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Western Press Review: Politics Roils Eastern Europe

By Don Hill, Esther Pan and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 31 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Politics, especially voting in Ukraine and Armenia and a government collapse in Romania attracts attention from Western commentators.

LONDON TIMES: Ukraine is sliding into the role of beet-root republic

Author Anna Reid, writing in The Times of London, decries in a column today what she calls a tendency in the West to ignore the importance of Ukraine. She writes: "The sixth largest country in Europe has just elected a new parliament. According to preliminary results, released yesterday, about one in three seats went to the Communist Party and its allies, scotching hopes of economic reform. The leading candidates for president, who will be elected next year, are a man who thinks the means of production should stay in state hands, and the former head of the secret police.

"Which is this country? It is Ukraine. A nation quietly sliding into the role of beet-root republic, its economy in ruins, its media cowed, its politicians as hated as they are corrupt. Ukraine is the quintessential faraway land about which we know nothing."

She concludes: "Like the spoilt child of divorcees, Ukraine has become expert at playing off the White House against the Kremlin, demanding expensive toys, such as International Monetary Fund loans from the West, cheap oil and gas from Russia, in exchange for empty promises of political loyalty and economic reforms. The sooner mum and dad tell Ukraine that it is time to take its medicine, the better for us, for Russia, and for the pathetic pensioners standing patiently in the Kiev snow."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Political deadlock shows little sign of being broken

Ukraine's left made large gains in yesterday's election but now has some hard choices to make, Charles Clover says from Kyiv in a news analysis in the British economic daily Financial Times. He writes: "The political deadlock that has impeded economic reform in Ukraine showed little sign of being broken yesterday after elections that failed to provide a clear-cut majority for any party. (The) Communist-led left has gained ground on its previous total of 112 (out of 450) seats but has not achieved a majority."

Clover says: "The left's position might be strengthened if it forms a coalition with Hromada (Togetherness), which is made up primarily of commercial interests from the Dnipropetrvsk region in Eastern Ukraine and is fiercely opposed to President (Leonid) Kuchma."

LE MONDE: Massive vote for Communists doesn't mean nostalgia for the USSR

Natalie Nougayrede wrote in a news analysis in yesterday's Le Monde, Paris, that a central issue is the extent of Ukraine's ties to Russia and the former Soviet republics. She said: "Ukrainian Communists are divided on the subject. A massive vote for them wouldn't necessarily mean a nostalgia for the USSR as a political entity. It would rather reflect a large dissatisfaction provoked by wage arrears (that) have reached the equivalent of $2.6 billion, and the lack of credibility of a managing team that will have waffled a lot on economic matters. The idea of independence has consolidated in the republic in the past few years. But questions remain on the degree of cooperation to establish with Russia."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Communists polled their votes with their slogan 'For the Rebirth of the USSR'

German commentator Thomas Urban says that even if the Communists and left command parliament, the shift won't throw Ukraine into a Russian bear hug; the Ukraine presidency is too strong. He writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "The Communists polled more votes than any other party in the Ukrainian general election with their slogan 'For the Rebirth of the USSR.' In their predominantly ethnic Russian strongholds they increased their lead. Yet there is no medium-term prospect of the Ukraine forfeiting its sovereignty.

"For one, more than two out of three Ukrainian voters voted for parties that see an independent Ukraine as a matter of course. That said, they are totally at loggerheads with each other. For another, the parliament in Kyiv has only limited political influence because the Ukraine, like neighboring Russia, has a presidential system of government. And its president can rule by decree, largely sidelining parliament."

He says: "The postponement of many reform projects for which not only the outgoing parliament is to blame has led to a marked decline in Western interest in the Ukraine. The country continues to be dependent on Russian commodities and, for the time being, on western financial assistance. So the West would do well not to forget that a stable Ukraine is a fundamental prerequisite for stability throughout Eastern Europe."

LIBERATION: Communist push is an expression of general disillusionment

In Liberation, Paris, Veronique Soule comments that the Communists, even in a non-commanding position, could fashion a drag-weight for any Ukrainian reforms, which, she says, "could well be stopped in their tracks. After the initial returns, the Communists on Sunday effectively came to the head of the legislative organization. They are very nostalgic about the Soviet past and favor stopping reforms and the re-establishing of ties with Moscow."

Soule writes: "The Communist push is above all an expression of the general disillusionment." And adds: "It has been impossible to gain a precise picture of the new assembly. (But), as in the past, Kuchma and the government could always search for a floating majority, notably among those without a party. The electoral commission reported that 114 independents were elected Sunday. It remains to be seen if they will be able to counterbalance the weight of the anti-reformist left and the centrist parties hostile to Kuchma."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: West is worried that the election of Kocharyan might deadlock peace talks in Nagorno-Karabakh

A news analysis in the Los Angeles Times by Vanora Bennett says elections yesterday in Armenia are of Western concern because of their implications for stability in a region of coveted oil reserves. She writes: "The election (draws) international attention because the West, eager to profit from vast oil finds in neighboring Azerbaijan, is anxious for a quick settlement to a 10-year-old dispute between Azerbaijanis and Armenians over who should rule the territory Nagorno-Karabakh. Negotiators are worried that the election of Kocharyan, a tough ex-ruler of Karabakh, might deadlock peace talks."

Bennett says: "So the international community is getting tough. Armenia's big and politically active diaspora has ensured until now that the country's international profile was high and that its tribulations -- pogroms by Azerbaijanis during the perestroika era, a devastating earthquake in 1988 and two winters virtually without heat and light at the height of the Karabakh conflict in the early 1990s -- got sympathetic attention."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Romania's new leaders must learn to put national interest ahead of personal gain

The Financial Times editorializes that yesterday's dissolution of the Romanian cabinet will have little effect in that country. What is needed is a turnaround in the entire ethic of governance, it says. The editorial says: "The reasons for Romania's malaise lie in a combination of political weakness in government, the incompetence of the unreformed communist-era bureaucracy, and entrenched interest groups."

It says: "Above all, the country's new leaders must learn to put the national interest ahead of their short-term personal gain."