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Western Press Review: Repression And Militancy In The Caucasus And A Limited Democratic Push In Kazakhstan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 24 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Several items in the press today address the situation in the North Caucasus, as an attack on 22 June in the Republic of Ingushetia once again highlighted the continuing war for independence in Chechnya and a parallel rise in Islamic militancy in the region. We also hear calls for international support for those living under repressive regimes, of the folly of trying to impose democracy through military means, and about a limited push for democratic change in Kazakhstan.

THE MOSCOW TIMES

"The carnage in Ingushetia early this week has once again revealed the incompetency of the law enforcement and security agencies," says an editorial in Moscow's English-language daily. The paper says that, clearly, "the fact that the leaders of the Ingush and Chechen rebels managed to plan and execute the attacks, which Ingush officials now claim involved up to 1,000 fighters, shows there was an intelligence failure." Almost 100 people died in simultaneous attacks targeting law enforcement agencies and government buildings, including the Interior Ministry.

The attackers said they wanted to send a strong message to Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov regarding the allegations of kidnappings and extrajudicial arrests of people with suspected rebel ties, carried out by agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB).

"It is no secret that Ingushetia has been a haven for rebels," the paper says. And the Ingush authorities, in conjunction with the FSB, "need to address this growing threat of militant Islam in the republic." Security agents "would do well to infiltrate these cells, putting them in a position to prevent attacks of this scale."

But whatever the security services do, "it must be done in strict accordance with the law. Arbitrary acts, such as kidnappings, may behead some of the cells, but this Hydra will grow as injustice done to the innocent serves only to broaden support for the militants."

THE BOSTON GLOBE

An editorial in the Boston daily today says if those responsible for conducting a raid from Chechnya into the neighboring Caucasus republic of Ingushetia intended to highlight the failure of what the paper calls Russian President Vladimir Putin's "brutal war policy in Chechnya," then they did, in fact, succeed.

The attacks "belied Putin's repeated claims that his army and special forces have virtually extirpated Chechen armed groups that have been fighting since 1994 for independence from Russia. On the contrary, the ability of the attackers to plan and execute such a military operation outside Chechnya suggests that instead of eradicating Chechens' willingness to fight for self-rule, Putin's reliance on repressive force risks dispersing the violence into surrounding regions of the Russian Federation."

The paper says it is always difficult for a leader "pursuing a failed policy to admit failure," particularly when his opponents have managed to deliver him "an embarrassing tactical defeat."

Putin rose to power as an "unapologetic Russian nationalist," determined to eradicate the independence aspirations of the Chechen republic and install a strong central government in the Kremlin. During his tenure, and under the influence of "propaganda" from Moscow, the Russian population has generally turned a blind eye to widespread allegations of human rights abuses, including the use of torture and rape, and numerous so-called disappearances.

"For the sake of Russians as well as Chechens, Putin ought to reverse course and open genuine negotiations with the government of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov that was elected in 1997, but is ignored today by Moscow." Putin should move "to liberate Russia from its authoritarian reflexes by freeing Russians of their colonialist burden in Chechnya."

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Following his country's 1 May accession to the European Union, 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, former Czech President and onetime dissident Vaclav Havel says Central and Eastern Europe's transition from totalitarianism "would never have succeeded without the support of a democratically minded world public." But whereas state repression is a thing of the past in much of Europe, autocratic regimes continue to reign with impunity in many parts of the world.

In Zimbabwe, the administration of President Robert Mugabe is well aware that the international community will only acknowledge it if it meets certain minimum standards. Havel says this is why leaders in Harare are "trying to give the impression of democracy and thus escape international isolation, and why they distort the standard democratic mechanisms in order to create a semblance of citizens' participation." But at the same time, "they create legal instruments that violate human rights."

Havel says opposition members of Zimbabwe's parliament "have been subject to murder attempts, torture, assault and arrest." Elections are frequently "accompanied by organized violence and intimidation." And the state "now claims a virtual monopoly of written and broadcast media."

Totalitarian regimes "may differ in small details," such as in "the degree of their cruelty and brutality." But ultimately, Havel says, "their nature is the same. And so is the manner of resisting such regimes."

The former Czech president expresses the hope the Zimbabwe will one day be able to "return to the community of democratic nations."

EURASIA VIEW

A Kazakhstan-based reporter and analyst writing under the pseudonym of Ibragim Alibekov says Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is touting political reform in his campaign platform ahead of the 19 September polls. But opposition members have charged that his program "only masks ongoing attempts by the presidential administration to consolidate power."

Recent initiatives proposed by Nazarbaev have underscored his emphasis on economic reform, while others have focused on political unity. "Referring to difficulties encountered elsewhere in the former Soviet Union with the election of regional governors, the president stated that he would continue to appoint [the] administration heads [of] the Kazakhtani capital, Astana, and its commercial capital, Almaty." These positions would become elected posts in 2006-07.

However, Nazarbaev has called for an increase in the number of seats in parliament, ostensibly to reflect more broadly the Kazakh population. And yet Alibekov says, "The implementation of these proposals would change little for the president's hold on power." Pro-presidential factions already occupy a majority of the positions in the 125-member parliament.

A new national commission will focus on the rights of the media and tackle corruption. "But tolerance for opposing viewpoints apparently only goes so far," Alibekov says. Nazarbaev "has taken pains to target media and opposition forces for allegedly disturbing Kazakhstan's social stability with claims against the government."

And according to results released in June by the Central Electoral Commission, pro-presidential parties look set to dominate Kazakhstan's district electoral commissions in the September ballot.

THE IRISH TIMES

In a contribution to this Dublin-based daily, Bishop John Kirby of the Irish aid agency Trocaire discusses U.S. foreign policy ahead of U.S. President George W. Bush's first trip to Ireland for the EU-U.S. summit this week at Dromoland Castle.

Since the 11 September attacks on the United States, Kirby says the Bush administration has "capitalized on the deepest fears of American citizens to push through a radical new foreign policy under the guise of the 'War on Terrorism'" whose central elements are "the pursuit of global U.S. supremacy in economic, military and political spheres."

These policies are governed "by a simplistic philosophy that gives pre-eminence to competition in every sphere of life. All considerations, including the provisions of international law and human rights, are subject to the U.S. interest."

In short, "it is a crude form of social Darwinism that attempts to reduce human relations to the survival of the fittest."

But Kirby says this doctrine "ignores the role that co-operation plays in all aspects of human society." Economic and social development "is as much dependent on co-operation as competition, if not more so."

International relations are themselves "a balancing act between national interest and the global common good. Both are essential in today's inter-dependent world."

The "enduring lesson from Iraq," he says, may be that "freedom and democracy cannot be imposed through military might."

LE FIGARO

The French daily says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush was "visibly embarrassed" when it was required to present a revised edition of its report on world terrorism for 2003 on 22 June. The initial report in April stated that terrorist incidents and related deaths dropped in 2003 after the launch of the U.S.-led war on terror. But a review of the findings revealed that the number of actual deaths from terrorist incidents for that year was more than double the number cited in the report. The revised report states that global terrorist activity has actually risen, not fallen, in recent years.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell attributed this discrepancy to a problem with the compilation of the report's numbers, and was not politically motivated.

The April report said attacks had declined in the last year to 190 from 198 in 2002 and 346 in 2001. The unrevised 2003 figure would have been the lowest level of terrorist incidents in the past 34 years and a 45 percent drop since 2001 and the launch of the war on terror.

The paper says the report's errors have profoundly embarrassed the U.S. administration, which is already facing criticisms over the intelligence failures regarding its claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the lack of demonstrable links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
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