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Western Press Review: Stumbling Over Democracy

  • Don Hill



Prague, 28 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A funny thing is happening on the way to democracy in Eastern and Central Europe. People and governments seem to be stumbling over the very institutions they say they are seeking to embrace. Commentary in the Western press peruses some examples.

LONDON TIMES: Democracy in Turkey looks imperiled

The paper says today in an editorial: "Turkey is a pivotal member of NATO. Its integrity and democracy are vital not only to regional stability but to the Atlantic alliance as a whole. Turkish democracy now looks increasingly imperilled. The Islamic government of Necmettin Erbakan has embarked on a campaign to give Islam a more visible position in Turkish public life."

The newspaper says: "Ominously, the Turkish army, which sees itself as a guardian of the Ataturk constitution, is implacably opposed to the trend. It has already sent tanks through the capital's Islamic suburbs as a warning." The editorial contends: "No one wants the army to step in. (This) would be a disastrous setback for Turkish democracy and would encourage Islamic underground fanaticism."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Turkey's generals are expected to issue a warning

In a news analysis written from Ankara, John Barham says in today's issue of the British newspaper: "Turkey's powerful generals today are expected to issue their strongest warning yet to (Erbakan) that he must respect the country's secularist system." Barham says: "For more than a month, the generals have publicized their growing concern about Mr. Erbakan through tough speeches and media interviews." He writes: "These warnings recall ultimatums that preceded previous military coups. However, although the army has toppled three governments since 1980, few expect it to do so now."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Who will Yeltsin let go in a cabinet shuffle?

From Moscow, Miriam Neubert comments today: "Every time President Boris Yeltsin returns to the Kremlin after a long absence, and every time the date for his annual address to both chambers of parliament draws nearer, as March 6 is now, the temperature of domestic politics heats up noticeably. Who will he let go, and who will he appoint, to prove that he is still in charge? This time, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Defense Minister Igor Rodionov are prime targets in the speculation over who is most likely to be sacked."

She writes: "Yeltsin will, as he did before, continue as the country's top referee, by reprimanding and reshuffling the government. But whether the prime minister really will be forced to resign is questionable. Through four years of crises his political career has repeatedly been declared dead, yet he is still there. (He) is surely one of the wiliest survival artists in the cabinet."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Lebed's kid brother could use some lessons from the former general

The paper editorializes today on an apparent glitch in Russian democracy far from Moscow. The WSJ says: "Perhaps in his brother's eyes he can do no wrong, but Alexei Lebed -- that's right, the kid brother of a well-known former Russian general -- could use a lesson in the proper use of authority in a democracy. In December, when his big brother was Russia's security chief, Alexei Lebed was elected governor of the Siberian region of Khakasiya." The editorial recounts: "The Jamestown Foundation Monitor reported last week that as part of an anticorruption campaign, (Governor Lebed) ordered an audit of local government books -- at gunpoint. (He also) ordered all heads of local government in the regions, towns and districts to subordinate themselves to him, notwithstanding Russian legislation authorizing local government. Just to make sure his point was made, Mr. Lebed issued a decree to shut down the local radio and television company."

The editorial says: "At the very least, his actions would seem to merit an upbraiding from the older brother who would be president of the federation."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: A two-tier block is emerging in Eastern Europe

Robert Franks writes today that, "Less than a decade after the Iron Curtain lifted, a two-tier bloc is emerging in Eastern Europe."

In his news analysis, Frank says: "The successful countries -- Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary -- are steadily sailing Westward toward free markets and prosperity, luring foreign investment and selling off state companies as capitalism takes hold. But in the struggling southern tier, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and much of the former Yugoslavia, are paralyzed by old communist loyalties, stubborn hard-line rulers and ethnic conflict. Far from becoming the normal Western countries they dreamed about, they're lurching dangerously toward becoming Europe's hidden Third World."

Frank writes that street riots over collapsed investment schemes have left Albania in disarray, and Serbia's economy remains devastated by years of mismanagement and the international sanctions imposed to punish it for stoking wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Romania, he says, "faces an uphill battle to reform an economy dogged by energy shortages, scant foreign investment and inflation."

WASHINGTON POST: Popular discontent has spilled noisily into the streets

In recently, Lee Hockstader, writing in a news analysis from Belgrade, reached a similar conclusion: "To the jarring accompaniment of kazoos and car horns -- and, occasionally, tear gas and truncheons -- popular discontent in the Balkans has spilled noisily into the streets this winter, toppling one government, badly shaking two others and erupting into violent spasms in all three.

Hockstader says the rising resentment in Bulgaria, Albania and Serbia was triggered by different events but that there are still some common roots. Hockstader writes of a "strong sense throughout the region -- on thronged streets, among intellectuals and in diplomatic circles -- that by refusing or delaying basic democratic or economic reforms, governments have cheated their people and left them as odd men out in an otherwise prosperous and advancing continent."

NEW YORK TIMES: International organizations have begun a silent retreat from Bosnia

Today, Chris Hedges writes in a news analysis from Mostar in Bosnia that persistent squabbles between Croats and Muslims are attracting less and less attention in the international community. Hedges, describing a recent typical conflict, writes: "The local Croatian authorities insist that the two huge pits being dug along the old confrontation line in the center of Mostar will hold the foundations of a theater and a Catholic cathedral. To their Muslim enemies on the other side of town, they look like the beginnings of fortified bunkers and an attempt by the Croats to seize territory in the desolate no-man's land that separates east and west Mostar."

Hedges writes: "It used to be that such questions, typical of the dizzying contretemps between ethnic Croats and Muslims in Mostar, preoccupied and concerned the outside world, which invested tens of millions of dollars to unify this divided city of 70,000 people. But no more. Exhausted and frustrated by the repeated refusal of Serbs, Croats and Muslims to honor the December 1995 peace agreement, the international organizations have begun a silent retreat from Bosnia."
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