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East: Transition Nations Press Review

  • Don Hill



Prague, 16 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Selected excerpts from recent transition nations press commentaries show many formerly communist societies continuing to struggle over relations with their neighbors and with Western institutions.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Prague Joins NATO

In the Czech Republic, Mlada fronta Dnes' Jiri Leschtina comments on the government's pale response to Prague's long-awaited accession to NATO. Leschtina writes: "It was striking that the Social Democrat (CSSD) government itself took an unbelievably bland approach toward the most important event of the nation's modern history." The writer says: "Many of the CSSD ministers are evidently far from enthusiastic about Prague joining NATO. Prime Minister Milos Zeman himself displays palpable symptoms of resentment to the move."

The commentary continues: "While the Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek was celebrating, making speeches and raising flags in the presence of former and current Polish leaders and high-ranking officers last weekend, Zeman has not appeared in public since Friday. While Polish and Hungarian personalities -- regardless of their political affiliations -- were embracing each other before their emotional publics, Zeman stayed at his summer house." Leschtina wrote: "CSSD leaders are well aware that many of their voters definitely were not enchanted at seeing Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan handing over Prague's letter of ratification to the United States on Friday."

SLOVAKIA: Paper loyal to Vladimir Meciar criticizes NATO

Across the border in Slovakia -- which isn't yet in line to be a NATO member -- another kind of controversy over NATO has arisen. Slovenska Republika -- a newspaper still loyal to former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar -- complains that Slovakia's new government is insulting Russia and fawning over the West. The newspaper says: "A referendum should be called on U.S. bombers, which are to train under an agreement between the Slovak Defense Ministry and the U.S. Air Force at a firing range in Malacky, western Slovakia." The commentary recalls the incident last year in which a U.S. fighter plane caused a fatal cablecar accident in Italy, and says: "Slovakia prefers the Russian S-300 anti-missile system to the American flying 'pupils' who will be flying over our heads in supersonic aircraft, dropping both blanks and live ammunition."

The commentary continues: "In canceling (contracts for the Russian system), Slovakia seriously harmed Slovak-Russian relations." It says: "The number one problem in the whole affair is that Russian-made weapons are not welcomed by a cabinet loyal to the United States. If Slovakia bought missiles from Russia, its NATO entry might be threatened. This amounts to limitless extortion."

TATARSTAN REPUBLIC: Kremlin is blackmailed

Ekspert Magazine in Russia's Tatarstan Republic discusses what it labels "extortion" of another kind. It says Tatarstan "blackmailed the Kremlin" by refusing to hold Duma elections in its territory. It thus -- Ekspert says -- "managed to reach agreement with the federal government on the right to pay into the federal budget income tax and VAT" on favorable terms.

POLAND: NATO seen in the light of meeting between Belorus and Ukrainian Presidents

Poland's Rzeczpospolita takes a wary look across another border at meetings last weekend in Kyiv between Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. The agenda covered bilateral relations and NATO enlargement, with Lukashenka saying he will respond by strengthening his nation's army. Belarus borders all three of the new NATO members -- the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.

Rzeczpospolita says the talks will have important consequences for Ukraine. It says: "There are political forces in Minsk and Moscow that would like to initiate a new union and to enlarge the union between Russia and Belarus by a union with Ukraine. Such forces are also in Ukraine." The newspaper says that Kuchma eventually will be forced to take a position on the idea. It says: "It will be very difficult for him to reject it."

The commentary continues: "It will also be very hard for (Kuchma) to reject a suggestion by Lukashenka to install a representative from Ukraine as executive secretary of the CIS. This proposal is very significant. Ukraine would have to ratify the CIS treaty, which it has not done yet. Such a ratification would force Ukraine to take responsibility for the CIS." The newspaper says: "Lukashenka put Kuchma in a very difficult situation and that probably was his goal."

