RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 21, 2 February 1998
CENTRAL EUROPEAN DEFENSE MINISTERS FORM JOINT GROUP. The Polish, Czech, and
Hungarian defense ministers agreed on 30 January after two-days of talks in
Warsaw to form a joint consultative group to coordinate military
infrastructures along NATO lines and cooperate in the upgrading of
equipment, an RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw reported on 30 January. Polish
Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz said that he and his Czech and
Hungarian counterparts, Michal Lobkowicz and Goergy Keleti, "were not
losing interest in our partners who are in the East." Keleti said the three
NATO invitees do not want new dividing lines to form as NATO expands. PB
CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY NAMES CANDIDATE FOR PREMIERSHIP. Milos Zeman, the
chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD), said on 31
January that he was "surprised" by the decision of the party's presidium to
nominate him as the CSSD candidate for prime minister if the party wins the
elections due this summer, CTK reported. He said he had offered to resign
as CSSD chairman because he did not want his party to become a "one-man
party;" an allusion to political rival Vaclav Klaus, head of the Civic
Democratic Party. CSSD Deputy Chairman Vladimir Spidla said the presidium
recommended that the ratification of the accord on the Czech Republic's
adherence to NATO be coordinated with Poland and Hungary. He repeated his
party's position that if the CSSD won the elections, it would call a
referendum on NATO membership. The Chamber of Deputies starts debating NATO
accession on 3 February. MS
HUNGARY'S SOCIALIST PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZES COALITION PARTNER. Gyula Horn
told a 1 February session of the Socialist Party's National Board and
parliamentary faction that some in the junior coalition party do not
respect the December 1997 agreement of the coalition's Consultative
Council, according to which the two parties will not campaign against each
other. He criticized the Free Democrats for making public the recent
disputes between the two partners on state-church relations, the resolution
of the Danube dam dispute with Slovakia, the parliamentary representation
of national minorities, and the Roma situation. Free Democratic party
chairman Gabor Kuncze responded by dismissing the Socialists' position as
"unacceptable." According to Kuncze, they take credit for the coalition's
success while making the Free Democrats responsible for its fiascoes. The
Socialists called a meeting of the coalition's Consultative Council to
discuss recent disputes. MSZ
POST-COMMUNIST STATES DIVERGE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
by Paul Goble
During 1997, some post-communist governments made significant
progress in improving the protection of the human rights in their
countries. Others failed to do so or even retreated from earlier gains. But
all continue to face challenges in bringing their domestic performance up
to their international commitments.
That is the conclusion of the U.S. State Department in its annual
survey of human rights around the world, a document explicitly used to
guide American policy and carefully read by many as an indication of both
conditions on the ground and American concerns about particular countries.
As has been the case since its inception 20 years ago, this year's
report generally avoids any classification of countries according to their
political pasts. An exception is the survey's discussion of countries
included in a section called "Countries in Transition." But a reading of
its chapters on the post-communist countries suggests that the U.S. has
reached three more general conclusions about them.
First, the report notes a growing divergence in the performance of
post-communist states, an acknowledgment by Washington that these countries
are moving in this area -- as in so many others -- along very different
tracks and at very different speeds.
Second, the report explicitly delinks progress toward democracy and
progress toward free market reforms, and it notes that many of the problems
in these countries stem from the weakness of state structures rather than
ill-will on the part of leaders.
And third, the report calls attention to the growing fear and
suspicion of minority groups in many parts of Europe -- both in the
traditional democracies and in former communist countries -- a development
that the report suggests is of particular concern.
More specifically, the State Department report draws the following
conclusions about the countries monitored by "RFE/RL Newsline":
RUSSIA. Noting that Russia "continues to be a state in transition,"
the report says that its democratization is slow, its judiciary weak, and
its leaders unable to implement their own laws and commitments. The report
sharply criticizes conditions in Russian prisons, targeting by the police
of darker-skinned people in general and citizens from the Caucasus in
particular, and restrictions on freedom of the press. But it is especially
critical of the new Russian law on religion, a law already being used by
some officials to harass certain religious groups.
TRANSCAUCASUS and CENTRAL ASIA. The report suggests that the three
Transcaucasian countries are moving in very different directions, while the
five Central Asian states are generally doing more poorly. It says that
Azerbaijan has made significant progress toward economic reform but taken
few steps toward democracy. It also criticizes conditions in both Armenia
and Georgia but notes that in Georgia, an increasingly assertive parliament
and population have restrained law enforcement agencies.
Across Central Asia, the report suggests that basic freedoms are
curtailed by legislatures and judiciaries still subordinate to powerful
presidents. But it indicates that conditions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
are not as bad as elsewhere.
EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE. The status of human rights also varied widely
among the countries in this region, according to the report. It suggested
that Belarus, under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has moved backwards in
virtually all areas. The report gives a mixed picture of Ukraine,
identifying it as a country in transition with problems arising from the
inheritances of Soviet times and flowing from the weaknesses of the
country's political structures. It praised the three Baltic countries for
progress on most issues but noted their continuing difficulties with
prisons and, in the case of Latvia and Estonia, with those ethnic Russians
who lack citizenship. The report gave generally high marks to Poland,
Hungary, and the Czech Republic, while decrying growing popular hostility
toward the Roma and other minorities in the latter. It was more critical of
conditions in Slovakia.
SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE. The State Department report found that the
status of human rights in Albania had declined sharply during the country's
general breakdown last year and had made only a modest recovery since then.
It suggested that Romania generally respects human rights but criticized
the government's lack of effective control over the actions of police, poor
prison conditions, and ill treatment of women and Roma. It criticized
Bulgaria for its inability to control its own officials. Both of these
countries, the report said, have passed laws that tend to restrict
Concerning the successor states to Yugoslavia, the report praised
Bosnia-Herzegovina for significant progress on human rights. It also gave
high marks to Slovenia and Montenegro. But the report said that the record
remained mixed in Croatia and Macedonia. And it concluded that the
situation in Serbia was extremely bad with serious human rights abuses on
virtually every front.
As in the past, those governments that received high marks are
likely to tout them as a mark of their standing internationally, while
those leaders that did not will criticize the report as biased or
incomplete. But as this year's report makes very clear, there are no easy
answers or final victories in the cause of human rights.
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