PUSTOVOYTENKO REPORTS ON CABINET PERFORMANCE. At a cabinet session on 12 October, Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko reported on the country's economic performance in the first nine months of this year, Interfax reported. Pustovoytenko said prices of manufactured goods in September jumped by 150 percent compared with August. The same month, the hryvnya was devalued by 51 percent, compared with the official exchange rate in August, and by 79 percent since the beginning of the year. Pustovoytenko said production continues to grow in most branches of the economy, except for ferrous metallurgy and engineering, which in effect account for a 0.3 percent decline in industrial production from January-September 1998. Commenting on prospects of the Ukrainian economy, Pustovoytenko said he is "scared about the avalanche of the world financial crisis approaching Ukraine." JM
KUCHMA APPEALS TO PARLIAMENT TO AVERT POLITICAL CRISIS... Addressing the cabinet meeting on 12 October, President Leonid Kuchma urged the Supreme Council to defer a vote of no confidence in the government and avoid a political crisis, Reuters reported. "I believe the government's record is unsatisfactory. But Ukraine is not Italy where you can have frequent changes in government which have no effect on the economy," he commented. The Socialists and Hromada caucuses have proposed a no confidence vote in the cabinet after 13 October, when Pustovoytenko is expected to report to the parliament on his cabinet activities. Kuchma said he is ready to ask Communist leader Petro Symonenko to become premier if Pustovoytenko's government is toppled. Symonenko told "Den" on 10 October that the Communists will accept power only if Kuchma give up "directly influencing the government and determining its policy." JM
... PRAISES NATIONAL BANK FOR 'PROFESSIONAL' ANTI-CRISIS MEASURES. Kuchma also told the cabinet session that the Ukrainian National Bank took "very professional" measures to deal with the financial crisis, Ukrainian News reported on 12 October. National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko, who also addressed the meeting, rejected recent criticism that the bank unjustifiably supported the hryvnya. Criticism of Yushchenko's policies has sparked rumors about his imminent dismissal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 1998). JM
HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN KYIV. Janos Martonyi said in Kyiv on 12 October that the weakness of Ukrainian firms is the main obstacle to improving bilateral economic ties, AP reported. Martonyi, who met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko, and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, said Kyiv must resolve the issue of better guarantees for Hungarian investments. Tarasyuk said the two sides discussed the possibility of tighter travel and trade regulations for Ukrainians and their goods if Budapest joins the EU. PB
During his visit to Bucharest in July 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton praised the Romanian government for providing an exemplary model of interethnic cooperation and reconciliation with neighboring states such as Hungary and Ukraine. Just 14 months later, that model seems to be seriously damaged and the governing coalition on the verge of collapse.
After the 1996 November elections, the democratic parties that formed the new government asked the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), which represents the 1.7 million-strong Hungarian minority in Romania, to join the coalition. That move created a stable parliamentary majority, boosted Romania's chances of joining NATO and the EU, and laid the groundwork for rapid economic recovery.
Following decades of attempted ethnic assimilation under the communist regime, one of the UDMR's major demands was restoring ethnic minority rights in general and Hungarianlanguage education in particular. Although the new government's program made provision for accommodating those demands and took steps in that direction, after less than a year of cooperation the UDMR's coalition partners seemed to be hesitant about restoring the rights demanded by the Hungarian community.
Strongly supported by oppositionists and most media outlets, nationalist members of the coalition successfully contested earlier measures introduced by Victor Ciorbea's government. One such measure was a July 1997 "urgent ordinance" that modified the 1995 education law to allow the establishment of universities with instruction in minority languages and abolished several provisions contested by the minorities. The move triggered protests not only by opposition parties but also by coalition members.
In a government reshuffle in April 1998, Andrei Marga became minister of education. Marga, who was rector of BabesBolyai University in the Transylvanian city of Cluj, pushed for widespread acceptance of a "multicultural" model and argued that current structure of the Romanian education system provided for minority-language education "at all levels and in all fields." There followed a series of wellorganized protests by politicians, the media, university leaders, and even members of organizations supporting a civil society, all of whom opposed "ethnic universities" and strongly supported "multicultural" institutions. However, none questioned or sought to elaborate that notion.
Seeing the hesitation of coalition members to support legislation that favored minorities, Hungarians started to pressure their leaders to demand the establishment of an Hungarian-language university and to take a stronger position on ensuring their rights are guaranteed.
The chance to show a firmer stand was offered at the beginning of September, when the Education Committee of the Chamber of Deputies severely restricted the scope of minority-language education so that ethnic minorities could learn only in groups and in university departments and only at "multicultural" universities. Several days later, the UDMR's main decision-making body, the Council of Representatives, repeated its warning that if the parliament did not vote in favor of the original version of the government ordinance by the end of September, the UDMR would immediately leave the coalition.
Although the UDMR had threatened to leave the coalition on several previous occasions, that threat seemed to be serious this time. The party began consultations with coalition members in a bid to convince them to respect the government program--but with little success. Opposition and some coalition members of the lower house's Education Committee tried to force the UDMR out of the government by first stalling discussions and then rejecting any compromise solutions.
On 30 September, just two hours before the UDMR's deadline for quitting the coalition, the government approved a decision providing for the establishment of a "multicultural" Hungarian- and German-language university to be called "Petofi-Schiller." The UDMR withdrew its threat to quit the coalition and, at an extraordinary Council of Representatives meeting on 3 October, reaffirmed its willingness to participate in the governing coalition. Once again, it made its participation conditional on the implementation of the government's decision and the setting up of the legal framework for establishing such a university.
But there was an immediate political backlash to the government's decision. Most opposition parties contested the decision, calling it "unconstitutional and illegal". Some coalition members were skeptical that the parliament would vote for what they called the "permissive" version of the education law, while others stressed that any "multicultural" solution must also include Romanian-language university departments.
Against this background, the UDMR's departure from the governing coalition seems only a matter of time. Coalition leaders show no real will to resolve the problem of minoritylanguage education once and for all. The UDMR thus finds itself in a Catch 22 situation: there does not seem to be much point in cooperating with coalition partners who break their promises and fail to respect the government program, but at the same time they cannot rely on support from the nationalist opposition parties either.
Observers have already spoken about the possible isolation of ethnic Hungarians within Romania, who have little trust in the people running the country and who feel like second-class citizens. However, a new political crisis that results in pre-term elections might not help their cause much. It might also result in the postponement of economic reforms and even more economic hardships for the population as a whole.