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Western Press Review: Bulgaria And Serbia--Salvation In The Streets

  • Lisa McAdams

Prague, 16 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Western Press continues its heavy focus on the Balkans and street protests in Bulgaria and Serbia.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Bulgaria failed to make economic reforms

Marcia Christoff Kurop comments in today's edition that political incompetence and stalemate has brought Bulgaria's near collapse. Kurop said,"Those looking to push this Eastern European country down the road to democratic capitalism should not be focusing on the current drama, but on the country's seven-year struggle with reform and the reason why the state failed to extricate itself from the economy... "

Kurop's commentary suggests that "Bulgaria's drift downward was set in motion by its unwillingness to implement some fundamental economic reforms. The lack of commitment to free the economy from state control, resulted in part from the quick succession of governments that came after 1989 - reform-socialist, then democratic opposition (UDF) and back to the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Political and economic reforms were never pushed at the most fundamental institutional levels..." Instead, Kurop writes,"A series of random and superficial changes were pushed, including news agencies, more newspapers, land restitution, and grandiose privatization schemes."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Hospitals have closed all but emergency services

Julius Strauss, in a report for today's takes a look at the human cost of Bulgaria's economic collapse. Strauss writes,"One result is that the country's prime children's cancer ward has no cash for the medication to save their lives." Strauss quotes Dr. Dobrin Konstantinov as saying,"We have reached the end of our reserves. We will be forced to choose between them. We'll have to concentrate the medication we have on the children with better chances. The rest... well, we'll do everything we can to make them comfortable." Strauss writes,"Children are not the only ones to suffer. In recent months, hospitals throughout Bulgaria have closed all but emergency services. If a patient needs a blood transfusion, family and friends must provide the blood."

LIBERATION: Only those in the countryside have failed to join the movement

In analysis for today's edition Marc Sero writes, in a piece entitled "The Bulgarian government's At Sea," that "openly or implicitly, the authorities recognize 'having been overtaken by the effects,' as the demonstrations multiply in big cities and the largest industrial centers of the country. Only the countryside, where the effects of hyper-inflation are no less catastrophic than in the cities, has so far failed to join the movement..... Sero quotes Andre Raichev, one of the heads of the ruling BSP - which was marginalized in last month's party congress -- as saying, "the party is completely confused mentally, obsessed by fear of losing power and of having to publicly acknowledge what has occurred to a Right perceived as revengeful."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Bulgaria lacked a unified political leadership

The paper said,"The earliest sign of trouble in Bulgaria was the lack of any unified political leadership when the coalition government of the UDF came to power in 1991. Though activism was intense, it never produced the badly needed vision of a Vaclav Havel, the pragmatism of a Vaclav Klaus, or the folk-heroism of a Lech Walesa. It was furthermore, in the words of a prominent Bulgarian businessman an "intellectuals party, beset by the main problem of the intellectual -- the ability to debate and to criticize, but an inability to act."


FINANCIAL TIMES: The Socialists might appeal a decision restoring opposition victories

Turning now to Serbia, where Laura Silber says the ruling Socialists may challenge a recent ruling on November polls. Silber comments,"Serbia's governing socialist party signalled yesterday that it might appeal against a decision restoring an opposition election victory in the capital, Belgrade. Any move to do so can be expected to deepen the country's political crisis, fuelling opposition protests and widening the rifts within President Slobodan Milosevic's regime."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Can the Zajedno parties keep the pressure on Milosevic?

Von Berhnard Kuppers comments in today's edition, "Milosevic is demolished as the apparent key figure in the Dayton peace process just as he is discredited as the strongman that had everything in his grip. Now, when he is giving in, he's got the manner of a former communist party chief in that he seeks to show his authority by dismissing cadres in serbia's Socialist Party (SPS). He is punishing in the same measure in the Right and the Left of the party that have shown themselves to be too soft or too hard. As for the Zajedno parties, they are now facing the test of whether they can -- without continuous demonstrations -- show sufficient cohesion and leadership to continue to keep up the pressure "on Milosevic."

Lebed And Russia

Today's Western Press also featured heavily on Alexander Lebed's readiness to serve Russia. In a meeting with foreign correspondents this week, Lebed argued that events in Russia would soon come to a head because, Lebed thinks, President Boris Yeltsin is not capable of exercising the office any longer.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Yeltsin may be down, but he's not out

John Thornhill, commenting today, said Lebed boasts many political advantages at present but "there are nonetheless many obstacles." Thornhill writes, "For a start, it is not clear there will be any presidential election before the end of the century. Mr. Yeltsin may be down, but he is not out; he has displayed astonishing powers of resilience many times before. Moreover, Lebed is poorly placed if he is forced to bide his time. He has no ties to any of the parliamentary parties with a national presence, while the Honour and Motherland movement he leads is, as yet, only a skeletal organization of retired army officers.... and his wild tongue and impatient temperment may have driven away one-time allies in the government."

Thornhill continues his commentary by saying, "The other deficiencies in Mr. Lebed's armoury are his lack of financial means and low profile in the pro-Yeltsin Russian media. Mr. Lebed's need to raise money has thrown him into the arms of some unsavory allies, such as Mr. Alexander Korzhakov, Mr. Yeltsin's former bodyguard and once the ultimate Kremlin insider. Such figures may help fill Mr. Lebed's coffers, but they are also likely to tarnish his image."

LE FIGARO: The ruling class does not want another Ivan the Terrible or Stalin

A report in today's edition by Irina de Chikoff quotes commentary by the "Moscow Times'" Andrei Piontkovsky, the Director of the Center for Strategic Studies. According to Chikoff, Piontkovsky commented: "The ruling class does not want another Ivan the Terrible or Joseph Stalin. In the present circumstances, however, that's the sense of it, it does not want either another Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin... The idea of the President being elected by the parliament or by a national council is now under discussion."

According to Chikoff, Piontkovsky also commented that businessmen, financiers, the Centrists, and the communists -- because they know that they cannot win another presidential election - are all favorable to the idea. As Piontkovsky reportedly put it,"consensus is forming and the common enemy (of the consensual group) is Lebed -- a general of 46 years of age, boasting of his good health, who says to everyone he sees: "I want to be President and I will be."