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Western Press Review: Turning The Tide In Eastern Europe

  • Don Hill

Prague, 18 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary examines the electoral trend away from post-communist rule in former communist nations of Eastern Europe.

LONDON GUARDIAN: Romania has completed its revolution

From Bucharest, Nick Thorpe writes with Julian Borger in an analysis today: "Ion Iliescu, the former communist apparatchik who has governed Romania for the past seven years, last night conceded defeat in presidential elections to his pro-reform challenger Emil Constantinoscu." The writers say: "If confirmed, the result means Romania finally has completed the revolution begun seven years ago with the bloody overthrow of the communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu."

They write: "Mr. Constantinescu's apparent victory last night completes a hat-trick (triple success) of triumphs for the pro-market opposition after local elections in June, and parliamentary elections a fortnight ago. A coalition of liberals and social democrats now is poised to form a new government."

WASHINGTON POST: Romanians are ready for faster, tougher reforms

Christine Spolar says today in an analysis: "If the exit poll results hold, Romanians, historically, will have signaled that they are ready for faster and tougher reforms, which have transformed other East European countries over the past seven years. Starting with parliamentary elections on Nov. 3 and concluding (last) night with the presidential runoff, the Romanian government for the first time has broken its ties to its former communist leaders."

NEW YORK TIMES: Romanians were bitter that they were faring so badly

Jane Perlez's analysis in today's edition says: "The victory of Constantinescu, combined with the victory two weeks ago of his opposition coalition called the Democratic Convention in parliamentary elections, creates a totally new political alignment in Romania. Since the collapse of communism in 1989, Romania has been the only country in Central and Eastern Europe to elect governments of former Communists repeatedly and to shun opposition forces.

"The dumping of Iliescu, 66, reflected deep disillusionment among all sectors of society with status-quo policies that brought about falling living standards and economic decline even as a coterie of former Communists around the president flourished.

"Many Romanians were bitter that they were faring so badly while people in other former Communist countries, like Hungary and Poland, were forging ahead -- with average salaries three times as large and much less inflation."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Only a third of Czech voters participated in the Senate election

From Prague, Vincent Boland writes in an analysis in today's edition of the British newspaper: "Czech voters delivered another ambivalent message to their political leaders at the weekend in the first round of elections to a new senate, the upper house of parliament. In what had been called the election nobody wanted, only about a third turned out to vote on Friday and Saturday."

Boland says: "Disgust at political squabbling and financial scandals and lack of interest in the new chamber were blamed for the small turnout. (Premier Vaclav) Klaus (of the Civic Democratic Party, ODS) was nonetheless cheered by the result. The ODS got 76 candidates through to next weekend's run-off for the 81-seat chamber, and many of them lead by a wide margin."

LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: Belarus is in danger of turning into a pariah state

From Minsk, Marcus Warren commented yesterday: "It always deserved that familiar title -- the land that time forgot. It is still the country that doesn't really believe it exists."

Warren writes: "Now Belarus is in danger of turning into a pariah (universally shunned) state, if not at the very heart of Europe, at least at one of the busiest and most important crossroads."

He says: "Under its eccentric president, Alexander Lukashenka, the former Soviet republic finally has acquired an historical identity and significance of its own, that of showing the rest of Europe how not to manage reforms and how not to win friends and influence people."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Lukashenka has evoked nostalgia for the Soviet era

Matthew Kaminski writes today in another analysis: "Several thousand demonstrators yesterday clashed with police in Minsk, the Belarus capital, over President Alexander Lukashenka's attempt to enhance his powers in a referendum next week." Kaminski says: "If Mr. Lukashenka (were to win) the referendum next Sunday, he would gain nearly total control of parliament and the higher courts and extend his term by two years."

The writer says: "The president, who won a landslide in 1994 and then cracked down on democratic opposition, has evoked nostalgia for the Soviet era and fear of organized crime in his latest campaign for stronger powers."

The analysis concludes: "The parliament, unsuccessful in forcing the president to cancel the referendum, has responded by placing its own questions on the ballot -- including a proposal to eliminate the office of president."

LONDON OBSERVER: An ultranationalist won a crushing victory over a Kremlin candidate

From Pskov in western Russia, the paper carries this analysis today: "In an election result that has shocked the Russian political establishment and provoked unease in the Baltic states, a 33-year-old political unknown from (ultranationalist Vladimir) Zhirinovsky's radical LDPR party, Yevgany Mikhailov, has won a crushing victory over the Kremlin's candidate to become the new governor of Pskov region.

"The election was fought on bread and sausage issues. But the readiness with which the people of Pskov have handed the powerful gubernatorial post to a party which calls for the restoration of Russia's Soviet era borders is bound to intensify the desperate desire of neighboring Latvia and Estonia -- the very step that Russian nationalists warn could provoke conflict."

NEW YORK TIMES: New democracies have found a new ideology -- competence

The paper says today in an editorial: "A wave of elections held in formerly Communist Europe in the last few months confirms that the new democracies there have found a new ideology -- competence. Incumbents lost in almost every fair election. Most were former Communists who came to power over the last few years in victories that suggested Eastern Europeans were nostalgic for Communism. Now it seems that in all these elections voters were searching for clean and effective government.

"Since early summer, Socialist parties have lost elections in Lithuania and Bulgaria, and (yesterday) in Romania, President Ion Iliescu lost to a moderate reformer. In the Czech Republic, the right-wing government of Vaclav Klaus did poorly in elections in early summer and is governing as a minority. In Slovenia earlier this month the ruling party lost seats in parliament and may not be able to form a government. Only in Estonia, where the figurehead president was re-elected, did incumbents win a clear victory."

The Times concludes: "Eastern and Central Europe inherited serious problems from the Communist period. But the debate about how to improve society -- how to finance the schools, root out corruption and create jobs -- is now not that much different from the debate in places like France or the United States. That, at least, is a sign of progress."