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Western Press Review: Yeltsin Back In Hospital and The World Worries

Prague, 9 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary looks at Russian President Boris Yeltsin's health, yesterday's confirmation hearings for U.S. Secretary of State-designate Madeleine Albright, and the European Union's plan for a single currency.

President Boris Yeltsin

With yesterday's hospitalization of Russian President Boris Yeltsin western commentators agree that even if Yeltsin recovers quickly from his bout of pneumonia, this latest illness badly undermines the public confidence in his leadership that was starting to return following the successful heart surgery.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yeltsin's health effects more than just him.

As Carol Williams writes today, "The evidence that has come forward this week attesting to Yeltsin's persistent health woes is likely to destroy the short-lived atmosphere of confidence about Russia's future and rekindle the bitter power struggle that raged while the leader was indisposed last fall." Williams also notes that "During the Communist era, when information about the leader's health was a closely-guarded secret, Kremlin mouthpieces often blamed long absences on 'colds,' causing such phraseology to become a euphemism for life-threatening situations."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Russians have a deep suspicion of health bulletins

John Thornhill, makes the point that while the Kremlin has become more open about the president's health, this, paradoxically, has only made people more nervous: "Mr. Yeltsin's press service has recently displayed an unprecedented degree of openness about the president's state of health, reporting his blood pressure and temperature. But the Russian public appears to have retained a deep suspicion of official health bulletins about their leaders."

INDEPENDENT: Now is a bad time for Yeltsin to be sick

Phil Reeves, says this is not suprising given the fact that Yeltsin "has only managed to survive a fortnight before heading back to bed." He says this is a "serious blow to Mr. Yeltsin," adding that "it comes at a time when Russia faces a number of crises - from continuing unpaid wages and uncollected taxes to a battle to reach an agreement with NATO over Eastern Europe." Reeves also notes that the old Kremlin power games are now likely to return in the open: "Mr. Yeltsin will be keenly aware that his last long absence prompted a damaging feud among those eager to wield power - notably Mr. Chubais and General Lebed. The Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, the president's rival in last year's election, has also alleged in the past that he is too sick to govern."

I.H.T.: A look back at the last 18 months

David Hoffman, writing for the International Herald Tribune, offers another pessimistic assessment: "For most of the last 18 months, Mr. Yeltsin has been in and out of hospitals because of a serious heart condition that led to his Nov. 5 quintuple bypass surgery. During that time, Mr. Yeltsin won re-election but otherwise his rule has been characterized by drift and paralysis, partly caused by his long absences. If he is seriously ill or hospitalized for a long period, it would again short-circuit hopes of his allies and many reformers that he could return to vigorous leadership."

Le FIGARO: More fuel for the oppositions fire

Isabelle Lasserre, writing for the French newspaper, agrees: "This new disappearance, for the n-th time, will no doubt relaunch the political battle in Moscow. Even if the Russian president recovers once again from his illness, his opponents will not fail to recall that since he was re-elected in July, the head of state has only been at his desk for a few days."

Madeleine Albright

The Washington Post's editorial endorses Albright, saying her "background and record of achievement do more than make her the role model several senators yesterday suggested her to be. As 'an embodiment,' in her words, 'of the turbulence of the 20th century, as well as the tolerance and optimism of the United States,' Ambassador Albright also brings authenticity and emotion to the view that U.S. foreign policy should go beyond an accountant's reckoning of obligations and interests and extend instead to a vigorous promotion of American democratic values."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Albright's career reflects what she believes

Steven Erlanger, notes that "in her long career, which has mixed academia, politics and government to an unusual degree, Madeleine Albright has shown a consistent interest in issues of press freedom and individual rights in authoritarian countries." He adds that "As a study of her published writings demonstrates, Mrs. Albright has devoted a considerable amount of her career to examining the way human rights and civil and press freedoms have worked to bring about long-term change and democratization, especially in Central and Eastern Europe."

Nevertheless, in its official editorial, The New York Times expresses disappointment at what it calls Albright's "muted" performance before the Senate committee. The paper notes, "If Madeleine Albright is contemplating any significant shift in American foreign policy during Bill Clinton's second term, she did a good job of disguising it yesterday."

The paper continues: "Mrs. Albright showed disappointingly little of the fire she is known for on issues like democracy and human rights. She will prove more a custodian than an innovator if she manages American diplomacy according to the familiar outline she sketched yesterday....She called human rights a signature element of American foreign policy, and criticized the conduct of repressive regimes in Nigeria, Indonesia and Myanmar, the former Burma. But she seemed determined to mute her concerns and demonstrate her enthusiasm for other aspects of American policy, particularly efforts to open foreign markets to American business."

The European Union

I.H.T.: Creating a single currency (the euro) by 1999 is a lunatic idea

The International Herald Tribune presents an editorial written by Robert J. Samuelson urging the European Union to give up its plans for a single euro-currency. Samuelson warns that far from uniting the EU, a single currency could lead to bitter divisions and launch a century of weakness and quarrels for the continent. Samuelson writes: "Europe's plan to create a single currency, the euro, by 1999, is a lunatic idea. It is bad for Europe and may be bad for America and everyone else. " He adds that many European countries will not be able to meet the strict criteria currently mandated for joining the single currency. This means the criteria will likely be relaxed. This, in Samuelson's opinion, will turn the euro into a "weak currency," which will have the potential of creating more social unrest and a new wave of protectionism.

He concludes that the euro would then "tragically...spawn disunity. Europeans would quarrel over who was to blame for the single currency failing to meet unrealistic expectations. There would be disillusion with the larger idea of Europe." Samuelson calls on the United States to publicly "stop treating the project with a respectful silence and express the skepticism it deserves. Otherwise, the only hope is that the Europeans will come to their senses. The single currency is an economic version of the Maginot Line. Like the euro, it was a grand delusion."