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Transition Nations Press Review: Much Depends On Foreign Diplomacy

  • Michael Gallant

Prague, 27 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The foreign policies of Russia, Bulgaria and Slovakia, as well as Russia's relations with Latvia, were among the main subjects in newspaper commentary across the region in the past week. Other issues sharing the spotlight were upcoming elections in Estonia and the question of ethnicity in Georgia.

KOMMERSANT: There has never been such a bad year for Russian diplomacy

In Russia, the Kommersant daily (Jan. 23) wrote in an editorial that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov recently summed up the results of Russia's foreign policy last year. But, said the paper, Ivanov had a "very difficult task since there was nothing to boast about. There has never been such a bad year for Russian diplomacy."

Kommersant said that Ivanov "made the expansion of dialogue between Russia and NATO on key questions into a plus for Russian diplomacy. However," it went on, "more than dialogue has expanded: In the Spring, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic will join the [NATO] Alliance."

The paper also noted: "The Minister tried to convince his audience that no global problems were resolved without Russia's participation. But the Minister's optimism was obviously contradicted by the real state of affairs."

Kommersant concluded: "The main result of Russia's foreign activities seems to be this: Russia's non-predictability has turned into a factor that determines the attitude of the majority of states and international institutions toward it."

IZVESTIA: Lebed has failed to become a real governor

Izvestia (Jan. 23) ran a commentary by Alexei Tarasov on Krasnoyarsk's regional legislative assembly. It says the assembly had "amended the charter of the Krai [administrative region] and adopted in the final reading a law on government, that considerably restricts the plenary powers of Governor Alexander Lebed." Tarasov adds: "Lebed is beside himself with rage, but so far his irate statements are nothing more than hot air."

Tarasov continues: "No, the general has certainly not lost all his fans yet, but all the influential political and economic forces of the Krai have [abandoned him]. In recent days, the majority of the regional parliament's deputies --including several of Lebed's party comrades-- [are among those who] have made remarks sharply criticizing Lebed. The major regional media have taken positions opposed to the general."

Tarasov also says: "Lebed has failed to become a real governor and has remained a general, using security structures as his controlling instruments and profanities as an ideological weapon....[Lebed] has only himself to blame for [falling public support] and for the desertion of the regional elite. It takes special talent to squander the high potential for public support which he enjoyed half a year ago."

DEMOKRAZIA: Sofia must find a solution for the Macedonia problem

In Bulgaria, Evgeni Daynov wrote a commentary in the daily Demokrazia (Jan. 18) on Bulgaria's relations with Macedonia and how they may affect Sofia's hopes of joining NATO. Daynov says the origins of the problems with Macedonia "lie in Sofia, and they have to be solved in Sofia....International institutions expect that Bulgaria...will find a solution to these problems....We have to do this before March because in April NATO is going to take very important decisions in Washington."

Daynov goes on: "We will not be included in a further expansion of NATO unless we solve these problems....If the authorities don't find enough courage to take the step, this could put an end to the core of our foreign policy and even to our national-security policy, which is based on the inclusion in NATO."

KONTINENT: Bulgarians live as if the end of the world is coming

On a different note, Nadezhda Dimitrova commented in Bulgaria's daily Kontinent (Jan. 22) on the worsening public-health situation in the country. The paper says: "On the eve of the next millennium, Bulgarians live as if the end of the world is coming....They forget the most important thing --their health. Data on the health of Bulgarians does not hold out anything promising for the future. Bulgarians now die more often and get sick more often than ever before...."

The commentary went on: "According to medical experts, lack of money, stress, a poor medical culture, the dearth of a health-insurance system --all contribute to these problems....Environmental problems are a factor in 85 percent of the medical cases....If the situation doesn't improve, in 2005 Bulgaria will be the country with [proportionately] the greatest number of lung-cancer fatalities. The main reason is the growing number of smokers. Every second man is a smoker."

