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Western Press Review: A Potpourri of Issues

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis over the weekend touched on a range of Eastern and Central European topics without any particular focus.


The turbulent opening Saturday of the Bosnian Serb parliament presages turmoil for the Bosnian Serb Republic itself, Tracy Wilkinson wrote yesterday in a Los Angeles Times news analysis.

She wrote: "If the opening of its parliament on Saturday was any indication, the future government of the Bosnian Serb half of this country is headed for turbulent times.

"The seating of the 83-member legislature marks a showdown between supporters of the Western-backed Bosnian Serb President, Biljana Plavsic, and hard-line nationalists loyal to indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic. His followers for the first time no longer hold a majority in parliament. Whoever ultimately wins this phase of an ongoing, six-month-old power struggle will determine the shape and tenor of the new government of the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia -- whether that government is one that cooperates with the West or one that continues to obstruct the Bosnian peace process."

Wilkinson said that the session "showed that obstructionism and division remain the order of the day. The nationalists managed to block the swearing-in of the new assembly for hours and also stopped television transmission of the event. The opening session in the northeastern city of Bijeljina finally adjourned late Saturday. No major decisions were taken, and the rival factions failed to reach agreement on a new prime minister to head the government of Republika Srpska, as the 'statelet' is known."

Wilkinson wrote: "The outcome was seen as a setback to Western efforts to install moderates in Bosnia and to push postwar politics toward democracy."


The Washington Post carried a news analysis yesterday by David Hoffman of what the writer called a developing business oligarchy dominating Russia's new market economy.

Hoffman wrote that reform promises of encouragement for middle class entrepreneurship appear at this stage to be empty ones. The writer said noted that Boris Nemtsov, a first deputy prime minister, declared recently -- in an exemplary pronouncement, "I am for people's capitalism."

Hoffman wrote: "The reformers promised to create equal rules for all, encourage the middle class and let small family businesses flourish. But in Russia today, the opposite is happening. The country is turning toward oligarchic capitalism, characterized by the domination of giant conglomerates and a handful of wealthy tycoons who enjoy special privileges and a cozy relationship with the state. According to interviews with a wide range of Russians, the country seems to be following the model of the conglomerates of South Korea or the powerful banks of postwar Germany."

The writer quotes Mikhail Friedman, chairman of the Alfa Group, one of Russia's leading financial-industrial groups, which has interests in banking, oil, tea, sugar, cement and other fields, as saying: "The big companies get bigger, bigger and bigger, and it's quite easy, because the ties are quite close between a big company and political power. And it can use this connection for growth."

Hoffman wrote: "Friedman is a member of the plutocrats' most exclusive club, a group of seven Moscow barons who head the country's largest financial-industrial groups. They often have been likened to the seven boyars, or noblemen, who took over the state after the overthrow of a Russian monarch at the beginning of the 17th century. In the last two years, these contemporary business magnates have wielded extraordinary influence over Russia's course."


Miriam Neubert commented over the weekend in the Suddeutsche Zeitung that one year after Russian troops abandoned Chechnya, little light has dawned over the breakaway Russian republic.

She wrote: "The pictures from Chechnya repeat themselves with depressing regularity. Destroyed houses, armed bandits, border posts buried in mud. One year after the last Russian soldiers pulled out, nothing seems to have been solved. In fact, quite the opposite. The Caucausus is caught up in a new wave of unrest which has spread to neighboring Dagestan. People are being taken hostage for the extortion of money or concessions. This latest situation exposes the general helplessness.

"Though the Russian leadership lacks a coordinated Caucausus policy, the federal forces that demonstrated their ineptitude during the two-year war in Chechnya are still very much in evidence. These are the secret service, and the interior and foreign ministries. Neither does the leadership in Grozny have anything but stupor to offer. The ease with which extremist bands can operate on their territory appears to be a ploy to infect the neighboring region with political instability."


In The New York Times' Week in Review Section yesterday, Stephen Kinzer analyzes Turkey's emerging position in the world after rejecting a Western-phobic Islamist government and then finding itself rejected by the West's European Union.

Kinzer wrote: "Just a year ago, Turkey seemed to be setting out on a profoundly important geopolitical journey. Guided by an Islamic-oriented prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, it was turning away from the West and toward the Muslim world. Erbakan sent shivers down spines in Washington as he turned his back on Turkey's traditional allies and embraced the leaders of Iran and Libya.

"Today the circumstances are radically different. Erbakan has been forced from power, and his party may soon be banned on the ground that it seeks to undermine the secular and Western-oriented basis of Turkish society. But his successor, Mesut Yilmaz, evidently shares his belief that Turkey needs a new set of friends. Yilmaz, with the backing of the military that helped oust Erbakan, disagrees deeply with his predecessor's belief that Turkey should embrace the Islamic world. But he agrees that Turkey's future no longer lies in embracing the exclusively European identity that many Turks have sought for generations. Under Yilmaz, Turkey is striving to redefine its place in the world, by tying its future to the United States, Russia, Israel and the new nations of the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Balkans."