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Press Review: Split In South Africa; Celebration In Russia

  • Don Hill

Prague, May 10 (RFE/RL) - F. W. De Klerk led his National Party out of South Africa's ruling coalition government yesterday, opening what press commentators called a time of normal opposition politics. Other commentators focused on celebration in Russia of World War Two Victory Day and related national politics.

"De Klerk's decision to depart from office is premature," The London Times headlines an editorial today (F801). The Times says, "The National Party's decision to leave the South African government ends a unique period of period of political harmony. It leaves the country with a serious problem of reassuring overseas markets and partners.... South Africa certainly needed the normal politics of opposition at some point, but this was hardly an opportune moment. Without the restraining influence of the National Party, President Mandela will find managing the government much harder.... It will take all President Mandela's qualities of charisma and reconciliation to limit the damage."

"The South African government of national unity is no more," laments the British newspaper The Independent today (F802). In an editorial, The Independent says: "Sooner or later the collapse of the coalition was inevitable. A long-term governing partnership between the party that first established and then presided over decades of apartheid rule and the movement that fought it and suffered under it for so long was never a plausible proposition.... The National Party's departure could open a new era of more mature party politics. It may trigger a crisis. The future is in the hands of the ANC. Its moment has finally come."

Britain's The Daily Telegraph editorializes today (F804): "The slide of the South African rand over recent months has presaged the end of the honeymoon that began in 1994 with Nelson Mandela's accession to power at the head of a multiparty, non-racial administration.... In announcing his secession, Mr. de Klerk was at pains to point out that it would be an important step towards a mature, normal democracy, which required a strong and vigilant opposition. That, of course, is true.... Statemanship now requires the ruling party to persuade its followers that their hopes can be met only by years of hard work in cooperation with political opponents."

An editorial in the British newspaper The Guardian says today (F806): "South Africa continues to live out the paradox of a country where success marches hand in hand with the threat of disaster.... Mr. Mandela, having urged the National Party not to make the break, put the best face on it. An action which only hours before might have weakened the country would now, he insisted, strengthen it.... A more sceptical view of the withdrawal would be that by doing so the party divests itself of responsibility for South Africa's difficult transition.... Mr. Mandela's team will also need to show much greater maturity to survive the obstacles ahead."

While the South Africans were reassessing their government yesterday, Russians were looking to the Soviet past, celebrating the end of World War Two in Europe. Alan Philps in Moscow writes today in The Daily Telegraph: "Boris Yeltsin took a symbolic step towards his communist past yesterday when he bowed before the Red flag at a military parade to commemorate the 51st anniversary of the defeat of Nazy Germany.... The aim was to cash in on the wave of nostalgia for the power and stability of the Soviet Union... The Red flag remains a potent symbol for older Russians, while the modern tricolor excites no emotions."

In The Washington Post today, Lee Hockstader writes from Moscow (FF21): "Red banners, hammers and sickles and portraits of Joseph Stalin flooded the streets and squares of Moscow T(yesterday) as President Boris Yeltsin and his Communist rivals sought to one-up each other in Soviet symbolism.... With the Soviet imagery so thick, it was hard to tell who was the rightful heir to the Soviet victory over Hitler, Yeltsin or the Communists. That, of course, is part of Yeltsin's election strategy."

Alessandra Stanley says in today's New York Times (FF29): "The Communists brandished a different symbol at another rally to commemorate the anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe. Outside the KGB headquarters, the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, addressed his audience a few yards from a giant portrait of Stalin in military uniform. Victory Day... is one of Russia's most revered holidays, normally a day of unified pride in the heroism of what Russians call the 'Great Patriotic War.' But set against Russia's critical, deeply divisive presidential campaign, today's celebration turned into a political tug of war."

From Moscow, Financial Times writer Chrystia Freeland says in that newspaper today (F703): "Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday embraced the symbols and ceremonies of the Soviet era as he stepped up his campaign for reelection in the June 16 ballot.... The president, who is reputed to possess an instinctive flair for politics, raised the emotional stakes... yesterday afternoon when he flew to the southern Russian cityof Volgograd, which, under its old name of Stalingrad, was the site of one of the Soviet Union's most important battles."

In the U.S. newspaper Newsday, Susan Sachs writes today (FF20): "Yeltsin's re-election campaign, unsettled by calls from within his own circle to cancel the June 16 vote, got a boost (yesterday) when a leading democratic candidate said he is willing to collaborate in order to prevent a Communist victory. Grigory Yavlinsky, a young liberal economist who has carved out a reputation as one of the most self-centered figures among Russia's neophyte democrats, said for the first time that he might put aside his own ambitions -- and often vitriolic criticism of Yeltsin -- for a common goal. The two met for two hours in the Kremlin, their second long discussion in just five days, and Yavlinsky said he expects further meetings to 'discuss (what) would be a first in Russian history, a political coalition between the government and democratic opposition.'"