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Western Press Review: Poland, Mir, Danube Dam

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 26 September 1997(RFE/RL) - Western press commentators turn their attention to Central and Eastern Europe today. They focus on the results of Poland's Sunday elections, the Russian space station Mir's continuing problems, and yesterday's decision by the International Court of Justice on Slovakia and Hungary's dispute over a dam on the Danube River.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Poles are to be congratulated for getting good at democracy

"The message from Poland's weekend election is clear: Voters are ready to give the anti-communist solidarity movement another chance to govern." The paper writes in an editorial: "The voters have done their bit to create preconditions for a peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Now comes the difficult part. For beneath the superficial unity required to win the election the Solidarity alliance remains a broad church. Keeping it together and pointing in the same direction will not be easy. Forging a working coalition between the Solidarity alliance and the Freedom Union will be no easier." The editorial continues: "Sacrifices will have to be made if a workable coalition capable of leading Poland into NATO and the European Union is to be created from this fractious material."

The paper notes that the outgoing former communist Democratic Left Alliance "has promised to provide an informed and constructive opposition." It concludes: "This ensures that if the Solidarity parties do not create an effective coalition they will be relegated again at the next election. That is what democracy is all about. Poles are to be congratulated for getting so good at it."

WASHINGTON POST: The prospect of a post-Solidarity coalition is not without risks

The paper finds the election results "encouraging...because they seem unlikely to affect the basic principles of Polish policy: the desire to join NATO and the West and the commitment to free markets and a civil society." The paper says: "The prospect of a post-Solidarity coalition is not without risks. One is of inconstancy, given how many parties are included. Another is of resistance to further reform. Much of Solidarity's support comes from the giant, and still state-owned, shipyards and coal mines that cannot survive without huge subsidies --subsidies Poland cannot afford. But Solidarity's credibility with the workers of those enterprises may make it the only party that could convince them of the need to continue reform, with the appropriate safety nets in place." The editorial concludes: "The key now is for the West --including both NATO and the European Union-- to welcome Poland as the democracy it has become."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Poles have sent the pendulum to the Right again

Thomas Urban wrote from Warsaw: "The Poles have now done the same as other former East bloc states. They have sent the pendulum to the Right again and have voted out a post-communist government." Urban went on: "This means that the political coordination system in Poland is once more back in calibration: the majority sees itself as being best represented by conservative groups, especially the legendary Solidarity." He argued that this "was no different at the general election four years ago. But on that occasion, the leaders of the successor groups to the Solidarity trade-union movement were in dispute with one another, which enabled the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance to profit." The commentary continued: "With the win of Solidarity, ideological discussions will for a while be dominated by such issues as the role of the church in society and abortion regulations. But," it concluded, "there will be no 'conservative counter-revolution' and the influence of the more dogmatic Catholics will remain limited."

>p> Mir



Yesterday, after three separate reviews of safety considerations, the U.S. space agency NASA decided to send astronaut David Wolf to the problem-plagued Russian space station Mir for a four-month mission.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Continued cooperation is crucial

Brian Knowlton writes today: "NASA officials have maintained that the experience with Mir is helping them lower the risks of more ambitious space operations being planned, including the construction of an international space station and eventually a flight to Mars. But many members of Congress, dismayed by months of chilling drama aboard Mir, have said that the lives of American astronauts are being placed needlessly in risk on board the 12-year-old Mir." Knowlton noted that, "amid growing criticism of the Mir project in Congress, proponents of U.S.-Russian space cooperation say continued cooperation is crucial if work is to proceed on the planned international space station."

TODAY: Tensions over Mir could affect other areas of U.S.-Russian cooperation

Other arguments for continued U.S.-Russian space cooperation were made yesterday in a commentary by strategic analyst Susan Eisenhower. She wrote: "Ironically, U.S. involvement in building a space station has been possible in large part because of the Russians. Without the political and symbolic benefits of the two former cold-war adversaries working together, federal budget constraints surely would have killed the U.S. space project as soon as the dust settled on what remained of the Berlin Wall." Eisenhower continued: "Tensions over Mir could affect other areas of U.S.-Russian cooperation, including efforts to ratify nuclear non-proliferation treaties as well as what is happening in Bosnia. Initially of little interest to the Russian public, Mir has now become a symbol of national pride." She argued: "Cold feet by America would be interpreted by hard-liners and moderates alike as another retrenchment on the American side, fostering a renewed sense of the humiliation that has been felt so deeply over Russia's loss of international influence and its unhappiness over NATO expansion."

>p> Danube River Dam



INDEPENDENT: "This Court judgment would give Solomon a bad name.

Commentator Imre Karacs ironizes over the decision by the International Court of Justice that concluded both Hungary and Slovakia had "committed internationally wrongful acts" in regard to the huge Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Danube River dam. "No kidding," says Karacs, who calls the court's decision "the kind of judgment that would give Solomon a bad name." He writes: "Hungary never disputed the fact that it had reneged on an international treaty to build a joint hydro-electric scheme with its northern neighbor. It offered no compensation for letting its partner down, and has yet to propose an alternative solution. Slovakia," the commentary continues, "also had a good idea that it might have been a little naughty. Virtually on the eve of the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1992, Slovak engineers piled lorry-loads of concrete slabs into the river, diverting 80 percent of the water into a new canal north of the border." Karacs concludes that "several years after it took the case, the court brought forth the following advice: 'Sort it out between yourselves.'"

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: A compromise between Hungary and Slovakia is difficult

Ulrich Glauber says that "a compromise between Hungary and Slovakia is difficult because the two countries' relationship has rapidly deteriorated in the last weeks due to the treatment of some 500,000 Hungarians in Slovakia." Glauber writes: "Many emotions are at stake. In Hungary, the victory of the environmentalists in forcing a retreat from electric-power projects is seen as a symbol for a healthy turnabout in the country. In the young Slovak Republic, the power plant of Gabcikovo is regarded as a symbol of a local engineering feat, to whose dam walls countless admirers stream on weekend outings."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: It is unrealistic to want to implement the erstwhile bilateral agreement

An unsigned analysis notes that, "in pronouncing the verdict, the President of the Court declared it unrealistic to want to implement the erstwhile bilateral agreement in all regards." The analysis points out that "the Court recommends the two parties adopt new environmental regulations," concluding: "A satisfactory solution must be found that will enable more water to flow into the original river bed of the Danube in order to maintain its tributaries."
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