BULGARIA: Kostov sends a message to his people

Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov recently granted Reuters an interview in which he scolded the European Union for snubbing Sofia. Commentator Theodora Peeva says in Sega daily that the interview was probably a calculated ploy aimed more at a domestic audience than at the EU's leadership. She writes: "The sharp language toward Europe is not a sign of nervousness. Probably it is a well-prepared move designed to explain away Europe's changed attitude toward the Bulgarian government." The writer says: "Kostov's behavior isn't directed to Europe, although his criticism names Europe. It's a domestic message. its hard to imagine that the prime minister believes his sharp language will force the European Parliament and NATO to speed up accession talks with Bulgaria. Kostov is improving his rating among Bulgarians, assuming the role of defender of national interests."

LATVIA: Rigas Komercbank fails

The most prominent news in Latvia last week was the apparent failure of the oldest Latvian commercial bank, Rigas Komercbanka (RKB). Diena -- in a commentary -- has angry words for the EBRD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Diena says: "According to the experience with RKB, the EBRD -- which is a shareholder in several other commercial banks of Latvia -- is not a guarantee of the bank's stability, contrary to what was widely claimed some years ago." Diena says: "The EBRD encouraged RKB to invest in Russian state bonds that eventually directly caused the bank's breakdown."

The Latvian newspaper Dienas Bizness (Business Daily) charges in a commentary that the EBRD "pours honey in the ears of gullible Latvians." The commentary says, "When the operation of RKB is terminated, only then does the biggest shareholder, EBRD, awake and promise to restructure the bank." DB continues: "EBRD's announcement that it plans to restructure RKB either discloses its own stupidity or stems from a total lack of information. Probably, the gentlemen of London think that Latvian indigenous people are totally dumb. Possibly, this derives from the bank's experience from its contacts with other Eastern European aborigines, who believe that banks have to be restructured only when they are closed, just as the dead have to be healed after their funeral."

Dienas Bizness also says: "If it proves to be true that the EBRD dragged all its shares out of RKB before the bank's operations were terminated, the Latvian government must issue a non-confidence vote to the bank. And it has to be done in a month's time, exactly when the EBRD will have it annual meeting."

ESTONIA: Estonia has ended up in the middle

Even Estonia's general election last week -- in which the Center Party won the largest share of parliamentary seats -- proved to have foreign relations ramifications.

Postimees writes: "Estonia had to choose between Eastern and Western orientation and ended up in the middle." The paper says: "The most support was enjoyed by the East-oriented Center party, and the government will be formed by a West-oriented bloc."

Eesti Paevaleht comments anxiously that if Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar doesn't get a chance to try to form a government, "This would cause great dissatisfaction among his supporters and intense pressure on a possible so-called Triple Alliance." Paevaleht says President Lennart Meri should name Savisaar as a candidate for prime minister, saying "his failure is assured."

Postimees says that the most likely new prime minister is Pro Patria's leader, former Prime Minister Mart Laar. "Laar has earned the prime minister's post with honor and has shown himself as an able prime minister," the newspaper writes.

KYRGYZSTAN: Foreign policy begins with relations with neighbor states

Cholponbek Abyke Uulu -- chief editor of Kyrgyzstan's independent Aalam weekly -- writes that neighboring countries in the CIS are effectively blockading Kyrgyzstan. He says: "(The CIS) presidents meet two to three times a year. They sign eternal friendship agreements. They have formed a common customs area. We wrote long ago that meetings of the CIS presidents were nothing more than to have a sauna and to drink together." The editor continues: "It is clear now that we were right. There have been meetings in Astana and then in Moscow. The governmental papers have written that -- thanks be to God -- friendship has been strengthened. The borders are opened." He says: "There are pictures of smiling presidents -- hand in hand -- on the first pages."

But, the commentary continues: "In reality, dear (Uzbek President Islam) Karimov gives malicious interviews on Kyrgyzstan, on our president every other day. Although (Kazakh President Nursultan) Nazarbayev does not criticize Kyrgyzstan openly, his real activity is not less than that of Karimov."

