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Western Press Review: Changing Russia, Changing Ties

  • Don Hill

Prague, 4 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Some Western press commentary examines a few of the faces of changing Russia, and the varied Western responses to those changes.

NEWSDAY: For the first time, Russian ID cards will not declare an individual's nationality

In the U.S. newspaper today, Susan Sachs reports on a momentous deletion from Russian ID cards that alters a custom dating back to the czars. Russians are dropping the compulsory, tell-tale fifth line. Sachs writes: "Russia is about to issue new internal passports that no longer will include the notorious fifth line -- the declaration of nationality that reinforced Soviet-era discrimination against Jews, Tatars and other minorities. For the first time in Russian history -- even the czars, after all, required their subjects to list religion on their identity paper -- everyone will be identified simply and plainly as a citizen of Russia."

Sachs says: "Ethnic Russians, who made up only half of the Soviet Union's population, profited in study, work and politics from a not-so-subtle pro-Russian chauvinism. Everyone else -- Jews, Tatars, Uzbeks and the other 99 nationalities of the sprawling empire -- suffered varying degrees of prejudice."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Moscow is a bustling metropolis and is smarter than ever

In today's edition, Miriam Neubert adds to a spate of recent commentary about the rising star of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Her commentary focuses on Luzhkov's -- so far successful -- efforts to turn his triumphs in governing Moscow into a launch-pad for national politics. Neubert writes: "Moscow today is Luzhkov City, a city with a ten-lane orbital motorway, 20 wholesale markets on the radial roads out of the city and refurbishment and construction work under way everywhere. Yet this is a city that five years ago looked in places as if its teeth were full of holes -- until Luzhkov set it a target, much like the Soviet five-year plans, which put on the pressure that was needed. The target was its 850th anniversary."

Neubert says: "Moscow is now a bustling metropolis with modern shops, impressive office buildings, small cafes, new churches -- and smarter than ever." She adds: "The impression the Moscow-born petrochemist gives is that he has everything under control, and Muscovites are appreciative of his strong hand. Last year they gave him nearly 90-percent approval at the polls when he ran for mayor, having been appointed to the post by Boris Yeltsin in 1992."

The commentary continues: "Moscow's Tsar Yuri is a high-flyer, and he aims to fly higher still. For him, Moscow is the stage on which he is starring with a view to a national role. Presidential elections are scheduled in three years' time, and Luzhkov has long been looking further afield and enlisting governors' support in the Federation Council, or upper house of the Russian parliament."

DIE WELT: Germany and Russia envision a joint future

Germany has set out to convert the Russian metamorphosis into an opportunity for binding Russia to Europe, with Germany providing the silken cord, Karl-Ludwig Gunsche comments today in the German newspaper. Gunsche writes: "Speaking in the Kremlin (on a precedent-setting state visit), President Roman Herzog said the relationship between Germany and Russia had always been a 'seismograph for the state of the political relations in Europe.' That was why it now had to be made fit for the future through a partnership for the 21st century."

The commentator continues: "In (Boris Yeltsin) Herzog has found a partner who is just as motivated by the vision of a joint future as himself. Perhaps even more so, given that Yeltsin knows better than anyone how limited a time he has to realize such a vision, or at least to make the process of realizing it irreversible."

Gunsche says: "The composition of the Duma, where the Communists form the largest parliamentary party, shows very clearly how power still is divided in Russia, and how important it is to bind this clay-footed giant so tightly into a close-meshed international network that the network holds even after Yeltsin has gone. The key role in these efforts to make not only German-Russian relations but above all Russia fit for the future, falls to Germany. During his visit to Moscow President Herzog tirelessly promoted the idea of extending mutual contacts and consolidating everyday relations between Germans and Russians."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Europe should prepare to be responsible for the continent's security

A former special assistant to U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Doug Bandow, writes today in a commentary that Europe, too, needs to make significant post-Soviet adjustments. One essential adjustment, Bandow contends, must be in Europe's level of security dependency on the United States.

Bandow, now a senior fellow of the U.S. policy center, the Cato Institute, writes: "For all the talk of the guns-to-butter windfall of the post-Cold War peace, much of American defense policy remains largely unchanged even as the Cold War fades into history. Nowhere is this more evident than in Europe, where Washington retains the leading political and military role in NATO, despite efforts to create a European security identity. (The U.S.) administration's commitment to expand NATO should not mislead Europeans into thinking that the U.S. commitment is accompanied by a blank check."

The writer notes that domestic demand for government dollars in the U.S. exceeds revenues. He says: "Expressions of trans-Atlantic solidarity notwithstanding, Congress is unlikely to choose contentious allies over voting constituents. And those constituents are unlikely to respond well to an argument that their social programs should be cut in order to subsidize Europe."

Bandow concludes: "Ensuring that no potential hegemon gains control of the continent, America's primary security goal, does not require the United States to bear a disproportionate military burden. (The U.S.) should watch warily, backed by what still would be the strongest military on earth. Europe, in contrast, needs to begin planning for a future in which it, not America, bears primary responsibility for the continent's security."

DIE WELT: The arm-wrestling in Bosnia continues

While the line-up for European security in general changes, the flaccid international response to Bosnian Serb intransigence does not. So comments Boris Kalnoky from Belgrade today. He writes: "When the United States warned Bosnian Serbs of the consequences of further attacks on SFOR troops, the outcome was a 'peaceful demonstration' by Serbs in front of a television tower near Bjielijna. It was a very Serbian kind of peacefulness. The U.S. soldiers who occupied the television channel after it had broadcast tirades of hatred against SFOR, had to duck a few flying stones. The 'spontaneous' demonstrators were very well organized and equipped.

"It was, in other words, a continuation of last Thursday's attacks when U.S. troops had to leave Brcko under a hail of stones, Molotov cocktails and cudgel blows. Now there is reason to believe that there was Yugoslav participation in the attacks. If this suspicion should harden, it would mean that President Slobodan Milosevic had once more lost his international credibility."

Kalnoky concludes: "For the time being the United States probably won't carry out its threat to hit back hard. (And so) the arm-wrestling in Bosnia is continuing."