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East: Transition Nations Press Review

Prague, 10 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Selections of recent commentary from the states of Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union focus on a wide variety of topics -- from economic difficulties in Lithuania to upcoming elections in Slovakia and political maneuverings in the Russian government.


In Lithuania, newspapers are commenting on the country's economic and political troubles. Unemployment in the country rose 0.4 percent last month to reach a high of 8.1 percent. It was the sixth straight monthly increase since September, when the rate stood at 5.6 percent.

LIETUVOS RYTAS: The government and the parliament have made serious economic mistakes

The daily Lietuvos Rytas remarked in an editorial (March 3) that "it is obvious the government and the parliament have made serious economic mistakes." It finds that the problems in the budget prove the government did not make a precise prognosis for economic development and did not manage to balance expenses with income. The paper says it is possible the government will have to take unpopular measures to revise social programs. If this is the case, the paper asks, "was the government right when it sharply raised the wages for state officers?"

RESPUBLIKA: The Prime Minister decided to take offense

In an editorial (March 4), the daily Respublika blames the current crisis on actions taken by the government and the ruling Conservative coalition and says the situation is getting increasingly serious. The paper says the country's whole economic system is crumbling and notes that Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius has reacted in a typically Lithuanian way: "He decided to take offense." Vagnorius -- the paper writes -- says corruption does not exist. He says he feels slandered and is threatening to resign. He says he would like favorable conditions to exist for the functioning of the government. But -- the paper continues -- Vagnorius does not say precisely what "favorable conditions" he has in mind. The paper goes on to say that one condition can be guessed: "The prime minister wants nobody to speak publicly about the economic incompetence of the government."

LIETUVOS RYTAS: We have two powers in Lithuania

In an editorial (March 3), Lietuvos Rytas focuses on relations between the Lithuanian government and Lithuanian industrialists, led by former prime minister Bronislovas Lubys. The paper writes that Lubys is believed to have a big influence on the decisions taken by the government, which have been criticized as favoring the interests of industrialists over the interests of the country.

The newspaper says a "dangerous financial and political force has appeared in Lithuania," one that wields not only economic power "but also real state power." The paper concludes that such a situation is dangerous for the state and for democracy. "We have two powers in Lithuania," Lietuvos Rytas writes. "Impotent legal power and real power which stands in shadow."


In neighboring Latvia, the press is commenting on the anniversary of two events that occurred last March. The events, it says, marked a turning point in Latvian-Russian relations. On March 3, 1998, Latvian police used force to break up an unsanctioned demonstration by mainly Russian-speaking pensioners. On March 16, 1998, Latvia's Independence Day, a group of World War Two veterans -- the so-called "Latvian Legionnaires", a Nazi-allied force -- paraded in Riga.

JUANA AVIZE: March 16th symbolizes the failure of the Latvian people to protect their independence

Jauna Avize -- in an editorial (March 5) -- said the tradition of gatherings by the former legionnaires began after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The newspaper said that "neither KGB lads, nor communists, could object to the wishes of the old soldiers to place their flowers at the graveyard or at the Monument of Liberty." It said the "quiet commemoration by the old men was a silent condemnation to both regimes -- Communist and Nazi."

The commentary goes on to say that more and more of what it called "national idiots" and ultra-radical populists began to participate in the event. It says that coincidentally -- or more probably on purpose -- those people were noticed and described in the anti-Latvian independence press.

The commentary summarizes that the March 16 holiday has been turned into what it called a "holiday of provocation." It says "the only thing March 16th symbolizes is the failure of the Latvian people to protect their independence." The newspaper predicts that similar provocations can be expected again this year.


POSTIMEES: Defense Minister failed to check whether treaty was consistent with Estonian law

In Estonia, Postimees writes about a recent visit by Defense Minister Andrus Oovel to the United States, during which he was to sign a bilateral treaty on classified military information. The paper says there was a problem -- Oovel failed to check whether the treaty was consistent with Estonian law. The paper asks ""What should one think of a state, whose minister goes on a foreign visit to sign a treaty, and when arriving, it turns out that its text conflicts with Estonian laws, as a result of which the signing ceremony does not take place?"

POSTIMEES: No big skeletons have been found so far in parties' closets

Ahead of last Sunday's Estonian general elections, Postimees predicted -- correctly -- that the turnout would be low. In an editorial, the paper wrote that many Estonians were skeptical about the virtues of several candidates running for major parties. It wrote that "Big skeletons have not been found so far in parties' closets, but instead there are quite a few small, but unpleasant ones".


