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Western Press Review: Opinions On Russia, Bosnia, The East And A Country's Nazi Past

  • Don Hill

Prague, 3 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - With the death of Britain's Princess Diana still dominating the Western press's editorial pages, other commentary spreads over a variety of issues.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Moscow's anniversary party is a showcase for its mayor's presidential ambitions

Writing from Moscow today in a news analysis, Matthew Brzezinski examines plans for the city's 850th anniversary celebration. He finds the program a tribute not only to the city's longevity, but also to the growing political prominence of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Brzezinski says: "Russia's capital is celebrating the 850th anniversary of its founding this weekend, and the city's business community has lined up to help (Luzhkov) mount a $60 million birthday bash (that is, party). Thousands of shopkeepers, companies and multinationals have forked over (that is, paid) hefty contributions in a dazzling display of boosterism."

He continues: "But the bash is to many people many things, not the least of which is, according to many observers, a thinly veiled showcase for the mayor's presidential ambitions. It's also a testimonial to the lengths to which many local entrepreneurs will go to stay in his good graces, although some more grudgingly than others."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Russia's three potential presidential candidates have shortcomings

In a commentary yesterday, Miriam Neubert looked over three potential candidates for the Russian presidency that Yeltsin would no doubt favor over Luzhkov. She found them all wanting. Neubert wrote: "Boris Yeltsin has no intention of running for president again in 2000. Constitutionally he cannot serve a third term, but it would not be the first time he had disregarded the law." She added: "Were the decision his to make, Yeltsin would naturally prefer to see a successor of his own making in the Kremlin.

"He gets on particularly well with boyish-looking Boris Nemtsov, whom he made a first deputy premier. Yeltsin's remark that a woman might also become head of state calls to mind his daughter, of course. Tatyana Dyatchenko, who is now her father's image consultant, is rated in opinion polls one of the most influential politicians in Russia. Anatoli Chubais, like Nemtsov a first deputy premier, is seen as an ambitious man too.

"But all three have shortcomings. Nemtsov has Jewish roots, and anti-Semitism is widespread in Russia, Dyatchenko is a woman and Chubais stands for a privatization of Russian industry from which very few benefited."

BALTIMORE SUN: Now the East worries about living standards, unemployment and balance of payments

Opinion and commentary editor Hal Piper revisits central Europe and finds post-Soviet life, as he puts it, "remarkably unremarkable, downright normal." Piper comments in today's Sun: "Time was when urban grime, shabby clothes and empty shop shelves told you that you were behind the Iron Curtain. No longer. Young women in platform sandals and tattoos flirt with young men with nose rings. On sidewalks and in cars, businessmen and teen-agers are glued to their cell phones. Buskers (that is, street musicians) and beggars patrol crowded sidewalk cafes. One Hungarian family's various members summered this year in Cancun, Mexico, Corfu and Malta."

Piper continues: "Hungarians used to worry about their neighbors informing on them to the secret police. About the necessity of whispering to their children truths that contradicted the children's school lessons. About their brotherly next-door neighbor Russia, which claimed the right to oversee developments in Hungary, and backed it up with military force. Now Hungarians worry about living standards, unemployment and the balance of payments. Welcome to the capitalist world, Hungary! And Poland, East Germany, the Czech Republic."

WASHINGTON POST: Gypsies are at the bottom of Europe's social and economic scale

Howard Schneider and Christine Spolar write today in a news analysis about a recent phenomenon of Czech Roma flocking to Canada, motivated in part by a Czech TV documentary broadcast last month by the private channel Nova. The writers believe the documentary overstated the welcome that Canada offers. They say: "About 550 Gypsies have arrived in Canada this year, claiming status as refugees from racial persecution in the Czech Republic. (They) have filled Toronto homeless shelters to overflowing. Their arrival has forced Canadian immigration officials to puzzle through a refugee wave apparently started by word of mouth but stoked by a Czech television documentary, aired August 7, that portrayed Canada as a land of spacious housing, plentiful welfare, jobs for the asking and trips to Niagara Falls."

The analysis goes on: "Nova reporter Josef Klima, in an interview in Prague, acknowledged the documentary erred on the positive side in portraying Canada and excluded comments from some Gypsies who said their main reason for emigrating was Canada's reputation for rich social programs."

The Post writers say: "A nomadic people who originated in India, the Gypsies have long been at the bottom of Europe's social and economic scale. Employment, even restaurant service, is denied them in some areas, and they are frequently the target of beatings and violence that some courts are reluctant to punish. From that perspective, Canada looks pretty good, welfare payments or not.

"On the other hand, the Czech Republic has taken steps, and is pledging more. A citizenship law widely viewed as discriminatory against Slovak-born Gypsies has been relaxed. And as the country positions itself for NATO membership in 1999, the government is preparing to announce a new policy to aid its approximately 300,000 Gypsies."

WASHINGTON POST: The TV tower was returned to Karadzic's camp to defuse a potentially dangerous confrontation

Also in today's edition, Lee Hockstader analyzes from Tuzla in Bosnia yet another situation in which Western forces appeared to back down when confronted by determined resistance from Bosnian Serb nationalists allied with former President Radovan Karadzic. Hockstader writes: "U.S. troops ended a tense standoff and relinquished control of a key television tower (yesterday). The withdrawal came several hours after a U.S. military spokesman said the Americans would not be dislodged until it was determined which political faction in the Serb half of Bosnia -- Karadzic's or that of his rival, Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic -- had the rightful claim to the facility.

"That determination was never made. Instead, Western officials acknowledged, they returned the TV tower to Karadzic's camp to defuse as quickly as possible a potentially dangerous confrontation. The deal they struck overnight, approved Tuesday morning by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, U.S. Lieutenant General Wesley Clark, was immediately controversial. Some Western officials and other observers called the U.S. withdrawal a sign of weakness and a victory for Karadzic."

SUEDDEUTSZHE ZEITUNG: Some 6,000 Danes marched with the Nazis

Bernd Hauser comments in today's edition on a little-remembered aspect of the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Research by three Danish historians, he says, uncovered a Danish sequel to the "Hitler's Willing Executioners" (Germans who cooperated in mass murder) revelations that roiled Germany last year. Hauser says: "The conventional image of the Danish resistance against Nazi Germany as displayed in the Danish Liberation Museum is heroic: The Danes even tried using homemade tanks to drive the German occupying army out of the country. But Danes were happy to forget that 6,000 of Denmark's sons marched with the Germans, not against them -- to forget, that is, until Niels Bo Poulsen and his two colleagues published their research. The three young historians looked into the history of the Danish volunteers in the Waffen SS and came across willing executioners for Hitler, even in the small Nordic state."

Hausner continues: "Now there has been a call for war criminals among the ex-volunteers to face the courts. Historian Poulsen regards this as an almost impossible task, since the guilt of individuals would be so difficult to prove. He estimates that there are still around 500 former Waffen SS members living in Denmark. The 180 of them who were wounded are even receiving pensions from Germany."