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Western Press Review: Commentators Look Where The Sparks Are

By Don Hill and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 14 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press have been like heat-seeking missiles today and over the weekend, zooming in on hot-spot targets of opportunity where they find them.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Vote ensures Ukraine will see no reforms

The New York Times worries in editorial today over Ukraine's turning in parliamentary elections to the party of the old-time Communists. The newspaper says: "Last year, Ukraine and Turkmenistan were the only former Soviet republics to see their official economies shrink. Ukraine's steady decline is the main reason that voters abandoned the relatively reformist governing party in parliamentary elections two weeks ago. The big winner was the Communist Party, a group so troglodyte that it favors 'voluntary reunification' with Russia. The vote practically insures that Ukraine will see none of the reforms the country needs."

The editorial says: "Privatization has not generated economic growth. Important areas, like agriculture, have yet to be touched. The tax system is arbitrary, burdening legitimate businesses and driving them into the shadow economy. Regulation is stifling."

It continues: "Ukraine's economy also suffers from the country's uneven progress in democratic reforms. Ukraine is one of a handful of former Soviet republics that have had relatively clean parliamentary elections and changed their presidents." And adds: "But Ukraine's newspapers and especially its television stations are politicized and controlled to the point where they cannot keep an eye on the government."

THE WASHINGTON POST: Post-communist countries face a dilemma

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott yesterday wrote in a commentary in The Washington Post that the Ukrainian electorate was responding to a problem choice common among neighboring countries also. He wrote: "Post-communist countries face a dilemma. With economies in transition from central planning to open market, they must cut back drastically on massive deficits and state subsidies to inefficient industries. And as fledging democracies, they have citizens who are, often for the first times in their lives, free to vote for their political leaders.

"So elections reflect not just the citizenry's aspirations for a better future, but also its discontent with the near-term pain that inevitably accompanies reform. The result is often, in effect, a comeback for current or former communists. In recent years, versions of this scenario have played out in Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Hungary. The latest example is Ukraine."

THE WASHINGTON POST: Capitalism will prevail

In the same newspaper, columnist Richard Harwood says the end of the Cold War was supposed to have resolved the dilemma. He wrote: "In his 'New Political Dictionary,' lexicologist and columnist William Safire reminds us of days past when Parlor Pinks, Comsymps, Fellow Travelers and Bomb Throwers engaged in fierce ideological combat with Running Dogs, Plutocrats, Fascist Pigs and Little Old Ladies in Tennis Shoes.

"Those battlefields are quiet now, and the rhetorical conversation between left and right is usually more genteel. The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, disillusionment with socialism in the Third World and the spread of capitalism around the globe have demoralized radicals of the left, deprived radicals of the right of an animating cause and altered the vocabulary of politics."

Harwood continues: "A new world has emerged from the Cold War in which issues and labels of the past seem both quaint and inappropriate. During most of the 20th century the great question was which economic system would prevail. That has been answered: capitalism."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Cold war is still going on in Asia

In North and South Korea, the terms and behavior of the Cold War haven't receded into relics, Hanrik Bork comments in today's Frankfurter Rundschau. He writes: "While the Cold War has long been history in Europe, in Asia it is still going strong. Korea is still divided by a border lined with minefields and barbed-wire emplacements and millions of soldiers still face each other across the border, their weapons at the ready. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany this situation in the Korean peninsula has held an inglorious first place among the risks to world peace. So it is extraordinarily important when representatives of the North and South Korean government meet at the conference table.

"The direct talks between the two countries that began in Beijing over the weekend are not the first of their kind. North and South Korea met once before, in spring 1994, and were even talking about holding a summit meeting. But the death of North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung brought this process to an abrupt standstill four years ago. The two sides have since kept the dialogue going by means of the Red Cross and in four-power talks in which they have been seconded by China and the United States."

LE SOIR: International community leaders predict Karadzic arrest within a month

In Saturday's Le Soir, Brussels, Edouard van Velthem's speculates on an entirely different hot issue. Might Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague, surrender? The commentator wrote: "Since the signature of the Dayton agreement in 1995, reports that Karadzic's arrest was impending abounded. But this is the first time that all the international community's leaders concur, predicting it for no more than a month. But such prognostication remains precarious, because by changing strategy -- awaiting a voluntary surrender instead of a capture -- diplomacy has reduced its leeway to maneuver. All depends on Karadzic's goodwill and his capacity to resist pressures exerted on him."

Van Velthem wrote: "Their biggest fear though is he'll try to stay around long enough to mingle in the campaign for September's general elections in Bosnia, where Banja Luka's moderates hope to get rid of Pale's ultranationalists."

EL PAIS: The spectacle Russia is offering is typical of a banana republic

El Pais, Madrid, turns today to instability in Moscow. It editorializes: "The spectacle that Russia is offering today is more typical of a banana republic than of the largest country in the world, one of the two nuclear superpowers, that aspires towards western-style democracy. President Boris Yeltsin fired on March 23 his prime minister for the past five years, and to this day it remains unclear why he did it or why he chose a 35-year-old banker with only four months experience as minister to succeed him."

El Pais says: "It could have been the first year, since the birth of the new Russia, that economic decline was stopped and the process of recuperation was initiated. But this is impossible without political stability. And such stability is difficult to obtain, when in the supreme commands you have an old fox forged in the hard school of the communist nomenklatura, tired and sick, with sensibly decreased faculties, and with a sickly obsession to maintain himself in power."

THE WASHINGTON POST: Row between Russia and Latvia reaches worrying stage

In yesterday's Washington Post, an editorial condemned not just Goliath Russia for its confrontation with Latvia, but also European nations for misdirecting their admonishments. The Post said: "A row between Russia and Latvia has reached a worrying stage. The Russian government on Wednesday announced economic measures, 'not sanctions,' its spokesmen insisted, against its small Baltic neighbor. Latvia says some measures, such as interference with exports on their common border, already are in place. In Moscow, the anti-Latvia rhetoric has been extreme and inflammatory, though the worst has come from opposition politicians, not those in government. In Riga, bombs have exploded, including outside the Russian embassy, provocation, clearly, though on whose behalf is less clear."

The editorial concluded: "Most disturbing in this crisis has been the behavior of French, German and, most recently, Italian officials who have traveled to Moscow and joined in Russia's application of pressure on Latvia. If Western Europe believes Latvia should work harder to integrate its Russian speakers -- a reasonable position -- the place to deliver that message is RIGA. In Moscow, they should be talking about the right of every nation, no matter how small, to live free of bullying and intimidation."