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Western Press Review: Raisa Gorbachev Dies

By Don Hill/Anthony Georgieff/Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 21 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Several Western commentators remember Raisa Gorbachev, wife of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who died of leukemia yesterday in Germany.

NEW YORK TIMES: She tried to help turn the old Soviet Union into a modern Russian state

The New York Times says in an editorial that Mrs. Gorbachev declared herself "First Lady" in a country that hadn't possessed anyone in that role before and hasn't since. It was, the editorial says, "a powerful act by a commanding woman." The newspaper also says this: "Unlike most Kremlin wives, who favored mud-colored clothes and a secure position out of sight, Mrs. Gorbachev played a role that was front and center."

The editorial says Raisa was her husband's closest ally from 1985 to 1991. In the words of The New York Times: "An expert on Marxist-Leninist philosophy, she helped him oversee the end of the Soviet era. A sociologist, she toured areas where her husband would attract too much attention." Both Gorbachev and his wife are more honored abroad than in Russia, the editorial says. Of Raisa, it adds this: "She tried to help turn the old Soviet Union into a modern Russian state."

AFTENPOSTEN: Raisa's image hampered Gorbachev in his policies of Glasnost

The Aftenposten in Norway calls Raisa Gorbachev "her husband's best support, both at home and abroad." The editorial describes her in these words: "the reputation and social standing she had in Russia was in sharp contrast with the respect she received in the West. In fact, her image hampered Gorbachev in his policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. Raisa Gorbachev was both an informal adviser and a covert supporter, and both she and her husband had appeared too early in the Soviet Union, which had been ossified by old-time thinking and politics. At the same time, their intention to reform the system had come too late."

INDEPENDENT: She was honest and thoughtful

The Independent, London, headlines its editorial: "A Woman of Substance and a Symbol for Russia." It concludes its editorial as follows: "It is right if her compatriots remember her more kindly than they spoke of her in life. She was glitzy when Russia lacked glitz; she was honest and thoughtful, in the new Russia that has a shortage of those qualities."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Raisa enraged ordinary Russian housewives

Also from London, The Daily Telegraph says: "What the West saw as a New Soviet Woman enraged ordinary Russian housewives queuing for food at home. She also seemed to have an opinion on everything. It drove Nancy Reagan mad and went down even less well in her homeland."

Other Western press commentary on issues significant to Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia ranges from Kosovo and Greek-Turkish relations to East Timor.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: UCK is playing its own game with rules

In today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Peter Muench says nobody should be surprised that the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) is, in Muench's words, "playing its own game with rules that conceal every new surprise for the Western peacekeepers." He observes that one of the UCK's pressing demands was to be allowed to keep their weapons. And he asks this: "Why do disaster workers -- and the (new peace) corps are to be nothing more than that -- need Kalashnikovs?" The answer, says the commentator, is clear. As he puts it: "The KLA (UCK) is still pushing to be made into a regular army [in order eventually] to fight for an independent Kosovo in which there would be no more room for other ethnic groups."

TO VIMA: It will take time for the new climate to affect the climate on Cyprus

The Greek newspaper To Vima carried a commentary yesterday by Alkis Kourkoulas, who said that a new Turkey-Greek rapprochement is making life difficult for Turkish Cyprus. Greece's generous response to Turkey's earthquake disaster has substantially softened the view of Greeks held by the Turkish populace, Kourkoulas wrote. But the new attitude may not translate itself quickly into real policy change. Kourkoulas offered this warning: "The current euphoria in Greek-Turkish relations may be generating great expectations, but it could also lead to equally great disappointments. In other words, it would not be realistic to expect a change in Turkeys stance on the Cyprus issue now. It will take time for the new climate emerging in Greek-Turkish relations to affect the climate on Cyprus."

KATHIMERINI SUNDAY: Turkey wants dialogue only under certain conditions

In Greece's Kathimerini Sunday, K. I. Angelopoulos took a more optimistic view. He wrote: "The Cyprus problem, which is connected with Turkeys prospects for closer ties with Europe and Cypruss progress towards EU accession, is developing this week with intense behind-the-scene negotiations giving us the impression that perhaps something very interesting may happen by the end of this year." Angelopoulos wrote that dialogue will continue, but that Turkey is likely to remain wary. He wrote: "The United States wants a dialogue; Greece wants a dialogue; but Turkey wants it only under certain conditions."

NEWSWEEK: A civil war in Dagestan might be a danger for the West as well

The current issue of the U.S. Newsweek magazine (September 27) reports on what it calls "The Deepening Danger of Dagestan." Author Anatol Lieven of the London International Institute for Strategic Studies says that Russia's renewed warfare in the Caucasus in Dagestan and Chechnya may increase ethnic hatred in Russia, and in the Caucasus as well, and it could erode Russia's already-minimal democracy. It could become very dangerous not only for Russia but also for the West, Lieven says.

The writer says that an Islamic revolution clearly is breeding in Dagestan and Kosovo. This could overturn what he calls "the republic's extremely delicate and fragile ethnic balance." The result then might well be a complex and bloody civil war, the writer said. As Lieven describes that scenario: "it is not impossible that at some point a weary, cynical and divided Russia might withdraw, leaving the natives to fight it out among themselves. This would not be liberation. It would be a disaster for the whole region -- and, as the example of Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden shows, ultimately a danger for the West as well."