Bulgaria's life after Milošević
Bulgaria rarely gets much positive press in Britain, but two stories this week cast the country in a favourable light. Daniel Whitaker in The Times (26 October) described the turnaround in Bulgaria's fortunes since 1997, with inflation down from over 1000 per cent to six per cent, the currency stabilised and a 17 per cent annual drop in GDP converted to growth of four per cent. Foreign investors are looking at Bulgaria with more interest now, especially with possibilities offered by changes in neighbouring Yugoslavia.
"More than most countries, Bulgaria has cause to cheer Slobodan Milošević's fall," opined The Economist (28 October). Events to look forward to include the clearing of the Danube and the lifting of all sanctions on Yugoslavia, plus the Balkan stability pact's plans for regional development including a "transport corridor" from Albania through Macedonia to Bulgaria: "If democracy does take hold in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria should benefit fast."
A long way to go
Efforts to tackle corruption in Bulgaria have met with some success, though continuing allegations have affected the popularity of the centre-right government of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, who this week saw off an attempt by two leading Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) members, Hristo Bisserov and Yordan Tzonev, to oust him ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.
Much still remains to be done. In The Times, Whitaker noted that there is "widespread poverty, especially outside the main cities" and "widening inequality." Former UDF Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Bozhkov—himself embroiled in a recent scandal, though he denies any wrongdoing ("I'm innocent, so I'm not worried")—told Whitaker, "We've done a lot—but not enough."
The Economist saw the evidence of true change lying in Bulgaria's foreign policy. After a painful first decade of democracy, Bulgaria has realigned itself with the West: "It has distanced itself from Russia, once its patron, and has renounced its territorial claims on large parts of Macedonia." Bulgaria is aiming for EU and NATO membership, while Kostov recently called on Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica to send Milošević to the UN war-crimes tribunal in the Hague.
The contrast with Yugoslavia is telling. Whitaker praised in particular Bulgaria's tolerant atmosphere: "Sofia's cranes work amid mosques and synagogues as well as splendid Orthodox churches, and relations between religions are friendly."
Schröder's astonishing reversal of fortune
The popularity of the "Chancellor rap" caught the attention of The Guardian on Monday 23 October. John Hooper reported on Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's latest success, the Stefan Raab hit record which samples a remark made by Schröder on a tour of eastern Germany last summer. At the end of a hot day campaigning, Schröder's comment to an aide—"Get me a bottle of beer or I'm going on strike here"—was recorded by journalists, then mixed on to a CD, "with a techno backing track," according to The Guardian. Puzzlingly, Allan Hall, writing in The Times the same day, thought it was more of "a Country and Western-style ballad."
The record has sold over 360,000 copies and hit number two on the German charts (or number one if you read The Times). The Chancellor's earnings from it, which he will give to a children's charity, are estimated at DEM (German marks) 1.5 million. "Herr Schröder's success as a pop star is symbolic of his astonishing reversal of fortune since last year," was The Times's verdict. Schröder's early problems as Chancellor disappeared once the slush-fund scandal hit the opposition CDU and its former chancellor, Helmut Kohl.
The CDU's problems look set to continue. Last week, their deputy leader, Ruprecht Polenz, was kicked out by the chairman, Angela Merkel, and replaced by Laurenz Meyer. Polenz's crime was to be "too nice for his own good," according to Imre Karacs in The Independent on Sunday (29 October). Polenz admitted someone with more aggression was needed to help the CDU challenge Schröder. "No more Mr Nice Guy," mused Karacs. "Ms Merkel demonstrated she is a great deal more ruthless than she is credited for."
Her position is still weak, however. "For many, Frau Merkel... was at best a stop-gap after the humiliation of Herr Kohl and enforced resignation of his successor, Wolfgang Schauble," wrote Allan Hall in another piece in The Times, this time on 24 October.
Merkel is under threat from rivals who favour a more hardline policy on immigration. CDU parliamentary leader Friedrich Merz has called for a campaign against immigration, which has the support of Edmund Stoiber, Bavaria's Prime Minister and leader of the CDU's sister party, the CSU. Merkel may have to give way: "She does not want to play the foreigner card," considered Karacs, "but she may not have a choice. The Christian Democrats' inexorable drift into uncharted waters is set to continue, and it is not a pretty sight."
Austria's Freedom Party in deep water?
One who has already charted those waters is the Governor of Carinthia and recent leader of Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ), Jörg Haider. Haider's party may be about to become engulfed in a dirty tricks scandal.
The 28 October episode of the BBC television documentary series "Correspondent" detailed allegations that the FPÖ utilised secret access to police files, provided by sympathetic officers, in order to undermine or discredit opponents. A senior policeman, Josef Kleindienst, claimed he had spied for the FPÖ on individuals including Andre Heller, the multimedia artist who led a mass movement in 1993 protesting at the FPÖ's anti-immigration referendum. Kleindienst has written a book on the subject. Prosecutors this week opened formal investigations against 18 senior FPÖ officials, including Haider, who denies all allegations.
In an article in The Independent (28 October), the documentary's writer/director, Frederick Baker, suggested the revelations "had plunged Austria in a scandal the like of which has not been witnessed since Kurt Waldheim was exposed for lying about his wartime past."
Oliver Craske, 28 October 2000
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