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Western Press Review: Troubles Plague Russia, Kurds, And EU Expansion

Prague, 27 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's political and economic troubles, Turkey's Kurdish problem and the European Union's delay in expanding to Eastern Europe are among the subjects treated today by Western press commentators.

ECONOMIST: Russia urgently needs a steadier hand

The current issue (dated Nov. 28) of the British weekly Economist carries an editorial entitled, "Non-President Yeltsin." The magazine says that "it is time to end the fiction that Boris Yeltsin runs Russia."

The Economist argues: "The murder (last week) of Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova, one of the liberal politicians who taught Mr. Yeltsin what democracy meant, suggests that Russia cannot drift much longer. So does the refusal of the Communists who dominate Russia's parliament to censure one of their number for an anti-Semitic tirade."

The editorial goes on: "Before he became totally enfeebled a few months ago, Mr. Yeltsin himself gave warning that the forces of authoritarian chauvinism were growing in Russia. Russia urgently needs a steadier hand than his to keep those forces at bay and lead it through the economic dangers ahead."

The Economist concludes: "A democratic transfer of power would be a remarkable landmark for Russia....The sooner this process begins, the better."

WASHINGTON POST: The way to freedom turned out to be harder than we thought

In a commentary for the Washington Post Fred Hiatt writes that Starovoitova's apparent political assassination leaves many with "the frightening feeling that Russia has crossed a dangerous line....The warnings of impending fascism," he continues, "that in the past seemed hysterical or contrived (now have) a chilling ring of plausibility."

He goes on to pay tribute to Miss Starovoitova, "a democrat and an associate of Andrei Sakharov when Boris Yeltsin was still climbing the ladder as a Soviet apparatchik....(She) was only partly made of iron. She was ambitious and at times cocksure, but also warm-hearted and open."

Hiatt adds: "Hers is not the first political murder in Russia's modern turbulence, of course." In the past eight years, he says, an anti-establishment priest and several journalists have been killed. And, he notes, "none of these murders had ever been solved."

The commentary concludes: "'The way to freedom turned out to be harder than we thought,' Miss Starovoitova said not long ago. It could serve now as her epithet."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Unless IMF demands are honored Russia will slide into ever deeper economic chaos

The Financial Times assesses Russia's various debt obligations. The paper writes in an editorial: "After months of negotiations, the rescheduling of Russia's domestic debt is near completion. Some foreign creditors remain unhappy with the terms. The dwindling Russian state, though, cannot make a more generous offer."

The paper adds: "The domestic debt (GKO) restructuring deal is indeed highly punitive, with repayments worth only four cents to the dollar....Unfortunately, Russia's debt problems extend far wider that the GKO market, (amounting) to some $150 billion. Next year, $17 billion will become due." But, the paper says, "Russia's tax collection, always poor, has reached a disastrous level."

The FT also notes that "the Government has already requested the restructuring of $90 billion of Soviet-era debt.....(But) failing to meet its post-1992 obligations would mean either a default on Russia's eurobonds or on its IMF (International Monetary Fund) debt -- both...deeply unattractive options."

It concludes: "If Russia is to retain even a scrap of credit-worthiness, it should honor its most recent debts....Russia should make every effort to fulfill the IMF's demands....The alternative is a slide into ever deeper economic chaos."

WASHINGTON POST: The case of Abdullah Ocalan has been transformed into an opening of the larger Kurdish question

"Turkey and the Kurds" is the subject of a Washington Post editorial . The paper writes: "In a short time, the case of the Turkish Kurdish leader (Abdullah Ocalan) arrested in Rome has been transformed from a tricky visa-and-extradition issue into a tentative opening of the larger Kurdish question to a new burst of international inquiry....Perhaps," the WP says, "something better for Turks as well as Kurds can come of it."

The editorial continues: "It is clear that Turkey's...response to the Kurds over the years has failed to satisfy the interests of either side. Few informed people doubt that Ocalan's (Kurdistan Workers' Party) has a terrorist pedigree...But the Turkish government has conspicuously failed to focus its pressures and sanctions on the criminal part of its 30 percent Kurdish population."

The paper says that Ocalan's "unexpected arrival" in Italy has triggered some fresh thinking about "transforming the Kurdish issue from an armed struggle into some sort of negotiation. The idea," it adds, "would be to combat terrorism on one level, to strengthen Kurdish rights on a second, and to facilitate Turkey's now stalled entry into the European Union on a third."

"Other ideas," the paper sums up, "are in the air. NATO allies who tiptoe around the question, as the U.S. tends to do, in the end do Turkey no real favor."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A solution to the Kurdish problem must be based on three indispensable preconditions

In a commentary for Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Wolfgang Koydl says that a "solution to the Kurdish question must not involve Ocalan." Writing from Istanbul, he argues that "the main point is that the Kurds have just and legitimate concerns and their fight for political and cultural autonomy is a political problem which can only be solved by political means."

A solution to the Kurdish problem, Koydl goes on, must be based on "three indispensable preconditions. First," he says, "there can be no solution that includes Ocalan. There is too much blood on his hands. No Turk would ever sit at a table with him."

"Second," he goes on, "a political initiative must not involve any loss of face for either the Turks or the Kurds. Neither Turks nor Kurds should see themselves as triumphant victors who have trampled their opponents into the dust....Third and last, patience is required," Koydl adds. "Feelings must first cool down a little."

To speak for the Turkish Kurdish community in a possible political dialogue, Koydl suggests a man who "is highly respected by Turks and Kurds alike --Hikmet Cetin, the Kurdish-born parliamentary speaker in Ankara. If anyone can establish a link between the Turkish state and its Kurdish citizens it is he. Perhaps he should prepare for the biggest job of his life."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: It is time to get serious about enlargement

The International Herald Tribune today runs a commentary by columnist Flora Lewis urging that the European Union stop what she calls its "mean stalling" on expansion to Central and Eastern Europe. She compares the promised enlargement to "Alice in Wonderland's croquet game: the hoops keep moving away when you approach."

Lewis writes: "That is not for lack of sincerity among EU members who say they really don't intend to keep any qualified candidates out. It if for lack of will to accept the implications, the necessity for reform within the existing institution to enable it to function effectively with many more member states."

She goes on: "The changes and adjustments that the (10 Eastern) candidate countries (plus Cyprus) have to make are huge and difficult....But the reminders of how hard it is come from the insiders and are clearly a kind of excuse to justify putting off the far smaller changes that they have to make themselves."

"Negotiations," she adds, "are complex and no doubt will take several years, but there will also be a provision for a transition period of perhaps 20 years to permit step-by-step adjustment....The European Union," she concludes, was "founded to assure mutual benefits and long-term advantage for all. It is time to get serious about enlargement."