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Press Review: Uncertainty in Russia, Unrest in Bosnia

  • Don Hill



Prague, Feb. 20 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary ranges widely, focusing on events in Russia and continuing to examine efforts to stabilize Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has reached decision time on whether to extend to Russia a line of credit worth the equivalent of $ 9 billion. The deal was negotiated last year, but could be cancelled or suspended if Russia appears to have reneged on promised economic and political reforms. The British Financial Times says today in an editorial: "Russian voters have four months to decide whether to put their faith in (Russian President) Boris Yeltsin's promises one more time. Mr. Michel Camdessus, director of the International Monetary Fund, has to decide this week. He arrives in Moscow tomorrow to decide whether the fund should sign up to... an extended loan facility."

The editorial notes that the Russian government has met all of the budget and monetary targets it agreed to with the IMF last year. But, the editorial says, there have been shady deals that favored the privileged and inflicted disproportionate pain on the working class and poor. The Financial Times concludes: "With the IMF now so closely associated with Russia's economic fortunes, the worry is that there never will be a 'right time' for it to withdraw.... Mr. Camdessus must be ready to pull out of the country the very month that the program (of reform) starts going seriously awry."

German Chancellor Helmu Kohl is in the midst of a three-day visit to Moscow. The trip has been interpreted by many as a journey in support of Yeltsin's reelection bid. The British newspaper, The Guardian,says today in an editorial: "Boris thinks Helmut is his dear friend.... The test of friendship for Mr. Yeltsin yesterday was Mr. Kohl's supposed agreement that the expansion of NATO towards Russia's border should be 'postponed for a long time.' ...Many Russian observers believe (that Yeltsin's decision to run for reelection was a 'terrible error' that) will only goad the Russian people to vote against him. All he will have achieved is to bankrupt the state by rash pre-election bribes.... Western policy toward Russia should be as calm and conciliatory as possible -- but without naming any names."

Writing in The London Times today, Russian-born columnist Anatole Kaletsky says: "Of the leading candidates (for president in the June Russian elections), only one has never been a member of the Communist Party, and that is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the neo-fascist.... Whether Russia's communists would be able to recreate a properly functioning government machine after the four years of near anarchy in Russia is, of course, by no means certain. An even bigger question is whether (they) would be able, or willing, to combine the restoration of order with the preservation of liberal democracy and respect for human rights."

Keletsky writes: "This is the issue on which Western governments should now be preparing to put pressure on the next president of Russia -- whether his name is Yeltsin, Zyuganov or even Gorbachev."

In a commentary distributed yesterday by the New York Times, Boston Globe writer Indira A. R. Lakshmanan contends that effective war crimes prosecutions are essential to win peace in Bosnia. But, she says, the prospects for meaningful prosecutions seem dim. Lakshmanan writes: "Bosnia's vicious war has come to symbolize the dark side of human nature. Yet its survivors now are being asked to reach for a nobler spirit -- to forgive and forget, put aside painful memories of neighbors killing neighbors, and live together harmoniously in a jerrybuilt state.... Lasting peace will require an unlikely combination of blessings."

The Boston Globe writer continues: "But most of all, a true peace requires justice, one in which victims feel vindicated and in which people who supported murderers confront the evil in their leaders or themselves. That is why war crimes trials and public exhumations of alleged mass graves are necessary for all sides in Bosnia.... Arresting and prosecuting every indicted war criminal would be the ideal way to achieve justice and promote truth-telling and reconciliation in Bosnia. But given NATO's refusal to seek out war criminals and Croatia's and Serbia's unwillingness to turn them in, the prospects for full accountability look slim."

Morris B. Abrams is chairman of U.N. Watch. In a commentary in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, he takes a similar tack. Abrams writes: "The arrest by the Bosnian government of two senior Bosnian Serb officers... and their subsequent transfer to the ad hoc international tribunal in the Hague, highlights the tension between implementing a peace accord and pursuing justice in Bosnia.... Peace and justice are not irreconcilable but inseparable. "

Abrams concludes: "There are many compelling reasons that the pursuit of justice in Bosnia must continue, even at the risk of short-term instability... The international community should give the tribunal the support guaranteed by the Dayton peace accord, including IFOR's help in arresting those indicted by the tribunal whom it encounters in the field. This will not hinder but help bring a true and lasting peace to Bosnia. And it will promote respect for the rule of law, hitherto so absent in international affairs."

Representatives of the United States and Russia summoned the leaders of the former Yugoslavia for a two-day summit over the weekend to seek to revivify the Bosnian peace. The German newspaper Die Welt says today in a signed editorial by Ruediger Moniac: "The weekend in Rome did not make the parties to the Balkan conflict any more predisposed to peace. U.S. mediator Richard Holbrooke, who had hoped that an invitation to the Holy City for talks might give the peace process in Bosnia-Herzegovina a shot in the arm, has been forced to resign in the face of Balkan pitfalls.... So the entire process, aimed at paving the way to lasting detente between nationalities after centuries of Balkan vicissitudes, is perched perilously on a razor's edge. The increasingly urgent question is whether it was a shrewd political move to agree in Dayton that the IFOR was to have left the Balkans by the year's end at the latest.... Rome has shown that Serbs, Croats and Bosnians will need a helping hand for much longer if they are to succeed in peaceful coexistence."
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