By Lawrence Holland and Jolyon Naegele
Prague, 28 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Turmoil in Albania and continuing uncertainties surrounding the health of Russian President Boris Yeltsin are two matters raised in the Western press today.
In Albania, some two weeks of often violent protest have followed the collapse of two so-called "pyramid schemes" which had promised investors extremely high returns. Several editorials and analyses put much of the blame for the troubles on the country's political leaders, particularly President Sali Berisha.
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Albanian authorities need to recognize that market economies require stability
James Pettifer, in an analysis from Tirana, writes that "the crisis stems from the failure of Albanian authorities to recognize that market economies require the stability provided by the rule of law and a measure of regulation. Without it," Pettifer says, "organized crime easily moves in under the guise of legitimate enterprise."
Pettifer says "the West holds some of Mr. Berisha's purse strings through massive IMF, EU, World Bank and other institutional subventions that are continually being made." He says the West should "make clear to Mr. Berisha, and to other Eastern European governments, that financial support requires reform."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: The 'market' will be identified with collapsed pyramid schemes and painful reforms
An unsigned editorial says that the schemes' investors also share the blame. "Thousands of Albanians," it says "have just learned a harsh lesson in economics: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." The editorial continues "the whole affair will no doubt make Albanians less trustful of the 'market' -- a term many now identify with collapsed pyramid schemes and painful reforms." The paper concludes "this will place an even greater burden on the country's leaders. They must continue the reform process while convincing a bewildered and frustrated public that the benefits that process will deliver are real and lasting -- but cannot be reaped overnight."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Demonstrations and outrage at having been swindled are not unique to Albania
Bernhard Kueppers notes in an editorial that unrest following lost investments is not unique to Albania. "The cause for the demonstrations and the outrage at having been swindled is not only to be found in Albania but is also well-known in several other post-communist states. In Serbia, Romania and Russia, the indignation of the victims of incompetent banking institutions has quickly transformed itself against the authorities who are alleged or real participants in the swindle."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Distrust of financial institutions is an obstacle to reform
A commentary by John Plender notes that "since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the peoples of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have suffered a virulent plague of pyramid financing." Plender says "the tragic consequence of pyramid fraud is that millions have been deprived of their savings. And the consequent distrust of financial instruments and institutions is an immense obstacle to continuing economic reform."
FRANKFURTER ALLEGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Practically no separation exists between political and economic power
An analysis by Budapest correspondent Matthias Rueb notes that the way the ruling party exercises power in Albania is a factor in the creation of the present crisis. Rueb says that as in Serbia and Bulgaria, two other states presently rocked by protests, "the distribution of power is only rudimentary, so that the parties' favorites get controlling positions in the legislative, executive and juridical branches." He says that in addition, "practically no separation exists between political and economic power." Reub says "it takes years to establish a Western-style democracy with the standard political spectrum, and in most Balkan states like in East-Central Europe, this process is not yet over..."
Following the announcement that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has cancelled another appointment -- this time a meeting in the Netherlands next week with European leaders -- some Western newspapers comment on the political implications of Yeltsin's health troubles.
LONDON TIMES: The cancellation of the trip plays into Yeltsin's rivals' hands
Richard Breeson, writing from Moscow, says "the decision to cancel the visit to The Hague, the first foreign trip planned by the President in nearly a year, played straight into the hands of his rivals, who have been calling on him to resign or at least to amend the constitution and allow a transfer of some powers to parliament."
WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin has not been an active president since last June
R. Jeffrey Smith writes "Yeltsin has not been an active president since late last June, when he suffered a heart attack in the closing days of his successful re-election campaign. Although that heart attack was covered up at the time by the Kremlin, it was clear to all that Yeltsin was not in day-to-day charge of the government."
Smith says "the Russian leader, who turns 66 Saturday, has not been glimpsed in public since January 6, and the Kremlin's by now familiar obfuscations -- the ailing and invisible Yeltsin is constantly said to be 'working on documents' -- have become the subject of open scorn and mockery in the Russian media."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Yeltsin must have the courage to quit when he knows he cannot govern
An unsigned editorial opens with the words "Mr. Boris Yeltsin is clearly a very sick man." The paper goes on to say "the country is drifting. There is a sense of paralysis in the government and despair in the population at the corruption and abuse of power in the coterie of new capitalists surrounding the sick president. If Mr. Yeltsin remains out of action for weeks, if not months, vital decisions will not be taken."
The paper says "Mr. Yeltsin's associates are desperate to cling to power and the profits it brings, fearful that any new election -- which must be held within three months of a presidential resignation -- would give victory to Alexander Lebed, the mercurial ex-general."
The paper notes "some in the West" might also prefer that Yeltsin hang on to power, but says "the reality is that the transition has already begun. The danger is that a prolonged period of drift under an incapacitated president will leave all those associated with the Kremlin, and with its positive reforms, as well as its cronyism and corruption, totally discredited."
The editorial says "If Mr. Yeltsin can return to full fitness, it would be splendid. But that looks ever less likely. Rather, it is already beginning to look depressingly like the last years of Leonid Brezhnev, when he was kept in power in a semi-comatose state. The resulting era of corrupt stagnation ensured the final collapse of communism." The paper concludes by saying that Yeltsin "must have the courage...to quit when he knows he cannot govern again."