Stepanakert headquarters of the local branch of the Yerkrapah Union of Veterans of the Karabakh War was gutted by fire during the night of 27-28 February, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. A spokesman for the city fire department said arson is suspected. Members of the Karabakh branch of Yerkrapah supported the enclave's former Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, who was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment earlier this week on charges of planning to assassinate Ghukasian and seize power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. OIL MOGUL...Heidar Aliev held talks in Baku on 28 February with visiting Chevron President Richard Matzke to discuss that company's possible participation in the consortium created to implement the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, Turan and Interfax reported. Matzke reportedly expressed satisfaction with progress in exploiting the Apsheron oil and gas field. Chevron owns a 30 percent stake and Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR holds 50 percent in the consortium formed to develop those deposits. LF
 ...AND WITH NAKHICHEVANI PROTESTERSPresident Aliev also met in Baku on 28 February with residents of the Nakhichevan village of Nehram, who informed him of the social problems that compelled them to stage protests last year, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2000). Aliev ordered the Azerbaijani government to take measures to resolve those socio-economic problems. LF
 FORMER AZERBAIJANI EDUCATION MINISTER SENTENCED ON SWINDLING CHARGESOn 28 February, following a two-month trial, court sentenced former education minister and vice president of Azerbaijan's Academy of Sciences, Rafig Feizullaev, to 11 years' imprisonment on charges of financial deception, Turan reported. Feizullaev was found guilty of illegally obtaining some 1.5 billion manats ($325,000) from seven people between 1993- 1999, allegedly to open a private university. Feizullaev, who repeatedly queried the legitimacy of the court, pleaded not guilty to the charges. He said he had paid most of the money to a member of the presidential administration as a bribe to secure his appointment as minister. LF
 OSCE OFFERS TO HOST TALKS BETWEEN GEORGIA, SOUTH OSSETIA...Visiting Tbilisi on 28 February on the second leg of his tour of the South Caucasus states, OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Romanian Foreign Minister Geoana told Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze that the OSCE is prepared to host a further round of talks, to be held in Romania, between the Georgian authorities and the leadership of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia on the latter's future political status within Georgia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 4, 26 January 2001). LF
 ...WANTS TO PROLONG MANDATE FOR MONITORING GEORGIAN-CHECHEN BORDERGeoana also said in Tbilisi on 28 February that he will do his best to persuade the OSCE to prolong for a further eight months the mandate of the 42 observers it has deployed along Georgia's border with Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. That mandate is due to expire in April. Shevardnadze, for his part, expressed his gratitude to the OSCE for deploying those observers, adding that he hopes the OSCE will also agree to his request to deploy observers along Georgia's border with the Russian republic of Ingushetia. Georgian Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili told journalists in Tbilisi the same day that he thinks Georgia's border with Daghestan should also be controlled by OSCE monitors, according to ITAR-TASS. Speaking in Moscow, Russian Federal Border Service Director Konstantin Totskii said on 28 February that Russia will soon increase the number of border guards deployed on the Chechen side of the Georgian-Chechen border, and also the number of border posts. LF
 MAVERICK GEORGIAN PRIEST ASSAULTS JEHOVAH'S WITNESSESExcommunicated Georgian Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili and a group of his followers broke into a private home in Tbilisi on 27 February and physically attacked a group of Jehovah's Witnesses gathered there, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Mkalavishvili has physically attacked members of that sect on several previous occasions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 August 2000). LF
 UKRAINIAN SHIP SAILING UNDER GEORGIAN FLAG DETAINED WITH ILLEGAL ARMS CARGOThe Ukrainian-registered vessel "Anastasia," which sails under the Georgian flag, was detained by Spanish customs close to the Canary Islands on 27 February with an undeclared cargo of 640 tons of arms and ammunition, Caucasus Press reported on 28 February. According to Georgia's Transport and Communications Minister Merab Adeishvili, Georgia cannot be held responsible as the vessel does not belong to the Georgian merchant marine. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENT POSTPONES DISCUSSION OF FINANCIAL AMNESTYThe lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament decided on 28 February to postpone a scheduled debate on draft legislation that would allow senior officials to return to Kazakhstan capital exported illegally without incurring any criminal responsibility for doing so, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. At a joint session on 22 February of several parliamentary committees charged with economic and legal affairs, it was proposed to impose a tax of between 5 and 12 percent on all such capital returned to Kazakhstan, according to Interfax. That agency quoted unnamed officials as estimating that the amnesty could result in the legalization of some $500 million currently held in foreign banks. LF
