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Western Press Review: Economic Reform, West And East, And Serbia's Milosevic

By Carolyn Tang and Ron Synovitz

Prague,10 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- With the conclusion of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week and the news of Germany's record high unemployment level, press attention is focusing on the relationship among economics, politics and society.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Leaders are saying there is little they can do about unemployment

In a news analysis in today's edition, correspondent Alan Friedman says: "With the ranks of jobless across the European Union swollen to nearly 20 million, many of them young people who have never even held a job, the Continent's political leaders are facing a potential social time bomb with no near-term remedy in sight....Many senior European political leaders and central bankers," Friedman continues, "are telling one another in private that there is little they can do on the unemployment front except to hope for a stronger economic recovery and try to deregulate their inflexible labor markets." But Friedman also recognizes the difficult decision countries need to make when undertaking economic reform. He writes: "At present those who suggest a postponement of (European) monetary union are being ostracized by Europe's political leaders. By summer their voices will either be stilled or grow louder."

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS: Solidarity can overcome public fear and anxiety

A column written by Trudy Rubin on Friday said a failure to reassure what she called the "anxious" public "could bring on a dangerous backlash of nationalism and protectionism. But Rubin realizes that "to cope with the social costs of globalization, industrialized countries must first confront a moral issue: Do they want to abandon fairness in the untrammeled pursuit of global corporate worth?"

Rubin noted the position of French Minister of Labor Jacques Barot, outlined at the World Economic Forum. She wrote: "Barot argued that solidarity (meaning social consensus between labor, business and government) can help overcome the public fear and anxiety that may impede globalization." Rubin commented: "Yes, France is an odd example, given that the French have 12 percent unemployment because of overly generous social benefits, which block creation of new jobs. But that doesn't mean Bardot's words have no significance. French leaders know they must reform their economy."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Germany has restricted alliances aimed at regenerating the labor market

Commentary in the German press on the country's high unemployment blames the government for not paying enough attention to jobs in the past. Roland Bunzenthal last week said that the German government has chosen to favor emphasizing its economic austerity policy over social benefits. Bunzenthal wrote that the German government "has done its best over the last 12 months to restrict any alliances aimed at regenerating the labor market. Not only has this been one-sidedly serving the interests of the trade balance and the hard-liners responsible for the employer-oriented economic policies, welfare and fiscal policies, but it has also opened up great rifts between those involved."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Social security of yesterday will fail in the business world of tomorrow

The conservative daily says today: "What will definitely fail is the muddled attempt to push the social security system of yesterday into the business world of tomorrow. That will lead to a huge accident whose result will be mass unemployment."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Tools of the old industrial era can't cope with the future

A third commentary in the German press appeared last week. Dagmar Deckstein sarcastically suggested that "perhaps it really would be better to let 'nature' take its course and wait until joblessness has blown up to such proportions that it becomes obvious even to the last people in the country that the tools of the old industrial era are not equal to the task of coping with the future."

WASHINGTON POST: Bulgaria is a lesson in how not to manage an economic transition

There are comparable problems in Eastern Europe, too. According to Lee Hockstader, Bulgaria is an example of a government trying to reform domestic economy while avoiding social downfall. Hockstader reports today from Sofia that economists and foreign observers say "corruption, mismanagement and insider deals have plagued virtually every former Communist country in Eastern Europe. But as an object lesson in how not to manage the economic transition from socialism, this country of 8.4 million people is in a league of its own." Yet, Hockstader also says, "the shuffle toward democracy has not been matched by a comparable move toward a free-market economy."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Poland is not economically prepared for EU membership

The drive to join the European Union is forcing other governments in Central and Eastern Europe to consider what impact membership would have on their countries. In an interview in today's edition, Krzysztof Bledowski, the chief economist with bond dealers Wood Commerz AS in Warsaw, says the Polish government is putting politics over economics by trying to gain membership before it is economically prepared for it. He says: "Note that the (idea of joining the EU within a decade) came from the government and not from the central bank, which is in charge of monetary policy."


In the aftermath of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's agreement last week to reinstate opposition election victories, Western analysts have been speculating about what Milosevic's next move might be.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The bill reinstating opposition election victories is full of holes

An article in today's edition by Guy Dinmore says some analysts are skeptical about the Milosevic-inspired draft law to recognize the original results of the November municipal ballots. Writing from Belgrade, Dinmore quotes analysts as saying that the bill now before the parliament is "full of holes" that would allow Milosevic to deny the opposition its electoral gains. He notes that the draft is seen as "yet another tactic by the president to gain time" in the hope that anti-government demonstrations will lose their momentum." Dinmore also says that other analysts and Western diplomats view Milosevic's agreement as a "significant concession" that could lead to dialogue with the opposition.

LONDON GUARDIAN: Milosevic is a master at stringing along the international community

But an editorial in Friday's edition says it is "elementary common sense" not to give Milosevic the benefit of doubt until Belgrade's Parliament ratifies the election results. The Guardian says that Milosevic has proven himself to be a "master of stringing along" the international community. It says that Milosevic "has no compunction about treating his own people in the same way." The Guardian warns that Milosevic may be tempted to rally Serb nationalism in Serbia's largely ethnic-Albanian region of Kosovo. The paper concludes that the United States was right to warn Milosevic about Serbia's "state of repression" in Kosovo, and that the message should be repeated by the European Union and any individuals who have official dealings with the Belgrade government.

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: If Milosevic leaves office, war crimes prosecutors will pounce

Christopher Lockwood, diplomatic editor, says that opposition forces ultimately want to see Milosevic resign. But Lockwood believes that "Milosevic's fall probably lies far in the future." In his analysis, Lockwood says the Serbian president may attempt to hold onto power by starting a new war in Kosovo, by printing more money or by provoking an incident with demonstrators. He says Milosevic may even try all three of these tactics because "the tyrant knows that the path from the presidential palace in Belgrade leads directly to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague." Lockwood adds that prosecutors in The Hague have been building their case against Milosevic for months. Once Milosevic is out of office, he writes, "they will pounce."

SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: Milosevic is preparing for a life in exile

A weekend report by Tim Judah in the London newspaper says evidence suggests that Milosevic has begun to prepare for a life outside of Serbia. Judah notes reports from Greece and elsewhere that Milosevic has invested in property in Athens, is negotiating to buy a villa in Corfu and has bought a yacht. He also notes that Milosevic has chosen to channel cash through London. But Judah says opposition claims that Milosevic is "systematically looting the country's last foreign currency reserves( are) clearly designed to fuel public discontent" as street protests subside. He explains: "Not least, the aim is to tap into the fears of thousands of small Serbian bank depositors who have been unable to withdraw any money from their accounts....By raising doubts over the motives behind the international transfers, the president's opponents are feeding suspicions that (the funds) are being diverted to private accounts to provide Milosevic with a foreign pension (for his) life in exile."