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Western Press Review: Commentators Perceive Steps Toward Democracy

By Brent McCann, Anthony Georgieff, and Dora Slaba

Prague, 5 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press says results of Monday's elections in Croatia clearly show motion toward democracy and closer relations with the West.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Croats voted emphatically for change

An editorial in Britain's Financial Times calls the results "a crushing defeat to the ruling nationalist Croatian Democratic Union." In the editorial's words: "Croats voted emphatically for change"

The newspaper also says this: "They turned their backs on the party created by the late (Croatian President) Franjo Tudjman and its authoritarian ways. They opted instead for a broad coalition led by ex-communists, which has promised political and economic reform -- and an end to prolonged international isolation."

The editorial says the West should be generous in helping Croatia embrace change and should begin diplomatic work immediately. In the editorial's words, "Croatia should be encouraged to prepare for eventual EU accession and NATO membership, however distant that might seem today."

TIMES: This Balkan state's move towards real pluralism and democracy deserves applause

An editorial in London's The Times says Croat voters should not have unreasonably high expectations or choose corruption over the difficulties of radical change. In the editorial's words: "Croatia's new rulers may well falter, fall out or fail altogether. But what seems certain, and of guaranteed benefit to Croatia, is that the system of crude, dictatorial, one-man rule that operated under Mr. Tudjman has crumbled away." The editorial concludes, "Whatever the future holds, this Balkan state's move towards real pluralism and democracy deserves applause."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The country will now start a new political and economic course

From Denmark, an editorial in the Berlingske Tidende puts similar sentiments this way: "The general election in Croatia has given an impetus to the hopes that the country will now start a new political and economic course designed to end with the achievement of full membership in both NATO and the EU." The editorial describes the election winners as, in the paper's words, "a delicate blend of reformed communists and economic reformers and liberals."

DIE WELT: Milosevic is the last of his tribe in the Balkans

German commentator Boris Kalnoky, writing from Budapest for Die Welt, focuses on the man Kalnoky says is likely to be the next prime minister of Croatia, Ivica Racan. Kalnoky says Tudjman's dictatorship always appeared more harmless than that of his brutal neighbor, Slobodan Milosevic. But, he writes, the two had striking similarities when dealing with news organizations, their economies and their enemies. The commentator concludes with this: "With Tudjman gone, Milosevic is the last of his tribe in the Balkans. Yet to hope that he too may soon be jettisoned by similarly elegant and bloodless means seems altogether over-optimistic."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: This is the direction that leads straight to Europe

Commentator Matthias Rueb, writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, says Tudjman's party experienced a huge loss while the opposition celebrated a victory according to the rules of democracy. In Rueb's words: "This was an expression of a mighty tectonic upheaval in the political landscape of Croatia -- the electorate demonstrated not only a desire for a change in government, they want an epochal change." Rueb concludes with this: "Croatia has started on the way from a war society and from a purely nationalist state to a civil society -- and there is no return. For this is the direction that leads straight to Europe."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: This is another generation, and yet still enigmatic

To many Western commentators, the meaning of the political developments in Croatia seems straightforward. But commentaries on political developments in Russia reflect bafflement. In the International Herald Tribune, Flora Lewis says that interim President Vladimir Putin attempted to help Western eyes see him more clearly by publishing last week an 11-page statement of his politics and views. Lewis says that after reading the document, in her words, "This is another kind of Russian than the West has known, another generation, and yet still enigmatic."

Lewis says the document, essentially a campaign platform, shows how Putin has analyzed Russia's problems and what he would like to do to solve them. But, in the commentator's words: "What he can achieve and how he will react to frustration, which can come soon in Chechnya, is something else. He is clearly cool and calculating, tough and glad to be seen as tough, and yet seeking to sound lyrical with his New Year's wishes that -- here she quotes Putin directly -- 'everything good and kind which has been dreamt of will definitely come true.'"

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: For the moment peace and quiet is something which Putin can claim to deliver

In Germany, Josef Joffe, commenting in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, also calls Russia an enigma following Boris Yeltsin's resignation and Putin's accession. Joffe says Yeltsin did, in his words, "sterling work, dragging Russia from the 16th to late-19th century." Now, the commentator says, the outlook is favorable for Putin. Joffe says that Putin will win support from the West if he moves sensibly. As Joffe puts it: "After less than a decade of Boris the Bizarre, the West's main concern is for peace and quiet in Russia. For the moment, that is something which Putin can claim to deliver."