 KYRGYZSTAN TO RAISE ELECTRICITY TARIFFSPrime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev told a cabinet session in Bishkek on 28 February that the planned increases in electricity tariffs will take effect as of 12 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said the price hike is essential in order to replace worn out equipment and pay off debts accumulated by the Kyrgyzenergo company, which is to be privatized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2001). A senior energy official said that industrial enterprises will have to pay between 4 and 10 percent more for electric power, farmers 6.5 percent, and state-funded organizations 28 percent. The increase will not apply to households that consume less than 90 kW hours per month. Finance Minister Temirbek Akmataliev said that the government will simultaneously increase budget expenditures in 2001 by 750 million soms (about $15 million), of which half will be allocated for increased social benefits for families whose per capita income does not exceed 300 soms (about $6) per month. LF
 RUSSIAN EMIGRATION FROM KYRGYZSTAN INCREASESAlmost 18,000 Russians left Kyrgyzstan last year, over 50 percent more than in 1999, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 28 February quoting Russian embassy official Boris Assaulyuk. The emigres included 1,460 doctors, 1,803 economists, and 5,340 engineers. Some 25,000 more Russians have submitted emigration requests to the Russian embassy but have not yet left Kyrgyzstan. Half a million Russians, most of them qualified professionals, are believed to have left Kyrgyzstan since 1992. At present, Russians account for some 12 percent of Kyrgyzstan's total 4.8 million population. LF
 TAJIK OFFICIAL SAYS ECONOMIC FACTORS PRECLUDE ADMITTING AFGHAN FUGITIVESInterfax on 28 February quoted Tajikistan's deputy prime minister Saidanvar Zukhorov as saying that Dushanbe cannot allow the Afghans gathered on its southern border with Afghanistan to enter Tajikistan because "Tajikistan has only just emerged from a state of civil war." Zukhorov said that Dushanbe is still experiencing difficulties providing decent living conditions for its own citizens who were made homeless in the 1992-1997 conflict, and that admitting the Afghan fugitives would cost "billions of dollars for food, housing, and medical services." But he said Dushanbe will continue to provide the displaced persons, whose numbers are estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000, with as much aid as it can afford. LF
 CACHE OF SUBVERSIVE LITERATURE DISCOVERED IN NORTHERN TAJIKISTANSome 7,500 books and pamphlets and 1,500 leaflets calling for the overthrow of the Tajik government have been confiscated from a member of a criminal group in the town of Chkalovsk, in northern Tajikistan, Interfax reported on 28 February quoting a Tajik Interior Ministry source. The man is reportedly a supporter of the Muslim extremist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, some 100 of whose members have reportedly been arrested since the start of the year. LF
 TURKMEN AUTHORITIES WARN BAPTIST CONGREGATIONThree Turkmen officials have told Keston News Service that the Baptist congregation in Ashgabat will be fined if it attempts to break the seals placed on the city's sole remaining functioning Baptist church last month, Keston News Service reported on 28 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001). City officials argued that religious activity by groups that failed to comply with a 1997 requirement to reregister with the Turkmen Ministry of Justice is illegal. LF
 UZBEK, RUSSIAN DEFENSE OFFICIALS CONCLUDE TALKSColonel General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the Russian Defense Ministry's Department for International Military Cooperation, has concluded three days of talks in Tashkent with Uzbek Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov, Interfax reported on 28 February. Those discussions focused on military-technical cooperation, regional security, including the threat posed by guerrillas of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, counterterrorism measures, the situation in the districts of Uzbekistan that border on Afghanistan, and the possibility of training Uzbek servicemen at Russian military colleges. Ivashov was also scheduled to meet with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, according to ITAR-TASS on 27 February. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 KOSOVAR LEADERS WARN OF DESTABILIZATIONRepresentatives of Kosovar political parties issued a declaration in Prishtina on 28 February in which they warned that any reduction in the size of the security zone on the Serbian frontier with Kosova could increase tension in the province by bringing Serbian forces closer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2001). Former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci said that the zone should be widened rather than narrowed. Moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova noted that "we agreed that the safety ground should not be reduced because it can endanger the safety of Kosova and also NATO soldiers' lives," Reuters reported. Speaking in Brussels, NATO Secretary- General Lord George Robertson said of plans to reduce the size of the zone that "we will move as quickly as we possibly can, but we will also do it with prudence and with care because this is a dangerous situation and we don't intend to make it worse" PM
