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Transition Nations Press Review

  • Don Hill



Prague, 6 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Recent selected excerpts from the transition nations press show increasingly concerned reaction to NATO's air attacks on Yugoslavia, especially in the Russian press.

RUSSIA

LITERATURNAYA GAZETA: Washington has been operating like a bulldozer

One of the most moderate and Western-savvy of Russia's political leaders, Grigory Yavlinski, head of the Yabloko Party, writing in Literaturnaya Gazeta, compares U.S. behavior to that of the old Soviet Union. Yavlinski says: "The United States is directly responsible for what is happening in Yugoslavia now, and for all its possible implications. Actually, I'd say Washington has been operating like a bulldozer. It rolls ahead no matter what lies in front of it, and crushes everything in its path. (That's) how the Soviet Union behaved, constantly brandishing its club and threatening to use force. Half the planet feared and hated it for that."

Yavlinski calls the Yugoslavia conflict "the most serious international crisis since the Second World War." He writes: "In bombing and air-raiding a sovereign state, NATO violates the U.N. Charter and all major principles of international relations. We are told that NATO countries are allegedly out to protect Kosovo Albanians, but the punitive air strikes result in something entirely different. Perennial conflict in Kosovo was intensified a year ago due to Milosevic's intransigence and the Albanians' own hard-line stance. Inhabitants of Kosovo are murdered just for being Serbians or Albanians, Christians or Moslems. With the NATO air strikes, the situation has only deteriorated. In punishing Milosevic, the alliance is murdering innocent people regardless of their ethnic origin. And provoking continuation of repressions against Albanians."

Yavlinski calls, however, for leadership restraint in Russia to control what he calls a dangerous hysteria. He writes: "Yes, many Russians are justifiably angered by NATO's operations in Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, we should prevent these feelings from being used to drag Russia into the conflict. Irresponsible statements on deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, on reneging on the nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty, on nullifying the pledge not to be the first country to use nuclear weapons, etc., seem like mere words now. Nevertheless, they are highly dangerous, (which) is why I call on the leadership of the country to put an end to this hysteria by all possible means."

VEK: It's high time Russian and American leaders began establishing a negotiation infrastructure for Russian-American relations

Political scientist Aleksei Bogaturev, writing in Vek, says the crisis in Yugoslavia has changed inalterably the nature of U.S.-Russian relations. He writes: "One thing is clear: the chances that Russia may slip into opposition to the West are now higher than at any time in the last 15 years. With Clinton's two terms in office drawing to a close, relations between Moscow and Washington have regressed to the state in which they were left by Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Mikhail Gorbachev."

Bogaturev writes: "Firstly, this will take the form of Moscow's determination to preserve and build up its defense potential despite everything." He continues: "Secondly -- if reason prevails both in Moscow and Washington alike, that is -- this may result in considerable facilitation of mechanisms for dialogue. It's high time Russian and American leaders stopped taking pride in the sadly comical 'friendly' personal contacts between Boris and Bill, and began establishing a negotiation infrastructure for Russian-American relations. In 1991, Washington made use of the chance history presented it and began to build a mono-polar world. Russia was also to be given a place in this system. The West needed access to Russian raw materials and neutralization of any potential threat from Moscow. Currently, the second part of this formula is in doubt. Russian leaders are trying to avoid direct confrontation, but they do not accept the existing state of affairs."

IZVESTIA: The possibility of another communist upset is the major threat

In an unsigned commentary, Izvestia warns that NATO air strikes have polarized politics in Russia. The commentary says: "The search resumes for the perfect anti-Communist presidential candidate. We cannot rule out the possibility that the country is in for a repeat of the situation of 1996, when a consensus of the elites and the still-existing oligarchs ensured anti-Communist candidate Yeltsin's triumph at the presidential elections."

But, Izvestia says: "The possibility of another communist upset is the major threat, which everybody has overlooked or disregarded as a problem already resolved. Once again, the existing more or less level-headed elites face the necessity of pitching their candidate against the eternally charismatic Gennadi Zyuganov. They need a serious candidate, somebody who can win the election."

