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Western Press Review: Albanians Protest Losses And Chechens Vote

Prague, 27 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Disturbances in Albania and the voting in Chechnya are two subjects which occupy the Western press today. In Albania, there has been tumult in the streets as people express their rage at losing their savings in the collapse of so-called pyramid investment schemes.

LONDON TIMES: Get-rich-quick-schemes are a national mania in Albania

An editorial says: "Albanians are discovering at bitter cost one of the harshest rule of free markets -- caveat emptor ('let the buyer beware') -- and the cry in the streets is that the government that stole their votes last year has now stolen their money as well."

"In Albania, these get-rich-quick schemes have been a national mania. And because the fraudsters have been visibly on good terms with ministers and high profile contributors to party coffers, the government cannot escape blame. It has promised the losers jobs or loans to start up small businesses. But so many have lost their shirts that compensation will only be patchy....."

"Such frauds are even easier to perpetrate in countries whose command-economy bureaucrats know little about how free economies work, where there is little or no regulatory framework, and where as long as most people can remember, the choice of savers was limited to miserly state banks or their mattresses."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Pyramid schemes may have attracted $1 billion

Kevin Done and Kerin Hope comment that the collapse of the pyramid schemes has hit Albania, Europe's poorest country, harder than the earlier demise of similar funds affected other countries elsewhere in former communist east Europe.

"International financial institutions estimate that the funds could have attracted $1 billion, equivalent to more than 30 percent of the gross domestic product. Some people have sold their homes, land, or livestock to invest in funds that promised to double their money in two or three months....."

"There are fears that the collapse of the schemes could undo much recent economic progress, triggering higher inflation, weakening the currency and undermining prospects for investment and employment."

"In many cases Albanians have lost all the savings built up during the past six years as the country emerged from decades of Stalinist isolation, a blow that threatens a repetition of the (Albanian) exodus to Greece and Italy that occurred amid the economic chaos if the early 1990s."

LIBERATION: The political opposition accuses the government of collusion

A report in the French daily notes that the opposition is watching the Albanian government's predicament with glee. It says that "The opposition is accusing the government of collusion with the schemes. Rexhep Medjani, secretary general of the Albanian Socialist party -- the former communists -- has demanded the resignation of the government, and called for the creation of a 'government of technocrats.' "The authorities are responsible for the crisis, Medjani declared at a public rally attended by 12,000 people."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Some people say they want to find a new pyramid scheme

Andrew Gumbel reports, however, that: "The riots do not express widespread revulsion at the government, but rather an irrational desire by people to fight for what they believe to be their right -- the return to them of their money and the high returns which it was supposed to earn. Several people who have lost hundreds, even thousands of dollars in the past few days say all they want is to find a new pyramid scheme in which to pour another pile of money."


LONDON TIMES: Many hope that Maskhadov wins today's election

With voting underway for the self-declared president and parliament of Chechnya, Richard Beeston reports that "many hopes, in Chechnya and Russia, are pinned on the leading candidate, Aslan Maskhadov, a softly-spoken former Soviet army officer, who led the guerrilla forces to a stunning victory over the Russians and then negotiated a peace deal with Moscow....If Mr Maskhadov does not win outright in the first round with a simple majority of the votes, he may face a stiff challenge in the run-off. Shamil Basayev, the hostage taker, field commander, and Russia's most wanted guerrilla fighter, has fought a brilliant election campaign and could still pull off an upset."

Beeston says that "Then there are the myriad factions, clans and armed groups which dominate Chechen society and politics and make the country hard to govern and easy to destabilize....Much of what happens to the country after the election will depend on its relations with Russia and the course of negotiations over the coming four years on its final status either as an independent state or as a member-country of the Russian Federation."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Chechnya is already independent of Russia

Lee Hockstader reports that all the main contenders for the Chechen presidency agree on one thing, namely that: "Effectively, Chechnya is already independent, whether Moscow likes it or not. That has caused much hand-wringing in the Kremlin, which fearing further dismemberment of the federation, refuses to recognize Chechen independence even though all signs of Russia's authority there -- police, army, government, courts -- have been wiped away."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The election is a bizarre experiment in armed democracy

Alan Philps reports that "The election in the tiny republic on Russia's southern border will be one of the more bizarre experiments in armed democracy, and the omens for a peaceful vote look very bad on the surface. Almost every man in the 650,000 population has a weapon, from pistols to anti-tank rockets. Tens of thousands of armed men are hoping their commander will win and share with them the spoils of war.

Philps continues that "The republic is dirt poor. No salaries have been paid since August, and most survive thanks only to the kindness of relations and neighbors. There is no real government."