 SERBIAN COMMANDER: 'I DON'T TRUST ALBANIAN TERRORISTS'General Vladimir Lazarevic, who commands the Yugoslav Third Army in southern Serbia, told a press conference in Nis on 28 February that he sees no reason to withdraw the elite Prishtina Corps from the Presevo region, as NATO has suggested as a confidence-building measure, "Vesti" reported. Lazarevic stressed that the army is "impatiently" waiting for details of NATO's ideas on reducing the size of the security zone so that it can implement its own plan for the area. He added that the military aspects of the operation "will not be easy because of the resistance of the Albanian terrorists." Lazarevic, who commanded the Prishtina Corps during the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosova, said that he "hopes" that the reduction in the size of the zone will be a first step toward the return of Serbian troops and police to the province. One of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's advisers wrote two articles in "NIN" in December in which he suggested that Serbia could "return to Kosovo" with the help of the international community. PM
 NO RESULTS FROM NATO TALKS IN MACEDONIAMajor General Robert Dierker and a NATO delegation held talks in Skopje on 28 February with Macedonian officials on the tensions along Macedonia's frontier with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2001). An unnamed Macedonian official told Reuters that the visitors "came empty-handed. It seems they came to win some time until NATO decides what to do. They made no specific proposals." Defense Ministry spokesman Georgi Trendafilov said that President Boris Trajkovski and Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski "reiterated Macedonia's intention to use all possible political and diplomatic means to solve the issue and resort to force if all other efforts fail. The NATO delegation gave full support to measures the Macedonian government has taken so far to deal with the situation. They said KFOR will take measures to calm the situation. KFOR will strengthen border patrols." PM
 NATO APPEALS TO MACEDONIADaniel Speckhard, who is deputy assistant to NATO Secretary-General Robertson, told reporters in Skopje on 1 March that the alliance wants a peaceful solution to the crisis on the border between Macedonia and Kosova. "This must be solved by political means because solving it by other means may solve the short-term problem, but it can create larger problems for the interethnic relations in your country," Reuters quoted Speckhard as saying. He was presumably referring to the fact that Macedonia's population is some 23 percent Albanian (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). PM
 MACEDONIAN MINISTER SLAMS 'MOST SERIOUS PROVOCATION'Paunovski said in Skopje on 28 February that Albanian guerrillas in Kosova fired a missile that afternoon from a grenade launcher at a Macedonian border patrol tower but missed their target. He called the attack "the most serious provocation yet," Reuters reported. Sporadic shooting between Macedonian forces and the guerrillas followed for five hours after the attack. PM
 MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER WARNS OF WORSENING SITUATIONArben Xhaferi, whose Democratic Party of the Albanians is a member of the government, said that he fears that established Albanian political parties will not be able to control radicals making up the guerrilla bands, Reuters reported from Skopje on 28 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). Xhaferi stressed that "there are reasons to be concerned." PM
 SERBIA LAUNCHES PROBE OF MILOSEVICThe Belgrade prosecutor's office has asked police to begin an investigation of press reports that former President Slobodan Milosevic transferred 173 kilograms of gold to Switzerland between 21 September and 2 November 2000. According to the reports, Milosevic had the gold sold and placed the proceeds in the bank accounts of companies in Greece and Cyprus. "Danas" on 1 March quoted unnamed sources close to the governing coalition as saying that the "deadline" for Milosevic's arrest is 10 March. Meanwhile in New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's spokesman said of the investigation: "We don't want to interfere with that in any way, but [Milosevic's] indictment by the [Hague-based tribunal] stands and the government of Yugoslavia is obligated to turn him over to the tribunal for trial," RFE/RL reported. PM
 HAGUE ISSUES INDICTMENTS FOR DUBROVNIK SHELLINGThe war crimes tribunal issued a 16-page indictment on 1 March in conjunction with the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik and pillaging of surrounding communities by Serbian and Montenegrin forces. "Several people" were indicted, but it is not clear who they are, AP reported. Charges include murder, cruel treatment, attacks on civilians, plunder, and unjustified devastation of civilian institutions and historic monuments. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has apologized to Croatia for the role of Montenegrin forces in Milosevic's campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2000). PM
