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Press Review: Bulgarian Economy, War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia

  • Michael Gallant



Prague, May 14 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary focuses today on the Bulgarian economy and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

The Bulgarian government is beginning an economic restructuring program which includes shutting down dozens of unprofitable state firms. The program follows the near collapse of Bulgaria's currency, the lev, and is an attempt to gain the support of the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is currently blocking loans to Bulgaria until the government implements wide-ranging economic reforms.

The Financial Times writes today (F-701) that in Bulgaria "harsh policies are likely to test the popularity of the government, which was forced last week to increase interest rates from 67 percent to 108 percent to support the lev. Most Bulgarians still retain expectations from the communist era that the state will take care of them. But job losses could reach 60,000 when companies which cannot be closed, such as state railways, are restructured."

The Times continues: ". . . The talks (with the IMF) are focusing on reforms to rehabilitate the desperately undercapitalized banks, restructure hundreds of heavily loss-making enterprises and speed the pace of privatization. . . . Critics cast doubt on whether the government's actions would restore confidence in reforms." The Times quotes Mr. Garabed Minasian, a leading Bulgarian economist, as saying "confidence in state institutions is crumbling before our eyes. We do not trust our banks, our police or the statistics."

The Wall Street Journal Europe comments today (F-707) that the "emergency measures to support the lev prompted the first signs of panic among Bulgarians. It also led to widespread speculation in the media that the government of Prime Minister Zhan Videnov - facing noisy opposition criticism of his stalled policies and internal party divisions over the pace and scope of reform - might soon be ousted and fresh elections called. This would, of course, heighten tensions and worries about Bulgaria's economic stability, observers said."

The Journal continues: "The restructuring program, including a list of state firms to be closed, might indeed calm the markets and the population, and ease the way toward an IMF, and later, World Bank loan agreements. But it isn't clear if the 16-month-old socialist government can unite behind the painful step of mothballing unprofitable state industries."

The Financial Times also writes today (F-702): ". . . For the past six years Bulgarian governments have shied away from undertaking painful economic reforms. Bulgaria has lagged behind the rest of the former Communist countries of central and east Europe in privatisation and it has been largely shunned by foreign investors. As foreign exchange reserves dwindle and a bulge of debt payments looms in the third quarter, it must finally bite the bullet."



Gareth Jones writes today in a news analysis for Reuters (FF-36) that "Bulgaria's economic crisis throws a spotlight on the Balkan country's lack of progress with market reforms since the demise of its communist regime in 1989. It has also revealed deep-seated resistance from sections of the ruling Socialist Party (BSP) to radical change, economists and diplomats say. But, they add, Bulgaria's long-term prospects are less bleak than they appear at present."

Jones concludes: "The reasons for Bulgaria's economic woes are not just political, they are also geographical and historical. The war in neighbouring ex-Yugoslavia disrupted Sofia's transport and psychological links to the West just as it began to ditch the legacy of four decades of communism. Bulgaria's economy was also hit more severely than most by the collapse of Comecon, the communist trading bloc, which had accounted for some 95 percent of its GDP.

"Despite the gloom, many remain optimistic about Bulgaria's long-term future, citing its flexible, well-educated workforce, its strategic Balkan location and largely untapped potential as an agricultural producer and holiday destination."

Britain's Sunday newspaper The Observer commented yesterday on the war crimes trial of Bosnian Serb Dusan Tadic, who is accused of torturing, killing, and raping Muslims in northwestern Bosnia in 1992. The Observer wrote: "The chief prosecutor in The Hague, Justice Richard Goldstone, insists the reckoning has an essential judicial dimension, 'the need for justice to be done,' which is the bedrock of the tribunal's task as it was at Nuremberg. But analogies with Nuremberg are few. The Hague tribunal was not set up by a victorious alliance amid the ruins of a vanquished enemy, there is no paper trail leading to the accused."

The Observer continues: ". . . But there is a way in which Tadic is just the kind of man the reckoning should pursue. Prosecuting counsel described his alleged special status in the Bosnian Serb machine, placing him above the level of camp commander thanks only to his bloodlust. . . . The raison d'etre of the tribunal, says Goldstone, is to ensure that guilt is personalized. But how does justice choose whom to prosecute?"

In a commentary last Thursday in Austria's Die Presse, Thomas Chorherr argues that Belgrade, too, must be held accountable for its role in the Bosnian war and war crimes. He says that Western nations have begun too soon to recognize rump Yugoslavia and start the process of reconciliation. Chorherr says it must be recognized that the Balkan War was Belgrade's war. He writes that the events of the past four years, including the mass graves at Srebrenica and the Bosnian Serb concentration camps, can be "neither forgotten or forgiven as long as Belgrade does not show some repentance."

He notes that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, indicted by the Tribunal in The Hague as a war criminal, freely gives television interviews. "The least that Belgrade must do is to bring about this deliverance (to authorities) in order to begin to inspire trust from the world community."

A Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentary by Bernhard Kueppers last Friday cites a statement from War Crimes Tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier: "The victims of the war in the former Yugoslavia will draw strength from actions which show that the rights process pays attention to their cries for justice and now functions properly."

Kueppers also says "the call for a war crimes ruling is urgent. The ruling is still awaited four years after the press photos of the emaciated prisoners of war of Omarska." Peter Maass, writing today in a news commentary (FF-32) in the Washington Post says " . . . I do not doubt the unfortunate capacity that men and women have, in circumstances of chaos or fear or terror, to murder their neighbors in the most unspeakable ways. The questions of genocide - Why? How? - are closer to us than usual now, partly because Dusan Tadic is being judged before the tribunal in the Hague. You can watch it on television."

Maass continues: " . . . Before the war, Muslims, Serbs and Croats lived together in Bosnia for hundreds of years, generally in peace, though of course tensions existed and occasionally degenerated into violence. That makes the residents of Bosnia no different from their fellow Europeans; with the exception of the last 50 years, the French and the British have been at each other's necks for centuries. In the realm of tribal rivalries, the tensions in Bosnia are unremarkable."

Maass covered the war in Bosnia during 1992 and 1993 and he says he "met many Serbs who were participating in the attempted genocide against the Muslims. These were ordinary people, and they had been turned into killers, or accomplices to killers, in a very quick, unforseeable way. It didn't take that much; just an immersion in hateful propaganda, which instilled fear into some hearts, hatred into others, confusion into still more. And then the genocide happened.

Maass concludes: ". . . How can genocide happen among neighbors? Here is my answer: There is a dark side in all of us, a story as old as the Bible, and it can be called out quite easily, or lured out, by primal appeals to our fear or our prejudices. This is why I am glad the trial of Dusan Tadic is on television. The more we know about him, the more we know about ourselves."

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