PRISM: Russia's aim is to separate Latvia from Estonia and Lithuania

The Latvian press has reacted to an analysis on Latvian-Russian relations in "Prism," a weekly magazine published by the Jamestown Foundation. The Foundation is based in Washington, D.C., and monitors the evolution of the countries of the former Eastern bloc. Its analysis said that Russia's aim is to separate Latvia from Estonia and Lithuania, and from the West, by establishing a special relationship in which Latvia would be heavily dependent on Russia. The Foundation said there is a strong group in Latvia's ruling party, Latvia's Way, that would support such a relationship.

DIENA: Cold-War specialists find their place in today's society

The newspaper Diena on (Jan. 19) published a commentary by Aivars Ozolins who wrote that "American analysts have concluded the obvious --Russia's aim is to isolate Latvia, and thus impede Lithuania's and Latvia's accession to NATO."

Neatkariga on (Jan. 19) wrote in an editorial: "The minor scandal that has been caused by the Jamestown Foundation's publication is a good example of how [old] Cold-War specialists find their place in [today's] society."

SME: Slovakia has finally got a government that doesn't damage the country abroad

In Slovakia, the independent daily Sme commented (Jan. 25) on Bratislava's improved situation in international affairs. The daily blamed former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar for past failures and for the isolation of the country. It said: "[The] former government claimed for four years that foreign media and politicians are wrong to interfere in our domestic struggles. Of course, it didn't mean Russia, China or Cuba, but the countries of the European Union and the U.S."

Sme went on: "When they were in power, representatives of the Movement of a Democratic Slovakia and the Slovak National Party used to complain about foreign countries. Now, in opposition, they have started to complain directly to the foreign countries themselves....The new government was able to improve [the] Slovak situation internationally. What [the] former government wasn't able to do in four years, the new cabinet was able to do in less than four months....What we mean is that, after long years, Slovakia has finally got a government that doesn't damage the country abroad."

POSTIMEES: Candidates' motives might differ greatly

In Estonia, the press focused both on March general elections and on the degree of corruption in Estonian society. Postimees (Jan. 18) commented on the lists of candidates for the elections, which the paper says include many well-known musicians, artists, athletes and the like. The paper wrote that in "choosing candidates, voters should remember that good work in some areas does not guarantee that the person is suitable to enter politics." The paper also noted that it cannot suggest that voters should support or not support well-known people in the elections, because the candidates' motives might differ greatly. The paper asked: "Does the candidate feel [the] need to alter something in Estonian everyday life, or is it just a desire to ensure himself high income now as well as in the future?"

EESTI PAEVALEHT: Large-scale corruption is possible only with business and political leaders

The newspaper Eesti Paevaleht wrote (Jan. 21) about corruption in Estonian society. The paper quoted recent polls showing corruption is not that big a problem in Estonia, with only 23 percent of the people interviewed having said they had problems with dishonest officials in the past five years. But the paper said this apparent "positive result is due to the simple fact that the so-called little people can't take part in major deals that demand secret payments to officials. Large-scale corruption is possible only with business and political leaders."

DRONI: The question of ethnicity should not even arise

In Georgia, press attention focused on the issue of restoring the category of "ethnicity" or "nationality" on passports and identification documents. Journalist Teimuraz Koridze asked in Droni: "Is it necessary to restore the ethnicity category on passports and identification documents? In every civilized country, the only answer is -- no. Such a question would not even arise there."

He continued: "Nevertheless, many U.S. citizens are proud of their Irish origin... many French of their Arab ethnicity. Since 1991, Georgia has been an independent state, recognized by most foreign countries and international organizations. Georgian is the state language. Georgia, as a member of the international community, must abide by international norms. Every Georgian citizen has equal rights, regardless of ethnic origin or religion."

DILIS GAZETI: Georgians should have a more open relation with citizens of other ethnic origins

Dilis Gazeti ran a commentary by Levan Ramishvili, director of the Freedom Institute, saying: "Ethnic Georgians are the majority in Georgia, and they do not face any danger of assimilation. On the contrary, Georgians should have a more open relation with citizens of other ethnic origins. If we tell them, we are Georgians, you are Armenians, Azeris or Russians, they may demand different rights....Ethnic conflicts result in territorial division...."

Ramishvili continued: "To drop the ethnicity category on passports does not deprive you of your ethnicity. Parents are not mentioned on passports, neither is religion. Does this deprive you of your parents or your faith?"