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Western Press Review: Albanian Chaos, Russian Irritability, Balkan Uncertainty

  • Don Hill



Prague, 13 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators are struggling to identify emerging power centers in Albania. The consensus: It's undetermined.

DIE WELT: Albania's rebellious South has raised its head

Boris Kalnoky, commenting in today's issue of the German newspaper says that the "South, Socialists and military are the new power factors in Albania." He writes: "Albania's rebellious South now has raised its political head. The big issue of the past few days has been what power structures would emerge among the rebels and what their political ambitions might be. Their main leaders appeared to be retired military officers and deserters from the armed forces. Now, however, a National Salvation Committee set up in Gjirokaster has been joined by all the major rebel-held towns."

The writer asks, "Who are its members?" and answers: "Two who have emerged as spokesmen for the committee are members of the Democratic Alliance, a party which split from the ruling Democrats in 1992." Kalnoky's commentary continues: "They are a group of intellectuals and technocrats who have tasted power, having briefly served alongside the Socialists in a coalition government until 1992. Basically, however, party affiliations no longer matter in the South."

A second element, Kalnoky writes, "is the new prime minister, Bashkim Fino, who as mayor of Gjirokaster is a southerner himself. He has close ties with the Socialists but is not a party member." He concludes: "The South, the Socialists and the military, whose manpower was cut by two-thirds by Berisha and who are bitter as a result, are the new power factors in Albania."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: President Berisha can only rely on the special police

But if the army is a power factor, it is a fading one, Robert Fox writes from Tirana in a news analysis. He says: "Albania's army has been drifting steadily away since (President Sali) Berisha declared a state of emergency after serious rioting two weekends ago." Fox writes: "Albania's forces are looking like the army that never was. Last week, the American military training team told Mr. Berisha he could not rely on his soldiers to keep him in power."

The analysis continues: "The Albanian army was designed, like the Yugoslav army, to defend the home territory." Fox says: "Now President Berisha can rely only on his special public order police, and the Shik (secret police, who are) recruited largely in the wild mountain area (in the northeast) where Mr. Berisha was born."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The U.S. ordered the evacuation of its diplomatic community

In an analysis published today, Tracy Wilkinson writes from Tirana: "President Sali Berisha and his political opposition agreed (yesterday) on a new coalition government, while the United States ordered the evacuation of most of its diplomatic community amid growing panic over unrest sweeping this small Balkan country." She said: "Evacuation of the Americans, which came the day after a similar order from many European capitals, sent tremors through Albanians who are watching nervously as thousands of their countrymen arm themselves and traces of the unrest reach the capital."

Wilkinson's analysis concludes: "The opposition hopes that it can win a majority in the parliamentary elections, then replace Berisha. But the insurgents and some unarmed political opposition are demanding the conservative president's immediate resignation."

Russia



FINANCIAL TIMES: Parliament lashed out at Yeltsin for putting reformers in charge

Russian President Boris Yeltsin's radical cabinet restructuring continues to attract Western commentary. In an analysis from Moscow, Chrystia Freeland writes in the British newspaper: "The Russian parliament yesterday lashed out at (Yeltsin) for putting reformers in charge of the cabinet." She says: "Implementation of (economic and other reform) measures is not expected to begin until the make-up of a reshuffled cabinet has been announced later this week."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Yeltsin is playing to a tough crowd

The paper today publishes a "Washington Post" editorial that says: "If Bill Clinton feels he's having trouble controlling the spin of news in Washington these days, he might take comfort in the reaction Boris Yeltsin is getting in his latest government reshuffle." The editorial says: "With a parliament controlled by Communists, ultra-nationalists and corrupt newly rich businessmen, Mr. Yeltsin is playing to a tough crowd."

The Post concludes: "Tax, pension, energy and housing reform are uniformly dull and unpopular, a far cry from jumping atop tanks to rally the oppressed citizenry. But whether Russia can pull them off will determine whether its economy becomes open, transparent and growing or remains corrupt and for the benefit of a few. Which of those roads Russia follows in turn depends in no small measure on how long its president can physically and mentally remain focused on the long-delayed second phase of reform."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: All eyes are fixed on the end of the week

Miriam Neubert comments today: "The (Russian) government reshuffle is intended to give a fresh boost to economic and budget policies that for years have marked time while Chernomyrdin, who is not much of a man of ideas, has been at the helm. Russia has waited in vain for growth to begin. Falling output and tax revenue have made the state a debtor to millions of Russians who are paid wages and pensions months late. The president and the government are under great pressure to end this vicious circle."

She says: "In the new ruling tandem, dubbed Chub-Che by the media, the energetic Chubais may be hierarchically subordinate to the premier but he ran the Kremlin while Yeltsin was ill and is seen as the man behind cabinet reform and the man who will really run the government." Neubert concludes: "At the moment all eyes are fixed on the end of the week and what shape the lean, new-look government may take. Behind the scenes many are trying to jump on the new bandwagon."

Bosnia



WASHINGTON POST: Is the world's indispensable nation too poor to lead?

On the subject of unrest in the Balkans, columnist Jim Hoagland writes in today's edition: "Defense Secretary William S. Cohen returns from his first trip abroad in office convinced of two things: American peacekeepers in Bosnia are doing a great job on an important mission that serves American interests. And they must stop doing it within 15 months."

The commentary says: "The Bosnia paradox lies at the heart of a larger strategic dilemma the Clinton administration faces in its second term: Is the world's 'indispensable nation' really too poor to lead? Money is the reason that the United States will not continue its presence in Bosnia beyond June 1998, whatever happens on the ground or in U.S. relations with Russia."
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