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Western Press Review: EBRD Focuses On Role Of Institutions In Eastern Economies

  • Ron Synovitz

Prague, 16 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to focus on economic reform and the role of international institutions in Eastern nations, as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) concludes its annual board meeting in London this week.

FINANCIAL TIMES: EBRD shareholders divided about its role

A news analysis in today's edition by Eastern Europe editor Anthony Robinson says that the EBRD faces "a tricky future," because its main shareholders, the United States and European countries, are divided over its role. Robinson says that Americans want the bank to "pioneer private business in risky but energy-and-resource-rich areas of central Asia." But Robinson notes that European Union officials at this week's board meeting want the bank to focus on projects closer to Europe. He says the European Union (EU) wants the EBRD to fund programs for the Chernobyl nuclear plant, and projects that would ease the process of EU enlargement.

HANDELSBLATT: Why didn't the EBRD sound the alarm about Albania's pyramid investment schemes?

An unsigned editorial in today's edition of the German financial newspaper says that the EBRD leadership is "ripe for change." The editorial notes that the EBRD was founded six years ago to "promote the transition to a market economy and private enterprise in Central and Eastern European countries." But the newspaper says the London board meeting has clearly expressed the need for a new president who will set new priorities for the 21st century. Handlesblatt credits the EBRD's 68-year-old President Jacques de Larosiere with implementing a tough austerity program since he coming to power in 1993.

But the newspaper says the bank's goal of acting "as a catalyst of reform" has been placed in question. The editorial says the bank should play an active role in promoting 'good governance' -- that is, the law and fair rules for business and state administration in transition countries. "Here one has to ask why a man with such mighty authority as Larosiere missed sounding the alarm about the most recent reform setbacks in Bulgaria (bankruptcies), Albania (high risk 'pyramid' investment schemes), and the Czech Republic (the debacle of the capital market)." The paper concludes that Larosiere is not the man to "play the Sphinx" from the EBRD's London headquarters for a second term of office.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Kremlin becoming serious about reshaping the bureaucracy

A Moscow correspondent, Chrystia Freeland, writes a news analysis with London correspondent Arkady Ostrovsky today about the sacking of Russian first deputy finance minister Andrei Vavilov. The article says yesterday's sacking is "another sign that the Kremlin is becoming serious about its promise to reshape the nation's inefficient, crime-ridden bureaucracy." Freeland and Ostrovsky write: "Mr Vavilov is widely respected as one of Russia's most talented financial minds. However, his role as a chief distributor of government funds to friendly private businesses, through schemes such as a system of 'authorized' commercial banks, has often brought him into controversy." The article quotes Vavilov's replacement, a "tough minded young market reformer" named Alexei Kudrin, as saying that he will now be responsible for Moscow's relations with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Czech Republic strives for better economy

A news analysis in today's edition examines what the newspaper calls a "major departure" for trade and market reforms in the Czech Republic. Prague corespondent Dean Calbreath says Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus will unveil a proposals today aimed at putting the stalled Czech economy back on track. He says Klaus also is seeking to repair his "tattered political reputation." Calbreath says the proposals include import restrictions, government support for exporters and increased regulation of the capital market. Calbreath says such policies "would once have been anathema to Mr Klaus, a laissez-faire economist who has long said that the 'invisible hand' of the marketplace would cure the country's woes." But Calbreath concludes that Klaus is now faced with "a looming trade deficit, declining growth in productivity and allegations of widespread embezzlement on the capital markets. Growing red ink on the nation's books, coupled with charges that shady market speculators are crippling the companies that they've invested in, has finally pushed his administration into action."

HEARST NEWSPAPERS: International diplomats disobey parking laws in United States

Syndicated Washington columnist Marianne Means, of the Hearst Newspapers chain, criticizes foreign diplomats in New York who insist on special parking privileges. Means says New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's battle against United Nations diplomats who refuse to pay parking tickets is the "ultimate popularity-builder" amongst local voters. It is "the perfect cause" because "foreigners don't vote." Means says Russian diplomats alone failed to pay 31,388 tickets last year, which represents 86 tickets a day, on its 178 cars. She characterizes U.N. diplomats as selfish dignitaries who care only "about their right to be transported about town in a fancy automobile to impress their peers wherever and whenever they wish without hindrance." She says the diplomats don't care about "bloody warfare in Africa, growing tensions in the Middle East and the anarchy in Albania."

World War II

The historical legacy of World War II is the topic of other western press commentary today.

NEW YORK TIMES: Croatia is seeing a rebirth of fascism

Syndicated columnist A.M. Rosenthal writes an opinion piece in today's edition attacking what he says is a "rebirth of fascism" in Croatia. Rosenthal says: "Hitler had no executioners more willing, no ally more passionate than the fascists of Croatia -- known as the Ustashe." He says: "They are returning, 50 years later, from what should have been their eternal grave, the defeat of Nazi Germany." Rosenthal notes that Ustashe candidates ran in Croatia's local elections last Sunday. He also charges that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman "is giving them what they need most: presence, and the rewriting of history." Rosenthal warns that Tudjman is increasingly "recasting the fascists as patriots and founders of the new Croatia." He recommends cutting western aid to Zagreb to force the end of what he calls "fascist rehabilitation work."

Rosenthal concludes that Franjo Tudjman is a problem that the east must deal with. But he says: "The West cannot evade responsibility for the rebirth of fascism in Croatia. Western recognition of Croatia was pushed hardest (in 1991) by Germany despite warnings from Bosnian Muslims that the timing could set off war" between Serbs, Croats and Muslims in the former Yugoslavia.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The quarrel about art treasures cannot be settled using classical methods

An opinion piece by Helmut Loelhoeffel in today's edition discusses Bonn's struggle against Moscow for the return of art treasures that Russian troops confiscated at the end of World War II. Loelhoeffel says: "The prestigious quarrel can no longer be settled using classical methods such as diplomacy, negotiations or commissions. The booty art is not a question for (Yeltsin and Helmut Kohl), nor is it a matter for conceited art officials. Now is the time for parliamentarians in Bonn and Moscow who are knowledgeable and rich with ideas to come together peacefully in order to end the deadlock and find the most reasonable solution."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: The Russian parliament has declared a moratorium on the return of art objects

Meanwhile, a news analysis in today's edition by Kerstin Holm says the debates and speculations are not exhausted over Yeltsin's "solo" effort for the return of war treasures. Holm says Russia's position on the issue could be damaged by a promise from a Yeltsin spokesman that the president will personally return a piece of war booty to Germany. The Russian parliament has declared a moratorium on the return of any of the confiscated art objects.

(Translations from German by Dora Slaba.)