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Western Press Review: Corruption, The Russian Economy, And World Debt Relief

Prague, 27 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Commentaries in the Financial Times of London and in the Washington Post analyze the meaning and impact of corruption in the Russian economy. Other Western commentaries look at debt relief and other issues.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Corruption in Russia blights the entire society

Writing in the Financial Times, Stanley Fischer, deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, defends the fund's continuing engagement with Russia despite the allegations of fraud, theft and money laundering. Fischer agrees that, in his words, "Corruption in Russia blights the entire society." But, he says, there is no evidence that recent alleged massive money-laundering involves IMF funds. Fischer asks this: "Should we remain engaged (with Russia) despite the setbacks?"

If a government is too corrupt, international financial institutions should disengage, he says. However, Fischer goes on with these words: "There are many Russians in the government and out who want to move the country in a direction we should support. Provided the government implements measures that move the economy in the right direction, we should stay engaged. For we have a profound interest in Russia's becoming a normal economy and we can, to some extent, influence the outcome."

WASHINGTON POST: No wonder people roll their eyes when America offers its beneficent assistance

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius writes on the same topic from a different perspective. He says that early U.S. and international assistance in Russia's transition to a market economy comprises a classic example of a road to hell paved with good intentions. Ignatius blames Harvard economics professor Andrei Shleifer, expert Jonathan Hay, and Russian privatization enthusiast Anatoly Chubais for planting the seeds of the Russian economy's collapse into corruption.

He says Shleifer and Hay, part of the Harvard Project to Russia, advocated a kind of economic shock therapy that thrust Russian into massive and -- it turns out -- ill-favored reforms. In Ignatius words: "Chubais's plan fatally corrupted the reform effort, many analysts conclude, by allowing capitalism to be equated with thievery. He and his American advisers made a devil's bargain."

The commentator concludes with this: "No wonder people around the world roll their eyes when America offers its beneficent assistance."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Reduction of the debt must be conditioned

From Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende expresses cautious optimism in an editorial that international economic intervention will prove useful in a number of poor third-world nations.

The editorial puts it this way: "The poorest Third World countries are about to get an invigorating injection in the form of a massive debt reduction. Last June, the seven richest industrial countries decided to reduce the Third World states' debt by about $800 million, and the European Union's commissioner for development, Poul Nielson of Denmark, is about to propose similar measures on behalf of the EU. These are good initiatives that must be supported. But the reduction of the debt must be conditioned upon the conduct of sound economic policies to involve, but not be limited to, mechanisms that would insure that the governments of the Third World countries, which are not in all cases very democratic, do not waste the money on senseless projects, thus accumulating new debts."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Beijing's displays of sympathy were short-lived.

Today's International Herald Tribune carries a commentary by Antonio Chiang, publisher of the Taipei Times. Chiang expresses disappointment over United Nations' accession to mainland China's demands that it be consulted before humanitarian aid is sent to Taiwan. Chiang writes: "When an earthquake last week caused widespread death and destruction in Taiwan, Beijing seized the opportunity to remind the world that it considered the island to be China's."

The writer addds: "Beijing's displays of sympathy and friendship over the earthquake were short-lived." Chiang says that when disaster experts, equipment and other forms of aid were forthcoming, China demanded that aid donors first obtain approval from China.

The commentary concludes: "Taiwan received assistance only because Beijing said yes this time. What about the next time Taiwan is in need of humanitarian assistance -- say, when China carries out its threat to use force against the island should it declare its independence?"

INDEPENDENT: Send him to Spain, Mr. Bartle

Britain begins extradition hearings against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in Bow Street Magistrates Court. The Independent, London, expresses a cautiously worded wish that Pinochet be sent to Spain for prosecution. In an editorial, the newspaper says that a new international threat of prosecution of even highly placed perpetrators of human rights violations already is having useful effect. The editorial says this: "It was notable that President (B.J.) Habibie of Indonesia decided to allow United Nations peacekeepers into East Timor within days of Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, raising the possibility of a special tribunal to investigate crimes against humanity."

The editorial says it would be improper to prejudge the decision of Magistrate Donald Bartle on extraditing Pinochet, but then it does prejudge. The newspaper ends its commentary with this: "A Bow Street magistrate cannot, of course, be influenced by the moral pleading of a newspaper. But if he could, we would say: Send him to Spain, Mr. Bartle."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: No one has suggested that the Serbs have anything to apologize for

Chicago Tribune correspondent Tom Hundley writes in a commentary from Belgrade that despite the inhumane crimes committed by Serb soldiers and militia in Kosovo and elsewhere in former Yugoslavia, most Serbs -- from the common man to the opposition leadership -- consider the Serbs to be the oppressed and not the oppressors.

Hundley writes, in his words: "No one -- not the political opposition, not the Serbian Orthodox Church, not the intellectual elite -- has suggested that the Serbs have anything to apologize for."

He writes: "At the anti-regime rallies that sprouted around the country this summer, speakers accused Milosevic of stealing elections, muzzling the independent media and using the state-controlled media to spread lies and propaganda. They attacked him for the lavish lifestyles and special privileges enjoyed by his wife and two grown children. A few blamed him for leading the nation into four disastrous wars, but almost no one said anything about his indictment by the International War Crimes Tribunal."

Hundley said that the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is showing its disdain for the Hague indictments by holding its own war crimes trials in several jurisdictions around the country. He writes that U.S. President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen and NATO Commander Wesley Clark, among others, are being tried in absentia for various offenses against the Serbs. Hundley adds, in his words: "Acquittals are not expected."