The commentary goes on: "Apparently, the right will also participate in this pact over an anti-Communist presidential candidate. Their own ambitions do not reach beyond the parliamentary elections; at the presidential level, they will have to choose the lesser evil. Like Primakov or Luzhkov, for example. It's pointless to hope that an ideal candidate, some knight in shining armor, will turn up within the next six or 12 months."

LATVIA

DIENA: It doesn't worry the Latvian government to support unanimously NATO actions

Elsewhere in the press of nations in transition from communism, the Yugoslav bombing is less condemned but is widely found to be problematic. The Latvian newspaper Diena -- in commentaries published on succeeding days -- challenges unquestioning official support of the NATO action. It says: "Do people in Latvia understand who is being bombed in Kosovo? Presently the Western opinion rules. The Serbs are the bad ones. But the Latvian society already knows how information can be differently interpreted. For example -- 'Russians are being beaten at the Riga City Council,' and 'Jewish genocide is being reborn in Latvia.' As we all know, statements like this last year were produced not only by the Russian mass media, but also by the French, Scandinavian and U.S. press. Nevertheless, it doesn't worry the Latvian government to support unanimously NATO actions."

Diena says in a second commentary: "The world has come to see that Serbia is not '30s Germany, which neither the United States nor the U.K. nor France wanted to bridle."

NEAGARIGA: The Americans and their allies have instigated a situation where people in Serbia hate them

Latvia's Neakariga says: "The Americans and their allies have instigated a situation where people in Serbia -- even those partial to NATO and opposing Milosevic -- hate them. (But) NATO, avoiding any human losses, continues to show off its superiority by bombing Serbia."

CZECH REPUBLIC

MLADA FRONTA DNES: The communists' talk about having changed is rubbish

In the Czech Republic, one of three new former communist NATO members, two newspapers carry commentaries taking issue with political leaders and the Czech government of Social Democratic Prime Minister Milos Zeman. In Mlada fronta Dnes, commentator Vladimir Kucera ridicules a Communist Party proposal for a minute of silence "especially for the victims of NATO bombing." Kucera writes: "Obviously, killed Kosovo Albanians are something less valuable." The writer says: "The Communists have revealed themselves through the mouth of their deputy (Vojtech) Filip. Their talk about having changed is rubbish. If not, they would have to continue with the silence."

Kucera suggests that Filip propose a minute of silence for the "national hero, General Heliodo Pika," executed by the Communists 50 years ago in June. The writer says, "If the Communists were to observe a minute of silence for each of their innocent victims, they would have to keep silent for a very long time."

LIDOVE NOVINY: One would think that Lansky is not a minister in a government of a NATO member

Martin Schmarcz writes with typical Czech irony in Lidove noviny that "NATO is to blame for Serbian atrocities." Schmarcz asks, Who said this? His answer: "(Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic? Russian (ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir) Zhirinovsky? Or Czech Communist leader (Miroslav) Grebenicek? Unfortunately, none of them. This splendid idea occurred to Czech Deputy Premier Egon Lansky (and) made of himself a complete laughing stock."

The writer says: "Lansky claimed that NATO's attacks gave Milosevic a 'moral justification' for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. One would think that Lansky is not a minister in a government of a NATO member but an agent of Serbian propaganda. Lansky should know that NATO started the air attack just because Milosevic refused to stop an offensive in Kosovo."

Schmarcz writes: "Lansky underlined his ignorance by proposing talks instead of air attacks. This is exactly what Milosevic is seeking. Let NATO stop bombing and Serbia will sit at the negotiating table, while Serbian troops quietly finish ethnic cleansing in Kosovo."

POLAND

GAZETA WYBORCZA: NATO has to fulfill its promise

Poland's daily Gazeta Wyborcza acknowledges editorially that "bombing of missile launching pads, military garrisons, government buildings, power stations and bridges hasn't stopped ethnic cleansing." But the paper counsels that NATO members should "be armed in patience." The editorial says that the stakes are higher than even the future of NATO: "NATO -- and Poland within it -- took responsibility for Kosovo. We promised to defend it. NATO has repeated the pledge that the Kosovars will come back home. NATO has to fulfill this promise. If not, the basic faith in any possibility of building international order, even by means of air strikes, will break down."