 KOSTUNICA MEETS WITH CROATIAN SERBSYugoslav President Kostunica met in Belgrade on 28 February with Milorad Pupovac and other Croatian Serb leaders, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. On the agenda were the continuing normalization of relations between Belgrade and Zagreb, the situation of Croatia's Serbian minority, and setting up of Serbian media in Croatia. Pupovac told the Zagreb daily "Republika" of 1 March that the present Croatian government seeks to solve minority problems within the larger context of promoting civil and cultural rights. He added that the government prefers not to discuss minority rights as such because the issue is politically unpopular. PM
 MONTENEGRIN LEADERS CONFIDENT ON EUForeign Minister Branko Lukovac told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in Podgorica on 28 February that the government is pleased with the results of a recent two-day conference on Montenegro in Brussels (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 27 February 2001). Lukovac added that unnamed EU officials told him that they will respect any decision by Montenegrin citizens about their future, even though the EU prefers that Montenegro remain with Serbia in a federal Yugoslavia. PM
 ALBANIAN PARTIES MAKE FIRST-EVER ELECTION PACTRepresentatives of the rival Socialist Party and Democratic Party agreed in Tirana on 28 February on ground rules for a general election widely expected in June (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). They agreed to compile a code of ethics for political parties and to ask parliament to set up a committee to review voters' lists and electoral district boundaries, Reuters reported. The two parties also agreed to hold regular political talks every two weeks, dpa reported. PM
 BOSNIAN CROAT NATIONALISTS DECLARE FEDERATION NULL AND VOIDAnte Jelavic, who is the leader of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told a rally in support of two convicted Croatian war criminals that the Bosnian federation is a Muslim "national entity without the Croats," "Novi List" reported from Busovaca on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). Jelavic added that the HDZ will organize a "national assembly" on 3 March that will take "historical decisions," which presumably means the unilateral declaration of a separate Croatian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Croatian government and the international community have called this idea a non-starter. High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch's spokesman said in Sarajevo that "this is more extremist nonsense from Mr. Jelavic." At the rally, speakers condemned the Hague-based tribunal. In reference to Croatian President Stipe Mesic, who supports the tribunal, crowds chanted "kill him, kill him, " AP reported. PM
 CROATIAN PRESIDENT HAILS FREE PRESSMesic told an OSCE-sponsored conference on media freedom in Zagreb on 28 February that he is glad the gathering is taking place in his country, because "those who have experienced the misuse of the media can best discuss the issue," dpa reported. He added that "controlled media [under the communists and HDZ] taught us to respect freedom of the press." PM
 EU TO SUPPORT ROMANIAN CHILDCARE SYSTEMThe chief of the European Commission delegation to Romania, Fokion Fotiadis, said on 28 February that in consideration of Romania's commitment to the reform of the childcare system, the EU will continue its financial and logistical support for childcare, Mediafax reported. Attending a conference on Romania's strategy regarding children rights, Fotiadis said the EU evaluation shows that a decision to decentralize the childcare system was correct. He said Romanian authorities should reduce the number of children entering the system by preventing child abandonment and aiding poverty- stricken families. He promised the EU's financial help in securing the program's success, in addition to a 25 million euro (some $24 million) Phare program that was just started. ZsM
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES JUDGES OF CORRUPTIONAfter reviewing the Romanian Justice Ministry's report for 2000, President Ion Iiescu on 28 February said the justice system is corrupt, Mediafax reported. He also criticized the "uneven practices" of the panels, as well as the drawn out length of court cases. Judges and prosecutors at the meeting accused the media of presenting an unfair negative picture of the justice system. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the government is the judiciary's ally, adding, however, that in the process of property restitution, "under the justice system's tolerant eyes" mafia members were given property that never belonged to them. ZsM
 MOLDOVAN ELECTORAL COMMISSION RECOUNTS INVALID BALLOTSAt the request of both the Democratic Party (PD) and the Party of Revival and Accord (PRC), Moldova's Central Electoral Commission began to recount ballots declared invalid in the 25 February early elections, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The parties request was based on a "suspiciously high number of invalid ballots." Both parties failed to reach the 6 percent threshold necessary to enter parliament, with the PD garnering 5.05 percent of the vote and the PRC 5.72 percent. ZsM
