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Western Press Review: Bulgaria -- A Nation In Revolt

Prague, 13 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The continuing protests in Bulgaria feature heavily in today's western press, one day after the ruling Socialists (BSP) -- former communists -- agreed to open talks with the opposition over its demand for early elections. But the Socialists are still vowing to stay in power for at least another year to "stabilize" Bulgaria.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Friday's violence raises doubts about the ability of police and opposition leaders to keep control

Anthony Robinson and Theodor Troev comment today that Bulgaria's main political forces are now locked in a power struggle which could delay the formation of a new government and risk growing street violence. According to Robinson and Troev, "The protestors are demanding early general elections, but the attack on parliament by several hundred demonstrators Friday night was the first serious incident of violence in weeks of growing protests. It has raised doubts over the ability of the police and the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) leadership to keep control."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Socialists' inactivity was disastrous for Bulgarians

In an analysis piece, Julius Strauss suggests that Bulgaria came to this point in its history because Socialism "failed to deliver the goods." As Strauss writes, "When Zhan Videnov and his Socialist Party beat the Center right opposition in Bulgarian National elections at the end of 1994, political commentators said the victory was proof Bulgarians had had enough of flirting with capitalism. Like many of their former comrades in Hungary, Poland and even Romania, they wanted a return to the safety and predictability of communism: cheap food, cheap housing and a comprehensive network of health services provided more or less free by the state.... But faced with the task of fitting Bulgaria into a new mold, the victorious Socialist Party prevaricated. Restructuring and privatization efforts were more or less halted, as were currency and economic measures aimed at stabilization. Even agreement on a policy towards NATO and European Union expansion was made impossible by suggestions that Bulgaria might be better off orientating itself towards Russia. According to Strauss' analyses, the results of the BSP's inactivity were "disastrous" for Bulgarians and their economy.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: A new majority is against the Socialists

Commentary in today's edition says "Even the middle class in Bulgaria has had to decide this Winter if they'd rather have heat or eat." This has led many Bulgarians, once again, to have had enough of the BSP, whose party offered up for sacrifice its leading man -- Prime Minister Zhan Videnov. But this appeared to the tens-of-thousands of opposition supporters in the big cities to be "too little too late." They want to grasp the rudder, and since the clear election victory of Presidential candidate Petar Stoyanov, its clear that there is a new majority in the land that's against the Socialists."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: In Bulgaria, the government has not falsified elections

Another report in the paper says "the imaginative protests of the opposition in Serbia have served the Bulgarian demonstrators in these days as an example. Above all, the young people seem to have gathered some ideas from watching the TV pictures from Belgrade. But the comparison between the protest movements in these two countries is a "limping one." In Bulgaria, the government has not falsified any elections... the parliamentary elections that the Socialists won in December, 94 were free and fair. Its therefore not the frustration over the lack of democracy in the land that's brought the Bulgarians out on the streets in many cities, rather its the worry about simply surviving. A great part of the population are impoverished and live under miserable conditions. The economic indicators for a year now are all heading downward."

GUARDIAN: A currency board cannot be established amid political turmoil

Julian Berger comments that worse is probably on the way. Berger says, "When currency dealing begins after the weekend break, most expect the national currency, the lev, to go through the floor. A currency board, or stringent monetary regime aimed at stabilizing the lev, was due to be agreed with the International Monetary Fund, but it cannot be established amid political turmoil."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Can the Socialists' critics provide the leadership to form governments?

Thalia Griffiths says that while in both Bulgaria and Serbia, the protests have united squabbling opposition parties, she says, "It remains to be seen whether the socialists' critics can provide the political and economic leadership necessary to form governments, but their supporters are determined they should have a chance." Griffiths goes on to quote protestor Stoyan Georgiev as saying,"We want the whole world to see our suffering and the arrogance of the Socialists.....They will not frighten us with the brutality of the police because we have chosen our future, and in our future Socialists no longer exist."


The Western press continues today to be preoccupied with developments in Serbia.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Members of the opposition are only temporary allies

One commentator sees the converse impact the Bulgarian situation has had on the events in Serbia... Von Bernhard Kuppers writes that the scenes of violence in neighboring Bulgaria serve the Belgrade propaganda machine, in that they suggest false comparisons from the ruling Socialists that the relatively peaceful demonstrations in Serbia are steered "from the same foreign centers." Milosevic does NOT appear inclined to give up power at the moment. To his advantage, according to the paper, is the fact that "The leaders of the Zajedno ("Together') coalition are certainly spokesmen for the demonstrators but NOT popular heroes of the demonstrators and, after years of argument, the opposition are only temporary allies among themselves."

Bernhard Kuppers' commentary also suggest that Milosevic is seeking to play the independent student movement off against the opposition parties. If this tactic works, he writes, "Milosevic can reckon with controversial strategy discussions in the opposition camp, and already there are rumours of an offer to form a coalition government."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Milosevic is standing firm in his refusal to recognize opposition victories in Belgrade

A commentary by Laura Silber takes a similar view of Milosevic's hold on power. Silber suggests that President Milosevic is "standing firm" in his refusal to recognize opposition victories in Belgrade, despite intense international pressure and nearly two months of mass, daily street protests. Silber says a meeting yesterday with Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos cooled speculation, "that Milosevic was looking for a way out of the crisis." According to Silber, a joint statement -- issued after two Serbian Deputy Prime Ministers met student protest leaders in Belgrade over the weekend -- called for the final results to be implemented, saying the popular will must be respected. But Silber said the statement stopped short of conceding opposition wins.

INDEPENDENT: The economy is in ruins and the prospects for credit remain dim

Andrew Gumbel writes today that Milosevic is "seeking to buy time in an endgame that looks set to be drawn-out and beset with murky power struggles." Gumbel says that if Milosevic is successful, he will appease the international community, give his government a more open-minded profile, crack open the united front now being presented by the opposition and rebuild his personal popularity -- less this time Gumbel says, through propaganda in the state media, and more through political savvy.

But Gumbel suggests Milosevic still has a long way to go. As he put it, "The economy is in ruins and the prospects for a rapid injection of foreign credit look dim as long as he (Milosevic) remains in power." Gumbel also suggests that The JUL, the hardline Communist party run by Milosevic's wife, is "a millstone around his neck which he cannot easily get rid of." Gumbel said there also growing questions about Milosevic's feel for "political reality," after so many years as the undisputed strongman of the region.