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Western Press Review: It's A Political Season In Eastern Europe

  • Don Hill

Prague, 20 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The politics of Eastern Europe captures the attention of Western press commentators and analysts.

Vaclav Havel is virtually certain to win reelection today as president of the Czech Republic, but not without controversy.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Vaclav Havel may be punished by some Civic Democratic Party deputies

The Financial Times' Robert Anderson writes in today's editions of the British daily. He says: "Havel is seeking reelection as president of the Czech Republic today in the middle of a prolonged political crisis that has revealed the potential as well as the limitations of his largely ceremonial role." The writer says that Havel "is widely expected to win in the first round of voting by a simple majority in each chamber of parliament." Anderson adds: "It is possible, however, that he may be punished by some Civic Democratic Party deputies for his perceived role in the downfall of the former prime minister, Vaclav Klaus, in November."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Havel has never cut as controversial figure as he does at present

Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung carries today a commentary from Prague by Michael Frank in which Frank writes that Havel, though not a perfect choice, is in many eyes the only choice. Frank writes: "There can be no doubt whatever that (today) he will be re-elected head of state -- for a second and last term. The Czech constitution does not allow him to serve for longer. His health is still impaired and he has a tendency to intervene imperiously in the course of political events. He has never cut as controversial figure as he does at present, but there has never been so little alternative to him as head of state.

"There are Czechs who feel he is too ill to serve as president. There are politicians who resent the active part he played in the ouster of former Premier Vaclav Klaus. And there are left-wingers who distrust him as a bourgeois intellectual. Yet all of them, in common with his supporters, are heartily relieved that he is running for a further term."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: PM Horn is not as liberal as he is sometimes portrayed

The Wall Street Journal Europe looks ahead today to May elections in Hungary. In a news analysis from Budapest, Brian A. Brown writes that Prime Minister Gyula Horn, despite his success with economic reform, attracts doubts about his dedication to democracy and corruption-free government. Brown writes: "Foreign direct investment over the last seven years has brought in approximately $18 billion, reportedly giving Hungary the highest per capita investment rate in Eastern Europe." By comparison, Brown says: "Stalled reforms in the Czech Republic and uncertainties brought on by elections in Poland last year added to Hungary's allure. But the real reason investors are betting on this country of 10 million is strong economic fundamentals, thanks, at least in part, to reforms carried out over the last four years under the stewardship of a former communist, Prime Minister Gyula Horn."

"But," Brown contends, "despite the good news, signs have persisted all along that Mr. Horn is not as liberal as he is sometimes portrayed in the international press." Brown says: "In the run-up to May's elections, there is once again reason to question whether Mr. Horn's bent knee at the market altar signifies a genuine conversion."

WASHINGTON POST: Chernomyrdin is described as a regent for an ailing Yeltsin

From Moscow, Daniel Williams writes today in The Washington Post that Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin appears to be gaining political hegemony. Williams' analysis says: "President Boris Yeltsin returned to the Kremlin (yesterday) for the first time in more than a month to preside over a government in which the balance of power has shifted to conservative (Chernomyrdin) and away from younger market reformers. But Yeltsin kicked off his first day back at work by scolding Chernomyrdin and his reformist rivals, First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, for failing to pay back wages to thousands of government employees by a January 1 deadline."

Williams writes: "In Russia, where there are few alternatives to presidential power, a vacuum at the top is unlikely to remain unfilled for long." The writer says: "So far, Chernomyrdin appears to be leading the sweepstakes. In a redistribution of cabinet powers that he announced last week, Chernomyrdin was the main beneficiary." Williams says: "Chernomyrdin's gains prompted newspaper commentators to describe him as a regent for an ailing Yeltsin."

DIE WELT: Milorad Dodik stands for reconciliation and for a new start

Boris Kalnoky, writing from Belgrade in the German newspaper Die Welt, says today in a commentary that the newly elected prime minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic may or may not be a good man but he is certainly a clever man. Kalnoky says: "It is not absolutely clear whether Milorad Dodik is a good person deep down, or just a good businessman. Either way, he is now the newly elected prime minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic -- and has held out his hand to both Muslims and Croats.

"He stands for reconciliation and for a new start -- and for everything that the West wants to hear and which promises to bring in money. The cornerstones of his government program are democracy, privatization, and opening up the country to the West. Dodik is a man who previously had hardly any power in Bosnia, but plenty of influence. He was a prime mover behind the success of President Biljana Plavsic's successful break with the Serb nationalists in Pale."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Mr. Dodik's new government represents the most radical shake-up of post-war Bosnian politics

Also from Belgrade, Guy Dinmore wrote yesterday in the Financial Times that the international community may gain political courage from Dodik's emergence. Dinmore says in a news analysis: "Mr. Dodik's new government represents the most radical shake-up of post-war Bosnian politics, and is a victory for the international community in its campaign to forge a viable single state. Mr. Dodik, a 38-year-old businessman from the northwest town of Laktasi, is a committed supporter of the U.S.-mediated Dayton peace accord. He has allied himself with Biljana Plavsic, the pro-western Bosnian Serb president. Diplomats expect the new government will give the international community the confidence to arrest more war crimes suspects -- perhaps Mr. Karadzic himself."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The ban of the Welfare Party was introduced on the initiative of the military

A number of Western outlets express concern over efforts in Turkey to suppress Islamist political expression, not because of the aim of maintaining secular government, but because of the antidemocratic methods. Gerd Hohler's commentary in the Frankfurter Rundschau is representative.

Hohler writes: "Many leaders of the country's mainstream political parties are joining Turkey's generals in celebrating the banning of the Islamist Welfare Party. They think it will finish off a rather formidable competitor."

He writes: "It is an open secret that the ban was introduced on the initiative of the military. With it, the generals have shown that they have the last word in Turkey, that they are the real government in this NATO-member country: the parliament and nominal government are tolerated only as long as they toe the line."

He comments: "Ataturk, one of the greatest political reformers of the century, would turn in his grave if he could see what the generals have done with his political legacy. Anyone who, like the Turkish military, forbids all political dogma in the name of security, has neither imagination nor insight. Thus Turkey's self-appointed saviors in uniform are setting the stage for a disastrous confrontation."