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Press Review: Russia and Bosnia

  • Charles Recknagel

Prague, Feb. 2 (RFE/RL) - Newspaper comment today focuses on the miners' strike in Russia, and Russian Communist Party Leader Gennadi Zyuganov comments on U.S.-Russian relations. The papers also look at the progress of peace in Bosnia.

Britain's Independent today calls the strike by up to half a million mineworkers in Russia "just about the worst birthday present (Russian) President Boris Yeltsin could wish for." In a news analysis, correspondent Phil Reeves writes: "no-one knows the miners' power better than Mr. Yeltsin (because) mass strikes in 1989 did much to accelerate the fall of...Mikhail Gorbachev...and (Yeltsin's own) ascent to the Kremlin." Reeves concludes: "the strikes have taken the bloom off the bunches of flowers...Mr. Yeltsin's aides gave him yesterday during a birthday that he would probably prefer to forget."

James Meek, a correspondent for Britain's Guardian agrees that the "miners' strike deals a blow" to Yeltsin's political strength. He writes: "Russia's coal miners, the underground army which came up to the light to back Boris Yeltsin in his struggle for power seven years ago, turned bitterly against their former hero yesterday." Meek concludes: "the stoppage was an unpleasant 65th birthday gift for President Yeltsin, who rose to power against Mikhail Gorbachev partly on the crest of the 1989 and 1991 waves of miner's strikes."

The Wall Street Journal says today that the "coal miners (have taken) to the picket a strike that (highlights) the disarray in the state sector and the political vulnerablility of President Boris Yeltsin in the lead-up to the June elections." Correspondent Steve Liesman observes: "with coal inventories high at most Russian power plants, little (immediate) economic impact (is) expected...politically, however, the job action (raises) the specter that Mr. Yeltsin could face a series of embarrassing and politically damaging strikes across Russia in the coming months."

For the London Times today, the miners' strike is a measure of the difficulties affecting many sectors of the Russian economy. Correspondent Thomas de Waal writes: "at the heart of the problem is a vicious circle of unpaid debt between the government and industry...many large state companies have not paid the taxes they owe to the Finance Ministry, which in turn says that its coffers are empty." De Waal warns: "if the situation does not ease soon, it will be a perfect propaganda weapon for the Communist Party against Mr. Yeltsin in the presidential election in June."

Turning from the miners' strike, The New York Times today publishes a comment by Russian Communist Party Leader Gennady Zyuganov on relations between Russia and the U.S. Zyuganov writes: "several years have passed since the Cold War ended, but relations between our countries are far from harmonoius." He continues: "We respect America's democratic traditions and...achievements (but) we insist on our equal right to follow our own path in accordance with our traditions and conditions." Zyuganov concludes: "Russia...never was -- or could be -- a "junior partner" (to the U.S.)...any policy that counts on Russia remaining in its humiliating position, following in the American wake, is doomed to defeat."

Several papers today comment on the progress of peace in Bosnia. Correspondent Barbara Demick writes in the United States' Knight Ridder newspapers that NATO's removal yesterday of barricades on either end of the central bridge connecting separatist Serb and government-held parts of Sarajevo is a major milestone toward restoring normal life there. Demick says: "the opening (yesterday) of the Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity was the equivalent, for Sarajevo, of the falling of the Berlin Wall." She says: "for three and-a-half years, the barricaded bridge separated not only warring parties but also neighbors, friends, even families."

Correspondent Mark Nelson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, looks ahead to another peace milestone tomorrow, when rival forces are due to hand over all the land they have promised to trade under the Bosnian peace agreement. Nelson says: "the significance of these handovers can hardly be exaggerated...with little fanfare and without a shot being fired, rival forces are walking away from some of the war's most hotly contested battlefields." Nelson concludes: "The Serb-held hills of Sarajevo (may remain) a major political challenge, but at least they are no longer able to rain shells on the...Muslim parts of the capital."

A news analysis in France's Le Monde today says that Bosnia's rival forces have largely observed the peace accord's requirements for exchanging their prisoners of war (POWs), but that there may be many more POWs lying dead in mass graves. Correspondent Remy Ourdan writes that while Bosnia's jails have opened, "the mass graves still hold on to their secrets." Ourdan concludes: "despite the releases of the last days, there will be no full accounting for what happened to the country's prisoners of war until some light is shed on all the people who (simply) disappeared."

Commentary in the Los Angeles Times today criticizes the international community for not moving more forcefully to arrest war criminals in former Yugoslavia and bring them to trial. William Pfaff says that NATO is reluctant to do so because "looking for war criminals is a distraction from peacemaking and an invitation to trouble with...local armies and militias." But, he warns, "the lesson (likely to result) is that war criminals can get away with it." Pfaff concludes: "that will come as no surprise, but it is an outcome greatly to be deplored."

A news analysis in the Washington Post today says that Western officials are beginning to question the Bosnian government's commitment to multiculturalism. Correspondent John Pomfret writes that "since the outbreak of the (Bosnian war) the government has successfully portrayed itself as...the only entity in former Yugoslavia (supporting) a multiethnic, multicultural society." He continues: "But after the (peace accord, it) has made decisions and pronouncements that violate the spirit of those ideals." Pomfret says recent moves -- ranging from the appointment of military officers to leading positions in the ruling party, to refusing to grant a license to an independent television station -- have "served to weaken the support for the Bosnian government among Western officials in Sarajevo."