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Western Press Review: Armenia, Romania And The Future Of Polish Privatization

  • Don Hill

Prague, 11 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A substantial segment of Western newspaper commentary looks eastward today.


In an editorial headlined "Remember the Armenians," the Daily Telegraph, London, suggests a touch of hypocrisy in Britain's official naming of a Holocaust Day on 27 January.

The editorial says: "Atrocities since World War Two will be included, but the first instance of genocide in the last century, the massacre of a million and a half Armenians by the Turks in 1915 and 1916, will not. Judging from (U.S. President) Bill Clinton's nervousness about possible Congressional recognition last year of the Armenians' fate, it is difficult not to conclude that their exclusion from 27 January events is determined more by fear of offending a valued ally than by historical truth."

The editorial says: "The Holocaust Memorial Day does not deserve wide public support. But we hope at least that the Armenians will use it to draw attention to neglect of their tragic past."


The International Herald Tribune devotes space today to a commentary by a former U.S. ambassador to Romania who writes in defense of Romania's incoming president, Ion Iliescu. The writer says Iliescu is "unfairly branded in the West as a former communist." Diplomat Alfred H. Moses writes: "As it turns out, the one person in Romania who denounced [communist dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu publicly and survived was Ion Iliescu."

Moses writes: "In the runoff election, Mr. Iliescu was backed by such former political adversaries as Romania's Hungarian Party and the Civic Alliance, which encouraged student riots against the Iliescu regime in 1990."

The writer says: "Mr. Iliescu and Mr. Nastase know that Romania has no choice but to join the West." And he concludes: "Iliescu in his current term [may come to be] a transition president under whom the country moved away from its ill-fated past and began to make its mark as a stable, democratic country with a sustainable free market economy. Romania, the second largest country in Central Europe, is too important strategically for the West to ignore. It is in the West's interest not to write off Romania when there is still a basis for hope."


Britain's Financial Times editorializes that, by heavy-handedness in dealing with an insurance dispute, Poland's leaders are endangering their nation's reputation as a good venue for foreign investment.

The newspaper says: "Poland this week raised the stakes in a dispute with foreign investors over control of PZU, the country's dominant insurer. Instead of attempting to settle the long-running affair, the government this week added fuel to the flames with ill-considered sackings at PZU. The argument will cast a shadow over Poland's reputation as an investor-friendly country."

The editorial argues: "Real damage to Poland is being done by the government. Even if it is technically within its rights, as 56 percent shareholder, to kick out Eureko's representatives, its approach goes against the spirit of the management agreement that envisaged eventual full privatization of PZU with control passing to the investors."

The Financial Times concludes: "Such short-sighted maneuvering would be dangerous. Investors' faith in the government could be undermined. Warsaw's future privatization's, including the disposal of PKO BP, the largest bank, could be thrown into jeopardy. The government's commitment to establish a level playing field in the economy -- a key condition of EU entry -- might be thrown into doubt."


The Washington Post today publishes a commentary by the co-chairman of a U.S. task force on proliferation of nuclear weapons that made its report yesterday after nine months of study. Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler write that Russia's nuclear stockpile is so vulnerable to mischief that it comprises the greatest current threat to U.S. security.

The writers say: "The most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today is that weapons of mass destruction or weapons-usable material located in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home. In a worst-case scenario, a nuclear engineering graduate with a grapefruit-sized lump of highly enriched uranium or an orange-sized lump of plutonium, along with other items readily available in commercial markets, could fashion a nuclear device that would fit in a vehicle like the van the terrorist parked in the World Trade Center in 1993."

They urge a concentrated, emergency response: "The president and Congress should promptly formulate a strategic eight- to 10-year plan to secure and neutralize all nuclear weapons-usable material located in Russia, and to prevent the outflow of scientific expertise and equipment that other states or terrorist groups could use for nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction. To achieve this goal would be one of the greatest contributions the United States and Russia can make to the security and safety of their own citizens and the rest of the world."


The Wall Street Journal Europe says present Russian-Georgian relations constitute a dangerous case of Russian bullying of a partially dependent neighbor. It says that the United States should extend itself to help a friend. The newspaper editorializes: "Never quite able to accept Georgian sovereignty, Russia has sought since the country's independence to influence policy there. It has many means at its disposal for doing this, not the least of which is Georgia's dependence on Russia for natural gas."

The newspaper says: "The gas games -- which Russia has played with other former republics as well -- are merely one way of pressuring Georgia to play according to Moscow's rules. [And] What Russia really wants is the right to base, and use at will, Russian troops in Georgia. The agreement for [Russian] bases is due to expire in July and Georgia has made clear it is not inclined to extend the lease."

The editorial concludes: "The new Bush Administration should address this problem as soon as possible. As the rest of the region is only too keenly aware, Moscow's effort to regain control of Georgia is the thin end of the wedge."


The U.S. newspaper The Washington Times editorializes today on another form of what it calls "Kremlin brinkmanship," that is, stepping close to the brink, or edge, of war. The newspaper says:

"Poland is not pleased that Russia has transferred tactical nuclear weapons to its military base on the Baltic Sea. In fact, the whole world should be alarmed. Russia's deployment of the weapons was first disclosed by Bill Gertz of The Washington Times earlier this month, based on the testimony of [unnamed] U.S. officials. Although the movement of nuclear arms to the Baltic base in Kaliningrad was initially detected and photographed in June, the Defense Intelligence Agency didn't report the information to U.S. officials until December. One U.S. official interviewed by Mr. Gertz said the intelligence on Russia was suppressed for political reasons."

The editorial concludes: "The Kremlin knows the current administration [of outgoing U.S. President Bill Clinton] would rather allow Russia to conceal its military policies than deal with this serious defense challenge head on. In 1995, the White House promised Moscow it wouldn't sanction Russia for its arms and nuclear sales to Iran if they ended in 1999. And clearly, the White House is determined to pass on the Kaliningrad crisis to the next administration, which will need to act on this front as soon as possible. In the meantime, global security has been undermined."