Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Turkey On The Front Line, Regional Impact Of Georgia's Revolt, The Benefits Of Gratitude

Prague, 27 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Media commentary and analysis today takes a look at last month's elections in Bulgaria, which dealt a blow to the party of former king and now prime minister, Simeon Saxecoburggotski; the implications of Turkey being targeted by Islamic militants; the impact of Georgia's "Revolution of Roses" on regimes throughout the region; and new research into the benefits of gratitude, as the United States celebrates Thanksgiving.


An analysis by "Jane's Foreign Report" says the National Movement Simeon II, the party of Bulgaria's former king and current prime minister, Simeon Saxecoburggotski, really "took a beating" in last month's (26 October) local government elections -- winning less than 10 percent of the vote. The poll was seen by many as a judgment on the former monarch's failure to improve the lot of ordinary Bulgarians.

"The message from voters was clear: Saxecoburggotski has failed to deliver," the analysis says.

The party's sliding popularity raises the question of whether the right-of-center government can hold on to power. It has already lost a half-dozen MPs and depends on the support of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) -- an ethnic Turkish party -- for its survival. But "Jane's" says, "[For] all his lack of political experience, [Saxecoburggotski] seems to have a grip of Balkan realpolitik."

The message from voters, "though unsettling, was predictable." More than 25 percent of the Bulgarian population is already living on meager pensions ($115 per month), unemployment remains "in the high teens, and the governing party -- an informal alliance of royalists and businessmen -- lacked the level of grassroots organization" required to run a successful campaign.

As for the opposition, "its leaders are still trying to get a firm grip on their parties." The "quarrelling factions" in the centrist Union of Democratic Forces have yet to be united. The ex-communist Bulgarian Socialist Party is having trouble attracting young voters.

Ultimately, "Jane's" predicts that, "provided he continues to keep the MRF satisfied, Saxe-Coburg [Saxecoburggotski] should see out the remainder of his four-year term."


Another "Jane's" analysis, this one from its intelligence digest, assesses the possible influence of a recent spate of bombings in Istanbul on Turkish foreign policy. Two days of attacks in the space of a week have underscored Turkey's strategic importance, says "Jane's." "Turks, who have been relatively isolated from much of the violence that has plagued the rest of its region, are now feeling the impact of increased insecurity and uncertainty."

Recent attacks claimed by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates seem to indicate a tactical shift toward targeting Western and Jewish interests, and those associated with them, in Muslim countries. Turkey -- as a predominantly Muslim country with a secular political system and a NATO member that maintains diplomatic ties with Israel -- thus made a highly desirable target.

By "dragging Turkey into the front line of the ongoing conflict between the militants and the West, Al-Qaeda has delivered a powerful warning of the network's presence in the region [and] its future intentions," "Jane's" says.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vows Turkey will not be swayed by the attacks and will uphold its Western-oriented, secular tradition. But Ankara "is facing a major dilemma in achieving these aims." External help in tracking down militants -- particularly from the U.S. or Israel -- may well inspire new attacks. And Ankara must also balance its security needs with the judicial and human rights reforms demanded by the European Union, as well as with the interests of its more conservative Islamist constituents.


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Rachel Denber says the "dramatic but peaceful" transfer of power in Georgia earlier this week "must be rattling repressive leaders all across the region." The Georgian opposition bravely refused to accept a "blatantly rigged election." But the danger is now that governments elsewhere in the Caucasus and Central Asia "may step up political repression to head off a similar scenario."

Regional governments have used various methods "to prevent the emergence of popular, dynamic opposition movements and presidential candidates." In Kazakhstan, the government imprisoned the leaders of a popular opposition movement, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, and did not allow the party to register. The Kyrgyz president's "main political rival has been in jail since 2000."

But Kazakh parliamentary elections are due next year, and Kyrgyz presidential elections will take place in 2005. Fearing a peaceful popular revolution like Georgia's may cause governments to "further postpone political reform and crack down harder on popular opposition movements."

Denber points out that several Central Asian nations are new allies of the United States, "both in its global campaign against terrorism and its determination to find alternatives to Middle East energy dependence." And too often, the United States refrains from pressuring its new allies to institute democratic reforms or respect civic rights.

"As these countries enter new election cycles, America [should] make clear what will constitute a free and fair vote," Denber says. And it should also "make clear the diplomatic and financial consequences of a rigged vote."


As the United States celebrates Thanksgiving today -- an annual feast commemorating the first successful harvest by settlers in the New World -- staff writer Jane Lampman of the "Christian Science Monitor" discusses new research on the physical and mental effects of feeling gratitude.

Lampman says feeling appreciation and joy for what you have is a "universal experience and a component of many religious traditions for centuries." But now, gratitude "is being recognized not simply as a desirable virtue, but also as an essential element to wholeness and well-being."

Scientists "are now engaged in long-term research that has already confirmed a host of beneficial outcomes, from healthier, more satisfying lives to greater vitality and more generous outreach to help others." Cultivating a sense of appreciation also inspires more empathy in people, the research suggests.

Many around the world are seeking ways of making this sense of gratitude "a more conscious daily attitude that shapes their experience." Some keep diaries or journals that attempt to chronicle the ways in which they are thankful. When compared with control groups, these journal-keepers report fewer symptoms of illness and higher levels of energy.

Research is also focusing on what Lampman calls "impediments to gratitude," and is focusing on how people can overcome them to bring more thankfulness into their lives.


Writing in "The Washington Times," Martin Sieff of United Press International, questions whether Georgia's successful revolution really means it is now on its way toward "a democratic, stable and prosperous future." Left to itself, he says it might well be.

"The Georgian people have certainly shown an enthusiastic commitment for restoring their long-desired close ties with Western Europe and the United States." Georgia would eventually like to integrate into NATO and the European Union. But first, interim leader Nino Burjanadze "will have to come to terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin." His Kremlin has been "quietly, slowly but relentlessly" pressuring Georgia to fall into step with Moscow.

Russia keeps military bases in Georgia, which is of particular interest because of the country's proximity to the Caspian basin and because of Russia's ongoing campaign to crush separatist aspirations in neighboring Chechnya. And Putin has maintained ties with Georgia's autonomous provinces of Adjaria and Abkhazia, which remain destabilizing factors along Georgia's borders.

Russia is unlikely to welcome Tbilisi's continuing Westward aspirations, writes Sieff. Burjanadze "is off to a strong start, but she has a long and winding road to walk."


Jean-Dominique Merchet writes in France's "Liberation" on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) condemnation of Iran yesterday for not fully complying with inspections of its nuclear program.

He says the IAEA managed to censure Tehran, but without taking any real action.

At its meeting in Vienna, the IAEA said it strongly regretted the fact that Iran had missed numerous opportunities to fulfill its obligations, in both the spirit and the letter of IAEA provisions. However, the condemnation stopped short of referring Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, as requested by the United States.

Washington was finally satisfied with the wording of the final text, which provides for IAEA officials to meet at once to consider all options, should new omissions by Tehran be discovered. Wrangling between Europe and the United States over the resolution continued for about a week before its adoption.

Europe favors a more diplomatic approach to Tehran while Washington prefers tough talk and a real threat of sanctions.