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Western Press Review: Comment On Developments In Slovakia, Poland, Russia, Indonesia

Prague, 25 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Developments in two Central European countries, Slovakia and Poland, attract the attention of Western press editorialists today. Commentators also assess Russia's ongoing problems and analyze the continuing difficulties in Asia's crisis-ridden giant, Indonesia.

NEW YORK TIMES: It will take pressure to keep the coalition focused on Slovakia's daunting problems

The New York Times today takes a look at what it calls "Slovakia's Democratic Turn." The paper writes in an editorial: "Recent parliamentary elections in Slovakia have freed the country from the heavy boot of Vladimir Meciar, its dominant figure since the end of communism....The coalition of parties that defeated him (in September) has made a promising start, but it will need sustained unity and help from the West to solve the many problems Meciar left behind."

The NYT goes on: "The new government is a coalition of Rightist parties, former communists and Hungarians. But it quickly agreed on a program that emphasizes economic reform. The Center-Right Prime Minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, and his partners also agree that Slovakia must look toward Europe, rather than Russia and Ukraine as Meciar had."

The paper concludes: "The Government is also promising to end harassment of the media, unions and non-governmental groups. It has already created the post of deputy prime minister for minorities and human rights....(But it) could easily unravel in partisan bickering. It will take pressure from European institutions and the Slovaks themselves to keep the coalition focused on Slovakia's daunting problems."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Poland is the success story of the transition economies

Britain's Financial Times assesses "Poland's transition" from a command to a free-market economy. The paper begins by saying: "Poland is not Russia...a message that the Polish Government has been at great pains to stress to international investors...This week' from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will help (the government in its) task."

The editorial goes on: "Poland is the success story of the transition economies, the EBRD confirms....Among the leading pack, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia are all more or less back to where they were in 1989....The (Czechs) may have gotten off to a faster start, and Hungary may have done a better job of shifting into higher value-added sectors. But what stands out in Poland's success has been the continuity of the reform effort under shifting coalitions."

The editorial concludes: "Poland must keep up the momentum for reform....Even if this is achieved, (EU) enlargement is likely to be a slow process, with the EU shamefully dragging its heels. But (Polish) growth of five percent, twice the EU average, should ease the wait."

BILD: Yeltsin should resign

Turning to Russia, three German dailies comment briefly on the country's travails. The mass-circulation Bild daily believes that ailing President Boris Yeltsin should resign now. The paper says: "Every additional day of agony strengthens the enemies of democracy in the world's largest country."

RUHR NACHRICHTEN: Yeltsin himself is obviously unwilling to admit the truth

The Ruhr Nachrichten observes that "a president who spends more of his time recovering in spas and clinics than behind his desk is not fit to lead a country as huge as Russia in a time of crisis." The paper adds: "The problem is that Yeltsin himself is obviously unwilling to admit the truth --neither to himself nor to the public."

BAYERISCHE RUNDSCHAU: The successor could be Gennadi Zyuganov

The Bayerische Rundschau is already speculating about Yeltsin's successor. According to the paper, it could be "Gennadi Zyuganov, the power-hungry --but healthy-- communist leader due to visit Germany today." The paper asks: "Will this be our chance to get a glimpse of the future head of the Kremlin?"

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Starovoitova's murder probably will remain a mystery

Today's Wall Street Journal Europe carries a long editorial on the apparent political murder last Friday in Saint Petersburg of reformist State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, who was buried yesterday. The paper says that, "if the past few years is any guide, then who killed (her) is a question that will remain unanswered....It is rare that a contract murder case is solved in Russia."

The WSJ goes on: "Many Russians expressed feelings of hopelessness and despair when confronted with the assassination of the country's most prominent female politician. Government in Russia, run by technocrats, not leaders, is as useless in preventing or punishing such deaths as it is in stopping the excruciating slide of the Russian economy. Into this vacuum, criminality slides effortlessly. This, it seems, is open season on reformers, journalists and Jews."

The paper also says "In a Russia where conscience has been subsumed in amorality, Starovoitova's murder...probably will remain a mystery. That leaves only the hope that her years of service to values Russia so badly need will prove more enduring..."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Russian Government did not pursue real reforms

In the Los Angeles Times, U.S. economic analyst and adviser Jeffrey Sachs of Harvard University says that the "West bears some responsibility for Russia's (current) economic crisis." In a commentary, he notes that he was adviser to Yeltsin from late 1991 to early 1994, writing: "More than a few people have blamed my advice (for the crisis) --a charge I must decline."

Sachs goes on: "(I advised:) Eliminate price controls, stop subsidies and open the economy to trade. (These kinds of economic policies) produced an end of hyper-inflation and strong economic growth in Poland, Estonia, Slovenia and other countries that I advised....My real frustration in Russia was not the failure of these suggestions, but the fact that the Russian Government did not pursue real reforms."

He adds: "The West bears a lot of responsibility for the failure of Russia to produce these reforms....Hard-nosed Western attitudes weakened the Yeltsin Government and eventually contributed to its collapse. Additionally, the advice of the International Monetary Fund was atrocious."

GLOBE AND MAIL: President Habibie has shown little willingness to listen

Two North American papers comment on another crisis, this one in Indonesia. In an editorial, Canada's Globe and Mail says "Patience is not a virtue that is much prized by students or revolutionaries. That is the message that demonstrators and opposition leaders have been sending Indonesian President B. J. Habibie for more than six months now. He has shown little willingness to listen."

The editorial continues: "To date, Mr. Habibie has made almost no progress (in instituting democratic reforms). He ordered an investigation into corruption that was little more than a whitewash of the former regime, the proposed elections are still more than six months away and Mr. Habibie, if he survives in office that long, may well be a candidate for President."

The G&M concludes: "Had Mr. Habibie listened a little harder to demonstrators chanting "reformasi" in the streets in May and moved a little faster to introduce some of the pro-democracy changes demanded by opposition leaders, he might well have avoided much of the political, religious and ethnic violence of recent weeks. Instead, his weakness and procrastination may well have toppled the precarious balance between reform and stability."

WASHINGTON TIMES: The delay before elections would be held is indefensible

The Washington Times' editorial recalls that "When he assumed power in May, Mr. Habibie pledged parliamentary elections within a year, a time-table that already was too long. For the more than 200 million Indonesians whose standard of living plunged as (now former president) Suharto's crony capitalism imploded during the summer of last year, the year-long delay before parliamentary elections would be held was indefensible."

The WT continues: "Now, in the wake of the (recent) riots, there is talk of postponing parliamentary elections a month or more. This," the paper says, "would be unconscionable. There is good reason to believe the violence was provoked --and encouraged to escalate-- by the very powerful and politically entrenched military in order to establish a pretense to delay democratic rule that, if allowed to evolve, would ...curb the army's power. Delaying elections would reward reprehensible, anti-democratic behavior."

The editorial concludes: "Recent forecasts suggest that the (Indonesian) economy, which the Asian Development Bank estimates will decline 16 percent in 1998, could actually resume growth in the latter half of 1999. However, without political stability --and the foreign investment such stability encourages-- the likelihood that growth will resume next year is close to zero."