BULGARIA

DEMOKRATSI: The great powers today are fighting to control their own creation

A writer in Demokratsi, in Bulgaria, compares modern Yugoslavia to Frankenstein's monster, with NATO in the role of Lord Frankenstein. Svetoslav Ovcharov writes in Demokratsia: "The great powers today are fighting to control their own creation -- the state of Yugoslavia." The writer says: "Those same powers which twice in the 20th century generously cut out parts of neighboring countries, sewing them onto Yugoslavia, today are trying to drag Yugoslavia back into their stifling embrace." Ovcharov writes: "We do not know who will be the victim -- the artificial creation or the scientist who gave it life. In both cases, however, the question is not who bears the blame, but who bears the greater blame. When people die -- be they Kosovar Albanians or Serbs -- no one is innocent."

24 CHASA: NATO and the EU must make the building of a second bridge on the Danube a condition for Romania's accession to both organizations

In Bulgaria's 24 Chasa, Yassen Hristov writes parochially that the Kosovo conflict opens a particular opportunity to press its demand for a second bridge across the Danube into Romania. He writes: "NATO and the European Union must make the building of a second bridge on the Danube a condition for Romania's accession to both organizations. Even in times of peace, Bulgaria suffers heavy losses because of the lack of a second bridge on the Danube. But the losses are not only on our side. The whole of Europe and the Middle East also suffer because of the delays, the long waiting lines at customs and ferries and the higher customs duties. (And) while Bulgaria is stifled by transport problems, Romania makes money."

Excerpts from commentary in Estonia and Slovakia also examine Kosovo from provincial perspectives.

ESTONIA

EESTI PAEVALEHT: The main question for Estonia is its economy

Estonia's Eesti Paevaleht says: "If the war in Kosovo remains a regional conflict, it would not bring major changes to the Estonian economy. The main question for Estonia is quite different. Will the IMF lend money to Russia, which has started a verbal war with the West over Kosovo?"

POSTIMEES: It's ridiculous to compare the genocide in Kosovo with Estonian demands of Russian-speakers living in Estonia

Postimees denounces those who draw a parallel between genocide in Kosovo and Estonian treatment of Russian-speakers in the border town of Narva. The paper says: "It's ridiculous and cynical to compare the genocide in Kosovo with Estonian government demands that Russian-speakers living in Estonia should learn the Estonian language."

SLOVAKIA

SME: The Czech lion is moving in NATO politics like a bull in a china shop

Sme in Slovakia worries that growing Czech ambivalence toward NATO may harden resistance to further NATO expansion, to include Slovakia, for instance. Sme says: "It is good that the Slovak government reacted to the air strikes with adequate words and adequate deeds, such as are expected from future allies." But Sme says: "Further NATO enlargement is dependent, to a considerable extent, on how the current new allies show themselves, and it seems that the Czech lion is moving in NATO politics like a bull in a china shop."

The paper continues: "It would be sad if the West comes to the conclusion that it doesn't need more such allies as some Czech politicians have shown themselves to be. Bratislava, with its past reputation as a black sheep, should convince the West in this particular case that loyalty and the protection of Western values are not empty phrases for it."

KYRGYZSTAN

ASABA: Ostrich policy never leads to respect

Kyrgyzstan's independent weekly Asaba carries a commentary by columnist Usen Kasybekov criticizing the government for failing to take a clear stand on Kosovo. Kasybetov writes: "From its beginning, Kyrgyzstan has been sluggish in expressing its point of view to the international events. The foreign ministry has announced that it is concerned about the events in Yugoslavia, and that the conflict should be resolved in the frame of the U.N., through peace negotiations. ... But the presidential administration and the government haven't declared their attitude."

The writer says: "(Kyrgyzstan) is very weak still, so it must seek to get under the wing of a strong country. On the one hand, that could be Russia. And Kyrgyzstan had signed the CIS agreement on collective defense. (But) on the other hand, Kyrgyzstan cannot cut off relations with the United States, which is the single great power in the world now. (Which) is why it needs to look before it leaps. But at the same time, Kyrgyzstan must express its attitude in a clear, exact and specific way. Ostrich policy never leads to respect."

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