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Press Review: Bosnian Serb Power Struggle, Russian Elections

  • Stephanie Baker



Prague, May 17 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspapers are focusing on two topics today: the power struggle within the Bosnian Serb leadership and the Russian election campaign. Commentators are looking at the prospects for a lasting peace after Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic this week announced he was sacking Prime Minister Rajko Kasagic.

In a news analysis in today's Los Angeles Times, Tracy Wilkinson describes the row between the two leaders as "a showdown that could influence the success or failure" of the Dayton peace agreement which ended nearly four years of war in Bosnia. She writes: "The power struggle pits Karadzic and other hard-line Bosnian Serbs based in the southeastern village of Pale, who continue to advocate ethnic segregation and to obstruct key elements of the Bosnian peace plan, against moderate - or at least more pragmatic - Bosnian Serb politicians based in Banja Luka, who have shown willingness to cooperate with the West's peacemaking efforts."

Wilkinson also maintains that the move increases pressure on Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to live up to the commitments he made in the Dayton accord. She notes: "Milosevic has advocated allowing elections scheduled for this fall to complete the task of ousting Karadzic." But Wilkinson says other have rightly pointed out that "leaving Karadzic in place until the elections will only allow him to establish his own proxies as successors."

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, entitled "It's Pale or Peace," notes: "Mr. Kasagic declared he wanted the seat of the Serb government transferred from Pale to Banja Luka and that he was for ending the Serbs' international isolation." The Journal continues: "With Mr. Karadzic barred by Dayton from holding office, it was only a matter of time before a rival emerged to challenge his control of the one million strong Serb area in Bosnia." The paper argues that Karadzic was "emboldened" to "squash his opposition" by the apparent unwillingness of the NATO-led peacekeeping force to arrest him on charges of war crimes. The editorial concludes: "Radovan Karadzic is a walking rebuke of everything Dayton purportedly stood for. The longer he remains ensconced in Pale, the greater the chances that Bosnia will see war again in the near future."

Laura Silber, writing in today's Financial Times notes: "Mr. Kasagic has proved willing to cooperate with international mediators, and even his Muslim and Croat foes in implementing the Dayton agreement." She explains that Kasagic is "seen as more loyal to Belgrade than Pale, Mr. Karadzic's stronghold." Hence, she argues: "The power struggle between Mr. Kasagic and Mr. Karadzic is actually the conflict between the Bosnian Serb leader and Mr. Milosevic. It reflects the divisions which run deep within the Serbian political body. They represent two Serbian political traditions: Mr. Karadzic, the right-wing Chetnik monarchist, and Mr. Milosevic, the Communist partisans of the second world war."

In a news analysis in today's New York Times, Chris Hedges writes: "While Kasagic does not have much power in Serb-held Bosnia, he is bolstered by support from Belgrade and western countries that hope to form a moderate Bosnian Serb leadership." But Hedges maintains that Kasagic's lack of a power base could pose problems. He writes: "Although Karadzic's critics can be withering in their attacks, they do not control the police, the ruling party, or the military, the three-main power bases in Serb-held Bosnia."

Turning to today's other main topic -- Russia -- commentators examine President Boris Yeltsin's recent moves to galvanize support for his re-election campaign.

In a news anaylsis in today's London Times, Thomas De Waal and Michael Evans look at the decrees issued by Yeltsin yesterday to abolish military conscription by the year 2,000 and to immediately stop sending conscripts to fight in Chechnya. They say: "The move was a deliberate attempt to woo the youth vote in the run-up to the presidential election on June 16." De Waal and Evans argue that the decrees "were part of an increasingly dynamic strategy to be all things to all parts of the electorate. Mr. Yeltsin has already appealed to traditional left-wing voters by signing a treaty of economic integration between Russia and Belorussia and promoing to pay workers overdue wages." But De Waal and Evans maintain: "The decrees, however, seemed more about politicial theatre than reality."

David Hearst writes in the British daily, The Guardian, today that: "Mr. Yeltsin is once again reaching out to Russia's disillusioned democrats in a bid to block Gennady Zyuganov, his Communist challenger, who is ahead in opinion polls. The president is believed to be trying to lure the centrist and moderate nationalist opposition into an anti-communist pact by offering them places in a government of 'people's confidence.'" Hearst says "Mr. Yeltsin appears to have been forced into high risk measures." He concludes: "The creation of a coalition government poses large problems for Mr. Yeltsin, who in the later stages of his trubulent presidency has come to rely more and more on the so-called Party of Power - the local heads of administration who have a key influence on vote counting."

In a news analysis in today's Financial Times, John Thornhill writes that, according to Yeltsin's spokesman, the President is "considering forming a broadly-based government of national unity to help heal the rifts in Russian society" after the first round of next month's election. Thornhill writes: "The possibility, long rumoured in Moscow, adds to the political confusion and raises constitutional concerns in the run-up to the elections." Thornhill says some senior Russian officials are speculating that "Mr. Zyuganov might be offered the post of prime minister after the first round if neither of them won an outright majority." But he warns: "Creation of such a government could be used as an excuse to postpone the second round...although this would raise serious consitutional concerns. It also appears unlikely that the Communist Party would countenance such a move."

Alan Philips, writing in today's Daily Telegraph, follows Zyuganov on the campaign trail in the Urals. He says the communist leader has fallen behind in most opinion polls and is now about even with Yeltsin. According to Philips: "The stagnation of the Zyuganov vote reflects the stolidity of the man himself. He has built a career on opposition - to America, to the market economy, to the collapse of the Soviet empire - and he has found it hard to provide any clear answers as to what he would do if elected president." He maintians: "Mr. Zyuganov is not a real communist. He does not believe in world revolution, the violent seizure of power or the dictatorship of the proletariat. He is a pragmatic nationalist, who by manipulating memories of Soviet greatness and Russian national symbols, has become the leader of the opposition to Mr. Yeltsin." Philips says: "He sits on an unwieldy coalition, from Stalinists bent on class struggle to East European-style social democrats." He contends that this "mish-mash of ideas" has "made it hard for Zyuganov to say what he stands for."
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