The writer complains: "The Foreign Ministry has not explained the situation (but it should be evident) that foreign policy begins with relations with neighbor states, not with cooperation from countries across the seas."

LITHUANIA: The conservatives are playing political chess

Internal politics dominate recent excerpts from the Lithuanian, Russian and Armenian press. Lithuania's daily Lietuvos Aidas says in an editorial that President Valdas Adamkus has been drawn into current manipulations. The newspaper says: "The conservatives are playing political chess and are in a less and less favorable position. Last week, they made a risky political move. They declared that the government can resign if it isn't able to function. This move (poses) difficult questions for the opposition, the president and mass media. The president is now directly involved in the game. Adamkus -- who until now managed to remain impartial as if loftier than the other branches of power -- understands that after the resignation of the government, all the responsibility would fall upon his shoulders."

Lietuvos Rytas comments: "The president has publicly promised not to initiate the resignation of the government and early elections to parliament. After the president and the conservative faction in parliament have publicly declared their support for the prime minister, it looks as if the crisis is over and the only thing the conservatives have to do is to rule the country. The situation comprises a dilemma. Gediminas Vagnorius will be in power for almost two years. The consequences of his rule can hardly promise any bright gleam. But the consequences of his resignation and the process of forming a new government would be sadder still."

RUSSIA: Primakov will have to remain for the time being

In Russia's Izvestia, Vyacheslav Nikonov -- tongue in cheek -- purports to read President Boris Yeltsin's inner thoughts. Nikonov writes: "I can find a dozen better pastimes than trying to predict Yeltsin's behavior. All prophets make mistakes here, all too often. Still, let me try to guess what he is thinking about at the Central Clinical Hospital. I will try to do so on the basis of current events and what I think I know about the president's basic instincts. Actually, there are three of these instincts: to rule (the longer, the better); to prevent a communist takeover; and to ensure the future of the Family (his closest cronies and allies)."

The writer says: "(Prime Minister Yevgeny) Primakov has been concentrating more and more power in his hands and becoming a danger to Yeltsin's rule." Nikonov adds: "Yet he cannot be touched now. He still has to meet with (U.S. Vice President Al) Gore and get credits from the International Monetary Fund, without which the country is kaput. Besides, before another round of fighting with the Duma, a suitable and adequate successor to Primakov has to be found. And where can he be found?"

Nikonov concludes: "Apparently, Primakov will have to remain for the time being, but his contacts with the opposition should be weakened. (And) unless I'm mistaken, the president won't inflame the political situation (early) in March. He will only have a minor personnel shuffle, which won't affect the aces. But if the president recalls what season it is (politics in Russia is a seasonal pastime), we should expect some drastic moves on March 23. In past years, Chubais made it back into the cabinet and (former prime minister Viktor) Chernomyrdin was fired precisely on this day."

ARMENIA: Elections in Armenia resemble beauty contests

In Armenia -- says Aravot in a commentary -- the problem isn't the potential for political flames but the absence of them. The newspaper bemoans a lack of new figures to stand in the May parliamentary elections. Those who are expected to participate, it says, are "the same people -- not only do we know them by sight but we also know what they have been saying by heart." It says: "Most of them have "managed to disillusion the most naive citizens a thousand times."

Aravot says that elections in Armenia resemble beauty contests with "wily but ugly contenders." The newspaper asks, "Why aren't other Armenians willing to rise to the political arena?" and answers, "Probably because they understand that they won't be allowed there."

TAJIKISTAN: Even some police officers doubt the capability of policewomen

Tajikistan's Vecherniy Dushanbe notes that -- for the first time -- Tajik women will serve as uniformed police. The paper says this has caused "difficulties" with the families of those women "admitted to special police school." It says: "Even some police officers doubt the capability of policewomen" in a country "where there remain many gangs and renegade armed groups who engage in killings and abductions."

(The Transition Nations Press Review is compiled from contributions by RFE/RL's broadcast services.)

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