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Western Press Review: Commentaries Survey Europe

  • Don Hill

Prague, 5 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary ranges at 1998's outset over a variety of Eastern and Central European issues.

NEW YORK TIMES: The Czech Republic in effect becomes a normal Central European country

Writing Saturday from Vienna in The New York Times, correspondent Jane Perlez comments that the Czech Republic's abrupt change of government is merely a sign that the country is joining the club of normalcy. She says: "At a somber swearing-in ceremony in the Prague Castle on Friday, President Vaclav Havel ushered in a new era for the Czech Republic. The government that took office under the stewardship of Prime Minister Josef Tosovsky, 47, a former governor of the central bank, is the first in the post-communist period not led by the strong-willed Vaclav Klaus, who was forced to resign over a campaign-finance scandal.

"By changing prime ministers and by facing the political and economic uncertainties ahead, the Czech Republic in effect becomes a normal Central European country. Judging from the economic performance of Poland, which has had eight prime ministers since the end of communism, and Hungary, which has had three, this may not be such a bad thing for the Czechs. In 1997, economic growth was nearly 6 percent in Poland, and 3.5 percent in Hungary, compared with 1.1 percent in the Czech Republic."

NEWSDAY: The Islamic revival in Russia has taken on a special potency

From Kazan, capital of the Tatarstan Republic of Russia, The U.S. newspaper Newsday said Saturday in a commentary that Islam is challenging Christianity, mostly Russian Orthodox, in far-flung parts of Russia. The commentary said: "Now, free of government constraints for the first time in centuries, Islam here is being put to a new test. As it rallies in the shadow of the increasingly nationalistic Russian Orthodox Church, as mosques spring up and a new militant generation of clerics jostles for power, the revival of Islam here is inevitably raising the question of what it means to be both Russian and Muslim."

Newsday's commentary said: "The advent of Ramadan this year underlined as never before the contrasts not only between Russian Muslims and their Christian fellow citizens, but also among the majority Muslims in various republics and governorates that make up the sprawling Russian federation. In the now-ruined republic of Chechnya, which resisted a brutal two-year Russian army assault, independence-minded leaders have ignored Moscow's protests and started to implement a loose version of Sharia, or Islamic law."

It said: "The Islamic revival in Russia has taken on a special potency, (because) it is not only religious in character but also nationalistic. Islam is a slogan used by Chechen separatists against what they call 'imperial' Russia. It has been used, as well, by Tatar separatists in stoking public nostalgia for the Muslim Tatar empire that flourished 500 years ago in Kazan, in the heart of Russia."

NEW YORK TIMES: Soldiers get constant reinforcement from Bosnians who tell them it is good that the Americans are here

U.S. troops in Bosnia increasingly are involving themselves emotionally with the people. And increasingly coming to feel good about their mission there as a result, Mike O'Connor wrote Sunday in a New York Times' news analysis. O'Connor said that officers at first sought to discourage personal engagement. He wrote: "But it seems too late for such concerns. To a considerable extent, U.S. forces have gone from dispassionate observers in a confusing land to soldiers who feel their job is to help people they now know and like. Senior officers now say it may be better for the Army if the soldiers feel an emotional association with Bosnians.

"Soldiers get constant reinforcement from Bosnians who tell them it is good that the Americans are here. Psychological screenings of soldiers leaving the danger, discomfort and loneliness of long tours in Bosnia find that the troops feel better about themselves and their jobs than the average American does, according to Army psychologists. An immediate benefit for the Army is that soldiers who have been assigned to Bosnia are more likely to re-enlist than others, officers say."

FINANCIAL TIMES: English is taking over as the dominant EU language

English is becoming the dominant language of the European Union, the old-boy members Germany and France don't much like it, but Poles, Hungarians and Czechs seem likely to accentuate the trend; so reported Michael Smith from Brussels in a news analysis in the Saturday editions of the British newspaper Financial Times. Smith wrote: "As the UK's six-month presidency of the European Union gets under way this week, an analysis of EU documents appears to confirm what the French have long feared -- English is taking over as the dominant EU language."

He wrote: "After the European Union was founded as a community 40 years ago, French was the unchallenged main language for at least 15 years. (The Germans, too,) are worried that the growing use of English will be at the expense of their own language. Until recently, German speakers were expecting a boost for their language from the enlargement of the European Union to the east in the next few years."

The writer said: "However, many people in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia and Slovenia appear keener to learn English than German, according to interpreters."

NEW YORK TIMES: Americans care more about the world than they are given credit for

Sunday's New York Times editorially addressed the question of whether citizens of the United States wish to abandon the world, and came to a conclusion different from that which has long been in style. The newspaper said: "The end of the cold war aroused fears among some who conduct foreign policy that Americans would tire of shouldering the world's problems. Superficially, those fears appear well founded. Surveys show that Americans are put off by news of distant conflicts and prefer not to become involved. Look again, however, and a different picture emerges. It turns out that Americans crave engagement in the world's crises, but not in the way they are defined by some leaders in government, academic institutions and the news media. As a new year dawns, it is worth remembering that citizens want the United States to assert its global leadership, but in a more nuanced and coordinated fashion than in the past."

The newspaper concluded: "As (U.S. President Bill) Clinton prepares for the second year of his second term, the foreign policy agenda is surprisingly packed. A newly expanded NATO, and a renewal of American troop involvement in Bosnia, will properly require congressional approval. Global warming, trade, drugs and disease are at the center of American concerns. The administration's decision to push for more open trade and to help rescue the economies of Asia will affect the jobs of everyone. The new surveys have thus reinforced an old axiom. Americans care more about the world than they are given credit for. The test of leadership remains to dramatize the connection of the new problems of today to their lives."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The holy month of Ramadan once again is inflicting its annual calvary

From London today, the Daily Telegraph discusses in an editorial the meaning of Islam in the bloody glare of Islamic extremists' rampages in Algiers. The newspaper says: "The holy month of Ramadan once again is inflicting its annual calvary (experience of suffering) on the people of Algeria. Each year, terrorists have chosen the period of fasting to intensify their holy war against the regime." The newspaper says that a movement known as the Armed Islamic Group is responsible for horrifying slaughter. The editorial says: "Its malignancy has spread through the inability of a military-run regime to meet popular demands for peace and decent government."