RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
RFE/RL NEWSLINE 29 March 2000
HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER DISMISSES CRITICISM ON ANTI-
SEMITISM. Viktor Orban has dismissed a statement by the
executive director of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish
Authorities, Gusztav Zoltai, that anti-Semitism is
institutionalized in Hungary, Hungarian media reported on 29
March. At a Strasbourg meeting of the executive committee of
the European Jewish Congress, Zoltai accused the Hungarian
cabinet of not distancing itself from anti-Semitic groups.
Orban has also rejected comments in foreign newspapers
criticizing Hungarian media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March
2000), saying that press freedom is dictated by choice and
that Hungarian readers can choose from a wide range of media
AGREEMENT ADVANCES TRANSPORT CORRIDOR AROUND SERBIA
By Ron Synovitz
After nine years of bickering, Romania and Bulgaria have
agreed on a site for a Danube River bridge that will allow
trans-Balkan traffic to bypass Serbia. The agreement, signed
in Bucharest on 27 March, is one of the first concrete
results of the Balkan Stability Pact.
The bridge is a key link in a EU project known as Pan-
European Transport Corridor Four. That project aims to create
a major north-south transport route linking Greece and
western Europe through Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. Under
the 27 March agreement, the new bridge will cross the Danube
about 20 kilometers east of Serbia at the Bulgarian town of
Vidin and the Romanian river port of Calafat.
For years, Bucharest had lobbied for a bridge to be
built further to the east--a move that would have put the
north-south transport corridor closer to Bucharest as well as
increasing the amount of transit fees received by Romania.
Romanian officials finally agreed on the Vidin-Calafat site
under pressure from the EU.
Currently, the main road and rail routes between western
Europe and the Balkans pass through Yugoslavia. But all of
Serbia's Danube bridges were destroyed in NATO's air campaign
last year. Serbia's only existing route across the Danube
today--a tiny road on the "Iron Gates" dam between Serbia and
Romania--is north of Belgrade.
Even before NATO's air strikes, the EU had been eager to
create an alternative transport route bypassing Serbia.
Belgrade's neighbors suffered trade losses totaling billions
of dollars when the main transport route was cut by
international sanctions against Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Those sanctions forced much of the trans-Balkan traffic
to pass along inferior roads in Bulgaria to the Romanian city
of Giurgiu--the site of the only existing bridge between
Romania and Bulgaria. In the mid-1990s, truck drivers
typically faced a border delay of 10 days there, and the
crossing earned itself the nickname "Bottleneck Bridge."
Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov praised the idea of
a transportation route to the west that bypasses troubled
Serbia. "Trans-European Corridor Four is an alternative way
between southeastern Europe and Central Europe that does not
pass through Yugoslavia," he commented. "And that is why it
is very important for our country."
Kostov says construction of the bridge will start later
this year and will take about two-and-a-half years to
Romanian Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu is also happy
about the project. He noted that the new transport corridor
will pass through what he called "a stable region."
Bodo Hombach, the EU's special coordinator for the
Stability Pact, said the union will do its best to complete
the bridge as soon as possible. Hombach also noted that the
EU is committed to clearing debris from destroyed bridges
within Serbia to reopen the river to navigation sometime this
In the meantime, Hombach said, EU experts already have
started evaluating and coordinating details on the finances
needed to improve road and rail links near Vidin and Calafat.
Plans for the new bridge call for four lanes of road
traffic and two railroad lines. The project also includes
$200 million of financing through the Stability Pact to
improve road and rail lines in western Romania--particularly
through the Jiu Valley and the Carpathian mountains.
The Balkan Stability Pact was established last summer by
the EU and the Group of Eight countries to aid the political
and economic reconstruction of southeastern Europe in the
aftermath of the Kosova conflict. Balkan members are Albania,
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and
A donor conference opens in Brussels on 29 March under
the auspices of the Stability Pact to support reconstruction
in the Balkan signatory countries.
The European Investment Bank is in charge of the program
to repair and expand the region's infrastructure, including
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is
leading programs to develop the private sector, and the World
Bank is responsible for the overall aid strategy.
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