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Western Press Review: Belarus--A 'Chernobyl' For The Rule Of Law

Prague, 21 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The "Wall Street Journal Europe" calls the current crisis in Belarus "The Chernobyl of Law." The British magazine "The Economist" writes of a "Backward lurch" for democracy. France's "Le Figaro" refers to "Lukashenka's poker bluff." Western commentary anxiously assesses the grab for dictatorial powers in Belarus of President Alexander Lukashenka.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The West should pay more attention to Belarus

In an editorial today, the paper says: "Now that voters in Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania have ousted their post-communist regimes, the feared redivision of Europe into democratic and post-communist spheres seems more remote than it once did. Yet this reassertion of liberal democracy makes the exception of Belarus all the more disturbing. The fact that this country of just 10 million has been sinking into a primordial Stalinist ooze hasn't seemed to particularly concern strategic thinkers in the West. Maybe it should."

The editorial contends: "Given the outside world's ineffectiveness -- and Russia's interest in keeping Belarus firmly in the fold -- any real change for the better may be up to the Belarusians themselves. Unfortunately, Belarus's most promising opposition leaders have nearly all fled the country or been otherwise silenced."

The newspaper concludes: "A growing number of Belarusians no longer believe their leaders' unfulfilled promises of economic salvation, or trust that absolute power for Mr. Lukashenka will somehow make their lives better. But their voices are unlikely to be heard in this Sunday's state-controlled vote -- or any other under the current president."

THE ECONOMIST: Lukashenka remains bafflingly popular

The current issue (November 16) says: "Given the powers already wielded by Alexander Lukashenka, president of Belarus, it is hard to see why he feels the need for more. But his desire to give Belarus his personal attention knows no bounds. A Yes vote in the constitutional referendum he has called this month would give him a fresh five-year term, in place of the three years currently remaining to him. It would allow him to create an upper house of parliament appointed directly and indirectly by himself. It would also give him the right to name half the members of the constitutional court, and still greater freedom to rule by decree."

Says the publication: "Mr. Lukashenka remains bafflingly popular in his benighted country. He may yet win his referendum without having to stuff the ballot boxes. If he does, he says, he will use his new powers to promote union between Belarus and Russia." The magazine concludes: "And if he loses? Mr. Lukashenka does not intend to lose. A peoples' democratic dictatorship beckons."

LE FIGARO: Lukashenka believes in his own invulnerability

In a news analysis today from Minsk, correspondent Irina de Chikoff writes: "Lukashenka is playing a tight game (of cards), which he likes to do because he believes in his own invulnerability. In this round of bluff poker, (he) doesn't doubt for an instant that he will be victorious. That conviction constitutes his force and has captivated a majority of Belarusians. When he tells his partisans, 'I will never give up the power that the people have granted me,' they applaud so vigorously their hands hurt."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yeltsin sought to avert a violent clash

In an analysis today, Carol J. Williams writes: "In his first diplomatic undertaking since resuming presidential duties shortly after his November 5 quintuple bypass operation, (Russian President Boris) Yeltsin spoke with Lukashenka by phone (yesterday) and sought to avert a violent clash in the country that is Russia's closest ally. Yeltsin urged Lukashenka to compromise with his adversaries for the sake of stability in the region." She writes: "Belarus has the closest ties with Moscow of any of the former Soviet republics, but work on strengthening integration of the two nations' customs and transportation has been stymied by the domestic political battle." Williams says that, "The Kremlin reported that Yeltsin urged Lukashenka 'to show governing wisdom, find a path to compromise and avert a split in Belarussian society.' "

DIE WELT: Lukashenka suffers from megalomania

The German newspaper carries in today's edition a commentary by Mathias Brueggman. The writer says: "Belarus's young democracy is in danger. The media are gagged. The opposition is opting for exile. The police are battling with demonstrators. And President Alexander Lukashenka, who already behaves like a dictator, aims to have his power cemented by a constitutional amendment."

He writes: "Political observers are agreed. The 42-year-old former head of a collective farm and political instructor of the KGB's border guards suffers from megalomania. Belarus press reports claim that he has set his heart on becoming a 'big tsar in Moscow.' "

Brueggman says that Belarusian journalist Ihar Hermianchuk "has an explanation at the ready for Lukashenka's purportedly pathological behavior -- 'He grew up without a father, (so) he was made fun of in his native village, Kopyz, and despised as a second-class child. He has always used his fists to fight his exaggerated inferiority complex.' "

FINANCIAL TIMES: Belarus is the least reformed and the most impoverished

The British newspaper says today in an editorial: "It has been tempting for most of the outside world to ignore the republic of Belarus, since it became the least enthusiastic breakaway fragment of the former Soviet Union. It remains the least reformed and most impoverished European part of the former empire -- its economy in a state of collapse and its politics bordering on farce. Yet that is why it matters."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Lukashenka rebuffed Russian efforts to mediate

Matthew Kaminski in Kiev and John Thornhill in Moscow write today in a news analysis that Lukashenka "yesterday rebuffed Russian efforts to mediate in his intensifying dispute with his country's parliament. (His) increasingly authoritarian rule has embarrassed the Kremlin, which considers Belarus a strategically important ally in Central Europe"

The writer says: "The president's determined stand comes as the Kremlin, which until this week steadfastly backed him, has called for compromise and openly expressed its displeasure at the standoff."

LONDON TIMES: Belarus deserves better

The paper says in an editorial that "Belarus deserves better than Lukashenka." The Times says: "His paranoia, daily fed by aides reporting on his opponents, brings a bloody showdown nearer. The West can do little. But Moscow must now cast adrift this petty would-be dictator, who threatens complete ruin for his beleaguered country."