 RIGHT-WING LEADER OPTIMISTIC ABOUT MOLDOVA'S PROSPECTSIn an interview with the Bucharest-based daily "Adevarul," Moldovan Christian Democratic People's Party (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said on 28 February that his country's anticipated rapprochement to Russia "could catalyze national liberation movements and democratic processes" in Moldova. Rosca said the communist victory in the 25 February parliamentary elections will slow down the country's "separation" from Russia, but it won't block Moldova's "historical perspectives." Although worried about the possible federalization of the country and of new Russian military bases in Moldova, Rosca argues that the processes of "separation from Russia and of an approach towards Romania and the West are irreversible." ZsM
 BALKAN AIRLINES FLEET REDUCED FURTHERA crew of British pilots arrived in Sofia on 27 February to fly three Boeing 737 airliners that had been leased to the grounded Balkan Airlines, BTA reported. The planes are owned by General Electric. After the planes leave Bulgaria, the Balkan Airlines fleet will be reduced to one Tupolev Tu- 154 and three An-24s, which can only fly domestically, BTA reported. In recent weeks, several Balkan Airlines planes have been sold or returned to the companies by Zeevi Holdings Group -- the Israeli company that is the majority owner of Balkan Airlines -- to the companies that leased them. PB
[C] END NOTE
 IS THE KING THE WILD CARD IN BULGARIA'S ELECTION?By Julia Guechakov
Simeon II acceded to the Bulgarian throne at the age of six in 1943 after the death of his father. He ruled under regencies until 1946, when a referendum called by the country's then-Communist regime abolished the monarchy and sent the royal family into exile.
Fifty years later, the deposed monarch returned for the first time to his homeland and was enthusiastically welcomed by hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians. Since then, he has come back for several more visits, and has had his Bulgarian citizenship restored and former property returned. But despite numerous contacts with politicians and other public figures in Bulgaria, Simeon has not played an active role in domestic politics.
That, however, may be changing. Earlier this year, Simeon expressed a desire to resettle permanently in Bulgaria. The statement prompted a group of lawmakers to ask the country's constitutional court for an interpretation of residency requirements for presidential candidates.
No mention was made of Simeon's case. But some politicians and analysts were quick to conclude that the lawmakers were aiming to clarify if the former monarch could run in the country's presidential elections due near the year's end.
The court ultimately ruled that a presidential candidate must live in Bulgaria for the greater part of the five years preceding a given election. That condition rules out any current presidential ambitions on the part of Simeon, who now lives in Spain.
However, the constitution does not rule out a possible run by the former monarch for a parliamentary seat. Simeon has been deliberately vague regarding his political ambitions, and has never laid out a political agenda. But in an emotional statement following the court ruling, he said those supporters "who were looking for a way to vote for Simeon would have the opportunity to do so." Many took this to mean the former king had cast his sights on the country's June parliamentary elections.
Political analyst Ognian Minchev says Simeon's possible ambitions may cause a shift in Bulgarian politics. He adds that many politicians may try to use the popular former king to improve their own political fortunes:
"Because of [these politicians being pushed to the sidelines of Bulgarian politics], the personality and the intentions of Simeon the second are a very useful means which could be employed, under certain circumstances, to bring those marginal political figures back to the center stage in political life."
A recent independent poll suggests that up to 8 percent of voters would support a party backed by Simeon, which would place it a comfortable third behind the anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and the opposition Socialist coalitions.
The UDF, which polls estimate would win 22 percent of the popular vote if the parliamentary elections were held now, could stand to lose a substantial portion of its supporters if a Simeon-backed party becomes an election-season reality. Earlier this month, senior UDF officials ruled against backing Simeon in parliamentary elections, and yesterday (Tuesday) expelled two prominent members who called for such support. Minchev explains the threat to the UDF this way:
"Simeon does not enter Bulgarian politics saying that he is ready, together with the UDF, to work toward a common goal. He enters Bulgarian political life independently and thus becomes a UDF competitor for votes in June parliamentary elections."
Minchev says Simeon's popularity is in large part due to voters' disillusionment with the political establishment and the hardships suffered during the country's difficult transition to a market economy. He adds that as an outsider, Simeon could give voters a fresh, untarnished alternative:
"We could say that Simeon is the last illusion of many ordinary Bulgarians -- that someone could come in from the outside and put Bulgaria in order."
For now, the two main political forces in Bulgaria seem unwilling to face the challenge of a potentially strong third force, even though such a force might turn out to be more imaginary than real.
Julia Guechakov is an RFE/RL senior editor based in Prague.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty