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Transition Nations Press Review: Kosovo And Domestic Concerns

Prague, 21 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Selected recent commentary from the press of nations in transition from communism show that while the war in Kosovo remains a central topic, domestic concerns command increasing attention.


Armenia's Hayots Ashkbar carries comments on President Robert Kocharian's decision to attend a NATO summit in Washington this weekend. Kocharian ally Hrant Markarian says the visit "should not be perceived as (demonstrating Kocharian's) approval of a particular political force." Paruyr Hayrikian of the Self-Determination Union endorses Kocharian's visit as "yet more evidence that Armenia's independence is a reality." Republic Party Chairman Andranik Markarian says: "The conflict in Kosovo is transient, whereas our policy of European integration must continue."


In Bulgaria, where a NATO application to use airfields in its assaults on Yugoslavia is pending, the daily Standard carries comments by analyst Ognyan Minchev. Minchev says that "Bulgaria has no winning option." He adds: "(One) negative scenario in the crisis would be defeat for Yugoslavia, where the toppled regime of President Slobodan Milosevic is not replaced by a moderate government. In Serbia there is not a single political organization which is able to come to power as an alternative to the Milosevic regime."

Minchev also says: "NATO cannot be blamed for the refugee crisis. The ethnic cleansing in Kosovo has been going on for years. Milosevic used the NATO air strikes to escalate it in order to destabilize the neighboring countries, especially Macedonia and Bulgaria, with the hope that turning the Kosovo conflict into an international Albanian problem would enable him to solve his own problems at the expense of the neighboring countries."

Also from Bulgaria: "A great power took the role of world judge and executor," comments Alexander Yankov, former Bulgarian representative to the U.N., in Trud. Yankov says: "The so-called military campaign of NATO constitutes an aggression against a sovereign state." He says the air strikes are "in violation of international law, the U.N. charter and indeed the charter of NATO itself."


In Estonia, the hotly discussed topic is a move by Toivo Jurgenson, newly appointed minister of transport and communications, to oust Port of Tallinn Board Chairman Enn Sarap. Paevaleht editorializes: "Minister Jurgenson above all risks with his own reputation, rushing to discharge the leader of one of Estonia's most successful state enterprises."

Postimees takes a two-sided view on the same issue. The newspaper says: "If all Jurgenson's accusations against Sarap are correct, there's enough reason to demand his discharge. (The) minister accuses the leader of Tallinn's port of corruption and of concluding deals that are harmful to the state. At the same time, there are lot of facts that raise doubt about the minister's sincerity."


Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman A. Neptveridze comes to the defense of NATO in Georgia's official Sakartvelos Respublika. Neptveridze says: "The leadership of (NATO) tries as far as possible to avoid civilian victims, but war is war." Reiterating the Georgian government's support for the NATO actions, he says: "We regret that the use of force was necessary to solve the Kosovo problem, but when things go so far, civilian victims cannot be avoided."


Latvia's JA says in a commentary that many people in Latvia disagree with the Latvian government's support of NATO. The commentary says, "Some people have been united by long-taught hatred against NATO. Feeling unnecessary and marginal in the independent state (non-Soviet Latvia), where privileges are withheld merely because one speaks Russian, protesters at the embassies of NATO member states have at last found meaning and spirit for their lives."


Poland's leftist Trybuna counts the NATO strikes a failure and faults Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic for misjudging Western reaction. Trybuna says: "(NATO's assault) is a fiasco from the military, political and moral point of view." It says also: "If Milosevic had been wiser and had not started ethnic cleansing after the air strikes

began, Western public opinion would have forced the end of bombing." Trybuna criticized NATO for "forgetting that Serbs, but not Milosevic, are suffering the most because of the air strikes."


Izvestia in Russia carries an analysis by Valery Vizhutovich on Russia's mixed attitudes toward the United States and the Kosovo conflict. He writes: "The virus of anti-Americanism, which has been living in Russian citizens since the end of the Cold War -- and now has been activated (by Kosovo), has a special nature. The majority of the respondents (to polls on Kosovo) have a flimsy knowledge of the history of the conflict and of the role of NATO member states, especially the U.S. in it. It was not the NATO air raids on Yugoslavia but a nostalgic feeling for the superpower days, the deep feeling of national humiliation which has for long submerged a wide section of the Russian public, and the incessant search for a foreign enemy that caused the street 'home guards' to go on an egg-throwing spree at the US embassy and to carry placards with such slogans as Kill Private Ryan! or Death to Mickey Mouse!"

The analyst says: "The most peculiar and most unexpected of (the polls' results) is that the most highly educated citizens of the Russian capital city support the Serbs. They are the ones who most often refer to such things as Orthodox unity and Slavic brotherhood." Vizhutovich adds: "The farther you go from Moscow the less you hear such phrases."

He writes: "Most important is that there is a very wide distance between anti-American hysteria and any desire to deal a blow to the aggressor. About 70 percent of the respondents oppose the foolish idea of Russia giving military support to the Serbs."

Vizhutovich quotes Bashkortastan President Murtaza Rakhimov as saying, "'I am categorically against any negotiation on unification with Slobodan Milosevic. The whole world can see that he is one of those responsible for the situation now unfolding in the center of Europe.'" The writer then says, "By judging Milosevic in public, the way no other Russian politician has dared to, the Bashkortastan president is somehow challenging the general opinion."


In Tatarstan, Kazanskoye Vremya newspaper denounces the beating of journalist Viktor Shmakov in Bashkortastan. The newspaper says: "Our correspondent, editor of the only democratic newspaper in the republic of Bashkortastan, Victor Shmakov, was beaten up (there). The well-known journalist is publisher and editor of the newspaper Vmeste. His newspaper consistently pursued the struggle for human rights, against corruption, while opposing the president, Murtaza Rakhimov. It's worth mentioning that elections to the State Assembly of the republic were held in March. Another 'celebration of democracy' Rakhimov-style. None of the opposition candidates entered the new parliament. There were only two of them in the previous one. We can say that uncovered falsifications of the elections broke opposition's back."