RZECZPOSPOLITA: It is clear Yeltsin has lost patience with Primakov

Poland's daily Rzeczpospolita commented this week (March 8) on developments in neighboring Russia, where the Kremlin this past weekend criticized Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Oleg Sysuyev -- first deputy head of the presidential administration -- criticized what he called Primakov's "complacency" and said President Boris Yeltsin is worried about the future of Russia's stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Sysuyev said the IMF is refusing to help Russia because of the policies carried out by Primakov, First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov "and their friends."

Rzeczpospolita said the criticisms of Primakov serve to reveal one aspect of the Kremlin's plan: that dismissals in the present government can now take place. The newspaper says it is obvious Russia is facing financial bankruptcy and that the current Russian budget is unrealistic.

Russia has only one way out under the circumstances, according to the newspaper. It has to reach agreement with the IMF and other financial organizations to get new loans. But it says Primakov's government went too far in drafting a budget that relies on a loan of about $4.5 billion from the IMF.

Rzeczpospolita concludes by saying it is clear Yeltsin has lost patience with Primakov and that the Kremlin's comments over the weekend were intended as a warning shot, not only to Primakov but also to the communists who are co-governing Russia.


CURIERUL NATIONAL: Romania's legislative instability is notorious

In Romania's Curierul National (March 9), analyst Eugen Ovidiu Chirovici writes an opinion piece concerning changes to the country's privatization laws. He says that if Prime Minister Radu Vasile assumes his cabinet's responsibility for the new privatization bill, it will be the third time since the 1996 elections that legislation concerning the most sensitive area of reform will be essentially modified without consulting parliament.

Chirovici writes that Romania's legislative instability is notorious among the national and international business communities and is becoming a serious impediment for investments, especially large-scale investments. He notes that privatization laws haven't been amended in the last eight years in countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic or Poland, while in Romania, similar legislation has been changed by practically every government.


NOVY CAS: Women presidential candidates bring charm, female ability and a tendency toward harmony

In Slovakia, the independent daily Novy Cas (New Time) commented (March 5) on the candidacy of women in the upcoming presidential election, due to be held in two rounds this May.

A few weeks ago, Anna Koptova -- a Roma activist and director of the Office of the Legal Protection of Minorities in the eastern Slovakian town of Kosice -- surprised the public by announcing her candidacy for president, only to withdraw it a day later. On the other hand, Magda Vasaryova -- a sociologist, former actress and former Czechoslovak ambassador to Austria -- still remains in the race as a serious candidate. She is currently the director of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association.

In the editorial "Women Candidates," the newspaper says neither Koptova nor her party -- Roma Intelligence for Coexistence -- will admit the real reasons for withdrawing her candidacy, but the paper says they don't reject the hypothesis that it was because of racial prejudice and the security of the candidate's family. Novy Cas said Koptova would not have had a real chance of being elected president but suggests the campaign could have drawn public attention to the question of the Roma minority.

Vasaryova's candidacy is another question, however. Novy Cas writes: "Magda Vasaryova is second according to the polls, only behind the candidate of the parties of the government coalition, Rudolf Schuster. She has a big chance to move on to the second round." The paper says that Vasaryova -- like Koptova -- brings to public life "charm, female ability and a tendency toward harmony." At the same time, the paper concludes, she brings a welcome breath of non-partisanship to the race, a quality not provided by the major political parties.


NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA: Duma deputies' high level of financial support can only be attributed to flagrant greed

In Russia, Yevgeny Tarasov -- writing in a recent (March 6) issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta -- criticizes members of the State Duma for the amount of money they cost Russian taxpayers.

Tarasov writes that the deputies recently amended laws affecting the resources available to them for their work. As a result, he says, "Duma deputies may be considered well-off by Russian standards and, more importantly, by world standards." Tarasov says that -- adding together allowances for travel, for staffing, for salaries, free apartments in Moscow and other items -- the average Duma deputy costs Russian taxpayers some 217,000 rubles or almost $9,500 a month. He says that puts them behind only parliamentarians from the United States, Japan, Germany and Britain.

Tarasov concludes by saying that the high level of financial support given Duma deputies "can only be attributed to flagrant greed, which looks particularly immoral when viewed against a background of mass impoverishment."

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    Grant Podelco

    Grant Podelco is the editor in chief of RFE/RL's English-language website. He first joined RFE/RL in Prague in 1995 as a senior correspondent after working for many years as a writer and editor for daily newspapers in New York, Oregon, and Texas. He reported from Afghanistan in November 2002 to mark the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Taliban.