Prague, 26 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Some Western press commentary today focuses on the difficulties involved in fully integrating the two former halves of the European continent. In this regard, Austria's coming presidency of the European Union also gets some attention, as does Russia's internal economic problems.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The division of Europe has not disappeared
In a commentary for the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, Flora Lewis gives her first-hand impressions of this week's Central and East European Economic Summit in Salzburg, Austria. She writes: "Every responsible politician, East and West, makes a point of saying that...there will be no new dividing line through Europe....Yet there is more and more recognition that the old line, symbolized by the Berlin Wall, is still there and will probably last a long time." The commentary continues: "A lot has changed in the mere nine years since the Wall was pulled down, and remarkably peacefully. But the division has not disappeared. It weighs in many ways. That was said openly and repeatedly...in Salzburg." Lewis goes on: "Time is an issue. The Easterners are in a hurry to be accepted, or to qualify as candidates (for NATO and the EU) in the next batch of talks. The Westerners speak soothingly of unifying Europe and of the moral obligation to undo the post-World War Two partition. But they warn of difficult adjustments on both sides. They are not in a hurry to make room for impatient newcomers."
She concludes: "It is a strange, uncomfortable mood. The differences are greater and harder to resolve than the euphoria at the end of the Cold War left room to image. The big decisions of principle have been made, and will not be reversed. But they provoke a whole nest of problems, strains and fears of Europe to face in the new century."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: Russia remains a mystery
Werner Adam of Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also attended the Salzburg meeting. His commentary today discusses the differing economic qualifications of various Central and East European states and Russia, as expressed by their and other top officials at the forum. He writes: "(Poland) has been showered with so much praise that it seemed to (President Alexander Kwasniewski) that it was his place rather (in his words) 'to practice cautious modesty." But Kwasniewski was still able to declare that international evaluations of Poland's economic development gave it top marks for achievements. Hungary also emerged fairly well, whereas doubts were expressed about the Czech Republic." Adam continues: "It was also recognized that Romania and Bulgaria were at least not lacking in efforts. The World Bank and IMF were satisfied (as well) with the Baltic countries. (But) growing apprehension appeared with regard to developments in the Ukraine."
As for Russia, Adam added, it was "the one country which, in the opinion of all the politicians, economists and managers (at Salzburg), remained a mystery. In fact," he went on, "it has become more and more difficult to find rhyme or reason in Russia's blatant inability to transform its immense economic potential into social-economic progress....Russia has not even qualified for membership in the World Trade Organization because it is still reluctant to open up its market, monopoly enterprises are in command of its internal economy and a free market is still widely unknown. Some internationally respected firms have (recently) decided to withdraw from Russia because they must function with a reliable legal system and, even more, a reliable transparent and plausible tax system." He notes that, according to an International Monetary Fund official in Salzburg, "never before have the world's stock markets been so skeptical in their judgment of Russian conditions."
GUARDIAN: Once again Austria finds itself overshadowed by Germany
In a news analysis for Britain's Guardian newspaper, Stephen Bates discusses Austria's six-month presidency of the EU, which begins on Wednesday (July 1). Writing from Vienna, he notes that "Austria's membership in the EU remains controversial with its citizens, but its...presidency is being touted as a chance to play a leading role in an international body for the first time since the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire at the end of World War One." Bate continues: "(Yet) once again Austria finds itself overshadowed by its northern neighbor (Germany). All key EU developments are on hold until after the German elections at the end of September. That will leave little time for the Austrian Government to assert itself on issues such as EU agricultural and institutional reform, or to push forward with enlargement." He concludes: "There are indications that the Austrians are not keen to hasten EU expansion into neighboring states such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, fearing that open borders will prompt a flood of economic migrants."
SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: Russia wants billions from the West but opposes solutions to international crises
Under the title "The Supplicant as Trouble-Maker," Tomas Avenarius says in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung that "Russia wants billions from the West but opposes solutions to international crises" such as India's recent nuclear tests. He writes: "India is delighted, the U.S. indignant and Russia satisfied. The just-concluded large-scale arms and nuclear deals between Moscow and New Delhi have proved to the Indians that they can rely on old friends despite their globally criticized nuclear tests. The U.S. has no alternative but to speak of 'the wrong signal at the wrong time.' Russia's business attitude is a blow to all attempts to counter atomic piracy on the sub-continent with international isolation."
The commentary continues: " Other examples (of such behavior) are, first, the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia wants to ship to the Greek Cypriots (and Russia's use of so-called) 'crisis diplomacy' to hold a protective hand over (Iraq's) Saddam (Hussein), thus crippling the U.S.'s (more muscular policy). Finally," Avenarius adds, "there is...Kosovo. If the Serbian war-monger Slobodan Milosevic still has any friends at all, then they are in Moscow. Although the Russians have cautioned him to use moderation in the strife-torn province, they have not put any real pressure on the erratic Southern Slav. Here, too, they act against the West."
SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: Revolutionary reforms would be even harder to sell to the Russian people
Two days earlier (June 24), the same commentator in the same paper said that "Russia itself needs a 'revolutionary' crisis program" Avenarius wrote then: "Russia's economic and financial position has long been not just a crisis but a catastrophe. Not for nothing has Boris Yeltsin all but declared his own economic policy bankrupt, while at the same time announcing unusually stringent economies coupled with radical reforms." The commentary went on: "It appears that not much more can go wrong (in Russia). If the IMF approves an extra credit of $10 billion, the Russian economy, which has also been hit by the crisis in Asia, could recover. (But) is it really that easy?" Avenarius asked. His answer: "For the (Russian) Government to plan to make savings and to dismiss thousands of state employees does not tally with its stated intention of embarking on expensive welfare program at the same time. There is just as little likelihood of the fiscal reform that has been promised so often starting to work from one day to the next and of the treasury suddenly finding itself awash in tax rubles." He concluded: "The new crisis program, Yeltsin said (early this week), was 'not revolutionary.' Yet a revolutionary crisis program is precisely what is needed. The problem is that revolutionary reforms would be even harder to sell to the Russian people."