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Western Press Review: Transition In Romania; Conflict In Belarus

  • Don Hill

Prague, 19 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary examines the democratic transition in Romania and the continuing governmental conflict in Belarus.

LONDON TIMES: Romania confirmed a trend against the Left

Roger Boyes writes today in a news analysis: "The revolution finally arrived in Romania yesterday as voters threw out of power Ion Iliescu, the shadowy post-communist president who ruled for almost seven years with the backing of the country's security services."

Boyes says: "The victory of Professor Emil Constantinescu seemed to confirm a trend against the Left throughout Central Europe. The Center Left recorded big losses in local elections in the Czech Republic on Saturday. The Lithuanians have returned a Center-Right government to power. And the Bulgarians earlier this month elected Petar Stoyanov, a conservative lawyer, as president."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Europe must reward Romania with closer ties

Michael Frank comments today: " 'The revolution has finally succeeded!' Supporters of the opposition Democratic Convention (CDR) could be forgiven for shouting their exultation in the streets after their candidate, Emil Constantinescu, defeated incumbent President Ion Iliescu."

Frank contends: "More even than the Romanians, the outside world saw Iliescu and his Party of Social Democracy (PSDR), which took power after the 1989 revolution, as fundamentally unreformed communists." He adds: "The expression 'stolen revolution" was one frequently heard in discussions of Romania, although the PSDR ruled not so much as an ideologically driven party but as a corrupt cartel mainly concerned with parcelling out official posts and economic favors."

The commentary continues: "The hard reality remains, however, that the new president and the coalition between the CDR and the Social Democrats will first face huge challenges at home."

Frank writes: "The suspicious and mystified shrug of the shoulders the West often gave Romania's political role was short-sighted in geopolitical terms. Now there is a new danger -- that the West will see the arrival of democracy as meaning the complete normalization of Romania, and thereby turn its back on Romania's other problems." He concludes: "Europe must reward Romania's bold choice with closer ties, in order not to lose it to the new sphere of influence that is beginning to form around the Black Sea."

LONDON GUARDIAN: West European support is crucial to Romania

In an analysis today, Nick Thorpe writes: "Opponents of the outgoing president, Ion Iliescu, accuse him of sweeping the crimes of the communist years -- and of those who killed more than 1,000 people during the revolution -- under a carpet of pro-Western slogans." The writer says: "Traditionally popular in the capital and in mountainous Transylvania, he was helped to victory by a remarkable swing in his favor in rural regions, heavily collectivized under communism, and among Orthodox Christians in the conservative eastern provinces."

Thorpe says: "West European support will be crucial to Romania if the new president -- and the recently elected government led by his Democratic Convention party -- is to fulfill its election promises." Thorpe writes: "In his victory speech, he warned of hard economic reforms ahead."

NEW YORK TIMES: Romania is potentially one of the richest countries in the region

Jane Perlez analyzes the Romanian transition in today's edition. She writes: "To many Romanians, the triumphal victory of Emil Constantinescu, a bearded academic, as president, and the clean sweep that his opposition party made from top to bottom in Romanian politics, mean the final completion of a democratic revolution that they believe was stolen from them seven years ago."

Perlez writes: "Romania, a country of 23 million, has oil and agricultural resources and is potentially one of the richest countries in the region. But after seven years under Iliescu, the standard of living has plummeted, industries are antiquated, and foreign investment is negligible."

She says: "Constantinescu, whose unassuming manner contrasts with the showy confidence and trappings of power that surrounded Iliescu, foreshadows a new asceticism in government," adding: "By Romanian standards, Constantinescu's anti-communist credentials are very strong. As a geology professor -- he also has a law degree -- he was a member of the Communist Party but he never held a position in the party. In December 1989, he was one of the few professors to take an openly active role in the demonstrations and organizations against Ceausescu, who was overthrown and executed."

Perlez says: "In the last four years, Constantinescu has become a polished speaker. He has traveled the world and in four television debates last week he looked the model of a fresh image against Iliescu's tired one. Again and again, he pummeled Iliescu about poverty, inadequate health care, and the lack of moral leadership."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Constantinescu came over as a self-assured, modern leader

In the British newspaper today, Virginia Marsh comments: "Mr. Iliescu has been one of communism's great survivors."

She says: "In a country short on democratic tradition, most opposition leaders emerged after 1990 from the universities, emigre families, or the tiny groups of dissidents which had been brave enough to oppose the Ceausescu regime. Mr. Constantinescu first stood against Mr. Iliescu in the September 1992 elections." Marsh goes on: "His lack of experience and preparation showed in televised debates with Mr. Iliescu. This time, the dapper Mr. Constantinescu came over as a self-assured, modern leader with a clear vision for the future."

Marsh writes: "One of the (Democratic) Convention's great advantages in pressing ahead with reform will be the support among young voters, city dwellers and private business (who believe) they have the most to gain from faster and more coherent change."


LONDON TIMES: The two sides are locked in a bitter dispute

On Belarus, Richard Beeston writes today in a news analysis: "President Lukashenko of Belarus, locked in a fierce battle for power with parliament, said yesterday that he has accepted the resignation of his prime minister, Mikhail Chigir."

Beeston says: "As Belarus appeared to slip further towards violent confrontation, neither the president nor his parliamentary opponents showed any signs of backing down." He writes: "The two sides have been locked in a bitter, at times violent, dispute over Mr. Lukashenko's attempt to increase substantially his powers."

FINANCIAL TIMES: A senior government official has come out publicly against the president

Matthew Kaminski writes today in an analysis: "The prime minister's move broadened the opposition to Mr. Lukashenko's plans for stronger rule and marked the first time a senior government official had come out publicly against him." Kaminski says: "Mr. Lukashenko responded by attacking parliament for trying to split his cabinet, and threatened 'appropriate measures,' which some deputies feared might mean a violent dissolution."